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01. Meteorite

It happens at night.

This is supposed to be a coming-of-age trip for you. It’s supposed to be fun. Well, maybe not “fun” in the traditional sense of the word, considering this is a journey of duty and professional obligation, after all... But this is your first time out of the Spire, the dry heat whipping through your hair, and you’d started to foolishly hope that it would be a fun trip despite all of the duty and obligation and blah, blah, blah. 

So far, the only “fun” thing is in discovering that there are some wide gaps in your studies back at the college- and then it’s only fun to you because you take a sort of self-satisfied pleasure in realizing that the people you trusted most have failed you on a grand scale. Not that you’re a cynic by any means! You’re just the sort of person who relishes the chance to say “I told you so” on a near perverse level. Someone has egg on their face? You love that shit. You take great pleasure in knowing that the huffy, stuffy, holier-than-thou magisters back at the Spire- your home for the past two decades- have completely and utterly dropped the ball. 

It’s just... Oh, you could laugh! Considering your current predicament, however, you really shouldn’t find this alarming realization so humorous. Bringing your fist to your mouth, you bite down on your knuckles to keep a sardonic scoff from passing through your lips and alerting the daemon to your presence... But you know you can’t blame the magisters or your Arch-Mage mother too much as you ghost your fingertips over your staff, eyes locked on the great beast of iron that lumbers around the street, blocking you from making any progress on your trip. 

Unlike most mages and other devout scholars of the arcane arts, you didn’t make a great pilgrimage to the Spire in Duscae to hone your craft. You didn’t get exceptional marks in elemancy in university that warranted any sort of scholarship offer. You didn’t have ludicrously wealthy parents who paid to send you off to that isolated structure surrounded by lush greenery in the hopes of you becoming Eos’ Next Top Mage™.

No, you were born in the Spire. Your mother is the Arch-Mage Decima Iovita herself, former arcane advisor to King Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII and current head of the Spire. You were raised on a strict regimen of heavy-reading and intermittent fasting, tough-love and a severe lack of physical affection, uptight magisters for family and reserved waitstaff for friends. If you hadn’t been born a prodigy, well, the mages of the Spire damn well made sure that you became one.

That had been their MO from the college’s inception. As a slowly but steadily dying institution, the Spire has always clutched at the belief that there’s no such thing as destiny. One isn’t destined to become a hero, a savior, what have you. No. Heroes aren’t born. They’re made. And they’re specifically and carefully made by the Spire. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to craft a hero once (Maybe because they focused so much attention on trying to kill off your ancestors before the “old regime” got their comeuppance at the hands of your great great grandmother?). Thus, they continue to die. 

And you guess this is where the axe finally drops on the Spire’s collective neck. All of their careful planning for your future missed the mark by a mile. Because nobody had the foresight to teach you about the “real world”- the world outside of the Spire. You learned theoretical magic so the future King of Lucis could consult you as a master of the arcane arts. You practiced black magic to protect him from harm. You don’t really “know” practical things! You’re bookish in every sense of the word.

Everyone else had lived and breathed beyond the Spire so you suppose it never really occurred to them that you hadn’t- or maybe they guessed that you’d explored the world via internet despite the fact that they severely limited your internet use (Six, bless the memes!) or that someone else would pick up the slack and take time out of their busy schedule to catch you up to speed. Even Magister Drusa, who has always been a sort of peppy life-coach to you when she isn’t teaching other students, hadn’t told you that daemons liked to roam the streets at night.

You’d learned about daemons, of course! You recall the many nights you’d spent pouring over texts heavy with brilliant and fantastical illustrations of the creatures that inhabited dungeons (not the streets). You’d marveled over their nightmarish visages when Magister Roe let it slip that your late father had been a daemon hunter. Even now your hand itches to wrench your phone from your back pocket and snap a life-threatening selfie with the Iron Giant and text it to your mother so she’ll shit herself. Because this is real life and not the ten pound picture-book you’ve had stuffed under your bed back in the Spire since you were eight. 

But anyway... the point is you’d never received the lecture about how daemons literally rip through the fabric between realms to amble around on highways like drunkards looking for a fight in the dead of night. Never. Never ever. So, unaccustomed to the peculiar plague of daemons that haunted the darkness outside of the Spire, the sight of the setting sun didn’t quicken your pulse like it should have. In fact, you’d awed over it, nearly driving off the road and into a pissed-off voretooth that growled and scampered away from the loud moped as it sputtered and hiccuped. 

As your little chocobo-yellow scooter puttered away down the road to the Crown City, you vaguely wondered if you should stop for gas, still blissfully unaware of the threat. Eyeing the vibrant red ticker that was such a garish color for the purpose of drawing your gaze to the fuel gauge, you grimaced when you realized that the little red hand was dropping closer and closer to that dreaded, bolded E. Reluctantly, you hanged a hard left and came to a jerky stop at a gas station, its location pinging on the map that you’d seared into your mind’s eye.

Just to be sure of your whereabouts, you pulled the laminated map from your backpack (both hand-me-downs from Magister Talmudge, a standoffish octogenarian who always called on you in lecture, to your chagrin) and double-checked the line of red marker that Drusa had made before sending you off to meet with your mother for one last time. Fingers bumped against the Arch-Mage’s parting gift, an old tome that she’d handed you along with some cryptic words and damp eyes, before returning the map to its place atop your clothes. Ah! And your clothes… 

King Regis had taken the opportunity to have Crownsguard attire sent to the Spire a week ago so that you would be properly outfitted to see Prince Noctis safely to his wedding. Your mother had cried when they arrived but she didn’t know that you knew. You had got a little teary yourself, but only because you’d found out the prince’s trip to Altissia was more of a bonding trip with his dearest friends- which you most certainly are not. This fear was assuaged a bit with the letter King Regis had sent along with the clothes, assuring you that Prince Noctis was eager to meet his soon-to-be arcane advisor. The letter was full of praise and reassurances and for that you were thankful.

You’d met the king on one occasion when you were a child. It had been the only time that you’d left the confines of the Spire just to enter the confines of yet another intimidating building. The palace was massive and filled to the brim with tightly-wound strangers who watched your six-year-old self like a cast of hawks. You vividly remember how some of them seemed almost afraid of you, but even now you peg it on them being intimidated by your statuesque mother...

There were eyes and ears everywhere in the throne room but the king had cracked a secret smile at you while he spoke with your mother. He had wanted you to stay in the Crown City but the Arch-Mage had assured him that you would be properly trained in the Spire. Perhaps he knew you would have a lonely life in the dimly-lit college where not a single person who took permanent residence there was under the age of forty or perhaps he had hoped to make you keen on his son from an early age so that, when the time finally arrived, the prince would actually get along with his arcane advisor.

You didn’t wear your Crownsguard attire because it felt strange- undeserved. Most Crownsguard trained in the Crown City and protected the royal family 24/7. But you? You read for twenty years in an isolated spire and sparred with an actual member of the Crownsguard once every couple of weeks if your studies allowed it and if the man could be spared from his usual duties. It was always the same man: Cato. And he always said the same thing: “Damn. This place is creepy as all hell. But at least it’s nice outside, huh?” And you would always give him the same wry smile in lieu of words. Then he’d proceed to beat the shit out of you since you never trained. But I digress. 

In Hammerhead you fumbled awkwardly with the meager amount of gil in your satchel as a bubbly blonde woman filled the moped’s tank. You had insisted on doing it yourself and she’d laughed good-naturedly when you had the gas pump in your hands only to realize you had no idea what the hell you were doing. She’d cooed over the yellow contraption, asked you where you got it, bright eyes flickering curiously over your drab attire, before cheekily saying the moped was just as fascinating and eclectic-looking as its owner. That comment pulled a tortured sigh from you, closed you off to her ominous comment about it getting a bit too dark, and you were on your merry way.

So, that’s how this all happened. A culmination of twenty years with a helicopter parent, social interactions that were restricted to middle-aged men and women who talked down to you so often that it inevitably led to an inability to handle mild flirtations and jests from people in your own age group, and a lack of practical real-world knowledge that even a five-year-old child would have… All of this snowballed into you propped on a dinky little moped in the middle of a deserted street with only an Iron Giant for company. 

“But at least I’m a prodigy!” You think so acerbically that the thought almost gives you blood poisoning.

The Iron Giant slowly turns toward you, as if smelling the stench of your rotten mood, and you roll your eyes so hard that you nearly send yourself to another dimension. It honestly figures that this would be your luck- but it’s not your fault! When you had asked about subjects outside of the realm of magic, you had been shushed by your instructors and told that Prince Noctis “had other advisors for those things.” Now you wonder if they all wanted you dead. What? It’s a possibility! 

Why else would they groom you for twenty years in an old stone spire out in the middle of scenic nowhere and then throw you to the wolves without so much as a copy of “Eos for Dummies” tucked into your backpack? All those years of arduous training complemented by a half-assed and rushed farewell. Sure, your magic can get you out of this… probably

The Iron Giant takes two great steps towards you and the conspiracy theory grows as you brood over the fact that you never got to practice spells on enemies. You never even got to practice on that Crownsguard member. Yes, you practiced on toads, but... those were toads!

The daemon is close and you’re done with your inner monologuing whether you like it or not. You finally push out the moped’s kickstand and begin walking to meet the giant, hoping that it doesn’t attack while you’re still so close to Drusa’s parting gift. A hint of a smile tugs at your lips as you remember how the dark woman had sputtered when you laughed at the sight of the dinky little vehicle from her youth. She had shown it to you five years ago and let you drive it around on the narrow, overgrown paths on the Spire’s grounds. However, she never let you exit the confines of the massive wrought-iron gates that kept the beasties out and kept you in.

“All right, Mr. Giant,” you lackadaisically slide your iron staff out from its sheath on your back, the playful lilt of your voice not betraying an ounce of the fear that stirs low and cold in your gut, “time to get down to busine- Oh, shit!”

You have just enough time to shut your sassy mouth and dive out of the way of the daemon’s blade as it crashes down, splitting the earth where you once stood. The impact is so forceful that there’s a little seismic shock immediately after that nearly knocks you into a greater state of panic. It’s so dark out that you hadn’t seen the Iron Giant raise its gargantuan weapon and you had mistaken the groaning and creaking of its metal armor as its normal, totally-not-dangerous moving around noises. In a flash you shoot lightning from your staff just as you hit the ground. 

You wince not only at the impact of asphalt on your right elbow but at that instinctual attack because you know that it’s no use. A total waste of energy. In rapid succession you’re on your feet and backpedaling from the giant just as you flip through your encyclopedic knowledge of daemons. A blink and you see the words from the textbook behind your eyelids: Immune to lightning, absorbs fire. Weak against blades and light. Tongue clicking, you try to ignore the throbbing pain in your elbow (which you’re about 92% sure you skinned, which wouldn’t have happened if you’d stopped being so damn weird about the Crownsguard jacket King Regis so kindly sent). You have no light magic and you have no blades. Super.

The giant swings again, mercifully horizontally, and you duck before you get an impromptu haircut. Knees sting as you take to the ground, favoring your right arm as you curl up and roll away from harm like a pill-bug. Knowing all that this beast can do (specifically gravity), you decide to cut and run, Crown City be damned. The daemon makes to close the distance between you, all hulking metal and thunderous steps. A strange thrill runs through you as you stand firm, staff held steady before you.

Brows knit in concentration as you focus into channeling your energy through your staff. It’s as if your skin is buzzing and your blood has been replaced with ice water. The staff hums in your palms. A wicked grin splits your lips once the clear crystal orb nestled in the clawed end of the staff seems to absorb what little available light there is in the dark night and pulsates. With one elegant spin of your iron staff you lunge forward as if to stab the Iron Giant in its overgrown kneecap. Magic bursts from the orb like an erupting geyser, branching out like black vines to hold the daemon in a vise before going invisible with a shimmer of energy. Everything goes eerily silent.

“Stop.”

Parting your lips, you let out a shaky laugh, taking a split second to admire your handiwork before turning on your heel and sprinting for the scooter. Leg thrown over the other side, you kick the kickstand back up and burn rubber. You’re speeding off back to Hammerhead with little putt-putt-putts before the Iron Giant regains mobility, laughing and high off of adrenaline, ignoring how badly your hands shake and how much your heart hurts. To you, there’s no shame in knowing when to back off. You pick your fights, you don’t let your fights pick you.

It’s as you’re jetting off back to the gas station to wait out the night that it happens. You’re so busy reveling in your quick wit, thinking that maybe, just maybe you’ll be able to get by in this world, when it hits you. No, it literally hits you. You’re not thinking about the rules of the road that Drusa had drilled into your head, eyes transfixed on the perplexed Iron Giant in your side mirror. There’s a flash of light and someone blares a car horn as you whip out onto the street in front of them. You swear you’ve been struck by a meteorite. 

Honestly? It’s entirely your fault. But Ignis Scientia takes the accident far harder than you and you’re the one who catches air and ends up with a broken arm and a totaled moped at the end of it.


The scene feels like something you'd see in an artsy film, minus the pain, of course. 

That bright flash of light is like looking your maker in the face... if the light of your maker's face is supposed to eventually clear up to reveal a horror-stricken bespectacled man who is practically leaning his entire body weight into a car horn while simultaneously trying to steer his vehicle away from annihilating you and your dinky scooter. Then you see the night sky full of too many glittery stars to count; like a midnight cloak encrusted with diamonds and other precious gems. It rushes by as if the world has been spun like a top, leaving you with vertigo and ears full of some impossibly loud metallic crash. 

At first, you think it's the soundtrack to this bizarre indie flick. What can you say? You're pretty rattled. And then you're eating asphalt. This part isn't so artsy and you relegate it to the action genre rather than indie when you taste iron on your tongue. Maybe your limited leisure time was spent watching far too many movies?

There's no such thing as too many movies,” you think instantly even as your left arm screams at you for attention- screams at you that there are far more pressing matters to attend to. But your head is full of angry bees that keep you from holding onto a cogent thought.

Disoriented, you stay sprawled on the ground for a moment with your left arm trapped under you until the world rights itself. The asphalt is still warm from the desert heat; a jarring juxtaposition to the soothing coolness of the dry air. Blinking blearily, you're just able to make out a wreck of twisted, yellow-painted metal between you and a slightly banged-up car. Four figures scramble from the expensive looking vehicle as you squint under the harsh white of its headlights.

With labored breaths, you stiffly try to force yourself into an upright position, panting out a barely audible, “I’m all right,” only to collapse with a harsh shout, curling up in a ball as your left arm (the arm you'd foolishly tried to prop yourself up with) punishes you with electric bolts of pain. It's almost enough to make you puke- a sensory overload of pain and bright lights and cold and hot. Instead, you opt to pass out, the sounds of far off shouts and panicked questions chasing after you.

You don't dream. You swear you just blink and suddenly you're somewhere else.

When you wake up, you're no longer curled up on the street just shy of Hammerhead like roadkill. Instead, you're staring up at the ceiling of a too-small room with striped wallpaper that's slightly peeling in places. It also smells like someone got a bit overzealous with cleaning products- the air is thick with the tang of lemon freshener and the musk of bleach. Even the comforter on the bed you're spread-eagle on emits a particularly soapy scent. It takes a hot second (and a curdling of whatever is in your stomach) for you to determine that you need to get the hell out of here.

Flopping onto your right side like a fish, your hand lazily and loudly slaps against a wooden nightstand that you hadn't realized was there. A swear rips from you as you immediately cradle your hand, rubbing at your smarting knuckles and scowling at the scuffed-up table. Your frustration doesn't last long when you spy your phone- all sleek and black with a stylish plastic cactuar charm for character. A little flashing blue light alerts you that you have a message. In an instant you've unlocked your phone and you're eagerly scanning the texts from Drusa:

Hope you got there safe! Call your mom when you have the chance, sweetie. : ))))

Hey! Sorry to nag but it's been a while. Did you stop off at a rest stop? I called around and heard you’d just gone through Hammerhead. I know it's a bit of a drive to the city . Did Choco Jr. get you there safe?

Please call your mom. Okay? :)

Did you wreck Choco Jr.? Is that why you aren’t answering your mom’s calls or my texts? If you did that’s okay. As long as you’re safe. You ARE safe, right, (y/n)????

You snort at the name of the magister's scooter and freeze as a sudden thought comes crashing down on you. You were hit by a car on the highway headed westbound for Hammerhead. How the hell did you gloss over that? With the accident in mind, you push yourself up at an agonizing pace only to realize that it's all for naught because absolutely nothing hurts (aside from your bruising knuckles). A frown tugs your lips down as you experimentally stretch both arms out before you, noticing for the first time that you’re only in the standard uniform that’s permissible at the college: black pants, boots, and a gray tunic with three silver buttons at the collar. The Spire-issue dusky lavender sweater that you always sport, however, is gone.

Flexing your bare arms, you’re relieved to find that nothing is amiss. The muscle you’d formed from years of handling your staff flex without shooting a single pang of pain through you. Your left arm is unbroken and the skin on your right elbow is intact. The only thing suffering at the moment is your poor, overstimulated nose.

"Someone gave me a potion," you say to yourself, a bad habit borne from years of being surrounded by eccentric scholars with a penchant for making pointless declarations to no one in particular. And then you're thinking about the going rate of the panacea. 50 gil last you checked, right? You'll certainly have to pay your savior back. Also however much it costs to stay a night in this bed. And you have...? 1,500- no, 1,475 gil after fueling up your mope- "Crap! The moped!"

Caution is thrown to the wind as you leap from the twin-sized bed. You're too busy freaking out over the loss of your only means of transportation that you barely pay your surroundings any mind. If you had, you would’ve spotted the oversized sweater resting on the counter of the kitchenette; the sleeve stitched up expertly as if it had never been torn, folded neatly into a deceptively small rectangle to show off the Spire patch on the right breast.

Somewhere in the back of your head it registers that you're in a caravan- possibly the one you spied in Hammerhead while the blonde woman had filled up Choco Jr.’s tank. The second you swing the caravan’s door open, that subconscious suspicion is confirmed. It wouldn't be surprising if you were mistaken for a vampire. You do hiss the second the blinding sunlight beats against your face, after all. 

Luckily for you, your theatrics draw the attention of a lithe and (unbeknownst to you) habitually helpful blond man. He'd been lounging on one of the plastic chairs just outside the caravan and jolts to attention the second the door bangs open, as loud as a gunshot in the mild morning air. "Hey! You're awake!" He exclaims, blue eyes wide but not nearly as wide as the relieved smile on his face.

Like a pissed-off owl, your head swivels wildly in his direction as you bark, "Where the hell is my moped?" It takes a second for you to really start seeing him. Then you taste bile and regret on your tongue. For you see, the blond before you isn't just any loud, fluffy-haired, punk-rock-dressing so-and-so. No, you're not nearly that lucky and the universe doesn't have quite enough room for two of his kind. Or it shouldn’t. This is Prince Noctis' friend. Perhaps his best friend.

You'd studied the faces and names and backgrounds of all of the people in close contact with the prince, as customarily expected of someone in your position. All of your (meager) etiquette training was solely for the purpose of interacting with and impressing these people. And you just snapped at the best friend of the Crown Prince. Oh, if only there was a way to rewind time. I mean, there's a spell for that but those things never work out how they're supposed to.

"Your...? Oh!" The blond, Prompto Argentum, you recall, rubs the back of his head and chuckles nervously, freckled face taking on a pink hue. "Uh, well... it's... kinda... wrecked."

"Wrecked," you parrot. All you can do is parrot. You'd trashed Drusa's gift in less than 24 hours and nearly bit the head off of your prince's friend. You're not exactly feeling very well, to be honest. If anyone would love to see you right now it would be your mother. She could never suppress your fiery spirit enough to get you to be quiet for longer than a minute. Though, considering the circumstances of your leadened tongue, she probably wouldn't enjoy it too much.

"Yeah." Cornflower blue eyes drop down to the pavement as Prompto toes the ground with his boot. Your eyes drop as well, fixated on the scuff marks on his black boots. The blond’s voice is soft, "Ignis is really upset about it so he'd love to know that you're okay."

Eyes fly up. You practically sound like you’re shouting compared to him. "Ignis," you repeat. "Ignis Scientia."

Something akin to alarm straighten’s the sharpshooter’s back. There’s a distinct reservation in his face as he fixes you with a serious look. "Okay, now I'm not so sure if you're all right. Maybe you should go lie-"

"The Crown Prince's strategist ran me over?"

Those blue eyes widen marginally. "It-It was an accident!" That guttural panic in his voice and the fear in his eyes gives you pause. There wasn't anything accusatory in your tone and you didn't mean to imply anything. The guy looks as though he thinks you're going to press charges like they do in those thrillers or- "Please don't tell anyone about this! Noct isn't even-!"

"Why would I?" You blurt, unabashedly interrupting him.

He blinks a few times in response to your blunt question. "What?"

"Why would I tell anyone?"

Prompto squints at you, wondering if you’re playing head games or something. "Well, because we totaled your moped and you got hurt."

"Sure, Mr. Scientia flattened me on the highway but I wasn't paying much attention, to tell the truth." You simply watch as relief washes over the young man, tension leaving his body in an instant. "Besides," you shrug dispassionately and glance around the parking lot, "it would look bad on me, too."

Prompto cocks his head like a bird. "Why's that? Because you were driving recklessly?"

Upper lip twitches as you think about your lack of any formal driving education. "That and it wouldn't help my burgeoning image. Imagine the things the press would say if they found out the Crown Prince's unlicensed arcane advisor greeted him by running into his car with a moped that doesn’t legally belong to them?"

"Wait. What? Who?"

It's at this moment that you realize you spent so much time learning about Noctis' inner-circle only to have them not know a damn thing about you. The tips of your ears burn. A steady heat crosses your cheeks but you try to remain aloof, maybe even haughty. You’ve never been a great conversationalist when it comes to one-on-one talks and joking usually helps defuse tension... "Hm? You do know that I'm his arcane advisor, don't you?" You simper, crossing your arms lazily, "Are you confused because you didn't think I’d be so attractive? How funny."

Yeah, right,” you think wryly, even as your ego smarts.

"I- You're Arch-Mage (y/n) Iovita? For real?"

That damn title. You've always hated that when you finally got out of the Spire and finally joined Noctis' side, you would hold the title of Arch-Mage despite having left the Spire in your dust. There had been rumblings back in “ye olden times” to get a second title made for the arcane advisor since “Arch-Mage” was technically the title of the mage directing the Spire. However, the proposed title, “Archon,” was shot down since it made it sound like the arcane advisor had way more power than they really did. Smart move on the Crown’s part. It had been the Spire’s objective to steadily increase the arcane advisor’s clout, starting with a title change.

"Prince Noctis isn't king yet, therefore I don't officially have that title- it still belongs solely to my mother given her position in the Spire. But yeah. That's me." You shrug, trying to rid yourself of the full-body blush that you can feel prickling at your skin under the blond’s almost reverent gaze. Six, you’re feeling tense. Anymore of this and you’re just gonna have to walk right on out of this conversation. 

"That's you?!" Prompto’s eyes look a little starry and now there's no way in hell that you can hide your blush. "I can't believe we ran you over!"

Teeth bite down on the inside of your cheek, choking back a snort as you fire back, "Neither can I."

Prompto looks like he’s about to say something else when you freeze. You had been trying to keep up your indifferent persona, gaze flickering in faux-boredom around the parking lot and over the diner, before landing on two figures headed toward you from the garage. To you, it feels like the whole world freezes along with you. Afflicted by a sudden case of tunnel-vision, you walk past a confused Prompto on increasingly unsteady legs before falling to one knee before Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum himself. Heart beats in your throat, nearly choking you and preventing you from speaking. 

It’s him. For years you’ve waited for this day- patiently on some days, but the majority of the time impatiently. You could spot him in a crowd- decked out in black fatigues with that raven hair of his and his seemingly perpetually brooding expression. To you, he’s always been the face of freedom, as dramatic as that sounds. Yeah... it sounds pretty dumb.

Sucking down a breath of courage, you duck your head like you’d been trained to do and announce in the strongest voice you can muster, "Your Highness, you shall not come to harm under my protection. I, (y/n) Iovita, swear a solemn oath to guide you in the arcane arts and, should the time come, lay my life down in place of yours. If you'll have me, I will see you safely to Altissia."

Nailed it.”

But do you really nail it? 'Cause the prince doesn’t immediately respond. He’s so quiet that you start to sweat. Hell, you even begin to wonder if you just swore an oath to a prince impersonator like the ones they hire to have at parties. Tension coils in your gut when the silence drags on even longer- way too long. Chancing a glance up, you see the Crown Prince with his face turned away from you, cheeks dusted a flattering but very obvious pink. Beside him, his Shield, Gladiolus Amicitia, is grinning from ear to ear. Brow quirks as you wonder what you did wrong. 

Sure, the setting is less than ideal. You making a solemn oath of loyalty in the parking lot of a roadside diner is hardly a story for the history books. Plus, you think you might be kneeling in someone’s spilled soda. Your knee is feeling kinda sticky... A couple of people have stopped to stare now. One woman whips her phone out and is taking pictures. Or maybe she's recording a video? Heat slowly begins to creep up your neck.

"Well, whataya say, Your Highness? They're waiting for your answer," Gladiolus drawls, crossing his arms over his broad chest. You almost want to send a little electric zap his way for imitating your accent.

The prince shifts from foot to foot before shrugging like this is all a huge bother. "We were supposed to pick you up from the Spire anyway, so, yeah… Come with us, Iovi- (y/n)..."

You blink, the air of decorum falling around you in pieces. "What? I mean- What do you mean, my prince? I was told-"

"Stop being so formal. Just ‘Noctis’ or 'Noct'." The prince murmurs, looking thoroughly mortified, "And stand up."

In one sprightly movement you're up on your feet and pinning the prince with an impertinent stare. "I was told to meet you in the Crown City before you departed."

"We left Insomnia like five days ago," pipes up Prompto from behind you.

"Five days?! But I left the Spire yesterday!"

"Er, we had some car troubles and we needed to earn gil to pay for repairs, so..." the blond trails off guiltily.

"And we're gonna need to earn even more now," Gladiolus adds, rubbing salt in the wound with a straight face.

Your eyes narrow to slits. "So, you’re saying you forgot about me?"

"No, of course not." A posh voice reassures you and you turn your hellfire gaze off of the trio to watch a tall bespectacled man exit the diner with a cup of coffee in hand. Your lips purse on instinct as Ignis Scientia explains, "We came to the conclusion that it would be prudent to pay off our debt before collecting you." 

Keen green eyes appraise you from head to toe before the strategist nods approvingly to himself and if you squint you can see he looks like a weight has been lifted off of his shoulders. “It’s good to see that you’re all right, (y/n). I apologize for my carelessness.”

Well, at least someone knows who the hell I am without me doing introductions.”

And now you know why everyone was in such a rush to get you out of the damn Spire, too. Five days had passed since Noctis left Insomnia. Five days. They'd all assumed the prince simply forgot to pick up his arcane advisor and who could blame them? The whole tradition of breeding an arcane advisor for the King of Lucis is stuck in the realm of antiquity. Lucis' kings have always been proficient in magic so the position you inherited is a purely decorative and highly political one.

If you recall your Spire history correctly (and of course you do), there was one king who was just okay with magic. It didn't interfere with his duties in the slightest but the Spire swooped down like a rabid cockatrice and dug its talons into the royal advisory board the second they caught wind of that tidbit of gossip. Ever since then, the Spire has groomed mages for the illustrious and frivolous position. If it wasn't for good ol’ Arch-Mage Hermes, the institution would've been just another stuffy, elitist college with the misfortune of being in perhaps the most inconvenient location in all of Eos. 

That location alone would've eventually killed the place millennia ago, astronomical tuition aside. And, okay, sure, once in a blue moon the arcane advisor might have a little nugget of wisdom to impart on the king but it's rare. Like, super rare. So rare that the Spire always marks down the occasion just to have something to pat their back over and the advisor in question gets a nice oil portrait in the grand hall. A portrait so large that if it fell off the wall it could likely kill someone.

You highly doubt you'll be seeing a portrait of yourself before you breathe your last breath. Word on the street is that Noctis is highly skilled in elemancy. And with Noct marrying the Oracle, of all people? Well, your presence is a moot and very touchy point. To say that the magisters had been pissed would’ve been the understatement of the century. They all took the engagement as a personal attack- a political attack on the Spire. 

The Spire had been very vocal about their disdain for the whole arrangement despite the importance of the treaty, saying that they felt King Regis was trying to squeeze them out of court. The Spire didn’t do itself any favors by slandering the Oracle, either. 

It had been ugly with a capital “U” but luckily kept out of the public eye. And from the politely reserved looks on Ignis’ and Gladiolus’ face? Well, they’re close enough to the royal family to know of the Spire’s caterwauling and King Regis’ very public announcement about his respect for the close relationship between the Crown and that most ancient and prestigious college for Lucian mages. Hell, they probably think you’re just as politically motivated and underhanded about your entering Noctis’ inner-circle as the Spire. Oh… Oh yeah. You can already tell that this is going to be a tense trip.

I’m the most skilled mage outside of the Spire second only to the Oracle herself,” you assure yourself, teeth set on edge when you realize you've waited far too long to respond to your fellow royal advisor. All I have to do is prove I’m worthy to stand by the prince’s side. Prove I’m an asset… not a snake.”

Shaking off your insecurities, you offer the prince and his allies a polite smile and a clipped, "It’s no trouble at all, Mr. Scientia. The accident was entirely my fault and I’m just happy to be of service."

Chapter Text

02. Confidence

Everything happens quickly. You go from swearing fealty to Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum with all the pomp and circumstance that had been expected of you to squishing him against the interior of the Regalia in the blink of an eye. There isn’t any time to check on the remains of Choco Jr. in Hammerhead’s garage before you’re being rushed off in the pursuit of creatures and gil- in that order.

“Don’t worry,” Prompto shoots you a reassuring look over his shoulder, having called shotgun before the Regalia had even left the garage looking like it had never even flattened a mage, “we’ll pay off those repairs and you’ll have your moped back in no time!”

“My moped?” You perk up, as stiff as a board between the guy you’re supposed to serve and his massive bodyguard- staff laying across your lap and Gladio’s (he insists that he doesn’t mind, one dark eyebrow quirked and an amused smile on his lips). Every time your left knee gets so much as a millimeter into the space you dubbed the prince’s “bubble,” you recoil and nearly slam your right knee into Gladio’s. 

“It was salvaged?” You ask.

“I didn’t hit you that hard,” Ignis murmurs and you can see a crease form between his perfectly arched eyebrows as he shoots you an unamused glance in the rearview mirror, “I hit the brake, not the gas.”

Despite your unease, you feel your lips quirk into an impish smirk. “And the horn, too, if I remember correctly. You were practically resting on it like it was a pillow.”

“You remember the accident?” Gladiolus rumbles from beside you and you nearly elbow Noctis in the ribs to look up at the Shield. Six, the leather of the Regalia’s seats is doing absolutely nothing to make moving around and not sliding into Noct any easier.

“Yeah.” You’re grinning now and that makes Gladio grin even though he has no idea what you’re on about. Guess he’s just an easygoing guy. “I made eye-contact with Mr. Sci- I mean, Ignis. It was kind of romantic.”

The sigh from Ignis coupled with the collective laughter of the others makes you all warm and fuzzy on the inside. You’re positive Ignis is damning Noctis right now for telling you to be “casual” and “just be yourself” after you’d fumbled with your etiquette training like a drunk juggler. 

“We already ran you over, I’d say we’re a bit beyond formalities at this point,” the prince had chuckled and you were struck by his easy sense of humor. Truth be told, you had a hell of a time trying to get an audience that would be appreciative of your particularly dark brand of humor back at the Spire. The mages were either wary of you and your status as the Arch-Mage’s erudite child (hell, they treated you like the spawn of Ifrit most days) or they were totally humorless. 

And your mother rarely humored you- always so busy overseeing admissions and finances and her own various research projects even though she had people to do the former for her. If you swaggered into her office with some acidic wit on your tongue and mischief in your eyes, she would just nod with a pleasantly strained smile and ask how your studies were going- a none too subtle order to get back to the old grind. Now? Your repressed humor has come out to play.

“You’re nothing like I thought you’d be,” Gladiolus suddenly admits, side-eyeing you just as Ignis brings the car to a gentle stop on a dirt road.

“What’d you think I’d be like?” You query, feeling anxiety quicken your pulse.

Here it comes,” you think, “the inevitable rumors of: The Arch-Mage’s kid is some weirdo dungeon-dweller.”

Noctis eagerly opens his door and slides out of the Regalia, slides right out of that conversation, and you’re quick to follow. The air is hot and dry, making you instantly regret throwing on your sweater- gods, you can already feel your shirt sticking to your back. With a cursory look around, you take note that there’s nothing but desert as far as the eye can see with the occasional rock formation breaking the pale blue horizon. Just to be on the safe side, you commit these formations to memory in case you need to recall landmarks.

“Mean,” Prompto admits with a shrug of his bare, freckled shoulders that are already starting to burn an alarming pink under the sun, answering your question before Gladiolus can take a stab. “The old advisor was really mean. When she would come around, entire streets would get shut down in Insomnia and she was always really cold and condescending in interviews."

“You mean my mother?” You snort and the sharpshooter’s eyes nearly pop out of his head. Guess he forgot the relation already. "And trust me, I can be cold. We've known each other all of ten minutes. I think it's in my blood, actually. Like I'm half naga or something."

“Not just mean but humorless,” Gladiolus adds, ever the blunt talker and completely glossing over your self-deprecating joke. “Spire mages have a bad reputation for being a bunch of assholes. Once they're out roaming around in the real world, they act like everyone owes 'em somethin' for nothin’."

“Scary, too,” comes Noct’s low voice from beside you and you turn your wide eyes onto him.

Et tu, Noctis?”

What's this fresh hell you've walked right into? Everyone’s making it sound like they expected you to be some sort of authoritarian nightmare with a pretty staff... Well, you did ask what they thought you'd be like, didn't you? It's just that you weren't expecting a verbal gangbang. No wonder they postponed picking your sorry butt up. “Scary? Seriously?” A scoff tumbles off of your lips. Honestly, you'd argue you're the least scary thing to come out of the Spire in centuries. "Way to generalize, guys."

"You asked," Gladio points out.

“Let’s just find the dualhorn that’s been giving the locals trouble, shall we?”

And that solidifies the image of Ignis as peacekeeper that you’d slowly begun forming since you met the guy. Staff in hand, you follow the troupe as they make their way through the desert and toward some sparse greenery. Internally, you complain the whole time. You’re not nearly comfortable enough with the guys to bitch aloud. Then again, Noct and Prompto do plenty of it for you, much to Gladio’s frustration (How many times can he tell Noct to take off his damn jacket before the prince finally listens?). And of course, when nothing happens for a solid minute, your daydream-prone mind wanders.

A large part of you is glad to know what the guys expected of you and that, so far, you've exceeded their admittedly low expectations. In truth you weren't really that surprised about their poor opinions of Spire mages. The unfortunate reality is that the majority (not all) of the students you crossed paths with were entitled brats. Such is the nature of your profession. Mages usually end up being parasites looking for fat, wealthy hosts to coast them through life. And the Lucian military is always accepting mages into its ranks as healers, soldiers, and paper-pushers to live on that sweet, sweet taxpayer money. Gotta have some sort of safety net after going into debt at the Spire.

But speaking of first-impressions, so far the guys are exactly how you guessed they would be. After all, you did do a substantial amount of research on them. However, you don't vocalize this. No need to create that creeper image you were so fearful they already had of you.

Bzzt!

Jolting to attention, your hand flies to your back pocket and you pull out your phone- the little cactuar charm snagging your sweater and pulling a thread loose. Damn! With all the excitement, you never texted Drusa or called your mother back. Face scrunched up in guilt and apprehension, you open the text to find the expected reprimand. It's all in caps with superfluous punctuation, to boot. And she made a typo which means the anger is real. 

YOU WREKED THE KING'S CAR?!?!?!

"Um, Pri- Noctis?" You call out to the prince, coming to a halt and scrolling through your contacts before hovering your thumb over the call button. When the young man stops to look at you, expression mildly curious, you hold up your phone with a sheepish grin and explain, "I have to check in and let the Arch-Mage know I'm with you."

All you get is a furrowed brow and a "yeah" in response. To your surprise, he doesn't continue without you and neither do the others. Instead, the men all come to a halt and wait around. They watch you with varying degrees of interest. Oh. So you're gonna have an audience for this dreaded call? This makes you preemptively lower the volume on your phone so they can't hear your grown ass get scolded like a child. She answers in the middle of the second ring.

"(y/n)."

Six, her tone sends a cold shiver up your spine. Very much aware of your audience, you plaster on a smile and respond brightly, "Hello, mother. I made it! Turns out the prince and I were in Hammerhead at the same time so I didn’t need to go to the Crown City. Anyway, I just wanted to call to let you-"

"One call in over twenty-four hours. No texts, not even with Magister Drusa. I called you fifteen times, (y/n). Fifteen!" She takes a breath and you know it's going to get worse. "Get the prince here. I don't care how you do it- be a sniveling supplicant for all I care. Just get him here so I can fix what you've broken."

You turn your back on the guys when Noct's already intense gaze starts to burn through your many layers of clothes. "The Regalia has already been repair-"

"A formal apology from the Spire is more important than some grease monkey banging a wrench against a car and fixing the physical damage that you've done. This is a matter of long-standing business relations, not property damage, (y/n)."

Frustration simmers in your gut. You wouldn’t even be in this position if you’d been properly prepared and she’s acting like it’s all your fault. Teeth clench on a few choice words. You should've clenched a little harder because now you're suddenly hissing into the phone, "If you'd cared so much about the college's close relationship with the Crown, then you would've done a better job on my education, mother."

"Driving-"

"I'm talking about the nighttime, street walking daemons! Not the damn moped!" Behind you, Prompto clears his throat uncomfortably and starts trying to make idle chit chat with Noctis. He says something about owning him in King’s Knight and the prince is quick to tell him he’s going to make the blond eat his words. Gladiolus joins in on the banter but you’re pretty sure Ignis is still very much tuned into your heated conversation. What a snoop.

There's silence on your mother’s end for a moment before being broken with a harsh, "Dammit!"

A smirk pulls your lips up despite your anger. "Careful, mother. Better hope no one was around to hear that one."

A long suffering sigh rattles through the phone before your mother says, sounding downright exhausted, "(y/n)..." another sigh, "I was going to tell you. There was an entire debriefing session planned for your departure-"

Aaaaaaand you tune out. Leave it to Decima to turn everything into a strictly regimented ordeal. A tension headache has already made a home in your right temple and you cut the Arch-Mage off in the middle of her laying out the scheduled topics for your exit orientation (something about daemons, bartering for goods, the value of gil, chocobo rental fees, and places where you shouldn’t eat or sleep). 

"Mother, we'll be there when Prince Noctis can make the time. He's very busy and important. Love you." You hang up and shove the phone back in your pocket with a bit more force than necessary. She knew about the accident and didn't even ask how you were. You tell yourself that she probably heard you were okay since she knew about the ordeal in the first place, but that doesn't keep you from feeling mildly disappointed and very disheartened. It’s times like this where you believe that tripe about “parental instincts” not being something that comes easy to everyone who has a kid.

No use crying over spilled milk.” With that less than inspiring and highly unoriginal thought in mind, you turn on your heel and you head toward the group like nothing is amiss.

"Everything all right?" Noct asks, blue eyes raking over you as you swiftly close the distance between the two of you.

"Yup!" With a disarming smile, you announce, "We need to go to the Spire when you have the time- so, like, a century from now or, ideally, never. Everyone there is going to kiss your boots and name their first-born after you. Gonna be a lot of kids named Noctis in like five or ten years."

As your first act of “keeping it real with the prince”- that is, treating him like a Regular Joe like he asked- you waltz on by him without further explanation, twirling your staff around like it's a toy and not a weapon capable of channeling immeasurable power. They must be able to hear you grinding your teeth. Or there’s a storm cloud over your head like in the cartoons because everyone keeps their distance, save for Gladiolus who gently bumps your shoulder as he walks by and tells you that he’s taking point since dualhorns aren’t a joke. His warning barely registers as you follow on his heels, eyes on the sky. 

It’s a struggle to stay present. It’s a struggle to not dwell on the fact that you screwed up the second you set foot outside of that ancient college. It’s damn near impossible to avoid thinking about how everyone who knows about this at the Spire is never going to let you live it down.

All the more reason to never go back.”

You’re totally sulking. And you hate that you’re sulking… and so early in the day, too! So, to prevent the image of “Extreme Sulker” from sticking with you in front of the guys and to help shake yourself out of this mood, you pick up your pace to try and talk to Gladio since you can hear the other three making conversation (though it’s still mostly bitching about the heat from Prince Wears All Black and Ignis wistfully mentioning the can of Ebony that awaits him back in the Regalia). 

“Hey, Gladiolus,” you chirp, jogging a bit to keep up with his brisk pace. You’re no good at conversation, but you held your own pretty well with Prompto earlier, so you’re feeling a little confident. 

Warm amber eyes flicker down at you and the Shield mercifully slows his roll a bit. “Hey, Magey.”

Magey? The hell kinda nickname is that?”

The brunet chuckles, a low, rumbling noise that hits you right, smack-dab in the middle of your chest. “A pretty damn good one, if you ask me.” He looks down his strong, aquiline nose at you and snarks, “But from the look on your face, I guess you beg to differ, huh, Magey?”

A painful snort leaves you at his jest. “You bet your leather-clad a-”

The spindly little branches of a dried-up shrub snag greedily at your pant-leg and nearly make you bite your tongue as you stumble forward. Face aflame, you hastily stoop over, rip the sharp thing from your leg, and attempt to continue walking like nothing happened. Who tripped? You didn’t trip. You don’t know what that was but you certainly didn’t trip… However, one heavy hand rests on your shoulder as Gladiolus roots you to the spot, keeping you from moving on.

"Tuck 'em into your boots," Gladio orders more than he suggests, head nodding down toward your pants. When you don't immediately move to follow his orders, the large man is bending over and carefully stuffing your pant legs into your calf-high boots. The bodyguard straightens out and immediately notices your obvious embarrassment. With a half-shrug and a shit-eating grin he states, "Looks pretty boss this way, too."

You swear you'll wear your pants and boots like this for the rest of your life. Before you can thank him or make any other noise that sounds like it actually belongs to a human, Ignis is ordering everyone to be quiet. A glance over your shoulder and you spot the strategist furrowing his brow, green eyes fixated on something off to the right of the group. The sunlight reflects off of his lenses, giving him a cunning look.

You blame Gladiolus’ weird, stupefying endearing-ness for the fact that you don’t immediately join the fray. And to be honest? You get the distinct feeling that this quartet doesn’t need anyone but each other when it comes time for a scuffle. They glide easily around the massive dualhorn, parrying here and stabbing there, shooting and warping. Years of practice make for an almost hypnotizing battle dance. The hulking gray beast doesn’t stand a chance.

And I won’t stand a chance of proving myself useful if I don’t stop gawking,” you think, suddenly snapping to attention at that realization.

The air burns your nose as you inhale sharply, sprinting up onto the battlefield and hoping you don’t get gored. "Outta the way!" You command more out of courtesy than necessity. Though your magic won't hurt the guys (you trained too damn long and on too many toads for something like that to happen), you figure it's better to give them a heads up than have them freak out when they're suddenly in the midst of one of your destructive spells. 

It takes a few seconds for them all to cautiously and curiously make their way behind you. That mass of tough gray skin and corded muscle lumbers around in panic- it’s all you see, like the world around the dualhorn has gone black. The iron in your hands purrs and heats up exponentially- it's a fine line between uncomfortably hot and so scalding that you can barely stand it. An elegant twirl and the staff cuts through the air with swish! before being quickly followed with a forceful crack! as you slam the sharp end of your staff into the dirt.

A heatwave shimmers in front of you, slowly but surely intensifying into combustible energy; a great wall of fire that pushes quickly and relentlessly across the battlefield like a red-hot tidal wave. If it were a natural occurrence, the shrubs around the dualhorn would've been nothing but little fireballs, but your magic is tuned to the dualhorn and leaves the shrubbery untouched- free to snag some unsuspecting mage's pants another day.

The tortured noises that the dualhorn makes as it finally, mercifully dies gives you a heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach. Maybe you should’ve done something different? Ended it faster? No one else seems fazed by the creature’s death like you, so you tell yourself it’s something you’ll just have to get used to. It was a menace, you rationalize, it could’ve hurt some dumb hiker... Prompto's vocal amazement serves to distract you from your discomfort, that freckled arm slinging around your shoulders and bringing you into a tight side-hug that makes you feel like you’ve been friends for ages.


You wanted to prove your worth, right? You wanted to prove that you would be an asset to Prince Noctis, that you were completely capable of protecting him, guiding him, and looking out for his best interests like a good advisor should? You wanted to prove that you were so much better than those past figureheads that the Spire served to the Crown like a plate with nothing but garnish on it (your ancestors not included in that generalization)? Right?

Well, good job! Because your little fire-wall trick had piqued Noct’s interest so much that he pretty much insisted on you single-handedly taking out all of the quarry Takka, the owner of the diner at Hammerhead, was offering up a bounty for. There were only four hunts available to novice hunters like yourselves (Oh, how you’d guffawed when Takka had called you a hunter… You? A hunter? Ha!) and Noct had swiped them all up like a kid at a candy shop, blue eyes glinting with zeal though he only wore a ghost of a smile.

“Ready, (y/n)?” He’d asked as the five of you made your way back to the Regalia.

“No,” you’d replied swiftly, stomach in nervous knots.

Though you know Noct wants to see you in action, you have a hard time pinning the “mage goes solo” bit on him. It must’ve been Gladio’s idea with how the Shield constantly shoots you appraising looks each time you ready your staff. Or maybe Ignis? With each fight, he watches with his chin grasped between his thumb and forefinger. It couldn’t have been Prompto’s plot! The guy doesn’t seem to have a nefarious bone in his body. But boy does he enjoy it all the same, hooping and hollering at each spell.

All of those missed sparring sessions with the Crownsguard member haunt you each time you hop into the Regalia to find your next prey. You’re tired- no, exhausted. This is the most exercise you’ve had in your whole life and you lived in a tower with fifteen floors and no elevator for twenty years! (Not that you never tried to talk your mother into getting an elevator installed…). Muscles ache, sure, and your joints throb, but you feel drained to your very core. The effects of performing so many magical feats in as many hours, you’re sure.

At least the repairs will be paid for in no time,” you think optimistically… because if you aren’t optimistic now you’re probably going to go off on the prince and his entourage. You thank the Six that Cato had taught you to dodge harder than a politician in an unscripted interview, because those lessons alone keep you from getting gored, kicked, maimed, and trampled. You swear you’re walking around with one foot in the grave now that you’re by the prince’s side. This isn’t what you signed up for.

“Wow! I never expected you to be such a good fighter!” Prompto gushes as you hobble over to the group, scratched up and battered from going toe-to-toe with a particularly feisty group of sabertusks. You’re soaked in sweat and your stench alone will probably protect you from daemons when night falls. The sharpshooter either doesn’t notice your stench or pretends not to once you get close enough for him to flash his camera’s screen at you. “I got some great shots of you. Ooh, this filter looks awesome with your ice shield!”

It’s as you get closer that you realize the little shutterbug is flipping through the photos in his camera… photos that all star you. Hell, you didn’t know he was taking pictures of you this whole damn time! You’re half tempted to smack the camera out of his hands, mood sour from getting pinned by one of the sabertusks only to have the guys watch on as you screamed bloody murder before making the thing blast off like a rocket with a burst of fire. Sure, they would’ve helped if they thought you were in any real danger… But you’re still miffed.

“Thanks,” you grunt none too appreciatively, earning yourself a raised eyebrow from Noct’s strategist and childhood friend. You keep your eyes glued to Prompto, ignoring Ignis. “Make sure to use a good one for my wake.”

“Nice one,” Gladio chuckles, coming up behind you and smacking down on your shoulders so hard that you swear he just compacted your spinal column. “You did good, (y/n). You’ve got a helluva survival instinct.”

“Well, if my only options are to get eviscerated or turn a creature into a shooting star, I’m not going to think too long about it,” you murmur, rolling your shoulders to make sure you can still move them. You can. And damn it hurts.

“Your magic is really somethin’ else,” Noct adds, jumping onto Gladio’s praise-train and making you flush. If you blush anymore in this heat, though, you’ll surely die of heatstroke.

“Th-Thank you, Your High-er Noct.”

“Yes, it was very impressive. Aside from when you got pinned and kept looking at us,” the strategist teases before handing you your sweater which he had folded over his arm for safe keeping (you’re grateful, otherwise the thing would be nothing more than shreds at this point). 

You take it but don’t dare put it on for fear of the heat and of ruining it with your sweat. “I was trying to tap out.” You huff indignantly, carefully folding your sweater over your arm and grimacing as it immediately makes your arm almost insufferably warm. Toeing the dirt with your boot, you purse your lips and gripe, “But I guess none of you could see my hand gestures. Don’t worry… I understand. It’s not like I’ll hold it against you in future fights and take my sweet time getting to you when you call for help or anything.”

“I’ve never even seen your mom do half the things you did today,” Noct says, brushing over your empty threat.

“That’s because there was rarely any reason for the Arch-Mage to engage in combat back in the Crown City,” Ignis informs from his place beside the prince. You’d made note that the men always made sure Noct was covered in case one of the creatures got bored with chasing you around the desert and opted to pounce on the prince instead. Ignis addresses you, “I’ve heard Arch-Mage Decima is highly skilled. She personally oversaw the majority of your training, did she not, (y/n)?”

Well… she did up until about ten years ago. The majority of your time had been spent under the tutelage of magisters who can’t “do” magic the same way you can. So, when your mother became engrossed in her mysterious research a decade ago and became, for all intents and purposes, a shut-in, all of your studies became purely theoretical with the occasional practice on toads since no one trusted you enough to become your personal guinea pig- prodigy or not (especially not after you accidentally sent Magister Ingrid through a second-floor window...).

However, the Crown only allowed your mother to keep you in the Spire for your studies because they had been under the impression that you were being taught theoretical and practical magic. And you know this. So, although you love seeing people with egg on their face, you aren’t the type to throw your own mother under the metaphorical bus. Instead, you toss Ignis a winning smile (the kind that would always get you out of trouble when you were caught stealing from the kitchens), and say, “Yeah. How else would I be such a badass?”

Green eyes bore into you, studying you. Under that gaze you feel like you’ve been sized up a million times over. Oh, Six, he’s one of those weirdly perceptive people who can literally smell lies, isn’t he? A slight smile upturns the corners of his mouth and the strategist concedes, “Of course. Perhaps it would be best if we all train together sometime. It would behoove us to make sure we fight seamlessly together.”

“Yeah, sounds great,” Noct answers before you can open your mouth, clearly not catching onto the tension between you and his dear friend. Or he does and chooses to gloss over it. Either way, you’re grateful. Still, you feel wary. Should you fess up to lying? 

Tell the strategist that, no, you’ve actually been trained by a bunch of uppity assholes who act like throwing a load of herbs in a mortar and pestle-ing the damn things to death is “magic” and who have, on several occasions, called the King of Lucis’ Wall “okay” like it isn’t actually an amazing feat of epic proportions that they could never hope to be able to replicate in their lifetime? But those green eyes…

The walk back to the Regalia seems to take forever and you’re all covered in a fine layer of dirt once the wind kicks up. You were feeling drained not even a second ago and now you’re wired from that completely un-confrontational “confrontation.” The seats of the Regalia are warm from the intensity of the setting sun and you hear Noct and Prompto bickering with Ignis about sparing 30 gil for the caravan to avoid camping. 

You find yourself saying that you’re fine camping even though you’re barely even present in the conversation, too occupied with staring at the back of Ignis’ head. Green eyes glance up from the road and look at you through the rearview mirror and suddenly you find the desert entrancing. The dirt is glowing orange now, sparkling with fading sunlight as the temperature begins its steep decline. 

In reality you’re a bit bothered by the fact that a simple look from Ignis has you wanting to be truthful. You’ve been a little liar since you could talk- fibbing and telling tall tales to anyone who would listen. Your lies are what helped you keep things interesting in your limited downtime. You’d nick sweets and wine and then have the most ingenious lies to not only cover your tail but incriminate absolutely no one.

“Don’t you know how much wine that roasted chicken dish needs?”

“How are we supposed to keep track of the sweets when they’re served as part of a buffet?”

The cooks didn’t get scolded for the missing wine or the vanishing pastries and you lived to steal again. No harm done! Except now your little habit of harmless fibbing has you feeling guilty under Ignis’ knowing gaze. Having grown up with a lack of a stable parental or otherwise authoritative figure in your life, being around someone who so easily takes on the caretaker and disciplinary role has you reeling. It’s not surprising that he’s like this, though, considering he basically raised Noctis.

No need to get so worked up over a white liethough, you muse, brow furrowing when you realize Ignis has pulled into a parking spot just off of the highway and nowhere near Hammerhead.

“The campsite should be right over there,” Noct says, answering your unspoken question as he hops out of the Regalia and quickly crosses the highway to a stone plateau covered in glowing runes that overlooks the empty road, Prompto on his heels.

“Wait up!” Gladio calls after the prince, exiting the car and motioning to Ignis to pop the trunk. You slide out of the car and help the Shield carry the group’s camping gear over to the site but your helpfulness ends there. 

Camping isn’t exactly something that can be done inside an ancient spire or on grounds that are dominated by a greenhouse, trees, and rocks. So, logically it follows that you have absolutely no idea what to do. Luckily for you, Gladio seems to take it upon himself to get the tent set up while Ignis gets to work making dinner. It’s as you start to slowly realize that you’re going to have to share a tent with everybody that Ignis gets your attention with a piercing look and a gentle wave. “(y/n),” Ignis calls, prompting you to stop shuffling awkwardly around the premises of the campsite and mosey on over toward him. “Do you have any food allergies? Is there anything in particular that you won’t eat?”

A smile brightens your face at his thoughtfulness, easily forgetting his judgmental stare. “No. I’m not a picky eater.”

The tactician turned chef sighs at that, “A small mercy.”

“Hm?”

“Noct is a very picky eater,” Ignis explains, much to your amusement. “He refuses to eat vegetables.”

“Really? As royalty I thought he’d have a broad palate. The cooks in the Spire were always top-notch, so I never had room to complain about my meals.” In fact, you’d go out of your way to get extra food, but you don’t say that. The bespectacled man merely hums in response. Since he doesn’t order you away and you’d rather not go back to awkwardly spooking around, you decide to stick by him and watch what he’s doing.

Back at the college, when you would grow bold enough to shirk your studies, you’d almost always find your way into a student’s room to use their unlocked tablet to stream movies or the kitchens where the cooks would take pity on you and show you how to make pastries (“Oh, that poor, bored child. Here, this might be fun!”). But pastries aren’t on the menu tonight. What Ignis appears to be carefully sculpting and compacting are rice balls. And the guy doesn’t even seem remotely bothered by you hovering over his shoulder, either. In an effort to ease some of the tension you had unwittingly built up between the two of you, you point out, “You’re very skilled at that.”

“Thank you. That’s very kind.”

Awkward silence. 

With a jolt to your stomach, you realize you’ve been standing so close that you can smell a faint trace of his musky cologne. Gods, why didn’t he say anything?! That has you taking one giant and very, very obvious step to the right and out of his bubble. A gentle cough into your shoulder clears your throat. Perhaps it even steels your nerves. “If we camp again, I can make some cakes,” Ignis turns his head toward you, still forming rice balls, and you trail off faintly, “or...” Yeah, that cough did nothing for your nerves.

“You know how to cook?” The strategist inquires, raising an eyebrow.

“Just pastries.” Is your sheepish reply.

A small smile crosses the man’s features and he nods. “Yes. That would be a lovely treat, (y/n).”

You stare. And stare. It isn’t until Ignis furrows his brow and puts down the rice ball he was working on that you snap out of your trance and chuckle, “Okay, cool. Bye!” You barely get the last word out when you’re jogging away and stopping at the edge of camp, eyes wide and palms sweaty. Heart clenches, flutters, and you let out a breath you hadn’t realized you’d been holding.

That was so painful! Just run me over again!”

If it isn’t glaringly obvious from your non-discussion with Ignis and your deer-in-headlights act with Gladiolus, you’re a bit awkward. The strange thing is that this awkwardness is strictly relegated to one-on-one interactions and it’s something that you’ve never been able to grow out of. Drusa says it’s because your formative years were spent in large part interacting with groups no smaller than two: one magister and one maid-turned-nanny would take turns educating you and seeing that you were properly looked after until you came of age to start joining official Spire lectures where you were always surrounded by seven or more of your contemporaries.

The opportunity to engage in meaningful, one-on-one conversations never happened until you were fifteen and started getting progress report interviews with your instructors. Then your mother and the magisters were faced with the awful reality of the awkward, bumbling creature they’d created. Even with people you’d known all your life (save for Drusa and your mother), you’d stammer, stare, and agonize over silences that weren’t even awkward until you made them that way. All socialization seemed to have flown out of the window. Which they all thought was super weird because you were totally okay with groups- even groups of strangers.  

Your one-on-one interactions with Gladio and now Ignis have you mentally face-palming. Earlier in the morning when you’d met Prompto and managed to keep your cool (albeit under a haughty veneer and with lots of blushing), you foolishly thought you were getting better- hell, you thought maybe getting run over or getting out of the oppressive Spire was what you needed to jump-start your people skills. The false hope your talk with Prompto had given you was the catalyst for you even bothering to engage Gladiolus in conversation in the first place. But the verdict is in: Nope. Nuh-uh.

You’re like a battery that can’t hold a charge. When the conversation starts, everything seems okay- your interpersonal skills are actually passable and you come off as witty and a bit charming with a hint of an entitled edge. It’s as the conversation continues that the charge rapidly depletes; you start looking around wildly for someone else to engage or some escape. Words come to you slowly, responses are delayed, insecurities rise. And then you run.

The running part always threw the magisters for a loop and some of them even made a joke of it. It was only Drusa with her background in observational science (she is the one who wrote that massive book you treasure that gives a detailed account on daemons and wildlife in Eos) who pinned it on an excitatory flight-or-fight response. She speculated that somewhere in your childhood you learned to associate one-on-one time with confrontation and uncomfortable feelings that you desperately wanted to escape. Since fighting wasn’t even an option, your natural inclination became to turn tail and run.

Oh, the jokes that were made about how childish you were. And you sure as hell didn’t enjoy being compared to an anak calf Drusa had once observed that got separated from its herd and couldn’t function one-on-one with members of its new herd once it became an adult, thus leading to it getting rejected by the new herd... You just hope the prince and his friends don’t catch on to your quirk and realize you’re the transplanted anak. Honestly, a small part of you yearns for the usual duties of the Arch-Mage that are expected of you... where you’ll only be spoken to during crowded council meetings.

If Ignis thinks you’re weird as hell, he doesn’t say anything. He simply tells everyone that dinner is ready and you all sit around the campfire, chowing down on rice balls and telling stories. It’s as you’re listening to Gladiolus talk about how difficult and rewarding his training as Noct’s Shield was, his story peppered with expletives, that Noct suddenly states, “You know, (y/n), the weirdest thing about you,” ooh boy you sure do cringe, “is that I didn’t think you’d swear so much.”

After your heart stops palpitating you laugh and lamely joke, “When a mage does it, it’s called cursing.”

Gladio boos you and throws a small clump of rice at you for that pathetic joke. You pick the rice from your sweater and eat it. Ignis sighs and the rest of dinner goes off without a hitch. The men all talk easily in front of you, like they didn’t just meet you today (er, technically last night), and you’re able to reciprocate and hopefully ease any suspicions Ignis might have about your social skills. I mean, the worst he can think is that you got all tongue tied because you’re crushing on him. Oh, wait… that’s pretty bad. 

Shit.

Chapter Text

The Bros React to The Mage Arms™

Noctis:

He sees your arms when he loses his last lure and your keen little eyes spot it near some reeds. It’s just the two of you out on the pier and you’d been reading from your grimoire when you heard your prince swear under his breath. Naturally, you have to do something to make him feel better. And what’s a wet pair of pants and drenched undershirt if it gets your raven-haired pal smiling again? Though, you don’t really know that he’ll forget the lure entirely for the sight of you...

“Don’t bother,” Noct grumbles, feeling his cheeks warming up as they always do when you go out of your way to do something for him. Usually it’s when he finds out that you sold all of the little knickknacks you tend to pick up just so you could buy him a sweet from a pitstop. But now you’re going to wade into the lake to retrieve his lure?

Shrugging your cardigan off, you quip, “Why spend gil when I can clearly see the lure, Noct? You’re being unreasonable. Besides, how lucky is this? It’s like that bastard fish wanted you to have it back!”

“You’re being cheap.”

“Excuse me?” You scoff and throw the bulky sweater at him before going to work on your boots. “At least I know the value of money. And no lure should cost over 50 gil, I’m just saying.”

The prince rolls his eyes and folds your sweater over his arm. He’s about to fire back at you for being such a tightwad but the words get stuck in his throat the second your shirt hits him in the chest. Blue eyes stare, transfixed, as the muscles in your forearms flex with the motion of rolling up your pant-legs. He looks away so fast that he nearly gives himself whiplash the second you right yourself. How the hell do you have more muscle tone in your arms than him? He uses swords- even greatswords! In truth, he’s never even held your staff before so he doesn’t know that the thing weighs more than he might think.

The whole time you wade into the lake, he’s thinking about your arms. Those damn arms! He f eels a bit self-conscious, to be perfectly honest. Luckily for you, he’s so wrapped up in thoughts of your toned arms (and how he’d like to be wrapped up in them) that he doesn’t hear you scream when a fish brushes against your leg.

Prompto:

He’s the first one to walk in on you while you’re changing. It’s inevitable, actually. With one tent it’s not like anyone is really afforded much privacy. You’ve no real issue being caught in your underwear in such a context, though... Okay, so you might have an issue with it. But you can play it off splendidly if the other party doesn’t make a big deal out of it. If they back out graciously or cover their eyes? Yeah. That’s something you can work with.

Except that Prompto Freakin’ Argentum doesn’t act like a normal person walking in on his mage pal in their undies. His immediate reaction is to try and defuse the tension with witty commentary on your underwear but then...? He sees them.

Mages aren’t supposed to be cut. Okay? They just aren’t! It defies natural laws! Just like how you weren’t supposed to be so cute and yet here you are. And Prom’s so caught off guard that he can’t even compliment you on your hearts-and-moogles undies. The blond’s face is redder than a Lucian tomato as he sputters, “Nice- I- Wh-What? You? A- Arms?!”

Skin is pure fire but you smirk haughtily and snark, “Yes, Prompto, I have arms. Now I understand how you’re such a splendid shot. You’ve a keen eye. Nothing gets by you.”

And then you begin to dress. But he doesn’t move. Like some sort of voyeur, he remains crouched in the tent’s entrance, blue eyes wide and unblinking. It’s a shared nightmare, to be honest. You almost rip the back of the tent open to escape but you have to save face. What better way to save face than to ruin someone else’s?

As you brush by the sharpshooter whom you accidentally turned to stone from the mere sight of your arms, you quip, “By the way, you’re quite welcome for the show, Prompto. Maybe return the favor some time?”

Well... he wants to die now.

Ignis:

Master of the subtle double-take.

As casual as can be, you ask the bespectacled brunet if he needs any help with dinner prep. Though he’s a bit of a control freak when it comes to matters concerning the “kitchen” and food sanitation, Iggy accepts your kind offer and pretends he doesn’t hear your stomach gurgle happily.

“Wash your hands first.”

Eyes roll and you snort, “I know that. I wasn’t raised by animals.”

“Mmhm.”

You roll your eyes once more at that sassy, dismissive hum. Because Iggy knows that you’re always picking up plants and pieces of rubbish and lately you’ve been picking up creatures, too; from toads to anything avian. Ignis is positive you’re a walking petri dish at this point. But you don’t shoot too much sass back his way. You’re trying to be helpful! And by helpful, I mean you’re helping in the hopes that the skilled cook will let you steal some bites of food before it’s all done. You’re famished, after all.

Rolling the sleeves of your cardigan up above your elbows, you begin scrubbing your arms down like you’re prepping for surgery. Ignis is about to comment that you don’t need to be nearly so aggressive when those green eyes actually look at your arms.

Well, then.

He supposes he shouldn’t be too startled by your physique. That staff of yours is quite heavy. He should know, considering you whacked him over the head with it when you were sparring and he practically saw stars. He could barely hear your deluge of apologies for the pain. “All right.” Iggy nods to himself when he sees that your hands are all clean (and when he finally pries his eyes away from that hint of bicep hidden by dusky lavender sweater), “Would you please crumble this cheese for me?”

“Sure thing,” you chirp eagerly.

He pretends not to see you pop a piece cheese into your mouth here and there along with the tomato that he eventually asks you to slice. Just like you pretend not to notice how his gaze keeps flickering appreciatively over your forearms. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Iggy can’t help but think that it’s such a shame that you always cover up. Which is why you now find yourself being asked to help with food prep quite often. As you roll up your sleeves, green eyes watch attentively under cover of fine lashes.

Gladiolus:

It’s a warm summer morning when he spots you training by yourself away from camp in Leide. Judging by how sweaty you are, he can only guess that you’ve been going at it for about an hour.  And he has to admit, though he admires your dedication he feels a little bit miffed that after all the times you’ve turned down his offer to spar, he’s finding you out here training. Alone. He thought you didn’t like training!

In fact, he’s about to stop in the middle of his early morning run to march on over to you and confront you for constantly blowing him off and not being a team player when he sees that iron staff cut through the air with remarkable finesse. One dark eyebrow pops up in appreciation of how artfully you handle that heavy-looking iron staff of yours. Then the other quickly follows when those amber eyes lock onto your arms and the well-defined muscles that twitch and flex.

Damn.

His neck grows hot and it isn’t from the desert heat. Gladio is of the mindset that you absolutely shouldn’t be so damn muscular. At all. What is even going on? First you have the audacity to be cute and then you have the gall to have nice arms? What the hell? Completely forgetting that he’s supposed to be irritated with you for skipping out on team training, the Shield cuts his jog short to walk up to you and comment, “Nice guns.”

That weighty staff of yours nearly knocks you on your head when you jump and lose your grip on it. So caught up in your drills, you didn’t even hear the brunet making his way toward you... or see him, for that matter. “Thanks,” you murmur, embarrassed by that sudden compliment. Seeing Gladio’s red cheeks, you nod toward your water bottle that rests beside your grimoire off to the side of your training area and ask, “Thirsty?”

His lips quirk. “Yeah.”

After discovering that you actually train, Gladio gets you a sleeveless t-shirt to exercise in. Totally his unsubtle way of getting another look at those damn fine arms. He doesn’t try to strong-arm you into joining his sparring sessions, though, but you eventually spar with him as thanks.

Just wait until he sees your back.

Chapter Text

Slap on the Wrist

Something strange and unexpected has developed.

The bespectacled brunet has a sixth sense for these things. Ignis can taste it in the air even though it doesn’t involve him in the slightest. It’s like sweat on the tip of his tongue that he tries to drown out with canned coffee. To no avail, really. A cloud of perspiration chokes the air around Prompto, and Noctis- the blond’s alleged best friend- is none the wiser to it, in fact the prince is dead to the world. This bizarre anxiety that’s more a blend of nervous tension and curiosity surrounds Gladiolus as well. And the one in the crossfire is you: Oblivious and totally unaffected.

Iggy huffs an inaudible laugh through his nose, eyes trained on the road even as he grasps for his coffee in the center console. Somehow, he already knows that this is going to be how every social interaction with you playing lead actor will end up: With one or more people confused and stressed, and you totally clueless even though you’re the cause of it.

Blue eyes flicker up and to the left to watch you from the Regalia’s rearview mirror. Prompto fidgets, picking at a stain on the knee of his pants from a skirmish with some dualhorns. Beside him, Ignis sits prim yet relaxed in the driver’s seat and in the backseat Noct snoozes peacefully on your left and Gladio reads silently on your right. But Prompto is far from at ease. A song buzzes like a bee in his brain, two voices harmonizing or trying to. It hasn’t been very long since you’ve been traveling with him and the others and yet... Why are you acting so familiar?

Not that he minds! He’s relieved that you’re warming up to everyone, actually. Well... It’s a devious little creature that whispers in his ear: Self-doubt. Part of the freckled sharpshooter says that you only did what you did because you were making fun of him. And what did you do? Those cornflower blue eyes shoot up to glower at Gladiolus through the rearview mirror. Many a time the blond has wondered why Gladio is always picking on him. He doesn’t know that the Shield only does it because he finds the short dork endearing and doesn’t mean any harm, but sometimes Gladiolus Amicitia’s teases can be... In Prompto’s words: Assholish™.

Yes, he’s trademarked the word specifically for the Shield.

Gladio has a smart mouth and Prom can have thin skin. Yet it’s not as though Prompto Argentum never has it coming to him. The guy is far from a saint- in fact, he’s more a daemon than anyone in the damn group. Pranks ranging from stealing toilet paper when someone is in the middle of doing their business, to pretending to be killed by an enemy, he does them all and is absolutely shameless about it. Which makes his offense at Gladio’s teasing all the more mind-boggling to the brunet. It triggered the issue that burrows under the skin of both men. ‘Cause Prompto feels like he’s on weird ground with you now and so does Gladiolus.

And how do you factor into this weird dynamic of prank pulling and gentle gibing? Singing. Just... singing.

Earlier in the day, Prompto set the stage for Gladiolus’ rather sharp tongue by stealing the older man’s book. Being quite quick on his feet, such a spry thing, Prom was able to run circles around the Shield for a solid five minutes- long enough for the joke to stop being funny. Long enough for Gladio to be thoroughly peeved. That frustration simmered in the back of the brunet’s mind all day long until after battle, when Prompto began singing a little victory song to himself. Then? It was the perfect time for him to strike and pierce that thin skin of Prompto’s.

“Someone just step on a cat?” Gladio wondered, exchanging smirks with Noct for that joke before the prince swaggered on up to walk with Iggy.

Heat rushed into Prom’s cheeks, skin flushed red and his neck feeling like it was on fire. Just as he awkwardly began to taper off his singing, another voice chimed in, picking up the tune without missing a beat. Gladio and Prompto both practically snapped their necks to turn to their magical companion who had been scavenging hair from one of the fallen dualhorns. Staff resting on your shoulder, you continued on with Prom’s victory song and the blond hastened to join you, an unsure grin on his face and cheeks more red than ever as you followed Noct. Gladiolus stared.

It was simple enough. You thought you did something of no note, of little import. An innocuous interaction from the new inductee, from the reserved arcane advisor. But it has sent ripples through the group in unexpected ways. Your stoic silence has only ever been broken up by dated pop culture references and factoids about whatever creatures, landmarks, or vegetation you all stumble across. Still adapting to the group, you haven’t yet revealed much else about your personality. Until now.

You’re chivalrous. It’s a nice surprise, for a certainty, but it has Gladdy wondering if you think he’s a jerk since you found it necessary to step in. Sitting beside you, he steals glances at you as you allow Noct to rest his head on your shoulder when Iggy turns a corner. You’re a joker. It’s a bit of a relief for the resident prank gremlin, but it has Prompto wondering if you think he’s a big baby for getting so flustered over a joke... and then he feels like one for wondering that. Again, blue eyes dart up to watch you in the mirror. Beside Prom, an emerald gaze flits between you, the shutterbug, and the Shield.

Iggy sips his Ebony. He isn’t touching this interpersonal crisis with a ten-foot pole.

The drive to Hammerhead to turn in the bounty is uncharacteristically silent. Even though Noct is asleep, the silence isn’t borne from consideration. Everyone knows that a damn bomb could go off and the prince would barely even flutter his little lashes. No, the drives are usually filled with genial chatter; with Prom talking a mile a minute and taking photos of everyone, Gladio ruffling the blond’s hair, you tapping Iggy on the shoulder and asking if you’re all on schedule, and Iggy engaging you in polite conversation with Gladdy and Prom occasionally interjecting.

But you shot that all dead in the face by being polite. It’s kinda funny. In the future you can be rude as hell from seemingly nowhere and it won’t hobble the group’s dynamic; life will go on. The difference is, by that point they’ll know you. Right now? Your intentions are uncharted territory. Prom and Gladdy were both being immature and they aren’t sure who got scolded by the dignified mage.

Prom thinks you were joining Gladio in ribbing him. It’s the only logical explanation. Why else would you sing his lame song? The answer is actually quite simple: You were empathetic to the blond’s plight. Having been on the receiving end of many an unkind teasing, you knew that look. The one Prompto wore was so familiar: Pure, unadulterated shame. The kind of shame that usually warns of tears, the kind that hints at a shaky self-esteem. You wore that same look until you learned not to wear a damn thing in the face of ridicule.

And you don’t hold that cat comment against Gladiolus. You’ve no moral high ground in that regard. Hell, you’ve teased people before. You used to tease Drusa about how she took her tea (“Do you want some tea with your sugar?”) and you’d done worse to others than make fun of their singing if they’d taken the first jab. And you know Prom ruffled Gladio’s feathers earlier in the day. You’d watched on, head cocked to the side and brow furrowed, and wondered how Prompto was so damn fast. So, you know it’s a teasing dynamic and that Gladiolus wasn’t being an ass just to be an ass.

Doubt can spread like an illness, though.

And you make them both doubt themselves and your intentions. Why did you have to pick a juvenile interaction to intrude upon? Why did you have to pick a moment where neither one of them felt very good? It’s overthinking to the extreme coupled with apprehension. Boy, the power of your “mysterious” personality sure does pack a punch when someone isn’t expecting it. Or, in this case, when you’re still a stranger and the guys want to impress you and get on your good side. A bizarre concept to someone nobody tried to impress in the Spire.

It’s a little sad that they’re feeling so unsure because they want you to like them.

“Anyone want anything from the store?” You ask the second the bounty is collected. Pockets are fat with gil and you’ve noticed that the two rambunctious members of the group have gone oddly quiet. Prom keeps shooting you looks like a kicked puppy and Gladio has a permanent frown on his face. Both wonder if they should apologize for... For what? Being a jerk to Prom? Getting upset over Gladio’s joke? Being themselves? The most frustrating part is that they don’t know if you’re mad or if they’re reading too much into this.

The latter. Gods, it’s so the latter. Too bad they’re so caught up in hypotheticals that they’re blind to reality. They don't realize that your singing was a show of camaraderie and not a verbal slap on the wrist to either of them.

“I’ll uh... I’ll go with you,” Prom offers with his patented grin- the one that might accidentally blind someone if the sun hits him just right.

Gladio glances between you two and says, “Yeah. Me, too.”

Curious as to why you suddenly need an escort into a gas station convenience store, you give a noncommittal hum and head to the store with the two in tow while Iggy rouses Noct with promises of the caravan’s cozy bed and a warm meal.

To say the silence between you three is deafening would be an understatement. It’s not just deafening. It’s painful. It feels like the silence after a gaffe with a million witnesses. It sets Prom’s teeth on edge and makes Gladio clench his fists. While they have their little internal torture sessions, you check the expiry date on potted meat and try to find a bag of corn chips that isn’t full of broken pieces. The lackadaisical way with which you move about the store’s small aisles makes both men think you’re pissed. The cold shoulder. That’s what it looks like.

Projection is a bitch.

For his part, Gladdy is wondering why the hell he’s feeling so chagrined. He's a grown-ass man, for crying out loud! Nobody scolds him over teasing Prom. Everybody teases the pint-sized dork! But the way you’d seamlessly picked up the song where Prom left off made his stomach twist oddly. How you shot the blond an affable look, weighty staff resting casually on your shoulder, made the brunet feel... ill? It made him feel a bit like an ass. He always teases Prom! It’s their thing! Yet... The Shield scowls and crosses his arms, watching you marvel over mini bagels. When Gladio can’t take your silent judgment any longer, he sighs, “Listen, Prompto. About earlier-"

That head of fluffy blond hair whips around from where he’d been watching you feel up a bag of mini bagels to see if they’d gone stale. He hurries to beat Gladio to the punch, to hide his skin of crepe paper with an enthused, “That was a funny joke!”

Amber eyes blink rapidly. “Yeah?”

“Uh-huh...” Prompto glances at you. Why are you so disinterested? He’s got egg on his face ‘cause of you showing him what a baby he was being. Your point was that he needs to learn to take it if he wants to dish it out. Right? That if he's gonna prank Gladdy, he needs to be ready for the Shield's sharp tongue? So, why aren’t you paying attention? Oh. He gets it. You want him to really admit it, huh? With pink cheeks, Prom murmurs, “You got me good, big guy. Just forgot to say it in the moment. Right, (y/n)?”

“Hm?” You kneel down, on the hunt for the perfect bag of mini blueberry bagels. Oh, whoa! They have cinnamon ones, too? With both hands, you try and find two good bags of bagels.

Gladio quirks an eyebrow when you bring one of the bags to your face and sniff. “Prom’s wonderin’ if you thought my joke earlier was funny.”

“What joke?”

“About my singing sounding like someone stepped on a cat,” Prom pouts, shoulders hunched as he crosses his arms. Dammit. He didn’t mean to pout. Now Gladiolus is giving him a pointed look behind your back. Freckled cheeks flush in shame. The brunet’s lips twitch and his expression softens into an apologetic one. Prompto smiles.

“Oh, that. It was pretty funny,” you admit with a distracted smile, turning around in the aisle and checking that the lid on the jam you’re now interested in hasn’t been popped. “But for the record, Prompto, you have a lovely singing voice. You should sing more often.” This is said with you shaking that jar of strawberry jam at him, two bags of mini bagels, a bag of corn chips, and a can of potted meat stuffed under your arms.

Prompto Argentum is taken so far aback that you nearly make him time travel. Cornflower blue eyes are wide and starry. “A-Ah... Really?” When you nod, he blushes profusely, a shy grin on his face. “Heh. I’ll do it if you join me again.”

“Of course,” you reply easily, shuffling on over to the cashier with your hefty load of groceries since you’ve silently refused each helping hand that’s been extended to you (Prom tried to grab the corn chips like five times before realizing you had a sort of Jenga set-up with everything under your arms wedged in so tight). As each item is placed on the counter, you ask, shooting the Shield a teasing look over your shoulder, “Do you sing, Gladiolus?”

“Not usually,” he admits with a shrug, “but I can carry a tune.”

An appreciative hum is his reward for his honesty. “Then I hope you join in. Nothing like some bonding over silly songs. I never got to do fun stuff like that in the college. I was an under- appreciated solo act in the library.”

As you smile pleasantly at the cashier, a series of beeps filling the air with each food item that’s handed over, the men stare at your back. A few charming chuckles later and you’ve got a discount. Glances are exchanged. Amber meets sapphire and the two are wonderfully befuddled. Did Gladio just agree to play Lucian Idol with you and Prom? Did you just compliment Prom on his singing? Were you not even mad, considering you didn’t even recall Gladio’s damn joke?

It can all be summarized with one question, the same way almost every interaction they’ll ever have with you can: What the hell just happened?

Chapter Text

Sticky Fingers

Mechanical noises emanate from the far corner of the diner. There are tiny pings! and the blaring of what’s supposed to be a victory tune followed by the rapid tapping of a sticky and worn-out plastic button whose spring might be about to finally give out under the incessant abuse of an attentive mage. That little plastic button is tacky to the touch, coating your finger with grease that isn’t your own but you’re too far gone in this latest obsession to care.

Pockets are heavy with useless trinkets. Earrings, potions, and garish bracelets; the types of baubles that one expects to come tumbling out of cheap machines in brightly colored plastic capsules for the amusement of children. Noctis Lucis Caelum had no idea that something he used to be so enamored with back in his school days would suck his arcane advisor right in.

There are five mega phoenix feathers stuffed in your back pocket for later use. It’s dubbed your “useful” pocket. The goal is the celestriad. Well... the goal is one more celestriad. You already have three but that’s not good enough because you have four friends. Thus, the conundrum of your existence in this diner smack dab in the middle of scenic nowhere: The concept of fairness and a dizzying rush of dopamine for each level that you clear on this machine keeps you glued to it despite your fatigue.

The game has been restarted five times thanks to Gladiolus and Ignis. Iggy’s intrusion was purely accidental; he’d come by to offer to buy you something to eat and you, trying to be nothing but polite to the guy, looked away from the game for too long. But Gladio? That muscular bastard made his own game out of you playing Justice Monsters Five. It’s why you’re here now in the dead of night with only the coffee-drinking proprietor and the occasional hunter to keep you company.

Leaned all over the machine like a giant, annoying cat, the Shield would raze you down with his fiery brown gaze, taking pleasure in the way you’d furrow your brow and nervously clear your throat as if it suddenly started itching you when he’d look your way. Fingers would falter, sweat would bead on your forehead, and then you’d finally cave and cut your eyes up to his only to wind up losing at a critical point. And Gladiolus? Why, he’d just offer you a big smile for your frustration.

Even now, you have to shake your head to rid yourself of the mental image of that equally dazzling and infuriating smile. From behind the counter, the proprietor watches you with mild concern. Bright neon lights only serve to enhance the bags under your eyes and the man is as much afraid of you dropping dead as he is of having to restock the machine with the amount of times you’re getting it to pay out. Hell, at the six-hour mark he offered to just open the damn machine and let you pick your prizes.

The gall!

And the gall of you to refuse! Poor Prompto had nearly had a stroke when you’d refused. Ever since he started frequenting arcades with Noct, it’d always been a childish dream of his to get to see the inside of one of those game machines and an even bigger dream to be allowed to just pick and choose from the reward pile. Dreams that you’ve unwittingly crushed under the heel of your boot because you prefer to put in the work for your reward. It’s ultimately far more satisfying for you that way. Plus...

Well, the thing that has you so fixated on this game (aside from that lovely rush of dopamine that these types of games are designed to ignite) is that it appears to impress your friends. Your dedication? How you dominate the scoreboard? The subtle smile that quirked Iggy’s lips when he came by to offer you fries, green eyes alighting on your score, fed that beast within you. Then he said, “That’s impressive,” and how could you stop after that?

Prompto made it even worse; throwing his arms around your shoulders from behind, getting on his toes so he could rest his chin atop your head to watch your progress. Despite the fact that he’d nearly thrown you off (to be honest, he almost had you sprawled across the damn machine with his sudden embrace), you found that you quite liked having the blond sharpshooter in awe of your gaming prowess.

Noct and Gladio? Well, those two are another story. Gladiolus spent far too much time staring you down to really pay attention to your score. He was, however, visibly impressed with the amount of capsules you found yourself in possession of. Of course he mostly teased you about it (“You tryna build yourself a fort out of all these things?”) but you could see that proud glint in his eye for his overachieving magical friend.

For the Crown Prince... Noct’s a little fearful of the monster he created. It’d just started with a casual question: “Hey, (y/n), have you ever played this game before?” He’d gestured vaguely to the machine next to a plain old pinball machine upon entering the diner. It was on the far left, something easily missed in your exhaustion after a long hunt for a cactuar. Now you’re glued to the damn thing. Little does the prince know that you mostly play for his benefit.

“You can win prizes if you get far enough along in the game,” Noct had informed you, blue eyes scanning your impassive face for any sign of interest. You remained rather nonplussed, mostly hungry and just wanting to leave and take a shower. “I’ve never gotten the highest prize before, though, but the other prizes are pretty cool.”

“Yeah,” Prom had sidled up to his two best friends to pipe in, “but this game is a huge time waster. Noct and I used to play this all the time back in Insomnia.”

Your gaze immediately zeroed in on the machine. “Is that right?”

“Yep!”

And here you are.

After everyone had fallen asleep in the caravan, you got up to get back to the grind. You just absolutely have to reach the highest level not just once but four times over. Initially, you just wanted to get the celestriad for Noctis because he’d confessed to you that he’d never won it before. But after you won (coffee stains now decorate the proprietor’s white shirt from how you’d startled the crap out of him with a triumphant, “YES!”) you got to thinking that maybe Prompto might want one, too... and then maybe Ignis... and what if Gladiolus felt left out?

The heavy stink of grease and the sharp tang of cleaner that’s meant to smell like some vague “citrus” permeates your sweater. Pale blue light filters through the window behind you, chasing away the darkness and making the bright red neon of the open sign beside you less harsh on your eyes. But it also makes it a bit more difficult for you to see the screen now that there’s a glare. A twitch of your stiff wrist and a toxic cloud obscures the window, darkening your corner of the diner once more.

Click! Click! Ping!

Eyes scan the screen, you swap out monsters for a boss battle, and advance to another level.

When Ignis sidles into the diner for a cup of coffee before the others have woken up, he’s surprised to find the manager stock-still and looking terrified. A glance to the side and Ignis sees the cause of the man’s discomfort: That damn noxious cloud. Brow creased, the prince’s retainer eyes you up and down from your slouched posture to the way you keep shifting your weight from foot to foot.

“(y/n)? How long have you been here?”

“Ah, your friend’s been here since around midnight,” the proprietor answers for you.

Ignis sighs, low and tortured. “(y/n), honestly?”

“Hm?” You don’t even turn your head, eyes cutting to your tall pal for a split second before returning to the game. “Oh. Good morning, Scientia.”

Torn for a moment, Iggy decides to go and get coffee before lecturing his fellow advisor on their wretched sleeping habits. While he’s busy pouring his coffee as close to the brim of his to-go cup as he can get, the others burst into the diner, ready for breakfast. All three come screeching to a halt at the sight of you hunched over the game like a gremlin. Glances are exchanged. Pointed looks are shot Noct’s way for introducing you to the damn game.

Gone are the appreciative and amused looks for your gaming enthusiasm. Now everyone just looks irritated and concerned, wondering why you would forego sleep for an arcade game that spits out useless trinkets. And before things can get awkward with stilted but well-intentioned lectures, the machine gives you another reward and you sigh in relieved triumph, finally able to pry yourself away from that hours-long addiction. Fingers are stiff; you warm them up so you can do away with the miasma with a snap.

The manager is so relieved.

“Were you out here all night?” Prompto asks, all agog at your commitment. Damn. He would’ve killed to hang out with you back in high school.

Noct isn’t as impressed. Pale fingers run through his dark hair, tugging at the ends in frustration. With an annoyed look, the prince sighs, “I never shoulda showed you this game. You get way too intense.”

“I wanted to win this for you,” you admit, digging through your pocket to give Noct the celestriad, a self-deprecating smile on your lips at his comment.

The moment you hand it to him, Noctis stiffens, eyeing the gemstones a moment until he finally realizes what you’re giving him. His cheeks go pink, the prince pawing nervously at his bangs to obscure his eyes. It’s an effort for him not to grin all cheesily as he takes the trinket from you. “Thanks, (y/n). You didn’t have to do that.”

“But I wanted to,” you insist, a frown on your face, misconstruing his abashment for continued frustration.

Though his stomach twists with jealousy, Prompto elbows Noct in the ribs and teases, “Aw! You’re blushing, dude!” A celestriad gets handed off to the shutterbug and those teases turn into shocked stammering and embarrassed fidgeting. Cheeks as red as cherries and blue eyes sparkling, Prom titters, “O-Oh. Wow! No one’s ever won anything for me before.”

His comment earns him a blank stare from his brunet best friend. Did the many lame plushies won from claw machines after school count for nothing? Later, Prompto will apologize to a huffy Noct for that little lapse in memory, but he’ll argue that your gift counts for more because: “Sorry, dude, but (y/n)’s really cute.”

“It’s nothing,” you reply, brushing off the younger guys’ comments. Your fellow advisors watch you continue to pat down your pockets with raised eyebrows. Bangles and bracelets and earrings are handed off to anyone who’ll take them until you finally find Iggy’s and Gladio’s celestriads. “Here. I didn’t want you guys to feel left out, and when I realized I could win more than one I had to try."

“Damn, Magey. That’s quite a haul,” compliments Gladio. His irritation is long gone and is replaced with amusement. Six, you’re such a cute overachiever. It takes every ounce of professionalism within him not to pinch your cheeks in front of everybody.

Also donning his own flattered blush, Iggy adds, “These mega phoenixes will certainly come in handy, too. The potions as well.”

“Yeah, I thought so,” you try to reply all casually though you’re preening from the compliments, “considering how Noct seems to enjoy setting us all on fire,” you joke, earning yourself a pout from the prince.

“Whoa. You got so many prizes! That’s so cool!” Croons Prompto who is still freaking out over the sheer volume of stuff that you’ve amassed and hidden in your cardigan. He practically drools over all the things you placed on the machine when you were digging through your pockets. But then that amazement slips just a tad from his face, replaced with a thoughtful expression. “But, y’know, I’ve heard the prizes aren’t the same for all the machines.”

Beside you, Noctis makes an aggressive slashing motion across his neck with his hand, desperately trying to signal to his best friend to shut up.

“Hm?” The blond has your full attention now. Noct’s signal gets more and more aggressive, eyes made all wide and threatening to a blond who still doesn’t see him, so focused on the mage.

“I heard the game in Altissia gives out moogle charms and a wind-up Lord Vexxos.”

Now you’re buzzing with excitement. “What?”

“Where’s yours?” Wonders Gladio, effectively putting an end to your growing plan to have everyone rush off to Altissia before you’re all actually ready. “I mean, we all gotta...” he squints down at the thing you handed him, “celestriad?”

Shoulders rise and fall tiredly. Leaning against the machine, you confess, “I didn’t win one for myself. I only played the game to win one each for you guys.”

That confession? Delivered with a drowsy little frown and the hugging of your sweater to your tired body? It’s a collective group blush that you win this time around. Soon you find yourself bustled into a booth with food and coffee as the guys each take turns throughout the morning, trying to progress far enough in Justice Monsters Five so that they can win the highest prize for their dear, overachieving mage.

Chapter Text

03. Friends

Despite your initial concern about sleeping in a tent with four dudes after having had the luxury of your own room, the night is a blur. Fatigue hits you like the Regalia- hard and completely out of nowhere. Somewhere in-between you complimenting Ignis on the rice balls and Gladio mentioning training, you nod off. You don’t know how you get there, but one second you’re picking sticky rice off of your fingers and the next you have Prompto smacking you awake with the back of his hand. At first you’re pissed

He hits you so hard that it actually makes a very audible smack! of skin on skin. It’s a jarring way to wake up, violently pulling you from a pleasant dream about dancing moogles to confront a blossoming pain across your forehead. But then anger takes a backseat to confusion, your eyes darting around the dim confines of the room. A cacophony of soft, even breaths and loud, eardrum rattling snores fills the dark green tent.

Propped up on your elbows now, you look around the tent and find that you’re at the entrance which should make your escape painless. Across from you, Gladio, the source of the obscene snoring, is flat on his back with his arms tucked to his sides like a corpse. Beside him is Ignis with his back to the Shield (you think you see neon ear plugs in his ears). Next to you is Prompto the Sleep Slapper who you assume smacked you when he rolled over. Last but not least, on the blond’s other side, is Noct looking like a small, dark croissant- totally dead to the world.

You’re the only one awake… so it must be about 4:30 in the morning. Though you’re loath to admit it, having the same schedule for 20 years has made you a creature of habit. Dawn hasn't even broken when you exit the tent. The dark sky is slowly turning a soft pink and the stars are still glittering. The cool air begins to warm. For a while you just stand there in the middle of camp. There's nothing for you to study. There's nothing for you to read. This is unusual. This is uncomfortable

Why do I have to be busy to be happy?” You wonder miserably, a soft sigh leaving you when you rub the back of your neck in frustration. Truthfully you feel like you’re being lazy, like you’re shirking some duty that you no longer even have. This makes anxiety stir in your chest before you opt to poke your head back into the tent to grab your backpack, which you assume Gladio took out of the Regalia’s trunk for you. You unzip the bag and take out the book your mother gave you before leaving the backpack in front of the tent.

And like that, you feel a million times better. It’s an immense relief to have something productive to do. Heartbeat evens out, nerves mend, and you get back into that scholastic groove that brings you much comfort. You little nerd. You even discard your smelly tunic and put on the only other thing you have: a plain white short-sleeved button-up. After you straighten the soft stark-white linen under your unbuttoned sweater, you groan. Honestly you hadn’t expected that you’d be camping. If you had, well, surely you would’ve brought reasonable attire and more than just your toothbrush.

However, there’s one little blessing here: the stupid shirt is “stain-proof.” A gift from your mother who always looked like she wanted to scream when she’d find you with berry stains and chocolate down your front. Birds chirp and you quirk your brow in annoyance, frustrated at your lack of earbuds and coming to the realization that maybe you should go back to the dreaded Spire to pick up a few things you’d left behind in your hasty departure… 

Ugh. No.

You crack open the heavy tome and determinedly start to pour over it, desperate not to think about all of the material possessions you left behind. Sat comfortably in a folding chair, you bring one leg up so you can prop up the book and read without hunching over too much. You’re alone for a solid fifteen minutes before out comes Ignis from the tent followed by Gladio and the sunrise- in that exact order, like it was all choreographed. You glance up and murmur, “Good morning.” In the back of your head you note that Gladiolus looks quite ruffled with bits of his dark brown hair sticking up in places while Ignis’ outlandish ‘do is picture perfect.

“Mornin’ (y/n),” Gladio responds gruffly, voice gravelly from his earthquake-producing snores. You watch a moment when he stretches, as if prepping for exercise. Maybe you should’ve started training a little rather than reading…? But, Six, you’re so sore that you were barely even able to sit on the chair without your legs shaking from the effort to bend at the knee. Yeah. No exercise for you. Light stretching? That’s a soft “maybe” and you’re already comfortable, so...

“Good morning,” Ignis greets politely before puttering about the camp to get breakfast ready. Though you’d like to help, the way you flubbed your totally innocuous interaction with the guy yesterday keeps you in your seat. There’ll be no more repeats of that disaster.

The tome works as a wonderful social buffer, the men eyeing you but never interrupting since you look so engrossed in your reading. Gladio goes off for an early-morning jog- joking that if he isn’t back within half an hour you and Iggy should assume he found trouble- and the camp starts to smell like toast and coffee. Once you’re sure that Ignis isn’t going to try and engage you, you actually start looking at what you’ve been pretending to read. Eyes scan the book and you thumb through the entirety of the tome, casually glancing at headers and sketches of summoning circles. 

Parts of the text at the very end are in your mother’s arcing hand that’s so uniform it looks like it was printed by a machine, but other parts you can recognize as your grandfather’s slanted calligraphy. And the rest? Well, it’s a hodgepodge of chicken-scratch and handwriting so elegant it somehow puts your mother’s to shame. Once you’ve glanced at the book from cover to cover, you finally start to read in earnest. The first twenty pages make up an introduction, addressing you personally as an Iovita, and you suddenly realize what you’re holding with a start. It’s almost embarrassing how long it takes you to figure out that this is your family’s grimoire.

It’s not really your fault, though. You were never allowed to even glance in the book’s direction and your mother always kept it locked in an old footlocker with some sort of ward on it. You’d heard a rumor once that a maid who was cleaning your mother’s office accidentally bumped the footlocker and got an unfortunate zap. You also heard another version of that rumor where the maid’s heart stopped because of how strong the zap was… 

“Bullshit,” you’d said to the student who dared repeat that to you. And now that you have the super secret book in your hands? Ooh, you read with an almost perverse zeal.

You’re halfway through an ancestor’s account of the Iovitas’ persecution by the Spire (old news to you, so you resort to skimming) when you feel warm breath ghost across the back of your neck. Snapping the book shut, you slowly turn your head to look at Prompto from the corner of your eye. The blond is leaning on the back of your chair, chin resting on his folded arms, blue eyes bright and observant. “Can I help you?” You drawl.

A piece of toast is hovered in front of your nose as the blond chirps, “Time to eat!”

Not a single person back at the Spire embodied the traditional version of a “morning person.” Like you, they all awoke before sunrise and set off to study, teach, or research. But not a damn one wore a smile. The halls were a sea of sleep-crusted eyes, stooped backs, and grumbled words. Drusa was passable as a morning person as she found it within herself to look human and speak in her regular tone of voice rather than an octave lower. But you don’t think she could ever be on Prompto’s level.

Inhaling deeply, you exhale loudly like you’re being tortured, “Okay, fine.”

Prom pulls his chair close to yours just as Ignis asks if you’d like coffee. You gladly accept, brain already throbbing from caffeine withdrawal, and take the mug from the brunet carefully so as not to touch his fingers. Content, you recline in your chair and slowly eat the toast which has some sort of marmalade on it. A glance about the camp shows you that Gladio is already back but Noct still hasn’t left the tent.

Late sleeper? Weird for royalty,” you muse.

You’re so busy absent-mindedly watching Gladio and Ignis make conversation that you completely ignore the fact that Prompto clearly wants to talk to you, considering he went out of his way to move his chair across camp to sit next to you. He reminds you of his presence with a bashful, “Sorry about before.”

Eyes snap to the blond, taking note that he looks rather sheepish with a crooked smile and a blush that reaches his ears. A curious smile on your lips, you ask, “Sorry about what?”

“For not knowing who you were. That was kinda disrespectful. I mean,” he nods his head toward your chest, “I saw the patch on your sweater but I thought you were just a student or a graduate.”

“I am a grad.” Breath huffs out of your nose and you mindlessly run your fingers over the upside-down triangle patch. “But no. It wasn’t disrespectful so there’s no need to apologize. We’re good.”

The blond grins. “Yeah? All right, cool.” You think he’s going to go back to eating in silence until you realize he’s already finished his toast. Plus, he’s still watching you with those shockingly blue eyes. Perplexed, you take a tentative sip of your coffee (a bit too strong for your taste but it knocks your headache clear out of the park) and wait for Prompto to continue. He does so almost immediately. “In my defense… there aren’t any pictures of you anywhere and I tried to imagine you as a younger version of the Arch-Ma- I mean, your mom, but Noct told me you looked nothing like her.” He chuckles, “He was right about that.”

“Are you still apologizing?”

“Huh? Oh, no.”

“Good.” You pause. “How did Noctis know what I looked like if there aren’t any pictures of me anywhere?”

“He said he saw you once when he was a kid. You were in the throne room with your mom, talking to His Majesty about where you’d be trained.” The sharpshooter looks longingly at the rest of your toast and you hand it over. He doesn’t even care that you’ve already taken a healthy bite out of it, taking the toast with gusto and nearly cramming it into his face. “Thanks! Uh, well, sorry if I’m fanboying a bit. I remember learning about the Arch-Mages in school and also a bit about you.”

Fanboying? The hell?”

A grimace tugs at your lips and you get a weird little squirmy feeling in your gut over the fact that the kids in Insomnia had to learn about you. “Yikes. Sorry about that. My sympathies for those awful lectures.”

“What? No! It was so cool!” Prompto insists, all starry-eyed again like when you first told him who you were. “I mean, the Arch-Mages before the Iovitas took over the Spire were pretty okay but your mom did such cool stuff! And I’m sure you will, too!”

“I thought you said she was mean,” you point out, gently swirling your cup of coffee and watching the blond from beneath your eyelashes. You’re dodging his comment about your future pretty damn hard but you play it off splendidly. He goes as red as a cherry.

“I didn’t mean it like that! She’s just-” Prom seems to fumble for an explanation, almost choking on his toast when you call him out like that, “Er… What I meant was that she’s really serious all the time. And she can be rude… Like a few years back when a reporter asked her about the Wall and her progress on her research to help His Majesty maintain it, she kinda snapped at the poor guy.” He just gets redder and redder as you continue to stare.

Shoulders bob up in a lazy shrug and you mercifully look away. “Yeah, I know. She’s been like that for a while now. Wasn’t always that way. Besides,” you stare at the dark caramel color of the coffee as it ripples, rapidly cooling already, “that’s a sore spot for her. I know she researched magic transfusion for decades and for it to not even have a payoff…?” You sigh and take a healthy gulp of caffeine, “She couldn’t help His Majesty and it’s no secret that the Wall is taking a toll on his health. They were good friends before he picked her to become his Arch-Mage, so her failure meant more to her than just failing the Crown.”

Blue eyes are downcast. “Oh...”

And now I’ve made it awkward. Shit.”

How the hell were you supposed to know that your mother’s and King Regis’ friendship wasn’t public knowledge? The media pretty much kept the king in the spotlight even before he started his reign, so it would’ve been near impossible to keep his rubbing elbows with one of the infamous Iovitas out of the headlines. But I digress. The conversation has taken a weird turn and you realize that you can’t find any way to salvage it. As casually as you can manage, you shoot Prompto a smile and excuse yourself to check on Noct, putting your coffee cup down by your chair- an unspoken promise that you’ll be back.

It's cooler in the tent than it is outside and you wonder how Noct can even sleep in this late. Then again… it probably isn’t even six yet and you’re not so sheltered that you don’t know the hours that “normal” people wake up. You’d had many a conversation with the cooks where they’d awe over how “dedicated” all of the mages were to get up so early. You didn’t want to burst their bubble and admit that anxiety tends to keep people awake, not dedication.

In the cool darkness, you hear the prince’s soft breathing. It takes a moment for your eyes to adjust before you can see Noct curled up like a pill-bug. Squatting down between him and Prompto’s unzipped sleeping bag, you balance on the balls of your feet. "Hey, Noctis," you murmur, gently shaking the prince's shoulder. Cerulean eyes crack open after you shake him for what feels like hours, and he blinks slowly at you like a sleepy cat from his blanket burrito.

"(y/n)..."

"Good morning."

"Morning? Ugh," he groans before pulling his blanket up over his eyes, "I need sleep."

He sounds so dramatically miserable that you have to stifle a snort. "Pardon my saying but what you need is to get up. It's-" you check your phone, "5:58…" And just like that, you feel like a curmudgeonly oldster scolding him for daring to “sleep in.”

"Why do you even have a phone?" Noct’s voice is muffled and you barely even hear him.

"Huh?"

The prince lowers his blankets so only his cat-like eyes are visible. "My dad told me how the Spire runs- how you were raised. So it's kinda weird that they'd give you a phone."

You quirk a brow. "Gods, what do you people think my life was like? I was supervised, I didn't grow up under a rock, Noctis. Besides, it's more practical for people to use phones in the Spire to shoot texts and call each other rather than search all fifteen floors and the grounds to tell someone the Arch-Mage wants them to change a word on a manuscript. Sure we'd all be fit, but we'd be perpetually pissed."

He snorts, almond eyes narrowing with a hidden smile. "True. Why'd you come wake me up, anyway? Usually Specs is the one who does this. Not that I'm complaining. His morning bedside manner leaves a lot to be desire-" the prince interrupts himself with a yawn.

"Ah... he's busy," you explain, covering your ulterior motive so poorly that you’re honestly not surprised the sleepy prince catches on.

Noct appraises you a moment before asking, still in his little cocoon, "What's up?"

"What do you mean?" You counter.

You’ve seen that look before. Drusa and your mother wore it often when you dared lie to them. Noct wears the flat expression of complete and total displeasure. Now you know your lying ways won’t get over on him. Good thing you learn this now rather than when you try and steal something from his plate. The prince sits up on one elbow and points out, "I know I don't know you all that well, but you're kinda easy to read. Something's bothering you." When you don’t hasten to explain yourself, he sighs, “Better you say something now than let it fester.”

Not needing to be coaxed further, you blurt, "Why's Prompto being so nice to me?"

"You're bothered about him being nice?"

The offense in his tone for his friend has you quickly explaining, "I'm not exactly used to people my age seeing me as, well, an equal."

His expression softens. "Yeah. I know what you mean."

“But,” oh, no, the word vomit is starting, “it’s not just that. I’m not used to people being nice to me.”

“What?” Noct sits up fully, brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

You remind yourself that this isn’t some therapy session. You aren’t venting to Drusa about hearing students talking shit about you or magisters ostracizing you… You’re talking to the Crown Prince and this talk is starting to go on too long. You feel small in the prince's presence, feel foolish for complaining to him about his friend talking to you like you’re a person. This mounting stress makes you close yourself off with a vague, "Sorry, I’m just not used to this."

“Prom is just hyped because of what he learned in school and what he heard from me,” Noct insists. “You Iovitas are who the people of Lucis immediately think of when they hear the word 'mage.' The second my dad told us we’d be picking you up, Prompto wouldn't stop talking about you."

Heat sears your cheeks. "Oh."

"I didn't mean to sound, well, mean or anything. It's just that Prompto really admires your family. Hell, even my dad does and he doesn't admire people for no reason. And he really liked you when you two met."

That comment makes you squint. "We didn't even talk."

Noct fixes you with a bland smile. "He went on and on about how brave you were for a little kid and not a day went by where I didn’t hear about your exceptional progress over in the Spire."

"Six," you groan, unable to look the prince in the eye.

Noct chuckles, "His words, not mine."

Seeing the prince in this light, as someone who goes out of his way to comfort others, relaxes you. In truth, though you’d researched his friends, the prince was a bit of an unknown factor. He’s quiet and stays out of the limelight, so interviews weren’t readily available for you to analyze. There’s only so much you can glean from a bare-bones portfolio, which also accounts for you being totally unprepared for Gladio’s ease, Ignis’ omniscience, and Prompto’s enthusiasm.

When you realize the two of you have been sitting in silence for a while now, you awkwardly chuckle, "Thanks for the early morning pep-talk, Noctis. It means a lot.” The prince gives you his usual half-smile which you return in earnest. “Ignis is making breakfast so you'd better hurry out. See? I wasn’t totally lying about him being busy." As you move to stand, your sweater snags on the zipper of Prompto's sleeping bag. The prince watches on in silence as you fight with the blue bag to free yourself. By the time you leave the tent, you swear you're on fire and you’ve effectively ruined what would’ve been a cool exit.

“You wake Noct?” Prompto asks the second you close the tent flaps behind you.

You’re startled by the immediate question, still reeling from making a fool of yourself with that valiant battle against the sleeping bag’s zipper. After you clear your throat with a dignified cough, you reply, “Yes. And- And you should really learn to put away your sleeping bag when you’re not using it.” 

The blond looks totally nonplussed by that reprimand.

Emotionally exhausted, you throw yourself back down on your chair and pick up your mug. First you appraise the coffee to make sure no bugs drowned themselves in it before taking a grateful sip… which you almost spit right back out. The coffee is ice cold now and you frown before carefully warming the mug between your palms, embers dancing up before disappearing with little pops. Prompto looks like he might explode. “You okay?” You ask, struggling not to laugh.

It’s at this moment that you realize you’ve been able to talk to the sharpshooter for a while now, disengage conversation and then re-engage like nothing, and you’re not tripping over your own tongue. There's something about Prompto that makes him different. He possesses a disarming quality. It might be that he has no title to hold over you- you're basically equals. But he acts lower than you somehow; like his confidence is a fragile thing in your hands as you two speak, something that’s so different from the haughty mages you’re used to. That makes you slightly uneasy. You make a note not to be so hard on him in the future.

“You’re so awesome!” Prom breathes and you feel heat rush into your cheeks. You wonder if you thought too soon about that nonsense of him being easy to be around.

“Stop it,” you huff. “That’s- That’s hardly the case. It’s simple.” You’re about to tell him that you can teach him such simple magic but remember that no, you can’t. Unless he’s some long-lost Iovita, he’ll be hard pressed to even learn how to make build-a-spells like a proper Spire mage. And then you realize you don’t even have any magic flasks to teach him that.

Prompto says just that. “Simple for you, maybe. But literally only for you.”

You roll your eyes. “I thought Noct was skilled with magic?”

“Yeah, but, that’s elemancy. He’d probably make the mug explode if he tried doing what you just did.” Blue eyes dance up to something behind you and the blond smirks.

“You and (y/n) gossiping, Prompto?” Drawls Noct from behind you, sounding mildly annoyed and definitely still groggy. Before you know it, something is dropped on your head.

“What the-?” Fingers grip into soft leather and you rip the thing off of your head, cradling your warm coffee to your chest to protect your precious caffeine. You whip your head around to scowl at Noct. “What’s this about?”

“Put it on,” Noct says casually, like he didn’t just put your Crownsguard fatigue jacket on your head instead of handing it to you like a normal person. And he totally doesn’t answer your question.

“I’ll repeat: What’s this about?” You grumble, placing your coffee on the ground next to the grimoire so you can properly hold the jacket. Damn are you never going to be able to finish your coffee?

When he sees your bemused expression, Noct explains with a tired sigh, “That sweater of yours is gonna get ruined out here. This jacket is leather. It’s not like leather is gonna ‘snag.’ Besides, there’s no point in you walking around like you’re still in college.”

You want to argue that your baggy sweater makes your sleight of hand much easier by providing you with a place to hide stolen sweets and bottles of wine, but think better of it. Especially after he was witness to you getting owned by a damn sleeping bag because of how snag-able your sweater is. “Fair enough.” The unease of wearing something with so much meaning attached to it is evident in how stiffly you move. The drab sweater is discarded on the chair and you stand before throwing on the jacket. The leather is thin enough to not feel suffocating but thick enough to where you’re certain it won’t tear easily. It hits you right above your knee and has both inner and outer pockets.

To your surprise, there’s a skull and crossbones on the right breast where your usual Spire patch would be. It’s stitched in black so you have to really squint to actually see it, but the point is… you know it’s there. It seems to be a running theme in everyone’s attire, too. Though, you can’t look at Ignis’ belt buckle too long or people might start to get the wrong idea.

What? Are we all part of a damn gang?”

Just as you dust yourself off and adjust the jacket on your frame, you hear a whistle. Head swivels around to find the source- Gladio- grinning at you. The prince’s bodyguard smirks when he’s sure you’re looking right at him. “Lookin’ good, killer,” Gladio drawls, grin widening when your eyes nearly pop out.

“I feel like a stereotypical mage,” you scoff. “And did you actually dig through my backpack to get this jacket, Noct? What the hell?”

“My dad said it’s fire retardant,” Noct points out as he watches you, raven hair mostly obscuring his steely blue eyes. Again, he dodges your other more pertinent question. But you’re easily distracted by his comment.

“Did he think I’d set myself on fire?”

“He probably thought Noct might,” Prompto snickers, earning himself an unamused glare from the prince.

“I think it’s high time we set out for Hammerhead,” Ignis announces, already packing up and putting an early end to the inevitable squabbling. “We should collect (y/n)’s bounty and see if their vehicle is ready.”

My bounty?” You sputter.

“Yeah, you did do all the killing. S’only fair,” Noct shrugs before making a half-assed effort to help the others close up shop. Really, he just folds up one of the chairs before meandering over to the Regalia after putting in all that hard work.

“Oh, well I’ll be sure to pay for the Regalia’s repairs,” you assure the other three. After you stoop over to collect your coffee and family grimoire, you right yourself to find the tactician appraising you closely. Was it something you said? Oh, gods, what is it now?

“There’s no need for that. We can pay off the Regalia’s repairs in no time,” Ignis tuts, quickly making his way over to you and taking your half-empty cup. Green eyes drop down to look at the caramel liquid before he pulls a concerned expression. “Was the coffee not to your liking, (y/n)?”

“It was good!” You reassure him and explain, “I just got caught up talking with Prompto so the coffee got neglected.”

“Ah. Of course. Prompto has been looking forward to your company, after all.” Ignis shoots Prompto a teasing look. “His admiration is a hard thing to ignore.”

“H-Hey!” Prompto cries indignantly and refuses to meet your eye when you turn to look at him. Though you’re a little hellion at heart (when you aren’t tripping over your own tongue) you decide to let Prompto off the hook and not tease him. The camping gear is loaded into the trunk and you’re off to Hammerhead. Takka hands over a cool 2,000 gil and a couple of enchanted items that you highly doubt you’ll wear. You pawn off the trinkets on the others who take them with enthusiasm. You almost comment that you can provide better enchantments but don't want to be a braggart. 

And now… Altissia! A city you’ve only ever dreamed about... And it looks like you’re going to have to keep dreaming, because unfortunately for you, Cindy Aurum, the mechanic who is personally seeing to Choco Jr.’s recovery, tells you that the scooter needs more repairs. She looks so apologetic that being irritated doesn’t even cross your mind. However, you’re definitely irritated when the hunting and the camping continues for two more days before you start to wonder when the hell you’re going to Altissia. Or if you’re even going at all.


When you dreamed of joining Noctis’ ranks, you admit that you thought you would probably only see the guy’s face on rare occasions. You envisioned that your relationship with him would be one of pure obligation borne from generations of Iovitas making a trek to visit the King of Lucis, kissing the king’s ring, and then disappearing back into the ether or wherever the hell they hid. You figured that you would almost always see him from behind a stack of papers on your desk or just on television. Seriously, you didn’t think you would be watching him fight with his advisor over the smallest amount of vegetables he can get away with eating in a day to still be considered “healthy” by the bespectacled man’s standards. 

“Just this once, eat the tomato on your sandwich,” Ignis practically pleads, looking like he’s this close to grabbing the prince’s sandwich and shoving it down his throat. “You don’t even have to eat the lettuce if you eat the tomato.”

Oh, he’s really desperate if he’s bargaining now,” you think, trying not to laugh.

“Stop babying him,” Gladio gripes, “you know he won’t listen. You two do this all the time.”

“Tomatoes are gross,” Noct fires back. “And lettuce is like eating nothing, except it tastes worse.”

It’s pretty early in the afternoon and the diner smells of butter and toasted bread. You ordered off-menu and had Takka whip you up an egg sandwich which he topped with some sautéed tomatoes and mushrooms. Ignis copied your order after he saw how delicious the sandwich looked then promptly jotted down his own little spin on the meal. The other three ordered a greasy looking meat sandwich with fries. And though Noct gobbles up the meat like a little fiend, he turns his nose up at the lettuce and tomato as if he’s five years old.

Takka watches on as the three bicker in the booth while you wait on your and Prompto’s shakes to finish mixing. Being a fast eater (since you always had to scarf your food down like a high-suction vacuum to make time for sneaky streaming sessions), you finished your meal in the middle of the guys going at each other’s throats over the prince’s lacking diet and Prompto finished soon after since he opted out of the fight. You offered to buy the blond a shake, if only to get out of the crossfire, and he accepted happily.

“Here you go, one strawberry shake and one chocolate,” Takka announces proudly, though his eyes are still trained on the bizarre battle over veggies.

Gil is pressed down on the counter, along with something a little extra for the poor man’s ears. “Thanks, Takka.” You smile and slide off of the stool before making your way back over to the battlefield, shakes in hand. Gladio stands up and allows you to take your place between him and Prom. 

After you settle back in, you hand Prom his shake which he takes with an enthused, “Thanks, (y/n)! You’re the best!” and you make the immediate mistake of making eye-contact with the prince.

A fry is jabbed accusingly in your direction. “(y/n) left half a tomato on their plate.”

Everyone goes silent. Is he really trying to throw you under the metaphorical bus over half a damn tomato? And is everyone actually looking at you like Noct just announced that you went out and massacred a village? Your eyebrow twitches and you tauntingly bring your straw up to your lips before saying, “Then be a man and eat half a tomato like I did,” and you suck loudly on the straw, making a show of how much you’re enjoying your damn shake.

Beside you, you think Gladio chokes on his food. Ignis slowly turns his verdant eyes onto the prince and Prompto is shaking- oh, wait, he’s trying his damn hardest not to start laughing at his best friend who’s looking at you like you just backhanded him with the tomato in question. Noct just stares at you from beneath his bangs. But does he take the bait? Hell no. The little shit picks up his tomato and lettuce with his fork, reaches over, and dumps it into your shake. Aaaaaand everyone goes silent again.

Not one to back down from such an immature challenge, you jut your chin out and sneer. With your eyes trained on the prince all the while, you mix the tomato and lettuce in the shake before picking the soggy vegetables up with your straw and popping them into your mouth. You chew a couple of times and then swallow before showing Noct your tongue.

“Ugh, (y/n)! Gross!” Noct cringes, scrunching up his nose, but you can tell from the glint in his eyes that he’s grateful to have the dreaded vegetables gone.

“(y/n), must you?” Ignis scolds and pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose. Ever the disappointed guardian.

To say that they aren’t all used to your theatrics at this point would be a gross underestimation of how often you screw with them. Ignis swears that you and Noct are a horrible influence on each other in particular. Noct’s generally blasé demeanor meshes strangely with your reclusiveness and dark humor. You two play off of each other like the world’s most deadpan comedic duo most days and your fanbase is extremely niche- that is to say, Prompto is the only one amused by your antics while you get eye rolls and sighs from Iggy and Gladio.

“I thought you were supposed to be some mature stiff shirt,” Gladio had grumbled when you iced the campground at Prom’s urging so he and Noct could unsuccessfully skate around only for Gladio to come back from a jog and nearly crack his head open.

You’d swear Noctis grew up locked away in the damn Spire, too, with how easy it is for him to get sidetracked by quests and personal errands for the others like he’s never been outside before (Ignis once mentioned how he was running low on Ebony and you all spent a day driving around trying to find a store with some in stock). His limited attention span is so bad that it’s been a while since you’ve all made any sort of progress on your trip to Altissia. Then again, you aren’t privy to any of the deadlines and you don’t even know when the wedding date is.

“Did it actually taste good?” Prompto queries, eyebrows knitted together as he glances from your shake to you in concern, like he thinks you’ll drop dead any moment now.

“Yeah, sure,” you fib and hide a gag behind your hand, trying hard not to think of how wrong the acidity of the tomato tasted with the sweetness of the shake. The lettuce was easy to ignore. The tomato? Not so much.

“Liar,” Gladio snorts. “Just like Iggy should stop coddling Noct, you should stop actin’ like his garbage disposal.”

True. The big guy certainly has a point. This might be a new habit that you should already break. Whenever Noct doesn’t want to eat something, he just casually slides it onto your plate because he knows you will. And unlike Prompto, you don’t fear the cold stares from Ignis or Gladio’s bellyaching. You just go right on eating like you don’t even notice the extra vegetables.

“You all have known Noctis for so long. You’re invaluable to him,” you say, voice sober. The men stop what they’re doing to look at you, expressions concerned and attentive. You stir the straw in the thick shake, eyes trained on the yellow tomato seed that hovers at the top in light red flesh. “You’re his confidants, his protectors, and his closest friends. And me? I like to think I serve an important role to him as well.” Eyes look up to lock onto Noct’s. He’s so focused on you, eyebrows furrowed. He looks concerned. Gods, you play the part so well. You take a breath and announce, “I eat his vegetables!”

Pain blossoms between your shoulder blades as Gladio smacks you for your snark. You’re sent lunging forward and you nearly take your eye out on the straw. Palms smack onto the cool surface of the table so you don’t end up kissing it. “Idiot,” Gladio chuckles. “I thought you were bein’ serious for once.”

“I think the herniated disk you just gave me is pretty serious.”

“Trust me, I smacked you with the blessing of everyone at this table.”

“What?” You can’t help but laugh when you look around to see Ignis pursing his lips at you and Noct looking away, shoulders shaking. Prompto has his face in his hands. Prodding the blond, you ask, “You okay?”

“You got me,” he moans, voice muffled. “Dammit! I was so ready for some heart-to-heart talk!”

“Pfft! You should know me better than that by now,” you simper, ever the group’s little troll.

You’ve been with the guys for a few days now. And it’s a sad testament to Spire life that you’ve quickly become more comfortable with these four men than any of the students who have ever walked the Spire’s halls. Then again, to these guys your surname doesn’t evoke fear and envy in equal measure. To them, you’re more than your family name. And when you have to live with others in close quarters, some barriers tend to get knocked down whether you want them to or not. Walking in on someone changing, having to carry toilet paper out to someone who seems to never be able to gauge how much they need (Prompto), and sleeping in the same space all inevitably leads to closer ties. 

Probably because you all have so much dirt on each other at this point... You can probably blackmail Prompto over his chocobo undies and Noct for half the things he’s said in his sleep. And they can probably have you in their pocket, too. With how often you call your mother at night to check in and with how many pictures you send to her and Drusa to show off where you are, everyone thinks you’re just a bit childish. Hell, Gladio has taken to calling you a tourist every time you beg Ignis to stop the Regalia so you can go and collect an herb that you recognize.

You joke that the relationship bordering on friendship is built off of mutually assured destruction. Even though Ignis could probably ruin you with a single word. It’s just that, in truth, you’re all in this sort of “in-between” state of being acquaintances and friends. All that’s needed is some extra push on your part to prove that you’re in it for the long haul. Or so you think. You aren’t aware that someone’s already put you on a pedestal.

“But I do argue that my role is pretty important,” you add after reading the room and seeing that they aren’t actually too irritated with your shenanigans. “I’m practically a national treasure.”

“Yes, the kingdom is indebted to you,” Mr. Scientia the Sass Master snarks right back. “When Noct becomes king, I’m sure he will have a statue of your likeness erected in the Crown City.”

“Or maybe here at Hammerhead,” Gladio jests. “They can be holding a tomato over their head and have a basket of beans and lettuce hanging off of their arm.”

Noct snorts into his soda, “Don’t give me any ideas.”

“So, when are we headed out to Altissia?” You ask, sucking down your shake to get the taste of milky tomato off of your palate. It’s to no avail. Noct ruined your shake. Well, you ruined it by mixing the veggies so thoroughly, but you still blame him.

“We can’t rightly go too far with your moped still being worked on,” Ignis points out, dabbing the corners of his mouth with his napkin. “Though, if you insist, we can continue moving forward with our plans if you have no issue leaving the scooter behind.”

“Yeah, it’ll be a long drive to Galdin with little leg room, but I don’t mind if you don’t,” Gladio assures, giving you a friendly bump with his elbow that nearly has you spilling your tomato shake all over the table.

You’re about to protest when Noct interrupts, looking only mildly apologetic, “Oh, I thought I told you. Cindy called this morning when we were out at camp. Your moped is ready to go, (y/n).”

Irritation has you giving the prince a flat look. “No, you didn’t. But thanks for withholding that information until now.”

“Hey, (y/n). Mind givin’ me a ride on your moped some time?”

You look over at Prompto’s excited face and glance down at his half-empty shake. A sneaky smirk crawls its way onto your lips. “Sure,” you drawl, “if you trade shakes with me.”

“Huh? Oh, yeah! Deal!”

You’re still grinning as you happily slurp down the rest of Prompto’s shake and he yells and gags dramatically the second your abomination of tomato and sugar-milk touches his tongue. A new battle commences as Prompto asks Noct how he could do something so awful to you before proceeding to try and force Noct to drink the wretched sludge, Gladio starting up a chant of “Do it! Do it!” to try and peer-pressure the prince into taking a tiny sip. You swear Takka just wants you hooligans to leave and never come back.

Chapter Text

Turnabout

They have to break the newbie in. They just have to.

At least, that’s what Gladiolus is trying to convince Iggy and Noct of, and he certainly has his work cut out for him. Prompto, on the other hand? Prompto was cake. All the blond had to hear was “(y/n)” and “car wash” in the same sentence and he was down. Such a jokester at heart, Prompto Argentum would’ve been game for a harmless prank on you even if it didn’t feed into one of his fantasies. Not that he has any fantasies about you! He just thinks you’re really cool and attractive and might look very nice while washing a car.

That’s all! That’s all...

I mean, you’ve been on this quest with them for a week now so you’re hardly still a “newbie,” but Gladio is looking to amp up the camaraderie with some goofing around. The Shield wants you to loosen up and stop acting like Noct walks on water, ‘cause you’re still living in those halcyon days where you don’t quite realize that your liege is not only human like you, but an epically dorky and awkward human. What better way to show you that than with some lighthearted fun?

Yet the brunet finds himself on the wrong end of one of Iggy’s side-eyes.

Ignis isn’t quite sure what his fellow royal advisor is playing at, but he knows it isn’t as wholesome as the Shield claims it is. The tactician believes it might have something to do with them all realizing the scope of your power. Such a talented mage, you’ve carried the group through a few hard-fought battles already. Though you can’t quite take a hit, falling easily in battle, you’re an invaluable ally and formidable spell caster all the same. So, Iggy is thinking this prank might actually be a bit mean-spirited.

Jealousy. He thinks Gladiolus is beginning to feel envious of your might.

Honestly, if Iggy said that to his face, Gladdy would laugh. Sure, he might’ve been envious of your magical abilities if you weren’t such a classic glass cannon, but everything between you and him is copacetic. However, Gladiolus does have to admit that he indeed doesn’t have the purest of intentions. He’s noticed the lingering interest of the younger men in the group. Like they have laser-guided vision, Noctis and Prompto have you in their sights.

This is a prank, yeah, but it’s on a much grander scale than anyone knows.

The brunet bodyguard just doesn’t realize that when he uses the term “younger men,” Ignis Scientia gets lumped in with the others. ‘Cause Iggy is a bit more subtle than most people when it comes to having a crush. Furtive glances and innocent requests for your aid in the kitchen, his interest isn’t so easy to sniff out. The tactician comes across as friendly, not like he’s pining after the enigmatic mage. In comparison, Noct and Prompto practically walk around with an “I Heart (y/n)” sandwich board on.

So, it’s not totally Gladiolus’ fault that he ends up outing Ignis today as well.

But why a prank? It’s pettiness and unresolved feelings. Since you got comfortable with the Shield, you’ve not wasted a single moment to tell him that it’s never, ever hot enough outside to take one’s shirt off. “Oh, gods. Don’t be that guy,” you’d whined when the Shield whipped his shirt off in the deserts of Leide for the first time in your presence. You even got Noct and Prom to join in on the teasing. Now, when he takes off his shirt, Prom offers to break out the body oil and Noct says he smells bacon.

Gladiolus might actually hate you, you damn uppity mage with your ability to rally the others against him.

“Everyone’s washed the Regalia once. It’s like a rite of passage,” Gladiolus “The Liar” Amicitia says to you with a straight face, a little blond gremlin by his side agreeing with an adamant nodding of his fluffy head.

The vehicle in question is currently mud-splattered and has a menagerie of dead insects smeared all over it. Gladio already got Cindy to leave you a bucket of water and a sponge. Said mechanic merely raised her eyebrows and nodded her head when Gladiolus insisted that you said you wanted to spruce the Regalia up yourself. Cindy Aurum is all-seeing. She’s noticed the Shield’s growing fondness of the magnetic mage and if he wants to be in denial about why he wants you washing a car, that’s on him.

“Just make sure (y/n) doesn’t wear themselves out too much,” Cindy had insisted, hands on her hips and not really up for this teasing of the poor mage but also kinda curious about what will happen. She’s positive it’ll end in a lot of egg on Gladiolus’ face and she’s definitely on board for that. “The Regalia’s a right mess.”

You echo her sentiment, gaze trained on the car as you all sit around the table outside of the camper. While you’re otherwise preoccupied, Noct gives his devilish friends a bland look. Yeah, they’ve all washed the Regalia before, but it’s hardly a “rite of passage” and definitely not anything that you need to worry yourself over. And what the heck kinda prank is this, anyway? An excuse for free labor? A way to make Cindy happy ‘cause she won’t have to be the one cleaning the filthy car?

If it’s the latter, Noct would think Prompto would be the one to do it so he’d get in the mechanic’s good graces. If anything, Cindy’ll like you better after this, not Prom. Gosh, this joke is just going right over his damn head. The prince doesn’t connect the dots of you, car washing, and your nerdy white button-up shirt. Noctis isn’t naïve. In this instance, however, he doesn’t quite get the joke. All he sees is the burly Shield trying to boss around the hoity-toity mage whom he’s always teased for being “fragile.”

To Noct, the joke is poking fun at your typical mage flaws. It doesn’t seem to be a “good humored” type of prank which is why he isn’t on board. To Noct, his burgeoning crush on his remarkably charming arcane advisor is so subtle that it couldn’t possibly have factored into Gladiolus’ creation of such a mindless prank. The prince doesn’t realize how easy he is to read in this regard. Goodness, his pals have always known when he’s developed crushes. Yet Noct thinks he’s slick.

He’s pink cheeks and soft smiles, stealthy glances from beneath his bangs and awkward snorting laughter. Everything you do is infinitely funny to Noct. Your awful puns, the irritated faces you pull when the Shield tells you to take off your sweater when it’s hot out, and even the way you randomly spout off factoids on the local flora and fauna makes him chuckle. It’s a wonder Prompto hasn’t caught on. And everyone’s caught on to his crush. The guy couldn’t be more obvious.

“(y/n), you’re so cool!” Has been exclaimed about a billion times in the span of a week. If there was an “I Heart (y/n)” sandwich board, the blond might actually wear it with pride.

And now, suddenly Ignis is connecting some dots of his own with regard to this “harmless” prank. He sees it now: The slight upturn of Gladio’s mouth and the gleam in his eyes. Ignis has to dig deep within himself to refrain from rolling his eyes so hard that he sends himself backwards in time. Because Iggy? He has a talent of seeing through people. Legend has it that he actually has a sixth sense and it’s specifically for being able to read his friend’s minds when they’re on some bullshit.

And Gladio? He’s on some major bullshit.

“You don’t have to clean the car,” Noct sighs before Ignis can open his mouth to object to this tomfoolery.

Head cocks curiously and you query, “Have you cleaned the car?”

The prince watches you a moment, takes in the subtle set of your jaw and the way you’ve straightened your back, before he replies, “Yeah.”

“Then so shall I,” you respond primly, standing abruptly and shrugging off that oversized Spire sweater of yours. What’s good for your prince is good for you. And if Gladiolus says this is a rite of passage (though you have your doubts 'cause you know Gladio and Prom are gremlins), then you’ll just have to prove yourself. Judging by the unimpressed look on Ignis’ face, you’re guessing that you’ll have to work extra hard to earn his approval. It’s a good thing you’ve seen Cindy do this a million times. You’re a fast learner. Or that’s what you tell yourself.

Gods, it couldn’t be easier to bait you. Gods, it's extraordinarily difficult to keep you baited, as Gladiolus will soon learn.

The way you shed that sweater makes a few hearts skip a beat. That’s a little funny. For the mage who seems physically attached to the oversized lavender cardigan, it’s odd to see you without it. Noctis suddenly feels like he didn’t even know you had arms. You have an actual body and not just some formless lavender thing that you pull snacks and money out of. The guys act as if you’ve never taken your sweater off in your entire life when in reality they’re looking at you through “crush lenses" now.

“Make sure you lift the windshield wipers before you clean the windshield!” Prompto calls after you, voice a teasing lilt, and he immediately shrinks under the icy glare of one Ignis Scientia.

The evening air is mild and smells strongly of fried food and coffee from Takka’s. Harsh white-blue light shines down from the pit stop when the sun gets low enough in the sky. You wipe your hands on your thighs for some reason before picking the sponge up off of the ground and dunking it in the sudsy water. The sponge is squeezed of excess water and you set to work carefully and firmly wiping down the Regalia’s sleek black exterior. There are way too many bugs in the water all too soon.

Behind you, Ignis clears his throat and attempts to strike up a conversation with the others, mentioning tomorrow’s schedule. An effort in futility. He could be reading off stock reports right now and he somehow wouldn’t be less interesting to the others. Gazes keep drifting off in your direction. Someone’s supposed to laugh. That’s the point of a joke, right? And for a prank, there’s supposed to be some “gotcha!” moment where the person getting pranked realizes that they’ve been duped.

None of that happens. No laughter, no grand reveal. Just shifty glances.

It’s not like they’ve never seen anyone clean a car before. Hell, Cindy does it all the time and nobody makes a fuss. Sure, Prompto might blush and steal glances at her but that’s about it. And right now? He’s transfixed and you aren’t even doing anything special. In fact, you might actually be cussing out a particularly tough mark in the paint by the way your lips curl and your eyebrows knit together. Noctis is smiling at you and he doesn’t even realize it.

Ignis clears his throat once more, adamantly refusing to look in your direction, and he finally manages to capture everyone’s attention. “As I was saying, the quarry tomorrow-”

Six, can you finish up already? You needn’t do more than a few cursory swipes, it’s not like you’re trying to win an award or eat off of the damn car. Yet there you go, cleaning off the Regalia in earnest. At some point you’re supposed to get water on your shirt. Right? The white fabric is supposed to be made sheer and then Gladio can revel in the way everyone gets all flustered at the sight of you in such a state? Gladio can feast on embarrassment like it’s five-star cuisine?

Gladiolus shoots you furtive glances as he tries to keep up with Iggy’s chatter, tossing in a few affirmative hums of his own along with some suggestions for where to stop off next since he always makes it a habit to chat up the locals for interesting bits of information. You lean across the hood of the car and Gladio swears your ass is a magnet. Did you... Did you enchant your butt to make it impossible to look away from? Is that a stupid thing to wonder? He feels like it might be a stupid thing to wonder.

At some point, Cindy comes around with a squeegee for you and you thank her with a wide smile. “Need anything to drink, hon?” The blonde mechanic asks, arms crossed and brow furrowed. You’ve a thin sheen of sweat on your forehead and your shirt is starting to stick to you. Only about half of your work is done. Oh, this is too cruel a joke to play on such a sweet mage, she thinks, not knowing you better. Olive eyes shoot Gladiolus a pointed look and the Shield determinedly fixes his gaze on Ignis.

You wipe your forehead with the back of your arm. As the sun sets, the air grows cooler and begins to reinvigorate you. “I’m fine, thanks.” At Cindy’s concerned look, you try to reassure her with a winning smirk and insist, “Really, I am. It’s mostly my fault that we went off-road as often as we did, anyway. I’m taking full advantage of being able to explore these breathtaking lands, so the least I can do is spruce the Regalia up a bit; a price I’m more than willing to pay.”

Such an unwittingly charming mage.

“Well, you’re lookin’ a little warm so I was just checkin’ on ya,” Cindy explains herself. Why does she feel the need to explain herself? The mechanic shakes her head at herself and finally relinquishes the squeegee.

“Oh, yeah. I kinda am,” you admit, taking the squeegee and tossing it in the air before attempting to coolly catch it by the handle. It falls to the ground and you pretend that you didn’t see that happen. So does Cindy. Casual as can be, you gesture toward your shirt and ask, “Do you mind?”

The mechanic stares at you for a second as you fidget under the fluorescent lights before asking, “Do I mind...? I'm sorry, what are you askin'?”

“If you mind if I take off my shirt. I always wear an undershirt and am kinda regretting that choice right now,” you chuckle, a self-deprecating smile on your face. “I just didn’t want to suddenly start unbuttoning my shirt and have you think I’m some sort of pervert.”

“Oh!” Cindy laughs, feeling a bit flustered. She tugs on the bill of her cap. “Go right on ahead. I was just headin’ back to the garage, anyway. You wanna meet up at Takka’s when you’re done?”

“Sure thing! It shouldn’t take me longer than,” you quickly glance over your shoulder at the half-washed car, “ten minutes, max. I’ll meet you there."

“Okay.” Cindy bobs her head, already walking backwards away from you. “See ya then!”

This whole exchange, sans audio, has been observed closely by your comrades. Noct has long since stopped smiling since Cindy started getting all chatty with you. Even Ignis stopped attempting to get everyone’s eyes off of you to watch this befuddling event unfold.

“Did you just set (y/n) up with Cindy?” Prompto hisses accusingly in Gladio’s ear, totally glossing over his own hand in this predicament and prompting the taller man to bat him away, a scowl on his face. Then you turn back around to the Regalia and confuse them even more. At first, there’s wonderment as you bring your hands to your collar and begin working a button. Then there’s some strange and dizzying mix of panic and intrigue when they all realize that, yep, you’re taking your damn shirt off. “Wh-Wh-What’s (y/n) doing?!” Prompto squeaks, wide-eyed and scandalized yet still not bothering to look away. Imagine that.

Suddenly, Gladio stands with a seemingly permanent scowl on his face and marches over to you. When he’s right in front of you, he snaps, “Hey. I thought you said it’s never hot enough to take your shirt off? Hypocrite Ma-”

Wicked eyes silence him with a single look. In this moment, Gladiolus Amicitia believes that this might be a finishing move of yours. Your shirt is opened to reveal another shirt and you fold your button-up over your arm. At Gladio’s nonplussed expression, you drawl, “You were saying?” When the Shield says nothing, you toss your sweaty shirt at him and snort, “Yeah. Thought so. Now, let me work, Amicitia. I’m just about to do a better job than you’ve ever done in your life.”

Not registering that your shirt is quite damp with sweat, Gladio folds it under his arm and snorts, “Psh. Yeah, right.” Oh, no. You’ve challenged him. It’s practically in his genetic code that he can’t back down from your challenges.

“Yeah, right,” you taunt back. “Enjoy the show.”

Then you pivot on your heel and go back to cleaning off the car. Six, why does your undershirt have to be a ribbed tank? Why can’t it have sleeves? Why can’t you act like a normal person and be just the tiniest bit bothered by the fact that you’re in less clothes than any of them have ever seen you in? Red cheeks seem to be contagious among your friends, embarrassment catching on like a virus. The only one who adamantly refuses to allow himself to look ruffled is Gladiolus Amicitia.

Nostrils flare at your gall. Baiting you is pointless if you don’t even realize you’ve been had.

“What?” He scoffs. It’s not his fault that he doesn’t really know you after a week. It’s only been a week, after all. How is Gladio to know that you’re a wolf in sheep’s clothing? You’re not nearly as oblivious as any of them thinks. Sure, you may be awkward and a strong case can be made to say you’re socially inept, but you’re aware enough of others and their ulterior motives to not be made a fool of.

You’re not easy prey. The Spire unwittingly made sure of that.

You’re shrewd and far more calculating than your friends know. And right now? You know the guys are screwing with you. Gold star for you because that’s literally the only thing you guess correctly. ‘Cause you think this is some sort of “hazing” ritual like they do in teen movies and while you were initially fine with playing along, you’re already tired and looking to pawn this work off on someone else, namely the mastermind behind this lame act.

Looking over your shoulder, you slowly repeat yourself, “Enjoy the show.”

Now? Now his cheeks can flush red. It’s an inescapable heat that scorches right down to the marrow in his bones. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means I know you only told me to do this so you could watch me,” you simper, exaggerating the smooth, arcing motions you make with the sponge. “My, my, Amicitia. I didn’t think you were so cruel to me because you liked me.”

“Cruel?”

Listen, if he has to address one thing out of the few outrageous claims you’ve made right now instead of standing here in the parking lot like a gobsmacked fool, it has to be that. The other things that you’ve just said? Well, in your devilish and manipulative teasing, you don’t realize that you just hit a bullseye. It’s a critical hit and Gladiolus refuses to acknowledge the fact that he’s a dead man.

“The endless taunts and the teasing? The snide remarks about me being a fragile mage,” you supply, eager to point out his mistreatment of you, the MVP. Well, you call yourself the MVP. Even when you’ve been knocked out by a single flan, you’re still the MVP.

Gladio can almost forget your lack of clothes at this turnabout in his prank. You think he’s mean? He just thought all of that was banter! The Shield frowns at your back. If he takes a moment for some brief introspection, he must admit that he can be a bit ill-mannered. It’s something Iggy has brought to his attention a few times with regard to his treatment of Noctis. He supposes he’s obliviously stepped on your toes a few times...

Holy crap. Is he really doing some soul searching in the middle of a prank while you’re moving your hips far more than is necessary when washing a car?

“Didn’t mean to offend ya, Magey,” Gladio murmurs, brow puckered. Well, he’s feeling quite put out. So much for having fun. “Sorry. I was just foolin’ around.”

All you do is hum your acknowledgement of his apology, not bothering to even turn around. That gives Gladio pause. He thinks you’re actually upset with him. Not knowing what else to do, the Shield picks up the squeegee and begins working on cleaning the windshield. The two of you work in silence. After a moment, Prompto begins to feel left out (and like somehow cleaning a car together will make you and Gladio bond), so he shrugs off his vest and comes to join in, Noct and Iggy following close behind.

At first, you just wanted to sucker Gladio into doing all of the work for you by guilting him. But now that the others are here? Friendly conversation starts up and it doesn’t take long for Gladiolus to realize you weren’t ever even mad at him. Amber eyes cast you a sidelong glance. Though he wants to be irritated with you for trying to play him, he can’t help but smile when your face lights up when you hear that you’re all headed for Alstor Slough and its famous marshes tomorrow.

Soon enough, Prompto is flicking water at Noct ‘cause he just can’t help himself. The prince frowns and complains about how dirty the water is, which prompts Iggy to go and get a hose from Cid’s garage after dumping out the bug carcasses. Noct picks up a few of the remaining bugs and chases Prompto around the parking lot with them as revenge, the air filling with the sounds of laughter and Prom’s cries for help that will never come. Desperate, the blond hides behind you, clinging to you for dear life.

“Stop! Stop!” Prompto begs, dodging Noct and running circles around you. The prince has half a beetle in his hand. The horror. “I’m sorry!”

“C’mon, Noct. He said he’s sorry,” you laugh, an evil gleam in your eye. “But if you really want revenge, I can freeze his feet to the ground and you can shove that beetle down his shirt.”

“No!”

Six, you all swear Prompto just ruptured everyone’s eardrums with that screech. It’s his only defense against his cruel friends.

“Now, now,” Iggy tuts once he can hear again, “let’s leave Prompto alone. There’ll be no stuffing of bugs down anyone’s shirt tonight.”

Watery blue eyes blink at the taller man who is currently doing actual work and not horsing around. He’s got the car gleaming. Prompto sniffs, so pathetic, “Thank you, Ig-” Everyone is stunned at the sight of Ignis squeezing the nozzle’s trigger, the hose pointed right at Prompto’s face, practically drowning the guy for a solid two seconds. Payback’s a bitch when you flick dirty water at Ignis Scientia’s best friend.

The first one to recover from their shock and start laughing is you and gods you don’t think you can stop. Hunched over, tears in your eyes and hands braced on your thighs, you don’t think you can stop even with Prom whining at you, shaking you with his soaking hands and calling you mean. He’s only trying to get you to stop because you’re laughing so damn loud and are now at the point where no sound is coming out of you, you’re just shaking like mad and almost on the ground.

Noct and Gladio already got done laughing at Prom, but now they’re laughing at you because you look so ridiculous, all hunched over with a soaked Prompto draped pathetically over you. Six, Prom’s cheeks are so damn red. You can feel the heat of his blush against your back. Now, even the waterlogged shutterbug is struggling to keep in his chuckles despite his near-death experience. It’s not his fault that your laughter is contagious.

Iggy looks on, a grin on his face as he leans against the Regalia. It pleases him to have reduced you to tears with slapstick comedy. Yes, he’ll apologize to Prompto later. But for now, he basks in your silent laughter. For a few days, Prom won’t be able to live this down. Whenever anyone goes to call on Ignis, they’ll call him “Ig-” followed by a series of startled gurgling and dramatically flailing limbs. Prom’s freckled cheeks will turn red each time and he’ll laugh sarcastically before throwing something at the wannabe comedian.

Despite the weaponized bugs and Prompto’s near drowning, the Regalia is looking more beautiful than she’s ever looked before. All of the detailing work was mostly Ignis’ effort, but it was a group effort that got her shining. You should all be proud of your work, and you are... for a short time. Well, you stay proud while your buddies take the time to really look at each other. There’s something strange going on. Noct saw the way Specs was looking at you. Prom noticed Gladio’s glances.

It’s now that feelings are exposed to all but the one they’re actually directed toward.

“That was fun,” you admit, voice a little worse for wear, checking the time on your phone and snapping your pals out of the horror of their sudden realization. Good thing, too, because Prompto was about to make a joke about this latest development and the others wouldn’t be able to handle the shame of that. “Oh! What do you know? Just under ten minutes.”

“Do you have somewhere to be?” Ignis asks, trying not to sound too curious and trying to scrub the way Prompto had been grabbing at you from his memory. In this new context, now knowing that Prompto Argentum is genuinely infatuated with (y/n) Iovita, he regrets not letting that jet of water last for a little bit longer.

“Yes, actually. I’m meeting Cindy in the diner,” you inform your friends, yanking them all briefly back in time when they’d been hit with a collective feeling of dread at the sight of you and Cindy chatting. “We’re having dinner together. I’ll see you guys later. Okay?”

There are a few mumbles of agreement as you put your clothes back on and head off to the diner with a casual wave. Brows are furrowed, frowns etched onto faces. How did this happen? How did you end up having dinner alone with Cindy Aurum on what could possibly be called a date? What could have led to you being in a situation where you’d be presented with the opportunity to be invited to dinner? Gladiolus has never been glared at so harshly by all of his friends before.

The Shield clears his throat and rubs the back of his neck uncomfortably. “So, about that prank-”

Iggy interrupts, expression unamused, “Stop while you’re ahead, Gladio.”

“Yeah, way to go, Gladio,” Prom chimes in.

“You’re just as much to blame, Prompto,” sighs Noct, heading back to the caravan after shooting you one last fleeting look.

Chapter Text

The Game

Everyone can cook but nobody is as much of a control freak as Ignis when it comes to cooking. Also, nobody is as good as him, either.

Therefore, it stands to reason that he’s the designated chef on this quest. Noctis prefers Iggy’s cooking, after all, since the bespectacled brunet never fails to tickle the prince’s fancy. If it were up to Prompto, there’d be more greens thrown into the mix because he enjoys the feeling of having a well-rounded diet. If it were up to Gladiolus, there’d be more greens thrown into the mix to spite Noct.

And now you’re the thing being thrown into the mix.

Before you, Ignis typically catered to Noct’s palate more than the other guys’. It wasn’t because he liked them any less- Actually, wait. No, that’s true. Noctis Lucis Caelum is Ignis Scientia’s best friend in the whole world. He’s like a brother to him. And cooking is Iggy’s way of giving Noct just the briefest of reprieves from his duty. Food is a comfort afforded to Noct by a man who just wants him to be happy.

So, with that reasoning, it makes sense that most nights dinner is made according to Noct’s tastes. Such a spoiled prince in that regard.

But you’re here now. The erudite arcane advisor who lives and breathes strange research and eats just about anything. There’s no pandering to be done to your palate because your palate is so broad. A lack of greens isn’t met with a strained smile and when there are vegetables, you solve the problem of Noct’s dissatisfaction by eating them off of his plate and ignoring Gladio’s bellyaching about it.

You’re like Iggy’s failsafe. At first, he thinks that’s a good thing. Little does he know that it’s about to cause a problem.

For him, as the Food Guy™, pleasure is sometimes sought out in trying to find what level of absolute fuckery he can get away with in his cooking. His most “innovative” recipes are byproducts of that line of questioning. That devilish streak of his enjoys the reactions that he can get out of his friends, be it stars in one’s eyes at a towering sandwich or Prom behaving like tofu has the ability to kill him and everyone he loves.

It’s your growing crush on the brunet that throws a wrench in the system. The game is paused and Iggy is denied satisfaction. And that? That won’t do.

At first he thinks you’re screwing with him. The guys already know of Iggy’s flair for the dramatic, but you don’t know this game. Deep-fried peppers covered in spicy cheese sauce and garnished with dried red pepper flakes are devoured like they’re nothing more than marshmallows. With sweat on your brow and Noct guzzling both yours and his cups of water, you offer to eat Noct’s and Prom’s portions.

Not wanting to be outdone by the mage, Gladio attempts to eat his entire portion of hellfire cheese poppers only to be rewarded with immediate gastrointestinal distress for his damn competitiveness. Only then does Ignis reveal the real meal: Burgers. A back-up meal is always made for when he plays his more outlandish pranks. So full, you lament the fact that you ate three portions.

“I’m so sorry, Ignis. I wish I could eat another bite,” you sigh, swimming in sweat as Prompto and Noct look on in awe. You’ve a waterfall of sweat pouring off of you and you’re dying- quite possibly, literally dying. Insides feel like molten lava and you fear you’re about to share Gladio’s fate. Gods save the toilet paper. But you must be strong and endure this pain.

Ignis stares at you blankly before cracking a smile. He detects sarcasm in your tone where there is none. The game is on. “It’s no problem, Iovita.”

Except it is, and he’s oh-so determined to get you the next time.

A breakfast shake made of bacon, eggs, milk, and toast blended all together is served and chugged while Noct excuses himself. A burger with a fried cookie as the patty is devoured with gusto as Gladio comments that the flavor is “interesting” combined with the tomato and mustard. Each is served beautifully, like legitimate dishes, and the guys laugh, or cringe, or gag, and enjoy the joke.

You eat the damn joke.

An experiment in bizarre flavors and an exercise in testing his friends’ limits, these dishes are supposed to evoke laughter or outrageous reactions. Instead, you pretend that you’re somewhere else (Sometimes someone else. You needed to pretend you were astral projecting to drink that friggin' breakfast shake without hurling.) and eat them. Then you wipe your mouth, smile charmingly, and thank the chef.

And Iggy can't decipher exactly what you’re trying to convey with such a dazzling smile after having eaten something so wretched or strange.

As time goes by, Iggy starts to get the sneaking suspicion that you’re actually trying to insult him. You thank him as passionately and sincerely for his joke dishes as you do the ones that he puts lots of time and effort into. Dishes like creamy fowl sauté and fluffy chiffon cake are lauded in the same way as just a slice of tomato on a plate and a macaroni and cheese cupcake. What exactly are you trying to get at?

Short answer: Him. You’re trying to get at him.

You’re trying to impress him. Is that so wrong? You're trying to make him feel nice and supported because you’re completely taken with the bespectacled brunet. He’s sophisticated and compassionate and... His hijinks are totally lost on you. So now the two of you are in this weird place where he’s screwing around with recipes for a reaction and you’re singing his praises. Which, normally, he’d love. But that’s not what a joke dish is for, okay?!

Your gushing, simpering praise of food that you're supposed to find disgusting is like when someone actually tries to fight the "killer clown" or the "ghost" in a jump-scare prank instead of running away.

When Ignis breaks, the final straw being you calling his asparagus water “avant-garde,” he calls you over to see what your game is. You’ve been driving him mad for days, your praise all he can think of. Over and over he replays the way your eyes shine and how you smile so brightly at him with your empty plate. He knows that this nonsense needs to come to an end because Noct is beginning to suggest dining out more frequently, the poor guy.

Apparently, the prince can’t handle his best friend constantly upping the ante with these prank dishes.

“What's up? You've been acting kinda strange these past few days, Iggy. I hope you aren't getting sick,” you fuss, rolling up the sleeves of your sweater to help Ignis clean, as you always do. A sponge is dunked into soapy water and you set to work cleaning dishes while he readies a pot to soak overnight. Green eyes cast you a sideways glance. How dare you eat that water-logged asparagus after sipping that water like you had a glass of the world’s finest wine in hand?

You’re unbreakable.

In the warm light of the campfire, he watches you work, and he doesn’t know if he should admire that tenacious quality of yours or not. Even still, Ignis waffles on his conclusion that you’re just pulling his leg. Because if you are being facetious when you compliment him for his unconventional dishes (like he assumes you are), then you sure are one hell of an actor. However, he can't think of what else you might be trying to accomplish other than aggravating him because you know he's trying to mess with everyone.

Through pursed lips, your comrade queries in a friendly tone that perfectly conceals his frustration, “Did you enjoy dinner?”

“Yes, of course!” Is your swift, honest answer. Sure, you thought the water was a little weird and you’d had to give Noct a death glare to keep him from cracking wise about it, but it’s the thought that counts. You don’t want to stomp all over Iggy’s creative spirit, after all. An assumption is made on your part. Not for a second do you think these bizarre foods are part of a prank to get a reaction out of you. You think they’re Iggy’s outlet.

Honestly? It’s not the most far-fetched conclusion that you can come up with. For the man who arguably does the most physical and emotional labor in the group, you believe it’s perfectly reasonable for him to decompress in the kitchen. Besides, it’s kinda his fault that the joking intent is lost on you, ‘cause most of the food tastes good even if it’s hotter than hell or an outlandish flavor combination.

Emerald eyes narrow, observing you closely through fine lashes. “Really?” When you hum your assurances, focused on trying to get leftover oil off of a plate, Ignis tests you, “What exactly did you enjoy?”

“Uh...” At the way you pause, looking visibly flustered, the brunet thinks he’s finally caught you at your little teasing game.

He knew it! You have been screwing with him this whole time! What kind of stomach does a person need to have to eat not one but three whole peppers, anyway? Of course you'd only eat that if you were trying to turn his game around on him. Triumphant, Iggy allows himself to feel admiration for your commitment to this little game that you’ve been playing. After enduring all manner of culinary oddities, you’ve earned his respect as a fellow mischief-maker.

But then you peer at him in the soft light of the campfire and the stars, and admit, “The thing is, I enjoy everything that you make because I appreciate the effort that you put forth to take care of everyone. We all do a lot during the day; hunting, fighting imperials, and just running around in general. But even after all of that, you still make sure that everyone has a meal and that... That’s what I enjoy.” A dazzling grin is shot at him and you praise, “Thank you, Ignis.”

Emerald eyes blink rapidly. Slowly but surely, his cheeks flush pink. Now he knows your little game.

Chapter Text

Colors

There are a few things that you can do to cheer up a sad Prompto. He’s not particularly prone to bouts of melancholy, but he’s not immune to them, either. While the other guys have their own ways of putting a smile back on the blond’s face, it’s obvious that Prom prefers yours. It was love at first destroyed nasal passages... That’s how the saying goes, right? He quickly learns not to drink anything when he’s sad and you’re around.

At the first sigh, at the first frown, at the first glisten in those cornflower blue eyes, you break out your calligraphy pen and inkwell and you unroll a nice piece of parchment. Wherever he is, you waltz on up to him and sit down beside him. The parchment is spread out, all crisp and clean, and you carefully dip the pen in the ink.

You’ve purchased an outrageous amount of inks for just this purpose. Gold, plum, ochre, chartreuse, magenta, and every other pretentious color one can think of. A pretty gil has been spent for quite possibly the most ridiculous ritual you’ve ever adopted. When you start this ceremony, he’s enraptured. Fears and sorrows are forgotten for the elegant way that you conduct this most important of events. Your face is placid, eyes hooded, and you roll up the sleeves of your sweater. He always tries to guess what you’re going to write. He’s never correct.

“Fucktrumpet” is penned in vermillion.

“Bitchtits” is written in heliotrope.

“Assbadger” gets composed in celadon.

And “Dickweed” is printed in cerise.

Blue eyes shine, freckled cheeks turning pink as a hand is slapped over the shutterbug’s mouth. Shoulders shake uncontrollably but he always holds it in because he has to see the hypnotizing arc of your steady hand at work. You work slowly, skillfully, to write these words in vibrant ink on flawless parchment. When you’re done, you pull the pen away with a theatrical flourish and you’re showered with applause and hysterical laughter. The tears in his eyes are happy ones now and you’re rewarded with the tightest hug on Eos. You have to hold up each one so he can snap a photo. Prompto keeps them all.

Chapter Text

04. Dust

Noctis Route

“Thank you so much for your dedication, Ms. Aurum.” You bow your head regally to the blonde and swear you see her cheeks color a bit underneath the oil stains that she wears like warpaint. “I couldn’t have asked for a more capable mechanic.”

You’re laying on the charm real thick, sure, but it gets you a cute chocobo decal from the lovely lady. This is one of the things that arguably makes you dangerous. For someone who can’t take a punch to save their life and probably has their picture next to the definition of “glass cannon,” you had to develop a cunning skill set to not get beaten up on a near weekly basis from the odd brutish student who dared call themselves a mage.

Pickpocketing, lock-picking, and being light of foot is usually enough to save your skin. But when all else fails, you have a tongue of polished silver. Funny, considering when your well-being isn’t on the line and you aren’t trying to get one over on someone, you’re about as slick as sandpaper.

“Well, ain’t you the charmin’ one? It was my pleasure to work on that lil’ cutie.” Cindy claps a hand down on your shoulder with a winning smile and you feel heat rush up your neck. “If you ever need work on ‘im, I’m always up for the challenge.”

You bite your lower lip and her green eyes flicker down, that smile slowly turning into a coy smirk. Honestly, you don’t do that on purpose. Sure, you can dish out flirtations and charm when you’re being a manipulative little sneak, but when it’s reciprocated...? Well, usually no one ever calls your bluff. In your experience, your charms are just enough to get someone to not cold-cock you just for being an Iovita. Romance hasn’t ever been an outcome. Never.

“Hey, Cindy? Did you say that you needed us to find something for you?” Prompto interrupts your moment with the mechanic and you’re immensely grateful. That is, until you turn to give Prom an appreciative smile only to find him staring at you with the weirdest expression on his face. With your burgeoning relationships in mind, Prompto’s chilly look has you hoping you didn’t just unwittingly screw everything up.

Well,” you think pragmatically, “I can always beg for forgiveness.”

And how could he reject you if you beg? If these past few days have taught you anything, it’s that Prompto is a huge softy who seemingly can’t stay mad at anyone, Noct sure as hell pretends to be mad (you took a bit of bacon off of his plate and he acted like you declared war on his kingdom but then the very next morning he gave you his bacon... What even?), Gladio is a pro at dishing out tough love, and Ignis is basically a saint with added sass.

“Hm? Don’t think so.” Cindy releases your shoulder, brow furrowed at the sharpshooter.

Not wanting to wait for the situation to get any more tense, you mosey on over to Choco Jr. like you didn’t just conjure up awkwardness like it’s your favorite spell. The afternoon air is nice and crisp but you know it’s going to get warm soon. Excitement chases away that social faux pas, the anticipation of riding out to Galdin Quay today and taking the ferry to Altissia turning Prompto’s serious look into a distant memory.

The scooter has a fresh coat of chocobo-yellow paint and looks better than you think it might’ve looked when even Drusa first bought it. The tires actually have tread, the seat has been refurbished with pristine white leather, and the headlight is crystal clear rather than foggy. The moped even has a distinctly neutral scent from the wax Cindy used to get the whole thing all shiny and new. Six, no wonder the repairs cost you a small fortune.

“Wow. You’re ab-so-lutely beautiful,” you murmur to the moped, running your hand over the seat and reveling in how soft the leather is.

“Do you speak to your scooter often?”

In an instant you whip around to face Ignis who is smiling faintly at you. With a scowl you scoff, No. I just haven’t seen him in a while.”

“Him?” The way the corners of his mouth quirk up almost imperceptibly at your expense makes you bare your teeth. Told you. A saint with sass.

“Oh, hush. I’ve heard you all refer to the Regalia as ‘she’ and ‘her,’ so don’t try and tease me about this. You don’t have a leg to stand on, Scientia.”

“Of course, Iovita.” The tactician pulls a face full of totally fake remorse and you roll your eyes. Just as you’re about to tell him that you know he’s being facetious, you notice that he’s been keeping his arms behind his back all the while.

Eyes narrow suspiciously. “What do you have behind your back? You aren’t about to bludgeon me to death, are you?”

His eyebrows crinkle up in innocence. “Whatever do you mean?”

“Despite the circumstances of my sheltered upbringing, I’m not that dumb, Iggy.”

“Why, I never implied anything of the sort,” Ignis tuts before revealing his hand and a glossy white helmet that he holds by its chinstrap, “however, your lack of safety precautions might lead some to think otherwise.”

"A helmet?" You snort, eyeing the bone-white thing with its perfectly clean visor and wishing you hadn’t pushed him to show you what he was hiding. "Only nerds wear helmets."

Ignis is positively unamused. "People who care for their own safety wear helmets." He firmly pushes the headgear into your hands. "And your health is more important than your image."

With a defeated sigh, you relent and hold the white headgear under your arm. "Okay, okay. Thank you, mother."

"You're quite welcome."

Uh-oh. He’s giving you an expectant look. He totally wants you to wear it right now. When the sunlight glints off of his lenses and he looks like a villain from your favorite anime, you know you shouldn’t argue. Grumbling all the while, you put the helmet on and dramatically flick the visor down. It’s not too bad, if you’re being perfectly honest. A couple of decals and maybe you won’t look like a mothball (Ooh, maybe you can put the chocobo decal on it?). And the way Ignis smiles approvingly kinda makes wearing the damn thing worth it.

Just as you’re starting to get used to the idea of wearing the dorky headgear and you’re growing accustomed to the added weight, you hear someone bellow from the convenience store, “Whoa! Nice helmet, nerd!”

Ignis cuts his eyes to the bodyguard. “Gladio.”

Gladiolus grins good-naturedly, arms full of supplies and junk that he and Noct purchased from the shop. The prince has one of those small half-smiles on his face the second his eyes land on your helmet, blue eyes practically simmering. Okay, that’s it! Just as you attempt to yank the damn thing off of your head, Ignis firmly places his hand down on the helmet, preventing you from taking it off. He even buckles the chinstrap for added measure. The small whine that leaves you has the prince’s strategist chuckling.

“Chill out, (y/n), it doesn’t look that bad,” Noct needles, now wearing a full-on smirk, “you just look like a cotton ball.”

Gladio barks a laugh at the prince’s words and your upper lip twitches. Such a shame you vowed to protect this guy. Right now you want more than anything to be able to send a little spark his way... Then again, that wouldn’t be too smart since you’re literally standing in front of a gas pump. Yikes.

“We headed out?” Prom asks, seeming to pop up out of nowhere and he shoots you what he probably thinks is a stealthy glance.

“Yes. We really shouldn’t delay.” Ignis nods, popping the Regalia’s trunk so Gladio and Noct can put away their purchases.

You swear you spot the bright packaging of a familiar brand of chips. This is confirmed when you hear Ignis’ disappointed sigh and grumblings about saturated fats. All the while, Prompto looks like he wants to say something to you. Not one for confrontation, you don’t make the first move. Neither does he.

Cold war,” you brood uneasily.

You’re shocked by how quiet Choco Jr. is when you start him up and you feel like you’re in a dream when you hit the road and your eardrums aren’t assaulted by the sounds of a slowly and painfully dying engine. Tires glide smoothly down the road and you find that you don’t have to constantly jerk the handlebars to keep the moped going straight. The next time you see Cindy, you’re gonna have to thank her properly.

From way up ahead, you spot Prompto sitting up out of his seat and twisting around, cornflower blue eyes locked on you. He cups his hands around his mouth and just starts yelling. Is he...? He looks like he's trying to talk to you, yelling over the wind in vain, blond eyebrows knitted together. You squint in surprise that he would even try to do something so dumb, I mean can't he talk to you at the next rest stop if it’s that important? What doesn't surprise you is when Gladiolus takes his great big paw of a hand, slaps it over Prompto's face, and forces the blond to sit back in his seat.

You snort.

Galdin Quay is a vision. The water is such a pure blue and the beaches are so clean that you realize the little sliver of blue that you could just make out from the window in your mother’s office doesn’t do the place any justice. You excuse yourself from the others to go and examine the local flora, making them swear to come get you before they head off. Noct gently teases that they couldn’t leave you behind even if they wanted to.

“Perfect,” you whisper to yourself, having found a bit of scrap metal while getting up close and personal with the grass. You had been looking for herbs or something to make a potion, but didn’t have much luck on that front.

When Noct finds you sprawled on your stomach, picking through grass, he snorts. You hop up with a start, looking around the prince for the others. Noticing your confusion, the Crown Prince explains, “Ferry’s out and some reporter wants us to find him some ore in order to get a way into Altissia.” Blue eyes watch you from beneath raven bangs, clearly irritated, “Time to hit the road. Get on that lame scooter of yours and let’s head out.”

And off we go. Again. Not to Altissia.”

You’re trying not to feel bitter and like you’re being jerked around. But the hunt for “some ore” turns into a moment for everyone to see the limits of your adventurousness... It was just a quick little trip down the road and a small hike up to a clifftop. Some totally normal stuff. Completely boring stuff. And you have absolutely no freakin’ clue how nobody spotted the giant damn bird sleeping in the exact spot you all needed to search for some ore. How could no one see something large enough to swallow someone whole?

Sure, the bird is beautiful and you shakily bring your phone up to take a photo, nearly dying on the spot when your flash goes off and Noct cuts his intense silvery-blue eyes to you- hissing at you to knock it off and thinking Gladio had it right when he started calling you a tourist. Luckily for you, the bird is dead to the world. Or so you think.

As the others sneak by the slumbering bird, you’re frozen to the spot, pressed so hard against the cliffside that you swear you’ll become one with the rock. It takes you what feels like ages to build up the nerve to follow on your hands and knees, swearing to Ramuh that he’d better have your back if things go south. And maybe he listens. Because when the bird inevitably awakens on your trip back, ore in hand, (you swear it’s Prompto’s constant freaking out that does the trick) you just barely miss getting hip-checked by one of its massive wings.

The gust of wind that whooshes from the bird’s impossibly large black wings has your jacket flipping up and over your head. You’re blindly fumbling for your staff, swears falling from your lips in panic, as the behemoth lets out an eardrum-shattering cry. You’re dead. You’re so dead! But suddenly your jacket is pulled back down and you’re able to see again. Cerulean eyes twinkle down at you and you just know the prince is having a hell of a time not laughing at you. Yup. He has that trademark ghost of a smile on his lips.

“Relax, (y/n), it’s already gone. I think all of your screaming is what drove it away in the first place.”

You’re grateful that you ride alone on the moped back to Galdin Quay. Able to simmer in humiliation in silence because you’d been so sure that you were about to get eaten by a giant bird... you’d even been yelling, “Don’t you dare eat me you giant, feathery asshole, or I’ll make you explode from the inside out!” when Noct came to your rescue. Occasionally the prince turns his head as if he’s looking out at the scenery, arm resting against the Regalia, but you catch a hint of blue hidden beneath those bangs and know he’s watching you. You almost wish the bird had eaten you.

Back in Galdin Quay, Noct hands over the ore to his contact while you stay in the restaurant, asking the chef, Coctura, where she studied and if she’s familiar with any of the cooks back in the Spire since you remember hearing them say her name; just making friendly chit chat in general since you’re so accustomed to chatting up cooks. Talking to her evokes a comforting familiarity that makes your mindless chatter easy and you have her laughing at lame jokes before you know it. Somehow you all end up with a room (you nearly have a stroke when you see a room is 10,000 gil) and when she hears you’re staying, Coctura promises to make you a wonderful breakfast to see you off on your trip.

As you make to enter the hotel room, someone grabs your shoulder and pulls you back. “Hey, (y/n).” Prompto gives you an unsure smile. “Can we, uh, talk for a second?”

You glance back at the others who are hilariously bad at pretending not to notice this little conversation unfurling before turning back to Prom and shrugging. “Yeah. Sure.”

Prompto takes you aside to one of the docks where the two of you stand in silence for a while. Tension slowly builds in your gut, so you opt to look out at the dark water, pretending to enjoy the scenery even though you’re internally freaking out. You swear he’s angry. You’re absolutely positive that you’re in for a tongue-lashing from perhaps the nicest member of Noct’s entourage. And all you did was flirt!

“About earlier, with Cindy...” Prompto starts but stops. You look at him but he doesn’t look at you.

“Mmhm?”

“What was that about?”

Eyebrows rise on instinct when you notice how red his ears are. “Innocent praise bordering on flirtation.” It comes out so robotic. He looks shocked by how blunt you are. “What? Do you have a thing for her? Can’t say I blame you. She’s skilled and attractive. Very dedicated to her craft, too. Those are all very appealing traits.”

Okay, pause. The problem here is that you have a very hard time picking up on subtle cues that bely anything other than malicious intent. After you turned thirteen you practically grew up walking on eggshells since you were then in the age range of the youngest students to be allowed entry into the Spire (aged fifteen to nineteen), so some of the bruisers saw you as “fair game” for their misdirected ire because apparently turning thirteen means you can take (and totally deserve) a punch. What is logic?

With this in mind, you can only perceive the flush in Prompto’s skin, the fact that he pulled you aside for a dreaded one-on-one chat, and his reluctance to make eye contact to mean that he’s angry with you. Just angry, nothing else. An unfortunate consequence of growing up surrounded by mages-in-training with inferiority complexes exacerbated by having to “compete” with a kid who an entire kingdom recognizes as one of the only “real” mages on the planet.

But Prompto doesn’t know this. He’s not privy to the bizarre nuances of your upbringing despite having poured over biographies that were largely built on fiction, since not a single one of those “authors” actually interviewed you but instead got their information from Spire grads who just passed you in the halls or had a class with you. In fact, you only had three visitors in the Spire. An aunt who later died in service to King Regis, a weird “uncle” who visited once every few years, and the Oracle... a story for another time.

“Well, I do, but I’m not ma-” Prompto stammers, taken off-guard by how you speak almost rapid- fire. He thinks you’re being defensive, that he hurt your feelings, but in reality you’re quickly trying to defuse what you think is a confrontation. It’s a war between two awkward fools who fear losing a friend.

“Say no more.” You wave a hand dismissively and Prom furrows his brow. This isn’t going anything like how he wanted. “If we ever see her again, I’ll refrain from being so forward and the ball will be in her court, as the kids say.”

“Kids don’t say that,” he murmurs.

“No harm no foul?”

The blond squints at you, wondering if you’re about to say “How do you do, fellow kids?” since you’re so damn awkward it should be a crime. Instead of saying this, Prom merely replies at great length, “That’s... okay.”

In your haste to put an end to this conversation, you throw the sharpshooter a strained smile, pat him awkwardly on the shoulder, and head back to the hotel room, swearing to never harmlessly flirt with anyone in front of Prompto again lest you have a repeat of this tragic episode- or to at least check and see if he’s crushing on the victim of your charm beforehand. And Prompto swears to never corner you again.

Well, he swears to himself that if he ever needs to talk to you alone again he won’t let his nerves get the best of him. Because now he’s very much aware of how awkward you are, despite your cool and somewhat haughty exterior. It’s somewhat of a relief to him since he thought you were a bit unapproachable at times. When he follows you to the hotel room, he’s smiling and doesn’t feel nearly as bad as before. Hell, he’s even glad that Gladio stopped his yelling to you that you two “needed to have a serious talk.” That only would’ve made things worse. Obviously.

“Hey every- Ow!” The second you open the door to the hotel room, a bag of chips hits you square in the chest.

“Shit! Sorry! I thought you were Prompto.” Gladio winces. “You really need to work on your reflexes, (y/n).”

“Or you can just not assault me with potato chips in the future, Gladio,” you murmur, bending down and swiping up the bag that’s now most likely full of broken chips.

“Or you can be ready for sneak attacks!” Prompto crows, joining in on Gladio’s teasing.

Or everyone can knock it off,” murmurs Noct from his sprawled position on the couch opposite the others.

“Would anyone care for room service?” Ignis inquires, flipping through a menu as he lounges on one of the couches. He’s obviously trying to put the issue to bed before anyone can get anymore irritated.

“Not at those prices,” you snort, ripping open the bag of chips and popping one in your mouth.

Prompto reaches over your shoulder from behind and grabs a handful for himself before asking, “Isn’t Coctura making you breakfast?”

That gets Noct’s attention. The prince frowns and complains, “What? She’s only making breakfast for (y/n)?” You don’t miss the accusatory look he throws your way.

Gladio grins. “Uh-huh. Heard her say it herself. (y/n)’s a bit of a ladykiller.”

Noct’s stare intensifies. With a dramatic roll of your eyes, you throw yourself down on the couch between Ignis and Gladio. “I’m no such thing. I just know how to talk to people.” You swear you hear Ignis snort next to you. Even Prompto is biting his lip, cheeks dimpling as he struggles to keep his laughter in. Well, that’s two of the four who know you have the social skills of a toad. “Anyway,” you grumble, “we should all get some sleep. We have a big day ahead of us.”

“Food first,” argues Noct, sitting up so Prompto can finally sit down. “I’m starving and I didn’t have the luxury of chatting up the chef to get a meal.”

How long is he going to complain about that?” You brood at the prince’s surprising pettiness. If you’d known everyone and their grandma had a crush on Coctura, you just would’ve kept your mouth shut.

The others agree with Noct’s request for food even as Gladio steals chips from the bag in your lap. You and Gladio fill up on chips so you two end up splitting a dish and mercifully cutting down the total cost of the meal, which comes out to a fortune. It’s as you’re popping a bit of grilled fish in your mouth that Noct goes in for the kill.

“Hey, (y/n),” blue eyes watch you mischievously from beneath dark bangs, “do all mages have a fear of being eaten alive by birds?”

The fish gets lodged in your throat and it takes Ignis firmly patting your back for you to come back from the brink of death. “What?” You gasp, voice gravelly from your near-death experience.

The corner of his mouth ticks up into a smirk. “For someone who can turn a dualhorn into a well- done steak, you sure did scream a lot when the bird took off,” Noct continues his teasing and you try to melt into the couch.

“Yeah,” Gladio laughs, “they sure do have a set of lungs on ‘em, huh?”

The night ends with everyone taking their jabs at you. Even Ignis joins in on the “fun,” saying that he thought you were casting some sort of curse until he saw you with your jacket over your head. Prompto reveals that he actually got that moment on camera and Noct tells him to save it while you excuse yourself for bed, unable to look anyone in the eye.

Tragedy hits when you least expect it. It seems to have a habit of doing that.

When you stumble out of the Quayside Cradle and into the open air of the restaurant, you immediately notice the eerie, heavy silence that isn’t from the early hour. Coctura is slumped forward with her back to you, the faint sound of a smart, tinny voice speaking out into the dead air, the smell of something burning reaching your nose. The voice from her phone is sombre and matter-of-fact, it reminds you of the time Drusa took you aside to tell you Magister Illara, a woman older than your grandfather, had died in her sleep. It fills your stomach with dread but you tell yourself that you’re overreacting.

“Coctura? Is everything okay?” You sniff. “Something’s burning.”

The chef whips around, face tear-streaked and eyes cloudy. Your stomach sinks. Coctura’s lips tremble as she speaks, “Oh... (y/n). You’re awake. I’d always heard you mages liked getting up b-bright and early.” She’s trying so hard to sound chipper but it fails. “I was just, um, prepping.” She quickly turns away to scrape the burned thing off of the stovetop.

Alarm sets your teeth on edge and you slowly close the distance between the two of you, the countertop feeling too cold beneath your palms. “What’s happened?”

“Insomnia-” She can’t get the rest out before breaking down into sobs, one hand coming up to cover her mouth, a futile effort to stifle the noise.

The Empire’s attack on Insomnia leaves you feeling empty. It’s difficult for you to properly mourn over a city and people you’d never met, to mourn beside the others who actually lost people they’d known all their lives. Especially Noct and Gladio. Six, especially them. You feel like an imposter with your tears, so you hide them away- hide your face behind a mug of coffee, behind the Iovita grimoire, behind anything you can get your hands on. You hide until plans are made to go see Insomnia for yourselves. It’s when you’re planning the trip to the Crown City that you get the call.

“(y/n),” Drusa breathes into the phone, sounding relieved, “you’re all right. Good.”

“Yes,” you purse your lips, under the scrutinizing gaze of Noct who is full of suspicion after these recent events, “what is it?”

“You need to come back to the Spire this instant.”

Eyes roll at the drama of it all, probably your mother’s doing, and you reply, “Fine. I need to pick some things up, anyway, and Noc-”

“Don’t bring the prince,” her voice is so low now you can barely even hear her. Then she raises it, a maternal edge to her tone, “Now, enough daemon hunting, (y/n). You’ve had your fun. It’s time to be serious. You’re needed here immediately.” She hangs up before you can ask her what she’s going on about.

What the hell was that?”

After you tuck your phone away, you turn to address Noct. He’s been quiet ever since Ignis broke the news to him (you hadn’t told anyone that you knew beforehand from Coctura). He sits away from the others in the hotel room but his eyes are trained on you, unblinking. “Noct-”

“What?” He hisses from between his teeth and you look away. He hasn’t wanted anyone to actually talk to him since the news broke, either. Already tired of the couple of sympathetic looks thrown his way by the others.

“I’m going back to the Spire,” you announce.

His eyes burn you like fire and you glance over to find him glaring, just as you suspected. “So, that’s it, huh? Insomnia supposedly falls and you-”

“Have a little faith,” you spit with too much venom than intended. “I’m needed back at the Spire. My mother probably just wants to make sure I’m okay and I need to pick some things up anyway. It’ll make our journey a bit easier.”

Prompto glances nervously between you and his best friend. “You sure that’s a good idea?”

“We’ll go with you,” Gladio insists, brow creased with worry. “It’ll be quick. Then we’ll go to Insomnia.”

You give the big guy a kind smile but admit, “I’d rather you didn’t.”

“Why not?” Noct queries, sounding accusatory though there’s a hint of concern under all that rage.

“If the news is legitimate... The Spire has eyes and ears everywhere and not everyone is sympathetic to your cause. Some students hail from places other than Lucis.” At Noct’s narrowed eyes you huff, “Don’t look at me like that. The Spire takes anyone who can pay. It’s not my fault.”

Ignis hums and nods his head determinedly, “We’ll go with you but we won’t enter the Spire. You must make the trip a quick one, (y/n). Time is of the essence.”

You’re surprised that they’re even willing to take this detour with you. But you won’t have it. You won’t keep them all in suspense while you go deal with your mother’s overbearing tendencies. “No. When we get to the fork in the road, I’ll be headed west and you four need to be headed east. If anything happens, we’ll just meet up at Hammerhead. Noctis has my number.” And with that, you’re off. Unaware of just how deeply the attack on the Crown City affects you.


Prompto Route

“Thank you so much for your dedication, Ms. Aurum.” You bow your head regally to the blonde and swear you see her cheeks color a bit underneath the oil stains that she wears like warpaint. “I couldn’t have asked for a more capable mechanic.”

You’re laying on the charm real thick, sure, but it gets you a cute chocobo decal from the lovely lady. This is one of the things that arguably makes you dangerous. For someone who can’t take a punch to save their life and probably has their picture next to the definition of “glass cannon,” you had to develop a cunning skill set to not get beaten up on a near weekly basis from the odd brutish student who dared call themselves a mage.

Pickpocketing, lock-picking, and being light of foot is usually enough to save your skin. But when all else fails, you have a tongue of polished silver. Funny, considering when your well-being isn’t on the line and you aren’t trying to get one over on someone, you’re about as slick as sandpaper.

“Well, ain’t you the charmin’ one? It was my pleasure to work on that lil’ cutie.” Cindy claps a hand down on your shoulder with a winning smile and you feel heat rush up your neck. “If you ever need work on ‘im, I’m always up for the challenge.”

You bite your lower lip and her green eyes flicker down, that smile slowly turning into a coy smirk. Honestly, you don’t do that on purpose. Sure, you can dish out flirtations and charm when you’re being a manipulative little sneak, but when it’s reciprocated...? Well, usually no one ever calls your bluff. In your experience, your charms are just enough to get someone to not cold-cock you just for being an Iovita. Romance hasn’t ever been an outcome. Never.

“Hey, Cindy? Did you say that you needed us to find something for you?” Prompto interrupts your moment with the mechanic and you’re immensely grateful. That is, until you turn to give Prom an appreciative smile only to find him staring at you with the weirdest expression on his face. With your burgeoning relationships in mind, Prompto’s chilly look has you hoping you didn’t just unwittingly screw everything up.

Well,” you think pragmatically, “I can always beg for forgiveness.”

And how could he reject you if you beg? If these past few days have taught you anything, it’s that Prompto is a huge softy who seemingly can’t stay mad at anyone (especially not you, for whatever reason), Noct sure as hell pretends to be mad (you took a bit of bacon off of his plate and he acted like you declared war on his kingdom), Gladio is a pro at dishing out tough love, and Ignis is basically a saint with added sass.

“Hm? Don’t think so.” Cindy releases your shoulder, brow furrowed at the sharpshooter.

Not wanting to wait for the situation to get any more tense, you mosey on over to Choco Jr. like you didn’t just conjure up awkwardness like it’s your favorite spell. The afternoon air is nice and crisp but you know it’s going to get warm soon. Excitement chases away that social faux pas, the anticipation of riding out to Galdin Quay today and taking the ferry to Altissia turning Prompto’s serious look into a distant memory.

The scooter has a fresh coat of chocobo-yellow paint and looks better than you think it might’ve looked when even Drusa first bought it. The tires actually have tread, the seat has been refurbished with pristine white leather, and the headlight is crystal clear rather than foggy. The moped even has a distinctly neutral scent from the wax Cindy used to get the whole thing all shiny and new. Six, no wonder the repairs cost you a small fortune.

“Wow. You’re ab-so-lutely beautiful,” you murmur to the moped, running your hand over the seat and reveling in how soft the leather is.

“Do you speak to your scooter often?”

In an instant you whip around to face Ignis who is smiling faintly at you. With a scowl you scoff, No. I just haven’t seen him in a while.”

“Him?” The way the corners of his mouth quirk up almost imperceptibly at your expense makes you bare your teeth. Told you. A saint with sass.

“Oh, hush. I’ve heard you all refer to the Regalia as ‘she’ and ‘her,’ so don’t try and tease me about this. You don’t have a leg to stand on, Scientia.”

“Of course, Iovita.” The tactician pulls a face full of totally fake remorse and you roll your eyes. Just as you’re about to tell him that you know he’s being facetious, you notice that he’s been keeping his arms behind his back all the while.

Eyes narrow suspiciously. “What do you have behind your back? You aren’t about to bludgeon me to death, are you?”

His eyebrows crinkle up in innocence. “Whatever do you mean?”

“Despite the circumstances of my sheltered upbringing, I’m not that dumb, Iggy.”

“Why, I never implied anything of the sort,” Ignis tuts before revealing his hand and a glossy white helmet that he holds by its chinstrap, “however, your lack of safety precautions might lead some to think otherwise.”

"A helmet?" You snort, eyeing the bone-white thing with its perfectly clean visor and wishing you hadn’t pushed him to show you what he was hiding. "Only nerds wear helmets."

Ignis is positively unamused. "People who care for their own safety wear helmets." He firmly pushes the headgear into your hands. "And your health is more important than your image."

With a defeated sigh, you relent and hold the white headgear under your arm. "Okay, okay. Thank you, mother."

"You're quite welcome."

Uh-oh. He’s giving you an expectant look. He totally wants you to wear it right now. When the sunlight glints off of his lenses and he looks like a villain from your favorite anime, you know you shouldn’t argue. Grumbling all the while, you put the helmet on and dramatically flick the visor down. It’s not too bad, if you’re being perfectly honest. A couple of decals and maybe you won’t look like a mothball (Ooh, maybe you can put the chocobo decal on it?). And the way Ignis smiles approvingly kinda makes wearing the damn thing worth it.

Just as you’re starting to get used to the idea of wearing the dorky headgear and you’re growing accustomed to the added weight, you hear someone bellow from the convenience store, “Whoa! Nice helmet, nerd!”

Ignis cuts his eyes to the bodyguard. “Gladio.”

Gladiolus grins good-naturedly, arms full of supplies and junk that he and Noct purchased from the shop. The prince has one of those small smiles on his face the second his eyes land on your helmet. Okay, that’s it! Just as you attempt to yank the damn thing off of your head, Ignis firmly places his hand down on the helmet, preventing you from taking it off. He even buckles the chinstrap for added measure. The small whine that leaves you has the prince’s strategist chuckling.

“We headed out?” Prom asks, seeming to pop up out of nowhere and he shoots you what he probably thinks is a stealthy glance. He does a double-take at your helmet, cheeks blossoming with pink. Great, even the biggest dork in the group thinks you look like a dork.

“Yes. We really shouldn’t delay.” Ignis nods, popping the Regalia’s trunk so Gladio and Noct can put away their purchases. You swear you spot the bright packaging of a familiar brand of chips. This is confirmed when you hear Ignis’ disappointed sigh and grumblings about saturated fats. All the while, Prompto looks like he wants to say something to you. Not one for confrontation, you don’t make the first move. Neither does he.

Cold war,” you brood uneasily.

You’re shocked by how quiet Choco Jr. is when you start him up and you feel like you’re in a dream when you hit the road and your eardrums aren’t assaulted by the sounds of a slowly and painfully dying engine. Tires glide smoothly down the road and you find that you don’t have to constantly jerk the handlebars to keep the moped going straight. The next time you see Cindy, you’re gonna have to thank her properly.

From way up ahead, you spot Prompto sitting up out of his seat and twisting around, cornflower blue eyes locked on you. He cups his hands around his mouth and just starts yelling. Is he...? He looks like he's trying to talk to you, yelling over the wind in vain, blond eyebrows knitted together. You squint in surprise that he would even try to do something so dumb, I mean can't he talk to you at the next rest stop if it’s that important? What doesn't surprise you is when Gladiolus takes his great big paw of a hand, slaps it over Prompto's face, and forces the blond to sit back in his seat.

You snort.

Galdin Quay is a vision. The water is such a pure blue and the beaches are so clean that you realize the little sliver of blue that you could just make out from the window in your mother’s office doesn’t do the place any justice. You excuse yourself from the others to go and examine the local flora, making them swear to come get you before they head off. Noct gently teases that they couldn’t leave you behind even if they wanted to.

“Perfect,” you whisper to yourself, having found a bit of scrap metal while getting up close and personal with the grass. You had been looking for herbs or something to make a potion, but didn’t have much luck on that front.

When Prompto finds you sprawled on your stomach, picking through grass, he smiles. It takes you a second to realize he’s there and when you do, you immediately hop up with a start, looking around the small blond for the others. Noticing your confusion, the sharpshooter explains, “Uh, the ferry’s out. We need to go find some sort of ore for this reporter and-” He sees your nonplussed expression and sighs, “Um... It’s this whole ordeal. We need to hit the road again.”

And off we go. Again. Not to Altissia.”

Prom doesn’t seem like his usual self, though, so you’re too uneasy to complain aloud. You’re trying not to feel bitter and like you’re being jerked around. The hunt for “some ore” turns into a moment for everyone to see the limits of your adventurousness. It was just a quick little trip down the road and a small hike up to a clifftop. Some totally normal stuff. Completely boring  stuff... And you have absolutely no freakin’ clue how nobody spotted the giant damn bird sleeping in the exact spot you all needed to search for some ore. How could no one see something large enough to swallow someone whole?

Sure, the bird is beautiful and you shakily bring your phone up to take a photo, nearly dying on the spot when your flash goes off and Prompto whimpers and turns to you with eyes so wide that he looks like a cartoon character. Luckily for you, the bird is dead to the world. Or so you think.

As the others sneak by the slumbering bird, you’re frozen to the spot, pressed so hard against the cliffside that you swear you’ll become one with the rock. It takes you what feels like ages to build up the nerve to follow on your hands and knees, swearing to Ramuh that he’d better have your back if things go south. And maybe he listens. Because when the bird inevitably awakens on your trip back, ore in hand, (you swear it’s Prompto’s constant freaking out and weirdly sexual whimpers that does the trick) you just barely miss getting hip-checked by one of its massive wings.

The gust of wind that whooshes from the bird’s impossibly large black wings has your jacket flipping up and over your head. You’re blindly fumbling for your staff, swears falling from your lips in panic, as the behemoth lets out an eardrum-shattering cry. You’re dead. You’re so dead! But suddenly your jacket is pulled back down and you’re able to see again. Sapphire eyes blink down at you and you just know the sharpshooter is having a hell of a time not laughing at you... or not. He kinda looks concerned.

“(y/n), don’t worry... It’s gone.”

You’re grateful that you ride alone on the moped back to Galdin Quay. Able to simmer in humiliation in silence because you’d been so sure that you were about to get eaten by a giant bird... you’d even been yelling, “Don’t you dare eat me you giant, feathery asshole, or I’ll make you explode from the inside out!” when Prom came to your rescue. The sharpshooter occasionally tries to look at you in the Regalia’s side mirror and you almost wish the bird had eaten you. After a while you get so annoyed that you hang back so you can’t see him looking at you.

Back in Galdin Quay, Noct hands over the ore to his contact while you stay in the restaurant, asking the chef, Coctura, where she studied and if she’s familiar with any of the cooks back in the Spire since you remember hearing them say her name; just making friendly chit chat in general since you’re so accustomed to chatting up cooks. Talking to her evokes a comforting familiarity that makes your mindless chatter easy and you have her laughing at lame jokes before you know it. Somehow you all end up with a room (you nearly have a stroke when you see a room is 10,000 gil) and when she hears you’re staying, Coctura promises to make you a wonderful breakfast to see you off on your trip. This earns you the exact same damn face from Prom that he pulled earlier. Now you’re starting to get more annoyed than worried.

As you make to enter the hotel room, someone grabs your shoulder and pulls you back. “Hey, (y/n).” Prompto gives you an unsure smile. “Can we, uh, talk for a second?”

You glance back at the others who are hilariously bad at pretending not to notice this little conversation unfurling before turning back to Prom and shrugging. “Yeah. Sure.”

Prompto takes you aside to one of the docks where the two of you stand in silence for a while. Tension slowly builds in your gut, so you opt to look out at the dark water, pretending to enjoy the scenery even though you’re internally freaking out. You swear he’s angry. You’re absolutely positive that you’re in for a tongue-lashing from perhaps the nicest member of Noct’s entourage. And all you did was flirt!

“About earlier, with Cindy...” Prompto starts but stops. You look at him but he doesn’t look at you.

“Mmhm?”

“What was that about?”

Eyebrows rise on instinct when you notice how red his ears are. “Innocent praise bordering on flirtation.” It comes out so robotic. He looks shocked by how blunt you are. “What? Do you have a thing for her? Can’t say I blame you. She’s skilled and attractive. Very dedicated to her craft, too. Those are all very appealing traits.”

Okay, pause. The problem here is that you have a very hard time picking up on subtle cues that bely anything other than malicious intent. After you turned thirteen you practically grew up walking on eggshells since you were then in the age range of the youngest students to be allowed entry into the Spire (aged fifteen to nineteen), so some of the bruisers saw you as “fair game” for their misdirected ire because apparently turning thirteen means you can take (and totally deserve) a punch. What is logic?

With this in mind, you can only perceive the flush in Prompto’s skin, the fact that he pulled you aside for a dreaded one-on-one chat, and his reluctance to make eye-contact to mean that he’s angry with you. Just angry, nothing else. An unfortunate consequence of growing up surrounded by mages-in-training with inferiority complexes exacerbated by having to “compete” with a kid who an entire kingdom recognizes as one of the only “real” mages on the planet.

But Prompto doesn’t know this. He’s not privy to the bizarre nuances of your upbringing despite having poured over biographies that were largely built on fiction, since not a single one of those “authors” actually interviewed you but instead got their information from Spire grads who just passed you in the halls or had a class with you. In fact, you only had three visitors in the Spire. An aunt who later died in service to King Regis, a weird “uncle” who visited once every few years, and the Oracle... a story for another time.

“That’s not- Well, I mean I do, but not-” Prompto stammers, taken off-guard by how you speak almost rapid-fire. He thinks you’re being defensive, that he hurt your feelings, but in reality you’re quickly trying to defuse what you think is a confrontation. It’s a war between two awkward, insecure fools.

“Say no more.” You wave a hand dismissively and Prom furrows his brow. This isn’t going anything like how he wanted. “If we ever see her again, I’ll refrain from being so forward and the ball will be in her court, as the kids say.”

“Kids don’t say that,” he murmurs.

“No harm no foul?”

The blond squints at you, wondering if you’re about to say “How do you do, fellow kids?” since you’re so damn awkward it should be a crime and he shouldn’t find it so endearing. Instead of saying this, Prom merely replies at great length, “That’s... okay.”

In your haste to put an end to this conversation, you throw the sharpshooter a strained smile, pat him awkwardly on the shoulder, and head back to the hotel room, swearing to never harmlessly flirt with anyone in front of Prompto again lest you have a repeat of this tragic episode- or to at least check and see if he’s crushing on the victim of your charm beforehand. And Prompto swears to never corner you again.

Well, he swears to himself that the next time he needs to get you alone he won’t let his nerves get the best of him. Because now he’s very much aware of how awkward his favorite mage is, despite their cool and somewhat haughty exterior. It’s actually a relief to him to know that you aren’t some unapproachable “too-cool-for-you” type like he thought. When he follows you to the hotel room, he’s smiling and doesn’t feel nearly as bad as before. Hell, he’s even glad that Gladio stopped his yelling to you that you two “needed to have a serious talk.” That only would’ve made things worse. Hell, he fears that might’ve made you think he was mad at you and not just disappointed and desperately wanting to know what your game is.

“Hey every- Ow!” The second you open the door to the hotel room, a bag of chips hits you square in the chest.

“Shit! Sorry! I thought you were Prompto.” Gladio winces. “You really need to work on your reflexes, (y/n).”

“Or you can just not assault me with potato chips in the future, Gladio,” you murmur, bending down and swiping up the bag that’s now most likely full of broken chips.

“Would anyone care for room service?” Ignis inquires, flipping through a menu as he lounges on one of the couches.

“Not at those prices,” you snort, ripping open the bag of chips and popping one in your mouth.

Prompto reaches over your shoulder from behind and grabs a handful for himself before asking, “Isn’t Coctura making you breakfast?” Instead of backing off, he stays hanging over your shoulder with his arm draped over you until Gladio wiggles his eyebrows at him. That gets the blond to reel away like you just transformed into a viper.

Prom’s comment gets Noct’s attention. The prince frowns and complains from his sprawled position on the other couch, “What? She’s only making breakfast for (y/n)?”

Gladio grins, secretly directing his tease at Prom since the blond is just so damn easy for the bodyguard to read. “Uh-huh. Heard her say it herself. (y/n)’s a bit of a ladykiller.”

With a dramatic roll of your eyes, you throw yourself down on the couch between Ignis and Gladio. “I’m no such thing. I just know how to talk to people.” You swear you hear Ignis snort next to you. Even Prompto is biting his lip, cheeks dimpling as he struggles to keep his laughter in. Well, that’s two of the four who know you have the social skills of a toad. “Anyway,” you grumble, “we should all get some sleep. We have a big day ahead of us.”

“Food first,” Noct argues, sitting up so Prompto can finally sit down. “I’m starving.”

The others agree even as Gladio steals chips from the bag in your lap. You and Gladio fill up on chips so you two end up splitting a dish and mercifully cutting down the total cost of the meal, which comes out to a fortune. It’s as you’re popping a bit of grilled fish in your mouth that Noct goes in for the kill.

“Hey, (y/n),” blue eyes watch you mischievously from beneath dark bangs, “do all mages have a fear of being eaten alive by birds?”

The fish gets lodged in your throat and it takes Ignis firmly patting your back for you to come back from the brink of death with Prompto panicking and asking if you need some water. “What?” You gasp at Noct, voice gravelly from your near-death experience.

“For someone who can turn a dualhorn into a well-done steak, you sure did scream a lot when the bird took off,” Noct continues his teasing and you try to melt into the couch.

“Yeah,” Gladio laughs, “they sure do have a set of lungs on ‘em, huh?”

The night ends with everyone taking their jabs at you. Even Ignis joins in on the “fun,” saying that he thought you were casting some sort of curse until he saw you with your jacket over your head. Prompto reveals that he actually got that moment on camera (with the perfect filter), and you excuse yourself for bed, unable to look anyone in the eye.

Tragedy hits when you least expect it. It seems to have a habit of doing that.

When you stumble out of the Quayside Cradle and into the open air of the restaurant, you immediately notice the eerie, heavy silence that isn’t from the early hour. Coctura is slumped forward with her back to you, the faint sound of a smart, tinny voice speaking out into the dead air, the smell of something burning reaching your nose. The voice from her phone is sombre and matter-of-fact, it reminds you of the time Drusa took you aside to tell you Magister Illara, a woman older than your grandfather, had died in her sleep. It fills your stomach with dread but you tell yourself that you’re overreacting.

“Coctura? Is everything okay?” You sniff. “Something’s burning.”

The chef whips around, face tear-streaked and eyes cloudy. Your stomach sinks. Coctura’s lips tremble as she speaks, “Oh... (y/n). You’re awake. I’d always heard you mages liked getting up b-bright and early.” She’s trying so hard to sound chipper but it fails. “I was just, um, prepping.” She quickly turns away to scrape the burned thing off of the stovetop.

Alarm sets your teeth on edge and you slowly close the distance between the two of you, the countertop feeling too cold beneath your palms. “What’s happened?”

“Insomnia-” She can’t get the rest out before breaking down into sobs, one hand coming up to cover her mouth, a futile effort to stifle the noise.

The Empire’s attack on Insomnia leaves you feeling empty. It’s difficult for you to properly mourn over a city and people you’d never met, to mourn beside the others who actually lost people they’d known all their lives. Especially Noct and Gladio. Six, especially them. You feel like an imposter with your tears, so you hide them away- hide your face behind a mug of coffee, behind the Iovita grimoire, behind anything you can get your hands on. You hide until plans are made to go see Insomnia for yourselves. It’s when you’re planning the trip to the Crown City that you get the call.

“(y/n),” Drusa breathes into the phone, sounding relieved, “you’re all right. Good.”

“Yes,” you purse your lips, under the curious gaze of Prompto who looks concerned by your hesitance, “what is it?”

“You need to come back to the Spire this instant.”

Eyes roll at the drama of it all, probably your mother’s doing, and you reply, “Fine. I need to pick some things up, anyway, and Noc-”

“Don’t bring the prince,” her voice is so low now you can barely even hear her. Then she raises it, a maternal edge to her tone, “Now, enough daemon hunting, (y/n). You’ve had your fun. It’s time to be serious. You’re needed here immediately.” She hangs up before you can ask her what she’s going on about.

What the hell was that?”

Prompto is looking at you expectantly but you don’t address him. After you tuck your phone away, you turn to address Noct. He’s been quiet ever since Ignis broke the news to him (you hadn’t told anyone that you knew beforehand from Coctura). He sits away from the others in the hotel room. “Noct-”

Don’t,” he hisses from between his teeth and you look away. He hasn’t wanted anyone to talk to him since the news broke, either. Already tired of the couple of sympathetic looks thrown his way by the others.

“I’m going back to the Spire,” you announce.

His eyes burn you like fire and you glance over to find him glaring, just as you suspected. “So, that’s it, huh? Insomnia supposedly falls and you-”

“Have a little faith,” you spit with too much venom than intended. “I’m needed back at the Spire. My mother probably just wants to make sure I’m okay and I need to pick some things up anyway. It’ll make our journey a bit easier.”

“You sure about that?” Prom asks nervously, brows knitted together in anxiety. “Maybe one of us should go with you.”

“Yeah, we’ll all go with you,” Gladio insists, brow creased with worry. “It’ll be quick. Then we’ll go to Insomnia.”

You give the big guy a kind smile but admit, “I’d rather you didn’t.”

“Why not?” Noct queries, sounding accusatory.

“If the news is legitimate... The Spire has eyes and ears everywhere and not everyone is sympathetic to your cause. Some students hail from places other than Lucis.” At Noct’s narrowed eyes you huff, “Don’t look at me like that. The Spire takes anyone who can pay. It’s not my fault.”

Ignis hums and nods his head determinedly, “We’ll go with you but we won’t enter the Spire. You must make the trip a quick one, (y/n). Time is of the essence.”

You’re surprised that they’re even willing to take this detour with you. But you won’t have it. You won’t keep them all in suspense while you go deal with your mother’s overbearing tendencies. “No. When we get to the fork in the road, I’ll be headed west and you four need to be headed east. If anything happens, we’ll just meet up at Hammerhead. Noctis has my number, anyway.” And with that, you’re off. Unaware of just how deeply the attack on the Crown City affects you.


 Ignis Route

“Thank you so much for your dedication, Ms. Aurum.” You bow your head regally to the blonde and swear you see her cheeks color a bit underneath the oil stains that she wears like warpaint. “I couldn’t have asked for a more capable mechanic.”

You’re laying on the charm real thick, sure, but it gets you a cute chocobo decal from the lovely lady. This is one of the things that arguably makes you dangerous. For someone who can’t take a punch to save their life and probably has their picture next to the definition of “glass cannon,” you had to develop a cunning skill set to not get beaten up on a near weekly basis from the odd brutish student who dared call themselves a mage.

Pickpocketing, lock-picking, and being light of foot is usually enough to save your skin. But when all else fails, you have a tongue of polished silver. Funny, considering when your well-being isn’t on the line and you aren’t trying to get one over on someone, you’re about as slick as sandpaper.

“Well, ain’t you the charmin’ one? It was my pleasure to work on that lil’ cutie.” Cindy claps a hand down on your shoulder with a winning smile and you feel heat rush up your neck. “If you ever need work on ‘im, I’m always up for the challenge.”

You bite your lower lip and her green eyes flicker down, that smile slowly turning into a coy smirk. Honestly, you don’t do that on purpose. Sure, you can dish out flirtations and charm when you’re being a manipulative little sneak, but when it’s reciprocated...? Well, usually no one ever calls your bluff. In your experience, your charms are just enough to get someone to not cold-cock you just for being an Iovita. Romance hasn’t ever been an outcome. Never.

“Hey, Cindy? Did you say that you needed us to find something for you?” Prompto interrupts your moment with the mechanic and you’re immensely grateful. That is, until you turn to give Prom an appreciative smile only to find him staring at you with the weirdest expression on his face. With your burgeoning relationships in mind, Prompto’s chilly look has you hoping you didn’t just unwittingly screw everything up.

“Well,” you think pragmatically, “I can always beg for forgiveness.”

And how could he reject you if you beg? If these past few days have taught you anything, it’s that Prompto is a huge softy who seemingly can’t stay mad at anyone, Noct sure as hell pretends to be mad (you took a bit of bacon off of his plate and he acted like you declared war on his kingdom), Gladio is a pro at dishing out tough love, and Ignis is basically a saint with added sass.

“Hm? Don’t think so.” Cindy releases your shoulder, brow furrowed at the sharpshooter.

Not wanting to wait for the situation to get any more tense, you mosey on over to Choco Jr. like you didn’t just conjure up awkwardness like it’s your favorite spell. The afternoon air is nice and crisp but you know it’s going to get warm soon. Excitement chases away that social faux pas, the anticipation of riding out to Galdin Quay today and taking the ferry to Altissia turning Prompto’s serious look into a distant memory.

The scooter has a fresh coat of chocobo-yellow paint and looks better than you think it might’ve looked when even Drusa first bought it. The tires actually have tread, the seat has been refurbished with pristine white leather, and the headlight is crystal clear rather than foggy. The moped even has a distinctly neutral scent from the wax Cindy used to get the whole thing all shiny and new. Six, no wonder the repairs cost you a small fortune.

“Wow. You’re ab-so-lutely beautiful,” you murmur to the moped, running your hand over the seat and reveling in how soft the leather is.

“Do you speak to your scooter often?”

In an instant you whip around to face Ignis who is smiling faintly at you. With a scowl you scoff, No. I just haven’t seen him in a while.”

“Him?” The way the corners of his mouth quirk up almost imperceptibly at your expense makes you bare your teeth. Told you. A saint with sass.

“Oh, hush. I’ve heard you all refer to the Regalia as ‘she’ and ‘her,’ so don’t try and tease me about this. You don’t have a leg to stand on, Scientia.”

“Of course, Iovita.” The tactician pulls a face full of totally fake remorse and you roll your eyes. Just as you’re about to tell him that you know he’s being facetious, you notice that he’s been keeping his arms behind his back all the while.

Eyes narrow suspiciously. “What do you have behind your back? You aren’t about to bludgeon me to death, are you?”

His eyebrows crinkle up in innocence. “Whatever do you mean?”

“Despite the circumstances of my sheltered upbringing, I’m not that dumb, Iggy.”

“Why, I never implied anything of the sort,” Ignis tuts before revealing his hand and a glossy white helmet that he holds by its chinstrap, “however, your lack of safety precautions might lead some to think otherwise.”

"A helmet?" You snort, eyeing the bone-white thing with its perfectly clean visor and wishing you hadn’t pushed him to show you what he was hiding. "Only nerds wear helmets."

Ignis is positively unamused. "People who care for their own safety wear helmets." He firmly pushes the headgear into your hands. The second his fingers brush against yours, you swear he might be a mage because that action alone somehow has a bolt of lightning shooting through you. You ignore it just in time to hear him add softly, "And your health is far more important than your image, (y/n)."

With a defeated sigh, you relent and hold the white headgear under your arm, a bit disconcerted by how your heart flutters but eager to laugh it off. "Okay, okay. Thank you, mother dear."

"You're quite welcome, (y/n) dear. I’m simply happy to be of service."

You want to snort at his snark but freeze. Uh-oh. He’s giving you an expectant look. He totally wants you to wear it right now. When the sunlight glints off of his lenses and he looks like a villain from your favorite anime, you know you shouldn’t argue. Grumbling all the while, you put the helmet on and dramatically flick the visor down. It’s not too bad, if you’re being perfectly honest. A couple of decals and maybe you won’t look like a mothball (Ooh, maybe you can put the chocobo decal on it?). And the way Ignis smiles approvingly kinda makes wearing the damn thing worth it.

Just as you’re starting to get used to the idea of wearing the dorky headgear and you’re growing accustomed to the added weight, you hear someone bellow from the convenience store, “Whoa! Nice helmet, nerd!”

Ignis cuts his eyes to the bodyguard, an unimpressed frown on his lips. “Gladio.”

Gladiolus grins good-naturedly, arms full of supplies and junk that he and Noct purchased from the shop. The prince has one of those small smiles on his face the second his eyes land on your helmet. Okay, that’s it! Just as you attempt to yank the damn thing off of your head, Ignis firmly places his hand down on the helmet, preventing you from taking it off. He even buckles the chinstrap for added measure, knuckles ghosting across your chin. The small whine that leaves you has the prince’s strategist chuckling.

“We headed out?” Prom asks, seeming to pop up out of nowhere and he shoots you what he probably thinks is a stealthy glance.

“Yes. We really shouldn’t delay.” Ignis nods, popping the Regalia’s trunk so Gladio and Noct can put away their purchases.

You swear you spot the bright packaging of a familiar brand of chips. This is confirmed when you hear Ignis’ disappointed sigh and grumblings about saturated fats. All the while, Prompto looks like he wants to say something to you. Not one for confrontation, you don’t make the first move. Neither does he.

“Cold war,” you brood uneasily.

You’re shocked by how quiet Choco Jr. is when you start him up and you feel like you’re in a dream when you hit the road and your eardrums aren’t assaulted by the sounds of a slowly and painfully dying engine. Tires glide smoothly down the road and you find that you don’t have to constantly jerk the handlebars to keep the moped going straight. The next time you see Cindy, you’re gonna have to thank her properly.

From way up ahead, you spot Prompto sitting up out of his seat and twisting around, cornflower blue eyes locked on you. He cups his hands around his mouth and just starts yelling. Is he...? He looks like he's trying to talk to you, yelling over the wind in vain, blond eyebrows knitted together. You squint in surprise that he would even try to do something so dumb, I mean can't he talk to you at the next rest stop if it’s that important? What doesn't surprise you is when Gladiolus takes his great big paw of a hand, slaps it over Prompto's face, and forces the blond to sit back in his seat.

You snort.

Galdin Quay is a vision. The water is such a pure blue and the beaches are so clean that you realize the little sliver of blue that you could just make out from the window in your mother’s office doesn’t do the place any justice. You excuse yourself from the others to go and examine the local flora, making them swear to come get you before they head off. Noct gently teases that they couldn’t leave you behind even if they wanted to.

“Perfect,” you whisper to yourself, having found a bit of scrap metal while getting up close and personal with the grass. You had been looking for herbs or something to make a potion, but didn’t have much luck on that front.

When Ignis finds you sprawled on your stomach, picking through grass, he chuckles softly. You hop up with a start, looking around the tall guy for the others. Noticing your confusion, the tactician explains, “Unfortunately, the ferry is out. We’ve met with a reporter who alleges that he can secure us safe passage to Altissia if we find him some rare ore.” He sighs, pushing his glasses up even though they haven’t even begun to slip down the elegant slope of his nose, “Come along, (y/n). We must be off.”

“And off we go. Again. Not to Altissia.”

You’re trying not to feel bitter and like you’re being jerked around. And the hunt for “some rare ore” turns into a moment for everyone to see the limits of your adventurousness... It was just a quick little trip down the road and a small hike up to a clifftop. Some totally normal stuff. Completely boring stuff. And you have absolutely no freakin’ clue how nobody spotted the giant damn bird sleeping in the exact spot you all needed to search for some ore. How could no one see something large enough to swallow someone whole?

Sure, the bird is beautiful and you shakily bring your phone up to take a photo, nearly dying on the spot when your flash goes off and Ignis turns his marginally widened eyes to you- silently damning you and thinking Gladio had it right when he started calling you a tourist. Luckily for you, the bird is dead to the world. Or so you think.

As the others sneak by the slumbering bird, you’re frozen to the spot, pressed so hard against the cliffside that you swear you’ll become one with the rock. It takes you what feels like ages to build up the nerve to follow on your hands and knees, swearing to Ramuh that he’d better have your back if things go south. And maybe he listens. Because when the bird inevitably awakens on your trip back, ore in hand, (you swear it’s Prompto’s constant freaking out that does the trick) you just barely miss getting hip-checked by one of its massive wings.

The gust of wind that whooshes from the bird’s impossibly large black wings has your jacket flipping up and over your head. You’re blindly fumbling for your staff, swears falling from your lips in panic, as the behemoth lets out an eardrum-shattering cry. You’re dead. You’re so dead! But suddenly your jacket is pulled back down and you’re able to see again. Emerald eyes twinkle down at you and you just know the tactician is having a hell of a time not laughing at you.

“It’s gone, (y/n). You’re perfectly safe.”

You’re grateful that you ride alone on the moped back to Galdin Quay. Able to simmer in humiliation in silence because you’d been so sure that you were about to get eaten by a giant bird... you’d even been yelling, “Don’t you dare eat me you giant, feathery asshole, or I’ll make you explode from the inside out!” when Ignis came to your rescue. The tactician occasionally glances at you in the Regalia’s rearview mirror, eyes full of mirth, and you almost wish the bird had eaten you. You even hang back a bit so you can no longer easily see those teasing green eyes.

Back in Galdin Quay, Noct hands over the ore to his contact while you stay in the restaurant, asking the chef, Coctura, where she studied and if she’s familiar with any of the cooks back in the Spire since you remember hearing them say her name; just making friendly chit chat in general since you’re so accustomed to chatting up cooks. Talking to her evokes a comforting familiarity that makes your mindless chatter easy and you have her laughing at lame jokes before you know it. Somehow you all end up with a room (you nearly have a stroke when you see a room is 10,000 gil) and when she hears you’re staying, Coctura promises to make you a wonderful breakfast to see you off on your trip. This exchange earns you a peculiar look from Ignis.

As you make to enter the hotel room, someone grabs your shoulder and pulls you back. “Hey, (y/n).” Prompto gives you an unsure smile. “Can we, uh, talk for a second?”

You glance back at the others who are hilariously bad at pretending not to notice this little conversation unfurling before turning back to Prom and shrugging. “Yeah. Sure.”

Prompto takes you aside to one of the docks where the two of you stand in silence for a while. Tension slowly builds in your gut, so you opt to look out at the dark water, pretending to enjoy the scenery even though you’re internally freaking out. You swear he’s angry. You’re absolutely positive that you’re in for a tongue-lashing from perhaps the nicest member of Noct’s entourage. And all you did was flirt!

“About earlier, with Cindy...” Prompto starts but stops. You look at him but he doesn’t look at you.

“Mmhm?”

“What was that about?”

Eyebrows rise on instinct when you notice how red his ears are. “Innocent praise bordering on flirtation.” It comes out so robotic. He looks shocked by how blunt you are. “What? Do you have a thing for her? Can’t say I blame you. She’s skilled and attractive. Very dedicated to her craft, too. Those are all very appealing traits.”

Okay, pause. The problem here is that you have a very hard time picking up on subtle cues that bely anything other than malicious intent. After you turned thirteen you practically grew up walking on eggshells since you were then in the age range of the youngest students to be allowed entry into the Spire (aged fifteen to nineteen), so some of the bruisers saw you as “fair game” for their misdirected ire because apparently turning thirteen means you can take (and totally deserve) a punch. What is logic?

With this in mind, you can only perceive the flush in Prompto’s skin, the fact that he pulled you aside for a dreaded one-on-one chat, and his reluctance to make eye-contact to mean that he’s angry with you. Just angry, nothing else. An unfortunate consequence of growing up surrounded by mages-in-training with inferiority complexes exacerbated by having to “compete” with a kid who an entire kingdom recognizes as one of the only “real” mages on the planet.

But Prompto doesn’t know this. He’s not privy to the bizarre nuances of your upbringing despite having poured over biographies that were largely built on fiction, since not a single one of those “authors” actually interviewed you but instead got their information from Spire grads who just passed you in the halls or had a class with you. In fact, you only had three visitors in the Spire. An aunt who later died in service to King Regis, a weird “uncle” who visited once every few years, and the Oracle... a story for another time.

“Well, I do, but I’m not ma-” Prompto stammers, taken off-guard by how you speak almost rapid- fire. He thinks you’re being defensive, that he hurt your feelings, but in reality you’re quickly trying to defuse what you think is a confrontation. It’s a war between two awkward fools who fear losing a friend.

“Say no more.” You wave a hand dismissively and Prom furrows his brow. This isn’t going anything like how he wanted. “If we ever see her again, I’ll refrain from being so forward and the ball will be in her court, as the kids say.”

“Kids don’t say that,” he murmurs.

“No harm no foul?”

The blond squints at you, wondering if you’re about to say “How do you do, fellow kids?” since you’re so damn awkward it should be a crime. Instead of saying this, Prom merely replies at great length, “That’s... okay.”

In your haste to put an end to this conversation, you throw the sharpshooter a strained smile, pat him awkwardly on the shoulder, and head back to the hotel room, swearing to never harmlessly flirt with anyone in front of Prompto again lest you have a repeat of this tragic episode- or to at least check and see if he’s crushing on the victim of your charm beforehand. And Prompto swears to never corner you again.

Well, he swears to himself that if he ever needs to talk to you alone again he won’t let his nerves get the best of him. Because now he’s very much aware of how awkward you are, despite your cool and somewhat haughty exterior. It’s somewhat of a relief to him since he thought you were a bit unapproachable at times. When he follows you to the hotel room, he’s smiling and doesn’t feel nearly as bad as before. Hell, he’s even glad that Gladio stopped his yelling to you that you two “needed to have a serious talk.” That only would’ve made things worse. Obviously.

“Hey every- Ow!” The second you open the door to the hotel room, a bag of chips hits you square in the chest.

“Shit! Sorry! I thought you were Prompto.” Gladio winces. “You really need to work on your reflexes, (y/n).”

“Or you can just not assault me with potato chips in the future, Gladio,” you murmur, bending down and swiping up the bag that’s now most likely full of broken chips.

“Would anyone care for room service?” Ignis inquires, flipping through a menu as he lounges on one of the couches. Green eyes flicker up to you. “(y/n)?” There’s a somewhat catty edge to his tone that you quirk a brow at but choose to ignore.

“Not at those prices,” you snort, ripping open the bag of chips and popping one in your mouth.

Prompto reaches over your shoulder from behind and grabs a handful for himself before asking, “Isn’t Coctura making you breakfast?”

That gets Noct’s attention. The prince frowns and complains from his sprawled position on the other couch, “What? She’s only making breakfast for (y/n)?”

Gladio grins. “Uh-huh. Heard her say it herself. (y/n)’s a bit of a ladykiller.”

With a dramatic roll of your eyes, you throw yourself down on the couch between Ignis and Gladio. “I’m no such thing. I just know how to talk to people.” You swear you hear Ignis snort next to you. Even Prompto is biting his lip, cheeks dimpling as he struggles to keep his laughter in. Well, that’s two of the four who know you have the social skills of a toad. “Anyway,” you grumble, “we should all get some sleep. We have a big day ahead of us.”

“Food first,” Noct argues, sitting up so Prompto can finally sit down. “I’m starving.”

The others agree even as Gladio steals chips from the bag in your lap, earning himself a disapproving look from Ignis. You and Gladio fill up on chips so you two end up splitting a dish and mercifully cutting down the total cost of the meal, which comes out to a fortune. It’s as you’re popping a bit of grilled fish in your mouth that Noct goes in for the kill.

“Hey, (y/n),” blue eyes watch you mischievously from beneath dark bangs, “do all mages have a fear of being eaten alive by birds?”

The fish gets lodged in your throat and it takes Ignis firmly patting your back for you to come back from the brink of death. “What?” You gasp, voice gravelly from your near-death experience and eyes full of pained tears.

“For someone who can turn a dualhorn into a well-done steak, you sure did scream a lot when the bird took off,” Noct continues his teasing and you try to melt into the couch.

“Yeah,” Gladio laughs, “they sure do have a set of lungs on ‘em, huh?”

The night ends with everyone taking their jabs at you. Even Ignis joins in on the “fun,” saying that he thought you were casting some sort of curse until he saw you with your jacket over your head... then he just had to come to your rescue lest you had a heart-attack (“I merely wanted to dispel your distress.”). Prompto reveals that he actually got that moment on camera, and you excuse yourself for bed, unable to look anyone in the eye.

Tragedy hits when you least expect it. It seems to have a habit of doing that.

When you stumble out of the Quayside Cradle and into the open air of the restaurant, you immediately notice the eerie, heavy silence that isn’t from the early hour. Coctura is slumped forward with her back to you, the faint sound of a smart, tinny voice speaking out into the dead air, the smell of something burning reaching your nose. The voice from her phone is sombre and matter-of-fact, it reminds you of the time Drusa took you aside to tell you Magister Illara, a woman older than your grandfather, had died in her sleep. It fills your stomach with dread but you tell yourself that you’re overreacting.

“Coctura? Is everything okay?” You sniff. “Something’s burning.”

The chef whips around, face tear-streaked and eyes cloudy. Your stomach sinks. Coctura’s lips tremble as she speaks, “Oh... (y/n). You’re awake. I’d always heard you mages liked getting up b-bright and early.” She’s trying so hard to sound chipper but it fails. “I was just, um, prepping.” She quickly turns away to scrape the burned thing off of the stovetop.

Alarm sets your teeth on edge and you slowly close the distance between the two of you, the countertop feeling too cold beneath your palms. “What’s happened?”

“Insomnia-” She can’t get the rest out before breaking down into sobs, one hand coming up to cover her mouth, a futile effort to stifle the noise.

The Empire’s attack on Insomnia leaves you feeling empty. It’s difficult for you to properly mourn over a city and people you’d never met, to mourn beside the others who actually lost people they’d known all their lives. Especially Noct and Gladio. Six, especially them. You feel like an imposter with your tears, so you hide them away- hide your face behind a mug of coffee, behind the Iovita grimoire, behind anything you can get your hands on. You hide until plans are made to go see Insomnia for yourselves. It’s when you’re planning the trip to the Crown City that you get the call.

“(y/n),” Drusa breathes into the phone, sounding relieved, “you’re all right. Good.”

“Yes,” you purse your lips, under the scrutinizing gaze of Ignis who was immediately wary when your phone started ringing off the hook, “what is it?”

“You need to come back to the Spire this instant.”

Eyes roll at the drama of it all, probably your mother’s doing, and you reply, “Fine. I need to pick some things up, anyway, and Noc-”

“Don’t bring the prince,” her voice is so low now you can barely even hear her. Then she raises it, a maternal edge to her tone, “Now, enough daemon hunting, (y/n). You’ve had your fun. It’s time to be serious. You’re needed here immediately.” She hangs up before you can ask her what she’s going on about.

“What the hell was that?”

Ignis is looking at you expectantly but you don’t address him. After you tuck your phone away, you turn to address Noct. He’s been quiet ever since Ignis broke the news to him (you hadn’t told anyone that you knew beforehand from Coctura). He sits away from the others in the hotel room. “Noct-”

Don’t,” he hisses from between his teeth and you look away. He hasn’t wanted anyone to talk to him since the news broke, either. Already tired of the couple of sympathetic looks thrown his way by the others.

“I’m going back to the Spire,” you announce.

His eyes burn you like fire and you glance over to find him glaring, just as you suspected. “So, that’s it, huh? Insomnia supposedly falls and you-”

“Have a little faith,” you spit with too much venom than intended. “I’m needed back at the Spire. My mother probably just wants to make sure I’m okay and I need to pick some things up anyway. It’ll make our journey a bit easier.”

“We’ll go with you,” Gladio insists, brow creased with worry. “It’ll be quick. Then we’ll go to Insomnia.”

You give the big guy a kind smile but admit, “I’d rather you didn’t.”

“Why not?” Noct queries, sounding accusatory.

“If the news is legitimate... The Spire has eyes and ears everywhere and not everyone is sympathetic to your cause. Some students hail from places other than Lucis.” At Noct’s narrowed eyes you huff, “Don’t look at me like that. The Spire takes anyone who can pay. It’s not my fault.”

Ignis hums and nods his head determinedly, “We’ll go with you but we won’t enter the Spire. You must make the trip a quick one, (y/n). Time is of the essence.”

You’re surprised that they’re even willing to take this detour with you. But you won’t have it. You won’t keep them all in suspense while you go deal with your mother’s overbearing tendencies. “No. When we get to the fork in the road, I’ll be headed west and you four need to be headed east. If anything happens, we’ll just meet up at Hammerhead or something. Noctis has my number if things take a bad turn.” And with that, you’re off. Unaware of just how deeply the attack on the Crown City affects you.


 Gladiolus Route

"Thank you so much for your dedication, Ms. Aurum.” You bow your head regally to the blonde and swear you see her cheeks color a bit underneath the oil stains that she wears like warpaint. “I couldn’t have asked for a more capable mechanic.”

You’re laying on the charm real thick, sure, but it gets you a cute chocobo decal from the lovely lady. This is one of the things that arguably makes you dangerous. For someone who can’t take a punch to save their life and probably has their picture next to the definition of “glass cannon,” you had to develop a cunning skill set to not get beaten up on a near weekly basis from the odd brutish student who dared call themselves a mage.

Pickpocketing, lock-picking, and being light of foot is usually enough to save your skin. But when all else fails, you have a tongue of polished silver. Funny, considering when your well-being isn’t on the line and you aren’t trying to get one over on someone, you’re about as slick as sandpaper.

“Well, ain’t you the charmin’ one? It was my pleasure to work on that lil’ cutie.” Cindy claps a hand down on your shoulder with a winning smile and you feel heat rush up your neck. “If you ever need work on ‘im, I’m always up for the challenge.”

You bite your lower lip and her green eyes flicker down, that smile slowly turning into a coy smirk. Honestly, you don’t do that on purpose. Sure, you can dish out flirtations and charm when you’re being a manipulative little sneak, but when it’s reciprocated...? Well, usually no one ever calls your bluff. In your experience, your charms are just enough to get someone to not cold-cock you just for being an Iovita. Romance hasn’t ever been an outcome. Never.

“Hey, Cindy? Did you say that you needed us to find something for you?” Prompto interrupts your moment with the mechanic and you’re immensely grateful. That is, until you turn to give Prom an appreciative smile only to find him staring at you with the weirdest expression on his face. With your burgeoning relationships in mind, Prompto’s chilly look has you hoping you didn’t just unwittingly screw everything up.

Well,” you think pragmatically, “I can always beg for forgiveness.”

And how could he reject you if you beg? If these past few days have taught you anything, it’s that Prompto is a huge softy who seemingly can’t stay mad at anyone, Noct sure as hell pretends to be mad (you took a bit of bacon off of his plate and he acted like you declared war on his kingdom), Gladio is the master of tough love but he also tends to treat you with kid gloves, and Ignis is basically a saint with added sass.

“Hm? Don’t think so.” Cindy releases your shoulder, brow furrowed at the sharpshooter.

Not wanting to wait for the situation to get any more tense, you mosey on over to Choco Jr. like you didn’t just conjure up awkwardness like it’s your favorite spell. The afternoon air is nice and crisp but you know it’s going to get warm soon. Excitement chases away that social faux pas, the anticipation of riding out to Galdin Quay today and taking the ferry to Altissia turning Prompto’s serious look into a distant memory.

The scooter has a fresh coat of chocobo-yellow paint and looks better than you think it might’ve looked when even Drusa first bought it. The tires actually have tread, the seat has been refurbished with pristine white leather, and the headlight is crystal clear rather than foggy. The moped even has a distinctly neutral scent from the wax Cindy used to get the whole thing all shiny and new. Six, no wonder the repairs cost you a small fortune.

“Wow. You’re ab-so-lutely beautiful,” you murmur to the moped, running your hand over the seat and reveling in how soft the leather is.

“Do you speak to your scooter often?”

In an instant you whip around to face Ignis who is smiling faintly at you. With a scowl you scoff, No. I just haven’t seen him in a while.”

“Him?” The way the corners of his mouth quirk up almost imperceptibly at your expense makes you bare your teeth. Told you. A saint with sass.

“Oh, hush. I’ve heard you all refer to the Regalia as ‘she’ and ‘her,’ so don’t try and tease me about this. You don’t have a leg to stand on, Scientia.”

“Of course, Iovita.” The tactician pulls a face full of totally fake remorse and you roll your eyes. Just as you’re about to tell him that you know he’s being facetious, you notice that he’s been keeping his arms behind his back all the while.

Eyes narrow suspiciously. “What do you have behind your back? You aren’t about to bludgeon me to death, are you?”

His eyebrows crinkle up in innocence. “Whatever do you mean?”

“Despite the circumstances of my sheltered upbringing, I’m not that dumb, Iggy.”

“Why, I never implied anything of the sort,” Ignis tuts before revealing his hand and a glossy white helmet that he holds by its chinstrap, “however, your lack of safety precautions might lead some to think otherwise.”

"A helmet?" You snort, eyeing the bone-white thing with its perfectly clean visor and wishing you hadn’t pushed him to show you what he was hiding. "Only nerds wear helmets."

Ignis is positively unamused. "People who care for their own safety wear helmets." He firmly pushes the headgear into your hands. "And your health is more important than your image."

With a defeated sigh, you relent and hold the white headgear under your arm. "Okay, okay. Thank you, mother."

"You're quite welcome."

Uh-oh. He’s giving you an expectant look. He totally wants you to wear it right now. When the sunlight glints off of his lenses and he looks like a villain from your favorite anime, you know you shouldn’t argue. Grumbling all the while, you put the helmet on and dramatically flick the visor down. It’s not too bad, if you’re being perfectly honest. A couple of decals and maybe you won’t look like a mothball (Ooh, maybe you can put the chocobo decal on it?). And the way Ignis smiles approvingly kinda makes wearing the damn thing worth it.

Just as you’re starting to get used to the idea of wearing the dorky headgear and you’re growing accustomed to the added weight, you hear someone bellow from the convenience store, “Whoa! Nice helmet, nerd!”

Ignis cuts his eyes to the bodyguard. “Gladio.”

Gladiolus grins good-naturedly, arms full of supplies and junk that he and Noct purchased from the shop. The prince has one of those small smiles on his face the second his eyes land on your helmet. Okay, that’s it! Just as you attempt to yank the damn thing off of your head, Ignis firmly places his hand down on the helmet, preventing you from taking it off. He even buckles the chinstrap for added measure. The small whine that leaves you has the prince’s strategist chuckling.

“Hey, I didn’t mean anything bad by it, (y/n),” Gladio consoles, getting oddly serious for a moment before leaning forward, shifting the bags in his arms, and flicking your visor with a hard thud! that almost makes you stumble. He grins, amber eyes glimmering. “You look pretty cute this way, anyway. The Safety Mage, huh?”

“Shut it,” you grumble, rubbing your sleeve over the new smudge on the once-clean visor. Pro-tip: Leather doesn’t clean oil from plastic.

“We headed out?” Prom asks, seeming to pop up out of nowhere and he shoots you what he probably thinks is a stealthy glance.

“Yes. We really shouldn’t delay.” Ignis nods, popping the Regalia’s trunk so Gladio and Noct can put away their purchases.

You swear you spot the bright packaging of a familiar brand of chips. This is confirmed when you hear Ignis’ disappointed sigh and grumblings about saturated fats. All the while, Prompto looks like he wants to say something to you. Not one for confrontation, you don’t make the first move. Neither does he.

Cold war,” you brood uneasily.

You’re shocked by how quiet Choco Jr. is when you start him up and you feel like you’re in a dream when you hit the road and your eardrums aren’t assaulted by the sounds of a slowly and painfully dying engine. Tires glide smoothly down the road and you find that you don’t have to constantly jerk the handlebars to keep the moped going straight. The next time you see Cindy, you’re gonna have to thank her properly.

From way up ahead, you spot Prompto sitting up out of his seat and twisting around, cornflower blue eyes locked on you. He cups his hands around his mouth and just starts yelling. Is he...? He looks like he's trying to talk to you, yelling over the wind in vain, blond eyebrows knitted together. You squint in surprise that he would even try to do something so dumb, I mean can't he talk to you at the next rest stop if it’s that important? What doesn't surprise you is when Gladiolus takes his great big paw of a hand, slaps it over Prompto's face, and forces the blond to sit back in his seat.

You snort.

Galdin Quay is a vision. The water is such a pure blue and the beaches are so clean that you realize the little sliver of blue that you could just make out from the window in your mother’s office doesn’t do the place any justice. You excuse yourself from the others to go and examine the local flora, making them swear to come get you before they head off. Noct gently teases that they couldn’t leave you behind even if they wanted to.

“Perfect,” you whisper to yourself, having found a bit of scrap metal while getting up close and personal with the grass. You had been looking for herbs or something to make a potion, but didn’t have much luck on that front.

When Gladio finds you sprawled on your stomach, picking through grass, he laughs. You hop up with a start, looking around the big guy for the others. Noticing your confusion, the Shield explains, “Ferry’s out. We need to go find some sort of ore for a guy and...” He sighs, clearly irritated, “Y’know? It’s this whole thing. C’mon, Magey, get your ass on that dorky scooter of yours. Time to hit the road again.”

And off we go. Again. Not to Altissia.”

You’re trying not to feel bitter and like you’re being jerked around. But the hunt for “some ore” turns into a moment for everyone to see the limits of your adventurousness. It was just a quick little trip down the road and a small hike up to a clifftop. Some totally normal stuff. Completely boring stuff... And you have absolutely no freakin’ clue how nobody spotted the giant damn bird sleeping in the exact spot you all needed to search for some ore. How could no one see something large enough to swallow someone whole?

Sure, the bird is beautiful and you shakily bring your phone up to take a photo, nearly dying on the spot when your flash goes off and Gladio turns to you with a face of stone- silently damning you and calling you a tourist a million times over in his head. Luckily for you, the bird is dead to the world. Or so you think.

As the others sneak by the slumbering bird, you’re frozen to the spot, pressed so hard against the cliffside that you swear you’ll become one with the rock. It takes you what feels like ages to build up the nerve to follow on your hands and knees, swearing to Ramuh that he’d better have your back if things go south. And maybe he listens. Because when the bird inevitably awakens on your trip back, ore in hand, (you swear it’s Prompto’s constant freaking out that does the trick) you just barely miss getting hip-checked by one of its massive wings.

The gust of wind that whooshes from the bird’s impossibly large black wings has your jacket flipping up and over your head. You’re blindly fumbling for your staff, swears falling from your lips in panic, as the behemoth lets out an eardrum-shattering cry. You’re dead. You’re so dead! But suddenly your jacket is pulled back down and you’re able to see again. Amber eyes twinkle down at you and you just know the bodyguard is having a hell of a time not laughing at you.

“It flew off already, killer.”

You’re grateful that you ride alone on the moped back to Galdin Quay. Able to simmer in humiliation in silence because you’d been so sure that you were about to get eaten by a giant bird... you’d even been yelling, “Don’t you dare eat me you giant, feathery asshole, or I’ll make you explode from the inside out!” when Gladio came to your rescue. The bodyguard occasionally  glances at you from the backseat of the Regalia, eyes full of mirth, and you almost wish the bird had eaten you.

Back in Galdin Quay, Noct hands over the ore to his contact while you stay in the restaurant, asking the chef, Coctura, where she studied and if she’s familiar with any of the cooks back in the Spire since you remember hearing them say her name; just making friendly chit chat in general since you’re so accustomed to chatting up cooks. Talking to her evokes a comforting familiarity that makes your mindless chatter easy and you have her laughing at lame jokes before you know it. Somehow you all end up with a room (you nearly have a stroke when you see a room is 10,000 gil) and when she hears you’re staying, Coctura promises to make you a wonderful breakfast to see you off on your trip.

As you make to enter the hotel room, someone grabs your shoulder and pulls you back. “Hey, (y/n).” Prompto gives you an unsure smile. “Can we, uh, talk for a second?”

You glance back at the others who are hilariously bad at pretending not to notice this little conversation unfurling before turning back to Prom and shrugging. “Yeah. Sure.”

Prompto takes you aside to one of the docks where the two of you stand in silence for a while. Tension slowly builds in your gut, so you opt to look out at the dark water, pretending to enjoy the scenery even though you’re internally freaking out. You swear he’s angry. You’re absolutely positive that you’re in for a tongue-lashing from perhaps the nicest member of Noct’s entourage. And all you did was flirt!

“About earlier, with Cindy...” Prompto starts but stops. You look at him but he doesn’t look at you.

“Mmhm?”

“What was that about?”

Eyebrows rise on instinct when you notice how red his ears are. “Innocent praise bordering on flirtation.” It comes out so robotic. He looks shocked by how blunt you are. “What? Do you have a thing for her? Can’t say I blame you. She’s skilled and attractive. Very dedicated to her craft, too. Those are all very appealing traits.”

Okay, pause. The problem here is that you have a very hard time picking up on subtle cues that bely anything other than malicious intent. After you turned thirteen you practically grew up walking on eggshells since you were then in the age range of the youngest students to be allowed entry into the Spire (aged fifteen to nineteen), so some of the bruisers saw you as “fair game” for their misdirected ire because apparently turning thirteen means you can take (and totally deserve) a punch. What is logic?

With this in mind, you can only perceive the flush in Prompto’s skin, the fact that he pulled you aside for a dreaded one-on-one chat, and his reluctance to make eye-contact to mean that he’s angry with you. Just angry, nothing else. An unfortunate consequence of growing up surrounded by mages-in-training with inferiority complexes exacerbated by having to “compete” with a kid who an entire kingdom recognizes as one of the only “real” mages on the planet.

But Prompto doesn’t know this. He’s not privy to the bizarre nuances of your upbringing despite having poured over biographies that were largely built on fiction, since not a single one of those “authors” actually interviewed you but instead got their information from Spire grads who just passed you in the halls or had a class with you. In fact, you only had three visitors in the Spire. An aunt who later died in service to King Regis, a weird “uncle” who visited once every few years, and the Oracle... a story for another time.

“Well, I do, but I’m not ma-” Prompto stammers, taken off-guard by how you speak almost rapid- fire.  He thinks you’re being defensive, that he hurt your feelings, but in reality you’re quickly trying to defuse what you think is a confrontation. It’s a war between two awkward fools who fear losing a friend.

“Say no more.” You wave a hand dismissively and Prom furrows his brow. This isn’t going anything like how he wanted. “If we ever see her again, I’ll refrain from being so forward and the ball will be in her court, as the kids say.”

“Kids don’t say that,” he murmurs.

“No harm no foul?”

The blond squints at you, wondering if you’re about to say “How do you do, fellow kids?” since you’re so damn awkward it should be a crime. Instead of saying this, Prom merely replies at great length, “That’s... okay.”

In your haste to put an end to this conversation, you throw the sharpshooter a strained smile, pat him awkwardly on the shoulder, and head back to the hotel room, swearing to never harmlessly flirt with anyone in front of Prompto again lest you have a repeat of this tragic episode- or to at least check and see if he’s crushing on the victim of your charm beforehand. And Prompto swears to never corner you again.

Well, he swears to himself that if he ever needs to talk to you alone again he won’t let his nerves get the best of him. Because now he’s very much aware of how awkward you are, despite your cool and somewhat haughty exterior. It’s somewhat of a relief to him since he thought you were a bit unapproachable at times. When he follows you to the hotel room, he’s smiling and doesn’t feel nearly as bad as before. Hell, he’s even glad that Gladio stopped his yelling to you that you two “needed to have a serious talk.” That only would’ve made things worse. Obviously.

“Hey every- Ow!” The second you open the door to the hotel room, a bag of chips hits you square in the chest.

“Shit! Sorry! I thought you were Prompto.” Gladio winces. “You really need to work on your reflexes, (y/n).”

“Or you can just not assault me with potato chips in the future, Gladio,” you murmur, bending down and swiping up the bag that’s now most likely full of broken chips.

Or you can train with me sometime,” Gladio counters, giving you a completely serious look from his place on the couch. “I’ll get your reflexes up to snuff in no time.”

“My reflexes are fine,” you grumble under his simmering gaze. “I just wasn’t expecting to get nailed-” his lips twitch and you quickly finish, “with a bag of chips.”

Okay what the hell is this?” You wonder, feeling suddenly tense. Did you do something to offend him? Six, you’re just on a roll today with upsetting these guys.

“Would anyone care for room service?” Ignis inquires, flipping through a menu as he lounges on one of the couches. He’s obviously trying to put the issue to bed before you can get anymore irritated.

“Not at those prices,” you snort, ripping open the bag of chips and popping one in your mouth.

Prompto reaches over your shoulder from behind and grabs a handful for himself before asking, “Isn’t Coctura making you breakfast?”

That gets Noct’s attention. The prince frowns and complains from his sprawled position on the other couch, “What? She’s only making breakfast for (y/n)?”

Gladio’s mood seems to further darken as he snorts, side-eyeing you like you’re something he found on the bottom of his boot, “Uh-huh. Heard her say it herself. (y/n)’s a bit of a ladykiller.”

With a dramatic roll of your eyes, you throw yourself down on the couch between Ignis and Gladio. “I’m no such thing. I just know how to talk to people.” You swear you hear Ignis snort next to you. Even Prompto is biting his lip, cheeks dimpling as he struggles to keep his laughter in. Well, that’s two of the four who know you have the social skills of a toad. “Anyway,” you grumble, “we should all get some sleep. We have a big day ahead of us.”

“Food first,” Noct argues, sitting up so Prompto can finally sit down. “I’m starving.”

The others agree even as Gladio steals chips from the bag in your lap. After a moment you put the bag between the two of you when you start to feel a little awkward about the bag placement. You and Gladio fill up on chips so you two end up splitting a dish and mercifully cutting down the total cost of the meal, which comes out to a small fortune. It’s as you’re popping a bit of grilled fish in your mouth that Noct goes in for the kill.

“Hey, (y/n),” blue eyes watch you mischievously from beneath dark bangs, “do all mages have a fear of being eaten alive by birds?”

The fish gets lodged in your throat and it takes Ignis firmly patting your back for you to come back from the brink of death. “What?” You gasp, voice gravelly from your near-death experience.

“For someone who can turn a dualhorn into a well-done steak, you sure did scream a lot when the bird took off,” Noct continues his teasing and you try to melt into the couch.

“Yeah,” Gladio laughs, his smirk directed at you like a homing missile, “they sure do have a set of lungs on ‘em, huh? Didn’t know they could get so loud.”

It’s a direct hit!”

The night ends with everyone taking their jabs at you. Even Ignis joins in on the “fun,” saying that he thought you were casting some sort of curse until he saw you with your jacket over your head. Prompto reveals that he actually got that moment on camera, and you excuse yourself for bed, unable to look anyone in the eye.

Tragedy hits when you least expect it. It seems to have a habit of doing that.

When you stumble out of the Quayside Cradle and into the open air of the restaurant, you immediately notice the eerie, heavy silence that isn’t from the early hour. Coctura is slumped forward with her back to you, the faint sound of a smart, tinny voice speaking out into the dead air, the smell of something burning reaching your nose. The voice from her phone is sombre and matter-of-fact, it reminds you of the time Drusa took you aside to tell you Magister Illara, a woman older than your grandfather, had died in her sleep. It fills your stomach with dread but you tell yourself that you’re overreacting.

“Coctura? Is everything okay?” You sniff. “Something’s burning.”

The chef whips around, face tear-streaked and eyes cloudy. Your stomach sinks. Coctura’s lips tremble as she speaks, “Oh... (y/n). You’re awake. I’d always heard you mages liked getting up  b-bright and early.” She’s trying so hard to sound chipper but it fails. “I was just, um, prepping.” She quickly turns away to scrape the burned thing off of the stovetop.

Alarm sets your teeth on edge and you slowly close the distance between the two of you, the countertop feeling too cold beneath your palms. “What’s happened?”

“Insomnia-” She can’t get the rest out before breaking down into sobs, one hand coming up to cover her mouth, a futile effort to stifle the noise.

The Empire’s attack on Insomnia leaves you feeling empty. It’s difficult for you to properly mourn over a city and people you’d never met, to mourn beside the others who actually lost people they’d known all their lives. Especially Noct and Gladio. Six, especially them. You feel like an imposter with your tears, so you hide them away- hide your face behind a mug of coffee, behind the Iovita grimoire, behind anything you can get your hands on. You hide until plans are made to go see Insomnia for yourselves. It’s when you’re planning the trip to the Crown City that you get the call.

“(y/n),” Drusa breathes into the phone, sounding relieved, “you’re all right. Good.”

“Yes,” you purse your lips, under the scrutinizing gaze of Gladio who is immediately wary when you give your phone a weird look, “what is it?”

“You need to come back to the Spire this instant.”

Eyes roll at the drama of it all, probably your mother’s doing, and you reply, “Fine. I need to pick some things up, anyway, and Noc-”

“Don’t bring the prince,” her voice is so low now you can barely even hear her. Then she raises it, a maternal edge to her tone, “Now, enough daemon hunting, (y/n). You’ve had your fun. It’s time to be serious. You’re needed here immediately.” She hangs up before you can ask her what she’s going on about.

What the hell was that?”

Gladio is looking at you expectantly but you don’t address him. After you tuck your phone away, you turn to address Noct. He’s been quiet ever since Ignis broke the news to him (you hadn’t told anyone that you knew beforehand from Coctura). He sits away from the others in the hotel room. “Noct-”

Don’t,” he hisses from between his teeth and you look away. He hasn’t wanted anyone to talk to him since the news broke, either. Already tired of the couple of sympathetic looks thrown his way by the others.

“I’m going back to the Spire,” you announce.

His eyes burn you like fire and you glance over to find him glaring, just as you suspected. “So, that’s it, huh? Insomnia supposedly falls and you-”

“Have a little faith,” you spit with too much venom than intended. “I’m needed back at the Spire. My mother probably just wants to make sure I’m okay and I need to pick some things up anyway. It’ll make our journey a bit easier.”

“We’ll go with you then,” Gladio insists, brow creased with worry. “It’ll be quick. Then we’ll go to Insomnia.”

You give the big guy a kind smile but admit, “I’d rather you didn’t.”

“Why not?” Noct queries, sounding accusatory.

“If the news is legitimate... The Spire has eyes and ears everywhere and not everyone is sympathetic to your cause. Some students hail from places other than Lucis.” At Noct’s narrowed eyes you huff, “Don’t look at me like that. The Spire takes anyone who can pay. It’s not my fault.”

Ignis hums and nods his head determinedly, “We’ll go with you but we won’t enter the Spire. You must make the trip a quick one, (y/n). Time is of the essence.”

You’re surprised that they’re even willing to take this detour with you. But you won’t have it. You won’t keep them all in suspense while you go deal with your mother’s overbearing tendencies. “No. When we get to the fork in the road, I’ll be headed west and you four need to be headed east. If anything happens, we’ll just meet up at Hammerhead. Noctis has my number if things go south.” And with that, you’re off. Unaware of just how deeply the attack on the Crown City affects you.

Chapter Text

05. Frost

When you get right down to it, in all twenty years of your life there have only been two people that you could ever really talk to: Drusa and your mother. But over the years you became more and more engrossed with your increasingly rigorous studies and your mother became less and less available for you to talk to. You resorted to using Drusa as a go-between most of the time or just texts and brief calls since that was the only way you could get your mother’s attention without feeling like you were imposing. So, the fact that Drusa called you to the Spire rather than your mother didn’t immediately raise any red flags.

The guards let you in immediately, not needing to see identification because everyone and their grandma knows who you are here. And you hate that you’re darkening the Spire’s doorstep so soon. Craning your neck, you take in the building’s harsh angles and thin windows with distaste. For a moment, you wish you’d brought the others along. They might’ve made the visit enjoyable if only to have them all realize they needed to hike up fifteen flights of steps to your mother’s office (a punishment in itself when you were sent off to her for a reprimand).

As it stands, your solo visit already has you in the throes of typical drab Spire life the second the massive wooden doors shut behind you with a thud of ominous finality, bathing you in dim
light. The musk of incense lingers in the air and you vaguely wonder who was praying. It doesn’t take much effort walking up all those steps to get to your room- it’s like you never missed a day here. And when you shoulder open that familiar wooden door (you can still see the sloppily carved “(Y/N) ONLY” right above the handle that the workers tried sanding out) you’re immediately met with the scowling faces of your ancestors.

Six, you didn’t miss this.

Waking up and going to sleep every day with them staring down at you from every wall. No band or movie posters for you. Oh, no! You grew up with what every kid wanted: Nine paintings of dead people you’d never met. It’s a little funny, though, because none of them even look related to each other and you bear no resemblance to a single one. A strange thing with Iovitas, really. Your grandfather was a small, lithe, dark man with eyes like two newly minted copper coins. But your mother and aunt? Statuesque, pale, silver-eyed, and white-haired carbon copies with no resemblance to their father. And the tradition continues with you. What is genetics? The Iovitas never seemed tied to natural laws.

But your aunt inherited your grandfather's sharp tongue and disregard for others. That thing the Iovitas passed down along with their magic: A strange, cold cruelty. A bizarre trait to have, given their penchant for helping others and especially of serving the Lucian kingdom. And your aunt served the kingdom just like all the others before her. She wanted nothing to do with the Spire because of its history, unwilling to join her father’s inherited task of changing the college’s future.

"Who protects the protectors, (y/n)?" She'd asked you at dinner, looking proud in her Crownsguard attire. Tacitus wouldn't give her his blessing to join the Glaives.

You were only five, so you didn’t know that she was trying to make a point to your mother. Lysandra had no qualms about using you as ammunition against her twin. "We do," you’d answered dutifully.

She'd smiled at that, she always had a smile for you even when she was needling the Spire mages. She pointed an almost gloating smirk at your mother while your grandfather quietly ate. It was just the four of you in the massive dining hall. The magisters were all off doing their duty even though it was dinner time. But Lysa always made a scene when she came by; threatening to turn every last magister to stone until your grandfather sent them all away. They ate in their rooms on Lysa Days. You can’t remember what you were eating, though. Something good. It was always something good in the Spire. You struggle to recall it now as you stare at the photo of your aunt on your desk, decked out in her beloved Crownsguard getup, that typical haughty smirk on her lips, staff in hand.

But you remember asking her, "Who protects us, Aunt Lysa?"

"You won't need protecting if you don't become a complacent figurehead like your mother or grandfather, little one,” she’d sneered.

"Lysandra," your grandfather scolded, eyes like molten copper. His voice was so thunderous for such a small man.

You suppose in the end Aunt Lysa needed protection after all. She died later that same year and your grandfather quickly followed. You missed what they brought to the Spire- those hard edges that could make the magisters wince and cower without even having to say a word. Then Uncle Ary started coming around. He was something new, full of an acidic wit that you strove to imitate. But you knew he wasn’t really your uncle. No, it wasn’t that he looked nothing like you- that would’ve actually made a stronger case for him being related to you. No. It was something else. It was in the way he spoke to you. And your mother denied him, as well.

“Gods, I haven’t seen that man in... five years, now?” You exclaim to yourself, turning away from your aunt’s photo and getting back to your original purpose for even coming back to this hellhole. Turning away from the thought of him.

After you collect Drusa’s book from under your bed and some items from your room, you start to notice a few things that don’t quite jibe. You were so preoccupied with your thoughts and with your goal of ducking in and out that you hadn’t noticed it before. The halls are eerily silent and an atmosphere of dread hangs over the Spire. Come to think of it, no one looked at you when you passed them on your way up here. They didn’t even say hello... hell they didn’t even sneer. Fingertips glide across the ashy stones of the long hallway that your bedroom shares with your mother’s and the other magisters’ quarters. The bronze braziers remain even though the entire building was wired for electricity long ago.

“It’s for that old-world mage aesthetic,” Drusa had laughed when you’d asked why the useless things remained, always there for you to bump into when you had your nose in a book.

Sometimes, when you were bored, you’d light the one next to your door only for your mother to snap her fingers and have the flame snuffed out. You stop by your mother’s room and gently knock on the elegant wooden door. When she doesn’t answer, you let yourself in. The bed is made as expected, crisp white sheets tucked and charcoal pillows fluffed, the lavender duvet  turned down. Something doesn’t sit right. You notice a fine layer of dust on the many bookshelves that line the walls. She doesn’t allow the maids in her room when she’s out of the Spire. This room hasn’t been touched in days. You recall the urgency in Drusa’s voice.

A cold, cruel creature grips your heart in its spindly little fingers.

Your mother’s bed is so soft as you sit heavily on it, even as the world seems to fall out from under you. There’s something wrong. You can feel it. You send a text, telling her that you’re in her room and that her collection of pressed flowers is very interesting and surprisingly delicate (something sure to get her here in a hurry), and you wait. And wait. You take a breath, put your phone away, and close your eyes.

From the moment you could walk you were practically your mother’s shadow when she wasn’t off consulting with King Regis. You’d follow her around everywhere in the Spire, get into all sorts of trouble when your grandfather wasn’t having you tailed by maids and his least favorite magisters (his favorite form of punishment for them). After your grandfather died your mother went from a magister to Arch-Mage of the Spire, on top of being King Regis’ arcane advisor. Her time became even more limited than before, she got short with you in her fatigue, she became so focused on your future that you felt like she stopped seeing you in the present.

Naturally, inevitably, you two grew apart. The arguments between the two of you became more frequent. You resented your confinement- resented her. You didn’t know how much that hurt her. How much she regretted the time she lost with you. All you can feel now is the deep, aching regret that claws in your chest; tries to rip its way out. But you remain impassive as you hear the news. You know it the second you burst into her office only to find him sitting there.

The irony isn’t lost on you. It was just the other day when Prompto, in an effort to get to know you better, asked you who your least favorite teacher was. In truth he wanted you to loosen up, to not speak so formally about the Spire all the time like it was a prison. He didn’t know any better. You’d answered instantly: “Talmudge.” Talmudge was and is someone who gets a power- high from being able to boss around people who have no choice but to follow his orders. You swear he got off on humiliating you in front of your peers. And when you’d complain to Drusa? He was such a sniveling suck up, so falsely apologetic, that after a while just the mentioning of his name was enough to churn your stomach. And the kicker? He was your mother’s second-in-command based on seniority.

It feels like that conversation with Prompto happened a century ago. You feel like you were younger even though it was maybe two days ago when you jumped at the opportunity to smear Talmudge’s name. You watch blankly as Magister- no, Arch-Mage Talmudge tells you that your mother went to the Crown City on your behalf to speak to the king. That she hadn’t been heard from since the attack. That her death was just confirmed in the latest announcement of high-profile casualties before you arrived.

“She became worried when you didn’t arrive at Insomnia to meet the prince.” As you stand to attention in the office, hands clasped behind your back, all you can hear is that thinly veiled insinuation: She only died because of you. When you vocalize this, tone so full of acid that Talmudge flinches, he hastens to say otherwise. “No! No! Oh, (y/n), please...” the old man shakes his head slowly, honey brown eyes watching you carefully, not an ounce of remorse in them even though he’s playing up the crocodile tears, waving about a handkerchief that costs a Spire maid’s hourly wage. “(y/n), she was going to visit His Majesty for a scheduled meeting that he had previously canceled. There was an important matter for her to consult him on before the treaty signing. She was going to visit even if you hadn’t got sidetracked by the sights.”

“Oh,” you murmur, brow furrowing at that comment, “I see.”

“(y/n), you have our deepest sympathies. Please know that you are welcome back here at the Spire as a magister.” Talmudge nods sagely, speaking with the authority of the Spire now. He reclines in your mother’s chair, looking so out of place in the spartan office with his opulent robes of crushed purple velvet and silver.

Your eyes cut to him sharply. “What?”

“Well,” the octogenarian places his hands gently on your mother’s desk, his bony fingers decorated with far too many enchanted rings that you’re positive the effects of a couple of them actually negate each other, “as the prince is among the victims-”

Ice replaces your blood. Wait. Your mother didn’t tell him that you’ve been with Noctis this entire time? He did just say your mother claimed to be worried about you not meeting Noct in Insomnia... Why would she hide this from the guy who was largely in charge of seeing to your transition from the Spire to the Crown City (though he certainly botched it and only gave you a backpack and brief rundown on Crown City customs while he engrossed himself in the bureaucratic red tape on the back end)? Then you think back to Drusa’s phone call. How she’d said you were daemon hunting and not fulfilling your duties...

“Something’s going on here.”

“I won’t be coming back to the Spire for work,” you interrupt with a painfully pleasant smile. “Thank you for the offer.”

“(y/n),” Talmudge says firmly, as if scolding a child. Gods, he even wags a skeletal finger at you and you swear the damn bejeweled ring is liable to go flying off. Six save him if it hits you. “Your place is here. Your family fought for control of the Spire. Think of their legacy!”

Something a bit defiant in you stirs at his words. Your mother liked to say it’s how you take after your father. You snort, “And you opposed my mother’s succession of my grandfather as Arch- Mage, if I remember correctly.”

His cheeks color splotchily. “Nepotism has no place in academia.”

“Right. Which is why you’re not offering me control of the Spire, despite how my family fought for it.” Arms cross over your chest, falling out of that respectful pose with ease. “And how long did you practice that line, I wonder? Nepotism, huh? Didn’t know you knew any big words.”

“(y/n).”

“You know, saying my name several times doesn’t work as a banishing spell. You won’t send me away like that.” You snark, looking down your nose at him, “Besides, it’s not like you’re actually a mage-”

“Enough.” The old man’s chest heaves, eyes wide. Because he’s been given respect without question for so long, he can’t handle your jeering for the life of him. “You dare treat me this way? After all I’ve done for you? I practically raised you, you insolent child!”

After all you’ve done? That’s exactly why I’m treating you like this!” You internally fume at how he continues to play innocent, even when you two are alone.

When it was convenient for them, several magisters acted friendly towards you. At one point your bed was covered in all manner of toys and trinkets when tenure was being considered. From an early age you learned what a parasite in human skin looked like- how it walked, how it talked, how it approached you. They roamed the halls and hounded your steps, made you feel like an outsider when you didn’t eat out of their hand. Made you feel low when you wouldn’t be played.

And Talmudge is one of the biggest parasites. Your grandfather- though you knew the senior Iovita was a complete asshole- hated Talmudge with a passion and he had good reason. But simply not liking the guy wasn’t grounds enough to have him fired.

Talmudge can be an ass-kisser to the highest degree when necessary, but his hatred for your family has never been a huge secret. In fact, a solid third of the magisters revile the Iovitas and they certainly loved taking their ire out on the low-hanging fruit: You. A kid. When the Iovitas took over the Spire, it was a much contested transition of power. Your great great grandmother Aela didn’t go through the proper channels to become Arch-Mage. She didn’t study at the Spire, she had no formal education or credentials, she didn’t take it over as a college... she it took over as a statement.

For years the Iovitas were dogged by the aristocratic mages running the Spire. Your family faced slander and persecution because their very existence undermined the Spire’s authority as an institution for “mages.” How could the Spire claim to teach and train mages? Claim that only a Spire education was what made someone a mage? How could they have this authority when people like the Iovitas, who had no affiliation with the Spire, called Lucis home? Simple answer: They couldn’t. Not when the people of Lucis idolized the Iovitas- idolized that family that killed daemons to protect the common man, that came out of hiding despite the threat of the Spire to go and make a pilgrimage to the King of Lucis, to kiss the Ring of Lucii and bless it.

The Spire was a blight in the eyes of the people, a symbol of what they called the threat of “magocracy,” up until Aela the Banisher walked up those fifteen flights of steps unimpeded and sent Arch-Mage Cyrus falling to his death. She had the King of Lucis’ backing, though her methods were certainly frowned upon even though Arch-Mage Cyrus was believed to have been the one behind the assassination of Aela’s youngest child. Even now, those old-regime Spire purists who come from a long lineage of Spire-trained mages have fought to have the Iovitas’ control over the college revoked. They ignore the fact that having an Iovita at the helm greatly improved the college’s image to the common man all around Eos.

Since Aela’s reign, enrollment has always been at capacity and the donors consistently come out in droves- the Iovita name serving to legitimize the college as an institution for mages. Your great grandfather, who was much favored by the people, even implemented a scholarship program to allow those without funds and possessing great skill to come and learn at the prestigious college. However, the image of the Spire as a dying institution has always hanged overhead like a storm cloud despite the prosperity. Why? Well, although the Iovitas are praised by the everyday Joe, the everyday Joe isn’t nearly dumb enough to conflate “Iovita mage” with “Spire mage.”

So, with this in mind, you’re feeling a bit smug. Because you can just tell by the look in Talmudge’s eye that he hates you so much that he wants you ousted... but he’s backed in a corner because he needs your name or else the Spire will go under the moment you turn your back on it and make it known that the Iovitas are no longer affiliated with the college. But right now you’re drained and you don’t trust him not to try something stupid if you mouth off- so consumed by envy as he is. You aren’t about to sit Talmudge’s ass down for a history lesson and threaten him with Cyrus’ fate and an empty college as his one-day “legacy” as Arch-Mage. You’re running on fumes, your sharp tongue being your last defense, and you just want to leave.

You’re about to relent and throw a fib Talmudge’s way about you going back to your Iovita roots to become a daemon hunter full-time or some other nonsense, when he speaks. “You’ll be safe from the Empire here, (y/n).”

There’s an underlying threat in his words. He means to turn you in to the Empire if you refuse his generous offer? You lift your chin and look down your nose at the bald man. “Why do I need to fear the Empire? They’re no threat to me.”

Those honey eyes are trained on you and in their depths you detect a hint of something nefarious. “As an Iovita, surely you know how your very existence threatens many when you’re left unsupervised?”

“Unsupervised,” you mimic, lips twitching into an ugly smirk. “My, my. You make me out to sound like an animal. Do you want to see me become an animal, Talmudge?”

The old man purses his lips and picks up the porcelain teapot that’s perched on the desk. He pours you a cup of tea and gently pushes it towards you, beckoning urgently for you to sit. You do so grudgingly, if only to hear why the hell you need to watch your back for the Empire now. As if you didn’t have enough on your plate? Talmudge seems to take you sitting as a sign that you’re going to roll over. He gets cocky, haughty, simpering out, “Let’s do away with the niceties, shall we? I must be blunt about this. You’ve always been the obstinate sort. Of course you’d never grow out of it. Your father was the worst sort of-”

“Ah, see? We’re already beyond niceties.” You swirl the tea with disdain before downing it and slamming the empty cup back down on the desk just to make the teapot rattle. “Something harder. I know my mother kept whiskey in one of the locked drawers in that desk.”

Talmudge sighs, “Of course, dear.”

Bile touches your tongue when he calls you that. You watch like a hawk as he fumbles with the drawer, knowing that the lock is finicky because you had botched picking it one too many times at the expense of the tumblers. You remember how your mother had called you into her office one evening, silver eyes hooded in bored disappointment, crystal glass of whiskey nestled in her  palm. Your mother was lounging on her high-backed chair, the soft lavenders and ashy grays of the austere room flickering with the warm light from the fireplace. She’d asked you in that cool, steely voice of hers why her key was sticking in the drawer’s lock. You’d shrugged and said you had no idea, face impassive, a hint of curiosity there just to throw her off the scent.

But you knew she knew. And she knew you knew she knew. When she dismissed you with a sigh and a wave, you’d closed the door behind you and listened, pressing your ear to the heavy wooden door. A relieved smile reached your lips when you heard her laugh.

As Talmudge pours the amber liquid into your cup, he hits a call button on the desk and says in a clipped tone, “Drusa. In here, please.”

At first you think it’s going to be a relief to have the woman here with you, giving you a bit of strength to continue the conversation since your battery is quickly depleting. But oh, you’re so wrong. The way the dark woman looks at you with her sorrowful garnet eyes makes the whiskey curdle in your gut. You keep the bottle tucked between your knees now so you can keep the alcohol flowing. Talmudge purses his thin lips but says nothing of it.

So far you’ve compartmentalized your mother’s death. It’s far off and away, tucked into the furthest recess of your mind. But Drusa’s maternal presence is dragging it back to the forefront- gods, the two basically walked around the Spire as a unit; you half expect to see your mother at her side. Your throat tightens. You feel like a little child who’s about to cry- you’re six years old in the Crown City palace again, desperately wanting to hide behind your mother’s leg. You have to look away from Drusa.

She knows you well enough to know why you won’t meet her eye. Drusa places a comforting hand on your shoulder, fingers tightening through the leather of your jacket, before explaining at Talmudge’s urging, “The Empire wants you to swear fealty to them, (y/n). The people of Lucis know that you’re still alive and that you were sworn to Prince Noctis. Your existence is a thorn in the Empire’s side.”

“What’s the term I’m looking for? Turncoat?” You think bitterly.

“Why? Because a hermit mage who was sworn to the prince from birth is such a threat or because Aela the Banisher spat at the emperor’s feet ages ago? Do they really hold grudges that long in Niflheim?” You ask flatly, staring down at the amber liquid in your teacup. “Wonder if my great great grandmother knew she’d be screwing me over with her theatrics.”

“Aela the Usurper,” Talmudge corrects, tone polite.

“The Banisher,” you snarl. “Don’t strip away her title just because you liked the way those stuffed shirts ran the Spire before she came around. Oh, I’m sure you’d love it if this shithole could go back to the ‘good ol’ days’ of having people murdered for even looking at you wrong.”

“We don’t have time for petty squabbling,” Drusa snaps and you aren’t sure if she’s fed up with you or the bastard sitting across from you. “(y/n), they’re offering you the position of the emperor’s Arch-Mage.” She’s pleading now.

Stomach in knots, you realize that she actually fears for your life. “What? The emperor doesn’t have an Arch-”

“Your name is invaluable,” Talmudge says slowly, honey brown eyes calculating and unblinking like a snake. It’s unsettling. “They’ll let you live here in the Spire, they won’t come for you. You’ll get to live in peace save for a customary annual visit to see the emperor, like how your ancestors would go and pay their respects to the King of Lucis.”

“So they want all the pomp and circumstance of the infamous Iovitas after killing one of us? They want to keep up appearances to the Lucian people and show that if I’m down with old what’s-his-face, they should be, too?” You can’t help but laugh. Maybe it’s the whiskey. It’s certainly aged some since you last sneaked a sip...

“Because of your magic, many believe that the Astrals are on your side,” Talmudge explains to you like you weren’t taught this by your grandfather. He sighs, “Decima wasn’t supposed to be in the Crown City. She was foolishly loyal to that man. She was collateral da-”

Red is all you see. “Shut your fucking mouth,” you seethe, enunciating each word. Beside you, Drusa gasps. This almost undermines your anger, almost turns you into a little, apologetic child even as you’re an inch away from ripping Talmduge’s trachea out of his scrawny neck.

“Hold your tongue, Iovita.”

“Fuck you and fuck the fucking emperor!” You stand, try not to sway. Drusa keeps you steady. “He killed my mother, he killed my king,” you pause for breath and swallow hard, “and he killed my prince. My family has always been loyal to the Kings of Lucis. I’m not about to break that tradition now to go kiss that asshole’s boots after all he’s done.”

Talmudge stands too. In his age, he’s not even taller than you with his stooped back. He’s trying so damn hard to look intimidating, leaning heavily on the staff that he can't even channel magic through. “You graduated from this institution! Our mages serve these lands! The Empire rules these-!”

You throw your head back and laugh. The room spins like a top and for a second you think you spin with it. “You possess loyalty in spades, don’t you? Typical 'mage' making typical self- serving-”

“Silence!”

You were always submissive here. Even now, the Spire has a way of making you a different person- more bitter, more reserved. And when you lived here, every other word out of your mouth was “sir” and “ma’am” but it was all for your mother’s sake and your grandfather’s, too. Now both of them are dead. There’s no reason for you to kowtow to these people anymore. In your rage, you want to set the whole place on fire. And you can. You can turn this place into nothing more than a scorch mark on the face of the world- a crater, even. Or... Or a wonderful palace of ice frozen in time. It’s a bit poetic considering how antiquated this whole place is- left behind in history. You could make it a mausoleum of ice. You envision it for a moment, the frigid air, skin hard and cold, reveling in the-

“(y/n)!” Drusa gasps, releasing your shoulder.

You open your eyes with a start, not realizing you’d been slowly making ice encase your right arm like crystalline armor. Talmduge looks terrified. With a flex of your hand the ice shatters and disappears into little flurries. You take a breath, center yourself. Six, you haven’t lost control like this since you were a child. You can’t afford to make foolish mistakes. Not now. Drusa still lives here and there’s too much on the line- too much that you need to do before you give in. Noct still needs you, now more than ever. And the others...

“I’ll see myself out.” You duck your head, jaw clenched so hard it’s a miracle you can say anything at all. You turn and stride toward the door, wrenching it open and coming to a sudden halt. “Good day, Arch-Mage. You won’t be seeing me anytime soon. But when you do,” you look at the stooped old man over your shoulder, the parasite behind your mother’s desk, eyes hazy with liquor, “I can promise you, it won’t be for a social call.”

Chapter Text

06. Sly

Noctis

When the guys find you, you’re alone in a booth, eating fries that have been drowned in ketchup and drinking lukewarm soda. You look casual. Too casual. It doesn’t take them long to realize that you’ve carefully contrived an aura of indifference; lackadaisically scrolling through your phone, earbuds in, tapping your foot to the beat of a song that isn’t even playing. It’s immediately obvious to the observant likes of Ignis and Gladio that you’re piss drunk. There’s a slight sway to you, like you’re sitting in the middle of a windstorm, you can’t seem to keep your head still- bobbing it now and then like you’re listening to some funky beats.

Hell, Prompto and Noct actually buy your whole “listening to music” act. But the older guys know better. And they’re on edge. Because you? Well, you’ve set a certain standard for yourself at this point. Though you’re an underhanded little troll, you carry yourself with an air of decorum like a blue blood. There’s a haughtiness in the way you walk and talk, chin always kept a little high, stoic gaze cast down your nose. You come across as learned, well-bred, and worldly though you’re a hermit. And for them to see you wasted? They know you’re hurting.

Takka makes eye-contact with them and shakes his head, a silent warning to leave you alone. When you stumbled into the diner, soaked with rain and eyes bloodshot, the older man had been worried. What had worried him even more were the little pops of electricity that lit up the air around you. When he’d shakily pointed it out, the light show immediately stopped and you gave him a pleasant smile before placing your order. He could smell the whiskey on your breath. And he definitely knew you were drunk when you tried to pay in pocket lint and Leiden pepper kernels.

“Here’s a tip!” You’d urged and added a small feather that had caught your eye onto the pile of pepper and lint.

“I’ll just wait for your friends to come around,” he’d said, eyes sad and smile strained.

You’re staring at your phone, at the many texts you haven’t deleted. You’ve already listened to all of your mother’s voicemails at least once- chuckling softly to yourself at her especially chilly messages. You can’t bring yourself to delete them now. Slowly but surely, you’re sobering up. You’ve gotten trashed on enough vintage wine to know just what to eat to take the edge off (starchy foods always help you stave off some of the effects of alcohol). Slowly but surely, reality is setting in and you’re a bit beyond grief right now. You want revenge.

“Hey, (y/n).” Noct slides into the booth across from you, unable or unwilling to take a hint from Takka. The others stay away, loitering in the doorway. You turn your hazy gaze onto the prince. Just from the sober look on his face, you know he wants to have a heavy conversation. But you can’t stomach that right now. The day has been too bleak- so bleak that you feel like you’ve been walking in a nightmare.

“You can’t have any fries. Buy your own,” you snap before Noct can get another word out. “I know you have money, you little freeloader.”

“Actually, you didn’t buy those, (y/n),” Takka calls from the his place behind the counter but you ignore him. He sighs and looks down at the pile of pepper on the countertop. After a moment, he picks some string out of it.

The prince blinks in surprise at you and furrows his brow. “I wasn’t gonna ask for any.”

Good. Your plan is working. The once concerned expression on his face is replaced with irritation. He’s probably thinking to himself: “Well, why can’t I have any fries if I want any? I’ve given them enough of my food to at least earn one ketchup-saturated fry.” Noct is already forgetting about the news. The Empire’s awful treachery is taking a backseat to your food treachery. Pettiness is getting in the way of grief. You just have to put one more nail in the coffin.

“Iggy can have some, though.”

Ignis gives you a strained smile from the doorway. “Thank you, (y/n).”

Takka turns his gaze onto Ignis. “Are you gonna pay for their meal?” Ignis sighs and goes over to pay for his reckless friend, pulling out his wallet as he goes. When he gets to the counter, though, Takka tells him that he doesn’t actually expect him to pay, but he just wants Ignis to keep an eye on you. “It’s on the house,” Takka murmurs lowly, warm brown eyes straying to you and the prince. “They need it.”

Noct is starting to look like a petulant child, dark eyebrows knitted together, bottom lip slightly pouting out. He crosses his arms, hunches his posture a bit. “What? How come Specs can have some but I can’t?”

You sip your soda and watch him from beneath your eyelashes, playing up the part of the asshole friend. “I thought you didn’t want any?”

“Well, now that you’re being unfair-” He stops short when a fry smacks his forehead. Damn. Though you pride yourself on your near-perfect hand-eye coordination, you’re still a bit buzzed and thus didn’t expect to actually hit the prince square in the forehead. You’re actually a bit pleased even as those steely blue eyes glare at you.

“You should know better than anyone that sometimes life just isn’t fair.” Pushing the plate of fries toward him, you lean back in the booth and sigh. The room swims a bit. Guess the fries didn’t work all that well. “Not at all.”

“(y/n)...”

You wave your hand dismissively in the air, wave away his pitying tone. “But I’m happy that I can deprive you of fries and make you forget just how unfair life can be. Because you’re so pissed about my cold-ass fries that you forgot.” You chuckle softly and shake your head before reaching forward and wiping the ketchup from Noct’s hair with a napkin. He blushes and you say, “Just for a second I was able to help you forget.”

Noct huffs out a faint laugh, “So, whenever anything bad happens I can count on you to distract me?”

“You can count on me for more than that, Noct. I was sworn to you from birth and I swore myself to you again there,” you gesture out of the window, “in that parking lot. I’ll never let you down. Never.”

“I’m...” Noct frowns, the day’s events coming back to him, “I’m sorry about your mom.”

“You can make it up to me by helping me overthrow Arch-Mage Talmudge after I help you evict the Empire.” You eat a fry and grimace before adding salt. “And you can’t get mad if I throw him from the fifteenth floor window. It’s kind of a family tradition.”

Noct pops a fry in his mouth and immediately gags. As he spits it out in a napkin, he flounders, “Wait. Arch-Mage? I thought you were supposed to direct the Spire after your mom?”

“Nepotism has no place in academia,” you mimic Talmudge’s frail voice but the jeer is lost on Noct. “So, I’m going to have to take back my family’s legacy the old way: With the King of Lucis’ backing and a boot up an old man’s flat ass... and preferably out of a window.”

“You really want to throw him out of a window, huh?” The prince queries, raising one dark eyebrow at your incessant threats.

“I feel like it would complete me, yes.”

He sighs, staring at your plate of ketchup-drowned fries. Noct isn’t oblivious, he knows you don’t want to talk about your mother or what went down at the Spire. Hell, you’re not even really sure what went down at the Spire. Leaving the college was a blur. You can’t even remember how you even got to Hammerhead, to be honest. One second you were leaving the office, you blink and you’re stuffing an obscene amount of junk in Choco Jr.’s storage tail, and then you’re killing your fries in ketchup.

It’s a miracle I’m not dead,” you think with a flip of your stomach.

“Well,” Noct leans forward, elbows on the table, “we can start off on our road to revenge by following up on a lead.”

“What lead?”

“The marshal, Cor the Immortal,” when he sees a hint of recognition in your glassy eyes, Noct continues, “he’s asked us to meet him at a nearby royal tomb.”

You remember hearing about Cor Leonis. Cato didn’t shut up about him. Or he wouldn’t. You tried to tease him about his crush but it didn’t deter him in the slightest. Thus, you had to hear of Cor the Immortal’s exploits as you got beaten with a training sword.

“We’re going to a tomb? Grave robbing? I’m game.”

“(y/n), it’s not-”

“We’re going into the ancient burial place of a Lucian king and you’re going to take something from said burial place, I’m assuming. Hm,” you stroke your chin in mock thought, “I’d say by any definition that’s grave robbing.”

He sighs, “Fine.”

You’re swaggering out of the diner on Noct’s heels before you know it, but you can feel the great, looming presence of one Gladiolus Amicitia behind you all the while. It’s at this moment that you know he can smell the booze on you underneath the musty veil of grease and tangy ketchup. Gladio and Ignis exchange a look behind your back and you aren’t surprised in the least when you find yourself being steered away from Choco Jr. and toward the Regalia to be sandwiched between the prince and his Shield. At this point, Noct can detect the hint of alcohol on you now that you two are side by side. But he remains quiet.

If he learned anything from his little talk with you in the diner, it’s that you don’t want to talk right now. And he’s not about to push his luck. Besides, he knows that he was a little shit to you when the news of the attack first broke. He snapped at you and acted so hostile, even calling your loyalty into question. Gods, he cringes just thinking about it. You’d been called to the Spire because your mother had been killed and he thought you were running off because Insomnia had fallen. He thought you were throwing in with the Empire because he was a losing bet.

Noct wants to cover his face and groan when he realizes he made your leaving all about him. He made your loss center around him without even thinking about it. Stealthily, he glances at you. You’re staring straight ahead as Iggy drives. Occasionally you blink, but otherwise you’re stone. Internally, he marvels at how well you can hide your inebriation. Which starts him off on a long train of thought in which he wonders how much drinking you did back at the Spire to get so good at holding your liquor. And what the hell kind of “supervision” were you under to be able to get your little grabby hands on booze? He’s a bit jealous that you were able to get away with something like that when he had Ignis on his back 24/7.

“And here we are,” Ignis announces, pulling to the side of the highway to park the car.

It’s daytime and you’re miserable. You’re stuck between two very strong compulsions: sleeping and puking. But dammit, you’re an Iovita and you need to put on a proper face. A face that doesn’t say: “I’m still trashed and one wrong move away from projectile vomiting whiskey and fries all over everyone.” Especially when you discover that you’re at the Hunter HQ. Like hell are you going to spew your guts in front of a bunch of hardened daemon hunters.

“You okay?” Prom asks at exactly the wrong moment.

You cut your eyes to him and he yelps. “I’m fine,” you hiss.

And you totally aren’t, because when you walk you feel like you’re walking around with your head in a fishbowl. Sounds are tinnier and more confusing. Lights are impossibly bright and dizzying. And when you five make your way out of the Hunter HQ and wind up fighting friggin’ birds? You get maybe one fireball fully formed for about a second before it sputters out into a pathetic fizzle. It’s time for you to tap out. You’re hunched over, hands splayed on the face of a cliff to keep yourself upright and retching as the guys valiantly fight the daggerquills to the tune of your horrendous and seemingly endless vomiting. After the battle is over, the blond sharpshooter comes running up to you. Then he thinks better of it and takes a few steps back.

“Whoa! (y/n)! Are you sick? Did you get poisoned?” Prom frets, keeping a safe distance away from the splatter zone.

Swinging your head around to glare daggers at him, you point out the obvious, “I’m freakin’ drunk!”

Noct bites the inside of his cheek and prods at his best friend. “Did you honestly not even notice? (y/n) smells like a walking bottle of whiskey. I’m surprised they didn’t immediately burst into flames the second they got that pathetic fireball formed.”

Noctis, you turd!”

Gladio hands you a canteen once you’ve finally emptied your stomach and you swish and spit. “Thanks,” you sigh, voice rough.

“Don’t mention it.”

“Shall we continue?” Ignis queries, attempting to brush over the spectacle, ever the gentleman.

“Let’s,” you grumble, straightening out your jacket and ambling onward. You have to admit, you do feel better. It just would’ve been ideal to not blow chunks in front of everyone in order to feel this way.

“Ah,” Ignis hums when you all come into view of a massive tomb made of white stone, “there it is.”

Prom lets out a low whistle. “A tomb fit for royalty.”

You have to admit, it’s pretty... for a tomb. A shock of white against brown stone and verdant grass, with what looks to be dark metal accentuating the curvature of the architecture. Your inner aesthete croons over the ancient fixture just as your stomach gurgles unpleasantly. With a wince you grumble, “No sightseeing. Let’s just find the marshal.” At Noct’s teasing look, you whine, “Please?”

Inside the cool darkness of the tomb you’re all greeted by a stone of a man whom Ignis immediately greets with the kind of deference that’s customarily bestowed upon someone of Cor Leonis’ high military standing. Honestly, you’re just grateful that Iggy’s on his A-game when it comes to etiquette, because it takes those icy blue eyes snapping to you, narrowing in curiosity and suspicion, for you to introduce yourself.

You duck your head in a quick cursory bow (and try not to groan when the backs of your eyes throb). “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m (y/n) Iovita, His Highness’ arcane advisor.” It feels a bit weird introducing yourself like that. But you did swear yourself to Noct and he did accept you, albeit with a phlegmatic “yeah.” Hardly a great tale, but a tale nonetheless.

“You’re,” Cor’s eyes stray to your staff and soften, “(y/n) Iovita? Of course. I don’t know why I expected you to look like your mother.”

Stomach twists painfully but you smile politely. “Should’ve known better.”

There’s a strange tension in the tomb and it all seems to radiate from Noct. It’s at this moment that you realize he’s glaring at the Immortal. Wanting to be of some use as an advisor to the prince, you take a step forward to place a hand on his shoulder and- stomach gurgles. It seems to echo in the tomb. All eyes are on you. A strained smile reaches your lips as you pat the prince’s shoulder and announce, “I’ll be outside.”

Sweet air fills your lungs the second you step outside. But you’re miserable. You feel like you’re running a fever, tempted to rip off your clothes this instant if it weren’t for all the people in the damn tomb behind you. Gods, is this alcohol poisoning? You swear you got everything out of your system! But why are you suddenly feeling worse now that you’ve emptied your stomach? Patting down your pockets you retrieve an antidote from your inner pocket and bite your lip. These things are certainly expensive and you’re not even sure if you need to use-

“Tea.”

It hits you like a truck. Two glasses of whiskey doesn’t equal a trashed (y/n) Iovita and two glasses have certainly never caused you to black out. You tally it in your head, making special note of your inability to handle your magic properly. Eyes close as you envision the scene before you... The large wooden desk covered in papers filled with your mother’s arcing handwriting, her collection of crystals on the lefthand side, the teapot on the right. Talmudge’s hands clasped on the table, rings glimmering. One tea cup. One tea cup. What color was the tea? Amber? That’s normal. That grimace on Talmudge’s face when you started drinking whiskey instead of tea, though...

Eyes snap open just as you crush the antidote vial in your hand, purple wisps of magic filling your nostrils. Jaw clenches as your head clears and your stomach settles. The fever rushes away as you hiss, “That decrepit son of a bitch!” 


Prompto

When the guys find you, you’re alone in a booth, eating fries that have been drowned in ketchup and drinking lukewarm soda. You look casual. Too casual. It doesn’t take them long to realize that you’ve carefully contrived an aura of indifference; lackadaisically scrolling through your phone, earbuds in, tapping your foot to the beat of a song that isn’t even playing. It’s immediately obvious to the observant likes of Ignis and Gladio that you’re piss drunk. There’s a slight sway to you, like you’re sitting in the middle of a windstorm, you can’t seem to keep your head still- bobbing it now and then like you’re listening to some funky beats.

Hell, Prompto and Noct actually buy your whole “listening to music” act. But the older guys know better. And they’re on edge. Because you? Well, you’ve set a certain standard for yourself at this point. Though you’re an underhanded little troll, you carry yourself with an air of decorum like a blue blood. There’s a haughtiness in the way you walk and talk, chin always kept a little high, stoic gaze cast down your nose. You come across as learned, well-bred, and worldly though you’re a hermit. And for them to see you wasted? They know you’re hurting.

Takka makes eye-contact with them and shakes his head, a silent warning to leave you alone. When you stumbled into the diner, soaked with rain and eyes bloodshot, the older man had been worried. What had worried him even more were the little pops of electricity that lit up the air around you. When he’d shakily pointed it out, the light show immediately stopped and you gave him a pleasant smile before placing your order. He could smell the whiskey on your breath. And he definitely knew you were drunk when you tried to pay in pocket lint and Leiden pepper kernels.

“Here’s a tip!” You’d urged and added a small feather that had caught your eye onto the pile of pepper and lint.

“I’ll just wait for your friends to come around,” he’d said, eyes sad and smile strained.

You’re staring at your phone, at the many texts you haven’t deleted. You’ve already listened to all of your mother’s voicemails at least once- chuckling softly to yourself at her especially chilly messages. You can’t bring yourself to delete them now. Slowly but surely, you’re sobering up. You’ve gotten trashed on enough vintage wine to know just what to eat to take the edge off (starchy foods always help you stave off some of the effects of alcohol). Slowly but surely, reality is setting in and you’re a bit beyond grief right now. You want revenge.

“Hey, (y/n).” Noct slides into the booth across from you, unable or unwilling to take a hint from Takka. The others stay away, loitering in the doorway though Prom looks like he wants more than anything to come to you. You turn your hazy gaze onto the prince. Just from the sober look on his face, you know he wants to have a heavy conversation. But you can’t stomach that right now. The day has been too bleak- so bleak that you feel like you’ve been walking in a nightmare.

“You can’t have any fries. Buy your own,” you snap before Noct can get another word out. “I know you have money, you little freeloader.”

“Actually, you didn’t buy those, (y/n),” Takka calls from the his place behind the counter but you ignore him. He sighs and looks down at the pile of pepper on the countertop. After a moment, he picks some string out of it.

The prince blinks in surprise at you and furrows his brow. “I wasn’t gonna ask for any.”

Good. Your plan is working. The once concerned expression on his face is replaced with irritation. He’s probably thinking to himself: “Well, why can’t I have any fries if I want any? I’ve given them enough of my food to at least earn one ketchup-saturated fry.” Noct is already forgetting about the news. The Empire’s awful treachery is taking a backseat to your food treachery. Pettiness is getting in the way of grief. You just have to put one more nail in the coffin.

“Prompto can have some, though.”

Prom smiles at you faintly from the doorway. “Heh. Thanks, (y/n).”

Takka turns his gaze onto the blond. “Are you gonna pay for their meal?” The sharpshooter sighs and goes over to pay, patting down his pockets as he goes. When he gets to the counter, though, Takka tells him that he doesn’t actually expect him to pay, but he just wants Prom to keep an eye on you. “It’s on the house,” Takka murmurs lowly, warm brown eyes straying to you and the prince. “They need it.”

Noct is starting to look like a petulant child, dark eyebrows knitted together, bottom lip slightly pouting out. He crosses his arms, hunches his posture a bit. “What? How come Prompto can have some but I can’t?”

You sip your soda and watch him from beneath your eyelashes, playing up the part of the asshole friend. “I thought you didn’t want any?”

“Well, now that you’re being unfair-” He stops short when a fry smacks his forehead. Damn. Though you pride yourself on your near-perfect hand-eye coordination, you’re still a bit buzzed and thus didn’t expect to actually hit the prince square in the forehead. You’re actually a bit pleased even as those steely blue eyes glare at you.

“You should know better than anyone that sometimes life just isn’t fair.” Pushing the plate of fries toward him, you lean back in the booth and sigh. The room swims a bit. Guess the fries didn’t work all that well. “Not at all.”

“(y/n)...”

You wave your hand dismissively in the air, wave away his pitying tone. “But I’m happy that I can deprive you of fries and make you forget just how unfair life can be. Because you’re so pissed about my cold-ass fries that you forgot.” You chuckle softly and shake your head, “Just for a second I was able to help you forget.”

Noct huffs out a faint laugh, “So, whenever anything bad happens I can count on you to distract me?”

“You can count on me for more than that, Noct. I was sworn to you from birth and I swore myself to you again there,” you gesture out of the window, “in that parking lot. I’ll never let you down. Never.”

“I’m...” Noct frowns, the day’s events coming back to him, “I’m sorry about your mom.”

“You can make it up to me by helping me overthrow Arch-Mage Talmudge after I help you evict the Empire.” You eat a fry and grimace before adding salt. “And you can’t get mad if I throw him from the fifteenth floor window. It’s kind of a family tradition.”

Noct pops a fry in his mouth and immediately gags. As he spits it out in a napkin, he flounders, “Wait. Arch-Mage? I thought you were supposed to direct the Spire after your mom?”

“Nepotism has no place in academia,” you mimic Talmudge’s frail voice but the jeer is lost on Noct. “So, I’m going to have to take back my family’s legacy the old way: With the King of Lucis’ backing and a boot up an old man’s flat ass... and preferably out of a window.”

“You really want to throw him out of a window, huh?” The prince queries, raising one dark eyebrow at your incessant threats.

“I feel like it would complete me, yes.”

He sighs, staring at your plate of ketchup-drowned fries. Noct isn’t oblivious, he knows you don’t want to talk about your mother or what went down at the Spire. Hell, you’re not even really sure what went down at the Spire. Leaving the college was a blur. You can’t even remember how you even got to Hammerhead, to be honest. One second you were leaving the office, you blink and you’re stuffing an obscene amount of junk in Choco Jr.’s storage tail, and then you’re killing your fries in ketchup.

It’s a miracle I’m not dead,” you think with a flip of your stomach.

“Well,” Noct leans forward, elbows on the table, “we can start off on our road to revenge by following up on a lead.”

“What lead?”

“The marshal, Cor the Immortal,” when he sees a hint of recognition in your glassy eyes, Noct continues, “he’s asked us to meet him at a nearby royal tomb.”

You remember hearing about Cor Leonis. Cato didn’t shut up about him. Or he wouldn’t. You tried to tease him about his crush but it didn’t deter him in the slightest. Thus, you had to hear of Cor the Immortal’s exploits as you got beaten with a training sword.

“We’re going to a tomb? Grave robbing? I’m game.”

“(y/n), it’s not-”

“We’re going into the ancient burial place of a Lucian king and you’re going to take something from said burial place, I’m assuming. Hm,” you stroke your chin in mock thought, “I’d say by any definition that’s grave robbing.”

He sighs, “Fine.”

You’re swaggering out of the diner on Noct’s heels before you know it, but you can feel the great, looming presence of one Gladiolus Amicitia behind you all the while. It’s at this moment that you know he can smell the booze on you underneath the musty veil of grease and tangy ketchup. Gladio and Ignis exchange a look behind your back and you aren’t surprised in the least when you find yourself being steered away from Choco Jr. and toward the Regalia to be sandwiched between the prince and his Shield.

And Prompto? Well, Prompto just can’t help himself. He knows you’re in a bad mood and he just wants to make you feel better. Every few minutes he’s twisting around in his seat to talk to you, flashing his pictures at you and asking for your input on filters. He even goes so far as to ask who you think he should take more pictures of. You immediately answer “you” without thinking, head throbbing but trying so damn hard not to snap at the jittery shutterbug. But, luckily for you, your answer is a blessing in disguise.

The second you tell Prom that he should take more pictures of himself, he goes red in the face and stammers, “Y-Y-You wanna see more pictures of me?” His voice cracks on the last word and you hear Noct snort beside you. Prom continues, sounding abashed, “Isn’t that a little conceited?”

“Nonsense,” you deadpan, “you’re the perfect subject.”

Impossibly, he gets redder. “How- I mean, what? Why?”

You blink slowly now, trying to relay that you’re annoyed but he’s too damn flustered to take a nonverbal hint. “You look good in every light,” is all that you can think to say, brain feeling like it’s being squeezed to death but dammit if you want to try and stay polite. Because this is Prompto. You can’t be mean to Prompto!

“Oh.” He says it so softly, unable to meet your eye as he shrinks down in his seat and turns around. As you look at the back of his fluffy blond head, you can see that his neck and ears are dangerously red.

“And here we are,” Ignis announces, pulling to the side of the highway to park the car.

It’s daytime and you’re miserable. You’re stuck between two very strong compulsions: sleeping and puking. But dammit, you’re an Iovita and you need to put on a proper face. A face that doesn’t say: “I’m still trashed and one wrong move away from projectile vomiting whiskey and fries all over everyone.” Especially when you discover that you’re at the Hunter HQ. Like hell are you going to spew your guts in front of a bunch of hardened daemon hunters.

“You okay?” Prom asks at exactly the wrong moment.

You cut your eyes to him and he yelps. “I’m fine,” you hiss.

And you totally aren’t, because when you walk you feel like you’re walking around with your head in a fishbowl. Sounds are tinnier and more confusing. Lights are impossibly bright and dizzying. And when you five make your way out of the Hunter HQ and wind up fighting friggin’ birds? You get maybe one fireball fully formed for about a second before it sputters out into a pathetic fizzle. It’s time for you to tap out. You’re hunched over, hands splayed on the face of a cliff to keep yourself upright and retching as the guys valiantly fight the daggerquills to the tune of your horrendous and seemingly endless vomiting. After the battle is over, the blond sharpshooter comes running up to you. Then he thinks better of it and takes a few steps back.

“Whoa! (y/n)! Are you sick? Did you get poisoned?” Prom frets, keeping a safe distance away from the splatter zone.

Swinging your head around to glare daggers at him, you point out the obvious, “I’m freakin’ drunk!” And so much for not being rude to Prompto. Give yourself a break, though. This is absolute hell.

Noct bites the inside of his cheek and prods at his best friend, “Did you honestly not even notice? (y/n) smells like a walking bottle of whiskey. I’m surprised they didn’t immediately burst into flames the second they got that pathetic fireball formed.”

Noctis, you turd!”

Gladio hands you a canteen once you’ve finally emptied your stomach and you swish and spit. “Thanks,” you sigh, voice rough.

“Don’t mention it.”

“Shall we continue?” Ignis queries, attempting to brush over the spectacle, ever the gentleman.

“Let’s,” you grumble, straightening out your jacket and ambling onward. You have to admit, you do feel better. It just would’ve been ideal to not blow chunks in front of everyone in order to feel this way.

“Ah,” Ignis hums when you all come into view of a massive tomb made of white stone, “there it is.”

Prom lets out a low whistle. “A tomb fit for royalty.”

You have to admit, it’s pretty... for a tomb. A shock of white against brown stone and verdant grass, with what looks to be dark metal accentuating the curvature of the architecture. Your inner aesthete croons over the ancient fixture just as your stomach gurgles unpleasantly. With a wince you grumble, “No sightseeing. Let’s just find the marshal.”

Inside the cool darkness of the tomb you’re all greeted by a stone of a man whom Ignis immediately greets with the kind of deference that’s customarily bestowed upon someone of Cor Leonis’ high military standing. Honestly, you’re just grateful that Iggy’s on his A-game when it comes to etiquette, because it takes those icy blue eyes snapping to you, narrowing in curiosity and suspicion, for you to introduce yourself.

You duck your head in a quick cursory bow (and try not to groan when the backs of your eyes throb). “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m (y/n) Iovita, His Highness’ arcane advisor.” It feels a bit weird introducing yourself like that. But you did swear yourself to Noct and he did accept you, albeit with a phlegmatic “yeah.” Hardly a great tale, but a tale nonetheless.

“You’re,” Cor’s eyes stray to your staff and soften, “(y/n) Iovita? Of course. I don’t know why I expected you to look like your mother.”

Stomach twists painfully but you smile politely. “Should’ve known better.”

There’s a strange tension in the tomb and it all seems to radiate from Noct. It’s at this moment that you realize he’s glaring daggers at the Immortal. Wanting to be of some use as an advisor to the prince, you take a step forward to place a hand on his shoulder and- stomach gurgles. It seems to echo in the tomb. All eyes are on you. A strained smile reaches your lips as you pat the prince’s shoulder and announce, “I’ll be outside.”

Sweet air fills your lungs the second you step outside. But you’re miserable. You feel like you’re running a fever, tempted to rip off your clothes this instant if it weren’t for all the people in the damn tomb behind you. Gods, is this alcohol poisoning? You swear you got everything out of your system! But why are you suddenly feeling worse now that you’ve emptied your stomach? Patting down your pockets you retrieve an antidote from your inner pocket and bite your lip. These things are certainly expensive and you’re not even sure if you need to use-

“Tea.”

It hits you like a truck. Two glasses of whiskey doesn’t equal a trashed (y/n) Iovita and two glasses have certainly never caused you to black out. You tally it in your head, making special note of your inability to properly conjure your magic and control it. Eyes close as you envision the scene before you... The large wooden desk covered in papers filled with your mother’s arcing handwriting, her collection of crystals on the lefthand side, the teapot on the right. Talmudge’s hands clasped on the table, rings glimmering. One tea cup. One tea cup. What color was the tea? Amber? That’s normal. That grimace on Talmudge’s face when you started drinking whiskey instead of tea, though...

Eyes snap open just as you crush the antidote vial in your hand, purple wisps of magic filling your nostrils. Jaw clenches as your head clears and your stomach settles. The fever rushes away as you hiss, “That decrepit son of a bitch!”


Ignis

When the guys find you, you’re alone in a booth, eating fries that have been drowned in ketchup and drinking lukewarm soda. You look casual. Too casual. It doesn’t take them long to realize that you’ve carefully contrived an aura of indifference; lackadaisically scrolling through your phone, earbuds in, tapping your foot to the beat of a song that isn’t even playing. It’s immediately obvious to the observant likes of Ignis and Gladio that you’re piss drunk. There’s a slight sway to you, like you’re sitting in the middle of a windstorm, you can’t seem to keep your head still- bobbing it now and then like you’re listening to some funky beats.

Hell, Prompto and Noct actually buy your whole “listening to music” act. But the older guys know better. And they’re on edge. Because you? Well, you’ve set a certain standard for yourself at this point. Though you’re an underhanded little troll, you carry yourself with an air of decorum like a blue blood. There’s a haughtiness in the way you walk and talk, chin always kept a little high, stoic gaze cast down your nose. You come across as learned, well-bred, and worldly though you’re a hermit. And for them to see you wasted? They know you’re hurting.

Takka makes eye-contact with them and shakes his head, a silent warning to leave you alone. When you stumbled into the diner, soaked with rain and eyes bloodshot, the older man had been worried. What had worried him even more were the little pops of electricity that lit up the air around you. When he’d shakily pointed it out, the light show immediately stopped and you gave him a pleasant smile before placing your order. He could smell the whiskey on your breath. And he definitely knew you were drunk when you tried to pay in pocket lint and Leiden pepper kernels.

“Here’s a tip!” You’d urged and added a small feather that had caught your eye onto the pile of pepper and lint.

“I’ll just wait for your friends to come around,” he’d said, eyes sad and smile strained.

You’re staring at your phone, at the many texts you haven’t deleted. You’ve already listened to all of your mother’s voicemails at least once- chuckling softly to yourself at her especially chilly messages. You can’t bring yourself to delete them now. Slowly but surely, you’re sobering up. You’ve gotten trashed on enough vintage wine to know just what to eat to take the edge off (starchy foods always help you stave off some of the effects of alcohol). Slowly but surely, reality is setting in and you’re a bit beyond grief right now. You want revenge.

“Hey, (y/n).” Noct slides into the booth across from you, unable or unwilling to take a hint from Takka. The others stay away, loitering in the doorway though Ignis looks like he wants more than anything to come to you. You turn your hazy gaze onto the prince. Just from the sober look on his face, you know he wants to have a heavy conversation. But you can’t stomach that right now. The day has been too bleak- so bleak that you feel like you’ve been walking in a nightmare.

“You can’t have any fries. Buy your own,” you snap before Noct can get another word out. “I know you have money, you little freeloader.”

“Actually, you didn’t buy those, (y/n),” Takka calls from the his place behind the counter but you ignore him. He sighs and looks down at the pile of pepper on the countertop. After a moment, he picks some string out of it.

The prince blinks in surprise at you and furrows his brow. “I wasn’t gonna ask for any.”

Good. Your plan is working. The once concerned expression on his face is replaced with irritation. He’s probably thinking to himself: “Well, why can’t I have any fries if I want any? I’ve given them enough of my food to at least earn one ketchup-saturated fry.” Noct is already forgetting about the news. The Empire’s awful treachery is taking a backseat to your food treachery. Pettiness is getting in the way of grief. You just have to put one more nail in the coffin.

“Ignis can have some, though.”

Iggy smiles at you faintly from the doorway. “Thank you, (y/n).”

Takka turns his gaze onto the tactician. “Are you gonna pay for their meal?” Ignis sighs and goes over to pay, pulling out his wallet as he goes. When he gets to the counter, though, Takka tells him that he doesn’t actually expect him to pay, but he just wants the prince’s advisor to keep an eye on you. “It’s on the house,” Takka murmurs lowly, warm brown eyes straying to you and the prince. “They need it.”

Noct is starting to look like a petulant child, dark eyebrows knitted together, bottom lip slightly pouting out. He crosses his arms, hunches his posture a bit. “What? How come Specs can have some but I can’t?”

You sip your soda and watch him from beneath your eyelashes, playing up the part of the asshole friend. “I thought you didn’t want any?”

“Well, now that you’re being unfair-” He stops short when a fry smacks his forehead. Damn. Though you pride yourself on your near-perfect hand-eye coordination, you’re still a bit buzzed and thus didn’t expect to actually hit the prince square in the forehead. You’re actually a bit pleased even as those steely blue eyes glare at you.

“You should know better than anyone that sometimes life just isn’t fair.” Pushing the plate of fries toward him, you lean back in the booth and sigh. The room swims a bit. Guess the fries didn’t work all that well. “Not at all.”

“(y/n)...”

You wave your hand dismissively in the air, wave away his pitying tone. “But I’m happy that I can deprive you of fries and make you forget just how unfair life can be. Because you’re so pissed about my cold-ass fries that you forgot.” You chuckle softly and shake your head, “Just for a second I was able to help you forget.”

Noct huffs out a faint laugh, “So, whenever anything bad happens I can count on you to distract me?”

“You can count on me for more than that, Noct. I was sworn to you from birth and I swore myself to you again there,” you gesture out of the window, “in that parking lot. I’ll never let you down. Never.”

“I’m...” Noct frowns, the day’s events coming back to him, “I’m sorry about your mom.”

“You can make it up to me by helping me overthrow Arch-Mage Talmudge after I help you evict the Empire.” You eat a fry and grimace before adding salt. “And you can’t get mad if I throw him from the fifteenth floor window. It’s kind of a family tradition.”

Noct pops a fry in his mouth and immediately gags. As he spits it out in a napkin, he flounders, “Wait. Arch-Mage? I thought you were supposed to direct the Spire after your mom?”

“Nepotism has no place in academia,” you mimic Talmudge’s frail voice but the jeer is lost on Noct. “So, I’m going to have to take back my family’s legacy the old way: With the King of Lucis’ backing and a boot up an old man’s flat ass... and preferably out of a window.”

“You really want to throw him out of a window, huh?” The prince queries, raising one dark eyebrow at your incessant threats.

“I feel like it would complete me, yes.”

He sighs, staring at your plate of ketchup-drowned fries. Noct isn’t oblivious, he knows you don’t want to talk about your mother or what went down at the Spire. Hell, you’re not even really sure what went down at the Spire. Leaving the college was a blur. You can’t even remember how you even got to Hammerhead, to be honest. One second you were leaving the office, you blink and you’re stuffing an obscene amount of junk in Choco Jr.’s storage tail, and then you’re killing your fries in ketchup.

It’s a miracle I’m not dead,” you think with a flip of your stomach.

“Well,” Noct leans forward, elbows on the table, “we can start off on our road to revenge by following up on a lead.”

“What lead?”

“The marshal, Cor the Immortal,” when he sees a hint of recognition in your glassy eyes, Noct continues, “he’s asked us to meet him at a nearby royal tomb.”

You remember hearing about Cor Leonis. Cato didn’t shut up about him. Or he wouldn’t. You tried to tease him about his crush but it didn’t deter him in the slightest. Thus, you had to hear of Cor the Immortal’s exploits as you got beaten with a training sword.

“We’re going to a tomb? Grave robbing? I’m game.”

“(y/n), it’s not-”

“We’re going into the ancient burial place of a Lucian king and you’re going to take something from said burial place, I’m assuming. Hm,” you stroke your chin in mock thought, “I’d say by any definition that’s grave robbing.”

He sighs, “Fine.”

You’re swaggering out of the diner on Noct’s heels before you know it, but you can feel the great, looming presence of one Gladiolus Amicitia behind you all the while. It’s at this moment that you know he can smell the booze on you underneath the musty veil of grease and tangy ketchup. Gladio and Ignis exchange a look behind your back and you aren’t surprised in the least when you find yourself being steered away from Choco Jr. and toward the Regalia to be sandwiched between the prince and his Shield. Ignis glances at you in the Regalia’s rearview mirror and frowns.

Truth be told, you would’ve given Ignis a run for his money if you’d been his charge. Every now and then he gets a taste of it and he thanks the Astrals that you’re a fellow advisor and not technically under his watch. He nearly has a heart-attack each time you construct pepper bombs in the name of herbalism and when you hand flasks of venomcast to Prom like you’re throwing a baseball his way and not something that could incapacitate everyone. You’re not his charge. And yet he finds himself glancing up into the rearview mirror every now and then to check on you.

“Are you all right, (y/n)?” He asks, keeping his tone neutral.

You glance up to meet his gaze in the rearview mirror. “Yes. Thank you.”

If he weren’t driving, he’d match your gaze forever, but the tactician forces himself to blink and return his eyes to the road. It’s a funny thing that he’s been finding himself doing more and more often. Staring. And staring is rude. But he does it all the same. Staring at you over the campfire and through the rearview mirror. Occasionally you catch him and he feels his heart leap. But then you look away like nothing ever happened and he feels cold without your intense, inquisitive eyes on him.

“And here we are,” Ignis announces after clearing his throat, pulling to the side of the highway to park the car.

It’s daytime and you’re miserable. You’re stuck between two very strong compulsions: sleeping and puking. But dammit, you’re an Iovita and you need to put on a proper face. A face that doesn’t say: “I’m still trashed and one wrong move away from projectile vomiting whiskey and fries all over everyone.” Especially when you discover that you’re at the Hunter HQ. Like hell are you going to spew your guts in front of a bunch of hardened daemon hunters.

“You okay?” Prom asks at exactly the wrong moment.

You cut your eyes to him and he yelps. “I’m fine,” you hiss.

And you totally aren’t, because when you walk you feel like you’re walking around with your head in a fishbowl. Sounds are tinnier and more confusing. Lights are impossibly bright and dizzying. And when you five make your way out of the Hunter HQ and wind up fighting friggin’ birds? You get maybe one fireball fully formed for about a second before it sputters out into a pathetic fizzle. It’s time for you to tap out. You’re hunched over, hands splayed on the face of a cliff to keep yourself upright and retching as the guys valiantly fight the daggerquills to the tune of your horrendous and seemingly endless vomiting. After the battle is over, the blond sharpshooter comes running up to you. Then he thinks better of it and takes a few steps back.

“Whoa! (y/n)! Are you sick? Did you get poisoned?” Prom frets, keeping a safe distance away from the splatter zone.

Swinging your head around to glare daggers at him, you point out the obvious, “I’m freakin’ drunk!”

Noct bites the inside of his cheek and prods at his best friend, “Did you honestly not even notice? (y/n) smells like a walking bottle of whiskey. I’m surprised they didn’t immediately burst into flames the second they got that pathetic fireball formed.”

Noctis, you turd!”

Gladio hands you a canteen once you’ve finally emptied your stomach and you swish and spit. “Thanks,” you sigh, voice rough.

“Don’t mention it.”

“Shall we continue?” Ignis queries, attempting to brush over the spectacle, ever the gentleman.

“Let’s,” you grumble, straightening out your jacket and ambling onward. You have to admit, you do feel better. It just would’ve been ideal to not blow chunks in front of everyone in order to feel this way.

“Ah,” Ignis hums when you all come into view of a massive tomb made of white stone, “there it is.”

Prom lets out a low whistle. “A tomb fit for royalty.”

You have to admit, it’s pretty... for a tomb. A shock of white against brown stone and verdant grass, with what looks to be dark metal accentuating the curvature of the architecture. Your inner aesthete croons over the ancient fixture just as your stomach gurgles unpleasantly. With a wince you grumble, “No sightseeing. Let’s just find the marshal.”

Inside the cool darkness of the tomb you’re all greeted by a stone of a man whom Ignis immediately greets with the kind of deference that’s customarily bestowed upon someone of Cor Leonis’ high military standing. Honestly, you’re just grateful that Iggy’s on his A-game when it comes to etiquette, because it takes those icy blue eyes snapping to you, narrowing in curiosity and suspicion, for you to introduce yourself.

You duck your head in a quick cursory bow (and try not to groan when the backs of your eyes throb). “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m (y/n) Iovita, His Highness’ arcane advisor.” It feels a bit weird introducing yourself like that. But you did swear yourself to Noct and he did accept you, albeit with a phlegmatic “yeah.” Hardly a great tale, but a tale nonetheless.

“You’re,” Cor’s eyes stray to your staff and soften, “(y/n) Iovita? Of course. I don’t know why I expected you to look like your mother.”

Stomach twists painfully but you smile politely. “Should’ve known better.”

There’s a strange tension in the tomb and it all seems to radiate from Noct. It’s at this moment that you realize he’s glaring daggers at the Immortal. Wanting to be of some use as an advisor to the prince, you take a step forward to place a hand on his shoulder and- stomach gurgles. It seems to echo in the tomb. All eyes are on you. A strained smile reaches your lips as you pat the prince’s shoulder and announce, “I’ll be outside.”

Sweet air fills your lungs the second you step outside. But you’re miserable. You feel like you’re running a fever, tempted to rip off your clothes this instant if it weren’t for all the people in the damn tomb behind you. Gods, is this alcohol poisoning? You swear you got everything out of your system! But why are you suddenly feeling worse now that you’ve emptied your stomach? Patting down your pockets you retrieve an antidote from your inner pocket and bite your lip. These things are certainly expensive and you’re not even sure if you need to use-

“Tea.”

It hits you like a truck. Two glasses of whiskey doesn’t equal a trashed (y/n) Iovita and two glasses have certainly never caused you to black out. You tally it in your head, taking special note of your inability to conjure your magic and control it properly. Eyes close as you envision the scene before you... The large wooden desk covered in papers filled with your mother’s arcing handwriting, her collection of crystals on the lefthand side, the teapot on the right. Talmudge’s hands clasped on the table, rings glimmering. One tea cup. One tea cup. What color was the tea? Amber? That’s normal. That grimace on Talmudge’s face when you started drinking whiskey instead of tea, though...

Eyes snap open just as you crush the antidote vial in your hand, purple wisps of magic filling your nostrils. Jaw clenches as your head clears and your stomach settles. The fever rushes away as you hiss, “That decrepit son of a bitch!”


Gladiolus

When the guys find you, you’re alone in a booth, eating fries that have been drowned in ketchup and drinking lukewarm soda. You look casual. Too casual. It doesn’t take them long to realize that you’ve carefully contrived an aura of indifference; lackadaisically scrolling through your phone, earbuds in, tapping your foot to the beat of a song that isn’t even playing. It’s immediately obvious to the observant likes of Ignis and Gladio that you’re piss drunk. There’s a slight sway to you, like you’re sitting in the middle of a windstorm, you can’t seem to keep your head still- bobbing it now and then like you’re listening to some funky beats.

Hell, Prompto and Noct actually buy your whole “listening to music” act. But the older guys know better. And they’re on edge. Because you? Well, you’ve set a certain standard for yourself at this point. Though you’re an underhanded little troll, you carry yourself with an air of decorum like a blue blood. There’s a haughtiness in the way you walk and talk, chin always kept a little high, stoic gaze cast down your nose. You come across as learned, well-bred, and worldly though you’re a hermit. And for them to see you wasted? They know you’re hurting.

Takka makes eye-contact with them and shakes his head, a silent warning to leave you alone. When you stumbled into the diner, soaked with rain and eyes bloodshot, the older man had been worried. What had worried him even more were the little pops of electricity that lit up the air around you. When he’d shakily pointed it out, the light show immediately stopped and you gave him a pleasant smile before placing your order. He could smell the whiskey on your breath. And he definitely knew you were drunk when you tried to pay in pocket lint and Leiden pepper kernels.

“Here’s a tip!” You’d urged and added a small feather that had caught your eye onto the pile of pepper and lint.

“I’ll just wait for your friends to come around,” he’d said, eyes sad and smile strained.

You’re staring at your phone, at the many texts you haven’t deleted. You’ve already listened to all of your mother’s voice messages at least once- chuckling softly to yourself at her especially chilly messages. You can’t bring yourself to delete them now. Slowly but surely, you’re sobering up. You’ve gotten trashed on enough vintage wine to know just what to eat to take the edge off (starchy foods always help you stave off some of the effects of alcohol). Slowly but surely, reality is setting in and you’re a bit beyond grief right now. You want revenge.

“Hey, (y/n).” Noct slides into the booth across from you, unable or unwilling to take a hint from Takka. The others stay away, loitering in the doorway though Gladio looks like he wants more than anything to come to you. You turn your hazy gaze onto the prince. Just from the sober look on his face, you know he wants to have a heavy conversation. But you can’t stomach that right now. The day has been too bleak- so bleak that you feel like you’ve been walking in a nightmare.

“You can’t have any fries. Buy your own,” you snap before Noct can get another word out. “I know you have money, you little freeloader.”

“Actually, you didn’t buy those, (y/n),” Takka calls from the his place behind the counter but you ignore him. He sighs and looks down at the pile of pepper on the countertop. After a moment, he picks some string out of it.

The prince blinks in surprise at you and furrows his brow. “I wasn’t gonna ask for any.”

Good. Your plan is working. The once concerned expression on his face is replaced with irritation. He’s probably thinking to himself: “Well, why can’t I have any fries if I want any? I’ve given them enough of my food to at least earn one ketchup-saturated fry.” Noct is already forgetting about the news. The Empire’s awful treachery is taking a backseat to your food treachery. Pettiness is getting in the way of grief. You just have to put one more nail in the coffin.

“Gladdy can have some, though.”

Gladio stifles a blush at the sudden nickname and smirks at you from the doorway. “Thanks, Magey.”

Takka turns his gaze onto the prince’s Shield. “Are you gonna pay for their meal?” Amber eyes shoot you an irritated (but kinda amused) look before the bodyguard goes over to pay, whipping out his wallet as he goes. When he gets to the counter, though, Takka tells him that he doesn’t actually expect him to pay, but he just wants Gladio to keep an eye on you. “It’s on the house,” Takka murmurs lowly, warm brown eyes straying to you and the prince. “They need it.”

Noct is starting to look like a petulant child, dark eyebrows knitted together, bottom lip slightly pouting out. He crosses his arms, hunches his posture a bit. “What? How come Gladio can have some but I can’t?”

You sip your soda and watch him from beneath your eyelashes, playing up the part of the asshole friend. “I thought you didn’t want any?”

“Well, now that you’re being unfair-” He stops short when a fry smacks his forehead. Damn. Though you pride yourself on your near-perfect hand-eye coordination, you’re still a bit buzzed and thus didn’t expect to actually hit the prince square in the forehead. You’re actually a bit pleased even as those steely blue eyes glare at you.

“You should know better than anyone that sometimes life just isn’t fair.” Pushing the plate of fries toward him, you lean back in the booth and sigh. The room swims a bit. Guess the fries didn’t work all that well. “Not at all.”

“(y/n)...”

You wave your hand dismissively in the air, wave away his pitying tone. “But I’m happy that I can deprive you of fries and make you forget just how unfair life can be. Because you’re so pissed about my cold-ass fries that you forgot.” You chuckle softly and shake your head, “Just for a second I was able to help you forget.”

Noct huffs out a faint laugh, “So, whenever anything bad happens I can count on you to distract me?”

“You can count on me for more than that, Noct. I was sworn to you from birth and I swore myself to you again there,” you gesture out of the window, “in that parking lot. I’ll never let you down. Never.”

“I’m...” Noct frowns, the day’s events coming back to him, “I’m sorry about your mom.”

“You can make it up to me by helping me overthrow Arch-Mage Talmudge after I help you evict the Empire.” You eat a fry and grimace before adding salt. “And you can’t get mad if I throw him from the fifteenth floor window. It’s kind of a family tradition.”

Noct pops a fry in his mouth and immediately gags. As he spits it out in a napkin, he flounders, “Wait. Arch-Mage? I thought you were supposed to direct the Spire after your mom?”

“Nepotism has no place in academia,” you mimic Talmudge’s frail voice but the jeer is lost on Noct. “So, I’m going to have to take back my family’s legacy the old way: With the King of Lucis’ backing and a boot up an old man’s flat ass... and preferably out of a window.”

“You really want to throw him out of a window, huh?” The prince queries, raising one dark eyebrow at your incessant threats.

“I feel like it would complete me, yes.”

He sighs, staring at your plate of ketchup-drowned fries. Noct isn’t oblivious, he knows you don’t want to talk about your mother or what went down at the Spire. Hell, you’re not even really sure what went down at the Spire. Leaving the college was a blur. You can’t even remember how you even got to Hammerhead, to be honest. One second you were leaving the office, you blink and you’re stuffing an obscene amount of junk in Choco Jr.’s storage tail, and then you’re killing your fries in ketchup.

It’s a miracle I’m not dead,” you think with a flip of your stomach.

“Well,” Noct leans forward, elbows on the table, “we can start off on our road to revenge by following up on a lead.”

“What lead?”

“The marshal, Cor the Immortal,” when he sees a hint of recognition in your glassy eyes, Noct continues, “he’s asked us to meet him at a nearby royal tomb.”

You remember hearing about Cor Leonis. Cato didn’t shut up about him. Or he wouldn’t. You tried to tease him about his crush but it didn’t deter him in the slightest. Thus, you had to hear of Cor the Immortal’s exploits as you got beaten with a training sword.

“We’re going to a tomb? Grave robbing? I’m game.”

“(y/n), it’s not-”

“We’re going into the ancient burial place of a Lucian king and you’re going to take something from said burial place, I’m assuming. Hm,” you stroke your chin in mock thought, “I’d say by any definition that’s grave robbing.”

He sighs, “Fine.”

You’re swaggering out of the diner on Noct’s heels before you know it, but you can feel the great, looming presence of one Gladiolus Amicitia behind you all the while. It’s at this moment that you know he can smell the booze on you underneath the musty veil of grease and tangy ketchup. Gladio and Ignis exchange a look behind your back and you aren’t surprised in the least when you find yourself being steered away from Choco Jr. and toward the Regalia to be sandwiched between the prince and his Shield.

“Feelin’ tired yet, Magey?” Gladio rumbles from beside you.

You shrug lazily. “Not really.”

“Well, lean on me if you need to.”

You hum in response and Gladio side-eyes you. He knows exactly what you’re going through and it kills him to know you’re going through it alone. He’s immensely thankful for Iris; that he has a sibling to grieve with over his father (not that he’s happy that she’s mourning); that he has someone to share his father’s memory with. But you? He’d heard stories about you from other Crownsguard members when he was training. Rumors started up by some chatterbox, Cato. The brunet bruiser always had nothing but nice things to say about that Iovita kid, but there was one thing that stuck out.

“The Spire is creepy as shit,” Cato’d said to a group of interested listeners, “but it’s kinda classy, y’know? And that Iovita, the little one, they’re somethin’ else. Can’t take a punch worth a damn but man if they’re not tenacious. Feel sorry for ‘em though.”

“What do you mean?” Someone had asked. “They’re living in the lap of luxury. I hear those mages have it made in the Spire.”

“Yeah, but,” Cato shook his head, brow furrowed, “I dunno. (y/n) had a black eye when they came to practice and they kept changing the subject when I asked about it. I think the younger mages like startin’ shit with ‘em. I don’t think they have any friends other than their mom and maybe like one of the magisters or somethin’, the tall lady who’s always with Arch-Mage Decima.”

“Really? That’s weird.”

“Yeah.”

Gladio doesn’t bother waiting for you to fall asleep to put one arm around your shoulders, hand resting on your upper arm. You start and look up at him, wondering what’s wrong. He doesn’t look at you. Then you remember that his father, Clarus Amicitia, was among those killed in the attack. Looking straight ahead down the road, you put your hand on his. He squeezes your arm.

“And here we are,” Ignis announces, pulling to the side of the highway to park the car.

It’s daytime and you’re miserable. You’re stuck between two very strong compulsions: sleeping and puking. But dammit, you’re an Iovita and you need to put on a proper face. A face that doesn’t say: “I’m still trashed and one wrong move away from projectile vomiting whiskey and fries all over everyone.” Especially when you discover that you’re at the Hunter HQ. Like hell are you going to spew your guts in front of a bunch of hardened daemon hunters.

“You okay?” Prom asks at exactly the wrong moment.

You cut your eyes to him and he yelps. “I’m fine,” you hiss.

And you totally aren’t, because when you walk you feel like you’re walking around with your head in a fishbowl. Sounds are tinnier and more confusing. Lights are impossibly bright and dizzying. And when you five make your way out of the Hunter HQ and wind up fighting friggin’ birds? You get maybe one fireball fully formed for about a second before it sputters out into a pathetic fizzle. It’s time for you to tap out. You’re hunched over, hands splayed on the face of a cliff to keep yourself upright and retching as the guys valiantly fight the daggerquills to the tune of your horrendous and seemingly endless vomiting. After the battle is over, the blond sharpshooter comes running up to you. Then he thinks better of it and takes a few steps back.

“Whoa! (y/n)! Are you sick? Did you get poisoned?” Prom frets, keeping a safe distance away from the splatter zone.

Swinging your head around to glare daggers at him, you point out the obvious, “I’m freakin’ drunk!”

Noct bites the inside of his cheek and prods at his best friend, “Did you honestly not even notice? (y/n) smells like a walking bottle of whiskey. I’m surprised they didn’t immediately burst into flames the second they got that pathetic fireball formed.”

Noctis, you turd!”

Gladio hands you a canteen once you’ve finally emptied your stomach and you swish and spit. “Thanks,” you sigh, voice rough.

“Don’t mention it.”

“Shall we continue?” Ignis queries, attempting to brush over the spectacle, ever the gentleman.

“Let’s,” you grumble, straightening out your jacket and ambling onward. You have to admit, you do feel better. It just would’ve been ideal to not blow chunks in front of everyone in order to feel this way.

“Ah,” Ignis hums when you all come into view of a massive tomb made of white stone, “there it is.”

Prom lets out a low whistle. “A tomb fit for royalty.”

You have to admit, it’s pretty... for a tomb. A shock of white against brown stone and verdant grass, with what looks to be dark metal accentuating the curvature of the architecture. Your inner aesthete croons over the ancient fixture just as your stomach gurgles unpleasantly. With a wince you grumble, “No sightseeing. Let’s just find the marshal.”

Inside the cool darkness of the tomb you’re all greeted by a stone of a man whom Ignis immediately greets with the kind of deference that’s customarily bestowed upon someone of Cor Leonis’ high military standing. Honestly, you’re just grateful that Iggy’s on his A-game when it comes to etiquette, because it takes those icy blue eyes snapping to you, narrowing in curiosity and suspicion, for you to introduce yourself.

You duck your head in a quick cursory bow (and try not to groan when the backs of your eyes throb). “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m (y/n) Iovita, His Highness’ arcane advisor.” It feels a bit weird introducing yourself like that. But you did swear yourself to Noct and he did accept you, albeit with a phlegmatic “yeah.” Hardly a great tale, but a tale nonetheless.

“You’re,” Cor’s eyes stray to your staff and soften, “(y/n) Iovita? Of course. I don’t know why I expected you to look like your mother.”

Stomach twists painfully but you smile politely. “Should’ve known better.”

There’s a strange tension in the tomb and it all seems to radiate from Noct. It’s at this moment that you realize he’s glaring daggers at the Immortal. Wanting to be of some use as an advisor to the prince, you take a step forward to place a hand on his shoulder and- stomach gurgles. It seems to echo in the tomb. All eyes are on you. A strained smile reaches your lips as you pat the prince’s shoulder and announce, “I’ll be outside.”

Sweet air fills your lungs the second you step outside. But you’re miserable. You feel like you’re running a fever, tempted to rip off your clothes this instant if it weren’t for all the people in the damn tomb behind you. Gods, is this alcohol poisoning? You swear you got everything out of your system! But why are you suddenly feeling worse now that you’ve emptied your stomach? Patting down your pockets you retrieve an antidote from your inner pocket and bite your lip. These things are certainly expensive and you’re not even sure if you need to use-

“Tea.”

It hits you like a truck. Two glasses of whiskey doesn’t equal a trashed (y/n) Iovita and two glasses have certainly never caused you to black out. You tally it in your head, making special note of your peculiar inability to properly conjure and handle your magic. Eyes close as you envision the scene before you... The large wooden desk covered in papers filled with your mother’s arcing handwriting, her collection of crystals on the lefthand side, the teapot on the right. Talmudge’s hands clasped on the table, rings glimmering. One tea cup. One tea cup. What color was the tea? Amber? That’s normal. That grimace on Talmudge’s face when you started drinking whiskey instead of tea, though...

Eyes snap open just as you crush the antidote vial in your hand, purple wisps of magic filling your nostrils. Jaw clenches as your head clears and your stomach settles. The fever rushes away as you hiss, “That decrepit son of a bitch!”

Chapter Text

07 . Lachrymose

There are many reasons for you to hate Talmudge. He always ate the last of the tarts, he only talked to you when you were trying to listen to music, he walked too slowly in the halls, he always re-gifted the presents you'd give him on his birthday (to you, no less, so you started giving him things that you wanted), and he poisoned you. Are your priorities a little mixed up considering that list is categorized from most to least severe offense? Maybe. Well, add another one: His botched attempt on your life made you miss out on vital information concerning Noct's current quest to gain the old kings’ powers and reclaim his kingdom.

Yeah...

When Prom fills you in after everyone has made sure that you’re okay (they’re all a bit suspicious that you’re suddenly no longer “drunk"), you think he's joking. Hell, you think he's telling you the plot of some fantasy film you've yet to see. "I have an ancestor who allegedly took souls, which, let’s be honest, is pretty much what you’re doing," you say lamely, wiping a bit of sweat from your brow from the desert heat. "Lumis who loved binding spells."

Prom looks at you with saucers for eyes and it’s an effort not to snort when he asks, all breathless, "Did he really steal souls?"

“Brought to you by the Spire rumor mill. According to them, I’m a daemon like my ancestors because my magic comes ‘from nowhere’ like a daemon." You snort as you amble along after the marshal and the prince, “Load of bullshit,” you swear softly, still trying to come off at least moderately respectful around Cor. “My magic doesn’t come ‘from nowhere’ but from the Crystal.”

Noct glances over his shoulder from his place beside the marshal, eyes immediately going straight to your staff as he asks, “You mean that one?”

The Immortal seems to have tuned out of the conversation after he informed Noct of where you are all supposed to go- Keycatrich Tunnels, he’d said, a dangerous place. So he takes point with Noct while you and the others follow. It’s a little uncomfortable for you to talk about things that are considered “family secrets” around a stranger. But it’s highly doubtful Cor Leonis is going to sell secrets to the Spire.

This crystal came from the Crystal that your family has always protected, Noct. The myth is that a fragment of the Crystal was broken off by Ramuh to create my ancestor in order to help protect those of the Lucian bloodline. It’s just a little story to explain to Iovita children why we serve the king and how we came to be born with our ‘peculiar’ magic.”

“How’d you get your staff?” Gladio asks, curious about the crystal now. It’s so small and unassuming that it’s actually pretty easy to overlook compared to the ornately twisted iron of the staff.

“It just appeared one day,” you admit. The Shield squints his amber eyes at you, totally not buying it even though you’re telling the truth. And now you know you’re going to have to explain this whole contrived story that you’d been told when you were a kid and were too young to think it sounded like a load of bull. You just hope they don’t poke fun at you for telling them a child’s bedtime story. “When an Iovita comes of age, Ramuh makes them a staff and it’s delivered to them by a Messenger as a sign of their calling.” You shrug, feeling hot under the collective gaze of the others. Damn the desert heat. “So, like, the tooth fairy for mages. You just wake up one day and, bam, it’s there. I still think my mother had it made but she insisted she didn’t.”

“Where’d you find it?” Prom queries lightly, eyebrows raised in interest, clearly digging the conversation even though you’re pretty sure about 99% of it is myth. If the Astrals were really so involved in your family’s life, then why would they allow you all to get picked off by the Spire to the point that you’re basically an endangered species?

“At the foot of my bed,” you reply curtly. "I was also taught that because he created my ancestor and because he represents the mage, Ramuh would determine punishment for any misuse of magic by an Iovita."

"Misuse?" It’s Cor who decides to add to the conversation this time, not even looking back at you. The sound of his genuine interest in what you’re saying makes your steps falter and Gladio is quick to pull you along and help you hide your shame.

You throw the back of the marshal’s head a teasing grin and joke, "I mean, I can get away with screwing around and making giant middle fingers out of ice and Ramuh won't give a damn. But if I disrupt nature? He's liable to smite my ass."

"Disrupt nature?" The marshal is all serious, not addressing your wise-crack. Tough crowd. The man’s severity has you gently clearing your throat under Gladio’s amused gaze.

At length, you explain, "Unlawful harm. It's just basic moral principles with special modifications. The condensed version is: Hissy fits are no good excuse for losing control of your magic and consequently committing murder, perform necromancy at your own peril, and if you steal souls Ramuh's got your number."

Ignis side-eyes you and points out, “I thought you said ‘stealing souls’ was merely a rumor?”

Shit!”

And now you’re getting into dangerous territory. The type of territory that requires a proper sit-down and level-headed conversation. The type of territory that often got used by the Spire as ammunition against your family. And on one occasion, their accusations stuck and the King of Lucis himself had a private word with Lumis the Enchanter to get the practice of binding magic stopped altogether because the Spire had framed it as “soul stealing.” Funny.

You wave your hand dismissively. “I’ll... tell you about it at camp, Iggy.”

Cor shoots you a look over his shoulder and murmurs, “I find it heartening that you know your obligations and stand by the regulations imposed on your magic. You’re a very disciplined mage, (y/n). You’ve been trained well.”

Heat rushes up your neck so fast that you swear you just got a heat rash. And Cor, either being perceptive or already bored of the conversation, takes your sudden silence to give Noct a little history lesson about the land around Keycatrich Trench, the next resting place of one of Noct’s ancestors. Within that lesson, he hints heavily at Empire movement in the area- he basically tells all of you that you’re going to have to fight magitek soldiers while waving a banner that says “The Empire is here!” Yet it goes right over your head because you’re too damn busy blushing with your tongue tied to accept the marshal’s compliment or pay attention.

When you first see the magitek soldiers, there’s just something very... uncanny valley about them- a distinct sense of “wrongness.” You find that your face is all screwed up when you use gravity and then quickly counteract with force to rip several of them apart. And Gladio is very quick to pounce at the opportunity to mimic each squeak of disgust and hiss of displeasure you make as you try to keep as much distance between yourself and them as humanly possible. The jerk.

“So, this is Keycatrich Trench?” You ask no one in particular, wiping the sweat from your palms off on your pants and eyeing the ruined buildings. “Obviously the Empire knew about the royal tomb in the area. Hope they won’t always have the jump on us... Or at least I hope they aren't in those tunnels right now.”

“Yes, this is the place,” Cor answers, icy eyes flicking to you. “Are you all right, (y/n)? That was a hard-fought battle. Though your skill with magic is amazing-” The rest of what he said and the conversation that happens after? Yeah, you don’t hear any of it. You’re too busy bugging your eyes out at the marshal to the point that he cracks you an almost imperceptible smile, brows just slightly quirked, before turning to address His Highness. Behind your back, Gladio and Ignis exchange a Look™.

Prom comes close to whisper in your ear, voice all high and excited, “I know! He’s so cool!”

Indignant, you push the blond out of your bubble and huff, “Cool? What are you talking about?"

"You were gawking," the shutterbug teases. 

"I wasn’t gawking.”

He shoots you that little crooked grin of his and throws his freckled arm over your shoulder to pull you right back in. “You so were!”

Luckily for you, the sharpshooter doesn’t get to continue his teasing because your huffy royal leader just has to give the two of you a pointed look to get you both hurrying after him into the tunnels. Though Prom makes his displeasure about the cramped, dark space known... you hope there are hobgoblins here, if only so you can see one in the flesh, though they’re apparently a pain in the ass. When you make this known, Ignis gives you a peculiar look and queries, “You want there to be daemons in here, (y/n)?”

“Well, when you put it like that...” you mumble, trailing off under his suddenly amused gaze. He’s totally using Gladio’s “tourist” label for you.

“I’ll take pictures for you if there are any!” Prom assures you, trying his hardest to be chipper even though every noise has him jumping out of his skin. Aaaaaand it only takes a minute for you all to discover that the old tunnels are crawling with goblins. The runty, uglier cousin of the hobgoblin. The runty, uglier cousin that carries around a  freakin’ shiv. There’s a swarm of goblins that you and Prompto are trying to dispatch while Iggy, Gladio, and Noct tag-team an arachne (Oh, the look Noct gave you when you gasped in awe at the daemon and urged Prompto to “Hurry! Take the picture! Quick!”). Goblins are nimble with sticky fingers and before you all know it, they’ve stolen a load of your potions.

“Just die already!” You yell as you fry one of the goblins with lightning only for another to come jumping at you, needly teeth bared, spindly little fingers splayed. You throw yourself out of the way of the goblin’s grabby hands. Just when you think you’re safe, something hits you so hard that you stumble forward, pain blossoming from your left shoulder to consume you. You immediately grip your shoulder. A gasp rips from your lips; you trip as you dramatically turn to confront your accidental assailant. Prompto’s eyes are impossibly wide, mouth agape in horror, gun aimed at you.

“You shot me!” You screech, feeling faint already from the pain.

“I’m so sorry!”

“You-You-!” You struggle to catch your breath, hand slick with blood. “You’re so dead!”

“You shouldn’t just run around everywhere!” He screams right back, somehow more flustered than you even though you’re the one with the bullet in your shoulder. “You got in my line of fire!”

“You should watch where you-!” You don’t get to finish because the goblin you’d been dodging tries to fish whatever it can get its nasty little hands on from your back pocket and you’re rearing around to whack it in the face with your staff. “Don’t you dare try and play grab-ass with me right now, you heathen!”

“(y/n)! Concentrate!” Gladio barks from where he slashes at one of the arachne’s legs.

You have no choice but to grit your teeth and push through the fight, Prom staying close by all the while. When the last goblin has been sent to rot in goblin hell and the arachne has been felled, you lean against a wall and try to even out your breathing. The stone on your back feels too cold. Then you realize you’re running hot. Honestly, you’ve been holding your breath a lot due to the pain and all it’s doing is making your muscles tense up even more, further exacerbating the wound. Logic finds a hard time taking root in you, though, and you can’t get yourself to breathe correctly. The second you whimper, Ignis is by your side and fretting over you.

“I suppose we all should have trained together,” Ignis sighs, peeling your shirt away from your shoulder to examine the wound better. “Maybe then this wouldn’t have happened.”

“Dunno about that. Prompto’s nearly shot me on several occasions and we’ve sparred together a few times,” Gladio admits, frowning each time you hiss and not even seeming to care that he just inadvertently threw his blond friend under the bus.

“I’m sorry,” Prom murmurs, looking absolutely miserable and you wave him off.

“Stop it. I’m not mad anymore. It’s not like you blew my damn arm off or anything.” You smile when those cornflower blue eyes meet yours. Prom returns your smile, albeit a bit shakily.

“Here, (y/n),” Noct hands you a potion, well, he more or less forces it into your hand, “take this. Damn. We really should’ve resupplied when we had the chance.”

“Or tried harder not to get robbed blind by morons in red caps,” you snark. Pain melts away and you let out a relieved sigh as you crush the panacea in your palm and its magical properties are released. You roll your head back against the wall, immensely grateful when the intense pain abates.

Noct rubs the back of his neck, clearly bothered by the lack of available supplies. “Hopefully we don’t run into any trouble on our way out.”

Gladio shrugs. “We’ll be fine.”

Feeling a bit paranoid, you murmur, “Famous last words. You’re not the one who can be felled by a paper plane.”

When you all finally make it to the tomb and you watch that celestial looking axe enter Noct’s body, you aren’t amazed. No. You’re troubled. From how Prompto had described it, it was some wondrous event that left him awestruck. Yes, it’s beautiful. Yes, it’s awe inspiring. But it still fills you with this indescribable dread all the same. It settles low in your gut, leaving you feeling heavy and empty at the same time. There’s something you’re trying to remember that you read just the other day. Some story an ancestor wrote about using such soul-bound weaponry... You plaster on a smile when Prom turns to you to see if you’re impressed. You give him a thumbs up just in case he doesn’t buy it. The blond returns the gesture with a grin.

“Well. That’s that.” Noct looks around the tomb one last time before turning on his heel and brushing by you. “Time to go.”

As the guys convene at the entrance to the tunnels, you excuse yourself to get some air. In truth, you need a little time to yourself to understand why Noct taking the power of his ancestors (his birthright) to become king left you feeling like you were watching a train seconds before it crashed. When you exit Keycatrich Tunnels, it’s still thankfully daylight, the sun is low in the sky and the air smells sweet and feels warm rather than scorching hot.

You stretch and try to ignore the whiff of blood that comes billowing up from your shirt, walking all the way out into the deserted clearing of the trench. What you can’t ignore, however, is the sight of movement out of the corner of your eye. Turning curiously, you freeze to the spot and pray that you’re either dreaming or maybe you dropped acid and didn’t realize it (People accidentally drop acid, right?).

Please let this be a hallucination.”

“He-Hey there, little kitty cat.” You watch the coeurl with wide eyes. The large, sleek beast stares right back, sharp eyes trained on you. It flicks its tail, whiskers moving fluidly about its muscular frame as it paces back and forth before finally sitting, tail draping elegantly over its paws. It’s maybe eighty feet away but you know it can clear that distance in the blink of an eye. “Six, but you’re beautiful,” you sigh, torn between running away screaming and wanting so badly to take a picture, “so why do you have to be so deadly?”

Coeurls were among your favorite creatures to study. Their deadly skills and unparalleled majesty always drew you in. Drusa pretty much sold you on them, too, with her brilliant illustrations and tales of tracking such dangerous beauties. “They’re remarkably intelligent,” she’d said, “I swear they can understand people.” What was probably hyperbole on her part has you grasping at straws. Because there’s no way in hell that you can take this beast on your own. And if you’re being honest, it seems to promise a painful death for the others in its tightly coiled muscles. Maybe you all can live in the tunnels for the rest of your lives? Or at least until a skilled hunter comes around to kill the coeurl?

“Let’s make a deal,” you murmur and you swear the coeurl inclines its head toward you, but you think it’s probably desperation on your part, “I’ll keep a respectful distance from you and- and you won’t kill me or my friends. Sound reasonable?”

The coeurl blinks its golden eyes slowly and settles down a bit more comfortably. Just as you think you’ve come to some surreal sort of understanding with the giant electric cat, Iggy comes strolling over with Prompto behind him. Before you can even register what’s happening, you’re being pulled by your upper-arm over to a pile of cement bricks by the strategist. “What the hell?!” Prompto, who had been swaggering his way toward you with a crooked smile on his lips and hadn’t noticed why Iggy basically bodied you, pivots on his heel the second he spots the carnivore and comes speed-walking back to hide with you two.

“This looks like trouble,” Ignis murmurs, verdant eyes scanning the coeurl, fingers still curled into the sleeve of your jacket.

“That’s because it is trouble,” you hiss. “We shouldn’t engage it. We’re out of potions and this isn’t your average housecat. Coeurls can literally kill you with a single-” Whatever little peace treaty you’d imagined you conjured up with the beast dissolves the second Gladio and Noct come into view. You guess it’s the sheer number of people that are in the coeurl’s territory that aggravates it and pushes it over the edge. Or maybe it’s because Gladio is a great beast of a man and the rest of you don’t look quite so threatening. Either way, the coeurl comes bounding over, muscles rippling with each move, and you think you can literally feel your soul leave your body at the sight of it.

Though you swore to protect Noct, you keep a safe distance from the coeurl and instruct the others to do the same. You have a duty to uphold, sure, but you don’t have a death wish. And you sure as hell don’t want anyone else dying, either. You’re running interference the whole time, shooting fireballs at the coeurl each time it tries to leap and swipe at one of the guys. In truth, you’re trying your damn hardest to keep them away from the giant friggin’ death cat. But they all seem hellbent on getting up close and personal with the massive feline even though you explicitly told them not to.

Is it because I’m not wearing glasses and speaking with a posh accent that they don’t listen?” You wonder darkly as you erect a wall of fire between Gladio and the coeurl when the brunet gets clawed.

“It’s weak to fire, in case you thought I decided to become a pyromancer for my own health,” you inform Noct sardonically when he warps to your side after dodging a swipe from the coeurl’s razor sharp claws. “Do you have any fira in a flask? If so, you might wanna spread the wealth to the others that way we can finally start doing some damage to this thing.”

“No,” Noct shakes his head, arm out in front of you like he’s protecting you, “but I think I can sneak around and blindside it.”

You click your tongue, still able to get cheeky when your life is on the line. “Y’know, call me crazy but I don’t think that’s a very good-”

“Prompto! You’re up!” Noct calls, completely ignoring your warning.

Six, take the wheel!”

The blond does as instructed, taking aim and firing at the giant cat. Stunned, the coeurl backs off from the group, allowing everyone a bit of a reprieve from dodging its electric attacks. The feline stares everyone down in turn, oddly placid, before sitting down as if resting with its back to you and the prince. It’s still too close for comfort. But obviously it’s right where Noct wants it. Alarm bells blare in your head when it enters this seemingly calm stance. It sits perfectly still, whiskers flickering gently in an almost hypnotizing dance, muscles coiled tight beneath its spotted fur. Noct approaches quickly, quietly, ready to strike.

The words in Drusa’s book come rushing forth, a deluge of information that all tells you one thing: Danger.

It feels like your mouth is stuffed with cotton as dread tightens your gut. You rush over as fast as you can, yelling out, “Wait! Noct!”

Noct strikes from behind and the coeurl is quick to retaliate. Just as you try to shove Noct away from the coeurl, one of its electrified whiskers smacks you in the middle of your chest. You marvel at how gently the whisker touches you, like a love tap that you barely even feel- too gentle to lead to death. It’s all in the electricity, though, sending so much voltage coursing through you that it instantly stops your heart. You’re just thankful you aren’t touching Noct when it happens.

An anguished wail seems to come from somewhere far, far away and outside of you. Time slows down as you fall. Noct’s face is the last thing you see before everything goes white. He looks terrified, blue eyes wide and mouth slightly agape. His horrified expression melts away to reveal two kind, silver eyes complemented by a patient smile. In a daze, you smile back at your mother. And then... nothing.

Who protects us?”

Air rushes into your lungs and you gasp. The next time you can see, two amber eyes fill your vision before Gladio pulls away. He’s so close that you can see relief fill his eyes. But why is he so close in the first place? Gods, your chest hurts. Your whole body hurts, sure, but it feels like a dualhorn just sat down on your chest and took a rest for a few hours. Ribs ache and heart throbs to the point that you think it might burst; lungs feel oddly constricted. Gladio reclines, wipes the sweat from his brow. “Everyone, they’re all right,” he announces, voice rough with fatigue.

“Ugh,” you moan, voice sounding small, “what just happened?” You try to sit up but Gladio is quick to push you back down, hand firm on your shoulder. Just his touch has your skin aching. When you make a soft whine in the back of your throat, the Shield gives you a curt shake of his head. He ain’t havin’ it.

“You were dead,” Noct says it like he can’t really believe it himself and you jolt at the fact that he’s kneeling right next to you and you hadn’t even noticed. He’s staring at you, face devoid of emotion, pale as a ghost. “You died.”

“Noct, did no one teach you about the permanence of death?” You’re quick to quip, feeling uneasy under his unblinking stare. You try to sit up again but your skin feels like it might shatter to pieces if you dare move. “Shit! I feel like death!”

As suspected, Gladdy is giving you an icy look for your insubordination. “Cut it out.”

You roll your eyes, but even that feels like a chore. “I’m not dead. Clearly,” you grunt, stuck staring up at the orange sky. “It’s getting late,” you say to no one in particular, just to say something.

“Your heart stopped.” It’s Ignis’ voice that you hear but you can’t see him. There’s a strange thickness to his tone. “Gladio immediately performed chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth once the electricity dispersed. He saved your life.”

Eyes cut to the big guy who hasn’t left your side. Though he looks severe, you can’t help but joke, “Ooh la la.” Six, you can’t even laugh properly, since the moment you do try to chuckle a vise constricts around your ribs.

“Shut it, Magey. You scared the hell out of us,” Gladio snaps.

“Where’s the coeurl?” You ask in an effort to take some of the heat off of you.

A head of blond hair pokes into your field of vision and you almost don’t recognize the sharpshooter with his puffy eyes. “The second you died, it ran off. It’s- It’s been watching from there the whole time,” Prompto says between hiccups, face covered in tears and snot. “It’s kinda creepy,” he murmurs, barely audible.

Miraculously, you manage to sit up on your elbows this time to look where Prom points. As he said, the coeurl is sitting in one of the ruined buildings, lounging in what was once a doorway, golden eyes watching closely. When it sees you sitting up, it stands and walks away. You watch as it goes, brow furrowed. “So much for our deal!” You call after it. Its tail flicks and you turn to look at Noct. “So... I don’t want this to happen again. We might need to invest in phoenix down. I know it’s expensive, but-”

“Got it,” Noct interrupts you, still staring.

“Maybe now you’ll listen to me from here on out? I’m more than a cute face. I’m actually pretty damn smart.” You offer him a weak smile when you realize he still looks shellshocked. Did he really get that frightened? This worries you, so you decide to tell a lame story. “Back at the college I always carried around a mega phoenix for luck. In truth, my mother was worried I might blow myself or someone else up when I first learned to use fire spells. So, she had me carry it around just in case. Trouble is, I lost it. Or someone stole it.” You can tell he isn’t listening.

“Was there a theft problem in the Spire?” Ignis asks in a clear attempt at lightening the mood. He’s stepped toward you now, having kept watch on the coeurl while Gladio resuscitated you, Noct sat catatonic, and Prom freaked the hell out. Gods, he looks like he just went through hell and back but he still manages to give you a faint, kind smile. “I must admit, I didn’t suspect mages to be thieves up until I met you,” Iggy chuckles.

“Shit, man, I stole food and wine all the time. The gods probably thought I was way past due some comeuppance.” You laugh and wince as pressure builds in your chest. “Damn, Gladio. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but could you try and not fracture my ribs the next time you have to resuscitate me?”

The bodyguard growls, “Dammit, (y/n), there better not be a next time.”

“We should get you a potion. Let us be off.” Ignis nods to Gladio and the bodyguard carries you in his arms without needing to be told a word. You could die all over again.

You don’t know it, but none of them will ever be able to forget the way you screamed when you died. It wakes Noct up several nights; the feeling of you falling lifeless into his arms, the prickle of remaining electricity on his skin, the sounds of the coeurl snarling and rushing away, how you smiled up at him as the light left your eyes. He’s drenched in sweat when he awakes from those nightmares.

In them, Gladio doesn’t succeed in resuscitating you; he just goes at it forever with you staring up into the sky with that peaceful smile on your face. The sounds of Prompto’s hysterical sobbing and Gladio’s rhythmic counting are all that he can hear. He tries to look away, but the only other thing he can see is the way Ignis won’t look at anyone. He immediately checks on you. Sighs in relief each time he hears your soft breathing, smiles when you murmur something incoherent, and snorts when you make a face at something happening in some dream. Sometimes, you even wake up to the prince dead asleep and sitting next to you.

Chapter Text

08. Glass

Noct

The return to the Hunter HQ is completely silent. All you can hear are the sounds of nocturnal animals just rousing, the hushed whisper of a cool breeze that stirs up a dust storm. Every time you swallow, it sounds like you do it over a megaphone. And with your position in Gladiolus’ arms, you can hear his strong, steady heartbeat along with the air that enters and leaves his lungs.

When Noct buys you a potion, he does so moodily; so direct, tone clipped, face pinched in this bitter expression, his time as a human statue long forgotten even though it was merely minutes before. He’s so gloomy that the woman he barters with gives you all a concerned look before wishing you all a pleasant evening, eyebrow raised and wondering what the hell kind of day you all had.

And the walk to the Regalia after you’re all spruced up from that nice potion and after Noct takes care of some business Cor turned him on to? Having lived in a relatively quiet place (basically a crypt with a really nice library), you’re used to long stretches of silence. Back at the Spire you’d go days without someone talking to you- not to say that you liked it, but you’re just accustomed to the feeling. You’re accustomed to walking with people who act like they can’t speak, with relying on nonverbal interactions for days on end.

However, you aren’t accustomed to dead silence from this bunch of guys. They’ve spoiled you with their attention, their laughter, every friendly touch and even the ones that send an odd thrill through you. And you’re about to snap when you realize that Noct insistently shoots you stealthy glances from beneath his raven bangs and yet he remains silent. It makes your skin prickle.

What’s an awkward mage to do when the most talkative people they know are all silent and moody? You make a few jokes about your death, of course! Genius! As you’re sandwiched between the prince and his bodyguard, you ask if you fell dramatically when you died, if you made a pretty corpse, and all manner of totally inappropriate questions. Literally no one finds any of this funny. At one point you think Ignis is going to pull over on the way to Hammerhead and tell you to get out and walk the rest of the way. In truth, you only crack wise because it bothers you. Not the silence, but what just happened to you.

Because you know, deep down, even as you breathe and feel and see... you died. You were there one moment and the next you were gone. And if Gladio hadn’t acted so quickly, you would’ve stayed that way. It happened so quickly. There was nothing you could do. In that moment, you were so utterly helpless, everything was out of your control- you realize you never want to feel that way again. And the thing that bothers you the most is that if you had been just a bit slower to move, realized what the coeurl was doing a fraction of a second later, it could’ve been Noctis who died.

Every time you blink you see those silver eyes staring at you; that sad, patient smile. Every time you let your guard down you hear yourself fifteen years ago, curious and so oblivious of the immense weight of your duty. And you’d remained innocently oblivious until today. What was once a dream to you, the idea of serving as arcane advisor to King Noctis Lucis Caelum CXIV, has become a yoke about your neck. How you’d romanticized your familial obligation even as you read about the grisly fate that befell most of your ancestors almost brings a sardonic scoff from you.

You’d dreamed of being like intelligent Lumis the Enchanter and brave Aunt Lysandra. Lumis who was captured by Spire mages and beheaded in front of his children and Lysandra who was shot in the head and left to rot in a ditch before her barely recognizable body was found- nothing but sagging flesh, bone, and sinew for your family to mourn over before her body was burned. You wanted to be like them. And for the most fleeting of moments you had been. You had been exactly like them.

The air is cool now, the night sky glimmering with stars, the smell of oil and fried food wafting over you all in a warm embrace as you pull into Hammerhead and exit the Regalia. You depart from the others to sift through your things in Choco Jr.’s storage tail, pulling out clean clothes and a shower bag. Knuckles bang against something hard and cold. With a jolt, you realize your mother’s bottle of aged whiskey is nestled in your things.

Once a thief, always a thief,” you think blandly, eyeing the flaking label and wax seal on the cap. You heft the bottle out of storage and purse your lips, “Who am I? (y/n) the Sneak Thief?”

Yes. Yes, you are.

You’re the first to shower because nobody lifts a finger to stop you. In truth, you take advantage of the doom and gloom to hit the showers before high-maintenance Prompto or bossy Noct- the only silver lining in this situation. The water runs red at your feet before turning orange and then clear, but the tang of blood still lingers in your nose. Steam billows from your skin the moment you exit the shower and the cool air hits you. Skin is soft and clean. Fingers glide up your stomach to rest on your chest, right on the spot where the coeurl’s whisker touched you as light as a feather. Eyes close and you sigh.

When you all settle around the table outside of the caravan, you try to make idle chit-chat. The only ones who make an effort to reciprocate are Gladio, Iggy, and Prom. And honestly? It’s a bit unsettling for you to see that Noct’s face is so impassive, so eerily placid as he sits across from you at the table that you can’t find it in yourself to meet his eye. After a while, Noct starts to get back to his usual snarky self and for that you’re immensely grateful. That is until you realize that even when he’s talking to the others, his steely blue eyes are boldly fixed on you from beneath those raven bangs. He’s behaving as though he believes the moment he looks away from you you’ll disappear. So now, he’ll never look anywhere else.

Should I have stayed dead?”

Everyone’s “secret” severity, the doom and gloom, coupled with your own burgeoning insecurities and fears... It’s becoming too much to handle. And the Prince of Cold Stares becomes the perfect target for your ire, since every time the conversation lulls he goes back to staring intently at you like he’s trying to make you combust. Fed up, you slam your cup of coffee down on the table and snap, “Six, Noct. Cheer up, will you? I said I'd die for you, didn't I?” When the prince does nothing but stare coldly at you, you add, “I mean, it happened a little sooner than I would've liked. You're moving a bit too fast for me, Noct. Let's just go steady, hm?”

“How long are you gonna joke about it?” Gladio grumbles, giving you the same cold look as Noctis. Nobody is as amused by your death as you pretend to be. Perhaps it’s because you didn’t have to witness one of your friends getting killed? Or perhaps it’s because it felt like it lasted a second to you while the others suffered through uncertainty for minutes (which felt like hours to them)?

“As long as it takes for you guys to stop acting like I stayed dead. I’m alive. Stop making it seem like I died for real.”

“You did die for real!” Prompto shouts, slamming his hands on the table, and you’re stunned. The blond blinks in surprise at his own outburst, cheeks going red before he settles back into his chair. The silence is awkward now rather than gloomy.

“Would you care to tell me about what you mentioned before?” Ignis suddenly asks, clearly trying to ease the tension. The tactician watches you with keen green eyes, coffee cup in hand now since everyone’s been banging on the table like it’s a drum.

You furrow your brow. “About souls?”

“Yes,” the bespectacled man confirms.

“Oh,” you blink before chuckling nervously. But the nerves don’t last long. You’re a scholar at heart and Ignis knows this. Getting you to talk about history, or magic, or magical history is the best way to get you to ease up.

“Yeah, what was that about soul stealing?” Gladio chimes in, catching on to Ignis’ plot. The tactician gives him a thankful look which the bodyguard returns.

Your body language changes markedly and the men are relieved. Rather than slouching you straighten your posture and raise your chin a bit. "’Soul stealing,’ or rather ‘absorption’ because one can’t take souls from the living- well...” you pause, “I’ll put a pin in that one since it’s a very convoluted concept. Anyway, it was an ancient practice for enchanting by the Spire, believe it or not. Souls of creatures were used to imbue items with certain qualities and the Spire would sell those for a pretty gil. Iovitas have only used essences from things like the elements.”

Iggy quirks one of his elegant eyebrows at you and queries, “How did the rumor about human souls come about, then?”

“Human souls were being used but it was the Spire who was doing it. When the king had the rumor investigated, the college deflected. Rather publicly, too. They pretty much forced the king’s hand to publicly shame Lumis the Enchanter. And once he was spurned by the Crown, he became an easier target for the Spire.” You sip your coffee and sigh dramatically before rolling your eyes over to Noct, “No hard feelings.”

The prince grimaces. “Sorry.”

“What did I just say?”

“One moment, if you will, (y/n),” Ignis gives you a funny look, genuinely curious. And who better for him to ask these questions of than Noct’s arcane advisor? “How were those mages able to absorb souls? If I recall correctly, the extent of the ‘magic’ that other mages can perform is in the realm herbalism and elemancy.”

True... But the explanation for that is rather complicated and shrouded in mystery. It’s not anything anyone would find in a history book. But you have something better: Your family grimoire. You’ve been reading the tome religiously since you’ve been on the road with the guys. Morning and night, you crack it open to read your family’s secrets. Little did you know that their secrets would include Spire secrets. A blessing in disguise. For when you help Noct accomplish his goal, you have enough blackmail to topple the Spire with or without him. One word from you and they’ll be finished. It brings a rather warm, fluttery sensation to your bitter little heart.

Licking your lips, you explain with all the snark that’s become expected of you, “Once upon a time, mages made pacts with higher daemons. And then the Iovitas started banishing those daemons. Another reason for the Spire to hate our guts. We crashed the party and they couldn’t do ‘magic’ anymore.”

“Sorry, I’m still a little stuck on the soul stealing thing,” Prompto squirms in his seat, looking bothered. “I just thought it was a rumor or something when you first mentioned it. We never learned about it in school.”

“Yeah,” Noct grimaces, “it’s creepy.”

“A depraved practice, indeed. Aela the Banisher saw the end of those daemons.”

Daemons that she speculated to be Messengers of Ifrit in the family grimoire. But you don’t say this. Why should you? Why would you? It sounded crazy enough to tell them that Ramuh “made” your family from the Crystal. Why tell them that Ifrit put the Spire on the war path against your family by giving them the power to hunt and destroy the Iovitas with the promise of making the college flourish? Because that was what Aela speculated in those old pages. That was what Florus the Seer (fake seer, but a “seer” nonetheless) dreamed of in one of his many drunken stupors, foretelling the decimation of your family at the hands of the fallen Astral who would use humanity’s envy and greed to stoke a murderous fire in the heart of an ancient, prideful institution; using them to eradicate the protectors of the Lucian kings.

At least you think Florus did. His handwriting was kinda all over the place. And the validity of that claim is highly suspect considering it was sandwiched between a “prophecy” that amounted to nothing more than a weird plot for tentacle porn and another “prophecy” that was basically him predicting that he would drink himself to death. Florus pretty much used his portion of the grimoire as a dream diary, the weirdo.

“Aren’t there necromancers and liches still around?” Prompto asks innocently and you choke on your coffee because you have no idea where that came from. “I think I remember seeing a bounty poster for a necromancer...”

“Those higher daemons weren’t like necromancers or liches,” you correct, voice rough. You put on that liar’s face and say, “There aren’t any images of them anywhere. And they’ve all been gone for a long time.”

“Are they all gone, though?”

You shake off the thought, push away some long-forgotten memory. There’s a lull in the conversation and since you’re already tired of this "soul stealing" talk, you pounce at the opportunity to use it as a segue into something a bit more lighthearted. “Anyway, I think we all had a long day, so...” you drawl and heft the bottle of liquor onto the table from where you’d been keeping it by your feet and out of sight. For comedic effect you grunt like it weighs a ton, earning a chuckle from Prom. This had been your plan all along when the guys were all down in the dumps. But Ignis had been so quick to supply everyone with coffee that you didn’t have the time to suggest you all get plastered- I mean, have a night cap.

"Is that whiskey?" Gladio raises an eyebrow at you, looking impressed.

"It was my mother's." You swirl the amber liquid around in the bottle. It's a pretty large bottle with enough whiskey to get five people trashed. Actually, if you’re being honest, it could last you all quite a while. Especially since it’s so strong. "I think we all need a drink after the day we’ve had."

They couldn’t agree more. With the fall of Insomnia and your brush with death, everyone’s feeling like they went through the wringer. It doesn’t take long before your silver tongue effectively persuades at least Prompto and Gladio to drink more and more. Noct and Ignis abstain, settling on one drink that they nurse through the night. Pretty soon, the mood lifts and you all find yourselves playing dumb games. A game of Truth or Dare starts and stops abruptly after Gladio dares you to parkour off the side of the caravan and you hit your head on the pavement. Ignis hasn’t stopped glaring at the Shield since.

And now? The name of the game is 20 Questions. Except you and Prom are too trashed to actually follow the rules and instead have started throwing random questions at everyone and demanding they answer or else. The penalty isn’t specified. In fact, there isn’t one.

"What's the best photo you've ever taken?" You ask Prom from behind your cup, all smiles and flushed cheeks.

"Huh." Prom looks thoughtful though his eyes are misty and a bit unfocused. "Tiny."

"Huh?"

Cornflower blue eyes blink rapidly and he clarifies with a slur, "Uh... Pryna, a dog."

"Cute," you sigh, leaning back into your chair, eyes hooded.

"What's the most dangerous magic you've ever done?" Noct asks, eyes glinting from the light of the lamp on the table.

There isn’t anything malicious in his question. He’s just joining in on the game since Prompto dragged him in with a question of “What color’s your underwear?” The answer, obviously, was “black.” But you've imbibed a bit too much liquid courage, or as your mother would correct: liquid stupidity. The previous conversation about such dark and forbidden magic immediately takes you somewhere you shouldn’t go. You're feeling bold when you shouldn't, daring when you should be cautious. Because there's a secret that you've never told. A darkness that you feared your mother could see in your eyes. And Drusa would surely blame herself if she found out.

You remember the human skulls in Drusa’s office. You'd blanched and asked why she had those. She told you that the magister who had the office before her had been enthralled with a peculiar kind of magic. A dark kind. A fascinating kind. The guys watch you intently. You haven't spoken for a while now, staring into the lamp’s light with your whiskey, the cup hanging loosely from your barely crooked fingers. "Necromancy." You finally blink and right your cup. "I tried my hand at necromancy once. After my grandfather and aunt died and the older magisters started dropping like flies soon after, I grew curious about death."

"Did you... do it to anyone?" Prompto asks so softly you almost don't hear him.

"Hm? No. My mother did her best to teach me- about death, I mean. Necromancy was always strictly forbidden after one of my ancestors brought his lover back to life and found that it... wasn't exactly life." You sip your whiskey. It tastes like a pen exploded in your mouth.

Ignis watches you closely. "What do you mean?"

Eyes stray to him, try to get his lithe figure to focus. You blink slowly and answer even slower, "I was always told that there was a reason why only daemons- necromancers and liches in particular- performed necromancy... They don't care about the state of what they bring back. They have no emotional attachment to or high regard for the people and the things they exhume.”

“Whataya mean?” Gladio asks, sounding like he’s further from you than he really is. He holds his liquor like a champ, not even remotely fazed by the many shots of whiskey he’s had. At most, he’s buzzed.

“When a creature is brought back from the dead, it's not like reviving someone with phoenix down in the middle of battle. Usually with necromancy, by the time the spell is successful and the offerings are accepted, decay has started or it's been a long time going."

"Offerings?" Noct asks lowly, sounding more sober than he initially let on.

“Stop talking.”

"Life and death?” You click your tongue, shake your head- oof, you stop shaking your head because the world tilts. “That's tricky business when it comes to magic. You can't trade something for nothing. It's very arithmetic; magic usually is. And I guess I was lucky I just resurrected a toad."

"You mean it worked?" Prompto chokes on his whiskey, damning himself for choosing exactly the wrong moment to take a drink. Tears spring to his eyes.

“Stop...”

"Yes and no. Life is given but what killed the living in the first place...? You need to be ready to counteract it. Necromancy just brings something back, it doesn't come with a little panacea attached as a freebie. The toad had been poisoned by a student- gods she was absolute shit at herbalism. I resurrected the toad, it lived, and then it died of the poison that remained in its system. Necromancy is funny that way. A little joke with hope."

Gladio claps his hand on your back, rubs some warmth into you. "You okay, (y/n)?"

You stare into the lamp, the fluorescent bulb that flickers almost imperceptibly seems to pulsate with light and warmth. It’s hypnotizing, mesmerizing. Soon, as you continue to stare, the world seems to pulsate around it. After a moment, you close your eyes.

You remember the voice that told you what it wanted from you, what it wanted to take, a whisper in your ear, cold lips on your skin, clawed fingers curled at your spine like vines of fire. You remember how, at seven years old, you'd agreed to give nine years of your life all for a toad that didn't even live longer than a minute before dying painfully all over again. You can still hear the anguished, panicked noises it made when it sputtered to life. The froth that bubbled up from its mouth, eyes turning cloudy once more. You remember the breathy chuckle in your ear for your naïveté. A laugh for summoning what was once banished. The whiskey burns on the way down.

"Yeah."


Prompto

The return to the Hunter HQ is completely silent. All you can hear are the sounds of nocturnal animals just rousing, the hushed whisper of a cool breeze that stirs up a dust storm. Every time you swallow, it sounds like you do it over a megaphone. And with your position in Gladiolus’ arms, you can hear his strong, steady heartbeat along with the air that enters and leaves his lungs.

When Noct buys you a potion, he does so moodily; so direct, tone clipped, face pinched in this bitter expression, his time as a human statue long forgotten even though it was merely minutes before. He’s so gloomy that the woman he barters with gives you all a concerned look before wishing you all a pleasant evening, eyebrow raised and wondering what the hell kind of day you all had.

And the walk to the Regalia after you’re all spruced up from that nice potion and after Noct takes care of some business Cor turned him on to? Having lived in a relatively quiet place (basically a crypt with a really nice library), you’re used to long stretches of silence. Back at the Spire you’d go days without someone talking to you- not to say that you liked it, but you’re just accustomed to the feeling. You’re accustomed to walking with people who act like they can’t speak, with relying on nonverbal interactions for days on end.

However, you aren’t accustomed to dead silence from this bunch of guys. They’ve spoiled you with their attention, their laughter, every friendly touch and even the ones that send an odd thrill through you. And you’re about to snap when you realize that every time Prompto looks at you he looks like he might burst into tears and yet he remains silent. It makes your skin prickle.

What’s an awkward mage to do when the most talkative people they know are all silent and moody? You make a few jokes about your death, of course! Genius! As you’re sandwiched between the prince and his bodyguard, you ask if you fell dramatically when you died, if you made a pretty corpse, and all manner of totally inappropriate questions. Literally no one finds any of this funny. At one point you think Ignis is going to pull over on the way to Hammerhead and tell you to get out and walk the rest of the way. In truth, you only crack wise because it bothers  you. Not the silence, but what just happened to you.

Because you know, deep down, even as you breathe and feel and see... you died. You were there one moment and the next you were gone. And if Gladio hadn’t acted so quickly, you would’ve stayed that way. It happened so quickly. There was nothing you could do. In that moment, you were so utterly helpless, everything was out of your control- you realize you never want to feel that way again. And the thing that bothers you the most is that if you had been just a bit slower to move, realized what the coeurl was doing a fraction of a second later, it could’ve been Noctis who died.

Every time you blink you see those silver eyes staring at you; that sad, patient smile. Every time you let your guard down you hear yourself fifteen years ago, curious and so oblivious of the immense weight of your duty. And you’d remained innocently oblivious until today. What was once a dream to you, the idea of serving as arcane advisor to King Noctis Lucis Caelum CXIV, has become a yoke about your neck. How you’d romanticized your familial obligation even as you read about the grisly fate that befell most of your ancestors almost brings a sardonic scoff from you.

You’d dreamed of being like intelligent Lumis the Enchanter and brave Aunt Lysandra. Lumis who was captured by Spire mages and beheaded in front of his children and Lysandra who was shot in the head and left to rot in a ditch before her barely recognizable body was found- nothing but sagging flesh, bone, and sinew for your family to mourn over before her body was burned. You wanted to be like them. And for the most fleeting of moments you had been. You had been exactly like them.

The air is cool now, the night sky glimmering with stars, the smell of oil and fried food wafting over you all in a warm embrace as you pull into Hammerhead and exit the Regalia. You depart from the others to sift through your things in Choco Jr.’s storage tail, pulling out clean clothes and a shower bag. Knuckles bang against something hard and cold. With a jolt, you realize your mother’s bottle of aged whiskey is nestled in your things.

Once a thief, always a thief,” you think blandly, eyeing the flaking label and wax seal on the cap. You heft the bottle out of storage and purse your lips, “Who am I? (y/n) the Sneak Thief?”

Yes. Yes, you are.

You’re the first to shower because nobody lifts a finger to stop you. In truth, you take advantage of the doom and gloom to hit the showers before high-maintenance Prompto or bossy Noct- the only silver lining in this situation. The water runs red at your feet before turning orange and then clear, but the tang of blood still lingers in your nose. Steam billows from your skin the moment you exit the shower and the cool air hits you. Skin is soft and clean. Fingers glide up your stomach to rest on your chest, right on the spot where the coeurl’s whisker touched you as light as a feather. Eyes close and you sigh.

When you all settle around the table outside of the caravan, you try to make idle chit-chat. The only ones who make an effort to reciprocate are Gladio, Iggy, and Noct. And honestly? It’s a bit unsettling for you to see Prom looking so sober, cornflower blue eyes hooded as he stares at you from beneath his blond eyelashes. If you didn’t know any better, you’d say he looks downright pissed. After a while, Prom gets back to his bubbly, energetic self. He jokes around and shows you pictures. You think all is back to normal until the blond throws his arm across your shoulders, like usual, but then holds you firmly. There’s a tremble to his hand, an unspoken fear that if he lets go you’ll simply cease to exist.

Should I have stayed dead?”

Everyone’s “secret” severity, the doom and gloom, coupled with your own burgeoning insecurities and fears... It’s becoming too much to handle. And the Prince of Cold Stares becomes the perfect target for your ire, since every time the conversation lulls he goes back to staring intently at you like he’s trying to make you combust. Fed up, you slam your cup of coffee down on the table and snap, “Six, Noct. Cheer up, will you? I said I'd die for you, didn't I?” When the prince does nothing but stare coldly at you, you add, “I mean, it happened a little sooner than I would've liked. You're moving a bit too fast for me, Noct. Let's just go steady, hm?”

“How long are you gonna joke about it?” Gladio grumbles, giving you the same cold look as Noctis. Nobody is as amused by your death as you pretend to be. Perhaps it’s because you didn’t have to witness one of your friends getting killed? Or perhaps it’s because it felt like it lasted a second to you while the others suffered through uncertainty for minutes (which felt like hours to them)?

“As long as it takes for you guys to stop acting like I stayed dead. I’m alive. Stop making it seem like I died for real.”

“You did die for real!” Prompto shouts, slamming his hands on the table, and you’re stunned. The blond blinks in surprise at his own outburst, cheeks going red before he settles back into his chair. The silence is awkward now rather than gloomy.

“Would you care to tell me about what you mentioned before?” Ignis suddenly asks, clearly trying to ease the tension. The tactician watches you with keen green eyes, coffee cup in hand now since everyone’s been banging on the table like it’s a drum.

You furrow your brow. “About souls?”

“Yes,” the bespectacled man confirms.

“Oh,” you blink before chuckling nervously. But the nerves don’t last long. You’re a scholar at heart and Ignis knows this. Getting you to talk about history, or magic, or magical history is the best way to get you to ease up.

“Yeah, what was that about soul stealing?” Gladio chimes in, catching on to Ignis’ plot. The tactician gives him a thankful look which the bodyguard returns.

Your body language changes markedly and the men are relieved. Rather than slouching you straighten your posture and raise your chin a bit. "’Soul stealing,’ or rather ‘absorption’ because one can’t take souls from the living- well...” you pause, “I’ll put a pin in that one since it’s a very convoluted concept. Anyway, it was an ancient practice for enchanting by the Spire, believe it or not. Souls of creatures were used to imbue items with certain qualities and the Spire would sell those for a pretty gil. Iovitas have only used essences from things like the elements.”

Iggy quirks one of his elegant eyebrows at you and queries, “How did the rumor about human souls come about, then?”

“Human souls were being used but it was the Spire who was doing it. When the king had the rumor investigated, the college deflected. Rather publicly, too. They pretty much forced the king’s hand to publicly shame Lumis the Enchanter. And once he was spurned by the Crown, he became an easier target for the Spire.” You sip your coffee and sigh dramatically before rolling your eyes over to Noct, “No hard feelings.”

The prince grimaces. “Sorry.”

“What did I just say?”

“One moment, if you will, (y/n),” Ignis gives you a funny look, genuinely curious. And who better for him to ask these questions of than Noct’s arcane advisor? “How were those mages able to absorb souls? If I recall correctly, the extent of the ‘magic’ that other mages can perform is in the realm herbalism and elemancy.”

True... But the explanation for that is rather complicated and shrouded in mystery. It’s not anything anyone would find in a history book. But you have something better: Your family grimoire. You’ve been reading the tome religiously since you’ve been on the road with the guys. Morning and night, you crack it open to read your family’s secrets. Little did you know that their secrets would include Spire secrets. A blessing in disguise. For when you help Noct accomplish his goal, you have enough blackmail to topple the Spire with or without him. One word from you and they’ll be finished. It brings a rather warm, fluttery sensation to your bitter little heart.

Licking your lips, you explain with all the snark that’s become expected of you, “Once upon a time, mages made pacts with higher daemons. And then the Iovitas started banishing those daemons. Another reason for the Spire to hate our guts. We crashed the party and they couldn’t do ‘magic’ anymore.”

“Sorry, I’m still a little stuck on the soul stealing thing,” Prompto squirms in his seat, looking bothered. “I just thought it was a rumor or something when you first mentioned it. We never learned about it in school.”

“Yeah,” Noct grimaces, “it’s creepy.”

“A depraved practice, indeed. Aela the Banisher saw the end of those daemons.”

Daemons that she speculated to be messengers of Ifrit in the family grimoire. But you don’t say this. Why should you? Why would you? It sounded crazy enough to tell them that Ramuh “made” your family from the Crystal. Why tell them that Ifrit put the Spire on the war path against your family by giving them the power to hunt and destroy the Iovitas with the promise of making the college flourish? Because that was what Aela speculated in those old pages. That was what Florus the Seer (fake seer, but a “seer” nonetheless) dreamed of in one of his many drunken stupors, foretelling the decimation of your family at the hands of the fallen astral who would use humanity’s envy and greed to stoke a murderous fire in the heart of an ancient, prideful institution; using them to eradicate the protectors of the Lucian kings.

At least you think Florus did. His handwriting was kinda all over the place. And the validity of that claim is highly suspect considering it was sandwiched between a “prophecy” that amounted to nothing more than a weird plot for tentacle porn and another “prophecy” that was basically him predicting that he would drink himself to death. Florus pretty much used his portion of the grimoire as a dream diary, the weirdo.

“Aren’t there necromancers and liches still around?” Prompto asks innocently and you choke on your coffee because you have no idea where that came from. “I think I remember seeing a bounty poster for a necromancer...”

“Those higher daemons weren’t like necromancers or liches,” you correct, voice rough. You put on that liar’s face and say, “There aren’t any images of them anywhere. And they’ve all been gone for a long time.”

“Are they all gone, though?”

You shake off the thought, push away some long-forgotten memory. There’s a lull in the conversation and since you’re already tired of this "soul stealing" talk, you pounce at the opportunity to use it as a segue to something a bit more lighthearted. “Anyway, I think we all had a long day, so...” you drawl and heft the bottle of liquor onto the table from where you’d been keeping it by your feet and out of sight. For comedic effect you grunt like it weighs a ton, earning a chuckle from Prom. This had been your plan all along when the guys were all down in the dumps. But Ignis had been so quick to supply everyone with coffee that you didn’t have the time to suggest you all get plastered- I mean, have a night cap.

"Is that whiskey?" Gladio raises an eyebrow at you, looking impressed.

"It was my mother's." You swirl the amber liquid around in the bottle. It's a pretty large bottle with enough whiskey to get five people trashed. Actually, if you’re being honest, it could last you all quite a while. Especially since it’s so strong. "I think we all need a drink after the day we’ve had."

They couldn’t agree more. With the fall of Insomnia and your brush with death, everyone’s feeling like they went through the wringer. It doesn’t take long before your silver tongue effectively persuades at least Prompto and Gladio to drink more and more. Noct and Ignis abstain, settling on one drink that they nurse through the night. Pretty soon, the mood lifts and you all find yourselves playing dumb games. A game of truth or dare starts and stops abruptly after Gladio dares you to parkour off the side of the caravan and you hit your head on the pavement. Ignis hasn’t stopped glaring at the Shield since.

And now? The name of the game is 20 Questions. Except you and Prom are too trashed to actually follow the rules and instead have started throwing random questions at everyone and demanding they answer or else. The penalty isn’t specified. In fact, there isn’t one.

"What's the best photo you've ever taken?" You ask Prom from behind your cup, all smiles and flushed cheeks.

"Huh." Prom looks thoughtful though his eyes are misty and a bit unfocused. "Tiny."

"Huh?"

Cornflower blue eyes blink rapidly and he clarifies with a slur, "Uh... Pryna, a dog."

"Cute," you sigh, leaning back into your chair, eyes hooded.

"What's the most dangerous magic you've ever done?" Noct asks, eyes glinting from the light of the lamp on the table.

There isn’t anything malicious in his question. He’s just joining in on the game since Prompto dragged him in with a question of “What color’s your underwear?” The answer, obviously, was “black.” But you've imbibed a bit too much liquid courage, or as your mother would correct: liquid stupidity. The previous conversation about such dark and forbidden magic immediately takes you somewhere you shouldn’t go. You're feeling bold when you shouldn't, daring when you should be cautious. Because there's a secret that you've never told. A darkness that you feared your mother could see in your eyes. And Drusa would surely blame herself if she found out.

You remember the human skulls in Drusa’s office. You'd blanched and asked why she had those. She told you that the magister who had the office before her had been enthralled with a peculiar kind of magic. A dark kind. A fascinating kind. The guys watch you intently. You haven't spoken for a while now, staring into the lamp’s light with your whiskey, the cup hanging loosely from your barely crooked fingers. "Necromancy." You finally blink and right your cup. "I tried my hand at necromancy once. After my grandfather and aunt died and the older magisters started dropping like flies soon after, I grew curious about death."

"Did you... do it to anyone?" Prompto asks so softly you almost don't hear him.

"Hm? No. My mother did her best to teach me- about death, I mean. Necromancy was always strictly forbidden after one of my ancestors brought his lover back to life and found that it... wasn't exactly life." You sip your whiskey. It tastes like a pen exploded in your mouth.

Ignis watches you closely. "What do you mean?"

Eyes stray to him, try to get his lithe figure to focus. You blink slowly and answer even slower, "I was always told that there was a reason why only daemons- necromancers and liches in particular- performed necromancy... They don't care about the state of what they bring back. They have no emotional attachment to or high regard for the people and the things they exhume.”

“Whataya mean?” Gladio asks, sounding like he’s further from you than he really is. He holds his liquor like a champ, not even remotely fazed by the many shots of whiskey he’s had. At most, he’s buzzed.

“When a creature is brought back from the dead, it's not like reviving someone with phoenix down in the middle of battle. Usually with necromancy, by the time the spell is successful and the offerings are accepted, decay has started or it's been a long time going."

"Offerings?" Noct asks lowly, sounding more sober than he initially let on.

“Stop talking.”

"Life and death?” You click your tongue, shake your head- oof, you stop shaking your head because the world tilts. “That's tricky business when it comes to magic. You can't trade something for nothing. It's very arithmetic; magic usually is. And I guess I was lucky I just resurrected a toad."

"You mean it worked?" Prompto chokes on his whiskey, damning himself for choosing exactly the wrong moment to take a drink. Tears spring to his eyes.

“Stop...”

"Yes and no. Life is given but what killed the living in the first place...? You need to be ready to counteract it. Necromancy just brings something back, it doesn't come with a little panacea attached as a freebie. The toad had been poisoned by a student- gods she was absolute shit at herbalism. I resurrected the toad, it lived, and then it died of the poison that remained in its system. Necromancy is funny that way. A little joke with hope."

Gladio claps his hand on your back, rubs some warmth into you. "You okay, (y/n)?"

You stare into the lamp, the fluorescent bulb that flickers almost imperceptibly seems to pulsate with light and warmth. It’s hypnotizing, mesmerizing. Soon, as you continue to stare, the world seems to pulsate around it. After a moment, you close your eyes.

You remember the voice that told you what it wanted from you, what it wanted to take, a whisper in your ear, cold lips on your skin, clawed fingers curled at your spine like vines of fire. You remember how, at seven years old, you'd agreed to give nine years of your life all for a toad that didn't even live longer than a minute before dying painfully all over again. You can still hear the anguished, panicked noises it made when it sputtered to life. The froth that bubbled up from its mouth, eyes turning cloudy once more. You remember the breathy chuckle in your ear for your naïveté. A laugh for summoning what was once banished. The whiskey burns on the way down.

"Yeah."


Ignis

The return to the Hunter HQ is completely silent. All you can hear are the sounds of nocturnal animals just rousing, the hushed whisper of a cool breeze that stirs up a dust storm. Every time you swallow, it sounds like you do it over a megaphone. And with your position in Gladiolus’ arms, you can hear his strong, steady heartbeat along with the air that enters and leaves his lungs.

When Noct buys you a potion, he does so moodily; so direct, tone clipped, face pinched in this bitter expression, his time as a human statue long forgotten even though it was merely minutes before. He’s so gloomy that the woman he barters with gives you all a concerned look before wishing you all a pleasant evening, eyebrow raised and wondering what the hell kind of day you all had.

And the walk to the Regalia after you’re all spruced up from that nice potion and after Noct takes care of some business Cor turned him on to? Having lived in a relatively quiet place (basically a crypt with a really nice library), you’re used to long stretches of silence. Back at the Spire you’d go days without someone talking to you- not to say that you liked it, but you’re just accustomed to the feeling. You’re accustomed to walking with people who act like they can’t speak, with relying on nonverbal interactions for days on end.

However, you aren’t accustomed to dead silence from this bunch of guys. They’ve spoiled you with their attention, their laughter, every friendly touch and even the ones that send an odd thrill through you. And you’re about to snap when you start to notice that each time Ignis glances at you in the rearview mirror his green eyes seem to burn you and yet he remains silent. It makes your skin prickle.

What’s an awkward mage to do when the most talkative people they know are all silent and moody? You make a few jokes about your death, of course! Genius! As you’re sandwiched between the prince and his bodyguard, you ask if you fell dramatically when you died, if you made a pretty corpse, and all manner of totally inappropriate questions. Literally no one finds any of this funny. At one point you think Ignis is going to pull over on the way to Hammerhead and tell you to get out and walk the rest of the way. In truth, you only crack wise because it bothers you. Not the silence, but what just happened to you.

Because you know, deep down, even as you breathe and feel and see... you died. You were there one moment and the next you were gone. And if Gladio hadn’t acted so quickly, you would’ve stayed that way. It happened so quickly. There was nothing you could do. In that moment, you were so utterly helpless, everything was out of your control- you realize you never want to feel that way again. And the thing that bothers you the most is that if you had been just a bit slower to move, realized what the coeurl was doing a fraction of a second later, it could’ve been Noctis who died.

Every time you blink you see those silver eyes staring at you; that sad, patient smile. Every time you let your guard down you hear yourself fifteen years ago, curious and so oblivious of the immense weight of your duty. And you’d remained innocently oblivious until today. What was once a dream to you, the idea of serving as arcane advisor to King Noctis Lucis Caelum CXIV, has become a yoke about your neck. How you’d romanticized your familial obligation even as you read about the grisly fate that befell most of your ancestors almost brings a sardonic scoff from you.

You’d dreamed of being like intelligent Lumis the Enchanter and brave Aunt Lysandra. Lumis who was captured by Spire mages and beheaded in front of his children and Lysandra who was shot in the head and left to rot in a ditch before her barely recognizable body was found- nothing but sagging flesh, bone, and sinew for your family to mourn over before her body was burned. You wanted to be like them. And for the most fleeting of moments you had been. You had been exactly like them.

The air is cool now, the night sky glimmering with stars, the smell of oil and fried food wafting over you all in a warm embrace as you pull into Hammerhead and exit the Regalia. You depart from the others to sift through your things in Choco Jr.’s storage tail, pulling out clean clothes and a shower bag. Knuckles bang against something hard and cold. With a jolt, you realize your mother’s bottle of aged whiskey is nestled in your things.

Once a thief, always a thief,” you think blandly, eyeing the flaking label and wax seal on the cap. You heft the bottle out of storage and purse your lips, “Who am I? (y/n) the Sneak Thief?”

Yes. Yes, you are.

You’re the first to shower because nobody lifts a finger to stop you. In truth, you take advantage of the doom and gloom to hit the showers before high-maintenance Prompto or bossy Noct- the only silver lining in this situation. The water runs red at your feet before turning orange and then clear, but the tang of blood still lingers in your nose. Steam billows from your skin the moment you exit the shower and the cool air hits you. Skin is soft and clean. Fingers glide up your stomach to rest on your chest, right on the spot where the coeurl’s whisker touched you as light as a feather. Eyes close and you sigh.

When you all settle around the table outside of the caravan, you try to make idle chit-chat. The only ones who make an effort to reciprocate are Gladio, Noct, and Prom. And honestly? It’s a bit unsettling for you to see Ignis looking so severe. Those emerald eyes feel like a branding iron each time they flicker over you whenever you speak, burning into your skin right down to the bone. After a while, Ignis, for his part, starts to do a bang up job of trying to go about business as usual. He gets everyone a cup of coffee like he normally does... but the normality ends when he brushes his fingertips across your knuckles when he hands you your cup, like he’s trying to commit your warmth and the feeling of you to memory.

Should I have stayed dead?”

Everyone’s “secret” severity, the doom and gloom, coupled with your own burgeoning insecurities and fears... It’s becoming too much to handle. And the Prince of Cold Stares becomes the perfect target for your ire, since every time the conversation lulls he goes back to staring intently at you like he’s trying to make you combust. Fed up, you slam your cup of coffee down on the table and snap, “Six, Noct. Cheer up, will you? I said I'd die for you, didn't I?” When the prince does nothing but stare coldly at you, you add, “I mean, it happened a little sooner than I would've liked. You're moving a bit too fast for me, Noct. Let's just go steady, hm?”

“How long are you gonna joke about it?” Gladio grumbles, giving you the same cold look as Noctis. Nobody is as amused by your death as you pretend to be. Perhaps it’s because you didn’t have to witness one of your friends getting killed? Or perhaps it’s because it felt like it lasted a second to you while the others suffered through uncertainty for minutes (which felt like hours to them)?

“As long as it takes for you guys to stop acting like I stayed dead. I’m alive. Stop making it seem like I died for real.”

“You did die for real!” Prompto shouts, slamming his hands on the table, and you’re stunned. The blond blinks in surprise at his own outburst, cheeks going red before he settles back into his chair. The silence is awkward now rather than gloomy.

“Would you care to tell me about what you mentioned before?” Ignis suddenly asks, clearly trying to ease the tension. The tactician watches you with keen green eyes, coffee cup in hand now since everyone’s been banging on the table like it’s a drum.

You furrow your brow. “About souls?”

“Yes,” the bespectacled man confirms.

“Oh,” you blink before chuckling nervously. But the nerves don’t last long. You’re a scholar at heart and Ignis knows this. Getting you to talk about history, or magic, or magical history is the best way to get you to ease up.

“Yeah, what was that about soul stealing?” Gladio chimes in, catching on to Ignis’ plot. The tactician gives him a thankful look which the bodyguard returns.

Your body language changes markedly and the men are relieved. Rather than slouching you straighten your posture and raise your chin a bit. "’Soul stealing,’ or rather ‘absorption’ because one can’t take souls from the living- well...” you pause, “I’ll put a pin in that one since it’s a very convoluted concept. Anyway, it was an ancient practice for enchanting by the Spire, believe it or not. Souls of creatures were used to imbue items with certain qualities and the Spire would sell those for a pretty gil. Iovitas have only used essences from things like the elements.”

Iggy quirks one of his elegant eyebrows at you and queries, “How did the rumor about human souls come about, then?”

“Human souls were being used but it was the Spire who was doing it. When the king had the rumor investigated, the college deflected. Rather publicly, too. They pretty much forced the king’s hand to publicly shame Lumis the Enchanter. And once he was spurned by the Crown, he became an easier target for the Spire.” You sip your coffee and sigh dramatically before rolling your eyes over to Noct, “No hard feelings.”

The prince grimaces. “Sorry.”

“What did I just say?”

“One moment, if you will, (y/n),” Ignis gives you a funny look, genuinely curious. And who better for him to ask these questions of than Noct’s arcane advisor? “How were those mages able to absorb souls? If I recall correctly, the extent of the ‘magic’ that other mages can perform is in the realm herbalism and elemancy.”

True... But the explanation for that is rather complicated and shrouded in mystery. It’s not anything anyone would find in a history book. But you have something better: Your family grimoire. You’ve been reading the tome religiously since you’ve been on the road with the guys. Morning and night, you crack it open to read your family’s secrets. Little did you know that their secrets would include Spire secrets. A blessing in disguise. For when you help Noct accomplish his goal, you have enough blackmail to topple the Spire with or without him. One word from you and they’ll be finished. It brings a rather warm, fluttery sensation to your bitter little heart.

Licking your lips, you explain with all the snark that’s become expected of you, “Once upon a time, mages made pacts with higher daemons. And then the Iovitas started banishing those daemons. Another reason for the Spire to hate our guts. We crashed the party and they couldn’t do ‘magic’ anymore.”

“Sorry, I’m still a little stuck on the soul stealing thing,” Prompto squirms in his seat, looking bothered. “I just thought it was a rumor or something when you first mentioned it. We never learned about it in school.”

“Yeah,” Noct grimaces, “it’s creepy.”

“A depraved practice, indeed. Aela the Banisher saw the end of those daemons.”

Daemons that she speculated to be messengers of Ifrit in the family grimoire. But you don’t say this. Why should you? Why would you? It sounded crazy enough to tell them that Ramuh “made” your family from the Crystal. Why tell them that Ifrit put the Spire on the war path against your family by giving them the power to hunt and destroy the Iovitas with the promise of making the college flourish? Because that was what Aela speculated in those old pages. That was what Florus the Seer (fake seer, but a “seer” nonetheless) dreamed of in one of his many drunken stupors, foretelling the decimation of your family at the hands of the fallen astral who would use humanity’s envy and greed to stoke a murderous fire in the heart of an ancient, prideful institution; using them to eradicate the protectors of the Lucian kings.

At least you think Florus did. His handwriting was kinda all over the place. And the validity of that claim is highly suspect considering it was sandwiched between a “prophecy” that amounted to nothing more than a weird plot for tentacle porn and another “prophecy” that was basically him predicting that he would drink himself to death. Florus pretty much used his portion of the grimoire as a dream diary, the weirdo.

“Aren’t there necromancers and liches still around?” Prompto asks innocently and you choke on your coffee because you have no idea where that came from. “I think I remember seeing a bounty poster for a necromancer...”

“Those higher daemons weren’t like necromancers or liches,” you correct, voice rough. You put on that liar’s face and say, “There aren’t any images of them anywhere. And they’ve all been gone for a long time.”

Are they all gone, though?”

You shake off the thought, push away some long-forgotten memory. There’s a lull in the conversation and since you’re already tired of this "soul stealing" talk, you pounce at the opportunity to use it as a segue into something a bit more lighthearted. “Anyway, I think we all had a long day, so...” you drawl and heft the bottle of liquor onto the table from where you’d been keeping it by your feet and out of sight. For comedic effect you grunt like it weighs a ton, earning a chuckle from Prom. This had been your plan all along when the guys were all down in the dumps. But Ignis had been so quick to supply everyone with coffee that you didn’t have the time to suggest you all get plastered- I mean, have a night cap.

"Is that whiskey?" Gladio raises an eyebrow at you, looking impressed.

"It was my mother's." You swirl the amber liquid around in the bottle. It's a pretty large bottle with enough whiskey to get five people trashed. Actually, if you’re being honest, it could last you all quite a while. Especially since it’s so strong. "I think we all need a drink after the day we’ve had."

They couldn’t agree more. With the fall of Insomnia and your brush with death, everyone’s feeling like they went through the wringer. It doesn’t take long before your silver tongue effectively persuades at least Prompto and Gladio to drink more and more. Noct and Ignis abstain, settling on one drink that they nurse through the night. Pretty soon, the mood lifts and you all find yourselves playing dumb games. A game of Truth or Dare starts and stops abruptly after Gladio dares you to parkour off the side of the caravan and you hit your head on the pavement. Ignis hasn’t stopped glaring at the Shield since.

And now? The name of the game is 20 Questions. Except you and Prom are too trashed to actually follow the rules and instead have started throwing random questions at everyone and demanding they answer or else. The penalty isn’t specified. In fact, there isn’t one.

"What's the best photo you've ever taken?" You ask Prom from behind your cup, all smiles and flushed cheeks.

"Huh." Prom looks thoughtful though his eyes are misty and a bit unfocused. "Tiny."

"Huh?"

Cornflower blue eyes blink rapidly and he clarifies with a slur, "Uh... Pryna, a dog."

"Cute," you sigh, leaning back into your chair, eyes hooded.

"What's the most dangerous magic you've ever done?" Noct asks, eyes glinting from the light of the lamp on the table.

There isn’t anything malicious in his question. He’s just joining in on the game since Prompto dragged him in with a question of “What color’s your underwear?” The answer, obviously, was “black.” But you've imbibed a bit too much liquid courage, or as your mother would correct: liquid stupidity. The previous conversation about such dark and forbidden magic immediately takes you somewhere you shouldn’t go. You're feeling bold when you shouldn't, daring when you should be cautious. Because there's a secret that you've never told. A darkness that you feared your mother could see in your eyes. And Drusa would surely blame herself if she found out.

You remember the human skulls in Drusa’s office. You'd blanched and asked why she had those. She told you that the magister who had the office before her had been enthralled with a peculiar kind of magic. A dark kind. A fascinating kind. The guys watch you intently. You haven't spoken for a while now, staring into the lamp’s light with your whiskey, the cup hanging loosely from your barely crooked fingers. "Necromancy." You finally blink and right your cup. "I tried my hand at necromancy once. After my grandfather and aunt died and the older magisters started dropping like flies soon after, I grew curious about death."

"Did you... do it to anyone?" Prompto asks so softly you almost don't hear him.

"Hm? No. My mother did her best to teach me- about death, I mean. Necromancy was always strictly forbidden after one of my ancestors brought his lover back to life and found that it... wasn't exactly life." You sip your whiskey. It tastes like a pen exploded in your mouth.

Ignis watches you closely. "What do you mean?"

Eyes stray to him, try to get his lithe figure to focus. You blink slowly and answer even slower, "I was always told that there was a reason why only daemons- necromancers and liches in particular- performed necromancy... They don't care about the state of what they bring back. They have no emotional attachment to or high regard for the people and the things they exhume.”

“Whataya mean?” Gladio asks, sounding like he’s further from you than he really is. He holds his liquor like a champ, not even remotely fazed by the many shots of whiskey he’s had. At most, he’s buzzed.

“When a creature is brought back from the dead, it's not like reviving someone with phoenix down in the middle of battle. Usually with necromancy, by the time the spell is successful and the offerings are accepted, decay has started or it's been a long time going."

"Offerings?" Noct asks lowly, sounding more sober than he initially let on.

Stop talking.”

"Life and death?” You click your tongue, shake your head- oof, you stop shaking your head because the world tilts. “That's tricky business when it comes to magic. You can't trade something for nothing. It's very arithmetic; magic usually is. And I guess I was lucky I just resurrected a toad."

"You mean it worked?" Prompto chokes on his whiskey, damning himself for choosing exactly the wrong moment to take a drink. Tears spring to his eyes.

Stop...”

"Yes and no. Life is given but what killed the living in the first place...? You need to be ready to counteract it. Necromancy just brings something back, it doesn't come with a little panacea attached as a freebie. The toad had been poisoned by a student- gods she was absolute shit at herbalism. I resurrected the toad, it lived, and then it died of the poison that remained in its system. Necromancy is funny that way. A little joke with hope."

Gladio claps his hand on your back, rubs some warmth into you. "You okay, (y/n)?"

You stare into the lamp, the fluorescent bulb that flickers almost imperceptibly seems to pulsate with light and warmth. It’s hypnotizing, mesmerizing. Soon, as you continue to stare, the world seems to pulsate around it. After a moment, you close your eyes.

You remember the voice that told you what it wanted from you, what it wanted to take, a whisper in your ear, cold lips on your skin, clawed fingers curled at your spine like vines of fire. You remember how, at seven years old, you'd agreed to give nine years of your life all for a toad that didn't even live longer than a minute before dying painfully all over again. You can still hear the anguished, panicked noises it made when it sputtered to life. The froth that bubbled up from its mouth, eyes turning cloudy once more. You remember the breathy chuckle in your ear for your naïveté. A laugh for summoning what was once banished. The whiskey burns on the way down.

"Yeah."


Gladiolus

The return to the Hunter HQ is completely silent. All you can hear are the sounds of nocturnal animals just rousing, the hushed whisper of a cool breeze that stirs up a dust storm. Every time you swallow, it sounds like you do it over a megaphone. And with your position in Gladiolus’ arms, you can hear his strong, steady heartbeat along with the air that enters and leaves his lungs.

When Noct buys you a potion, he does so moodily; so direct, tone clipped, face pinched in this bitter expression, his time as a human statue long forgotten even though it was merely minutes before. He’s so gloomy that the woman he barters with gives you all a concerned look before wishing you all a pleasant evening, eyebrow raised and wondering what the hell kind of day you all had.

And the walk to the Regalia after you’re all spruced up from that nice potion and after Noct takes care of some business Cor turned him on to? Having lived in a relatively quiet place (basically a crypt with a really nice library), you’re used to long stretches of silence. Back at the Spire you’d go days without someone talking to you- not to say that you liked it, but you’re just accustomed to the feeling. You’re accustomed to walking with people who act like they can’t speak, with relying on nonverbal interactions for days on end.

However, you aren’t accustomed to dead silence from this bunch of guys. They’ve spoiled you with their attention, their laughter, every friendly touch and even the ones that send an odd thrill through you. And you’re about to snap when you realize that Gladio keeps stealing these long glances at you from the corner of his eye and yet he remains silent. It makes your skin prickle.

What’s an awkward mage to do when the most talkative people they know are all silent and moody? You make a few jokes about your death, of course! Genius! As you’re sandwiched between the prince and his bodyguard, you ask if you fell dramatically when you died, if you made a pretty corpse, and all manner of totally inappropriate questions. Literally no one finds any of this funny. At one point you think Ignis is going to pull over on the way to Hammerhead and tell you to get out and walk the rest of the way. In truth, you only crack wise because it bothers you. Not the silence, but what just happened to you.

Because you know, deep down, even as you breathe and feel and see... you died. You were there one moment and the next you were gone. And if Gladio hadn’t acted so quickly, you would’ve stayed that way. It happened so quickly. There was nothing you could do. In that moment, you were so utterly helpless, everything was out of your control- you realize you never want to feel that way again. And the thing that bothers you the most is that if you had been just a bit slower to move, realized what the coeurl was doing a fraction of a second later, it could’ve been Noctis who died.

Every time you blink you see those silver eyes staring at you; that sad, patient smile. Every time you let your guard down you hear yourself fifteen years ago, curious and so oblivious of the immense weight of your duty. And you’d remained innocently oblivious until today. What was once a dream to you, the idea of serving as arcane advisor to King Noctis Lucis Caelum CXIV, has become a yoke about your neck. How you’d romanticized your familial obligation even as you read about the grisly fate that befell most of your ancestors almost brings a sardonic scoff from you.

You’d dreamed of being like intelligent Lumis the Enchanter and brave Aunt Lysandra. Lumis who was captured by Spire mages and beheaded in front of his children and Lysandra who was shot in the head and left to rot in a ditch before her barely recognizable body was found- nothing but sagging flesh, bone, and sinew for your family to mourn over before her body was burned. You wanted to be like them. And for the most fleeting of moments you had been. You had been exactly like them.

The air is cool now, the night sky glimmering with stars, the smell of oil and fried food wafting over you all in a warm embrace as you pull into Hammerhead and exit the Regalia. You depart from the others to sift through your things in Choco Jr.’s storage tail, pulling out clean clothes and a shower bag. Knuckles bang against something hard and cold. With a jolt, you realize your mother’s bottle of aged whiskey is nestled in your things.

Once a thief, always a thief,” you think blandly, eyeing the flaking label and wax seal on the cap. You heft the bottle out of storage and purse your lips, “Who am I? (y/n) the Sneak Thief?”

Yes. Yes, you are.

You’re the first to shower because nobody lifts a finger to stop you. In truth, you take advantage of the doom and gloom to hit the showers before high-maintenance Prompto or bossy Noct- the only silver lining in this situation. The water runs red at your feet before turning orange and then clear, but the tang of blood still lingers in your nose. Steam billows from your skin the moment you exit the shower and the cool air hits you. Skin is soft and clean. Fingers glide up your stomach to rest on your chest, right on the spot where the coeurl’s whisker touched you as light as a feather. Eyes close and you sigh.

When you all settle around the table outside of the caravan, you try to make idle chit-chat. The only ones who make an effort to reciprocate are Noct, Iggy, and Prom. And honestly? It’s a bit unsettling for you to see Gladio looking so withdrawn. Usually he always has a grin to throw you, but now his face is stony. Every now and then you get a hint of amber, but by the time you look his way he’s back to looking at the others. After a while, Gladiolus starts to do pretty damn well acting like everything is fine and like he wasn’t about to lose his mind when you wouldn’t start breathing not so long ago. At least, you think he’s doing fine until he purposely bumps his knee against yours under the table and just keeps it there, like he needs to feel you to know that you’re there.

Should I have stayed dead?”

Everyone’s “secret” severity, the doom and gloom, coupled with your own burgeoning insecurities and fears... It’s becoming too much to handle. And the Prince of Cold Stares becomes the perfect target for your ire, since every time the conversation lulls he goes back to staring intently at you like he’s trying to make you combust. Fed up, you slam your cup of coffee down on the table and snap, “Six, Noct. Cheer up, will you? I said I'd die for you, didn't I?” When the prince does nothing but stare coldly at you, you add, “I mean, it happened a little sooner than I would've liked. You're moving a bit too fast for me, Noct. Let's just go steady, hm?”

“How long are you gonna joke about it?” Gladio grumbles, giving you the same cold look as Noctis. Nobody is as amused by your death as you pretend to be. Perhaps it’s because you didn’t have to witness one of your friends getting killed? Or perhaps it’s because it felt like it lasted a second to you while the others suffered through uncertainty for minutes (which felt like hours to them)?

“As long as it takes for you guys to stop acting like I stayed dead. I’m alive. Stop making it seem like I died for real.”

“You did die for real!” Prompto shouts, slamming his hands on the table, and you’re stunned. The blond blinks in surprise at his own outburst, cheeks going red before he settles back into his chair. The silence is awkward now rather than gloomy.

“Would you care to tell me about what you mentioned before?” Ignis suddenly asks, clearly trying to ease the tension. The tactician watches you with keen green eyes, coffee cup in hand now since everyone’s been banging on the table like it’s a drum.

You furrow your brow. “About souls?”

“Yes,” the bespectacled man confirms.

“Oh,” you blink before chuckling nervously. But the nerves don’t last long. You’re a scholar at heart and Ignis knows this. Getting you to talk about history, or magic, or magical history is the best way to get you to ease up.

“Yeah, what was that about soul stealing?” Gladio chimes in, catching on to Ignis’ plot. The tactician gives him a thankful look which the bodyguard returns.

Your body language changes markedly and the men are relieved. Rather than slouching you straighten your posture and raise your chin a bit. "’Soul stealing,’ or rather ‘absorption’ because one can’t take souls from the living- well...” you pause, “I’ll put a pin in that one since it’s a very convoluted concept. Anyway, it was an ancient practice for enchanting by the Spire, believe it or not. Souls of creatures were used to imbue items with certain qualities and the Spire would sell those for a pretty gil. Iovitas have only used essences from things like the elements.”

Iggy quirks one of his elegant eyebrows at you and queries, “How did the rumor about human souls come about, then?”

“Human souls were being used but it was the Spire who was doing it. When the king had the rumor investigated, the college deflected. Rather publicly, too. They pretty much forced the king’s hand to publicly shame Lumis the Enchanter. And once he was spurned by the Crown, he became an easier target for the Spire.” You sip your coffee and sigh dramatically before rolling your eyes over to Noct, “No hard feelings.”

The prince grimaces. “Sorry.”

“What did I just say?”

“One moment, if you will, (y/n),” Ignis gives you a funny look, genuinely curious. And who better for him to ask these questions of than Noct’s arcane advisor? “How were those mages able to absorb souls? If I recall correctly, the extent of the ‘magic’ that other mages can perform is in the realm herbalism and elemancy.”

True... But the explanation for that is rather complicated and shrouded in mystery. It’s not anything anyone would find in a history book. But you have something better: Your family grimoire. You’ve been reading the tome religiously since you’ve been on the road with the guys. Morning and night, you crack it open to read your family’s secrets. Little did you know that their secrets would include Spire secrets. A blessing in disguise. For when you help Noct accomplish his goal, you have enough blackmail to topple the Spire with or without him. One word from you and they’ll be finished. It brings a rather warm, fluttery sensation to your bitter little heart.

Licking your lips, you explain with all the snark that’s become expected of you, “Once upon a time, mages made pacts with higher daemons. And then the Iovitas started banishing those daemons. Another reason for the Spire to hate our guts. We crashed the party and they couldn’t do ‘magic’ anymore.”

“Sorry, I’m still a little stuck on the soul stealing thing,” Prompto squirms in his seat, looking bothered. “I just thought it was a rumor or something when you first mentioned it. We never learned about it in school.”

“Yeah,” Noct grimaces, “it’s creepy.”

“A depraved practice, indeed. Aela the Banisher saw the end of those daemons.”

Daemons that she speculated to be messengers of Ifrit in the family grimoire. But you don’t say this. Why should you? Why would you? It sounded crazy enough to tell them that Ramuh “made” your family from the Crystal. Why tell them that Ifrit put the Spire on the war path against your family by giving them the power to hunt and destroy the Iovitas with the promise of making the college flourish? Because that was what Aela speculated in those old pages. That was what Florus the Seer (fake seer, but a “seer” nonetheless) dreamed of in one of his many drunken stupors, foretelling the decimation of your family at the hands of the fallen astral who would use humanity’s envy and greed to stoke a murderous fire in the heart of an ancient, prideful institution; using them to eradicate the protectors of the Lucian kings.

At least you think Florus did. His handwriting was kinda all over the place. And the validity of that claim is highly suspect considering it was sandwiched between a “prophecy” that amounted to nothing more than a weird plot for tentacle porn and another “prophecy” that was basically him predicting that he would drink himself to death. Florus pretty much used his portion of the grimoire as a dream diary, the weirdo.

“Aren’t there necromancers and liches still around?” Prompto asks innocently and you choke on your coffee because you have no idea where that came from. “I think I remember seeing a bounty poster for a necromancer...”

“Those higher daemons weren’t like necromancers or liches,” you correct, voice rough. You put on that liar’s face and say, “There aren’t any images of them anywhere. And they’ve all been gone for a long time.”

Are they all gone, though?”

You shake off the thought, push away some long-forgotten memory. There’s a lull in the conversation and since you’re already tired of this "soul stealing" talk, you pounce at the opportunity to use it as a segue into something a bit more lighthearted. “Anyway, I think we all had a long day, so...” you drawl and heft the bottle of liquor onto the table from where you’d been keeping it by your feet and out of sight. For comedic effect you grunt like it weighs a ton, earning a chuckle from Prom. This had been your plan all along when the guys were all down in the dumps. But Ignis had been so quick to supply everyone with coffee that you didn’t have the time to suggest you all get plastered- I mean, have a night cap.

"Is that whiskey?" Gladio raises an eyebrow at you, looking impressed.

"It was my mother's." You swirl the amber liquid around in the bottle. It's a pretty large bottle with enough whiskey to get five people trashed. Actually, if you’re being honest, it could last you all quite a while. Especially since it’s so strong. "I think we all need a drink after the day we’ve had."

They couldn’t agree more. With the fall of Insomnia and your brush with death, everyone’s feeling like they went through the wringer. It doesn’t take long before your silver tongue effectively persuades at least Prompto and Gladio to drink more and more. Noct and Ignis abstain, settling on one drink that they nurse through the night. Pretty soon, the mood lifts and you all find yourselves playing dumb games. A game of Truth or Dare starts and stops abruptly after Gladio dares you to parkour off the side of the caravan and you hit your head on the pavement. Ignis hasn’t stopped glaring at the Shield since.

And now? The name of the game is 20 Questions. Except you and Prom are too trashed to actually follow the rules and instead have started throwing random questions at everyone and demanding they answer or else. The penalty isn’t specified. In fact, there isn’t one.

"What's the best photo you've ever taken?" You ask Prom from behind your cup, all smiles and flushed cheeks.

"Huh." Prom looks thoughtful though his eyes are misty and a bit unfocused. "Tiny."

"Huh?"

Cornflower blue eyes blink rapidly and he clarifies with a slur, "Uh... Pryna, a dog."

"Cute," you sigh, leaning back into your chair, eyes hooded.

"What's the most dangerous magic you've ever done?" Noct asks, eyes glinting from the light of the lamp on the table.

There isn’t anything malicious in his question. He’s just joining in on the game since Prompto dragged him in with a question of “What color’s your underwear?” The answer, obviously, was “black.” But you've imbibed a bit too much liquid courage, or as your mother would correct: liquid stupidity. The previous conversation about such dark and forbidden magic immediately takes you somewhere you shouldn’t go. You're feeling bold when you shouldn't, daring when you should be cautious. Because there's a secret that you've never told. A darkness that you feared your mother could see in your eyes. And Drusa would surely blame herself if she found out.

You remember the human skulls in Drusa’s office. You'd blanched and asked why she had those. She told you that the magister who had the office before her had been enthralled with a peculiar kind of magic. A dark kind. A fascinating kind. The guys watch you intently. You haven't spoken for a while now, staring into the lamp’s light with your whiskey, the cup hanging loosely from your barely crooked fingers. "Necromancy." You finally blink and right your cup. "I tried my hand at necromancy once. After my grandfather and aunt died and the older magisters started dropping like flies soon after, I grew curious about death."

"Did you... do it to anyone?" Prompto asks so softly you almost don't hear him.

"Hm? No. My mother did her best to teach me- about death, I mean. Necromancy was always strictly forbidden after one of my ancestors brought his lover back to life and found that it... wasn't exactly life." You sip your whiskey. It tastes like a pen exploded in your mouth.

Ignis watches you closely. "What do you mean?"

Eyes stray to him, try to get his lithe figure to focus. You blink slowly and answer even slower, "I was always told that there was a reason why only daemons- necromancers and liches in particular- performed necromancy... They don't care about the state of what they bring back. They have no emotional attachment to or high regard for the people and the things they exhume.”

“Whataya mean?” Gladio asks, sounding like he’s further from you than he really is. He holds his liquor like a champ, not even remotely fazed by the many shots of whiskey he’s had. At most, he’s buzzed.

“When a creature is brought back from the dead, it's not like reviving someone with phoenix down in the middle of battle. Usually with necromancy, by the time the spell is successful and the offerings are accepted, decay has started or it's been a long time going."

"Offerings?" Noct asks lowly, sounding more sober than he initially let on.

Stop talking.”

"Life and death?” You click your tongue, shake your head- oof, you stop shaking your head because the world tilts. “That's tricky business when it comes to magic. You can't trade something for nothing. It's very arithmetic; magic usually is. And I guess I was lucky I just resurrected a toad."

"You mean it worked?" Prompto chokes on his whiskey, damning himself for choosing exactly the wrong moment to take a drink. Tears spring to his eyes.

Stop...”

"Yes and no. Life is given but what killed the living in the first place...? You need to be ready to counteract it. Necromancy just brings something back, it doesn't come with a little panacea attached as a freebie. The toad had been poisoned by a student- gods she was absolute shit at herbalism. I resurrected the toad, it lived, and then it died of the poison that remained in its system. Necromancy is funny that way. A little joke with hope."

Gladio claps his hand on your back, rubs some warmth into you. "You okay, (y/n)?"

You stare into the lamp, the fluorescent bulb that flickers almost imperceptibly seems to pulsate with light and warmth. It’s hypnotizing, mesmerizing. Soon, as you continue to stare, the world seems to pulsate around it. After a moment, you close your eyes.

You remember the voice that told you what it wanted from you, what it wanted to take, a whisper in your ear, cold lips on your skin, clawed fingers curled at your spine like vines of fire. You remember how, at seven years old, you'd agreed to give nine years of your life all for a toad that didn't even live longer than a minute before dying painfully all over again. You can still hear the anguished, panicked noises it made when it sputtered to life. The froth that bubbled up from its mouth, eyes turning cloudy once more. You remember the breathy chuckle in your ear for your naïveté. A laugh for summoning what was once banished. The whiskey burns on the way down.

"Yeah."

Chapter Text

Smoke & Mirrors

“Here we are.”

Ignis’ proud tone has your eyes flickering up from your grimoire. Though you’d been trying your best to appear like a dutiful little scholar with your nose in a book, that nose of yours couldn’t help but distract you. The rich aroma of simmered berries and the tang of lemon rind has had you reading the same sentence for the past hour and a half as Iggy prepped and baked the dessert.

The bespectacled man sits a plate of perfectly flaky pastries dusted with a fine layer of powdered sugar down on the table at camp. Eyes watch eagerly as he plates them perfectly. Your mouth immediately begins to water when you see the side of berries and homemade ice cream. Honestly, you have no idea how he makes half the stuff he does at camp. Maybe he’s a mage, too?

“Wow! That smells great!” Prom gushes, making his way over to the table, grabbing you- his partner in crime when it comes to Ignis’ desserts- by the sleeve as he goes, pulling you off of your folding chair after him. Before you two can make it to the table, so excited just thinking about trying out another one of Ignis’ recipes, Noct descends on the pastries out of nowhere like a spider from a tree and takes two of the five sweets for himself.

Ignis sighs as the prince skulks off to go recline against his Chocobo. He’s immediately on his phone, scrolling through some forum about fishing or some nonsense. Something lame, you’re sure.

Prompto makes a soft whine in the back of his throat as he turns his cornflower blue eyes from his best friend to the three remaining tarts on the table. Sometimes, the prince can be downright inconsiderate. Usually he’s a peach, sure. He’s somewhat standoffish. But when sweets come into play? The guy is ice cold. Every now and then you feel like he’d sell you all out for one damn fine pastry.

Clicking your tongue, you cut your eyes to Prom and say, “By the end of the night, I’m eating two pastries.”

The blond blinks in surprise, “Huh? There’s only-”

“Just watch me,” you insist, raising your eyebrows with a smirk that gets the sharpshooter smirking.

“(y/n), please,” Ignis immediately tries to talk you down, fearing the headache he’s going to have to endure when Noct inevitably starts throwing petty shade your way for the next couple of days for stealing his food. “I can make mo-”

“We can split one, (y/n),” Gladio interrupts, just coming back from a jog- he’s just in time, it’s nearly nightfall. But he’s only heard the back-end of the conversation, wiping sweat from his brow and pulling his hair out of its tie.

The bodyguard is already used to splitting food with you, be it actual meals or stuff that makes Ignis glower at you two. The two of you have a shared fondness for some of the most hellacious junk food that none of the other guys would dare touch; eel pretzels, bacon potato cup noodles, and candied squid, just to name a few.

But when Gladio sees the Prince in Black with two pastries on his lap, his lips thin into a hard line and he corrects himself, “Well, that’s what I would say. But suddenly I’m feelin’ pretty hungry after that workout.” Amber eyes meet yours, the two of you sharing an evil look, “Do what you gotta do, (y/n).”

If there’s one thing that can be said about you, it’s that you’re a master manipulator. Kinda funny, since you’re the most awkward conversationalist when it comes down to one-on-one chats.  But when there’s something you want or if you’re trying to get one over on someone, you’re a little silver-tongued devil. Probably a product of growing up surrounded by people who loathed you. You had to be charming. It’s a defense mechanism. When avoiding confrontation fails, you sharpen your tongue and get to work.

Like those lizards that squirt blood out of their eye. Except you talk circles around people and can probably get them to sell you their soul if you want. It’s all a ruse. A carefully contrived ruse. One that you can’t maintain for too long. So when you swagger on up to Noct, you plaster on the most dazzling grin you own and make sure he sees it before you plop down next to him. You’re casual with a capital “C.” And, even though the two of you have done this dance a million times, the prince is always disarmed by that winning grin and that oddly hypnotizing strut of yours.

“Noct,” you greet to get his attention even though that’s totally unnecessary- he’s been watching you with those intense, steely eyes from beneath his raven bangs since you started walking in his direction, “how’s it going?”

“It’s goin’,” he replies, absent-mindedly scrolling through his phone just so he doesn’t look too attentive.

As you guessed, he’s on a forum where people are discussing the best fishing spots in the area. It just takes a glance hidden beneath your lashes to spy what’s on his phone’s screen. A sly smirk crawls its way across your face and you clear your throat elegantly before stating, “I heard the weather should be perfect for fishing tomorrow.”

The prince immediately perks up. “Yeah?”

You nod sagely, “Mmhm.”

“I didn’t know you liked fishing, (y/n).” Noct tilts his head. “Why didn’t you ever say anything before?”

“Fishing is your thing like the way buying books everywhere we go is my thing,” you shrug dismissively before giving his knee a friendly pat. You leave your hand there. His cheeks blossom a very faint pink.

Noct clears his throat and replies, voice a bit deeper, “Well, tomorrow we’ll pick you up a rod and you can fish with me. That way we’ll have a better chance of catching dinner.”

Hand glides up his thigh but you keep eye contact. It’s just a couple of inches before your fingers bump against the flaky crust of one of the tarts. Noct is a bit more focused on the sensation of your hand gently resting on his thigh that when you remove it, tart in tow, he’s busy mourning the loss of contact to notice you eating the pastry right in his face. After inhaling the tart (oh, Six, it’s wonderful), you put your hand back on his knee for round two.

“Yeah?” You pick the conversation back up as you repeat the thievery, eyes flickering to his reddening cheeks. “Would you teach me? I’ve never had the opportunity to fish before.”

“Ye-Yeah. Of course.” Noct tries to shrug indifferently, like it’s no big thing, when in reality...? He’s. Freaking. Out.

“Cool,” you reply easily, bringing the tart up to your mouth and taking a healthy bite. You relish the contrasting flavors of sweet berries and tart lemon. The crust is perfectly flaky and buttery. And the prince is too busy watching the way you lick the berry filling from your fingers to realize that you’re eating his damn pastries.

Then it clicks.

“Dammit, (y/n)!” Noct gripes as he glances down at the remaining crumbs on his lap, “You always do this. Couldn’t you have just left me with one?”

“What? You wanted a taste?” You snort derisively as you lean against the chocobo, “Try being a bit faster next time, then. Or, better yet, try not being greedy in the first place.”

The prince rolls his steely blue eyes. “Sometimes you’re so annoying.”

“Too bad, so sad,” you quip childishly.

“Oh, yeah? Well, guess who isn’t getting any extra bacon in the morning?” His face is impassive but he cracks a wicked smirk when he sees your eyes widen the second he threatens that most sacred of food pacts. “Too bad, so sad.”

In truth, you’re feeling a bit too bold, especially considering what you just got away with. You two have played this game over and over and over again. It’s so routine, so humdrum, that the monotony of it instills some bizarre confidence in you. Probably just bravado, really, but it’s heady and clouds your judgment all the same. Reaching forward with your sticky fingers, you smear a bit of leftover tart filling on the corner of his mouth and simper, “There. Enjoy.”

He’s as still as a statue. It almost feels like the whole world stops and holds its breath to watch. The berry filling is such a vibrant purple against his pale skin. And then that pale skin starts to turn pink with irritation, steely eyes simmering.

You roll your eyes and huff, “What? You don’t want it? Fine.” In one fluid motion you lean forward and kiss the corner of his mouth, taking the berry filling off with your lips (and maybe a hint of tongue). You two are so close that you can smell him. Little do you know, even as he’s sat in shock, Noct is committing the warmth of you and the smell of you to memory. The feeling of your lips against him, nose brushing against his cheek, how your shoulder bumps against his, the way that your tongue sends an electric bolt shooting down his spine...

When you pull away, his eyes are as wide as saucers. He swallows hard, face flushing immediately when you smirk at how audible it is. “There,” you drawl, standing up, “it’s all gone. Don’t complain later about me not giving you a taste.” You walk away on jelly legs but you don’t show it. Though you pulled that stunt to get at Noct, you just dazed yourself. Your throat is tight and your heart races so hard you think you might faint. It’s tough to keep your composure, which is why you make a beeline straight for the tent so you can freak out in peace. When you’re just about to close the tent flaps behind you, you call out, “And you’re giving me that extra bacon in the morning!”

“Ye-Yeah,” Noct calls back faintly.

From the other side of camp, the others look like they’ve been watching a soap opera. Prompto’s hands are over his mouth and he’s been making this high-pitched noise in the back of his throat that only dogs can hear from the moment you grabbed Noct’s thigh. Ignis and Gladio share a look before the Shield brings his fist up to his mouth and snorts. Iggy shakes his head with a sigh and queries, “Will he ever learn?”

“I don’t think he wants to,” Gladio chuckles, grinning at his catatonic prince.

Chapter Text

Stillness Speaks

Prompto is fond of you. There. There it is. That’s it.

It’s literally the most painfully obvious thing in the world to the others and yet you just watch the perky blond with a placid smile and hooded eyes as he gushes on, and on, and on to you about everything and nothing. Totally not realizing that when he wakes up you’re the first person he wants to talk to and you’re the last one he wants to hear before he goes to sleep.

Your voice is what he craves. Your attention. Your everything. And it’s so damn infuriating to Noctis that you don’t realize it and that Prom is too much of an awkward dork to say it
outright. Because, let’s be real, it’s gonna take Prompto being as blunt as humanly possible for you to understand that he thinks of you as more than just Noct’s arcane advisor and as more than just a friend. He’s going to need to bludgeon you to death with his words.

Noct says exactly that to Prompto as he corners him at camp.

“Whoa! Bludgeon to death?” Prom winces with an uncomfortable laugh, cornflower blue eyes darting over to where you’re kneeling in front of the campfire like you might hear him. “That’s a little extreme there, pal.”

“You’re awkward and they’re dense,” Noct points out without a trace of malice. But Prom still gets defensive.

“Hey, that’s rude! They’re not dumb. (y/n) is one of the smartest people I know...” he trails off, as he usually does when one of the guys gets him talking about you (and they all try desperately not to let you come up in conversation for this exact reason). “They’re the arcane advisor- technically the Arch-Mage! And they-”

All the prince hears at this point is “blah, blah, blah.” Noct’s upper lip curls. It’s almost sickening how lovesick his best friend is. Sure, it’s funny for Noct to see Prom freeze up every time you so much as look at him or when he pulls a muscle trying to do some “cool” move in the middle of battle to impress you with even when you aren’t even looking. But this is getting ridiculous! In the last scuffle with some grenades, Prompto had yelled out to you: “Hey, (y/n)! Check these sweet moves out!” and promptly got incapacitated by the exploding daemon. No one knows what he was trying to accomplish. But he definitely got your attention.

“Just-” Noct interrupts his bubbly blond pal’s tangent and reels in his frustration. Though Prompto is exuberant, Noct knows how sensitive his long-time best friend can be. He continues to give his advice, albeit in a more neutral tone. “Just talk to them-”

“But I always-!”

“-like a person.” At Prom’s nonplussed expression, Noct rolls his steely blue eyes. “You tend to get a little carried away when you talk to them. Just be honest about how you feel. And if you’re afraid that they might not feel the same way, just... I dunno, test the waters.”

Grade-A relationship advice right there.

Prom rubs the back of his head, brow furrowed. “Test the- Test the waters?”

Noct blinks. “Flirt.” He says it like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

“Like flirting is so easy,” Prompto scoffs.

“(y/n) flirts with you all the time.”

The sharpshooter looks jubilant for a split second before his face falls and he points out moodily, “They flirt with everyone.”

“But they’re awkward as hell with you,” Noct counters. He refrains from adding that you’re generally the most painfully awkward person in existence one-on-one. He’s trying to pump up his bro, not tear you down. That’s what makes this whole situation just a bit more uncomfortable to Noct: he’s friends with both of you. It’d be easier if he didn’t like one of you, that way if things don’t work out it won’t be so... weird.

“So?”

So? Obviously when they flirt with you it’s not just to trick you into giving them your food or getting a favor out of you.” The prince can’t help but sound a bit scorned. You’ve conned him out of one too many pastries.

That gets Prom thinking. Maybe you do like him? You certainly went out of your way to come to his rescue once the grenade downed him, erecting a barrier of stone to keep the creatures at bay as you pressed a potion into his palm, eyes locking in the heat of battle. The sharpshooter can feel his cheeks warming up at the memory of how intensely you looked at him and he nods his head firmly to himself before turning on his heel and heading over to where you crouch by the fire.

“Just be cool, buddy,” he says to himself, hyping himself up. “Just act natural!”

“You headed to bed already?” Gladio questions you, dark eyebrows furrowed.

You, Gladio, and Ignis are around the campfire with Gladdy eating his meal and Iggy blowing on his steaming coffee. You’re busy enchanting a metal bit with trace elements from the fire, intending on using this piece to make a necklace or a bracelet for Prom since the blond was basically a human torch after the grenade got him earlier. He’s a bit too flammable for your liking at the moment. And that won’t do.

“Yeah,” you roll your shoulders, still toying with the scorched metal, feeling it hum between your fingers, “that fight earlier took a lot out of me.”

“You mean when you needed to save Prompto’s ass?” Gladio snorts, stirring his cup of noodles before sipping some of the briny broth. “Don’t know what that guy was thinkin’.”

“I believe he said he was going to perform some sweet moves,” Ignis supplies, smiling as he waits for his coffee to cool a bit more before taking a tentative sip and humming his approval.

“Right,” you laugh and start to stand, “which apparently means exploding into a fireball.”

“Hey, (y/n)! How’s it-!” It’s as you’re standing up from the fire that Prompto enthusiastically prances up behind you, ready to give you a friendly, totally “cool” and “natural” smack on the back. What he ends up giving you is a friendly, totally “cool” and “natural” smack on the ass. Noct swears he hears the sound reverberate in his ears as he watches on in fascinated horror. He dies a million deaths.

You stand there for a century- a statue, unblinking and unfeeling save for the pain that blossoms across your rear from that enthused hand. You can vaguely hear Prompto yelling out apologies to the tune of Gladio choking to death on noodles, laughing at what just unfolded before him. Ignis has his mouth strategically hidden behind his cup of coffee, emerald eyes glinting as he watches the blond dance around you in panic.

You finally speak. “I’m going to forget that ever happened.”

“I’m so sorry!”

“About what?” You cut your eyes to the blond and he shrinks away. Your expression must be deadly. “What’s there to apologize over?”

“I-I just... I touched your bu-"

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Damn that’s some denial!” Gladio chuckles, voice a little raw from choking on instant noodles, tears in his eyes.

As you walk away and hide out in the tent, you can’t shake the feeling from your head. Because although Prom insists that hitting your ass was an accident, you wonder if it was purely reflexive on his part to then grab your ass the second his hand made contact with you. For his part, Noct distances himself from what just transpired, the second-hand shame almost too much to bear. As far as anyone else is concerned, he didn’t have a hand in it at all.

Chapter Text

Sour Times

There’s been a strange turn of events recently. Usually you and your fellow royal advisors get along like a dream, but lately you and Gladio just can’t see eye to eye. And it’s the most uncomfortable feeling in the world. Gladiolus wants Noct to practice his fighting skills, which is all well and good. Except he keeps infringing on your time with Noct. You want the prince to be proficient in his elemancy. And honestly? Though the prince is skilled, his finesse is lacking. The placement of a pinky can make all the difference in the accuracy of a magical attack.

You want so desperately to be useful- to teach Noct how to reel back the friendly fire, too. Strangely, Gladio thumbs his nose at you each time you say this. This typically devolves into you two taking pot-shots at each other- him taking digs at how you don’t join training (“fragile mage”) and you taking jabs at his lack of magical finesse (“bumbling, brute force using buffoon”... Six, the way everyone looked at you after you hurled that one at him).

Tensions are starting to run high. Gladio can't understand why you don't train. Sure, he knows the appeal of a good novel, but he still trains, dammit! He watches as you keep your nose buried in that strange tome of yours. From 5:00 a.m. to 5:35 a.m., he leaves to run and comes back. You're still reading. You grunt “good morning” and “have a nice jog,” “welcome back,” and that's it. It’s driving him mad. Because he can’t wrap his head around why you would choose to remain vulnerable after what happened to you.

Any time you all get caught up in a tough fight, he practically grows eyes on the back of his head to watch you. He finds himself constantly looking at you over his shoulder, breaking into a dead sprint to rush to your aid when you get so much as a scrape on your knee. But every time he invites you to join him on a run, to spar, to learn how to handle a sword, to be better prepared to protect yourself... you brush him off.

Why? Well, despite what he thinks, you aren’t choosing to remain vulnerable. You’re choosing to be smart- proactive. Because what he thinks is just an old tome with a flaking cover is what’s going to save you all one day.

“Hey, Magey. Come spar with me,” Gladio gruffly calls over to you early one morning and you resist the urge to roll your eyes.

Taking a tentative sip of the strong coffee Iggy made specifically for you, you reply lightly, “No thanks, Gladio. I’m doing a bit of research.”

“Readin’ a book all day isn’t going to help you.”

“Said every failed general and every usurped king,” you quip, turning a delicate page and raising your eyebrows at the summoning circle that’s drawn there. Lips thin into a hard line when you read that daemons should never be summoned. Little too late for that, Aela.

Gladio crosses his arms and snaps, “You know what I mean, (y/n). You reading that old book every damn day instead of training isn’t gonna do you any favors in the next battle.”

“Hm...” You turn the page without reading, trying to look like you’re too cool to be deeply involved in this conversation, “My magic serves me well enough- it’s reliable and powerful and has saved your butt countless times. You’d realize that if you’d learn to stop being so overbearing.”

“Overbearing?” He scoffs.

“Did I stutter?” You snap the book shut and let it rest heavily on your lap. “Gladiolus, I don’t need you riding me every damn day, okay? I know what I’m doing- better than you do, actually.”

“That so?”

“Yes. This may come as a surprise to you, but I’m an adult. I can take care of not only myself but Noctis, too.” You pause. “And I know what I’m doing,” you repeat.

You’re mostly saying this for your own benefit. Ever since you joined this quest, you’ve been feeling like you’ve been slowly drowning- chin just barely above the water, clawing desperately for something to stay afloat. When you first joined Noctis, you were unsure. Your footing was a little unsteady but eventually, especially after that gauntlet they all put you through with the hunts, you started to stand on your own.

Your confidence was a fragile thing that was steadily growing stronger. And then the attack happened. You lost your mother. You lost your home. You lost your life. Just like that, the rug was pulled out from under you and you were left to struggle with the aftermath. And though you’re always present for Noct to consult, although you always have a joke for Prompto, a compliment for Ignis... you’ve been falling down, down, down... You struggle with a pleasant smile on your face. Drown with poise and grace.

“You lived a pampered life in that Spire for twenty years,” Gladio snarks, snapping you out of your reverie with a cold, verbal slap. “What would you know about protecting someone?”

“And you lived in the luxurious Crown City for twenty-three,” you fire right back. “We’re both here to guide Noct. You aren’t here to guide me. I was brought along as a leading authority on the arcane arts. I wasn’t brought along for you to hold my hand and wipe my tears when I get a booboo.”

The amber-eyed Amicitia fights off an insulted blush. Before he can shoot some venom your way, he’s interrupted by Noct. If one thing can be said about the prince, it’s that he doesn’t abide his friends trying to rip each other apart. And, quite frankly, you and Gladio have been going at it for nearly a week... Noct is sick of this shit. After what you’ve all gone through together, you all have a mutual understanding of one another.

Ignis is quietly supportive, relying on subtle cues like coffee with added cinnamon to show he cares. Noct is always there to listen, always there with a joke and a deadpan look that never ceases to make you laugh. And Prom’s arms seem to be in a perpetual state of openness. Gladio isn’t unsupportive or unsympathetic. But he has a certain severity reserved just for you these days. And you’re always seemingly eager to reciprocate with that sharp tongue.

“Again?” Noct gripes, silvery blue eyes simmering. Though he was initially groggy, the sounds of you and Gladio sniping at each other got his head throbbing and he’s wide awake. “Isn’t it bad enough that we’re hunting for frogs all day today?”

You turn your gaze onto the prince with his raven bangs plastered to his forehead. “Everything is fine, Noct.”

“Right,” he drawls, totally unconvinced. Nothing is fine between you and the Shield, everyone knows that. In fact, the guys have talked about it when you two aren’t around. Hushed words by the fire, long conversations when you two are gone. The one to plant the idea in the prince’s head was Prompto. It’s a good idea borne from a horrible place. Well, not necessarily horrible but... Noct didn’t know his blond best friend liked to play matchmaker. Or had such a vivid imagination about the goings on of the prince’s advisors.

“I think they’re into each other,” Prom had mused one morning while you and Gladio were out doing your own things.

Noct almost choked on his coffee and sputtered, “What? No way!” He looked to Iggy for support but the tactician remained quiet, contemplative, before meeting the prince’s eye and raising his eyebrows in tandem with his shoulders.

“I won’t pretend to know what those two think,” Iggy said. “However, I do know that they’re both under a great deal of pressure. Either way, the situation is about to come to a head.” He sighed and sipped his coffee, “I can’t imagine things carrying on like this for much longer.”

“Which is why we need them to be alone with each other to work things out!” Prom crowed. “Like... a day trip! Are there any hot springs around here?”

“We’re in Hammerhead and you watch too much anime,” Noct deadpanned. But the seed was planted. And, much to Noct’s own horror and Prompto’s glee, the prince finds himself suggesting, “Why don’t you two go somewhere together today? We’re just gonna be catching frogs and-”

“I’m not leaving you,” you immediately interrupt.

“You need me around,” Gladio cuts off the prince as well.

Noct gives you two a chilly smile. “What was all that talk about being adults? Well, I’m one too.”

“But-”

“I’m only-”

“Do I need to be harsh?” The prince crosses his arms and fixes you two with a cool look. “You’re both getting on my nerves. Go sort out your differences before you drive me insane.”

And so you and Gladio find yourselves driving down the road on your scooter, headed to a campsite in Cleigne that Prompto said “looked nice” while the others go to Kettier Highland. You’re supposed to be doing “team building exercises” with Gladio, whatever the hell that means. Prompto texted you a link to a website about it. It redirected so many times that your browser refused to open the page. You try again when you get to the campsite only to have Gladio loom over you after he finishes putting up the tent. He snatches your phone and scolds, "C'mon. The whole point of being out here is to get away from technology."

"Do you realize how old you sound right now?" You correct him, “And that’s not the point of this. We’re basically being put in time-out by Noct.”

The Shield gives you an unamused look before pocketing your phone and announcing, “Let’s go for a run.”

“Six, seriously?” You groan, looking around the green and brown wilderness, “I’m tired, Gladio! I was driving for a while! All you had to do was sit and look pretty.”

Gladio ignores your jab and rebuffs, “Which is exactly why we should go for a run. Get that blood pumpin’.”

“I don’t have any exercise clothes,” you point out, hopeful that you can get out of this dreaded run.

“No need. You fight in those clothes, might as well train in ‘em, too.” He starts stretching but continues his lecture, unimpeded, “You don’t fight the Empire in shorts and a t-shirt.”

Eyes turn to the sky and you silently plead, “Ramuh... I know I probably invoke you too often, but if you could finally listen to me, please do me a solid and make it storm-”

Gladio smacks your shoulder, smacks you right out of that half-assed prayer and says enthusiastically, “Let’s go!” Honestly, you have no choice but to follow him through the greenery of Cleigne. Legs pump and lungs ache. For a big guy, Gladio is surprisingly fast. Which is unfortunate for you, because it gives him the opportunity to coach you and “motivate” you the whole time.

“Pick up the pace, (y/n)!”

“Yeah, that’s it! Like that!”

You want to trip him when he leaps over tree roots and ducks under brush with ease. What the hell is he? Part anak? And when he starts climbing up a damn cliff? Coming to a halt, you watch him go and pant, “Aw, hell no!” Arm comes up to wipe the sweat from your brow. “What the hell, Gladiolus? You said a run! I’m not a mountain goat!”

A flash of amber, he glances over his shoulder at you but keeps going. “C’mon, Magey. Can’t handle this?” The implication that you can’t do something? That you can’t keep up? That you can’t keep up with him? Stubbornness has you dusting your hands off on your thighs and you’re biting your lip and following after him.

Dammit...

After what feels like an age, you find yourselves at the top of the cliff. Gladio says something about it being beautiful or whatever, amber eyes turning from the scenery to you, looking proud, but you’re too busy stooped over gasping for breath to pay attention. Waiting for your muscles to stop burning and twitching seems to take a lifetime. While you catch your breath, you survey the land real quick. You notice that you’re kinda high up, and say, “Yeah. Looks nice,” before turning on your heel and heading back down.

The descent is already proving to be trickier than the ascent. You scout out a good spot, one that has some decent ridges for footing, and head off. Muscles ache and head throbs. All you had in the morning was coffee so you’re starved and irritable. Stomach twists painfully with a pitiful mewl of a gurgle. Plus, you’re a bit peeved that the bodyguard just wasted valuable time that could’ve been spent following up on a research lead for an enchantment that supposedly stops magical corrupt-

“What’s your problem?”  Aaaaaand you knew the inevitable squabbling would rear its ugly head at the worst moment. Arms tremble as you carefully lower yourself from the edge and put your foot on the ridge. At this point, with how much you need to concentrate to get your foot stable, you aren’t going to give Gladio the time of day. You’d rather get down safely than mouth off and wind up breaking something. “(y/n).”

You can feel his footsteps more than you hear them. They’re surprisingly thunderous. Internally, you muse over how you probably should’ve taken the same path down as the one you climbed up. But this part of the plateau is less steep... Unfortunately, it’s also less stable. As Gladio comes closer, you feel the soil and sediment loosen beneath your fingers. “Gladio, stay back,” you say with surprising calmness even as your stomach drops.

You turn your head to stare out at the horizon over your shoulder, taking in the greenery and the bald patches of dirt. Creatures scamper around in the distance. Hell, you can even see the campground with that green tent and your yellow scooter parked not too far away. You’re a decent height up to be able to see so far out. Risking a bit of movement, you crane your neck to see if you can spot the drop-off.

Oh, nice! Sharp rocks promise a pleasant landing.

Surprisingly enough, Gladio stopped when you asked him to. Now you turn to look at him over the edge of the cliff, over your trembling knuckles. You inform lightly, “I might be about to fall to my death. So, if I do... give my books to Ignis and tell Prompto to name a chocobo after me. Also, tell Noct that his form is still shit and that I know he hasn’t been practicing his elemancy like I told him to. Tell him to practice or else I’ll haunt him.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Gladio grumbles, trying to look irritated though you can see the tension in his body.

“I also want you to know that I’m not as useless as you’d like to think, despite the situation,” you continue your rant. Fear has you word-vomiting pretty hard. Later, you might be embarrassed about this. But right now? You feel pretty vindicated in the diatribe.

Useless?” Gladio scoffs, “I never said that, Magey.”

“You never had to,” you sigh and close your eyes, take a breath to steady yourself before slowly pulling yourself up just as you push off of the ridge. You’re trying to move back up the cliffside, trying to get back onto the solid plateau. All you get to do is scramble to grab on to something, anything, before everything falls out from under you. Hanging from a craggy cliffside with only your fingers to hold you up gives you a brand new definition of “dead weight.” ‘Cause that’s what the rest of your body is as you struggle to try and find some divot or groove to put your feet.

“(y/n)! Grab my hand!” You look up to see a head of dark hair pop into view. Amber eyes are wide and panicked but the Shield keeps the rest of his face stoic and serious. If you know him (and you do), he’s keeping his bodyweight spread out to lessen the risk of even more earth giving way. However, if he grabs you and tries to pull you up, you’re both going down.

"Get back-" you gasp, straining to pull yourself up, "Get back or you’re as screwed as I am!"

“Grab my hand!” He stresses each word this time, reaching desperately for you.

A bit of sediment falls down and you blink it away, sputtering at the dirt that hits your mouth. “Will you just listen to me for once in your damn life?!” You yell, heart in your throat, “Six, you never listen! If I die again, I won’t be taking you with me, asshole!”

"Dammit, (y/n)!" He continues to reach for you just as you lose your grip and fall. "(Y/N)!"

You're falling in more ways than one. For the briefest moment, you really hope you won’t die. Those would be some shitty last words. Hell, you called Gladio an asshole. But then, you kinda hope you do. And soon. Because each sharp rock that you hit and skim on your way down threatens to eviscerate you or maim you, even when you miraculously kick off from the cliffside to put a bit of distance between yourself and its deathwall of rocks.

You’re gaining speed fast so you have to act faster. Reaching one arm behind you, you move your palm at a 90-degree angle to the rocks that rush to greet you, squeeze your eyes shut, and release a pulse of forceful energy. It's your last saving grace and you can only pray that it works. And at the last possible second, it does... But maybe, in your panic, you put a bit too much oomph into that blast. Because you find yourself violently propelled into the air.

You're sent flying back up, head jerking around painfully, rattling your brain. Sailing through the sky like a ragdoll, you have just enough time to wonder if this was a good idea and if you got the angle right before you land on the plateau right on your face, air knocked out of your lungs. Something snapped. Something definitely snapped. The earth moves, thundering footsteps headed your way before Gladio drops to his knees by your side and bellows, "What the hell were you thinking?!"

"Ugh," you moan once you find your voice, lips pressed into the dirt, “the point is... I was thinking. I’m alive, aren’t I? Got that-” you cut yourself off with a pained grunt, “that badass magic, just like I told you.” Someone must have shoved your head under water because noises don’t sound as sharp. Two strong hands slowly push you onto your back and blood immediately pours down the back of your throat like a fountain. Your nose is broken. All you can do is flop miserably on your side and spit up blood and mucus. Six, if you didn’t know any better you’d say you broke a few ribs.

"Idiot! How could you be so damn stupid?!" Gladiolus bellows, “You should’ve just taken my hand and stopped bein' so damn proud!”

Gladio's yelling, the pain, the fear that still makes your blood buzz and your heart race, your mounting insecurities... it all makes for a perfect storm. You don't even realize that you're crying until Gladio startles and begins to apologize. After a few minutes of you sniffling and trying not to gag on the taste of blood, Gladio gently rubbing your arm, you sit up and groan. Well, your head was pulled out of the water and is now occupied by bees.

“What’s wrong?” Gladio asks softly, sitting across from you.

To your horror, you find yourself answering honestly, "I feel useless and lonely." Your voice comes out strange, choked by tears and blood.

He gently punches your shoulder with a snort and apologizes when you moan and say that a rock cut you there. "C’mon, (y/n). Not a day goes by where you don’t help all of us out of a tough spot. And... what you said earlier. I do appreciate you even if it might seem like I don’t." Amber eyes meet yours and he pats your knee carefully. “You’re a damn fine mage and a- a damn fine friend. So, if you ever feel lonely, you can always come and talk to me.”

"When I said I was lonely it- it’s not about having you guys as friends. It’s-” you stop yourself and sigh, “You know what I mean."

An understanding silence fills the small space between you two. You keep your eyes on the ground, on your dirtied, ripped pants and the droplets of blood that almost look black in the dirt. "I hear you listening to her voicemail at night," Gladio finally confesses. "Sometimes we all need a good cry, even the best of us. Don't worry about it." The sound of movement has you looking up and before you can prepare yourself a bright light is flashed in your face.

“Thank y- Ah! What the hell?” You yelp, throwing your arm across your eyes. “Way to ruin the mood!”

“Oops! Sorry. Just let me check somethin’ out.” Gladio carefully moves your arm away and flashes the light from the flashlight app on his phone in your eyes. He sighs in relief, "Good. You don't have a concussion. That was a hell of a fall."

“Would’ve been worse if I fell the other way,” you point out, proud of your quick thinking.

“Maybe. Maybe not,” he shrugs. When the Shield sees your nonplussed expression, he explains, “Whatever you did pulverized those rocks. You woulda taken a tough hit, but it was nothing but a bed of pebbles and dust. I think you probably fared worse this way.”

“Huh...” You purse your lips.

Laughter has you making eye contact with the Shield once more. He’s laughing so hard that he has tears in his eyes. Once he’s able, he sputters out, “The look on your face! You can’t be satisfied that you lived, huh? You have to do it all perfectly.”

“Shut up.”

“The Perfectionist Mage,” he quips, looking satisfied with himself for that lame title.

You huff, irritation quickly numbing the cuts on your body and stifling the buzzing in your head. “What am I? Just pick one. Safety Mage? Perfectionist Mage?”

“Hungry Mage,” he says, picking off menu. When he sees your flushed face, he quirks an eyebrow and drawls, “Yeah, I heard your stomach before you fell. You’re always hungry for somethin’.”

“That... let’s just go back to camp. I need a potion and a change of clothes.” The rest of the day, things are much better. You and Gladio are back to that easygoing groove of you telling lame jokes and him being the peanut gallery, there to boo you and laugh. You share your meals and tell stories. He promises to lay off and you promise to attend one training session. “Just one! And no rock climbing!” You say, setting ground rules.

That night, you have the best sleep of your life. Maybe Gladio was right? Everyone needs a good cry. Or they need to almost fall to their death. It isn’t until morning that things start to get tense again. But it’s a very different sort of tension.

As usual, you’re up before Gladio and getting ready to head back to meet the others after your brief exile. Nature calls once you put all of your things in Choco Jr.’s storage tail and you amble off from the campsite to find a nice, covered spot to do your business. You pull your pants down, letting them fall to your ankles. You’re about to pull your underwear down when you see it Feathers, scales, yellow eyes. A basilisk.

In dead silence, still as a statue, you watch it walk around like a giant, overgrown chicken. You have two options and they both end with running. You either kick your pants off as you run or you risk the extra couple of seconds to pull your pants up from around your ankles and run. When the basilisk cocks its head toward you and starts walking over, your decision is made.

All that running from yesterday? Yeah, you damn Gladiolus in your head for tiring you out. However, you’re also a little bit more prepped for this and before you know it you’ve lost the basilisk and you’re back in the safety of the campsite. Unfortunately, Gladio is awake. And you aren't wearing pants. You're very conscious of this fact. So is Gladio. The Shield clears his throat and looks up from your bare legs to meet your eye, “Why-”

“There was a basilisk!” You blurt, feeling numb. “It... I left my pants and ran and... I’m sure they got ruined.”

He nods his head slowly. “Right. Did you bring any other clothes?”

“My other clothes got ruined yesterday because you wanted us to go rock climbing,” you snap under that knowing gaze, somehow finding the strength within yourself to play the blame game even as the Shield has a front-row seat to your underwear.

He sighs, “I have some sweats. Just- they have a drawstring so you can tighten 'em. You’re gonna need to roll up the legs, though.”

“Thanks,” you sigh in relief. As you’re about to turn around and enter the tent, you pause and ask, “Can I borrow a shirt?”

Amber eyes glance down toward your chest. “Don’t you have a shirt?”

Feeling self-conscious under that heated gaze, you explain, “I’ll look dumb in sweatpants and a semi-formal button-up.”

He squints at you with a smirk. “There’s an old t-shirt in my bag, Fashion Mage.”

“Seriously?” You whine.

When you two return to the others, neither you nor Gladio are prepared for the explosive reaction that you get. All eyes are on your borrowed clothing. Noct looks like his eyes are about to pop out of his head. Prompto rears around to smack Noct’s shoulder before he yells out to the heavens, “I knew it!”

Chapter Text

09. Insomniac

“How good are you at distracting people, (y/n)?”

You glance to your left to find Prompto blinking his baby blues at you. Though he’s acting as lackadaisical as ever, arms behind his head and gait cocky even though he should be sneaking, the tension is evident in his lithe form. He’s nervous and you aren’t too sure where it stems from. It could be that you’re all being used as bait so that Noct and Cor can get the jump on an imperial base or it could be coming from the fact that you’re all about to declare war on the Empire. If you had to hazard a guess, you’d put your money on somewhere in-between.

It’s been a few days since Cor turned Noct on to this little plot- this little declaration of war. In that time, Noct has been practicing with his armiger. In that time, you’ve been reading your family grimoire more and more. Because you remembered the story you read, the one you were trying to remember when you first saw that celestial weapon in the tomb. Now, you're too caught up in the siren song of your mother's unfinished research. Every time Noct uses his armiger and winces, you lose yourself a little more in the slanted calligraphy. A tomb of old literature encases you. Ink fills your veins alongside black coffee. It's all become too much; a duffle bag is purchased and placed in the Regalia's trunk, teeming with your manuscripts.

So many manuscripts. Dozens. And it’s only been five days. There's no making sense of the loose ends of your mother’s research in her portion of the grimoire (and sometimes you feel like she left it all scattered just to frustrate you), but you still take the threads in hand and run. You run and run... It’s not healthy. You know it. Everyone knows it. Especially Noct. It was during a fight with a seemingly endless stream of creatures that your mask slipped. You blamed your explosive reaction to Noct’s use of his armiger on exhaustion. Everyone had stopped to turn and look at you as you yelled out at the prince to “STOP!” Bit dramatic, for sure. Even the last voretooth stopped trying to pounce Prompto to look at you.

“Why are you freaking out about me using the armiger?” Noct had asked once his celestial weapon disappeared.

“I’m not freaking out,” you huffed, cheeks hot. “I’m concerned. There’s a difference.”

“You literally just screamed ‘stop’ at me when I used it,” he pointed out phlegmatically, totally unamused. “And every time I use it, you look at me like you think I’m gonna drop dead.”

After a moment of mulling over how you would respond, you informed him, “There’s a story that I read about how magic can wear down human bodies.”

The prince quirked a dark eyebrow at you. “Where’d you hear that?”

“You don’t really need to hear it.” You explained delicately, “You saw your father. It was the same with your ancestors, too. And the Oracles. Same story over and over. They use magic and their health goes. The body wears down over time.”

Iovitas don’t.”

You blinked in surprise at that. He wasn’t lying but he was pointing it out to deflect. You mentioning his father was a sore spot. Same as anyone mentioning your mother around you. But you still moved the conversation back to him and his bloodline all the same. “You aren’t an Iovita. We’re talking about you here, Noct.”

“So you want me to stop using the armiger?” He seemed irritated with you. And who could blame him? He’d spent a good chunk of his time practicing with the sword and the axe, getting used to the feel of them, growing accustomed to summoning them. And you wanted him to stop?

You shook your head and corrected, “I want you to be smart about it and let me handle the rest. That’s what I’m here for, after all.”

That got his attention. Steely blue eyes narrowed at you as Noct slowly asked, “What are you talking about?”

“I’m picking up my mother’s research where she left it off," you answered proudly even though you had nothing to show for it. Days of reading her passages had left you empty-handed. But, since she repeatedly referenced the works of Lumis, you knew where you were going to pick up your next reading session. And then Noct said something that had all eyes on you.

"Is that why you stopped sleeping?" 

Six, you hadn’t and haven’t slept since the coeurl incident...

“Yes,” you finally reply to the blond, snapping out of your reverie and tugging Prom down to crouch with you. You ignore his little squeal of protest. “I am good at distracting others. I think one year, an entire class’ GPA dropped because of me.”

“How did you manage that?” Ignis inquires, throwing you a skeptical yet intrigued look over his shoulder.

Honestly, you’re surprised he even heard you. You’re all keeping your voices low for the sake of not blowing your cover and not getting on Monica’s nerves. You hold off on telling your tale when the brunette directs you all to a path that leads to the highway where magitek soldiers patrol the road. She says to be careful, eyes hard. “I’ll tell you later,” you hiss, readying your staff and waiting for Gladio to make the first move once you’re all within striking distance of the infantry.

As a mage... fights aren’t really your cuppa. Exploring, reading, or finding new plants that you’ve never worked with? That’s the good shit. You could do that all day (and you have...). But nearly getting harpooned by a magitek soldier like you’re the world’s smallest land whale? Nah. You can live without that. But you sure do appreciate how quickly Gladio slides in front of you with his shield to deflect the attack.

“Nice one!” You praise.

“Yep.” And he’s off after that monosyllabic response- there one second and gone the next like some sort of cryptid. Was he even there at all? Who knows?

“Psh! See if I applaud you again, punk,” you murmur under your breath right as you send a small chunk of the highway smashing into a few soldiers. Your hand tingles afterward and you shake the sensation out through your fingers. Lack of sleep is making all this fighting tricky.

Whoa!” Prompto marvels from his spot beside you, a spot that seems to be his permanent residence ever since he accidentally shot you. “That was so cool!” It’s his default setting with you. Everything you do is “so cool” or “awesome” or some other hyperbolic reaction to something the magisters would roll their eyes at. Where a magister would correct your form and punish you with 20 page papers for a spell that lasts a fraction of a second too long, Prom all but dresses in a cheerleader outfit and sings your praises.

“Taxpayers won’t think so,” you quip, eyeing the 5x5 piece missing from the street. “I got a little carried away. It won’t happen again.”

It might happen again,” you think bitterly. “I should’ve taken a power nap while I had the chance. I’m being careless.”

“No! No! Do it again!” The blond practically begs and you roll your eyes.

“That’s-” you grunt and plunge the sharp end of your staff through the head of a soldier that started crawling toward you after your highway trick blew off its legs, “-not gonna happen, Sunshine.”

“Su-Sunshine?”

Despite the heat that you feel creeping up your neck at that accidental slip of friendly affection, you snark, “It’s either Sunshine or Choco-butt. And Gladio prefers the latter.”

“What?!”

It’s warm out and drizzly which makes you sweat more than you normally would from the skirmish. All in all, it was a successful distraction with the soldiers coming out in droves to greet you all; Gladio leading the charge and Ignis micromanaging- I mean giving helpful instructions. No one is injured and all there is to do now is wait for Noct and the marshal to open the gates for you all to get through.

“About that story...”

Eyes snap to Iggy who is standing next to you. Someone should put a damn bell on him because you didn’t hear the bespectacled brunet come anywhere near you until he spoke! But you hide your shock well- behind a perfectly timed cough that almost sounds like a yelp. Okay, you don’t hide it well. Rolling your shoulders and rolling the shame right off of your body like water beading off of a duck’s back, you answer, “When I was allowed to join classes with other students, some of the friendlier ones would ask me to show them the ‘coolest thing’ I could do. Needless to say, once you make one person a burn-less fireball to carry around, everyone starts asking for one, too. They stopped paying attention in class for a solid week and over half the class flunked the first major exam. Sheesh, the looks I got after everyone got their exam results.”

“Burn-less fireball?” Prompto awes, seemingly forgetting that you just called him Choco-butt not even a minute ago.

“The first accident I ever had with my magic was with fire. I conjured a fireball, held it in my hand, lost concentration, and then burned the ever-loving hell out of myself. It didn’t scar but I learned my lesson. After that, I made it my mission to master fire spells before I turned ten.” You shrug like it’s no big deal. “And I did. My fire magic doesn’t burn anything unless I want it to.”

Prompto’s blue eyes are all starry as he breathes, “Can you make me a burn-less fireball?”

“You mean you want me to turn you into a fireball?” You slowly raise your hand, palm facing toward Prompto. “Done!”

“No!” He winces and laughs, just barely flinching. “Will you please make a fireball for me?” Behind the blond, Gladio gives you a curt shake of his head. Ooh, this is a tough spot. You don’t want to irritate Gladiolus but you also don’t want to disappoint Prompto. I mean, it’s just a little fireball! It’s no bigger than a tangerine! Why can’t Prompto have one? You find yourself asking exactly that. The sharpshooter rounds on the bodyguard. “Yeah, why can’t I have one?”

“Because you’re careless,” the Shield fires back. “Besides, where would you keep it?”

That gives the blond pause. “Uh...”

Ignis bargains with a patented sigh, “How about a compromise? Prompto can have his fun with his fireball for today and (y/n) takes it away come nightfall?”

“Aw! Only a day? That’s no fun.”

You give the blond an amused look as you hold your hand out to him, palm facing the sky, and snort, “I don’t know how much fun you think a harmless fireball is going to be. You can’t even use it in battle.” Cupping your hand, the air in your palm swirls and heats up until a small ball of orange flames materializes. It flickers faintly in the rain but remains whole.

Should I really be wasting energy on something like this?”

The thought is whisked away with the rain water the second you see the expression on Prom’s face. Wide-eyed, Prompto reaches for the fireball like you’re offering him the world. Tilting your hand, you allow the fireball to roll off of your fingertips and into the sharpshooter’s eagerly waiting hands. And once he gets it nestled in his palms, he immediately drops it. “Ah! It tingles!”

With a roll of your eyes you stoop over and pick it up out of a growing puddle before tossing it to Gladio like you’re throwing a softball. The brunet immediately catches your sneak-attack fireball and turns it around between his palms. “It does kinda tingle,” Gladio agrees. Amber eyes flicker over the strategist and he barely warns, “Hey, Ignis, catch,” before hurling the ball of fire at the bespectacled man.

It’s a streak of orange through the falling rain, shooting past your head where Iggy catches it with ease behind you. Like his friend, Ignis rolls the ball around in his hands and hums his agreement, “Very interesting.”

And that’s how Noct and Cor find you all: Fooling around and playing catch with a burn-less fireball. Prompto immediately hides the fireball behind his back like you were all doing something illegal. With pursed lips, you snap your fingers and the flame is gone; snuffed out in an instant. Prompto turns his wide eyes onto you, torn between amazement and frustration at having his new toy taken away.

The marshal glosses over the scene to praise you all, “You did a great job distracting them.”

“Yeah,” Gladio drawls, “the Niffs couldn’t take their eyes off us. The area’s cleared out.”

You point up toward the cloudy sky and sigh, “As usual, Gladiolus, your talent of speaking too soon never ceases to amaze me.” The others turn their attention onto the approaching Niff airship which emits a... sort of annoying voice, if you’re being honest. The sort of voice that probably belongs to a face that looks to be in want of a nice, good, open-handed slap. You’ve met a few people at the Spire with voices like that- the sort of grating kind no matter the pitch or tone. “Do we have to fight?” You ask flatly, readying your staff with an unamused smirk.

There’s a growing pressure behind your eyes. It slowly tightens and tightens until it feels like a rubber band about to snap. A shake of your head doesn’t do anything to rid yourself of the uncomfortable sensation. The others think you’re just shaking rain out of your eyes.

“Why don’t you hit ‘em with more pavement?” Prompto suggests, still harping on about the previous skirmish.

“How about I-” You don’t get to finish your empty threat because you nearly get blown to bits by a rocket from the MA-X Cuirass. And so, without further ado, the battle begins with you pinned under the quick-thinking blond and getting hit in the forehead with a bit of rubble from the blast. That bit of rubble seems to make the rubber band in your head tighten exponentially. “Ow!”

“No time for bitchin’, (y/n)! Get up and get movin’!” It’s Gladio who says it and you and Prom get to share an eye rolling moment before you hop up and get to work. The usual chores are doled out. You and Prompto get the “annoyances” while the others focus on the “big bad.” As you electrocute a sniper, your vision shifts. It’s as if the scene before you is nothing more than a picture and someone has started slowly moving it from side to side and you struggle to keep your eyes centered on it. The world falls out from under your feet and you fall into a bottomless pit.

When you awake, the others are talking among themselves. You're on Noct's jacket, curled up in the backseat of the Regalia. The guys stand off to the side of the road, voices low but not low enough. They had covered for you when you fell. Told Cor you were just getting over a bad cold that had made it next to impossible for you to get sleep. They agree not to tell you that Cor was the one to see you fall and come running to your aid. They unanimously agree not to let you know that the Immortal carried you to safety in his arms. They figure you probably won’t be able to handle the news. Prompto even guesses that you might faint again.

Keeping your eyes closed, you listen to their “private” conversation. As expected, they’re talking about you. And though you expected to be the topic of gossip, your stomach still twists when you hear your name spoken softly like a curse.

“I think this recent obsession might be serving as a distraction for (y/n),” Ignis surmises.

“The book?” Gladio asks for clarification. Someone probably nods because he grumbles, “Yeah. They don’t even sleep anymore. They always have the campfire goin’ through the night.”

“And it’s a little hard to ignore half the trunk space being taken up by a bunch of paper,” Prompto points out.

“Have any of you tried reading some of that stuff? I couldn’t wrap my head around any of it.”

“You shouldn’t snoop, Noct.”

“Don’t tell me you never got curious, Specs.”

“Well,” Prom interrupts, “should we talk to (y/n) about it?”

There’s a pause.

“I had hoped to give them more time to sort things out...”

“Sort what out?”

“Noct.”

“What?” Noct snaps, “You heard them. They were cracking jokes the second Gladio brought them back. I don’t think their death affected them as much as you-”

“They haven’t slept in days. They haven’t eaten in days.” Ignis’ tone is sharp but restrained. “Noctis, if that doesn’t fit your description of ‘affected’-”

“All right, guys, no need to argue!” Prompto struggles to placate them. You can hear the panicked grimace in his voice.

“(y/n) is a little hardheaded,” Gladio says, “so I think we’d have a better chance getting through to ‘em when we aren’t all pissed off at each other. Otherwise? They’re not gonna listen to a thing we have to say.”

Ignis sighs, “You’re right.”

Footsteps approach the Regalia and you deepen your breathing, feigning sleep. The sound of a car door opening has your eyelids fluttering before you perfectly act out waking up for the first time. You rub the sleep from your eyes and sit up. All eyes are on you. The perfect groggy smile stretches across your face. “Hey... What happened?”

Looks are exchanged. “(y/n), we should-”

You cut Ignis off to point out, “It’s almost nightfall. Let’s head back to camp and we’ll talk there.”

You don’t give them a chance to tell you that none of them think it’s a good idea for you to drive your scooter after passing out from exhaustion. The short drive back to the campsite is occupied with thoughts of how easily they saw right through you. But it’s not like you made it any huge secret that you were unraveling at breakneck speed, anyway. So... you just have to hope that you find something useful before they all try and spring an intervention on you. You pray that you do find something... anything.

And honestly? Everyone is pissed that you immediately go back to reading the second you step into camp instead of talking like you said you would. Gladio is half tempted to throw your book in the fire but thinks better of it, reels in that frustration of his, heeds his own advice. But he, like Noct, glowers at you the whole time. Iggy distracts himself by cooking and Prom tries to distract the others with pictures. You could cut the tension at camp with a damn plastic spoon.

“Serendipity” is the word of the day for you. But years later when you look back on this moment, it probably wasn’t anything so lucky. As you’re thumbing through the grimoire for the thousandth time, under the collective heated gaze of Noct and Gladio, a passage from Lumis sticks out at you:

Today, my king asked me to give up binding magic because of how it tethers the soul. I tried to argue my case, but he was unconvinced. Binding magic can be applied to multiple mediums, not just humans. However, the enchanter must be careful. Enchanting and binding are different species- magic is exerted in both methods but it is not replenished through binding. Enchantments require finite amounts of magic which makes it easier to control whereas binding spells require the enchanter to be a constant fount of magic. Binds tie. There is no good reason for an enchanter to use binding magic for long periods of time. I have seen the repercussions firsthand. The bind must be broken at some point, lest-

“Yes! Yes!” Everyone looks at you now as you flail in your chair, nearly dropping your book. You need paper and a pen, stat. It’s a breakthrough! A totally ill-timed breakthrough because you’ve written on every available space on each sheet of paper that you have. In your panic, you begin scribbling down on your arm just as you corner Ignis at his makeshift kitchen and ask, “Iggy! Do we have anymore paper?”

“No,” green eyes flicker down to where you hastily write on your forearm, your handwriting illegible to all but you, “we’re all out. Why?”

“Are you fucking me?!” You yell in exhausted fury. Ignis blinks in surprise and it takes a split second for you to realize what you just said. You blush and sputter, “O-Oh, Six! Sorry. I accidentally dropped out ‘kidding’ and that...” you trail off, feeling all eyes on you. Wincing, you turn away and hiss, “Gods.”

“You can use my notebook if you-”

“No,” you cut him off hastily as you hurry back to the tent, “I’m fine! I’m fine! Sorry!”

Luckily for you, you get the thought down before it can be lost- hastily typed into your phone with typos galore. What’s not so lucky...? Now, at camp, Gladio takes great pleasure in randomly yelling, “Are you fucking me?!” when the group is out of cup noodles or when you decline his offer to train. Gods, he’s such an asshole. And you hate that you can’t help but laugh each time he does it.

But you found what you were looking for. It’s a loose thread of a start- one obstacle, one hard pull away from unraveling a plan that hasn’t even been fully-formed. It’s a tenuous thing and it’s a sad state of affairs that this wisp of an idea is the best thing you’ve come up with even after scouring the dense underbelly of your mother’s research for days. You tell yourself that you’ll focus on Lumis’ writings and follow any leads, any outside sources that he cites for everything that he does.

What you don’t expect is that you’ll find yourself elbow-deep in Florus’ dream diary, constantly redirected to a passage where he makes reference to an ancestor who disappeared millennia ago. An ancestor who keeps calling out to him from a black void in his dreams. An ancestor who Florus says calls out to every descendant, hands outstretched like clawed things; beckoning, cajoling, whispering in the ears of the children before finally falling away into a restless slumber when it’s ignored. An ancestor he says must always be ignored.

But for now? You can sleep.

Chapter Text

Good Vibes

“Sorry, Specs, but we’re kinda in the middle of something...”

“And Gladio is out chopping wood in the great outdoors like a lumberjack,” Prompto jokes. “Heh, sorry Ignis. Besides, it looks like it might rain,” the blond says seriously, like he’s made of sugar and will melt the second a drop of water lands on his head. Then again, he certainly acts like his fluffy hair is cotton candy whenever you all get caught in the rain.

You’re in the middle of one of Lumis’ passages about perfectly timing energy absorption with a yojimbo’s attack to create an enchantment that protects against darkness when this conversation takes place. Making a mental note of where you’re leaving off (“I found myself pelted with coins... the agony... However, I was certainly appreciative of my newfound wealth.”), you lower the book and watch the men.

Last you checked, Noct and Prom were playing King’s Knight, not doing anything serious. And when you flick your gaze over them, they still are- minus the occasional kick at each other’s feet now that Iggy is there. So, you can’t help but roll your eyes when they tell Ignis they’re “too busy” to accompany him on a late afternoon grocery run. Snapping the grimoire shut, you look up to meet those verdant eyes (that are, oddly enough, already focused on you) and say, “I’ll go with you, Ignis,” you cut your eyes to the two lazy men who lounge in folding chairs, “because I appreciate you.”

Hell, if Gladio isn’t here to make them feel bad for leaving Iggy in the lurch, you have to pick up the slack... Hence why you’ve earned the nickname “GladioLite” from Noct since you’re always telling him to mind his manners with the bespectacled man, correcting his form when he’s about to use his bottled magic, and generally being strict as hell whenever he dabbles in elemancy.  Steely cerulean eyes snap toward you as the prince scowls. “We all appreciate him.”

“Yeah!” Prom pipes up, though his eyes are glued to his flashing screen. “We totally appre- Ha! Leveled up! In your face, Noct!”

“What?!” Noct is immediately absorbed in the game once more. “Did you grind while I was asleep? Cheater.”

Ignis Scientia gives the two younger men one last look before returning his kind gaze to you. “Thank you, (y/n). I won’t keep you for too long.”

“Please,” you sigh, standing and dusting yourself off, relieved to have something to do since your eyes were getting tired, “you can keep me as long as you want.”

It’s as you turn around to stuff your grimoire into your bag that it happens. It can only be described as a silent drama. You miss the teasing look Noct throws his childhood friend’s way. You miss the way Prom bites his bottom lip to keep from laughing, cornflower blue eyes on your back. You miss how Ignis shoots Noct a frigid stare that he then turns on to Prom, just daring them to say something. When you turn back around, the drama is over. The guys are focused on their game and you and Iggy make your way to the Regalia.

There’s a balmy breeze in the air and it smells clean and mild like rain is in the forecast. It’s overcast but Iggy keeps the top down. As you buckle up, you drum your fingers against your knee before asking, “Hey, Ignis?”

“Yes?” The tactician replies primly, adjusting the rearview mirror and side mirrors to his liking since the prince was the last one to drive the car.

“Do you mind if I put my own music on?” You’re making eyes at him. You’ve found that Ignis is particularly susceptible to you making your eyes all big. And when you tilt your chin down just a bit and look up at him through your lashes? Six, he’s absolute putty. In truth, he just enjoys letting you think that you’re getting away with playing him. It’s turned into this running gag with the others, though you don’t know it. Whenever they’re trying to convince Ignis to do something and he won’t relent (and you aren’t around), one of the guys will say something along the lines of, “Will you do it if I give you ‘(y/n) Eyes’?”

“Is there something wrong with the music that’s usually played?” Iggy queries innocently as he begins to drive down the road.

“Aside from the fact that I feel like I’m going through the nine circles of hell since the same handful of songs are repeated nonstop? Nah. It’s fine.”

The left corner of his mouth quirks. “Very well, (y/n). Play your music, lest I have to suffer through your sarcasm for the duration of the trip.”

“Yes! Thank you!” You hook up your phone and select your “Good Vibes” playlist. Honestly, you haven’t listened to this playlist in what feels like an age. When you first started this trip, you’d left the Spire in such a rush that you didn’t bring earbuds. And then, as the trip turned into more of a quest, you haven’t had a moment alone to sit back and listen to music. It’s either researching enchantments and spells using your family’s grimoire in conjunction with practical magic and one of the other ancient books you brought along, or talking strategy with your fellow royal advisors.

The only down time you have has been spent playing tug-of-war with Prom over Noct’s attention or being the one tugged in all directions. Spaced out, you don’t really even hear the music now. You don’t hear Britney Spears sing about a threesome. You don’t hear Chrissy Amphlett croon about touching herself. And you totally miss Ariana Grande asking to be touched. But Ignis does. Emerald eyes widen marginally and he shoots you a stealthy glance from the corner of his eye. He takes in the contemplative expression on your face, your fingers drumming against your knee in thought. Iggy clears his throat and asks, “Do you enjoy these songs?”

Snapping out of your daze, you turn your head to look at him just as the song switches to something safe and upbeat. “Uh-huh. I used to listen to these all the time.” You smile brightly. “Now that I think about it, a lot of these songs kinda make me think of you.”

A flash of green. A quick glance. “Is that so?”

“Mmhm.”

“And why is that, I wonder?”

You throw him a grin and snark, “’Cause you always put me in a good mood, Scientia.” The hint of pink on his cheeks... oh, boy. Seeing Ignis flustered, even mildly so, has a way of clouding your judgment. Because you don’t stop while you’re ahead; you aren’t satisfied with the reaction you got. Oh, no! You just have to unwittingly dig your grave just a bit deeper. And you do so with the most sinful smirk Ignis has ever seen on anyone’s face. “Yeah... all of these songs make me think of you, now that I think about it.”

You aren’t thinking about it. That’s the problem. It’s the furthest thing from the truth, honestly. Because you aren’t thinking about the songs, you aren’t recalling exactly what you have on this playlist of music that you ripped off of the internet. The only thing you’re thinking about is making that blush a few shades deeper. Mission accomplished. But yours is going to be so much darker.

The nearest gas station is a half-hour drive down the road from the campsite and it’s fitted with not only a convenience store but a few stalls where local farmers sell their crop. By the perky way Ignis sits as he drives, you can tell he’s looking forward to perusing the wares. But he’s also secretly pleased that you flirt with him when it’s just the two of you, and not just to tease him in front of the others.

You gaze out at the scenery, loving the lush greenery and the rivers that you occasionally see. The bright music really sets the tone for you, too. This playlist was one of the things that kept you from going absolutely insane in the oppressive silence of the Spire. You’d dance around the library while others were in class or eating dinner. You’d sing along just to give some of the magisters a heart-atta- “Oh, shit!”

Ignis is very elegant, sophisticated, and respectable. He’s also, perhaps, the hardest for you to read and the most guarded around you. And, in truth, you’re always desperately trying to impress him. Which is why, when one of your favorite but risqué songs plays and you’re too busy jamming and looking around that you don't immediately change it, you freak out. Fingers are too numb and panicky to work your phone’s screen and you end up dropping it onto the console where it slips and hangs from its cable by Ignis’ leg. Hands fly out to the radio to change the song. What you end up doing is blaring the volume at perhaps the worst moment.

If you're horny, let's do it
Ride it, my pony
My saddle's waiting
Come and jump on i-

Something ambient and electronic plays after you press the skip button far too hard. You actually wind up jamming your index finger in your desperation. Iggy keeps his eyes on the road, face still as serene as ever, even as he carefully picks up your phone from where it hangs by his leg and blindly places it on your lap before lowering the volume. You’re sweating like you’re in a sauna after running a 5k, looking urgently for a safe spot to eject yourself from the Regalia toward. And you ask, purely on instinct because these are the types of random-ass questions you fling the tactician’s way, “Do you think it would hurt to bail from a car at this speed?”

“Come now, (y/n), we’re nearly there.” The smile in his voice is painfully obvious. “Just endure my company for a bit longer.”

You look up to the cloudy sky and silently pray, “Ramuh, if you’re out there... please kill me.” There’s a flash of lightning in the distance and you jolt, “Never mind! Never mind!”

After you’ve languished in your seat for long enough, you clear your throat and strike up a conversation with Ignis about what he’s planning on making for dinner, voice taking on a tremulous edge that you struggle to snuff out. When Iggy easily engages in conversation, you think the moment is forgotten. It isn’t.

When you two get to the store, Ignis whips out a list and quickly sets about purchasing everything he needs. You dawdle around the miniature farmer’s market, sniffing spices and haggling because you’re perhaps a bit too stingy when it comes to buying ingredients for poultices and salves (because you know you can just find half this stuff out in the wild but you’re impatient). A tap on the shoulder has you spinning around, kettier ginger and schier turmeric swinging along with you in little plastic bags. Emerald eyes glance down at your purchases before fixating on your curious face. “I’d like to buy you lunch as thanks for accompanying me, (y/n).”

You grin widely and laugh, “And how can I say no to that?

Sitting at one of the many little plastic tables in the parking-lot-turned-market, you wait for Ignis to come over with the food. You’re keeping watch over the groceries, though it’s highly doubtful that anyone would try to steal them. Especially since the place is almost empty. Finally, Ignis returns with kabobs and lemonade in tow. The two of you dig in and the bespectacled gourmand starts taking notes, as usual. But... Honestly? You’re disappointed in the meal. It isn’t seasoned all that well and the meat is a little tough.

Ignis immediately notices the subtle change in your demeanor. Usually you eat with gusto and even pick off of Noct’s plate if the prince is foolish enough to sit too close and if Gladio can’t be bothered to “save” the prince by offering you some of his food. “Is the food not to your liking, (y/n)?”

You shrug, trying not to seem unappreciative. “It’s fine... but it’s just fine. You know? But thank you! Seriously. I was getting hungry.”

“I honestly think it’s splendid,” Iggy responds, eyebrows knitted together. He didn’t think you were so picky with your food. You always eat everything he makes at camp.

“Well, you’ve just spoiled me, I guess,” you admit and finish the subpar kabob all the same.

He clears his throat, fights off a flattered blush. “I beg your pardon?”

“You’re way out of everyone’s league, Ignis,” you sigh before sipping your lemonade, unaware of the tactician’s gaze.

Surprisingly, he can’t think of anything to say other than, “Thank you.”

When the conversation lulls, you get bored. Ignis always takes too damn long to eat. Then again, he tends to savor his food while you still can’t break the bad habit of wolfing everything down like you’re pressed for time- always on the move, always something to write or study or research. Unfortunately for you, boredom has you appraising the brunet... another bad habit. But this one is fairly new- already a favorite of yours since you love looking at the man’s flawless face. And Iggy is always quick to notice your gaze.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” There’s a playful glint in Ignis’ eyes as he scolds, dabbing at the corners of his mouth with a paper napkin, “Staring is rude, you know.”

"You would've made a great magister," you suddenly blurt. And you mean it, truly. You’ve thought so since you started getting to know him. He has a very caring side and a strict side- but his compassion usually outweighs his firmness. Sometimes you find yourself envying Noct for having Ignis and Gladio to guide him when he was growing up. Though you had your mother and Drusa, they couldn’t be there all the time to protect you from the cruelties of certain magisters. But if the magisters had all been like Ignis Scientia, you probably wouldn’t have left in the first place.

Ignis, for his part, isn’t thrown off in the slightest by your sudden comment. "Is that a compliment?" You see green thinly veiled behind fine lashes.

"Well, yes it’s a compliment. You're multitalented, dedicated, passionate...” you trail off when you realize how intensely he’s staring at you. Swallowing hard, you finish, “Six, you have the stare of a basilisk. You wouldn’t have even needed to reprimand me to get me to fall in line.”

“Is that so?” His tone... His voice sounds deeper somehow, richer... Is this double entendre or something? Well, shit, you aren’t exactly experienced when it comes to stuff like this, so you can’t be too sure. All of your “experience” comes from living vicariously through film characters.

You aren’t really sure what’s going on but you do know that something is going way over your head, so you reply innocently, “Yes.”

Ignis’ eyes are hooded, unfinished kabob hanging from his fingers, elbows on the dingy plastic table as he leans forward to ask, “I can get you to do whatever I desire simply by looking at you?”

“Ye- Wait. What? That’s not-!” You freeze and then begin to chug the rest of your lemonade before sputtering out, “Ju-Just finish eating, Scientia. We have to hurry or the guys are gonna starve to death.”

He smiles politely and concedes, “Of course, Iovita.” He leans back into his plastic chair and finishes his kabob. On the drive back, all is quiet. That is, until you realize that you’d left your phone hooked up to the radio the whole time. As you’re internally reprimanding yourself for being so careless with the device, something happens that makes your blood run cold and then hot. It feels like you’re frozen solid, eyes wide as the tactician reaches for your phone and brings it onto his knee. Clever fingers unlock it and flick through your playlists. Ignis turns up the volume and plays that song.

The things I will do to you
You and your body
Every single portion
Send chills up and down your spine Juices flowing down your thigh”

You melt into your seat and nearly combust when he starts humming along, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel to the beat. You’re just so immensely grateful that it’s a pretty short song. Until you realize he put it on repeat.

Chapter Text

The Petty Prince

“Ooh, what are you making today, Ignis?” You peer over the brunet’s shoulder, keeping a safe distance from what he’s cooking so as not to get lectured about food sanitation. Whatever it is, it smells wonderful. The savory aroma of braised meat and hearty broth has you salivating. Anything Ignis cooks pretty much garners this reaction from you.

“One of your favorites,” Iggy finally responds, stirring the meat in the large pot, shoulder bumping up into your nose so you’re forced to back off. He apologizes quickly before actually answering your question, “King’s stew.”

Hm? What did I do to earn your favor, Scientia?” You’re practically drooling on his shoulder again, already forgetting about the bump on your nose. “Not that I’m complaining, mind.” It’s early in the evening, but you’re all wiped out from hiking and monster hunting. Well, Noct got wiped out. And when Noctis is tired, everyone stops to make camp. You just got up from pampering Noct and Prom with flurries of ice in the dry desert heat when you smelled food and had to come over.

“Do I need to have an ulterior motive to treat you, (y/n)?” Ignis queries, voice low. Suddenly feeling like you’re standing too close to him, you back away and clear your throat. Satisfied with your reaction, Iggy relents, “All right, you’ve found me out. My devious plot to bribe you for your flurries has been foiled.”

You laugh at that, catching the attention of Noct and Prom who are playing King’s Knight. They watch as you materialize flurries around Iggy. The prince gazes at his two advisors for a moment before looking back at his screen. Prompto stares for a bit longer and kicks Noct’s foot when he levels up. Little bits of slush stick to Ignis’ light brown hair and you whisk them away before they can melt and ruin his ‘do. Keeping him nice and cool from the combined heat of the desert and the cooking fire becomes your short-lived camp duty.

Gladio rolls his eyes at you when he comes back from whatever strength training he was out doing today and snorts, “Suck up.”

“Jealousy is such an ugly look on you, Gladiolus,” you simper before hitting him with a burst of cold air that has a shiver running up his spine.

All that sweat on his body makes the frigid air ten times more effective. He swears at you and you snicker. The Shield has learned that that evil little laugh of yours spells trouble, so he’s safe and sound in the tent before you can do anything else. Dinner is served without further ado. One disapproving glance from Iggy keeps you from torturing the prince’s bodyguard further and you sit next to Ignis this time around rather than your usual spot to Noct’s left. Though this game of musical chairs goes unnoticed by the others (or they, logically, don’t give a damn) two blue eyes keep finding their way to you.

Okay, so, here’s the thing...

The prince has grown accustomed to a certain level of attention from each of his friends. Does he prefer being everyone’s favorite? Maybe... Possibly... Definitely. Iggy dotes on him, Prom basically worships him, and though Gladio is the hardest on him he’s always been there for the prince to lean on. And since you met them all, you’ve always had Noctis pretty securely up on a pedestal. He’s your prince, you’ve looked forward to being in his employ since you were a kid. Of course this would naturally be the established dynamic. It works for you both.

Noct secretly enjoys being doted on and you blatantly enjoy doing the doting. Not to say that Noct is the type to receive affection or attention and never return it. He’s stuck to Ignis like glue, is always there to listen to Prom’s worries, and pals around with Gladio. They’re his brothers. He would do anything for them. And you? Noct gives you the type of attention he knows you enjoy: His food. Though he’ll caterwaul about you stealing his food all day, he actually enjoys it. Because he gets to give you food after you’ve protected him, even if he didn’t make it himself. Because it always makes you smile.

It’s the little things.

“Ah,” you sigh contentedly as you lean back, “that was spectacular as always, Ignis.”

“You’re not gonna steal from anyone tonight?” Gladio asks from beside you, already preemptively lifting his bowl out of your reach.

Eyes linger on your empty bowl in your lap and you sigh, “Well...”

“Here, (y/n),” Ignis murmurs, moving his bowl close to you so he’s holding it between the two of you. The brunet smiles when you happily share his food. Neither one of you notices Noct awkwardly sitting back down in his chair, already getting ready to coolly dump some of his food in your bowl. The prince’s cheeks color slightly and they only get darker when Prompto chuckles. The prince’s brow furrows as he watches you and Iggy eat from the same bowl, everyone talking like usual, like the greatest atrocity didn’t just occur and isn’t currently still being committed. What a bizarre feeling. What a strange thing to get so worked up over. Noct almost feels like he’s being replaced.

Next time you all eat dinner together, the usual spots are taken, and you reach over to filch food from the prince’s plate. Noct quickly moves his plate out of reach and snaps pettily, “Knock it off. Why don’t you pick off of Specs’ plate?”

You blink, bewildered, before answering with a coy smile, “C’mon, Noct,” you bump his elbow with yours, “you know food always tastes better when I steal it from you.”

That must have been the correct answer to his catty question, because Noct turns his face away and casually slides his plate closer to you, wearing a not-so-secret smile. Unbeknownst to the prince, everyone exchanges a knowing look at this scene. The Prince of Pettiness always gets his way.

Chapter Text

Deer in Headlights

Living in close quarters isn’t for everyone. Having had the privilege of having your own massive bedroom back at that lovely and antiquated college you came from? Life on the road has been a struggle to acclimate to after the luxuries afforded you by the Spire, to say the very least. Sometimes that fact manifests itself strangely; random arguments, a tightening in your neck. It comes up as stress.

And stress? Well, that can be relieved in a few ways. The particular way of relieving stress that you’re thinking of today is something you’ve had to abstain from for weeks on end.

With four men sharing the same space as you, it’s not as though you’ve exactly had any privacy to engage in such activities- activities which aren’t fit for polite company. Privacy seems to be a thing of the past, what with you always being sandwiched between Prompto and Noctis in a motel bed or in sleeping bags. And you’d never dream of doing anything when everyone’s asleep, even if you’re quiet about it!

So, privacy? It’s one hot commodity on this quest and the moment it lands in your lap you grab it with gusto. Shame you only get it ‘cause you rolled your ankle earlier in the day. Beggars can’t be choosers and all that.

It happened when you vaulted a highway guardrail. You’ve vaulted about a million at this point (damn Noct and his apparent hatred of established pathways and boundaries) but it was this one time, as you were fleeing a losing fight against vengeful cactuars, where your ankle decided it didn’t want to support you any longer and it blew out like a damn tire.

“Guys, I’ll be fine,” you reassure them all after camp has been set up early to accommodate your injury (the swelling has stopped but you don’t dare put any pressure on your foot). There’s still so much to do today and all of it will have to be accomplished without you present. Normally that would get under your skin, to be left behind like you aren’t an asset on this quest.

But today? Damn you’re one high-strung mage and you all but chase the guys out of camp. What can you say? There’s always somebody breathing down your neck and now that you’ve got the chance to have these well-intentioned guys outta your hair, you’re not gonna do anything to ruin it. Like, say, falling for Prom’s puppy eyes or Noct’s unsubtle pout. Nope. Not falling for it. They’re all ushered out of the tent.

The weather is dreary; drizzling and gray with a bit of a nip in the air that makes short-sleeves uncomfortable. As a result, everyone’s all bundled up and you’re positive that the weather will have the guys rushing back to camp as soon as they come to the end of their laundry list of hunts and petty quests. Which means you’ll have to do this quickly.

Not much goes into “setting up.” That ankle of yours is pretty swollen, so you’re forced to adopt a reclined position atop your sleeping bag after you’ve zipped the tent flap. Such is the extent of your preparation. It’s a little sad, actually.

Eyes close and you set to work. This is methodical. You’re horny and paranoid, which means your imagination is going to be left to languish from your inattention because you just want to get this done as quickly as humanly possible. A tent with a zippered flap for a door? It’s not as if you’re taking care of business back at the Spire. At least in that dusty old college you had the reassurance of a door with a lock…

Noctis

They haven’t even been gone five minutes when Noctis starts to worry. Look, you took a pretty nasty fall and it was honestly a miracle that you didn’t snap your ankle like a damn uncooked spaghetti noodle. The way it bent? Oof, the memory of it and the weird squicky noise that the joint had made has Noct cringing and announcing, “I’m gonna head back real quick and check on (y/n).”

He feels like crap because he sort of had a hand in your ruination. As he fled the battle, he’d looked over his shoulder to see you going around the guardrail because it ended not five feet down the road, opening up to a legitimate pathway to safety. The prince had fired off a wisecrack about you being overly cautious and… well… here you all are. Damn your ego and damn his ability to get under your skin.

“You sure?” Prompto rips Noctis from his musings, pale eyebrows knitted together and bottom lip pouted out. He hooks his thumbs into his belt loops as he watches his best friend. Noct sure does look worried and the blond can’t say he blames the guy. “(y/n) seemed pretty adamant about stayin’ behind.”

“I’m sure they’re fine,” adds Ignis. The royal retainer is just being helpful. He knows what a worrier Noct can be, especially when you get thrown into the equation. Still, he can already see that his childhood friend won’t be swayed. “But if you’d like, I can go with-”

“Nah.” The raven-haired royal waves him off. Noct turns on his heel, hands in his pockets, and begins to head back to camp, debating if he should call on his delightful chocobo or not. He should but he doesn’t. Oh, how that noisy bird would’ve saved a lot of embarrassment… “I’m just gonna check on ‘em real quick.”

Gladiolus complains at his back, “We just left camp.”

“For the last time, I’ll be quick about it. Be right back.” As Noctis returns to camp, grumbling under his breath, he rolls his eyes. Gosh, what’s with all the busybodies, wonders the busiestbody, leaving the others to get dunked on by a pack of coeurls that the hunter they’d taken the bounty from led them all to believe would only be the one coeurl. How was the hunter to know that the coeurl had started its own gang?

There’s an apology being cooked up in the royal’s head as he meanders through the verdant forest, ignoring the soft taps of raindrops pelting the hood of his raincoat and following the winding dirt trail that leads to the encampment. He knows he’s gotta be sincere about his apology and tonight at dinner he’ll give you half his food as a sign of peace.

‘Cause, let’s be real, you wouldn’t have got injured if he hadn’t rattled your cage. But, gods, does the prince sure find riling you up irresistible. The way your eyes shine and how your eyebrows furrow? With that cute little scowl on your face? Boy, Noct sure is such a sucker for you. Lost in thoughts of your petulant pouts, Noctis waltzes right up to the tent and unzips the flap without a single pause.

But then he hears it.

A huff of breath. A strained groan followed by the sound of something familiar but difficult for the brunet to place. Head ducked down as he enters the tent, Noct doesn’t realize what he’s hearing until it’s too late, blue eyes lifting to fall on you. Blood runs cold with fear for a split second before warmth pools low in his stomach. There must’ve been a necromancer hiding in here because he’s been turned to stone.

On all fours, half his body inside the comfortingly warm tent with his lower half still getting pelted by icy rain, the prince freezes. Dark bangs obscure those soulful blue eyes as usual, but you know without a single doubt in your mind that he’s looking… but you can’t move to hide yourself. Why didn’t you do this inside your sleeping bag? Why didn’t you at least throw a damn blanket over yourself? Why?!

Mouth opens and closes a few times before any words manage to climb their way out, making the prince look a bit like a fish out of water. “I-I-I… wanted to say…” words turn solid in his throat, choking him. Why isn’t he looking away? Why is he still staring at your hand which is unfortunately petrified between your shaking thighs? Mouth is dry. His pants have become too tight at the front. That discomfort snaps him out of it. “Sorry!” And then he’s gone.

Horrorstruck and mortified, you stare at the open tent flap, listening to the sound of Noctis sprinting away in the rain. It actually sounds like he trips and falls in a puddle before getting up and booking it once more. He does. After a few seconds, your shock wears off and you yank your pants back up a bit too late. Well… Now you can’t finish and now you’re never going to be able to look Noctis in the eye ever again.

He catches up to the others in no time flat, not even noticing how banged up and bruised they all are from yet another failed fight. The sight of his bro’s cherry red and mud-splattered face has Prompto’s interest, distracting him from tending to his own wounds. With a curious frown, the blond wonders, “What the heck happened to you, dude?”

“Ah…” A lie is sought out in vain, chased away by that breathy moan of yours which seems to echo in his mind, stirring his heart and warming his cheeks. Before his imagination can take hold of him, the prince vigorously shakes his head like a wet dog (to Prompto’s complete confusion) and clears his throat. Somehow, his cheeks go even redder as he pulls his raincoat closer around himself. “N-Nothing.”


Prompto

A habitual worrier, it comes as no surprise when the sharpshooter abruptly opts out of the day’s hunts to take care of you. He’s worried! And he’s also so in love! Look, although the guy can break the world record for falling in love the fastest, with you it’s…? Different. His feelings for you are different from every other crush he’s ever had. It’s more intense. It’s more meaningful because he knows you.

The two of you are best friends. You’re so close that you actually share food (unlike how you steal Noct’s). Generally, you’re both obnoxious as hell to the other guys what with Prom’s very obvious crush on you and your (not so obvious) crush on him.

“They’re a big mage,” Gladdy scolds, quick to shoot the sharpshooter down, arms crossed at the blond who is seeking to bail on them when they’re about to go on a big hunt. “Besides, what can you do for ‘em that they can’t do for themselves?”

Ouch. Sometimes Gladiolus can be unnecessarily harsh. But he has a very good point. Prompto isn’t a healer and you’re the one with all the magic. If your ankle is really bothering you that much, you’ll just ice it yourself and be done with it. At best, Prompto will keep you company. At worst, he’ll be in your hair when you’re in pain and wanting to rest.

Far too stubborn, Prom brushes off Gladdy’s concerns with a shrug. “I have to check. If it was Noct with a sprained ankle you wouldn’t be giving me such a hard time.”

Funny thing about the blond: he has a razor-sharp tongue that can cut down his foes. Though he’s far from rude, he makes his point and leaves the others knowing that he won’t be persuaded. ‘Cause it’s true. If it was Noctis who had rolled his ankle while fleeing a losing battle, they’d all be at camp right now. Sure you aren’t royalty but you’re the apple of Prompto Argentum’s eye.

“Tell ‘em hi for me.” Noctis smiles. The raven-haired royal knows Prompto better than anyone and while he’s also concerned about you (your ankle was so swollen when he saw it) he’s trying to support his best friend’s burgeoning crush by giving you two some time alone. The prince’s well-wishes are an unsubtle cue to his advisors that he won’t abide them haranguing the guy over some perceived dereliction of duty.

With a grin brighter than the sun, Prom nods. “Will do!”

Even as he turns away and heads off with a pep in his step that greatly contrasts the dreary weather, he frowns the second he’s sure no-one can see his face. Doubt creeps up. Because you had rather adamantly ordered everyone out of camp, insisting that they all continue on with the day’s agenda without you. Why were you so insistent on being alone? What if you’re pissed that he came back?

Pebbles get kicked and puddles are splashed in. All sorts of petty distractions are partaken in to buy him time to either change his mind or commit to returning to camp. Before he knows it, he’s standing before the dark green tent with his hands in his pockets. Raindrops cling to his hair, pulling his bangs down into his face until he swipes them away. Guess his choice was made for him, huh?

Feeling as giddy as he always does at the prospect of seeing you, the shutterbug puts on a smile and crouches down to unzip the tent when he hears something that roots him to the spot. Labored breathing. A shifting of a sleeping bag. Now he knows why you wanted to be alone. If he closes his eyes, he can imagine you raising your hips, thighs quivering and- Prompto stands abruptly, hand clamped over his mouth.

Too afraid to move. Too aroused to think that moving wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. Imagination runs wild, taking Prompto’s common sense along with it. Outside of the tent, he stands like a statue, listening to you gasp softly and moan. Such sinful sounds are nearly drowned out by the pattering of rain against the tent. In order to better hear you, the blond comes closer.

Cheeks so red, he pictures what he believes to be on the other side of the tent’s thin walls. He wishes he could make you make those noises, especially the high groans that are likely accompanied by the spreading of your thighs and the arching of your back. For a moment, he forgets that he’s leaning against a canvas tent and not a solid wall.

It happens in a blink. Does he crave death when he sends the tent collapsing atop the object of his affection as they’re masturbating? Yes. Desperately. And he doesn’t care how painful death would be because it couldn’t possibly be anymore painful than this. The blond is spread-eagle on the ground, tent poles and fabric haphazard, with you somewhere in the half-collapsed thing.

You immediately recognize that silhouette (the one that’s crumpled against the collapsed portion of the tent) by the person’s hair. Heat rises mercilessly into your face as you hastily pull up your pants. “Prompto?”

The lump hesitantly responds, “Ye-Yeah?”

“No, I... was just checking to see if it was you.”

“Oh…” There’s a careful ziiiiip! as you slowly open the tent flap to escape the ruins of the tent. Neither one of you looks the other in the eye, even when Prom mumbles, "N-Noct says hi..."

In silence, the two of you set the tent back up; you hobbling on one good foot and Prompto trying to keep his hips turned away from you just so. When the others return from quite possibly the worst hunting trip in the history of mankind, they’re completely confused to find you two sitting around a roaring campfire in total silence, both staring into the flames with dead-eyed expressions.


Ignis

He’s torn in two. To stay by Noctis’ side or to return to camp to be sure that you’re properly looked after? The tactician can’t be sure if you’ll tend to your ankle satisfactorily, considering you’ve “walked off” bone bruises in your shins and fractured ribs before anyone realized you’d been injured. How is he to be sure that this “sprained ankle” isn’t something more serious?

The brunet’s anxiety is a palpable thing, sending Noct’s Iggy-Radar pinging off of the charts. Doleful blue eyes peer at him from beneath dark bangs and the royal retainer blushes. “You okay?” Noct wonders, making Ignis’ blush that much deeper when the others come to a halt to look at him, too. “You worried about (y/n)?” Is it possible for Iggy to go redder? Amazingly, yes.

With a dignified clearing of his throat, the older man replies, “I’m concerned that that sprain might be something more. However, as long as (y/n) stays off of it-”

“Just go back and check on ‘em,” interrupts Noct. The prince whips out his phone and checks his map. Blue eyes scan the screen for a viable fishing spot. He figures he’ll kill two birds with one stone. “‘Cause I know you worry a lot, we’ll just hang at a pond for a bit until you’re done. We won’t go after the coeurl without you. That way I can get some fishing in and you can clear your conscience.”

“My conscience isn’t-”

“Here, I’ll text you the location,” the prince interrupts yet again and Iggy is less than impressed. Little does he know that his childhood best friend is already well aware of his crush on the arcane advisor. Very sneaky, Noct. But how could he miss the longing stares and the way Specs conveniently makes your favorite dishes at camp? “See you later. Oh, and say hi to (y/n) for me. C’mon guys.”

Gladiolus tosses Ignis an exasperated look, clearly sympathizing with his fellow advisor, for Noct’s occasionally bossy moods are infinitely tiring. Left to his own devices with Noctis making it abundantly clear that he’s to go look after you at camp to ease his worries, Ignis sighs in defeat and quickly makes his way back to the forest campsite.

Ignis is worried that he’s going to find you meandering about camp with your nose in a book and a cup of piping hot coffee or tea in your hand, as you’re wont to do, rain or shine. He wants you off of your damn feet and resting! But, oh, are you off your feet and it definitely isn’t in a way that Iggy was imagining. The brunet is satisfied to see that the tent is zipped shut when he gets to camp, meaning that you’re likely indoors and out of the rain.

It’s quiet save for the gentle pattering of rain against the tent and the stone campground, making for a soothing ambiance that puts him at ease. Unfortunately for him, his anxiety is going to go ratcheting back up through the damn roof in a matter of seconds. And it starts with him unzipping the tent in one elegant swish and entering the warm, cozy confines without delay.

In the throes of your orgasm you’re suddenly struck down with horror as you spot the intruder at the last possible moment and cry out, “Ignis!” It’s far too late to stop. It’s far too late for a lot of things…

Maybe you should’ve been loud? Maybe you should’ve toned down the paranoia and let yourself be vocal as you edged toward climax because at least you never would’ve known that Ignis heard you because he wouldn’t have entered the damn tent in the first place? You’re regretting so much in this moment, trembling as you come down from that high, but you’re not regretting this nearly as much as Iggy.

You’ve never seen him look so flustered before and he plays it off about as well as can be expected, cheeks flushed crimson and sweat already beading on his brow.

Kneeled in the tent’s entrance, the strategist attempts to compose himself like he didn’t just walk in on his crush and fellow advisor as they orgasmed and like he doesn’t now know exactly what you look like when you orgasm. What’s he supposed to do with that knowledge? I mean, he knows what he wants to do with that knowledge but it probably isn’t something that he should do.

At this point, his ears are ringing with how hard he’s blushing. “Ha-Have you already prepared a cold compress for your ankle?” He adjusts his glasses though they haven’t budged an inch down the elegant slope of his nose, eyes staring fixedly at the tent’s floor.

It takes a moment for you to process what he just asked. “No…” Six your voice is so soft and quiet. It makes his cheeks go even redder because he can’t get the soft, strained, desperate sound of you cumming out of his head. And to make matters worse, he isn’t sure if you cried out his name in shock before you actually started cumming or if it was after or… during… Forgive him, Iggy is so rattled that he’s forgotten the sequence of these terrible events.

Ignis swallows audibly, suddenly finding that his throat is far too tight. “Ah. I see. I’ll prepare one while you... finish up.” His mouth is very dry. There’s a stirring in his loins as embarrassment gives way and blood rushes south. “As you were.”

As you were? As you were?! You’ve already finished! There’s nothing left for you to do but die!

For his part, the brunet is already halfway out of the damn tent when he says that, practically scrambling to distance himself from a nightmare situation that he honest to gods has no idea how to handle. And you? You’re left to stare at the tent’s entrance with Ignis’ oddly edgy voice banging against your eardrums. Neither one of you is gonna make eye contact for a solid week.


Gladiolus

He’d swept you up in his arms the second that he realized you were about to fall. Gladiolus had been your gallant hero and... and it was way too arousing, which is what leads you to believe that you’ve let yourself get too sexually frustrated if such a simple action had your imagination going to titillating places. Cheek pressed against a muscular pec, you’d felt a tingling in your loins that couldn’t be ignored. At least not easily.

Oh, how your crush on the Shield has been a thorn in your side. Why’d you have to develop feelings for the one guy who loves to go shirtless as often as he can get away with it? Even though you just told yourself that you have to make this quick while the guys are away, Gladiolus Amicitia gave you more than enough masturbation fodder with the effortless way that he rescued you today.

Laid out on your sleeping bag, all you can think about is the feeling of his soft skin and how, once, he’d stood up and stretched at camp and you’d seen a hint of well-groomed hair peeking up at you from beneath the waistband of his pants. Sometimes that memory comes out of nowhere to hit you like a truck barreling down a highway. Like now. You think about it as your hand travels down your stomach.

Out walking along the highway on the other side of the guardrail so that nobody gets run over by a car, Gladiolus broods. Dark eyebrows are knitted together as he thinks about his dear, foolish, magical pal whom he just so happens to have a lot of unexpressed romantic feelings directed toward. Sure he teases you and never fails to fling innuendo your way, but that’s just Gladdy being a joker. Or so you think.

Right now he’s concerned. You messed up your ankle pretty bad and he’s worried that you don’t know how to deal with a sprain, considering you likely never got injured like that in the Spire. Plus, you’ve a notoriously bad reputation for “toughing things out.” An anak had kicked you clear into another century during a fight and nobody knew you fractured a rib until after dinnertime when Prom playfully swatted at your stomach and your face got all pinched up. You’d tried to laugh through it…

A frustrated sigh draws Noct’s attention to his Shield. Through a veil of gray mist, he watches the older guy until Gladiolus realizes he’s being stared at. Damn, sometimes His Highness is like an alleycat with that unblinking stare. It’d be unnerving if Gladdy didn’t know Noct better. “What’s up?”

“You’re thinkin’ about (y/n), huh?”

Pleasant warmth blossoms into the Shield’s cheeks as he unabashedly admits, “Yeah.” His crush on the nerdy arcane advisor is obvious to everyone but you.

“Just check on ‘em real quick. We can survive without you against one coeurl.”

Prompto kinda side-eyes Noct for that statement but decides to push a far more interesting topic. Looking far too excited, he asks, “I wonder when (y/n)’s gonna realize that you like them, Gladio?”

And that’s Gladiolus’ cue to head out lest he wants to subject himself to the gossip fiend’s speculations on what he should do to get your attention (like spontaneous requests for a date, or, and this is really scraping the bottom of the barrel, appeals to your jealousy). Not wanting a headache so early in the day, Gladiolus does an abrupt about-face and with the permission of His Highness he returns to camp.

The rain begins to come down harder, feeling like icy daggers against his skin as the water bleeds through the sweater under his raincoat. Such cold, clammy discomfort is what has him hastening to get to the camp, lengthening his stride with purpose. Now he has two goals: to check on you and to get out of the rain. Perhaps that’s what clouds his judgment when he gets to camp and hears a peculiar noise when he’s right outside the tent?

Under normal circumstances, say, when you’re not injured and when he’s not soaked to the bone, he’d know that sound from a mile away. But right now? He mistakes the sound for pain. It’s tight, strained, and desperate. Then he hears you cry out, “Gladdy!” and that has him rushing into the tent to the stimulating sight of spread legs and vigorously moving hands- something that he’s going to think about for a long, long time.

It’s always going to stick in his mind that you used both of your hands very skillfully with his name on your tongue. When he’s alone, he’s gonna edit his fantasies with the knowledge that (y/n) Iovita uses both of their hands on themselves and calls his name. Excuse him. He’s a little stunned. You can tell because as you yell his name with a very different inflection and you yank your pants up, he still hasn’t blinked or said a thing.

Heartbeat pounds in your ears. At any moment, you think you might die of shock and embarrassment. And it only gets worse when Gladiolus finally seems to snap out of his stupor only to look you dead in the eye, the ultimate power move. “Need anything for that ankle?” Oh, gods, you’re dead. You’re dead! He heard you call his name as you “took care of” yourself and… and…

Miserably, you sink low on your sleeping bag and murmur, “N-No…”

“Okay.” The Shield sniffs, rubs his nose. “I’ll, uh, see ya later then.” And then it happens and you see it. A slight quirk of the corner of his mouth into a pleased smile. Yeah… Yeah… You’re dead but Gladiolus is living as he exits the tent to return to the others. Sure, that was awkward as hell, but… Gladiolus is grinning from ear to ear because you said his name.

Chapter Text

Heated

It’s raining. The guys hate it when you drive that dorky moped of yours in the rain; each looking in the rearview mirror or turning their head just so in the backseat of the Regalia so that they can watch you, as if watching the mage will keep them from becoming waterlogged. And you’ve noticed. You find it kind of funny, actually, that they get so bent out of shape by you getting rained on.

Because it’s just rain.

And yet, today, lightning steaks across the sky and suddenly the Regalia is being pulled off to the side of the road. The shoulder here in Alstor Slough is wide enough for tourists to park and gaze at the gigantic catoblepas down below. You think maybe that’s why Iggy pulled over: a quick little stop because Prompto wants a photo or something with those creatures in the background.

In the Regalia, tensions begin to ramp up. Ignis glances to the side curiously, watching Prompto’s knee bob up and down rapidly just as he puts the car in park. Look, you’re still new and they’re all still holding you at arm’s length (even if Iggy and Gladdy might deny it). Although they were all totally cool with pulling over and stuffing you in the backseat between Noct and Gladio, a sudden fear has hit the most sensitive member of the group.

“Wait!” Prompto shouts the very second that the wheels come to a full stop. The blond ignores the irritated look Iggy shoots him for his unnecessary tone of voice. “What if (y/n) gets mad?”

“Mad?” Gladdy snorts, not understanding why the resident mage might get pissed about riding in the dry car. So far, you’ve been of even temperament. There have been no outbursts or any emotion falling anywhere on the spectrum of “anger” from you. At least, not from what the Shield has seen.

Prom pops up out of his seat to hug his seat’s headrest so he can look at his friends. “They’re pretty independent; always going off on their own to find herbs and junk.” Big blue eyes blink, utilized as deadly weapons to unfairly win an argument. “Don’t you think this might be kinda… patronizing? They’ve driven their scooter in the rain a bunch of times. So what makes now different? I mean, from their point of view.”

And, of course, he begins to make Noctis doubt. The younger men have been kind of “weird” with you since the beginning. And by “weird” I mean they both immediately thought you were super cute and have been jumping through hoops to try and impress you and not come across as socially inept weirdos; propping each other up and encouraging one another to talk to you alone or give you gifts of food or books: your favorite things.

Suddenly very concerned, Noct murmurs, brow puckered and eyes a little shifty, “Y’know, I think you might have a point, Prompto.”

You’re a creature of habit, that much the prince knows. That daily schedule of yours is airtight: you wake up at 4 a.m., do solo training drills or go out to hunt for herbs and other stuff (depending on the camp’s location), read that family grimoire of yours, and then you have breakfast with everyone at 6 a.m. on the dot. Honestly, Noct could set a damn watch to you, you’re so damn predictable. And your lame scooter plays a big role in your habits: it has been your sole mode of transport since it got fixed.

Add in the fact that it has obvious sentimental value (oh, the stories you told of Magister Drusa teaching you to drive it) and Noctis highly doubts you’ll just leave the thing on the side of the road for their comfort. Besides, if you really had an issue with driving in the rain, you would’ve said something by this point. Gods, the longer he thinks about this, the more their friendly gesture seems like a jerk move. And the last thing Noct wants is for you to think he’s a jerk.

“Ugh,” groans Gladio, who can practically read his prince’s pale face. Many a time this damn pint-sized blond has talked His Highness out of stuff (like going to class, for example). One might think Prompto Argentum was an actual advisor to the Crown Prince, he’s so persuasive. Irritated, the Shield finds himself arguing rather heatedly, “(y/n) isn’t gonna get mad about sitting in a car. Trust me, neither one of you will be ruining your chances with them today.”

In the front seat, Iggy pinches the bridge of his nose. Gladiolus’ bluntness isn’t doing anyone any favors here.

All aghast that he’s been so painfully obvious about his infatuation with you, Prompto sputters, red in the face, “Wh-Wh-What? No! No! I’m not-!”

At the same time, Noct scoffs so hard that he nearly chokes on his own spit, “Yeah, right. That’s not even-”

“Please finish this some time soon. (y/n) is starting to stare,” Ignis sighs, glancing in the rearview mirror to watch you start to remove your helmet and throw the Regalia a curious look. “Not to mention, we’re currently making them wait in the rain. Which is far more offensive than offering them a ride, I can assure you both.”

Catoblepas musk hangs heavy in the air with thick humidity, the scent of algae and dung offset by sweet rain. After you’ve kicked out the kickstand and taken off your helmet, water rolling off of the white plastic, you turn toward the sleek black car expectantly. No one has exited yet. Shaking out your black jacket, you adjust the lavender Spire cardigan underneath before sauntering on up to the driver’s side window.

At the sudden burning feeling the bespectacled brunet is starting to get in the side of his head, the strategist turns to find Prompto glowering at him, arms crossed and huffing in the passenger’s seat. In the back seat, Noct looks much the same. Again, Iggy sighs. “If this truly worries you, we can come up with an excu-”

Tap! Tap!

In the driver’s seat, Ignis jolts to attention. And thus, here you are. Tired of waiting and totally unaware of the petty and paranoid argument going on in the cozy confines of the Regalia, you interrupt before fears can be assuaged. ‘Cause now Prompto is having a stroke and Noctis is sweating bullets while the older men remain nonplussed and maybe mildly irritated at having such a simple gesture warped into a social faux pas by two over-thinking dorks.

The window gently rolls down. Green eyes dart over your rain-streaked face. “I apologize, (y/n).” He speaks slowly as if delaying. “We were all just having a chat about-”

And he is stalling. A tried and true method to gently coax his prince and childhood friend out of his shell, Ignis sets everything up so that the reins are in Noctis’ hands and the prince can solve his little conundrum how he sees fit. Though Iggy certainly sees nothing wrong with offering you a ride (‘cause it ain’t that deep), he’s considering Noct’s feelings. Despite Ignis’ skilled way of drawing out his words, Noct still feels pressured.

“Wanna learn how to drive the Regalia?” Noct blurts before he can stop himself.

“Sure!” You blurt before you can, too.

Oh, no…

Never one to deny your prince much of anything (you spoil him so much already), yours is more a knee-jerk reaction to his seemingly enthusiastic question than a sincere one. Because, oh boy.

Just because you drive your moped that doesn’t mean you automatically mastered how to drive other vehicles. And your chocobo-yellow moped is… different. It’s nice and compact and offers you a certain level of control that you don’t think a giant hunk of death-trap metal can. Sure, wrecks are far less risky in a car and you’re less likely to go flying through the air like you did when Ignis ran you down, but Choco Jr. is your ride.

Now Noctis and Prompto are relieved to have a “viable” reason to have you nice and dry in the car but two other parties are freaking the hell out: you and Ignis. The man has broken out in a cold sweat already. Heavy rain is hardly the ideal condition in which to give someone their first driving lesson! Ignis is already getting heart palpitations for you and himself. Look, he’s seen you drive. You text Noct and Prom while you drive. Sometimes you don’t signal when you change lanes. Oh, Six.

Still, he smiles in that charming way of his and asks you to back up from where you’ve been leaning through the window. The door opens and spots are switched. Prompto is ordered into the back seat between Noct and Gladio (there was some bickering, Prom and Noct both hate the middle seat and Gladio had a look on his face that dared them to try and get him to move). Behind the wheel, you take a breath. In the passenger seat, Ignis says a silent prayer.

All the while, Gladiolus has been almost comically blasé throughout all of this; legs crossed with his right ankle planted on his left knee and his book propped up on his leg. He doesn’t see what the big deal is. But, oh, he’s about to.

It’s a personality thing. A little quirk that only Ignis has noticed so far, the only one who spends the most time with you as a consequence of the hours that you both keep. An early-morning ritual that sometimes consists of cussing out inanimate objects when that strict schedule of yours doesn’t go to plan. It’s… Okay, truly? Ignis thinks it’s absolutely hilarious but he doesn’t know how that will translate to this. You’re a stress-swearer.

Sure, you may drop a casual “fuck” into conversation or “shit” or maybe a colorful “eat my entire ass” to magitek soldiers, but that’s not quite the same as the diatribes you go off on to fallen books or dried-out pens or even stinging paper cuts. Those? Oh, ho, ho. Those are what made Iggy doubt that the things that he previously defined as “diatribes” were actually diatribes. What you do are animated tirades full of aggressive gesticulation and passionate facial expressions.

This is gonna be one hell of a ride.

And to start it all off, Ignis has to clear his throat and remind you, “Seatbelt.”

“Oh,” you chuckle, a quaver in your voice, “right.” Hands shake, fingers fumbling with the buckle before it finally goes in with a click! that’s barely audible over the sound of rain pattering against the windshield.

“Adjust your mirrors.”

In the backseat, as you’re being politely guided through the motions, Noct and Prom have already whipped out their phones so they aren’t getting clued in on what’s about to go down. You have exactly zero experience with driving a car. None. The two dorks are just content with themselves that you don’t know that you’re here because they were all feeling protective and overbearing. In fact, everyone gets lulled into a false sense of security when you smoothly pull out onto the road.

This is gonna be a short but memorable ride.

Lightning streaks across the dark sky once more, followed shortly by a clap of thunder. You can practically feel the engine running through the carseat or maybe you’re too high-strung because you’re used to the relatively low power of your outdated moped. However, as you continue to go down a (very) straight road, you start to think that this isn’t so bad. I mean, you’re dry, warm, and aren’t going to have to “magic” yourself dry later with a burst of heat. All in all, this is pretty okay.

Ignis gives you pointers and Gladiolus adds his own advice (“Always keep your foot on the brake, Magey. Make sure you check the speedometer frequently unless you wanna be known as a speed daemon like His Highness.”). Even Noctis tries to pipe in only to get brutally shut down by everyone, including Prompto. The blond had chuckled at his pal’s offended expression and jokingly confessed, “Dude, you kinda suck at driving. I’m not gonna lie.”

“Yeah,” drawled Gladio, “you’re even worse than the guy who totaled the Regalia over a dog.”

“Was I supposed to just run it over?!”

Such an atmosphere of comfortable camaraderie is put to a very abrupt end when you continue to coast down the highway only to be forced to slam on the brakes due to a little black car cutting you off. It comes barreling out of nowhere off of a side street, blowing through a stop sign. You blare the horn right as the car shoots in front of you and the driver slams on the brakes in their shock, the black car momentarily hydroplaning before shaking to a halt.

Hands grip the steering wheel, knuckles paling. It’s hard to swallow. Fear is what grips you and it’s expressed as unadulterated rage. It comes frothing up, like acid in the back of your throat. One second you’re sat in shock, wide eyes locked on the driver’s barely visible but ashen face, and then next you’re blaring the horn with one hand, flipping the guy off with the other, and belting out: “What the fuck is your problem, you fucking fuck?! Learn to fucking drive before you kill somebody!”

Having been running at a pretty elevated stress level throughout this little lesson due to your inexperience, pretty much anything could’ve set you off. But this? What could be classified broadly as a near-death experience (if one’s definition of such a thing is generous)? You go off, calling the stranger a wide array of names that all have some variation of “fuck” in them. The whole time you’re still blaring the horn and the driver is wincing and meekly shrugging his shoulders like this was no big deal.

"You don't have to lean on the horn like that,” Ignis points out, irritated that you’re still honking that damn horn and sometimes using it to emphasize your words (”Stop! Means! Stop! Asshole!”).

The horn honking abruptly ends. Head whips around and you coldly rebuke, face eerily placid and eyes unblinking, “I learned it from you.”

He almost gasps and puts his hand on his chest at the insinuation that he’s a “bad influence,” but the strategist refrains. ‘Cause you’re kinda right. Many a time Iggy has stoically dug the heel of his palm into the car horn, eyes unblinking and locked on a frazzled driver who nearly ran the Regalia off the rode in their inattention, or forgot to turn their blinker on to merge lanes, or took too long to drive through a green light. He’s the passive-aggressive driver.

Everyone is shocked.

It’s like a switch was flipped from hot to cold. You don’t yell. (y/n) Iovita, the prim and proper arcane advisor, doesn’t have road rage. Prompto is a little rattled. The first time he ever had a near miss, he cried about it after because he’d been so frightened. Noct is startled. He thought you might cry like Prompto if you almost wrecked… not like he was expecting you to nearly get in a car crash. And Gladiolus-

“Quiet, Gladiolus,” you snap, throwing him an unamused glance in the rearview mirror. He’s been trying to hold back his laughter since you called the other driver a “fucking fuck” but he accidentally let a snort slip out. The Shield bites down on his lips, holding his laughter in the back of his throat. Maybe it is dickish of him to laugh when your life has just flashed before your eyes?

You turn your attention back to the road to see that the other car already drove off. And like a hot pan that just got dumped into a sink full of cold water, you quickly cool off with a hiss of steam. Shoulders slouch, fingers readjust on the steering wheel with a crackling of stiff joints, and you gently pump the gas. Noct and Prom have become awkward bystanders. Phones are used as an excuse not to make eye contact with anybody, noses practically pressed to the screens.

Little do they know, you’re cool as a cucumber right now.

What? You don’t have a reason to be upset. The source of tension is gone and nothing hateful or regrettable was done. In fact, you smoothly make a U-turn when the width of the street is wide enough to your liking and begin to head back to where you parked your moped now that nobody is offering anymore driving tips. You just assume that the lesson is over. You’ve no idea that everyone is fumbling to absorb this new facet of you; this part that actually yells in anger and isn’t all that creative with name-calling.

The drive back is dead silent, a far cry from the jocular atmosphere. Ignis and Gladiolus- the two who feel like they might’ve done something to earn your ire since you got snippy with them- are very, very quiet. No one looks at each other, feeling like scolded children.

Every now and then you glance out at the scenery that goes by. You must admit, Alstor Slough is really beautiful even if Noctis always complains about the smell. In fact, you kinda miss how you can feel the humidity against your skin when you ride your moped as opposed to being sheltered in a car. You highly doubt anybody will be game for you to lower the Regalia’s roof. It’s still raining, after all, and no one but Gladio is really the type to willingly be exposed to the elements.

A pop of vibrant yellow comes into view, standing out against a backdrop of miserable gray. Choco Jr. is a sight for sore eyes.

“Well, that was fun,” you sigh during the trade-off with Iggy after you’ve parked. Gladio gets out so that Prompto can resume his position in the passenger’s seat which he’s eternally called dibs on. But rather than sit back in the Regalia, the Shield crosses in front of the car to come stand by you. You’re smiling that charmer’s smile, the one that’s all dazzling teeth and glinting eyes. The tactician and the bodyguard don’t really know what to say. Should they apologize? But for what exactly?

Ignis speaks first, brow furrowed and expression sincere. “I’m sorry, (y/n).”

“Yeah,” says Gladio, “me too, Magey."

“Hm?” You look genuinely confused, gaze flitting between the two. “Sorry for what?”

Well, you’ve got them there. This is pretty much your first fight with them, right? When neither one of them responds immediately, cheeks beginning to burn a little pink as they struggle to gather their thoughts, you shoot them that dazzling smile once more and return to your moped without another word. In the rain, the two men stand. Water catches and beads in Gladio’s facial hair until he uncomfortably rubs his chin. It’s only when Ignis’ ‘do starts to sag that the silence between them is broken.

“The hell was that?” Gladio wonders, staring at you as you adjust your helmet and buckle the chinstrap. He thought for sure that you’d call him a “fucking fuck” for laughing when you were so obviously freaked out. Are you seriously already over it? Oh, gods, was there even anything to get over? Has he become as much of an over-thinker as Noct and Prom when it comes to the mage’s feelings? Yup.

Iggy shakes his head and sighs, “Honestly? I haven’t the faintest idea.”

Chapter Text

10. Yearnings 

Noctis

You’re headed through Duscae on the way to Lestallum to meet up with Gladiolus’ sister, Iris, to set up a battle plan or... something. Something concerning Noctis, the Empire, and the usual suspects. You aren’t too sure, to be honest. You’ve been having these really bizarre, hyperrealistic dreams that you ponder during the day like you’re Florus the Seer, distracting you.  Sometimes I drink like ol’ Florus,” you muse, wiping a splattered insect from your visor with your gloved finger. “Dreaming of incoherently whispering toads and shriveled flowers.”

Though you’re excited about the prospect of meeting another Amicitia and to actually be in a real city, there’s a shadow looming over you- literally and metaphorically. Trying to ignore the way the Spire pierces the warm orange skyline like a serrated dagger proves next to impossible. That is until you get a text from the contact labeled “Petty Prince:” “Pull over. Got a question.” The prince looks back at you, a flash of blue, just to make sure you got the text. With pursed lips, you nod and wonder if he’s trying to get you lambasted.

Many times you’ve had to deal with the older guys who act like you’re ten years their junior rather than two or three, scolding you about texting and driving. “Iggy already flattened you. Wasn’t that enough?” Gladio had griped, holding your phone over your head after you’d spent a good part of the drive to Galdin trying to out-meme Noct via group text with Prom. You only got found out because Prom started laughing at a photoshopped picture of a dog.

Pulling your helmet off and your cardigan close, you hop off of Choco Jr. once you’ve parked your moped behind the Regalia. Having been around these guys for a while, you can read them fairly easily enough to know that you’re walking into the middle of an argument that had been taking place in the car. “Am I playing mediator?” You sigh, kicking at a puddle and immediately apologizing right after when Noct winces. “Whoops! Well, that’s why you should wear real pants, CapriSun.”

“They aren’t capris.”

“Noctis’ terrible fashion choices aside, we’ve arrived at an impasse, (y/n), and we were hoping you could settle the matter.”

Furrowing your brow at Iggy, you probe, “So... Is this a huge issue, or...?”

“Nah.” An arm is thrown around your shoulders and Prompto pokes your cheek, ignoring how you bat his hand away like an irritable cat. “We’re just trying to figure out where to spend the night. Just say: Wiz’s Chocobo Post and we can all carry on.”

“Or,” Gladio pipes up, “you can say-”

“We aren’t camping,” you interrupt and the Shield frowns at you.

Before Gladio can lecture you about the alleged benefits of roughing it in the wilderness for the millionth time, Ignis informs, “Our only other option is the Spire.”

And like that, you remember that these people don’t know that the Spire is the ally of whoever rules the lands- like a parasite moving into the body of the predator that ate its host. Years of being part of that parasite gives you an advantage, however. Because you don’t show your surprise or your dread. You merely look bored. Speech slows almost imperceptibly, a trick you’d learned to buy yourself time to be a sneak. “Although there are guest accommodations at the Spire, there was a bad storm a while ago and it’s been under construction ever since. Outsiders, even royalty, aren’t allowed inside the college without an appointment.”

Wow. The way Ignis stares at you nearly makes your skin peel. He can detect a hint of deception in your face, it flashes like lightning in your eyes. The bespectacled man wonders why you don’t want to go to the Spire. Is it the memories? Just the other day you asked him to remove the patch from your cardigan... He opens his mouth and Noctis speaks. “Yeah,” the prince gives you a knowing look even though he only knows what you want him to know, that you’d been ousted, “and, no offense or anything, but I’ve heard weird stories about the Spire. Not exactly somewhere I’d want to sleep.”

Though he’s giving you an obvious out, your curious nature has you questioning, “What did you hear?”

Noct looks irritated that you aren’t accepting the free pass so easily. He’s trying to spare your ego, dammit! Do you want everyone to find out that you got kicked out of the Spire? Honestly, he’s been patiently waiting for you to break the news because he doesn’t feel like it’s his place to say: “By the way, (y/n) lost their family legacy to an old man. What’re we having for dinner, Specs?” But he relents. With an indifferent shrug, Noct sighs, “Just that some magister disappeared over ten years ago and was never found.”

“What?” You and Prompto ask at the same time. He gasps. You laugh. But the laugh is strained. A strange feeling overcomes you, like when you enter a room to retrieve something but forget what it was. Was it important? You can’t even remember that much.

“It was a pretty big deal but mostly a secret. I accidentally overheard my dad talking about it when I was a kid.”

“Yeah, I think I heard that rumor, too.” Gladio nods to himself. “Turned into some huge security issue until the Arch-Mage said they had it covered on the Spire’s end. I think they found out that he’d ran off. Couldn’t take the pressure of the job or somethin’ like that. Left a note and everything.”

Why don’t I remember anything like that?

You find yourself asking, “What was his name?” Noct and Gladio shrug. A weird laugh leaves you. It sounds hollow, bitter. “Fat lot of help you two are. Anyway, let’s go. We’re burning daylight.”

Prompto’s arm is shrugged off along with the conversation and you’re all headed down the road to Wiz’s. The whole drive, you brood. Not about the rumor, though. That’s shoved away. You brood about the towering building at your back. For some reason, you feel like you need to apologize for not trusting anyone with the truth. It’s a little strange because you also feel as though your bases are covered because at least Noctis is aware of the Spire’s betrayal of the Iovitas (namely you, the lone Iovita) and he unquestioningly sided with you and seemed to turn his back on the old college.

At the time, it was good enough for you in that diner, belly full of whiskey and flavorless poison. But telling him directly that the ancient college is allied with the Empire? That’s one thing you’re struggling to spit out. Because that stings a bit more than poison in your gut. Because that looks bad. Eyes roll when you think of it that way. However, if there’s one thing you know to be true as a Spire-trained mage, it’s the value of appearances. The institution that raised you, the institution that trained you, the institution that you represent...? That institution is in the Empire’s pocket. And so you wonder what that would look like to someone who hasn’t known you for very long. (y/n) Iovita, the poster child of the Spire of Duscae. (y/n) Iovita, the erudite mage of the Spire. The Spire that is now allied with the Empire.

The guys know that the Spire doesn’t represent me,” you try to reassure yourself. Well, the time for brooding is over and the time for being pissed begins. Dirt roads aren’t the best after a hard rain and you re-learn this fact by way of muddy pants and dirty boots. The whole time you drive down the road to the post, Noct turns around in his seat, rests his chin on his forearm, and watches you get splattered, a small smile on his face.

“You’re an evil little gremlin,” you growl at him once you’re all outside the caravan. The others are placing a food order and gathering information about the area. What adds to your sour mood is that you aren’t there to hear about what interesting things are growing around or treasure spots.

The prince shrugs, his favorite gesture. “I’m not the one who told you to buy a dorky old scooter.”

“It was a gift!” He doesn’t respond. Instead, he watches you wipe your pants off and clean your boots. This grows old. Fast. Scrubbing the heel of your left boot, you snap, “It wouldn’t kill you to help.” In truth, you aren’t expecting him to help. You were just saying something to say something. But the rag is pulled out of your hand and Noct is forcing you to sit on a plastic chair- the chair you’d just had your muddy foot on. Before he can start wiping mud off of you, you’re standing back up and scowling down at where he kneels at your feet.

“What?”

Lips twitch. “That’s the last time I ask for your help. You just sat me down in mud.”

For a split second Noct looks like he’s going to laugh but he reels it in, makes that face of his all stoic, makes those eyes simmer. “I could clean it off of you.”

You stare at him. He’s not smiling. He just watches you from beneath those dark bangs until you find it in yourself to stop internally screaming and drawl, “The prince likes to play grab-ass? That’s real cute... but maybe another time. Preferably when we’re behind closed doors.”

Then he flushes, his bluff called. “I wasn’t-”

“Food!” And he’s saved by Prompto. You’re both saved by Prompto. Though you hadn’t meant to cause any sort of tension between yourself and the prince with your comment... It still happens. And everyone notices it. Noct can’t find it in himself to look you in the eye and you’re pretending like nothing happened. You’re both painfully obvious and it should be illegal to be so damn awkward.

That night, you all try to figure out the sleeping situation since the camper is on the small side. After a few minutes of Prompto and Noct bickering over the bed since neither of them wants to sleep on the bench in the kitchenette, you decide to take yourself out of the running for the bed. “It’s no big deal. I need to pull an all-nighter, anyway.”

Noct scowls. “Where will you sleep?”

“I just said: All-nighter. I’m gonna be out under the stars, ruining my eyesight by staring at small print.”

“No!” All eyes are on Prompto and his dramatic declaration. Cheeks turn red, nearly washing out his freckles. “Um... You and Noct can share the bed. It’s a decent size and...” He turns his blue eyes on the others, begging them to support his ridiculous suggestion. Ignis looks positively unamused. Funny, it’s like looking in a mirror for you since you share the exact same expression. Gladio, on the other hand...

The Shield nods his head sagely. “Sounds like a plan. We gotta have our Battle Mage in top form for the hunt tomorrow, anyway.” Oh, right. The hunt for a behemoth. You’re still bitter that you can’t rent a chocobo unless the predator situation gets handled. You’d read about chocobos from Drusa’s book and were actually really looking forward to riding one until you found out you needed to bump off “Deadeye” first. What a con.

“No arguments here,” you sigh, already feeling tired. It’s when you head into the bedroom that the silent drama commences. Noct widens his eyes threateningly at Prompto who bites his lip and shrugs. Gladio watches on with a grin while Iggy shakes his head at the blond.

There’s no time for awkwardness. No time for blushing and being coy, for trying to figure out who will take what side of the bed, no “promise not to look” moments for changing. Noct has that little fantasy in his head. He’s a little ashamed by the fact that he’s totally ready for it... And you’re facedown on the bed, fully clothed, and asleep by the time he gets into the room. It didn’t even take him a minute to follow you! Noct sighs.

Like you, it doesn’t take him long to fall asleep. Unlike you, he’s a heavy sleeper. Except for tonight. He awakes to the sound of crying. It’s ugly, that noise. Full of phlegm and spittle, choking and hacking. He thinks it’s you until he hears you mumble over the awful sound, “Don’t cry.” Someone is sitting at the foot of the bed. He feels the dip, hears old springs creak, senses an old body sag. Normally, he would be startled. If this was the first time, he might pull the covers up over his face like a child. But this is neither normal nor the prince’s first encounter with the nighttime visitor. Your nighttime visitor.

Noctis became aware of the visitor the night you barely escaped death’s clutches. A dark figure had shuffled through the caravan at Hammerhead, had stopped next to Gladiolus, who rested at the table in the kitchenette across from Ignis and Noct, and whispered, breathless, ragged, “Blessed be... the Shield... of the King.

Noct couldn’t tell if it was a dream or not. The intruder didn’t move soundlessly at all- its breathing alone more than enough to wake the others. Yet no one was roused in a room of light sleepers. He had watched, wide-eyed, as the creature had kissed Gladio’s temple with a near lipless mouth- teeth stark and shiny against the Shield’s scar. Then, aware that it had an audience, it turned its head toward Noct. And he was not afraid. Yellow glimmered like embers in the darkness; sunken into that wretched skull. Yet... Still, no fear.

Any fear the prince had was swallowed up by that gaze. Curiosity won out that night, because Noct couldn’t determine if the creature was a daemon or not, even with its awful appearance. And as it raised one blackened finger up to its nonexistent lips, signaling for quiet, he remembered your talk earlier that night. “Higher daemons.” That’s what you’d said. Spire mages bargained with higher daemons for their magic. And you had confessed to performing necromancy... The guilt on your face, the flash of fear and dread. Just like that, he knew what you’d done; why you’d stared so blankly into the lamp on the table. Why you shut down.

Noct had killed many daemons by that point- the result of poor planning and running out of gas at inconvenient times. So, what was a higher daemon to him? Especially when he had all four of you in the caravan with him? Despite the daemon’s signal for quiet, Noct had asked, “What do you want?” Yellow eyes remained unblinking. Then Noct realized the eyelids had been burned and warped away. Just like the lips, nose, and ears. Though it was difficult to see clearly in the dimness of the caravan, it wasn’t hard to see that.

At the sound of Noct’s voice, the creature stepped back and bent at the waist, eyes kept down in deference. That’s when Noct noticed the tatters it wore- ancient in design, the remains of a robe. “Your... Majesty...” It waited for his reaction, stayed bowed low, exposing its spinal column to him. That threw Noctis. Though you’d said “higher daemon” he hadn’t expected the damn thing to recognize his title or anything like that. Eyes fell on you through the doorway to the bedroom, as if he meant to go to you and seek your counsel, and his blood ran cold. You sat up in bed as if in a trance, eyes unblinking, face impassive.

“(y/n)?”

It was as if saying your name had released the daemon from whatever duty it thought it owed the royal. The creature righted itself and turned to where you sat on the single bed, Prompto curled beside you (the three men had agreed that the drunks should get the bed). The door to the room was open and Noct watched on as the creature slowly made its way over. He stood and followed. Tentatively, with a care so great that it startled Noct, the daemon kneeled beside the bed and reached up to take your face in its gnarled hands. Still, you remained impassive and unmoving. Even as the daemon sobbed, ugly and full of phlegm against your neck, you didn’t flinch. It was saying something. Apologies and a name.

Decima!” It wailed.

Silent tears fell down your cheeks, fell atop that exposed skullcap and the bits of flesh that somehow remained scorched to it, plastered in a smear of red and black. Even with all of its crying, no one awoke. This had to be a dream. Or a nightmare. But as the journey became more and more perilous, the “dream” repeated. And Noctis knew this daemon was yours. Your friendly neighborhood daemon, he’d joked to himself just to ease his discomfort. Because it never did anything to hint at any ill will. But it was still an eerie thing to behold.

It didn’t always visit. Yet when it did, Noctis always found himself roused from his sleep once it stepped foot out of the shadow and the others’ slumber seemed to grow deeper in its presence. Your nighttime visitor would always greet the royal when it knew it had been spotted but it wouldn’t entertain him beyond that. He’d ask questions but get no answer. Eventually, he resigned himself to watch as the daemon mended any bumps or bruises you’d accrued throughout the day or days if it had been a long stretch of time between visits. And at the end of the visit, it would always reach for your hand before stopping itself and stepping back into the shadow.

Despite these visits, Noct could never bring himself to confront you. The night you’d mentioned your dalliance in necromancy, he’d seen your shame. If this “helpful higher daemon” was to be  discussed, Noct knew that you had to be the one to start that conversation on your own terms. You had to be the one to reveal the secret. The secret that you thought you kept close to your chest. The secret that he would keep for your sake. But this visit is different. Yes, these past few visits the daemon has spoken more and more urgently like now, a dramatic shift from its patient talks that he can never hear (Why is that? He always wonders why its voice is garbled to him when it speaks directly to you...).

However, this is the first time Noctis has heard you speak to the daemon. It’s also apparently the first time the daemon’s ever heard you speak to it, too, judging by the startled way that it stops its crying. There’s a whimper as the cries dwindle to rattling sniffles, a difficult thing to do without a nose. Blue eyes crack open to see the dark figure hunching over you. It rocks back and forth, a stream of whispers falling from its mouth in earnest now, struggling past whimpers and groans. One gnarled, blackened hand pushes down on the bed beside your head as it leans closer and closer to you. He sees your eyelids flutter in the pale blue of the moonlight.

“I don’t...” your lips move almost imperceptibly, “I don’t understand you... Damn toad.”

The daemon freezes, stops talking. It realizes that nothing it’s saying is getting through to you. Defeated, it rights itself. Noct swears he hears it sigh. Then, as it begins to back off into the shadow, it instinctively reaches for your hand as it always does. And it catches itself before it can touch you, like it always does. When it’s gone, a veil seems to lift. You awake immediately because your phone’s alarm is going off. Noct watches you glare at your phone for a moment, the artificial light harsh against your tired eyes. After a couple of seconds, you tap the screen and the annoying buzzing is put to an end. The prince makes the mistake of swallowing because your dog ears catch the sound and you’re looking at him.

“Sorry. Did my alarm wake you up?” You whisper, conscientious of the others.

He pauses. Should he bring up the daemon now? It’s been weeks of visits, going on over a month, and still he’s said nothing. He’s waited patiently. But tonight you spoke, responded to the daemon’s words though you heard none of them. Surely that warrants a conversation? Surely... “No. I... couldn’t sleep because of the hunt.”

Your expression softens. “Oh. Nerves? I can show you how to make a tea for stress.”

Noct sits up now and you follow suit. “Does it help you?”

“Well...” you turn your eyes up to the ceiling of the caravan, “it helped before exams or big things but not so much with daily stressors. It’s not so effective with combating low-grade stress or if you’re always in an anxious state because it’s not a long-term thing. But I have all of the ingredients if you’re interested.”

“Yeah.”

He should’ve said no. Because that herbal tea of yours? You brew it to your taste, completely forgetting that you’ve been drinking this to combat stress for a little under a decade now and have built up a tolerance for it whereas Noct hasn’t. Consequently, it all but knocks the prince on his ass. He’s so mellow, with a serene smile on his face, that Prompto thinks you got him high. Noct insists that he’s fine and you have to steel yourself against the collective glare of your fellow advisors when the prince takes a sip of his orange juice... Well, he gets the cup somewhere near his mouth and pours it onto his lap. Doesn’t even notice that his lap is damp and sticky.

It’s settled that Noct will stay back at the caravan and you’re stuck looking after him. You accept your punishment without objection, wincing when you glance at Noct only to find him looking all dreamy and in La La Land, totally unaware of the conversation that’s taking place. Once the others leave (Prom takes so many pictures of Noct in this state), you try to get him to snap out of it. “C’mon,” you tempt, a can of Ebony in hand, “just a sip, Noct. Hm?”

The woods are so green, Noct notes, looking around. He’d never seen so much green in his entire life until he left Insomnia. He’d never seen so many wonderful things until this trip started. And one of those wonderful things keeps offering him a can of Ebony like it’s a candy bar. All he can smell is the aluminum, so it’s hardly tempting. “Cut it out,” he complains, pushing the can away. You nearly spill it, leaning across the table to shake the can in his face like you’re trying to tempt a cat with treats. “If it’s so good, you drink it.”

“Actually, I’ve been stealing sips since I opened it, but that’s beside the point. We need to pep you up. Understand? You’re a little...” You trail off when you notice that he’s stopped closing his mouth. It just hangs open when he isn’t talking.

“A little what?”

You exhale loudly at his half-assed glare that only lasts a second before he gets distracted by the color of your eyes. “Six, how did you get so messed up off of tea? You’re such a dork.”

“Dork?” He snorts and then coughs because he snorted too hard.

You wince and glance up toward the sky. “Ramuh, forgive me for drugging my prince. It was an accident!

For a while, you just sit in silence while your prince trips out across the table from you. The sun is shining full force but your chair sinks a bit in the still-damp earth. It’s a little bit warmer out today and the chocobos are desperate for attention. Every time you look over at the penned up birds, at least two are giving you big, imploring eyes. Speaking of big eyes... “If you won’t drink Ebony-”

“I won’t drink it ‘cause it’s Specs’ last can.”

“Crap. Well, that ship already sailed. Anyway, if you won’t drink Ebony, at least drink a lot of water. Hm?” You make your eyes all big, lean forward in your chair and put your elbows on the table so you can cup your chin. “Hm?”

Pink blossoms across the prince’s cheeks and he hastens to offset it with a frown. Arms cross and he throws himself back in his chair, trying to look more irritated than flustered. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Because I’m trying to coerce you.”

“Thanks for being upfront about it,” laughs Noct though he still sounds a bit drowsy.

“Shall I get you water, Your Highness?”

Blue eyes watch you, hold your gaze. Now it’s your turn to get flustered. Pretty soon, that embarrassment turns into concern when he still hasn’t said anything. Then you realize he zoned out and you sigh before going into the caravan and getting him some water. Obviously you’re never making that tea for him again. The others return victorious and Noct finally has his wits about him, so you at least don’t get any glares for drugging him. Honestly, the only one who finds any humor in the situation is Prompto and later that day he gets Iggy and Gladio to laugh about it with a picture of Noct staring at you and drooling on himself. Noct tells him to delete it before you find out.

“You ready to ride a chocobo?” Prompto asks, tugging on your arm like an excited child.

“Mmhm. Right after you give me my arm back.”

It’s funny. All that waiting for a chocobo and you get the stuffiest bird imaginable. Drusa said that all chocobos are friendly. What a generalization, because the one you stand before seems to glower down at you with its hellfire blue eyes. That gaze alone keeps your hands at your sides, fearing for your fingers. A glance around shows you that everyone is getting on splendidly with their chocobos. Everyone but you. You click your tongue and look up at the bird. “Lovely weather we’re having.” He blinks slowly and you smirk. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m (y/n) Iovita, arcane advisor to the future king of Lucis.”

As you’re speaking, voice pompous, the chocobo puffs out his chest like he’s feeding off of that haughty energy. You’re grinning now. “Would you mind if I named you, dear sir?” He keeps his chest puffed out. “How about...? The Feathered Fury, Lord Apricus the Deathbringer. Your nickname will be Sunny, though. Only abide it from me, since you have a title and a reputation to maintain, my handsome gentleman.”

Apricus rewards you by letting you stroke his yellow feathers. A snort from the pen beside yours causes you to look over. Noct is smirking. “That bird’s almost as conceited as you are.”

You brush off the insult and choose to look at his bright-eyed chocobo who eagerly accepts his awkward pats. “And what’s the name of your beautiful big chicken? Aww, what a cu- Ow! Dammit! Ow! Not again!” Apricus pecks you hard- once for being too kind to another bird and again for swearing.

After Noct stops laughing at your expense, he turns to look at his demure chocobo. “I dunno. I’m thinking... Nuggets.”

“Like a golden nugget? That’s swee-”

“Like chicken nuggets.”

You stare. And then you grin. “That’s very macabre of you, Prince Edgelord. A wonderful dichotomy with such a sweet bird. The name is very dark, maybe a bit avant gar-” You’re cut off by another hard peck. “No, please! Don’t be jealous! Sunny, why?!”


Prompto

You’re headed through Duscae on the way to Lestallum to meet up with Gladiolus’ sister, Iris, to set up a battle plan or... something. Something concerning Noctis, the Empire, and the usual suspects. You aren’t too sure, to be honest. You’ve been having these really bizarre, hyperrealistic dreams that you ponder during the day like you’re Florus the Seer, distracting you.  Sometimes I drink like ol’ Florus,” you muse, wiping a splattered insect from your visor with your gloved finger. “Dreaming of incoherently whispering toads and shriveled flowers.”

Though you’re excited about the prospect of meeting another Amicitia and to actually be in a real city, there’s a shadow looming over you- literally and metaphorically. Trying to ignore the way the Spire pierces the warm orange skyline like a serrated dagger proves next to impossible. That is until you get a text from the contact labeled “Chocobutt”: “PULL OVER!!!

Now, under normal circumstances you wouldn’t reply to a text while driving, lest you have to deal with the collective ire of Ignis and Gladiolus who act like they’re a decade older than you with their seniority, but Prompto’s superfluous punctuation and abuse of caps for the message has you firing back: “It’s a cardigan, but thanks for noticing.

Ignis pulls the Regalia off to the side of the road and you follow. Helmet removed and placed on your seat, you swagger on over to the others where they exit the car and begin talking amongst themselves. You pull your sweater closer to your body in the coolness of the evening. The dusky lavender cardigan is missing its signature patch, which Ignis removed for you a few days ago at your polite behest. Excitement radiates off of the blond who nearly yanks you toward him when you’re within reach. “Chocobos!” Prompto squeals, blue eyes shiny and wide, a goofy grin on his face. Then that exuberant expression dissolves, replaced by cool contempt and a snarky, “That joke was awful, by the way. Awful! You should be ashamed of yourself... I still laughed, though.”

“Good. My primary role is comedic relief,” you snap back, leaning against the Regalia next to him. Eyes dance over the others who make no move to answer your unspoken question. Quirking a brow, you drawl, “I assume we didn’t stop so someone can go pee in the woods?”

“Lestallum is still a ways off and nightfall is upon us. We’re trying to determine the best course of action,” Ignis answers, pushing his glasses up the slope of his nose even though they sit perfectly on the bridge. “Our options are the Spire and a place called Wiz Chocobo Post. Now, the Spire is, by far, much closer-”

And just like that, you remember that you never told anyone exactly what went down at the Spire. Only Noctis knows that your family was essentially usurped upon your mother’s death and even the prince doesn’t know that the ancient college is an ally to the Empire. Certainly none of them know that you were offered a place in the new world order... “I’ve never seen a chocobo in person before,” you interrupt, the words nearly ripped out of you, “and the Spire doesn’t have much in the way of guest accommodations. Plus, you all would need to be cleared for entry and it’s just this long, drawn-out process.”

It’s all a load of crap, of course. The Spire has often served as a refuge for wary travelers ever since your family took over. However, the guest accommodations aren’t located within the fenced-in portion of the grounds. Noct gives you a knowing look, blue eyes vibrant in the light of the setting sun, not realizing that he’s only privy to half of the truth. “Told you it’d be good to have (y/n)’s input,” Noct says and you resist the urge to grin at the prince who is so conscientious about your feelings and privacy. Even if you’re lying to him by omission.

“Yup! I knew you’d side with me and Noct,” Prompto laughs, throwing his arm around your shoulders and pulling you into an appreciative side-hug. He’s been doing this more and more frequently with the hugs lasting longer and longer. Not having been subjected to physical affection in over a decade, it initially made you rather uncomfortable. The pats on the back, the high-fives, fist bumps, and all of that? You could handle that. But Prom’s burning hugs? Unintentionally, you shiver, and the blond’s grip on you tightens.

“Yeah, great,” you stutter when you realize that Gladiolus is smirking at you, amber gaze flickering from Prompto’s hand on your upper arm and the way you instinctively lean into his lithe frame, “um... Let’s get going.”

Pushing away from Prompto, you turn on your heel and begin to head back to Choco Jr., dead-set on getting to Wiz’s and driving away from that moment. The sound of footsteps behind you, however, gives you pause. A glance over your shoulder reveals the shutterbug following in your shadow. When he realizes he’s been caught, he blushes and grins. “I was wondering if you’d let me ride with you? You, um, kinda promised that one time when we were at Takka’s.”

You blink. “You mean when you drank my tomato shake? Hell, you remembered that?”

Red is certainly a flattering color on him. He’s lucky, since his cheeks, ears, and neck seem to be permanently set in a deep crimson. “Well, yeah. You promised.”

“People make promises that they don’t intend to keep all the time, Prompto.”

Ah. There’s that Iovita coldness in full-force. You almost forgot that you’re damn near part naga. But at Prompto’s dejected expression, pale lashes fluttering across freckles as he looks down, you swipe up your helmet and throw it at him. He catches it instantly and nearly drops it. “Whoa!”

“Put that on. We already know that I’m tough to kill on the road and I don’t need you cracking your coconut on my watch.”

He laughs, blue eyes turning into crescents, “Really? Thanks!”

Maybe he didn’t really think about what he was asking for when he requested a ride with you. Or maybe, when he had asked for a ride what seems like a lifetime ago, his painfully obvious crush on you hadn’t even formed yet. Either way, Prompto Argentum is a little jittery when he puts the helmet on his head, only mourning for his hair for a second. Because after that second, his eyes land on your butt that’s sat on the moped’s seat and he’s regretting this decision.

Cornflower blue eyes waver over your rear, trailing down your thigh, your calf, where you put your weight onto one booted foot to pull yourself to the edge of the seat so he’ll have room. The way the black material bunches at the seam of your hip and upper thigh draws his gaze. He has no idea that the guys have watched him blatantly ogle you this entire time. Noct nearly throws himself into the Regalia’s backseat and hisses to Ignis, “Let’s go.”

Part of Prom curses Gladio for convincing you to buy leather pants. Another part of him, the part that rears its perverted little head when he walks behind you and you aren’t wearing your jacket, wants to buy the Shield all of the cup noodles in the world. But right now? When he’s going to be sitting behind you, body flush against your back? “C-Can I drive?”

Head swivels around so you can pin the blond with an aghast expression. “Certainly not!”

Cheeks are a lovely scarlet. His voice is impossibly high, “But I-!”

“Either get on or walk. The others already drove off, Prompto. We don’t have time for this.” And you really, really don’t. It’s getting darker by the second. Skin prickles, eyes dart around anxiously as Prompto continues to argue his case for a few minutes, oblivious to everything but the tightness in his pants and how he doesn’t want you knowing about it. He says something about being a really good driver, road laws, and traumatizing milkshakes. You aren’t too sure because you cut him off by yelling, “Would you shut up and get on already?!”

Big blue eyes blink at you from behind the helmet’s visor. Feel that? That’s instant regret. Face in your hands, you groan and make to apologize when the earth shifts. About fifty yards behind you, a giant hand bursts forth from the ground, fingers splayed out, before crashing down into the pavement. The earth moves, crumbles, groans, when the Iron Giant wrenches itself up into the cool night air. You sigh, long and low- so long that Prompto thinks your soul is leaving your body. On that long exhale, you hiss out from between your teeth, “I fucking hate this place.”

It would honestly figure that this would happen to the two lightweights of the group. A few things go through your mind as you grimace at the Iron Giant in your side mirror. Contemplation of death, of course- you’re almost oddly indifferent to it at this point. But then you think about the bubbly shutterbug and pinch the bridge of your nose. Can’t very well let him die, now can I?

Slender arms tighten around your abdomen and hot breath fills your ear as Prom basically yells, “Drive!”

“Don’t have to tell me twice,” you growl before spinning the tires and making a U-turn. Impossibly, Prompto’s grip on you tightens when you come to a halt, facing the Iron Giant that lumbers around the road. It’s not quite interested in pulverizing you two yet. You thank the streetlight for that small mercy.

“What are you doing?!” Prom shrieks frantically, knees pressing so hard against your thighs that he almost clamps them together. Well, that’s going to bruise. “That Wiz place is the other way!”

“I know that, Prompto. I’ve glanced at a map of this area, unlike you.” As casual as can be (hell, you have to be casual with Prompto freaking out and trying to fuse into your back), you whip out your phone. Ignis had to be right when he said Wiz’s is further than the damn Spire, didn’t he? And you knew he was right. There were many times that you’d stared at the map of your homeland, wishing you could go to one of the places marked on it... It’s all nearly burned into your memory. If you head to the outpost, you’ll surely run into something much worse than an Iron Giant on the way there.

Though you haven’t heard from her since you left the college, you call Drusa and pray that she picks up so you aren’t running blind. Mercifully, she does. “(y/n)! Oh, thank the Astrals above! How are you? Where are you? What have-” The magister sounds keyed up, not having heard from you in ages.

“Drusa, I’d love to play catch-up, really, but I need to know if the Spire’s visitor outpost is being used.”

“The vis-? No. You know we haven’t had visitors there in such a long time. The guards haven’t even patrolled it for the past five or so years.”

Relief floods your system, even with the Iron Giant turning to watch you and the blond on the small scooter. It’s contemplating coming over. Bloodlust is a hard thing to ignore. Your throat tightens, you wheeze out, “Good! I have to use it.”

“Okay. I’ll... I’ll keep an ear out just in case someone decides to go there. Which, of course, is highly doubtful.” Then the woman’s voice takes on a sharp, maternal edge and she commands, “Please be safe. It’s dark out.”

Lips twitch into a smile at that. You’ve missed her. “I know. I’m on the road.”

“What?!”

You cringe at that pitch and hastily say, “I’ll text you when I get there. Bye!”

While you were talking, you got a text from Noctis. In their haste to give you two some room, the others made it all the way to Wiz’s before they realized that you weren’t behind them. Now they’re worried. With a tortured sigh, you text the prince your plans, pocket your phone, and speed off toward the daemon. Prompto, who began to calm down at the sound of your even voice when you were speaking, eyelids fluttering at the feeling of your modulated tone reverberating through your back and into his chest, starts shouting obscenities the moment you lurch forward in the direction of the heavily armored daemon.

You swerve around the Iron Giant as it lifts its weapon, Prompto screaming bloody murder into the side of your neck the entire time. Jaw sets funny the moment you feel teeth and tongue on your skin. Resisting the urge to yelp out is almost impossible. Luckily for you, this little slip gets Prompto to shut up and basically start choking to death on his own tongue and flustered apologies. The short drive to the Spire is completed in dead, awkward silence. It’s an effort to ignore the way Prom’s saliva cools on your neck but you don’t wipe it away for fear of embarrassing him further. As it stands, he’s trying to distance himself from you on the limited available space of the moped’s seat. Eyes roll at that.

Prompto cranes his neck to gawk up at the towering Spire, which you two drive toward silently. He’s in awe, breathless. But a small, strange feeling prods him in the gut. In pictures, the Spire looked so majestic. It still does but there’s an air of dread, of loneliness about the grounds. It takes him a moment to realize that feeling is coming from you.

Muscles tense the moment you get on the grounds. A bend in the paved main road leads you down a dirt path before you’re anywhere near the college’s imposing, guarded gates. Lush trees provide ample cover and the path ends at a small stone house with a thatched roof and tiny windows. You stash the moped behind some brush, Prom helping you cover the vibrant yellow vehicle with undergrowth. Once this is done, you both head over to the house that used to be where the groundskeeper lived back before your family took over and moved the poor soul into the much roomier and fancier Spire.

The lock is child’s play (Prompto asks if you always have lock picks on hand... you don’t answer, especially when he presses further and asks who bought you a lock picking set) and you usher him into the darkness of the house without another word. These are blessed grounds with no threat of daemons attacking... But based on your past experience, you don’t know how effective those wards are at keeping daemons at bay. This has your heart quickening and you rattle out, locking the door, “When we turn on the lights, the guards might come and check it out. If that happens, I’m going to need you to tell them that you’re the only person here.”

“This place has lights?”

To make a point, you flip the light-switch by the door and round on the blond who is temporarily blinded. The house is one room housing dust and possibly mold spores. A kitchenette occupies the far wall with a tiny relic of a TV, there’s an alcove with a toilet, and the stone floors are covered with threadbare rugs. “Does everyone think this place is that antiquated? Every building owned by the college has electricity. We even have wi-fi.”

Can’t say ‘we’ anymore. Remember?” You remind yourself darkly, the Spire’s betrayal always renewed like a wound that you keep picking the scab off of.

“All right, all right. Sorry,” Prompto mumbles, hands trying to rub warmth into his bare arms. That gesture has your own skin prickling with goosebumps. Making your way to the fireplace, you set fire to the dried out wood. It’s... a little strange that there’s wood in there, actually. With this in mind, you text Drusa to say you’re in the old house and wait for her confirmation that you’re in the clear. Her response is immediate with a bunch of thumbs up emojis.

I swear this woman texts like a teenager.

Now that that’s all settled and you can wind down for a moment, you realize that it’s surprisingly quiet in the house. Sure, it’s abandoned, but you’re pretty sure you entered this house with a loud- mouth blond chatterbox. Said chatterbox is still standing by the weathered door, cheeks a demure pink and gaze looking anywhere but at you. He shifts his weight from foot to foot, body coiled with an almost palpable tension. Something’s wrong. Dread leadens your gut. Brow furrows and you ask, voice low and cautious, “What’s wrong?”

“There’s... just one bed,” Prompto points out bashfully and it takes all of your self-control not to slap your forehead.

Hand gestures about the spartan room as you state, emphasizing your words each time you point, “Yeah. And a couch and a table. Are we going to list all of the furniture?”

He’s blushing so vividly and you’re just trying to make this not awkward. ‘Cause you’re not nearly naïve enough to not know what he’s implying and to not, deep down, wish there wasn’t a damn couch in this little hovel of a house. You sigh, mostly at yourself, and say, “I’m taking the couch, weirdo.”

The blond jumps like you just prodded his side with a stun rod. “What?! Weirdo? I wasn’t being weird!”

“Yeah. Sure.”

After finding the linen closet, you open it and dust out a comforter and a few blankets. Much to your surprise they aren’t moth-eaten and only smell mildly musty. Keeping the floral comforter for yourself, you toss Prom the blankets and sit on the rickety burnt-orange couch. He’s in the middle of thanking you when you peer at him from beneath your lashes. In truth, there’s no secret meaning behind your look- you’re just looking. However, Prom finds it necessary to repeat, “I-I wasn’t being weird...” The blankets are held close to his chest. Even his shoulders are bright pink now.

Lips quirk on instinct. Screwing with him always eases some of your tension. “Which is why you felt the need to point out the single bed even though there’s a perfectly good couch in here. Right?” He makes a pained sort of whine in the back of his throat and you laugh. “Good night, Prompto.”

Almost the second you curl up under the comforter on the couch, you’re dead asleep, head resting on your forearm. Blue eyes watch you for a moment. Prom has noticed that when once you never slept, in the throes of some manic research spree, now you sleep like a rock. At first he was relieved. But now...? Sleeping next to you in the tent, he always gets a bizarre feeling. Like he’s being watched. While you sleep soundly that night, your blond roommate doesn’t get a wink of sleep. It’s not because of any sexual tension, though there is that aspect. However, it takes a backseat to paranoia. Because while you sleep, the blond thinks he hears footsteps in the room pacing from the couch to the door. And at one point, when he’s just about to drift away, Prompto hears someone whisper and he swears you whisper back.

The next morning at 4:00 a.m., you’re dragging Prompto out of bed and you’re out of the house before daybreak. A helmeted head keeps bumping into the back of yours the whole drive to Wiz’s Chocobo Post and you pray to Ramuh that the blond doesn’t slump off of the scooter or Noct will probably kill you. “If you stay awake, you get to ride a chocobo,” you bait. To your relief, the blond zombie straightens up, mumbles something incoherent, and stops slumping against you. Just in time, it would seem, because everyone is anxiously waiting outside a camper for you two.

“There you two are!” Noct sighs in relief, having worried the night away over his two friends. Dark eyebrows furrow quizzically as he takes in the state of his blond best friend. “Whoa. What happened to you?”

“Didn’t get much sleep, eh?” Gladio ribs suggestively and you give a loud, obviously fake laugh to get him to shut up.

Your loud, obviously fake laugh startles Prompto into awareness and he looks around wildly. Blue eyes widen and widen as he takes in the penned-in chocobos and the vibrant yellow aesthetic. He flounders, “W-Wait. When did we get here?”

“Prompto, drink some coffee. We have a job to do.” Ignis turns his serious emerald gaze onto you and brings you up to speed. And the quest for chocobos is what leads you all to hunt a behemoth by the name of Deadeye. When you first heard the name, you’d laughed, thinking it was a joke. Nope. Iggy was dead serious. And once the bespectacled man was certain you and Prompto had eaten breakfast, you all set off to hunt the beast.

“Can’t we, just once, try and tame one of these absurdly large creatures?” You hiss as you pursue the gargantuan monster. “Why do we have to fight things that can actually swallow us whole? That’s not my particular kink, to be quite honest.”

“Yea- Wait.” Prompto turns to look at you, starry-eyed and curious. “Can you tame this thing?”

A laugh is suppressed and you breathe softly, crouched low to the ground, fingertips pressed into the damp earth, gaze trained, unblinking, on the massive, hulking beast that lumbers through the misty clearing. Lips tug up into a smug smirk and you drawl, eyes hooded, “I’m a mage, not a beastmaster.”

Click!

Blinking in surprise your gaze alights onto a blushing Prom. He lowers the camera. Lips move for a few seconds before he finally stammers out, “Y-You looked cool posing like that...”

“I wasn’t posing!”

When he realizes that you’re flustered, the shutterbug teases, “I think I’ll call this picture: The Beastmaster.”

“Six, I’m not a beastmaster!”

That point is certainly made when you have to encase yourself in a small dome of thick ice to keep Deadeye from pouncing on you and potentially killing you a thousand times over. Would a beastmaster have to worry about being singled out by an asshole behemoth? Short answer: No. This ice-dome position is what you have to maintain for pretty much the entirety of the battle since the behemoth apparently is (or was, since he’s dead now) prejudice against mages. He only had eyes- er, eye for you. Lucky, lucky you. And lucky, lucky you now has a new nickname thanks to Gladiolus who churns out nicknames like it’s a favorite hobby of his: The Monster Bait Mage. Always has to tack on “mage” to the end of every nickname, too, obviously. How else would anyone know that ridiculous name belonged to you?

At least we get to rent chocobos now...” You think to yourself, feeling a bit ragged after that excursion. It’s not like maintaining spells for long periods of time drains you, but rather that maintaining spells and fearing for your damn life takes a toll. A few times, when Deadeye pounced and put his entire bodyweight onto your little dome like a cat attacking his owner’s feet under a blanket, you feared it might shatter.

“Enjoying the chocobos?” Ignis queries when one of the stablehands brings you a particularly angry looking chocobo.

Exhausted, you face-plant into its feathery chest without a second thought. You think you hear the stablehand give an uneasy warning (“He’s a little... temperamental but all the other ones are rented out. Good luck!”) as they back off from you and the giant bird. The chocobo tenses beneath you and for a second you think you just did something incredibly stupid (especially when you recall the devilish gleam in his blue eyes as he was being tugged over) but then he relaxes and nudges your head with his beak. Arms encircle his neck and you sigh in contentment. Drusa always told you chocobos were calming.

“I always wanted a chocobo friend,” you murmur into bright yellow feathers.

“I think they are enjoying this,” Noct chuckles, patting his own chipper bird.

“Hey everyone! Meet Chocolate Chocopuffs!” Prompto crows. You turn your head to watch as he waits for a reaction. When he gets none, he goes on, slower, “Y’know? Like Chocolate Cocoa Puffs?” He huffs, “Screw you guys, it’s funny! C’mon Chocopuff, let’s get you some decorative medals.” His phlegmatic chocobo follows at a lackadaisical pace, occasionally pecking at his fluffy hair. Prompto’s declaration of his chocobo’s name gives you pause. Should you name your chocobo? Pushing away from the large bird, you squint up at him. You swear he squints back at you. A grin crosses your face.

"You’ll be called The Feathered Fury, Lord Apricus the Deathbringer from now on. Or Sunny, for short. But only abide that nickname from me. Everyone else has to use your proper title," you coo, stroking the haughty bird’s bright yellow feathers. Apricus preens when you say this. Though you’re pretty positive he doesn’t understand, he seems to appreciate the regal and authoritative tone that the name evokes. Or maybe chocobos are actually that intelligent? You aren’t too sure. What you are sure of is that your new avian friend likes the name and you’re satisfied with that much.

Upon hearing you speak so reverently to the bird and give him such a lofty name when he comes back (Chocopuff is now decked out in all manner of medals and little pins on her belt), Prompto sighs softly to himself and leans against Chocopuff, "Oh, (y/n), this is why I love ya..."

You whip around to look at him, eyes wide. "What?"

"What?" Now sweating bullets, Prompto curses himself and curses you. How the hell is your hearing that good? Little does he know that you have dog ears for the sole purpose of collecting Spire gossip like a little gremlin, waiting in the shadows, rubbing your hands together. Not really, of course, but acute hearing meant less of a chance of nasty surprises... Like getting jumped by classmates.

You side-eye the blushing blond a moment longer and then turn to address the others. "Anyway... This was fun and all, but let’s head off to Lestallum. We shouldn’t make Iris wait any longer."

“Got that right,” Gladio grunts, expression appreciative.

Dejected at the short-lived friendship, Prompto pats his chocobo and sniffs, “All right, all right. We’ll call you guys later. C’mon, Chocopuff, time to go back to the stalls. C’mon Sunny.”

What happens next tears you in half. You don’t know if you should laugh (and you really want to... especially when Gladio almost pisses himself) or if you should be concerned. But upon hearing “Sunny” leave Prom’s lips, Apricus immediately squawks angrily, flaps his wings, and straight-up bodies the blond right into the water trough. Chocopuff looks on in mild interest at the stunned, waterlogged blond before curiously pecking at his limp hair. Hands cover your mouth. “Oh, shit...”


Ignis

You’re headed through Duscae on the way to Lestallum to meet up with Gladiolus’ sister, Iris, to set up a battle plan or... something. Something concerning Noctis, the Empire, and the usual suspects. You aren’t too sure, to be honest. You’ve been having these really bizarre, hyperrealistic dreams that you ponder during the day like you’re Florus the Seer, distracting you.  Sometimes I drink like ol’ Florus,” you muse, wiping a splattered insect from your visor with your gloved finger. “Dreaming of incoherently whispering toads and shriveled flowers.”

Though you’re excited about the prospect of meeting another Amicitia and to actually be in a real city, there’s a shadow looming over you- literally and metaphorically. Trying to ignore the way the Spire pierces the warm orange skyline like a serrated dagger proves next to impossible. That is until you see the Regalia pull off to the side of the road, emerald eyes fixated on you in the rearview mirror. You’re quick to follow suit, gliding off to the shoulder while Noct and Prompto hop out of the car and wait. The prince looks expectant, a bit of an edge to his posture.

Oh, wonderful,” you think blandly, mood already souring when you see that Iggy’s in his confrontational stance, the one where his hands are on his hips and his weight is shifted to his right leg. You and Prom have had words about that stance.

“You think Iggy’ll get mad at me for buying this?” Asked Prompto after purchasing an obscenely large bag of gummy bears when you all had stopped to gas up. You two had eagerly stretched your legs in the convenience store which had a motley of strange candies and food. One such item Prom couldn’t pass up: Five pounds of gummy bears for 1,500 gil. Gladio had warned Prom about being a spendthrift but you’d made eyes and the shutterbug had to buy them.

“I know I’m not mad at you,” you’d replied, voice muffled from way too many gummies in your mouth, “so I don’t care.”

Prompto had grinned at you for a split-second before the grin fell right off of his face. “Oh, no. Ignis is looking over- he just put his hands on his hips! Help me, (y/n)!”

You’d shoved one more handful of gummies into your mouth and mumbled, “Nice knowin’ ya,” before leaving. Needless to say, you’re not exactly thrilled that Iggy is ready for battle before you’ve even hopped off of your moped and pulled off your helmet. But with years of experience putting on faces under your belt, you don a serene, unassuming smile and saunter on up to the group. The air is cool, prompting you to pull your sweater close. Water splashes beneath your heel, pooled in the divots of the road from the brief shower you’d all waited out in the warmth of the Crow’s Nest. You can still taste the bitter coffee on your lips and the others still smell like grease.

“Is there a problem?” A bit of steam billows from your lips, barely visible in the warm light of the setting sun.

“Yeah,” drawls Noct, cutting his blue eyes to his childhood friend before hitting you with a meaningful look, “Specs wants us to stay at the Spire for the night but Prom and I wanna go to Wiz’s Chocobo Post, and Gladio wanted to camp-”

Eyeing the Shield up and down, you point out, “Are you out of your mind? It just rained.”

“That’s what I said,” Noct agrees, shaking his head at the huffy bodyguard. “Anyway, he’s siding with Specs so you’re the tie-breaker.”

Wait. What? Noct is making you the tie-breaker for where you’re all sleeping? No wonder Ignis was staring daggers at you- you know he has an interest in the mysterious, ancient college: Where you were born and raised, where the king’s arcane advisors are trained. With veins full of ice and a mouth full of hot cotton, you beam and chuckle, “Oh. Wiz’s for sure, then.”

“Yes!” Cheers Prompto and he moves from his position beside the prince to reward you with a tight side-hug.

Ignis is unamused (and a bit disappointed, you note). “The Chocobo Post is out of our way. It’s a short drive to the Spire and night is upon us.”

“We don’t really have guest accommodations at the Spire,” you lie.

And he’s quick to catch you in the lie. “There’s guest housing on the land and surely an allied institution can spare us a room for the night.”

“Are you that desperate to go to the Spire?”

He tries not to look offended by your accusatory tone. Those neat glasses are pushed up and along the bridge of his nose, reminding you of his dignity and the respect that’s owed him. “Perhaps I am curious, but the fact remains that it’s late.”

The dense forest that surrounds the road is eerily quiet save for the sound of dripping water. The trees are close together, making them look impossibly dark and intimidating. This atmosphere of surreal dread gives you an idea. “Tell you what: I’ll satiate your curiosity and you can use your imagination for the rest.”

Everyone but Ignis looks intrigued. Prompto, in particular, looks enthused. With a squeeze of your shoulders he insists, “Ooh! Yeah! Tell us about the Spire, (y/n).”

You speak softly, talk with your hands. “Imagine a crypt but with fifteen floors. The stone goes up, and up, and up. There’s a staircase, a singular staircase, to reach each floor. And each floor looks identical unless you walk down the long corridors and open the heavy wooden doors. Most of the rooms will be empty but noises don’t echo; they get swallowed up by the walls. You’ll find bookcases, chairs, and tables. But you’ll never find people. Like rodents they scurry away at the slightest noise, shy away from light in the ever-present darkness they’ve grown accustomed to in the crypt. Now, that crypt has a ‘basement’ with a floor hidden beneath it. On your hands and knees you’ll have to creep, groping for the divot in the ground, for the hatch.

"Below, there aren’t the usual crates, or barrels, or other things one finds in a basement. But there are cages. And there are chains. There are rumors that there are bones in the walls. Not skeletons- bones. They’re old, taken from people who died outside of the Spire, taken from people who died inside but the rest was cast out in the sun to bloat and rot, to divert attention. There are rumors that this is why it’s difficult to sleep. It’s not the cold stone that won’t trap heat, that lets the wind whistle. It’s not the electricity that flickers eerily in the night, shuts off entirely only when one is alone. It’s not the secret passages that run through the building, the origin of which are unknown. No, it’s the bones in the walls and the voices from below.”

Prompto looks as white as a sheet. He’s long since released you from his grasp to hold onto himself against the cool air. “Okay. We are not sleeping at the Spire!”

“Yeah. Hell no,” agrees Noct, though he does his best to hide the pallor of his skin.

Ignis looks to Gladio for support but the bodyguard fights off a shiver at that exact moment and then mumbles, blaming it on the coolness of the encroaching night. Iggy sighs, “Wiz’s it is, then. Let’s carry on.”

Thank you, Ramuh. Thanks for making me a sneaky bastard.

“All right,” you concede coolly, expression smug, and turn smartly on your heel to make your way back to Choco Jr. before another word can be uttered. There’s a flash of green from up ahead and you know Ignis is throwing you a disapproving look in the rearview mirror. Well, he’s certainly grown accustomed to your propensity toward showmanship. He’s just irritated that he’s probably going to have to deal with two insomniac twenty-year-olds tonight.

The sky darkens, a light drizzle falls and feels like icy needles against your exposed wrists and the lower half of your face. Gloved fingers flick away excess water that beads on the visor, impairing your vision. From the back of the Regalia, you see Noct shoot you a worried look. He always looks so worried when you drive in the rain, like he fears you might melt or catch ill. You flash Choco Jr.’s headlight at him and he winces, covers his face with his arm before shooting you a goofy looking frown that you guess is supposed to make you feel ashamed. Instead, you grin and laugh. That gets the prince grinning and he turns away just as you all drive up to Wiz’s Chocobo Post. The damp dirt road has the moped’s wheels kicking up mud on your legs.

“Six, seriously?” You gripe. Mud is what keeps you from following the others to Wiz’s proprietor to rent out the dinky little caravan on the periphery of the property. You’ve just finished wiping the last splatter from your boots when you hear Prompto’s voice take on a high, complaining pitch. The muddied rag in your hand is left on the scooter’s seat and you go to the caravan. “What’s wrong?” Well, you immediately see what’s wrong right as the question leaves your mouth. The camper is small and cramped, so unlike the spacious model in Hammerhead. It’ll be a squeeze for the four guys but there’s no way in hell that you’re going to subject yourself to such sleeping conditions.

“How are we gonna get a decent night’s sleep like this?” Noct sighs.

“And we have to be ready for that hunt tomorrow,” adds Gladiolus, arms crossed to express his displeasure.

Eyebrows shoot up and you query, “Hunt?”

“Yes, there’s a beast around these parts that has been frightening the chocobos. They can’t be rented out unless the creature is dealt with,” Iggy informs you.

“Hm.” Head bobs. Gloves are flicked off and placed on the counter of the kitchenette along with your phone when you realize it got a little damp in your pocket. “Okay. I can work with that.”

Big blue eyes blink at you. “Huh?”

“There’s a trade deficit here, Prom. As a mage of honor, I can’t let that stand.” A sneaky smirk tugs up the corner of your mouth and the guys are all reminded of how roguish you can be when you aren’t tripping over your own tongue. “I’ll see if they have a spare room, seeing as we’re risking our lives for them tomorrow.”

When you tactfully confront the proprietor about the housing issue, he’s quick to agree, “We can spare a bed. Seein’ as how you’re helping us out with Deadeye and all.” Easy as pie. You didn’t even need to give him a longwinded lecture on commutative justice. Successful, you waltz on over to Choco Jr. to recover your belongings from the storage tail. When you turn around after slinging your backpack over your shoulder, you nearly bump right into Ignis. You’ve thought it a million times before, but he needs a damn bell.

Emerald eyes watch you for a moment before the tactician clears his throat and offers, “I’ll walk you to your room.”

“Th-Thanks, Ignis.”

A bell tinkles when you enter the building. It grabs your attention, small and silver. The post’s main building houses a kitchen, storage, rec room, and living quarters. You’re spared a small room that usually goes to summer part-timers. A twin-sized bed, chest of drawers, and nightstand crowd the room. You appreciate the single window. Much to your surprise, when you drop your bag on the bed and sit next to it to rummage through it, Ignis pauses in the doorway before coming over and sitting next to you. His knee almost touches yours. Throats are cleared delicately. When he doesn’t immediately begin talking, you pull the bell out of the baggy sleeve of your sweater and rotate it between your fingers.

Finally, Ignis speaks. “I hope I didn’t upset you earlier. That wasn’t my intention. However, if I did cause you any discomfort, I apologize.”

Gaze flickers his way from the corner of your eye, trying and failing to be stealthy. He’s watching you intently in the warm light of the incandescent lamp on the nightstand. “Upset me?”

“About the Spire. I shouldn’t have pushed the issue.”

“Hm,” you hum, focus on the small bell and the way the metal vibrates against your fingertips, “I can’t fault you for being curious. Besides, you didn’t upset me, so the apology isn’t necessary. Still, I appreciate it all the same.”

“I’m... glad.”

Silence drags on. It feels like Ignis still has something to say, tension built up in the lean body next to you. But he’s a bit too polite to be terribly blunt with you. Though he’s sassy as all hell, snarking and joking, he’s always wary of the invisible lines one should never cross with you lest they face your quiet wrath; your hooded, disapproving eyes; your disgusted sneers. The silence makes it easier for him to hear a soft tinkling noise. Green eyes look down to see you cupping a silver bell in your left palm, your right index finger tracing patterns along the dull, unpolished surface. The air seems to vibrate and pulsate around the small thing and for a second Ignis thinks he sees a faint glyph flicker into existence before vanishing.

“What are you doing? Did-?” He pinches the bridge of his nose and murmurs, “Did you steal that bell from the door? Honestly, (y/n), they’ve opened their doors to you and you filch their bell?”

“I can only answer one question at a time, Iggy,” you complain, trying to dodge the second question. If anyone has caught on to your bad habit of filching random things, it’s Ignis Scientia. Many a time he’s seen you hug your cardigan to your body and he just knows. However, in your defense, you steal meaningless little trinkets and put enchanted items in their place. Iggy doesn’t know that last part, though. Anyway,” you drawl, “I’m enchanting this bell so that if anyone who wishes to do anyone harm in this building tries to enter, the bell will ring as usual but the sound will knock the would-be assailant unconscious. So, obviously I’m gonna put it back!”

Perfectly arched eyebrows raise in interest. “Hm. That’s nifty. How do you know a spell like that?”

You shrug dismissively. "I've been enchanting for a while. It's a diverse field of magic that doesn't depend on magic type but it can augment your magic. Enchantments are done if you want a spell to endure when you’re no longer around to maintain it."

"Binding magic falls under such a branch, does it not?" Ignis sees your frozen expression and tries to soften his tone. However, he still sounds accusatory. "You had your notes all over camp one morning. What is it that you're planning?"

The bell is dropped on the nightstand with a distinct clang! and for a second Ignis thinks it might render him unconscious for irritating you. Those wicked eyes that have come to haunt his dreams scorch him. "I haven’t planned anything yet. What I have is a 'rough draft.’"

His curiosity is building up more and more with how evasive you’re being. That secrecy of yours never does its job. It never pushes Ignis away. Never stifles his interest. Instead, it lures him in deeper and deeper and deeper. "A rough draft of what?"

“I’ll tell you when you’re older.” A strained smile struggles to reach your eyes with that thing that’s barely passable for a joke.

(y/n).”

It’s almost funny, this dynamic. This little dance of the brunet’s, trying to coax you out of your shell with kind words, sharp intellect, and good food. And you, dodging all the while and occasionally gracing him, indulging him with some part of you, some small glimpse into your mind, your soul, that he clings onto and cherishes. He doesn’t realize that this is a dance for two. That you’re trying to coax him, as well.

Leaning back onto your hands, you fix Ignis with a calculating look. He feels like he’s on fire when you look at him like this. Irises barely visible with how you narrow your eyes, with how your lashes obscure the meaning behind your gaze. Ignis twists his body, rearranges himself so that he can better match that gaze. “Magic costs me nothing, Scientia. I can cast spells all day, all  through the night. It doesn’t matter how strong or weak the magic, I can do it until I die of old age. But that’s me and my ilk. Magic is limited in others, others that aren’t like me and mine, but the only one I’m concerning myself with is Noctis.”

Curiosity has all but consumed Ignis now. “This spell will help him with his magic?”

An account of a king being burned from the inside out floods your mind, being swallowed whole by what was supposed to protect him and his kingdom. An ancestor’s tear-blotted passage, lamenting the fall of their king: His skin was cracked, molten and burning on the inside, like a hot coal. And I could not reverse it. He was devoured. I could not save him. Ramuh, forgive me, for I have failed. I have outlived my king and brought immeasurable shame unto my family.

Fingers still themselves from a nervous tic. “With his capacity for magic and his tolerance for it, too. By directly linking myself to him, I’ll be like a fount of magic. Although I’m not sure how unlimited his capacities will be, considering that a bond won’t make him like me. We’ll simply... share some... properties of our selves.”

You aren’t telling the whole truth. The truth hidden between the lines of Lumis’ passages. For a strange loyalty to Noctis, one that is in your very makeup, the product of divine intervention; for an almost detrimental desire to fulfill your duty, to be what you’re supposed to be to king and kingdom; for an inferiority complex instilled in you by a sham of an institution, you’ll overlook the hidden warnings. You’ll overlook why your mother didn’t use this magic to aid King Regis.

“Are you sure-?”

“I know what I’m doing.”

To Ignis, this is your catchphrase. He’ll find you in the morning, eating toast with one hand and stirring something toxic with the other; he’ll try to take away your toast and you’ll snort, “I know what I’m doing.” Though he knows you’re brilliant and peerless in your field, he doesn’t know how true that statement is. You’ve set a precedent, established a history of bad behavior. That tendency to forego food and sleep because you’d been taught that that’s how “dutiful” and “hardworking” people behaved, that taking care of yourself meant you didn’t care enough about your duties. The many mornings he’d find you looking like a corpse, grimoire in one hand and pen in the other.

It’s obvious to him and the others, but Ignis sees it more clearly. How you were trained to base your self-worth entirely on what you contribute to others, how much you’re willing to sacrifice, how far you’re willing to push yourself to the brink of collapse just to be seen as useful, just to be acknowledged for your efforts. It’s dangerous. It’s dangerous because he can see how deeply ingrained this mentality is in you.

Ignis is pulled from his thoughts by your mellow voice. He recognizes what you’re saying immediately as the passage entitled “The Mage” from the book of Cosmogony; what’s considered an account of Ramuh’s own special covenant with the King. He’d read it to Noct. "‘Summoning forth from nothing, in his infinite wisdom and mercy, a mage most loyal and sage, as a guardian against the long night.’" Ignis watches you closely and you grin, “I always took that seriously as a child. Of course, this passage was taken to refer to all those who call themselves mages.”

“But certainly not among those who read the passage with any level of care. Even in this day and age, there are many of us who are wise to the Spire’s revisionist brand of history, though they have drastically changed their tune with your family in charge.”

"Yikes.

You laugh away the awkwardness of that false statement. “You mean the one where they didn’t slaughter my family? Or the one where they didn’t turn ‘mage’ into a word to mean a particularly bourgeois class of individuals who happen to have nice gardens?”

“Did you have a nice garden?”

That gets a snort out of you. “Yeah, I’m speaking ill of those who have great gardens but I really miss the Spire’s greenhouse. I’d be in there for hours at a time, talking to the-” Voice cuts off as you stop yourself within an inch of shaming yourself.

Green eyes glitter, full of mirth. “I’ve heard that it’s highly beneficial to speak or even sing to plants. You’ll face no judgment here.”

“Good. You know I won’t abide your teasing. Especially since I know that you sometimes sing to yourself when you cook.”

“What?”

“Uh-huh. I’ve heard you. My, Scientia, but you do have a lovely singing voice.” A dreamy, teasing sigh leaves your lips, “Oh, on those days the meals are especially wonderful!” You enjoy his blush before lightly pointing out, “Thanks for keeping me company but it’s getting late. Make sure Noct sleeps. Hm?”

“It is late,” Ignis agrees, gives you a lingering look before standing and making his way to the door. He pauses in the doorway, looks at you over his shoulder. “Goodnight, (y/n).”

“Night, Iggy.”

It’s 3:00 a.m. when Gladio shakes Ignis awake in the cramped caravan. He’s sitting at the small table attached to the kitchenette while Prompto and Noct share the bed. Gladio had been sleeping across from Iggy when he heard a buzz come from the kitchen sink’s counter and discovered that you’d left your phone behind. “What is it?” Ignis mumbles, barely lucid.

“Mage- (y/n) left their phone here,” explains Gladio, voice hardly above a whisper yet still rumbling.

A sleep-numbed hand clumsily pushes up his glasses. “And?”

“Thought you should return it. They probably have their alarm set on it.”

“Why would I-”

The bodyguard gives the strategist a pointed look that has the green-eyed man wide awake. “Pretty sure they won’t mind you wakin’ them up in the middle of the night for a special visit.”

Ignis snatches the phone from Gladio’s hand and snaps defensively, “Returning a cell phone is hardly a ‘special visit.’”

“Uh-huh. But you can make it special.”

“That’s enough of that.”

Cold air has a way of waking Ignis up even better than embarrassment. Which is why, even with self-deception, he isn’t sure that what happens next is the trick of a sleep-addled mind. The bell tinkles softly when he enters the building and makes his way to the living quarters. The door to your room is open, casting pale moonlight across the hall. What makes Ignis pause is the sight of a shadow that paces back and forth, posture hunched, head bobbing as incoherent words are mumbled at rapid-fire. The floorboards creak. It looks familiar. Is it... you?

The height is difficult to gauge, stretched out along the wall, but the stature looks the same, the cut of the figure so familiar even though it’s merely a shadow. Ignis wonders what you’re doing up at this hour. Maybe you realized your phone is missing? He fights off a bizarre feeling of dread to stand in the doorway. Mouth opens to speak and the words freeze in his throat like an ice cube. In the bed, you rest easily, the sound of your even breath a backdrop to that fervent whispering. The intruder continues to pace, either not noticing him or not caring.

Suddenly, the dark figure stops to stand next to you, hand hovering over where yours rests under the blanket. A long, crooked nail drags against the floral duvet. With the way it’s backlit from the dim light of the moon, Ignis can’t make out any discernible features, only the elegant, familiar slope of a jaw. Slowly, cautiously, the intruder turns their head up toward the light, to glance out of the window as if waiting. The moment doesn’t last long. But Ignis sees all he needs to see in that short amount of time.

The moonlight catches something, reflects blearily. Exposed teeth, lips almost nonexistent. Green eyes waver, travel up from the stub of lip to the gaping hole where a nose used to be. Breath rattles out from between slick teeth, rattles in through that hole. Alarmed, Ignis looks to the side, to the light-switch on the wall, and flicks it on. When he whips his head back around, the intruder is gone.

“What the-?” Ignis jolts violently the moment your voice pierces the thick silence to whine. You pull the duvet up over your face. “Ugh. What gives?”

Ignis still stares at where the phantom once was. Heart rattles like that haunting breath. It takes him a moment to compose himself. “You left your phone...” Said phone is in a death grip in his hand, the volume button pressed to max accidentally, something that will scare you half to death in about an hour. “Was- Was there someone in your room with you just now?”

The blanket is tugged down slightly for you to glower over it. “The only intruder here is you.” Seeing his strained expression, you sit up and sigh. Beckoning him over, you apologize, “I’m sorry for snapping. What time is it?”

Talking to you, hearing your groggy voice, gets his heart rate down. “Three in the morning.”

“Three in the-?!” Stop. Hold on. You force yourself to breathe and center yourself. Besides, you just apologized for snapping. Better not snap right after that. Eyeing him up and down, you note how rigid he is. “Thank you for bringing my phone.”

He doesn’t even hear you, eyes returned to the spot where the creature had stood in contemplation, where it had ghosted its fingertips longingly over your covered hand. The others are confused by how quiet Ignis is on the hunt for Deadeye. It isn’t until you’re all in the friendly (or semi-friendly, in your case) company of chocobos that he comes back to himself, finally puts the creature out of his mind as some hallucination or trick of the light. It’s a hard lie to buy, but he does it all the same.

The haughty bird that was thrust at you by a wary worker is slow to warm. To Ignis, the bird fits you perfectly, but he keeps this to himself as he murmurs softly to his docile companion. The chocobo watches you with simmering blue eyes, nips at your fingers when you speak improperly, preens when you put on airs and treat him like royalty. It’s only when you’ve bestowed upon him a lofty title, “The Feathered Fury, Lord Apricus the Deathbringer,” that he allows you to pet him. “But I’ll call you Sunny,” you murmur into those silky feathers and Apricus consents with a bump of his beak against the top of your head.

“That’s a fine name, (y/n),” Ignis chuckles from beside the pen that you stand in, patting his own chocobo, though he doesn’t get nearly as affectionate as you- the only one who comes close to your level of affection is Prompto, since you practically bury your face in Apricus’ chest every chance you get.

With a broad smile, you query, “What’s this lovely guy’s name? He’s so- Ow!” You get a harder, jealous peck for laying the compliments on a little thick for another bird.

Ignis’ cheeks color slightly. “We’ve... settled on Ben.” The chocobo makes a displeased noise and bumps its beak against his shoulder. His cheeks darken.

“Uh-huh,” you drawl, an evil smirk on your lips. Ignis swears Apricus mirrors the look. “What’s his real name?”

The silence lasts a century. Ignis’ voice is barely a mumble, “Eggs Benedict.”


Gladiolus

You’re headed through Duscae on the way to Lestallum to meet up with Gladiolus’ sister, Iris, to set up a battle plan or... something. Something concerning Noctis, the Empire, and the usual suspects. You aren’t too sure, to be honest. You’ve been having these really bizarre, hyperrealistic dreams that you ponder during the day like you’re Florus the Seer, distracting you.  Sometimes I drink like ol’ Florus,” you muse, wiping a splattered insect from your visor with your gloved finger. “Dreaming of incoherently whispering toads and shriveled flowers.”

Though you’re excited about the prospect of meeting another Amicitia and to actually be in a real city, there’s a shadow looming over you- literally and metaphorically. Trying to ignore the way the Spire pierces the warm orange skyline like a serrated dagger proves next to impossible. That is, until you get a text from the contact labeled “Gladdy Daddy”: “Gonna stop. His Highness needs a word.

Cheeks flush with heat and you pocket your phone. That contact name? You didn’t pick it. When you and Gladio returned from your exile back when you were going at each other’s throats, Prompto had snagged your phone and altered your contact for Gladiolus. Then Gladio saw it, laughed, and suggested you keep it that way. And, for whatever reason, you did. Regret stirs up every time he calls or texts you. Sometimes he shoots you a text for no reason just so he can lean over your shoulder to see the dumb contact pop up on your screen. Yet you still don’t change the name back. No idea why...

A flash of amber and you know the Shield is glancing at you from the backseat of the Regalia just to check that you got the message (Since he’d likely scold you for answering... So why bother texting you at all?). A nod of your head has him leaning forward to pat Iggy’s shoulder. The Regalia is pulled off to the side of the road and you follow suit. You’re barely off of the moped, footsteps exaggerated by puddles of rainwater, when you’re already directing your gaze to the prince and asking, “What do you need?”

“So dutiful,” Prompto teases from Noct’s side. The sharpshooter is immediately cut by your intense eyes. With a nervous smile, he steps partially behind the prince.

“I need your opinion,” Noctis answers. The prince leans casually against the side of the car like you have all the time in the world to talk despite the urgency of the setting sun. “Specs says we should head to the Spire before nightfall but Prom and I think we should go to Wiz Chocobo Post.”

“The Spire is closer, by far,” Ignis interjects, pining you with a loaded look- a look that you would normally cave to. But right now? When the realization that none of these guys knows that the Spire is actually an ally to the Empire hits you like a truck? You’re a bit busy fighting off a panic attack to side with the rational, level-headed man.

“But... Chocobos!” Prom insists like that’s a valid argument.

“It’s too far,” Iggy sighs, exasperated.

A rumbling voice comes from beside you to say, “Or we could camp.”

There’s a collective eye rolling and grumbling about real beds and how it just rained and you all can’t possibly camp now. And you agree with the others... However, like a drowning person, you leap at that suggestion like it’s a buoy and add, silver tongue working on overdrive, “A wonderful suggestion, Gladio. I’ve heard that the camping spots out here in Duscae are amazing.” Eyes like butterscotch alight on you appreciatively. It’s a little distressing to you that you’ve begun associating aspects of the Shield’s appearance with candy... Hair the color of licorice, butterscotch eyes... You shake your head furiously, try to shake those invasive thoughts out, too, while you’re at it.

“Haven’t you camped out here before?” Gladio asks, crossing his arms and shooting you a curious look. “You grew up in this area.”

Before you can answer, Noct states flatly, “While it’s nice to get everyone’s opinion, I’m overruling it. Wiz’s it is.”

“Tyrant,” grumbles Gladio.

As you turn on your heel, relief flooding your system, you catch the raven-haired prince’s eye. There’s an understanding there. Because while nobody knows that the Spire has thrown in with the Empire and that you were offered a place in the new world order, Noctis knows that you were stripped of your claim to the Spire practically the second your mother died. This little talk about sleeping arrangements was all done for your sake; orchestrated by the prince so that you all wouldn’t end up darkening the Spire’s steps through a majority vote. He just thought you might pick Wiz’s over the Spire. Then Gladio had to throw a wrench in the prince’s system by picking off menu and offering a third option.

“Thanks,” you mouth and Noct smiles before hopping into the backseat of the Regalia.

It’s when you’re about to get back on Choco Jr. that you see it: A debased coin. It glints dimly in the light of the setting sun, nestled on a bed of verdant grass on the side of the road. Ignis watches you in the rearview mirror and you gesture for him to drive on. That pale brow furrows but the bespectacled man starts up the Regalia and coasts down the damp road. It’s a relief. If any of them saw you go out of your way for a damn coin, you’d never hear the end of it. Gladio already calls you a hoarder.

Pros of getting the coin: Enchantments, maybe I can sell it for some gil, Noct might like it...” Finger taps your chin, pondering this further, “Cons? None? Gladio doesn’t even have to know it happened. In truth, you don’t need to do much to convince yourself to hop the guardrail and collect the coin.

The sloped earth is slick yet you continue toward the coin and pick it up anyway. Fingers quickly swipe away the mud before you pocket it in your heavy cardigan and turn to get back on the road. Two steps up the slope and you start to rethink all of your life choices. Mostly because the earth slides and you go along with it. One moment you’re next to the guardrail with Choco Jr. in sight and the next your back is slamming into a tree and you’re flat on your ass. Dampness from the mud kicked up from the rain seeps into your lower back. It takes a moment for you to be able to breathe again after getting the wind knocked out of you.

For a few minutes, you sit in a daze. Warm orange light from the streetlight on the road kisses your muddy boots. There’s a large dark streak of mud cutting through the grass where you slipped and fell. Hands brace on your thighs to push yourself into a standing position, using the tree to help, but you think better of it when your back throbs. “Ramuh,” you sigh, eyes turning up toward the night sky, “why have you forsaken me? Was it the incense? I know I lit off-brand ones but convenience stores don’t carry ritual goods. And I know I spent my gil on Yoo-hoo once instead of those sweet smelling candles, but Noctis wanted-”

Bzzt! Bzzt! Bzzt!

Vibrations from the phone in your pocket have you startling back to reality. Groaning, you tug the phone free from your pocket and grimly answer it once you see that smug contact picture and the absurd name. You don’t even get to moan out a greeting because Gladiolus barks, “Where’re you at, (y/n)?”

You click your tongue, take in your grim surroundings, and start, “So, I have a problem...”

There’s a pause. You know he’s rubbing his forehead. “What is it?”

“I sorta fell and hurt my back...” You’re trying desperately not to elaborate too much. Gods, you swear you can hear his silent judgment over the phone. If you close your eyes you can see his pursed lips and hooded eyes, the hypercritical jerk. “I’m at the bottom of a... ditch, I guess.”

Please don’t ask how-

“How the hell did that happen?” When you take too long to respond, so long that the brunet checks his phone to make sure you’re still on the line, he growls, “Tell me. Now.”

“There was a coin...” You respond, purposefully mumbling, lips barely even moving, in the hopes that he won’t hear you properly. He does. Oh, he does. His long exhale tells you that he heard you crystal clear and put all the pieces together with that little bit of information that he had to pry from you.

“I’m comin’ for you, Magey. Stay put.”

Eyes roll, still able to be sarcastic while incapacitated in the dark with the very real risk of being killed by daemons. “Like I have a- Hello? Hello?” You stare at the phone. The call ended. “What a jerk.”

Stars glitter up above. The air is cool, the sweet scent of rain lingering. From where you sit against the tree, the earthy aroma of freshly upturned dirt and mud is almost overpowering. That iron staff digs into your back until you wizen up and tug it out from where it’s wedged between you and the tree. “That’s gonna bruise,” you wince and try in vain to stand once more. There’s something about your right leg that feels strange. An uncomfortable tightness bordering on numbness. Oh... In your dramatic flailing, you hyperextended your knee as you fell.

Lips thin into a frustrated line, breath coming out in a harsh huff through your nose. You’re alone in the creeping night for several long minutes. It feels like a lifetime. A loud cry pierces the silent night, sounding distinctly avian. It reminds you of the documentaries Drusa tried to get you to watch, always about some creature with a monotone voiceover that really killed the mood. You’d end up eventually muting them and putting on subtitles just to stay awake and attentive.

“(y/n)?” Gladio’s familiar voice bellows just as that cry starts up once more. He leans against the guardrail and looks down, following the trail of mud to you. A bright yellow head pops up next to him.

“Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” You call out, oozing derision. It’s pretty commendable, actually, given the state that you’re in. The Shield’s face splits into a grin. The fact that you’re being a little sassy ass is a good sign to him, even if you’re slumped against a tree looking like a broken doll. He promptly vaults the guardrail and slowly makes his way down to your side, carefully leaning his bodyweight back so as not to tumble along and share your fate. Once he’s by your side, you snort, “Did you seriously come to my rescue on a chocobo? Why not take the Regalia?”

“They weren’t renting ‘em out ‘cause of some predator, but I told the proprietor that it was an emergency: A mage in distress.” Gladio smirks, squatting next to you and glossing over the Regalia issue because he doesn’t want you to know that he secretly wanted this rescue to be dramatic and memorable. The Shield turns to look up at the bird and drawls, “They’re pretty loy-”  It’s gone.

“Damn fine bird you picked, Gladiolus.”

“Guess it ran home. That predator’s in the area so it probably got spooked.”

On edge (which is painful, since reflexively tensing up your muscles makes your back throb), you ask lightly, “Um... How likely is it that this ‘predator’ might find us?”

Broad shoulders shrug without a care in the world. “Slim to none. We’re headin’ after it in the morning. It’s pretty close to Wiz’s.”

A sigh of relief leaves you. “Okay. Well, the chocobo ditching us isn’t a big deal. I still have my moped so we can- Ah! Dammit!” Pain lances up your leg when you try to put on a tough front and stand without Gladio’s help. You flop back against the tree (not exactly the wisest reaction) and almost drop your staff.

One warm hand grabs your shoulder and adds pressure, as if to make sure you won’t try and move again. His voice is low with that caring tone that he seems to reserve for you when you two aren’t sniping at each other. “How does your back feel?”

“A little sore but not too bad,” you admit. “The worst of it is my knee. I think I hyperextended it.”

“All right. I’m gonna need you to stand for me, (y/n). Lean on me and don’t put any weight on your injured leg.”

“Psh. Like I would.”

“You literally just did that. Don’t blame me for takin' precautions.” The Shield has you lean against the tree once you’re upright and then proceeds to move your leg back and forth. Or, at least, he attempts to. It’s almost impossible for you to straighten your leg and the moment you hiss out in pain, Gladio stops. The older brunet rights himself and crosses his arms. He’s wearing that disappointed expression that kills you a little on the inside. “Well, you were right,” Gladio sighs. “You’re not gonna walk on that for a while, Cat Mage.”

Cat Mage?” You scoff, pain taking a backseat to offense.

“Yeah.” Amber eyes gleam. “You’re like a cat. Any shiny thing on the ground and you’re pouncin’ on it and adding it to your collection... Hoarder Cat Mage.”

You watch him for a long moment, gaze simmering in the faint light from the street. “When we get back to the others, I think you should start praying to Ramuh.”

“Why’s that?”

“’Cause he’s the only reason why I haven’t turned you into an ice sculpture.” Despite the confirmation that you hyperextended your knee, you still try to walk on your own. You argue that your staff isn’t just a weapon but doubles as an actual walking staff. Needless to say, the Shield isn’t convinced. Especially not when you head for the slope and fall. Twice.

“No, you don’t need to carry me,” you insist but sigh in relief as Gladio helps you up each time, having the patience of a saint or finding amusement in your stubbornness. The reality is that he wants you to see the error of your ways. So he’s quick to counter when you say, "Sorry that I keep going down on you." Y’know... To your credit, you hear what’s wrong with what you’re saying as it comes out of your mouth. Too bad you can’t swallow those words back up and choke on them before Gladio employs his best method of breaking you out of your stubborn cycle of behavior: Embarrassment.

“You can go down on me any time you like, Magey.”

Frozen in his arms, you spit out like a viper, “Shut up! Just shut up!”

A rumbling chuckle reverberates from his chest into your side where you slump against him. “I’ll stop teasing if you suck up your pride and let me carry you, Magey.”

Jaw clenches on obscenities. After a century, you relent, “Fine.” Like you weigh absolutely nothing, the Shield scoops you into his arms and begins heading into the trees. “Not to be a backseat driver or anything, but the road is that way.” You point in the opposite direction of where the Shield is taking you.

“We’re not goin’ back to the road,” Gladio replies simply, staring straight ahead.

“Why not?”

“It’s too late. We’re close to a campground, anyway.”

You groan, “Ugh. Camping?”

Amber eyes flicker down at you. “I thought you wanted to camp?”

“We don’t have any camping gear, Gladiolus. I’m not sleeping out in the open on wet rock!” When he doesn’t respond you narrow your eyes. For the first time since he showed up, you notice the backpack he has stylishly slung over one shoulder. Through pursed lips you state more than ask, “You brought camping gear.”

In the cover of darkness, you can’t see his faint blush. But you certainly feel the way his bare chest warms against you. “So what if I did? I wanted to be prepared. One of us has to be.”

“Excuse me for not being able to see the future.”

“Wet ground, steep slope? Doesn’t take any fancy magic to see how that would end.”

“Hindsight is 20/20,” you snap snootily.

Unfortunately, by way of camping gear, Gladiolus only managed to stuff a sleeping bag and a blanket into his bag. He seems to really want to get up close and personal with nature. Totally not your style. But you’re a little fearful of him invoking more innuendo if you make your displeasure known. The sleeping bag is laid out on the campground, close to the fire that you lit, so that you two aren’t left trying to sleep on the slick rock. Aggravation has your mood souring, especially when you think about how the others probably have a bed, shower, and a roof. Though the stars are beautiful, you feel exposed.

“Why’re you so amped up?” Gladio suddenly asks from his crouched position by the fire. He’s heating up water for the two cups of instant ramen that he brought. When you saw the “food,” you rolled your eyes so hard that you nearly sent yourself into another dimension. The loud growl from your stomach, however? That’s what keeps your mouth shut. But Gladio is commenting on how you keep bobbing your good knee from where you sit awkwardly on the opened up sleeping bag. Not wanting to admit that you only abide camping when you’re in a tent because you feel like there are eyes everywhere in the night, you decide to lie. Well, half-lie.

Don’t want to seem like a paranoid weirdo.

“I’m excited to meet your sister. I bet she’s really sweet compared to you.”

Hands pause in their task of pouring steaming water into styrofoam cups. Amber eyes peer at you from beneath thick, dark lashes. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

You lean forward, elbow on your good knee. Those wicked eyes of yours are hooded, a devilish smirk on your lips. “It means I think you’re a punk.”

He laughs at your blunt teasing. “Hmph. You’re not wrong, (y/n). Iris is... somethin’ else.” The Shield’s eyes go a little misty, looking far away, before he snaps back into reality and asks, “You plannin’ on raiding every bookstore in Lestallum once we get there?”

“That’s given. I’ve never been to a real city before.”

Gladio shoots you that same quizzical look as before when you’d spoken about Duscae like it was a foreign land. The cup of ramen is handed to you along with a fork but you aren’t being let off the hook. The Shield sits next to you heavily. “Never been to a city?”

Shoulders bob up and down in an indifferent shrug. You admit lamely, “I mean... I grew up in the Spire.”

“Yeah, I know. Why wouldn’t you have been to Lestallum at least once? It’s not that far off from the Spire.” Gladio still isn’t catching on to what you mean. And who would? When everyone heard that you were raised and trained in the Spire, nobody thought you weren’t allowed to leave. They assumed your life was relatively... normal. Normal in the sense that you weren’t confined.

“No, Gladiolus.” Your demeanor begins to ice over, becoming defensive. Breath cools the steaming ramen. You take a bite, chew, swallow. The Shield watches you closely the entire time. “When I say that I ‘grew up in the Spire,’ I mean that I was never allowed to leave except for the one time I went to the Crown City.”

“Why?”

“For training. My magic needed to be as refined as possible and I needed to be a finely tuned instrument in order to better aid His Highness.” Is your indifferent response. Tone takes on a proud edge, posture straightening. “Obviously it all paid off spectacularly. I’d argue I’m an invaluable asset to Noctis.”

Gladio wants to say that that doesn’t make any sense, that it’s downright bizarre that you would have such intense training that you wouldn’t even be allowed to leave the college. That it seems cruel to him that you would essentially be a prisoner from infancy. But one look at your severe expression, an expression that dares him to disagree with you, and the brunet bodyguard decides against it.

“Oh.”

That night, you sleep with your backs to each other. There’s no initial awkwardness, much to Gladio’s surprise. He expected the usual sweating and stammering from his favorite fidgety mage, but there’s none of that. At most, there was blushing on his part when you patted his hand and thanked him for both the rescue and dinner. “You’ve saved me several times since we started this journey together, Gladiolus. And I just want you to know that I always appreciate it. I always appreciate you,” you’d said, eyes turned up to him. And he’d felt his heart skip a beat at such genuine gratitude.

And so, with his back to you, he drifts off into a sound, restful sleep. Until he hears it. Amber eyes snap open at the sound of hushed words. Breath floats on cool night air, carrying over to the Shield. Goosebumps erupt along his skin, his back to you... exposed. Though his muscles tighten, instincts tell him not to look. His gut warns him that something terrible is behind him- a thing of nightmares, feared by a child at bedtime, something that lurks in a closet or under a bed.

-for... thee...” The voice sounds like a long death-rattle, struggling to overcome phlegm, to fall off of trembling lips. Tone shifts, breathy voice taking on a warning edge that turns Gladiolus’ blood to slush in his veins. “He comes... for... thee...

“Who?”

Gladio’s heart leaps when he hears you respond. Your voice is subdued, sleepy. He realizes you’re barely lucid. Fingers dig into the rough wool of your shared blanket, the fabric shifting along his bare arm. Tension coils in his muscles, tightening and tightening until they feel like they’re about to burst. Tr-Traitor... Traitor...” The voice seems to choke on the word, halting. Gladio can’t tell if it’s fear or anger that makes the owner of the voice stumble until the volume of the voice suddenly and violently upsurges into a shrill scream, “Traitor! Traitor! Traitor!

Shoving away the primal fear that kept him immobile, the Shield sits up abruptly and turns to you. Wide eyes scan the campground wildly for the intruder. Gladio’s sudden movements have you jolting awake. Eyes stare up at the starry night sky for a split second before turning to the Shield at your side. On his forehead, you see a thin sheen of sweat. “You okay? Did you have a nightmare?” You ask, voice gravelly from sleep.

Golden eyes stare at you through the faint blue glow of the runes- the runes that he knows are protecting you two. He swallows hard, heart thudding painfully against his ribs. Sleep-fogged eyes stare back at him from a placid face, the dusky lavender of your sweater pooled around your head. He finds himself reaching forward, palm cupping your jaw, thumb grazing over your cheekbone. The feel of you beneath his hand calms him. Wide awake now, you start to stammer out, “U-Uh-”

And Gladio cuts you off to murmur, “Must’ve been.”

While Gladio gets back to sleep, you certainly don’t. Because Gladiolus Amicitia keeps his damn hand on your face throughout the entire night, arm crossed over your chest, body facing you. This helps him sleep. You? Not so much. At Wiz’s, you aren’t allowed on the hunt for Deadeye. This comes as a surprise to nobody but you. Though you know that it’s obvious that you’re sleep- deprived and can barely walk, much less stand, that doesn’t keep you from trying to argue your case. Oh, the glare Gladio throws your way for it.

“A potion-”

“No need to use curatives,” Ignis interjects, catching on to his friend’s foul mood. Plus, he actually agrees that you look pretty awful and is angling for a way to get who he considers to be the most overworked member of the group to rest. “Some rest will do you some good, (y/n).”

“And the caravan is already paid for,” Noct agrees, eyeing you up and down with obvious displeasure.

“Plus,” smirks Prompto, already knowing you well enough to be privy to your interests, blue eyes glinting evilly, “there’s a TV with cable.”

“Cable?”

And that’s how you’re sold on the idea of letting your prince go off on a hunt without you. For the first couple of hours you indulge in a campy horror film that uses an excessive amount of fake blood that’s both far too thin and entirely too orange. But you quickly become restless. Though, you know that if you try to follow the others, you’ll be in for an earful. Which is how you find yourself greeting all of the stabled chocobos.

They’re all eager for scratches and pats on the head, to have their vibrant feathers stroked. They’re every bit how Drusa had described them in her book: Amiable, bright, and eager. They give off an aura of friendliness that soothes your nerves, taking your mind off of both the guys and your aching bones. Well, all but one chocobo, that is. The yellow beast sees you coming from a mile away from his place in the last stable and turns his head away like a snob. You hobble over to him, leaning heavily against your staff, and blue eyes glance at you with mild (so, so mild) concern as you take far too long to get to him. You’re starting to think you’re projecting too much on a damn bird.

“And who might you be?” You ask the stoic chocobo. He barely turns his head toward you and blinks his simmering blue eyes once, slowly, as if to convey annoyance. “Haughty, huh? I can appreciate that. May I pet you,” you look down at the little placard that shows the name ‘Feathers’ and wince, “sir?” That gets his attention. You’re a little surprised by the ego on this damn bird. As you speak to him, smoothing out his soft feathers, you notice that he responds well to flowery compliments and formal language. When you throw in slang, your fingers get nipped.

“Make a new friend?” Asks Gladiolus from behind you, a grin obvious in his voice. The others returned with him, the hunt a success, but they’re busy marveling over their own chocobos and deciding on what to eat to come over.

“Yes. I’d like to formally introduce you to...” The chocobo puffs out his chest, waiting for whatever name you’re about to give him. “The Feathered Fury, Lord Apricus the Deathbringer. That’s how you’ll address him. But I get to call him Sunny. Right, Sunny?” You simper and get an appreciative bump on the head from Sunny’s beak.

“Lame.”

When you turn to Gladio to scold him your eyes immediately zero in on the chocobo at his side. “And who is this?”

The Shield responds smoothly, “Lady Dandelion.”

What?” You laugh and Sunny caws along with you.

Gladio frowns and crosses his arms. “Oh, so your bird can be a lord but mine can’t be a lady?”

“That-” You glance over your shoulder at Sunny who almost looks to be glaring at the Shield and his chocobo. Somehow, you get the distinct feeling that Gladiolus is lucky that Sunny is penned up. “Okay. Fair enough.”

Chapter Text

Real Friends pt.1

There’s something odd about the Amicitias. They’ve this warm quality to them that you’re unaccustomed to.

In truth, the Amicitias might actually be the polar opposites of the Iovitas despite being sworn to protect the same family line and being thoroughly Lucian. Where your family has always been rather cold and detached, mysterious and strange, the Amicitias are friendly. Such an odd thing that an entire family can be welcoming like that. It makes you gently gibe Gladiolus, telling him he must’ve been adopted.

Of course he doesn’t find that funny. He simply stares you down with those golden-brown eyes and you want to fade into oblivion with a cringe.

It’s just that… The thing is… Iris takes you completely by surprise in Lestallum. Sure, you’d heard tales of her bubbly personality and her brother is her biggest champion, but you didn’t quite expect her to take to you so quickly. It’s unusual. Typically, people don’t really like you all that much when they first meet you. Not that you aren’t likable! It’s just that that Iovita coldness can be a bit off-putting. Plus, upon first meeting, you tend to put on airs as per your Spire upbringing, so…

You’ve no idea the amount of talking up both Prompto and Gladiolus did on your behalf. Honestly, Gladio wasn’t even doing it on purpose but Prom’s always been a bit of a braggart where his friends are concerned. It would’ve been weird if Prompto Argentum didn’t sing your praises. Hell, the singing of Noctis’ praises was how the blond ended up with Iris Amicitia’s phone number in the first place (a development that had earned him a stink-eye from the older sibling).

So, while Prom’s effusing of your better qualities was pretty much a given, Iris’ little radar pinged when Gladdy started mirroring the sharpshooter in that respect. ‘Cause her big brother? His praise must be earned. Sure, being the baby sister means Iris doesn’t have to do much to earn a pat on the head, but she knows her brother and she’s seen this pattern of behavior before. Gladiolus Amicitia is a dork when in love and right now he’s the dorkiest Iris has ever seen him.

It started with one simple, totally innocuous text to say that there’d been a hiccup with collecting Prince Noctis’ arcane advisor but that everything was okay.

That’d raised eyebrows. Iris swears their father almost had a stroke when Gladdy stoically informed them- over the phone and on speaker- that they ran you over outside of Hammerhead. Her horrified gasp didn’t do anything for Clarus’ sudden tension headache. The King’s Shield had needed to sit down, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose. “Does His Majesty know?” was all he’d asked and Gladdy had informed him that, yes, His Majesty and the Arch-Mage had been told.

Of course Iris asked for updates about you after that. Of course! And maybe she’s to blame for Gladiolus getting feelings for you? She hopes so. Maybe if it hadn’t have been for her, he wouldn’t have felt the need to keep such a close eye on you…? Yes and no. Because although Gladiolus felt a certain amount of pressure to be aware of your presence so he could report back to Iris accurately when asked, you were already winning him over with your pouts and book hoarding.

For Gladio, it was subtle things that he would notice about you: The faces you’d make at someone’s back if they said something unintentionally catty, the way you were always straightening that ugly sweater about your frame like someone was about to take your photo, and the way you always walked like you were in court even if you were just entering a damn roadside diner. His gaze began to linger. A smile somehow found its way on his face each time.

This translated to his texts where Iris “Expert on Verbiage” Amicitia’s keen little eyes picked up on it almost immediately. A wide, excited grin split her lips.

Here was her big brother casually using words like “cute” and “amazing” to describe his fellow advisor. What Iris really loved was getting pictures of you and him posing together at some strange locales, his arm slung about your shoulders and you subtly leaning into him. At one point, she edited one of the pictures to have hearts between the two of you and stopped herself just shy of actually sending the damned thing to Gladio, thinking better of it.

She knew it was tentative. Gladdy has remarkably thin skin sometimes and the teasing of burgeoning crushes isn’t something he takes too kindly to, even if he is one of the most suave and confident men on the planet. So, reasonably, Iris didn’t get too far ahead of herself even though she probably planned some parts of the “inevitable” Amicitia-Iovita wedding in her head and Clarus would sometimes find her holding her face, smiling and giggling to herself.

She’s not weird, okay! Some of those texts Gladdy sent to her definitely seemed like love! And she just wants her brother to be happy. Iris has been there for the other relationships, after all. She’s seen the aftermath of heartbreak and helped clean up in its wake. She’s suffered with her brother through the disappointments and the anger, even though he reasonably shielded her from the flings. Iris just thinks that this new thing with you? Whatever it is? It might be different.

You both have an understanding that not a lot of people could even come close to grasping. Your duty to Noctis is paramount and, in Gladiolus’ case, that can easily get in the way of romantic relationships. Iris believes that since you and Gladdy are in the same boat, that might make it easier for you two to understand each other in ways that a regular citizen might not. Even though their friendship got off to a rocky start, Iris knows that Gladiolus would do anything for Noct. To some people, that’s odd.

But not to you.

She’d gotten a strange call late one night. Gladiolus just wanted to tell her how much he loved and appreciated her. In the wake of their father’s death, it wasn’t too bizarre a sentiment to suddenly spring onto her but… Iris had a feeling that it was coming from somewhere else. She was right, of course. You’d almost died. Rather, you had died and Gladiolus had to practically drag you back into the realm of the living. Iris’ eyes stung when she heard what had happened- what you’d done for Noct.

In Iris Amicitia’s eyes, you almost have some sort of saintly status. For her, you all but walk with god rays around you.

This background, this context, is something you don’t have when you first meet her in Lestallum. That context is severely lacking because not once did you ever think that Gladiolus would mention you to his sister. Well, mention you outside of your status as a traveling companion and arcane advisor/future Arch-Mage once you’re officially brought into the fold with some ridiculous ceremony involving ring kissing. So you’re totally flabbergasted when her arm is hooked through yours and you’re dragged away.

“Wh-What’s going on?” You sputter, staring in fascinated horror at the back of the brunette’s head as you’re pulled through Lestallum’s streets.

You can’t help but privately marvel, “Holy shit! She’s strong!

Absolutely nobody protests your sudden and very public abduction. One moment you’re sitting at the fountain outside of the hotel, chatting politely with Iggy and Gladiolus while Noct was getting a tour of the city from Iris, and the next moment… Well, you’re pretty sure you have a lung full of coffee right now and the fountain probably has some in it, too. The two of you pass by Prompto who is taking photos of the market. Blue eyes shoot you a knowing look. You wish you “knew” too.

You’re vaguely aware that you’re being spirited away to a café, which is fine by you since you didn’t exactly get to finish your coffee…

Eager brown eyes glance at you from over the girl’s shoulder. “I just want to spend some time with you, (y/n).” Suddenly, she stops. You follow suit, straightening your sweater before glancing up to find Iris’ cheeks have taken on a pink hue. “I’m so sorry! I forgot to ask if you wanted to come with me.” Those big brown eyes squeeze shut a moment as she shakes her head at herself. “I just got overly excited. It’s been such a long time since Gladdy… made a new friend.”

The way she says that last bit? A panicked halt in speech followed by what can only be described as word-vomit? You’re squinting. That only makes color rise to her cheeks in earnest. You’re a little intimidating, Iris must admit, but there’s a soft quality to you that keeps you from being as unsettling as Arch-Mage Decima. Not to say she thinks your mother was mean! It’s just… a trait that the Iovitas have been known to have and that she had overheard her father warning Gladdy about.

However, you don’t seem nearly as unfeeling as warned. From what she personally observed in the short time she met you before she carted Noct away, you’re rather impish. She’d caught you poking your finger into Prompto’s side when he bluntly asked Ignis if he “had to” hang out at the hotel to wait for Noctis, clearly not wanting to be cooped up but also lacking some tact in your eyes. It’s refreshing. You’re refreshing. Iris just hopes she didn’t get too far ahead of herself and totally stick her foot in it.

In agonizing silence, she waits for your response. Sensing her tension (Which you can’t accurately pinpoint the source of… Perhaps her social faux pas?) you gently put your hand on the back of her arm and guide her to an empty table in front of a café. The establishment is busy with a single waiter frantically puttering back and forth between tables and the kitchen, so you two are in no danger of being interrupted any time soon. You wait for Iris to sit before taking your seat.

“Gladiolus makes friends everywhere he goes.”

Oh, thank the gods! Iris leaps at the easy out you just afforded her. “Acquaintances, maybe. But not friends.” A winning smile is tossed your way. “You’re the first real friends he’s made in a while.”

A ponderous expression crosses your features and the young Amicitia blinks. “I didn’t know Gladiolus considered me a friend.”

One moment. Iris just needs one moment to gather her composure because she almost yells, “Are you kidding me?!” Staring pointedly at you, she wonders how damn oblivious someone can be. Are you joking? You have to be joking. ‘Cause she knows her sometimes obnoxious big brother well enough to know that he’s hardly discreet with his affections. And she’s right. Gladio hasn’t been subtle at all with you. He’s a terrible flirt but you assume that that’s just how he is. Same as you.

Sexual innuendo and suggestive winks are met with a dead-eyed stare from you or they’re returned if his teasing doesn’t come at your expense (‘cause the Shield’s comedic timing can leave a lot to be desired; teasing you after you’ve got egg on your face or something equally inopportune). Other than that? You’ve always worked under the assumption that Gladiolus Amicitia’s feelings toward you are rather lukewarm. Especially in comparison to Prompto “Ass Pat” Argentum.

Gladio is just friendly, right? Everyone in Noct’s immediate circle is. Even Ignis “Here’s Some Hot Chocolate ‘Cause that Flan Owned Your Ass” Scientia… Okay, these nicknames are getting out of hand.

“I think it’s more than that,” Iris finds herself saying despite everything in her that tells her to reel it in. Those Amicitias sure are impatient.

You cock your head. Damn. That’s a cute gesture. Now Iris is totally sure that she didn’t read her brother’s texts wrong. “Oh?” You hum to yourself, fingertips absent-mindedly ghosting over your chin. “Well, that’s nice. Prompto also considers me his best friend, or so he says.”

She might strangle you.

Luckily for you, the waiter comes by and you order coffee while Iris asks for a smoothie. This momentary distraction cools her head a bit. Seriously, she thinks you’re screwing with her and she doesn’t appreciate it. If you truly think that her brother just considers you a best friend or a good friend, you must be crazy. In truth, she doesn’t know how meek Gladiolus can be with you. ‘Cause sometimes you make him doubt your interest.

Remarkably blasé, you could crumble the confidence of anyone. More a defense mechanism than anything, it’s also just what you consider a good rule to live by: Don’t assume someone else’s interest. And Gladio has yet to make a definite move on you, so you’ll politely maintain professional boundaries despite the fact that you two slept together. Literally slept. After he pulled you out of a ditch, you thought you might sleep soundly at the camp. Nope. Not with his arms around you.

That damning memory is shaken from your head; an intrusive thing that’s crept up on you almost every other hour since it happened. You can’t look at Gladiolus or even hear about him without being reminded of that night. Keen brown eyes notice the flush to your cheeks and the way your fingers idly drum against the metal table. The afternoon sun beats down on you both, Lestallum’s infamous heat already turning your sweater into a nuisance. It doesn’t fully account for your warmth.

The waiter brings your beverages, effectively snapping you out of a reverie that makes your blood run hot. Thank the Six for that. You’re sitting across from Gladiolus’ sister, after all!

“So, how do you like traveling with my brother?” Iris asks, glossing over your previous naïve response, swirling the pink slush in her cup with a straw. Strawberry seeds are mixed throughout the slush. She’s relieved that they actually used real fruit at this café and not powder. Though she doesn’t want to come across as uptight around you in the slightest, she just… really hates powdered smoothies.

“I like him- I mean, it!” You want to throw your hot coffee into your own face. ‘Cause that wasn’t even some damning comment until you made it into one with your awkwardness. Why’d you have to shout? Why?!

The sneaky smirk that twists the girl’s lips? Yeah. You miss it because you’re too busy gazing into the black depths of your cup of coffee, longing for the sweet embrace of death. The younger Amicitia delicately clears her throat, expression haughty and superior like the cat that got the canary. “Oh? I know he likes traveling with you, too. So that’s really good to hear. Gladdy really likes spending time with you. He told me a lot about you.”

There’s another thing about the Amicitias. It’s perhaps one of a few ways in which they’re similar to the Iovitas. They’re artful talkers. That Iris is more a word wizard than you and she’s five years your junior. It comes from a lifetime of needing to be subtle and inoffensive with her manipulation. Pouting and holding one’s breath can only get one so far in life, she found. And being a proper lady (and possibly wanting to impress a certain prince) required her to drop the childish card from her deck altogether.

It’s honeyed words that you detect being poured into your ear. A familiar softness to disguise an ulterior motive that you aren’t quite sure the intent of- but you’re certain the nature is benign since you’re sensitive to those of a malicious nature; those always being met with alarm bells in your head. To hear such a tone, heavy with loaded meaning, piques your interest. Leaning back in your chair, you give Iris Amicitia an appreciative look. Coffee is sipped.

This is interesting,” you think to yourself.

A smile curls your lips. “Is that so?”

“Uh-huh.” Iris sips her smoothie, eyes upturned to you. So, you’re playing ball? You’re finally picking up what she’s putting down? Thank the gods for that. It’s this day that it’s discovered that Iris Amicitia might have the rare talent of getting (y/n) Iovita to accurately read social cues that aren’t meant to harm. And she’s more than happy to teach the Arch-Mage a thing or two if it means her brother will end up happy. She returns your smile and wonders, “Do you wanna know what he’s said about you?”

“That depends. Is it bad?”

She laughs, covering her mouth with her hand. “No. It’s all good things, I promise.”

“Okay, then. Getting the dish from the sweet younger sister?” Expression relaxes further, coffee cup cradled casually in the palms of your hands. Those wicked eyes of yours flash in tandem with the smirk you flash her. “I’m down.”

Will she ever stop blushing at the casual compliments you dole out like it’s nothing? Prompto had warned her about that. Called you a flirt and a charmer. When she’d asked Gladdy to corroborate, he’d confirmed this information a bit stiffly. That made Iris roll her eyes. ‘Cause she knows for a fact that he flirts a lot and he wants to get his feelings hurt that you do the same? For once, she wasn’t in her big brother’s corner in that regard. Iris hates double standards more than she hates powdered smoothies.

“I will if you pay for my smoothie,” she teases.

Confusion puckers your brow. “Um… I already was,” you admit, making her blush once more. “The least I can do is treat my friend’s sister upon first meeting her. Is that all that you’d like to request?”

“You’re so formal,” Iris chuckles mostly to herself, quickly realizing what it is about you that drew Gladiolus in. Gods, you’re so nerdy. “And yes. I wasn’t even really serious about buying my smoothie. brought you out here, after all.”

“Nah. It’s my treat,” you insist and although Iris had already decided that she liked you based on Gladiolus’ litany of texts and chats about you, she decides as much again. And it’s not because she’s getting a free drink out of you. It’s your whole demeanor. Not even one hour with you and she knows that cold, professional persona of yours is just a front. The real (y/n) is surprisingly easy-going and dorky, kind-hearted but still shrewd. Iris likes you a lot. And she’d like you more if you dated her brother.

“Okay, then,” the more devious of the Amicitia siblings drawls, straightening her posture with a devilish glint in her kind brown eyes, “let’s see…”

By the time Iris is finished giving you the dirty details of everything Gladiolus has said about you, your face is on fire. Gone is your air of flippancy, replaced with confusion and awe. Gladiolus thinks you’re cute? That sorta jabs at you. You’re not cute! You’re akin to a finely tuned weapon, trained specifically for the purpose of educating and protecting the future king of Lucis! But it kinda makes you feel all warm and weird inside to know that Gladio thinks you’re cute…

Of course the man thinks you’re far more than cute, but those are things that he wouldn’t tell his dear baby sister. However, the photos are shown off all the same and Iris bites her lip and points out with each one, “You two look really cute together. Oh! You see how he put his arm around you? That’s so sweet.” Coffee has gone cold with neglect. The girl’s unsubtle hints definitely aren’t going over your head. Oh, it’s so obvious to you.

Iris Amicitia is trying to force you on her brother.

Chapter Text

01. Aubergine

No one would tell you, but there were a few reasons why some of the magisters (the ones who didn’t hate your family) couldn’t stomach being around you. When you were a child, everyone thought you were adorable. You were a darling little thing with round cheeks and large eyes. But you went from cute to creepy overnight.

When you were a toddler, things got a little weird. You’d stare off at nothing, eyes intent as if seeing something. When you could talk you’d hold conversations with these “nothings” and immediately pretend to be doing something else when someone would walk in. You have no memory of this. Nothing aside from your mother and Drusa occasionally referencing an imaginary friend you supposedly had. One time, irritated, you told your mother she was lying.

Decima had quickly replied that every Iovita child has an “imaginary friend.” She’d stressed the words in the presence of others, silver eyes hardening on you. You should’ve asked her about it when you got her alone. You never did.

And that transition into toddlerhood set the tone for how the adults would handle you. They didn’t make eye contact, were frugal with their words, or, in the case of the purists, spoke down to you to the point that you no longer bothered with trying to engage them. You'd just turned eight when you got your first outside visitor. A visitor especially for you. At that point in your life, with your mother being reclusive and your only other family dead, you were terribly lonely. This new visitor was greatly welcomed.

“Call me Uncle Ary,” he’d said when he circumvented your mother to introduce himself personally. The strange red-violet hair that framed his face almost made you think he was actually your uncle. Your mother quickly remedied that.

“You aren’t their uncle, Ar-”

“Come now, Decima. Don’t deny little (y/n) here an uncle.” And so he was Uncle Ary.

Before Ary, you'd never spoken to adults who weren't authority or pseudo-authority figures. He wasn't so special that you could speak freely with him like you did with your mother and Drusa. But he was different. And different was what you were desperately hoping for in a sea of people who treated you like a pariah. He didn't pressure you to speak- comfortable filling the silence with lighthearted chatter, comfortable letting the silence linger.

"There's no need to be embarrassed by silence," he'd said one day. He didn't follow up with anything else. He let you speak in your own time, always listening attentively, hanging off of your words like each one was important. He never asked about your studies. That's what really made him different. He asked about your interests. "What do you like? What do you do? No, dear, not classwork. What do you do?"

You told him he would have liked your aunt. He'd smiled easily enough. It was a painted on smile. You'd seen its kind all over the Spire. He never wanted to talk about your family. Never  wanted to talk about his, either.

He'd bring you things from all over the world. An ancient book in a language that had died out long ago, a luminous scale from a dragon, and a silly little plastic cactuar charm from a gas station down the road. You'd immediately put the latter on your phone. But the most important routine that you two had was the food that he brought. Always something new, always broadening your palate. Food was a bridge between you two. He'd started out on your first meeting (under your mother's severe gaze) by offering you a macaron the color of an eggplant.

"Aubergine," he'd said loftily, chuckled not unkindly when you struggled to mimic him. He’d offered the small thing like he was offering you the world. You’d taken it hesitantly from him after glancing to your mother for approval. Though she looked tense, she pursed her lips and nodded her head curtly. You eagerly took the sweet. It tasted of berries and chocolate.

Each time he would visit, Ary would nearly kick down your door, plastic bags on his arms, filled with takeaway or extravagant containers stacked like leaning towers, and he’d announce, "Food man!"

"The world's unsung hero," you'd quip once you’d grown accustomed to him. And something would change in his eyes but he was always quick to snuff it out, laugh it off.

But not everything was sunny. Your bizarre friend had a cruel streak, a bitterness that would come out to bite you if you treaded too close to some unknown, unseen wound. It would bite hard enough to draw blood sometimes. Uncle Ary was your first experience with someone who hid their cruelty well- you pretty much owe a lot of your perception of subtle body and facial cues to him.

He wore a serene mask, amber eyes flashing like lightning before the thunderous boom of his insults. When his ire was directed toward the magisters, you didn’t much mind it. You could ignore it then. But when it was directed toward you? That was a different story entirely. Because he had started off very friendly- the first adult who didn’t treat you like a child or condescend to you. But every now and then you would get a flicker of that bitterness. It seemed a difficult thing for him to hide sometimes. You’d say something innocuous (or what you thought was innocuous) and he’d bite.

“I read about my great great grandmother the other day. Aela made banishing seem so easy. She was amazing at it.”

“Yes, so amazing, that Aela. She banished daemons as easily as she banished her successors to the Spire.”

“How do you mean, Ary?”

“Dear (y/n),” he’d chortled and you saw the flash, knew what was coming, “you’re nothing more than a captive animal. Look around you.” He waved his arm about your room loftily, to the thin windows, to the ground so far below, and the gates and guards you knew to be beyond the trees.

“Ary...”

“You’re no fool. You know those guards aren’t for keeping people out, rather...” he trailed off, lips quirked into an amused smirk, “they’re for keeping you in before you’re sent off to the prince like a head of cattle. One more Iovita for the chopping block.”

Funny that the thing you took from that conversation was your confinement. He was the one to open your eyes to the true nature of your housing. You became moody shortly after. Perhaps he was the catalyst to you growing distant from your mother. But the mood swings would abate when the food man came around. Because he always had a special treat for you. Sugared pastries and sugared words. Yet you always prepared yourself for the bite.

Then came the tonal shift- the great parting of ways.

He had paid you sporadic visits over the course of seven years. Sometimes the time between visits took so long that you thought he wasn’t coming back. But one day, you had asked after seven years of pleasant visits: "Why do you visit me?" Because he only visited you. He wouldn’t give the other mages even a passing glance and they all gave him a wide berth in the halls- another reason why you enjoyed his company. But this time you two were out in the greenhouse with no one for him to intimidate.

It was humid in that house of glass, your fingers buried deep in damp soil as you readied a pot for pepper plants. Ary leaned against the wall beside the doorway, watching you intently though he kept his face and his posture casual. He cocked his head and replied easily, "You're my friend, of course. Friends visit each other. Especially when one friend can't go outside."

"I can go outside."

"Yes,” he murmured, amber eyes looking around. “You go outside but you don't go outside."

You chose to ignore his insult and countered him with another question, "How about before? We weren't friends before."

He mulled over his response that time, crossed his arms over his chest. A playful smile pulled up the corners of his mouth and he admitted, "Why, I heard you were lonely."

"Who said that?" You laughed as you carefully placed the seeds in the soil before covering them up.

"A little birdie told me."

After you shot an unamused frown his way, you asked, "Does the bird have a name?"

"You met the bird once." His tone shifted, you realized. His voice sounded deeper, a tad ominous. You took your time taking off your gloves, dusted off your hands on your pants. The sunlight filtered in through the filmy glass, pale yellow streams dancing along sprouts and fully-blossomed plants.

"A former student?" You finally guessed, turning to face him head on.

Ary wagged his finger at you and pursed his lips. "Try again."

"No magisters, obviously. You don't talk to any of them," you murmured.

"Mmhm."

After a moment of coming up empty, you finally begged, "Can I have a hint?"

"They said you two shared a laugh," he said slowly, smile growing.

"Hm..." A sad testament to your lack of friends is that you'd never shared a laugh with anyone outside of characters on a screen. So, admittedly, you had no idea who he could be talking about.

He continued without being asked, "They found you to be highly skilled for your age. They were impressed with what you had done and wanted me to meet you." He watched you intently then, face an emotionless mask. All remained silent for a minute that dragged on for an age. "Here's another hint: You owe them a debt. Nine years."

Your blood turned to ice. The walls of the greenhouse seemed to close in on you as you were taken back to that time eight years ago. Cold lips pressed on the back of your neck and you spun around wildly, stumbling back and away from your assailant. No one was there.

When you turned around to confront Uncle Ary, you found that he was gone. You were alone in the greenhouse. It was the last time he visited. A mercy. Because you didn't want to see him again after that. The memory was buried again for years, left to languish in the furthest corner of your mind until it sprang out to feast upon your insecurities and fear. It was dusted off and shaken up by your brief dance with death.

And had you not recalled the terrible thing you'd done before, you surely would have the second you see the food man in Lestallum where he pretends not to know you as he speaks to Noct. Ears stop working for the duration of the conversation. They’re plugged with cotton. Ice replaces the blood in your veins. You want to run... But running will make the others ask questions. You feel like running will somehow confirm your guilt to people who have no idea about what you did.

“Hey, you okay?” Gladio suddenly rumbles, bumping you with his elbow and making you jump nearly a foot in the air.

“Ah! And who do we have here? Hello! I couldn’t see you behind that great wall of a man,” Ary teases. Those amber eyes dance over you. You see beyond the serene mask where the lightning flickers. He introduces himself to you with a lofty bow, taking off his hat, “Ardyn Izunia.”

You stare at him a moment, fifteen again with the world falling out from under you- if you drop your guard you can almost feel those dry, scaly lips pressed to the back of your neck. In your fear, you find yourself complicit in the deception, putting on your mask as you formally introduce yourself, “(y/n) Iovita. A pleasure.”

The lightning flashes. “Indeed.”

You know the thunder will come another day.

When you return to the hotel with the others, quiet and moody with your secrets held close to your chest, Prompto points something out on the coffee table: a covered silver dish with a small, pristine white card placed in front of it. “Room service?” Gladio asks, though he obviously doesn’t think that’s the case.

Noct picks up the card and reads aloud, "A treat for a captive animal – Love, Food Man." He flicks the card around to see if there’s anything on the back. “Huh. That’s a dumb name.”

As Noct is reading, Ignis lifts the cover to reveal nine small circular cookies. One elegant eyebrow quirks as he observes, “Macarons.”

"They're so purple," Prom marvels, looking like he wants nothing more than to swipe one off of the platter.

"Hm," Ignis frowns, taps his chin, “not quite purple, more like-”

"Aubergine," you breathe.

Chapter Text

02. Strangers

The thunder is coming. You know it. You knew it the second you pretended that you and Ardyn were nothing more than strangers. It seemed a silly thing in the moment. Why bother lying? Why not tell the others that the redhead was an old friend? What real risk was there that Ardyn would say anything about the daemon? And how could he prove it if he had? It would’ve been his word against yours. And the guys would have leapt to your side without another thought.

But fear is a funny thing. It turns people into fools. Fools who only think of themselves.

Self-preservation was on your mind- the desire to preserve the image of yourself as the knowledgable mage, moral about magic, wise and careful. You didn’t want the others to know what you had done. Yes, you were a child when it happened. But it exemplified one dark truth: the danger of your magic. If an act of thoughtlessness could have you summoning a powerful daemon... then what else could happen? You didn’t want the guys to think like that. You didn’t want them to think of you like that.

So, you lied to hide your shame. In a drunken state, in a childish game of 20 questions, you had almost shown your hand. You had almost revealed that you sought out another being to give you power. No, you hadn’t prayed to Ramuh. You had summoned something that your ancestors had banished long ago. And it was all for a toad.

The anticipation of thunder after the lightning has struck cools your anticipation over the trip to the Disc of Cauthess.

When you heard that you were all going to see the Archaean, you’d nearly trembled with barely contained excitement. Half of the staff at the Spire worshipped the Titan, so it rubbed off on you a bit. Ramuh is still your family’s god but the idea of seeing the Archaean up close made you jittery and restless. Until you found out how you were getting there. The guys watch on as you stare Ardyn down. The redhead looks tickled to death when he spots your chocobo-yellow scooter, barely chuckling out, "Oh, no, that little contraption simply won't do."

"What do you mean, Mr. Izunia?" You ask coolly, folding your arms across your chest. You’re trying to keep a level head but Lestallum’s heat is only serving to ramp up your anxiety. Especially since you can feel four pairs of curious eyes on you. Though, it’s not exactly you that the guys are suspicious of. They’re wondering why the man who only greeted you one time just the other day is now singling you out with a strange familiarity. And they’re wondering why you seem like a wild animal that’s been backed into a corner despite your collected exterior.

Ardyn gives you a sharp look and explains, "We're going to traverse some rough roads. And seeing as how the Regalia is limited on space-"

Noct casts you a sideways glance before informing the redhead, "We've all been in the Regalia before. It's a squeeze but it's doable."

"Come now,” Ardyn shakes his head. “With that staff, too? I see no reason that we can't all be comfortable on this trip."

Before anyone can further object, further test the limits of Ardyn’s patience, you agree. "Okay." You give him a contrived smile. "I'll ride with you, if you'll be so kind as to have me."

He grins, golden eyes flashing. "It would be my pleasure."

It’s no one’s pleasure. The drive to Coernix Station in Cauthess is mostly quiet. You opt to look out at the trees and plains that go by, watching all manner of creatures graze and frolic. At some point, Ardyn turns on the radio and classical music drifts softly from the speakers. It hasn’t even been five minutes when you decide to break the silence. And Ardyn was apparently waiting for you to make the first move all the while, just like before.

"Why did you pretend not to know me?" Your tone is surprisingly flat. You’d meant to sound a bit more accusatory but your words lack the appropriate bite.

"Why did you play along?" He keeps his eyes on the road, ever the careful driver, but a wicked smirk twists his lips. "Not that I'm scolding you, of course. I was pleasantly surprised that my favorite mage remembered how to wear their mask after all these years. How I’ve missed our games."

Eyes glance at the Regalia in the side mirror, where you can spot everyone looking like they’re at a funeral. Mouths move but you can’t read lips. Returning your attention to Ardyn, you query, "What are you plotting?"

"Plotting? You make me out to be some lowly conniver. Quite frankly, my dear, I'm insulted."

"Hmph. Not as insulted as I was when I discovered you were never my friend," you snap, the first  sign of any emotion.

"Is that why you still have the charm on your phone? To remember how I was never your friend? Seems an odd way to go about forgetting me." He drums his fingers along the steering wheel. "Then again, you're a master at making yourself forget. So, you very well may have forgotten your dear Uncle Ary."

He has you there. Maybe someone clever or some objective party could tell you why, after all these years, you kept not only the cactuar charm but every little trinket the man ever gave you. His memory was compartmentalized, tucked away, and yet he remained everywhere. Books on a shelf, tokens and figurines on your desk, words of wisdom... Though, those words wouldn’t be considered “sound advice” by most people. Teaching a child how to lie effectively, how to spot someone’s shame, their fear, and their hurt to use against them? Your mother would have been horrified if she could pry herself away from her work long enough to know what the serpent was hissing in your ear. What he was grooming you to be.

“And may I point out how scandalized I am right now, (y/n)? Of course I was your friend. I visited for years, did I not?”

"You stopped visiting," you point out. “I’m not the one who severed ties.” Though you were relieved when it happened. He’s the only other person in the world who knows your secret. If he had continued his visits, you would have been living in fear that he might “accidentally” let it slip to your mother. Because you knew and you still know that Ardyn’s cruelty is the pernicious sort. The kind that sneaks up on you if you aren’t careful. The kind that can strike and kill as quickly as a venomous snake hidden in the grass.

"I heard you were afraid of me and didn't want to see me anymore." He pouts his bottom lip out and narrows his golden eyes at you. "Tell me it wasn't true. Was I bad?"

You sigh and look away. “Who told you that?” Tongue darts out to wet your suddenly dry lips and you steel yourself before asking, “The little birdie?”

“Yes,” he drawls, sounding a bit chafed, to your surprise. “The little intrusive birdie.”

The desire to continue down this rabbit hole is stifled when you steal a glance to find him wearing an emotionless mask. His mouth is a fine line, amber eyes unblinking. You’ve learned in your day not to chase those conversations when he looks like this. Unless, of course, you’re a glutton for punishment. “You were my friend,” you finally say, expertly redirecting to a previous path in the conversation.

Were? Past tense hurts me. You know this.” His face is inquisitive now. You’re safe.

You huff a laugh to take the edge off but point out soberly, “You were the only friend I had who came to me willingly, of his own volition. Or so I thought. You were the only one whose affections couldn't be easily pinned on proximity, or fear of a job, or want of a better grade.”

You have all of his attention now. Eyebrows rise and rise, a hint of a smile on his lips at hearing how important he was to you. “Even Dr. Alomar? What a cruel assessment, my dear,” he pretends to scold, secretly pleased.

"Drusa... I know that we never would've become friends if my mother didn't force me on her first. She was-" afraid of you before she got to know you, just like all the others, you must painfully admit, "-too busy to pay special attention to any one student. I didn't win her over on my own."

"And you thought you won me over?"

You roll your eyes and cross your legs, the embodiment of casual ease. "Foolish child that I was. Of course you would have an ulterior motive."

"Oh? What is that ulterior motive?" Ardyn’s voice has taken on an edge that’s as hard and sharp as a blade.

"I wonder..." You cut your eyes to him, not bothering with the composed mask now that it's just the two of you. "Give me a hint," you demand.

"For old times' sake?" He chortles, "Why don't you take a guess first? That's how the game is played, after all."

"It has something to do with your daemon."

"My daemon? Sweet (y/n), if one thing could never be said of you it's that you're a fool, so don’t pretend to be one now. That daemon is yours- lurking in the shadow at your back, waiting, watching... protecting, or as protective as a parasite can be when it fears its life source is about to be taken away." His admission gives you pause, piques your morbid curiosity, but if you drive the conversation down this road there will be no turning back. You have to keep playing the guessing game. There are rules that have to be followed.

"Your interference has something to do with Prince Noctis, then,” you announce confidently. “I saw how you looked at him- like how a coeurl watches a dualhorn calf. And how you spoke about him when we'd spend time together. Like you had poison on your tongue."

"Waxing poetic, are we? I'll give you that one, clever mage," Ardyn admits with a lazy shrug, eyes hooded and still on the road.

"So, you only came to me because of my connection to the prince," you accuse, jaw tightening as you wonder what his plan is.

"The prince? You keep saying that, dear, but he's a prince without a kingdom. And what do we call those?"

Nose in the air, you hiss, "He's my prince, kingdom or no. He'll always be my prince and one day he'll be my king."

Lightning flashes at you from the driver’s seat. "You pitiful Iovitas. Blindly loyal until the very end. At what age does the indoctrination begin, I wonder? I was always curious about how livestock are raised."

You roll your eyes. “I see you still think you’re funny. Some things never change.”

He grins. “I see you’re still thin-skinned, my captive animal. But the truth, as they say, hurts.” It goes quiet. The conversation is over once you two start to get your claws into each other. The playful swipes threaten to boil over into something more intense. And arguing with Ardyn never ceases to get your fight-or-flight response going off the charts. "Trust is a fragile thing, isn't it?" Ardyn suddenly asks.

You purse your lips and give him an accusatory look. "Indeed."

"You should remember that around your little friends when you speak my name like it’s foreign on your tongue." Heart leaps into your throat. You keep your gaze on the scenery, pretending to be unaffected and disinterested. There's a long pause. "Did you enjoy the macarons?” Ardyn asks lightly, smiling like he didn’t just threaten you, shooting you a playful look. “I would have killed to see your face light up at the taste again."

"I threw them out,” you reply shortly, telling the truth.

He scoffs indignantly, sounding genuinely offended, "What a wasteful little mage you are."

“Your ‘joke’ was a little too on the nose for my liking. You’re more clever than that.” You cast him a sidelong glance. “Try again, Ary.”

Chapter Text

03. All in the Eyes

“What am I doing?”

You thought it so many times on the drive here and now you can finally say it aloud. The mirror in the diner’s restroom is dirty with a patchwork of oily fingerprints and smudges. There’s a streak across it- it cuts right down the middle of your face- where someone pumped soap on a paper towel and tried to wipe down the glass without enough water.

Fluorescent lights hum up above. If you keep your eyes open and unblinking, gaze trained on the stark white of the wall beside the mirror for long enough, you can see that the lights are quickly flickering. You inhale deeply through your nose and regret it: Traces of bleach and urine, something floral and sugary that’s forever ruined for you.

Outside the restroom, sitting patiently in a booth with peeling red leather seats, Ardyn waits. Golden eyes examine the caramel stains on the porcelain. Honestly, he’s surprised that they have porcelain cups here. Honestly, he’s not surprised in the slightest that they fail so miserably to maintain them here.

The redhead glances at the phone that sits on the table. The sleek black case almost looks sticky to the touch with that hi-gloss shine and the cactuar charm looks garish in comparison. There’s a bit of green paint that’s chipped from the cactuar’s right leg, exposing white plastic. Screen flashes to life with a text. He’s curious. But he knows you left your phone behind for a reason. You never do anything without a reason.

Just in time, just before he can second-guess if this is some test or not, you exit the restroom. Eyes immediately fly to the phone and he smirks. It’s untouched, exactly where you left it- tauntingly screen-up for him to see everyone vying for your attention. Such an in-demand mage, surrounded by friends who love them. He stands and waits before sitting back in the booth at the same time as you. An old habit from when you two would sit together in the Spire. An old habit that you had easily fallen back into at the caravan.

Ardyn had come over to sit and chat, and you had stood up and sat back down in tandem with him. He had been so pleased that you remembered that little show of respect, that little show of camaraderie. You had died on the inside because everyone went quiet and stared. Old habits certainly die hard.

A quick glance at the stained porcelain and that dip in the restroom tell you all you need to know about the quality of the diner. And as you wait for the food order (Ardyn’s treat for the morning, his way of “making breakfast” for people he would rather see dead) you’re not surprised when you sip your coffee and find it’s nearly water.

“I know what you did.”

You’re not startled that he waited until you had bean water in your mouth to speak. The element of surprise, some might say. But it’s not done cruelly. It’s a mercy. A small mercy. He’s giving you the chance to mull over his displeasure. A chance to think about what you’ve done and formulate a proper apology. This isn’t the first time nor will it be the last time that Ardyn will so ominously make such a declaration. He says it with all the moral authority of a judge: Tone sober and gaze superior. The first time he said this to you, it was after the Oracle came and visited. It was to be rather clandestine and yet he knew.

It was out on the grounds that you met her. Night had fallen and your mother was taking you outside. She had pressed her finger to her lips, silver eyes full of silent warning, and you quietly followed after you’d been tugged out of bed. Your mother whispered in your ear to run to the east end of the gate, down the winding path from the greenhouse, and you did. And there she was.

She looked like a specter, a will-o’-the-wisp, a pale face floating in a dark cloak. This was something your ancestors had done, though the roles were reversed. The meeting would have been sacrilege back in the day for that reason alone. To make the Oracle stoop to the Mage? Your ancestors likely rolled in their graves. But you were so struck by Lady Lunafreya’s presence that you didn’t think about the odd tale here and there that you read- that your mother had you read in the hopes of getting you to understand your unique obligation to that family line. A strange obligation, secondary in nature, with so many strings attached. To save and to let die.

You should have recalled the tales. You should have recalled the argument you had overheard one night between the three Iovitas. How Aunt Lysa was to move to Tenebrae to fulfill “familial obligation” while your mother would stay and fulfill “divine obligation.” How Lysa had refused and left. “Why would I leave my king to protect some foreign monarch? Do you want to make me a deserter? You’ve made it no secret that she’s your favorite, father. Must my honor be loved less than Decima’s as well?”

And that night with Lunafreya, you swore yourself to fulfill both obligations at your own expense. With no siblings and no other family, you would stretch yourself so thin that your honor would be made translucent and frail. For the sake of the Oracle that you read about, saw on television, fallen for from afar. A savior. Looking back, it seemed like whimsy. But in the moment you had been so sure of yourself. Lunafreya had lost everything. There was an inconsolable sadness in her that you could feel and yet she had a smile for you. And yet she stayed true to her purpose. She was resilient but you wanted to make her stronger. The folly of a mage.

It lasted maybe three hours, that meeting. The true purpose of it was never made known to you. While you made jokes to see those blue eyes sparkle, those eyes stole glances at the thing that watched you from the trees. And as Luna held your hand, she knew that a deal had been made before she could save you. “Your mother told me that you’re a talented mage.”

You preened, thankful for the compliment since you were quickly approaching the limits of your social “prowess.” It was a miracle that you even managed to fill three hours with conversation, but Luna had a calming effect on you. There was no judgment in her gaze. But you still found yourself growing weary, struggling to appear sociable and well-bred rather than awkward and asocial. “I am in the top of my class... But, Lady Lunafreya, she is my mother. Perhaps you should take her praise with a grain of salt?” Perfectly humble.

Luna smiled, seeing through that humble brag. “I’m glad that you’re to be the one to protect him.” She was talking about Noctis. You already knew it.

“The Iovitas will always protect the Caelum line.” A practiced line. It was proclaimed like you were performing on a stage- Luna half expected you to stand and take a bow. Back then, six years ago, you said the words but you didn’t feel them. The next time you’ll say them, it will be with pain and vigor.

“It is you who protects the protectors,” her grip on your hand tightened, a pained look on her face, “but no one protects you, (y/n).”

Instinctively, you ripped your hand from hers. Why would she say something like that? It was a strange thing to say in a conversation that had previously been about each other’s hobbies and favorite memories. There was movement in the trees. Temporarily distracted, you didn’t see her resignation. She was too late. With a painted on smile, you tried to shift the somber tone. That tendency to gloss over the harsh realities of your family’s fate did you no favors in the long run. “And as the protector, don’t I protect you, too?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m certain those stories I read weren’t merely stories.”

Luna laughed, a breathy thing in the stillness of the night. “Yes. They were not merely stories. Our families have been tied to each other for generations.”

“A lovestruck Iovita vowing to protect the blessed Oracle,” you mused, looking up at the twinkling stars, so lame at trying to make a pass.

“You’re very funny, (y/n).”

“No one calls me funny, Lady Lunafreya. I’m pragmatic. As an Iovita it is my duty to be calculating and precise. My protection extends to you. Our families have always crossed paths and yet...” You looked away.

“(y/n)?”

Noctis wasn’t the first person you’d ever bent your knee to, ever swore yourself to. It was all done in secret, under cover of darkness. It was a secret for two, something shared. Yet a third party had entered and you were blissfully unaware of the intrusion. “Lady Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, you shall not come to harm under my protection. I, (y/n) Iovita, swear a solemn oath to see you safely by the king’s side and, should the time come, lay my life down in place of yours.”

“(y/n)...”

The solemn severity in her tone, blue eyes morose, had you immediately and awkwardly joking, “Kind of romantic, huh?”

(y/n).”

Sometimes you wonder if she regretted coming to you. If you embarrassed her. You swear you hand out solemn oaths of loyalty like candy. Rather, that was what Ardyn implied when he  scorched you with that golden gaze and sliced you with that sharp tongue. Somehow, he’d found out. And the next time he visited, you two had argued. It was the first and last time voices were ever raised. “And thus you continue the family tradition of selling yourself to the prettiest face. That pact was not made on any call to duty. It was made on lust. Your fool ancestor fell for the Oracle and your family committed to the ruse as if it were a divine calling rather than the attempt of a mage to bed someone.”

“What? How would you even know that? That pact was made centuries ago, Ary. Or are you buying into the Spire’s lies, too?”

“Tell me, (y/n), what do you expect to get out of this oath of yours? For protecting the little prince, you’ll be afforded luxuries and accolades, I’m sure. But the Oracle? Even your dear dead aunt was wise enough to shirk that false duty. Stick to simply reading your damned fairytales, child, or they’ll be all you’ll have left in the end.”

“So, you're offended that I extended my protection to the Oracle? Why? Are you jealous? That's rich coming from the man who always, without fail, tells me that my obligations and duties are a sham. Why grow green at the thought of me scamming others with pretty words that mean nothing?”

“She will not deign to protect you. That is not her calling. Neither will that boy whom you idolize. You’ll burn before them and they will turn their back on you. Your self-sacrificing oaths will be ash in your hands. Do not deceive yourself and be the only fool left standing in the fire.”

The coffee is lukewarm. Strange. You hadn’t thought you were in the restroom for that long.

Just like six years ago, your temper flares up like a fire roaring to life. Unlike six years ago, you stifle it- smother it. Don’t allow yourself to get riled up, all wide-eyed with equal parts fury and embarrassment. Fury for being undermined, embarrassment for being called shallow and foolish. All of those feelings come rearing back up and you don’t even know what he’s talking about. It’s funny how that works. But in the diner, waiting for the unassuming cook to slide omelettes into styrofoam containers? After crossing paths for the first time in five years? When you know, you just know that he’s up to something nefarious? You can’t afford to raise your voice.

So instead, you wear your best face, sip your weak, lukewarm coffee, and hum, “I’ve done quite a few things to earn a slap on my hand, Ary. Care to elaborate?” To anyone else, your tone might sound all wrong. It’s the fallback: Snark and pomp with just enough polite reservation to skim under his rather low threshold for rudeness. It’s passable coming from you. You don’t know it, but if you were anyone else you would’ve just signed your death warrant with that tone alone.

Ardyn graces you with an unamused frown- eyes half-lidded, lips slightly pursed. “You threatened the Arch-Mage.” He corrects himself, “Well, the current Arch-Mage.”

That takes you aback. “That’s old news,” you scoff. “Honestly, I’m surprised that you’re just now hearing of it. Talmudge has a propensity for the dramatic when his ego gets slapped around so I assumed he would’ve gone crying to your precious emperor sooner.”

Ardyn gives you a bored look. “You must learn to exercise restraint, (y/n). Your regrettable lack of respect for authority has made your situation with the emperor rather tenuous.”

“My situation? There is no situation other than him being my enemy.” A packet of sugar is ripped open and the contents are dumped in the coffee. The granules won’t melt for a while. “An offer was made and I refused. If the offer is no longer on the table, then so be it. I won’t be losing any sleep over it.”

“And yet you should. This is the offer of a lifetime, (y/n). It is not merely a job offer.” Eyes lock with his.

Back in the Spire, there were odd rumors about you and the redhead. Some magisters thought you two were telepaths (“That’s a thing?” Drusa had asked your mother once she caught wind of the rumor. “No.” Had been your mother’s monosyllabic response. She didn’t like hearing about your time with the man.). The rumor only came to be because you two would often sit in silence. It was a luxury the redhead afforded you when you’d grow weary of talking, of trying to keep a conversation going like how the magisters tried to teach you. When the silence would drag on, communication would be made through looks.

“All in the eyes,” Ardyn would chuckle. “And what emotive eyes you have, (y/n).”

Yet his never were. But after years of those silent conversations, you grew to understand the things he didn’t say aloud with his eyes. Coming to him willingly, not the emperor, is the opportunity of a lifetime because it’s the only way he’ll allow you to live. You can see it now. That affection is still balanced on a knife’s edge. Malicious intent has never been a stranger to you. Almost all of the eyes in the Spire had it. You’d see it in the halls, the washrooms, the classrooms, out on the grounds. There was no escaping it, so it naturally became familiar. And you see it now, gazing at you from across the table in a diner that smells of smoke.

Join or become his enemy. Come and dance on that knife’s edge once more.

Ardyn can see your understanding and your resignation as plain as day. The way the light in your eyes becomes subdued, tempered. The chancellor almost laughs. There’s that Iovita arrogance, that coldness, that he’s grown so fond of. You know your fate and yet that jaw hardens in defiance. You’re exactly like your ancestor. Sometimes it’s startling how deep those similarities run. The differences, however? One of those differences is staring boldly at him. That almost off- putting severity. Even as a child, you were so severe, like you were already hardened against the world. As if, despite being an automaton of the Fulgurian’s creation, you would do anything to survive. Anything but this.

The polarity between your heritage and you has never been more apparent than now. Such a contradiction. Your ancestors were ready and willing to die. But you’ve always been obstinate. A smirk winds its way across his lips when he confirms that you’re still clinging to your fairytales. Truly, you think you can save yourself and everyone else? It takes you a moment to realize that steam is billowing up from your cup. A glance down reveals that the coffee is boiling. With a dignified cough, you release the cup and muse, "I wonder."

"Wondering and wondering. The masterful mind of the mage is a maze to all." Golden eyes rest on you. He’s already well aware of your inner turmoil. How badly do you want to live? How badly do you want to make your mother and your ancestors proud? "Do you have a question for me, my mage?"

"Was the poison your idea, then?"

He gives you a wide, curious smile. But those eyes are unblinking. "Poison, you say?"

"Yes. I was wondering if that was part of the plan- a failsafe, if you will. I rejected your job offer and then I had to get the axe." You drum your fingers on the table. "But you should pick your proxies better. The wonderful Arch-Mage had me poisoned before that offer even left his lying mouth."

"Hm." Ardyn sips his coffee. "What an intriguing tale. However, if I wanted you dead I would have done it myself. You know me, dearest. I’m never afraid of getting my hands dirty when need be."

"Oh, my. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't flattered," you lie. You lie so easily, so seamlessly with him. You both do it. Lies are interwoven in your conversations, the framework of your dynamic. Feeding each other lies and pretending like the other doesn't know any better. “But I’m afraid that I still must refuse.”

There’s lightning in his eyes as well as in his teeth when he smiles at you. It’s not forced, it comes so easily to him. That look alone tells you that you missed the point entirely. Like always, you’re left trailing behind. He reads you like an open book but to you he’s a foreign language that you haven’t practiced in an age. “The ingrate does not often recognize his debt, even when he has it pointed out for him.”

The coffee is hot on your tongue and you suddenly realize your mistake. This was never an offer to begin with.

Chapter Text

11. Saboteur

On rainy days in the Spire, ensconced in books with your face lit up in the pale blue light from a borrowed tablet, you often dreamed of living other people’s lives. Lives filled with adventure, friends, and maybe drama. It didn’t matter as long as it was something new. But you knew your lot in life. You were born into studious work and you would die in it. Yet you wished for more. You yearned for more. Being allowed to walk on the college’s expansive grounds by yourself was enough for about a month. Because although you could walk and walk, seemingly forever, you’d still find yourself grabbing the iron fence that kept you in. There was a world beyond it.

And you wished for it. But you should always be careful what you wish for.

Attacking an imperial base wasn’t something you thought you’d ever do. That was never part of the life you thought was planned for you. Befriending a snake wasn’t something you thought you would do, either. You do so pride yourself on being able to read people and yet you’d been duped. The two go hand-in-hand. They serve to show you your potential and your limits. Taking down the base, clearing the blockade? It felt liberating. Sure, you’d passed out from exhaustion in the middle of it, but you played no small part in it. For a while, you were riding high on that success; the guys noticed the extra swagger to your gait. Then you got to Lestallum and came crashing down.

It’s almost laughable when you look back on it. Everything was going so well- too well, you note. You made a chocobo friend, got some one-on-one time with your... favorite person, and you got to meet Iris Amicitia, Jared Hester, and Jared’s grandson, Talcott. They were all so nice. You had been overwhelmed by how nice they were.

“Lady Iris,” you’d greeted the younger Amicitia formally, “it’s an honor to make your acquaintance.”

“I’ve heard so much about you from the guys,” laughed Iris, cheeks noticeably a bit pink.

With a coolness only reserved for first-meetings (since, thereafter, it’s guaranteed Social Faux Pas Hell from you), you’d queried, eyes half-lidded and smile on full display, “All good things, I hope?” And she went red. Gladio had never heard his sister giggle like that before.

“How the hell is (y/n) so smooth?” Prompto had hissed to Noctis who merely shrugged. Though you may have initially charmed the girl (and Gladio was gonna have words with you about that), she still inevitably ended up shadowing Noctis later that day.

“It’s such a pleasure to meet you at last, Arch-Mage (y/n).” Jared had bowed and you’d nodded your head regally, as you’d been taught; just a dip of the chin, crown of the head up, eyes downcast in deference. You’d done the same to Talcott and the boy looked like he was seeing stars. You didn’t correct either of them about the inaccurate title. But then came the start of the very long fall. Talcott unwittingly clipped your wings when he pointed out and gushed over the cactuar charm on your phone. He asked where you got it and the blade cut the feathers. With a smile that was far too wide, you promised him that you would find him one the next time you were at a store.

“Was it a gift?”

Snip!

“Huh. I always wondered that myself. You sure do seem fond of it, Magey.”

Snip!

“Somehow, it really suits you.”

Snip!

“I’m sure whoever gave it to them thought the same thing: Cute and awkward but packs an electric punch.”

Snip!

“Did you just call (y/n) cute, Prompto?”

“We’re friends! Friends can call each other cute!”

But all of those harmless questions and comments didn’t prepare you for the one thing that was sure to have you spiraling out of control. The timing was perfect. It was so hilariously perfect that you often find yourself looking back and shaking your head, wondering if somehow he had it all planned out. He already knew them. They’d all already met. When you’d thrown yourself down on the beach in Galdin Quay to root around in the dirt and the sand, you’d dodged a red-headed bullet. He didn’t even see you when he left, always with that tunnel vision for his goal; and you didn’t see him because your nose was in the ground, always so focused on your craft.

Passersby.

If only you two could have remained like that- on different tracks, never meeting. But he had wormed his way into your life well before he took off his hat and bowed low to you in Lestallum. You had broken bread with him, confided in him, laughed with him, years and years ago. Yet you smiled and greeted him as if it was the first time. Fear and shame. Just like that, you traded feelings of competency and pride for fear and shame. Because those golden eyes that looked at you, that looked through you, scorched your soul. Because he’s the one person who knows your secrets- every last one, in almost excruciating detail.

Except... he knows more than even you do. He knows enough to destroy you both. It’s honestly a miracle that you hold out for as long as you do. Guilt is so arduous to grapple with after spending so much time with these people. You don’t think even Titan himself would be able to keep the guilt from crushing you. And that’s saying something, considering you’re now uncomfortably knowledgeable on how much strength the Archaean has...

Prompto flips through the photos at camp, still freaking out over the fight with Titan- the battle with an Astral. He stops at one picture and flinches. "Oh! Ouch, (y/n)! That looks like it hurt."

Peering over his shoulder, you see the image of you getting backhanded by the Archaean- staff still miraculously in hand, yet limbs all splayed out in the air like a ragdoll. The damn giant nearly bitchslapped you into another universe. With a shrug of your shoulders you smile and laugh, "Nah. Barely felt anything."

Noctis glances from the picture to you. "Sure did scream kinda loud."

"Barely felt anything," you grind out, smile painted on now.

“And you sure did yell out every expletive known to man,” quips Gladio.

“Plus, some rather inventive ones,” Ignis chuckles.

“Barely. Felt. Anything.”

And you aren’t exactly lying in that instance. The pain was so great that you were rendered temporarily and blissfully numb... for all of five seconds before it hit you in one great sensory overload. And then Prompto flips to another picture and your blood runs cold. Everyone goes quiet at the sight of the Chancellor of Niflheim. You can feel curious glances. The pain of the Archaean’s killer backhand is nothing compared to the emotional pain that you feel when you realize that the others’ trust in you is slipping out from between your fingers.

“The truth will set you free.”

Whoever said that was a godsdamned liar or they hadn’t summoned a daemon and traded away nearly a decade of their life for a toad. Because you’re too damn suspicious, you’re too damn obvious. You care about these guys so much that you can’t even lie to them properly. And it’s always been that way. Even when you were at the top of your game, you could never lie to your mother or Drusa. There are too many tells that you give away to someone you care for: You maintain too much eye contact, there’s an edge to your tone, your bottom lip quivers. It’s almost like you want to be caught- like it’s your way of telling the truth without actually telling the truth.

So, why did I think it would be any different?

Rationalization. That’s why. That’s what stills your tongue each time you prepare to fess up and tell the truth. You think that if you have a good reason for lying, that it makes it okay. It’s the timing. It’s because there’s so much to tell. That’s what you tell yourself, anyway. How can you confess to summoning the daemon now? The opportunity passed. How can you confess when the Spire has thrown in with the Empire? When you were offered a place at the emperor’s side? When that job offer was the work of a friend who is the Chancellor of Niflheim? It’s a convoluted little web. It all paints a very unflattering picture of you.

“But I rejected the offer!” You could say. But there’s still the issue of not disclosing that an offer was even made in the first place and that the Spire of Duscae is so far up the Empire’s ass that it could work as a proxy to offer you a job to begin with.

“But I was a child!” You could argue. But that doesn’t explain why you would pretend that you didn’t know Ardyn, your Niff pal who had the job opened to you, before his affiliation with the Empire came to light.

“But I was a child!” You could insist. And that would absolve you of some culpability for summoning the daemon and for fearing that Ardyn would rat you out if you made your relationship known. And it would expose you and your magic to scrutiny- the type of scrutiny the Spire gobbles up.

It all comes down to image. Truly, it’s hilarious in the most unfunny way possible. That the guys have all puzzled out most of your history with Ardyn, namely that you knew each other, isn’t known to you. That they’ve all noticed that your daemon hasn’t left you isn’t known to you. That they’re all patiently waiting for you to come clean about your not-so-secret secrets isn’t known to you.

On the drive to the Disc of Cauthess and even before then, when you pretended to meet for the first time, you had been outed. A startled look, a playful tap on the nose, a wag of a finger and a command to, “Be careful, little mage.” It was all it took for the ruse to be undone. The trickery was for no one’s benefit but your own.

Before you all got to Lestallum, the other secret was exposed. You had shined a light on yourself and the daemon did the rest. Loose lips sink ships and yours were never more loose than when you had imbibed too much whiskey and revealed yourself to be a novice necromancer. And then came the nighttime whispers, the cries, the warnings. None of the men are fool enough to think that the visitor is a trick of the mind or the product of a waking nightmare. No doubt was left in their mind when, on the night that you had run into Ardyn, they all awoke to an enraged yell and the trash bin where you’d tossed nine innocuous macarons had been thrown at the wall. Yet you remained soundly asleep and mumbled, “Yeah, I know.”

They thought you knew you had this visitor. They thought you were keeping it a secret from them and that you would tell them in your own time. Because of all your grandstanding, the precedent had been set that you’re the leading authority on magic and who the hell are they to question you? What do they know about daemons? About this strange magic? The only one fooled is you. And it’s a long fall.

You’re temporarily suspended in midair when you come to someone’s rescue, when you do something endearing like enchant jewelry to keep someone safe. But then the downward spiral continues because you keep your lips sealed. All through the fall, you maintain eye contact. Years down the line, that’s what haunts them all the most. You fall and it’s like you don’t even realize it.

Seeing the way Ardyn Izunia looks at your prince is what jettisons you off down a dangerous path. At first it was the armiger and the horror stories your ancestors told that made you delve into such a curious and dark magic. But that look... Protective instincts rear up at the expense of self- preservation. The meaning hidden in his chats with you, the flashing of his golden eyes. You know him well but not well enough. It’s what keeps you up late at night: Trying to solve the mystery that is Ardyn’s plan.

“You should really get some sleep.”

It’s said a million times, comes from different people. A rumor eventually stirs up that Arch-Mage (y/n) doesn’t sleep. It frightens your foes, makes you a legend. Your blood is black because of the ink and the coffee, people joke. When in reality, it’s black because you’re all rotted from the inside out. All rotted right down to the core in pursuit of your king’s salvation. The way it starts is what Ignis will bitterly refer to one day as your gateway drug: Enchantments. You’ve been enchanting since you were a child. It was second nature to you, like any other child’s natural inclinations towards art, sports, or other passions.

It was borne from a simple thought of: “How can I make this thing I like... better?”

So, it’s inevitable that you fall back on enchanting- one of your strongest magics- to fill the void in your studies, to seal the little gaps, to make you into the hero that you think you can be, that you need to be for king and country. Always so dutiful, those Iovitas. Ramuh would be proud. You’re all tied up in herbalism, though, that no one really pays your habit of enchanting any mind. Ignis and Gladio are the only ones to notice you stealing random trinkets everywhere you go and replacing them with things you’ve enchanted: little reminders that you were there, little echoes of the mage passing through. When the long night falls, some people are saved.

They marvel over the bell that renders daemons unconscious, the compact mirror that deflects attacks, the plastic spork that flies around and stabs daemons in the face. Though they question the reasoning (or lack thereof) behind the enchantments, they use those random knickknacks to fight back. But, honestly, everyone expects that it’s your herbalism that will cause the most trouble. Like all the Iovitas before you, some magic just comes to you easier than others.

Some of your ancestors could warp. You can’t. Some did scrying. You don’t. Some scoffed at herbalism. You never did. You were always too... earthy. That’s what the magisters called it. They laughed and said you fancied yourself a druid who couldn’t stand being outdoors and out of the A/C for too long. They thought you loved your plants too much, that you loved animals too much. If there was ever a wild animal loose in the Spire (namely toads, rats, and all manner of birds), everyone knew where to point their finger. That silly little mage, sneaking creatures into the college in that oversized cardigan.

“I can’t wait to show you my room!” You’d hissed down the front of your shirt one day, too young to be taught with the other students but old enough to wander the grounds. Unlucky. Because your mother was teaching a class and you happened to be walking by the open door. Decima bit her lip and called you into the classroom. They were all older mages, in their late teens and early twenties. She’d asked you who you were talking to. You didn’t notice her look over your shoulder.

“Um...” You had tried to stall, feeling hot under the collective gaze of haughty mages, all of them looking at the cardigan that seemed to be fighting to get off of you. But you didn’t have to answer at all and you’d never heard so many people scream out at once before. It was like a magician’s parlor trick, the way the daggerquill burst forth from your cardigan, sending buttons and feathers flying everywhere. Your somewhat foolish love of animals? That’s part of the reason why you were made to practice your magic on toads- because you would cry if they got hurt and you sure as hell didn’t sweat it if you mistakenly zapped a magister, that’s for damn sure.

What better incentive to get the little mage to hone their magic than to put something they cared about in danger? Ruthless and callous, some might say. But... you have to shrug, nod, and admit that it got the job done, childhood trauma be damned. Each time one of the guys walks unscathed through a wall of your fire, a field of freezing mist, a veil of venom, or a lightning storm, you’re positive some asshole magister is patting themselves on the back and a toad is happy to be getting fat on insects.

So, even the magisters believed it would be your penchant for herbalism and smuggling animals that would be your undoing. Though you hadn’t stuffed a wild animal in your shirt in ages, they figured you might get mauled out in the real world sooner or later or accidentally poison yourself. Though they knew you were supposedly a strong mage, they didn’t know the extent of your  enchanting ability outside of making the lock to your bedroom un-pickable. No one knew that you would run with the crazy idea of binding your soul to Noctis’. That you would enchant yourself in order to become his stalwart protector. That you would quite literally rip out your own soul the moment you saw the malice in Ardyn’s gaze and you realized you were helpless to stop him.

Those limitations that were made aware to you? They burn inside of you each time the chancellor looks at you. His teasing gaze, his taunting words. The veiled threats and the bile on your tongue. And when he discovers what you’ve done, that’s when the thunder finally comes. It shakes the world out from beneath your feet. And you can’t even die to escape it.

"I know what I'm doing."

Arrogance...

You tilt your head curiously. It’s not your voice that hisses the word. The voice comes from beneath your chair as you sit at camp in the evening. But an aspect of your statement strikes you, distracts you. Lately you find yourself saying it more and more in the company of these men. Because you have to know what you're doing- even when you don't. And when it comes to all of the surprising nuances of binding magic, you're out of your depth. Though it’s technically a branch of enchanting, this magic requires a teacher, practice, and time. You don't have two of those things but you sure as hell can practice.

Which is why you find yourself in this situation: Confronted for leaving camp at odd hours; for skulking away before sunset, for sneaking in just before sunrise. Though the others are accustomed to you randomly going off to find herbs the second a tipster makes mention of something new in the area, they're close enough to you to see a peculiar severity in you. But it’s yet another secret that you won’t reveal. At least, you won’t reveal it until you’re ready. You're not ashamed of what you've been doing. Not on the surface. Fear is a finicky, tricky creature. Fear has you rationalizing each daemon you bind to yourself when the sun goes down and each one you summon the very next evening.

You have to get it right before you do it to Noctis- do it to yourself on the other end. Each soul gets tacked onto you- like pinning little notes onto a cork board. And then you look inward, like Lumis said. At first you thought it was just a bunch of flowery hippie garbage until you tried it. Years of studying in the Spire pay off splendidly because it grants you with the ability to block everything out. Meditation is a tough thing to do with a camp of rowdy guys, though. That’s why you take to the wilderness. “Spiritual training,” you call it and all they can do is shrug ‘cause you’re the mage. In reality, you’re checking to see if the souls are seeping into yours. You draw those mental blackout curtains around you and then reach out.

It’s strange how you can sense them. Like little wisps, they dance around. Their energy buzzes at your fingertips. You hold them in the palm of your hand, feel their sorrow, their corruption. It was a surreal experience when you first bound a soul to you. It took a while to learn to banish a daemon. It took too long to learn a spell not from your branch. But you did it. And then you knew you were ready for the next step. You’d made to banish a goblin, like Lumis had instructed, and then turned it inward toward you. Just like how you learned to use force and gravity: One spell and its opposite.

But it’s so much easier than banishing. A wave of your hand and you steal life. Then you do it again and again and again. Though the souls are insular, their properties remaining to themselves, you can almost feel the weight of them somehow- like a constant state of claustrophobia. You realize you need to start storing them elsewhere. Eyes turn up to the little shard of crystal in your staff.

“Where have you been sneakin’ off to?" It comes from Gladiolus during dinner. He, like the others, can sense a tonal shift in you. It’s been weeks since you last saw the chancellor and practically the moment that golden gaze left you you’ve rarely spent any time in camp. They all think he said something. They think he threatened you. How are you supposed to explain that he threatened Noct with his eyes?

Shoulders shrug lazily. A coffee cup is barely tilted, hot caffeine scalding your tongue and you sputter, "J-Just going out to practice spells. Damn that’s some hot coffee!”

Prompto looks excited. He nearly chokes on his curry to gasp, "Ooh! Really? Can I co-"

"No."

All eyes are on you. That blunt, unforgiving tone is reserved for when you’re hiding something. And it’s plain for all to see that you’re definitely hiding something. The prince gives you a pointed look and drawls, "That's not suspicious."

"They're dangerous spells," you reply snootily, like that answer is enough.

"I'd wager it's more than just that."

What are you supposed to say? That you’re doing “morally gray” magic? Are the magic police going to come and stop you? Hell, Ramuh hasn't even stopped you! But that's no surprise. The Astrals haven't done a thing in ages and Noct has to punch them in the face to get their attention. And you’re bitter. Oh, are you bitter. Because here you are, the last line of defense. You. You’re doing shit that your ancestors warned you about because what other choice do you have? The Astrals’ precious Kings are about to go extinct and their Oracle is in the middle of a war zone. And for what? For what?

Maybe it’s lack of sleep that sours you. Maybe it’s just the reality of the situation that finally rips your rose-tinted glasses off of your face once and for all. Maybe it’s all of the daemon souls that dance around yours like faerie lights strung about, glimmering each time you close your eyes and look inward. The thing that really sticks in your craw is that you still pray to Ramuh. Even being jaded and bitter can’t beat that out of you. Though, in all honesty, you’re surprised you haven’t been struck down for snidely starting all of your prayers off with, “Oh, my absentee lightning grandfather, I invoke thee...” and ending with, “this is (y/n), the one you forgot, signing off.”

“I’ll tell you guys when you’re older,” you joke, re-entering the conversation and not realizing that that’s actually going to be the case. Ten years older, in fact.

For the time being, you don’t see any real harm in withholding this information because the only person it’s impacting is you. You’re the one with the daemon souls. You’re the one who plucks them off and watches them fade away. You’re the one who’s going to be like a daemon soul to Noctis... Something he can pluck off and watch fade away. And you hope that you won’t need to maintain the bind with Noct for too long. Just until he ascends to the throne. Just until he’s established himself as king. Just until you’re certain the threat of the Empire, the threat of Ardyn, isn’t too great. So... maybe like a year or two? You’re certain you can handle the strain on your soul for a couple of years at the most.

“(y/n),” Ignis scolds, brow furrowed and you laugh.

“Honestly, I’ll tell you guys all about it later. It’s not that big of a deal.”

Because you’re a Spire mage, through and through, and you'll never let anyone know that Ardyn's presence was enough to break you- to strike fear so deep in your heart that it hurt. The truth never comes easy, secrets always go to the grave. And one’s image? Well, image is everything. From an institution that hired assassins through proxies, leaving every crime untraceable, every lead looking like nothing more than conspiracy theories: The value of keeping up appearances. Hands clean. That’s where you learned it. You like to think that you’re above it all, that the Spire didn’t leave its mark on you. But your formative years were spent there, surrounded by liars and backbiters. And your one friend from the outside world was who you fashioned yourself after, foolishly in awe of him, until you realized exactly what he was. By the time you left the Spire, it was practically in your genetic code:

Image is everything.

And as you crash and as you burn alive, you look damn fine doing it.

Chapter Text

So Be It

From practically the moment Decima Iovita gave birth, many hands were pulling her child away from her; both well-intentioned and malicious, divine and daemonic. She gave birth in a coeurl's den and cursed herself for it. Drusa had been at her side along with Lysandra. 

"They'll grow up strong. I can feel it," beamed Lysa, already thrusting the infant into their duty to serve, their duty to die. Like her father, she didn’t see the birth of another Iovita as the birth of a child. She saw (y/n) as her twin finally being useful, finally fulfilling the family’s obligation to the king. With the child’s birth, the king’s line would remain protected for at least one more generation.

Drusa had seen the tension in Decima's face, had been privy to her best friend’s woes throughout the tumultuous pregnancy, and interjected, "They have a wonderful life ahead of them."

Silver eyes narrowed at the dark woman. That icy Iovita smile cut across the mage’s face and her words burned. "You're many things to me, Drusa, but don't make yourself a liar."

The life she'd nurtured for nine long months would never truly be hers- a bitter pill Decima had swallowed the moment she found out she was pregnant. Still, the taste lingered in her mouth as she watched her child grow from afar. They had been hers and hers alone for those months but she had wanted more. More time. But there was never enough time.

The two Iovitas were constantly being pulled in opposite directions. It had been the same way with her father. Tacitus had been a parent in name only, a face that became familiar when Decima and Lysandra would be granted visits from the Iovita patriarch at their home outside Lestallum. She knew nannies better than her father. Decima told herself it wouldn’t be that way with (y/n).

There were two parties at play working against that wish but in different ways. One unintentionally put a wedge between Decima and her child. The other actively strove to isolate the child, to keep them out of the new Arch-Mage’s sight, to make the lonely Iovitas easier targets.

She had known about one group: The Spire. The college’s bloody history with the Iovitas was not so far in the past that Decima could be fooled. That history was what kept Lysandra at bay. Though Lysa put on a front, she feared the Spire. She thought that staying away would save her. She thought that being in the Crownsguard would help her. She was wrong. And Decima knew.

Tacitus fell ill shortly after Lysandra’s death, shortly after her body had been recovered from some ditch in some remote part of Insomnia that she had no business being in. The old man was made of sturdy stuff. Decima thought he was indomitable. She had seen him create storms that could ravish lands. Yet his fire was snuffed out like a candle in the rain. And Decima knew.

From the moment she stepped foot in the Spire as a magister, from the moment she found out she was pregnant, from the moment her lover was found drowned, she had always known. Aela the Banisher, so blinded by revenge and ego, had handed her descendants off to the slaughterhouse. It was a beautiful trap. A bittersweet trap.

Because if it weren’t for Aela signing Decima’s death warrant before the mage had even been born, Decima never would have been able to work so closely with Regis. Never would have been there to steady his hand when the Wall weakened him, never there to wipe the tears from his son’s cheeks. She would have been a nomad like her ancestors.

If it weren’t for Aela, Decima wouldn’t have met any of the wonderful people she had grown to love. Her child would not know the comfort of a caretaker like Drusa. But if it weren’t for Aela, Decima might have stood a chance at living a long life. A difficult trade-off: To live long and alone or die young and beloved. But Decima was wise.

She had the foresight to enlist some help before (y/n) was born. Her first line of defense was her best friend; someone she’d met as a young girl, a stranger who had stumbled across the house hidden in the wilderness where the Iovita twins resided. Someone adventurous and unafraid. Someone kind and strong.

"Drusa, I'm afraid for them," Decima had whispered into the phone, shut up in her workplace below Arch-Mage Tacitus’ dimly lit office.

The scientist had sighed. This conversation had occurred several times and Decima never liked Drusa’s suggestions (though, admittedly, “Kill them.” and “Hire a merc disguised as a mage.” weren’t exactly viable options)