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Fit for a Prince

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Noctis' first real, heart-in-mouth instant-crush is when he's seventeen years old. His crush object is the son of the Premier of Maravia, one of the several states of Accordo. He's stunning, tall and olive-skinned and dark-haired, one of the entourage around the Premier. Noctis notices him immediately. There are many introductions; when he holds out his hand for Noctis to shake, Noctis wonders if this boy can feel how hard his heart is thumping.

"Sephan," the boy says, and inclines his head, his eyes alight with humour.

Noctis nods, in return, gives his name and reluctantly lets go of the hand. The boy steps back into the entourage, and that, well, that might have been all there was to it, had there not been a welcoming party that night for the entire Accordan delegation. There's chatter, dancing, and Sephan takes Noctis by the elbow and leads him out into the court gardens. Several sentences later, Noctis is being thoroughly kissed in the shadow of a gazebo.

Ignis cautions him about holiday romances and being careful, but Noctis loses himself in falling in love for the duration of the Accordan visit. Sephan is funny, charming and likes kissing. Noctis is well-practised at sneaking out of the Citadel, and they have so much fun together. Noctis gets to show off his skill at the arcades, Sephan takes him bowling and skating, and they tangle their feet together in diner booths as they drink milkshakes and talk about their favourite books and videogames.

And then it's their last night, after the formal farewell dinner. It's not hard for Noctis to sneak Sephan up to his room afterwards. Sephan sits on the little sofa in Noctis's room, and they hold hands. Noctis is ready to spend a night of passion together. It feels right to him. He's ready to give himself to this beautiful lovely boyfriend, as an act of commitment.

He's not expecting Sephan to gently turn him down, to tell him that it would only make parting harder, to say that they of course can't expect to stay in a relationship once Sephan has gone. They won't see each other again for years, most likely. It would be dumb. And they're both sensible people, after all.

There's nothing Noctis can say, not when his heart feels like it's been shattered. Noctis tells Sephan to sleep on the sofa, and retires to his bedroom.

In the morning, Noctis stumbles into the living room to find Ignis cooking breakfast and no sign of Sephan.

"Where--what---huh."

"Morning," Ignis says, without turning around.

"Hm."

"Your young man left as I got here."

"He's… not my young man."

Ignis turns around at that, and then puts down his spatula and wipes his hands on his apron and comes over to Noctis. Noctis blinks up at Ignis. "What happened?" Ignis asks, hands on Noctis's shoulders. "Did he hurt you?"

"No. I mean… we broke up."

Ignis's brows, already pulled down into a serious expression, furrow even more. "After he slept with you?"

"What? No. We didn't--" and Noctis can feel the tears coming, and blinks them back. "He slept on the sofa last night. 'Cos he's leaving."

"Oh." And then Ignis is hugging him. "Noct. I'm so sorry."

"You warned me," Noctis says, through a throat that feels tight. "You did. I know."

"As if that matters. I'm still sorry."

The pan on the stove makes a hissing sound, and Ignis breaks the hug.

"Come on. Get dressed. I'll ditch the omelette and take you out for breakfast."

"Wh--"

"Out. Come on. Clothes."

Noctis obeys, and Ignis drives him out to a place that serves pancakes with ice cream on for breakfast. He listens, as Noctis tells him about Sephan, how much he'd liked Sephan and how resentful he feels now. Maybe Sephan was just stringing him along the whole time.

Ignis pats him on the hand, sympathetically, and eats his own meal.

"You're not an idiot," he says, quietly, when Noctis is mostly out of words. "Perhaps he feels as bad as you do. He might not have expected to find someone like you, here, and his feelings for you might be just as strong."

Noctis sinks down in his chair. This isn't right. Ignis is supposed to be on his side, not making Noctis feel bad for Sephan.

"And, well, he is right, to a degree. You could probably try and maintain a romance, long-distance, but it would be a long time before you two could spend time together again. Personally," Ignis says, and he takes his hand away, "I'm still offended on your behalf that he didn't think you were worth the attempt. His loss, the poor fool."

It's said with enough disdain to make Noctis smile reluctantly.

"You're worth more than that," Ignis says, and sniffs haughtily. "Eat your ice-cream before it melts, Noct."

--

Noctis isn't expecting to fall for anyone in that floor-dropping-out-of-the-world way again, or at least soon, but he's outside the games arcade waiting for Prompto when this gorgeous beefy grown-up hunk of a man grins lazily at him from the back of a motorcycle and asks him for a light.

He texts Prompto an apology, some time later, in the smoky pool club where Riveous and his friends hang out. There's a bar, and scuffed leather seats in dim lighting, and all Riveous's friends keep joking about how young Noctis looks and how Riv had better not be cradle-snatching.

Noctis assures them he's old enough, leans into Riv's side and inhales the scent of leather and skin musk and whatever aftershave Riv wears. Riv drapes an arm across the back of Noctis's chair, which sends thrills down Noctis's back, and then he leans in quietly and asks, into Noctis's ear, if Noctis really is as old as he says. He seems actually relieved when Noctis murmurs a yes. Riv is, it turns out, only a year older than Noctis and works as a mechanic, sometimes at least. He doesn't seem to recognise Noctis, and Noctis takes care to call himself only 'Noct'.

Noctis wishes he was still living in his little apartment when Riv asks to drive him home, but he shakes his head and they exchange numbers and arrange to meet the next day.

Riv lives in a tiny flat by himself, which is conspicuously tidy when Noctis agrees to go up and see it, and they fumble together satisfyingly on Riv's bed, kisses and hands and whispered words. Riv doesn't seem any more experienced than Noctis is, but it all feels wonderful to Noctis.

They date for about a month before Noctis tells Riv who he really is, and Riv sits down hard on his tiny bed and stares at Noctis in vague horror before saying it doesn't matter. And perhaps it doesn't, but within a week Noctis is pulled up to the Council chamber and told categorically that he cannot date the young man he's been seen with. Riv has a criminal record; he'd gotten in a fight, been arrested, and had paid a fine for assault. Noctis can't see that it really matters, but the Council stands firm; Noctis can't date a criminal.

Noctis's father is sympathetic, but he says he agrees with their judgement. It's not fitting.

When Noctis mentions this to Riv, Riv doesn't even defend himself or their relationship, just stands with his hands in his pockets and looks sad. It's over, he tells Noctis. He knew it would be, he's not fit for a prince. When Noctis protests, Riv tells him the Council's people had talked to him that day too and he wants out too. They're too different, too far apart, their lives can't match up enough any more.

It's over.

--

By the fourth time the Council steps in to tell Noctis that his current boyfriend is not suitable, Noctis is angry enough to throw a tantrum like a spoiled child.

Not in the Council chambers. He has enough self-control for that. But once he gets to the privacy of his own room, he throws plates at the wall and kicks over his trash and knocks the vase of flowers over and then just slumps onto the floor and stares at the ceiling.

He hears Ignis let himself in, and the tsk, and then the sound of Ignis tidying up.

"Not even gonna ask why?" he ventures, after about ten minutes of Ignis's quiet housekeeping work.

"I was CCed on an email."

"Huh."

"I'd have broken a window, personally," Ignis says, his voice sounding smooth and calm. "While there, I mean. Or at least called them names."

"I didn't want to be frogmarched to my Dad."

"Oh, Noct." And now Ignis sounds faintly disappointed. "The poor flowers. That was cruel."

"They're already dead, Specs."

"Still, at least respect their corpses." There's a clattering sound. "But yes, I understand why you refrained from antagonising the Council further. Especially now you've taken on your Princely duties full-time."

Noctis fidgets. It still feels weird having graduated school, feels weird being just Noctis, Prince of Lucis. He still goes to arcades with Prompto, still plays videogames and reads comics, but instead of classes he spends most of his time talking to people about taxation and immigration and charities and statistics. "Nobody's gonna be good enough for them, you know," he says.

"Hm."

"I mean, if I was to find some nice young girl, maybe then."

Ignis makes a thoughtful noise. "You think this is homophobia?"

Noctis considers that. "Maybe. Don't you?"

"I think it could be a factor, but you do keep dating…" and Ignis just sighs, heavily. "I don't know how you even meet men like this last one."

"Besarius? He works at a car lot. Prompto wanted to look at cars."

"None of which were legitimately his, Noct. I hope Prompto didn't buy any of those vehicles."

Noctis snorts. "It's not like I knew they were stolen."

"And if he were a she, who also fenced stolen cars, the Council would still disapprove."

Noctis rolls onto his side, facing the window. "What am I supposed to do to please them? Never date, just wait for them to arrange some polite correct girl to be the mother of my children?"

There's a pause, then Ignis steps over him, and folds himself down cross-legged next to him. "Could you ever be happy with a girl?"

It's such an awkward question that Noctis actually turns it over in his head. "I dunno. Maybe. But probably not."

"You've only dated men. At least, that I know of."

"Yeah. I think that's how it's gonna stay."

"I only like men, personally. I think I'd struggle to create a child."

Noctis struggles to sit up, facing Ignis. "Wait a minute. You're gay?"

"I believe so."

"You never said."

"I'm saying now." Ignis smiles. There's a smudge of dirt across his cheek, and something about the combination of dirt and the smile makes him look younger than usual. "If the Council truly are only objecting because they're homophobic, Noct, then I promise you I will go to them and defend whatever young man you date next. I will argue until they let you be. But if you're dating criminals and thugs, then perhaps they have a point."

"Ugh."

"So pick more carefully in future, and I'll be your advocate. Deal?"

Noctis shrugs. It's not like it matters either way. He can't see himself bothering to date again any time soon. "Deal."

--

Ignis is different today. He's at Noctis's, cooking breakfast despite Noctis's usual observation that he doesn't need Ignis to cook for him. That's all perfectly normal.

It's the clothing that's out of the ordinary. Ignis usually dresses in bland Citadel worker gear; grey, boring slacks and waistcoat with white shirts and dark ties. Today there's no waistcoat, no tie. Ignis's shirt is a dark greyish-blue and patterned with little skulls. And the pants are tighter-cut, and Ignis's hair is newly-cropped at the sides.

It's funny. Ignis is a nerd, in Noctis's head. He wears big dark-rimmed glasses, and he has acne, and both of those settle him firmly in Noctis's mind as unattractive. But apparently even nerds like to make an effort sometimes.

"Going somewhere nice?" Noctis asks, when Ignis presents him with a plate of bacon, egg and mushrooms piled up like Noctis is going to be tempted to eat more than the required forkful. "You're all done up."

Ignis doesn't do obvious blushing, but the tips of his ears go pink. "I've a date."

"Oooo. Tell me?"

"He's a Glaive. Quite a charming one, too."

"Picture?"

Ignis rolls his eyes as he sits down. "No. Not everyone takes selfies with everyone they meet."

"This isn't just someone you met, it's someone you're going on a date with." Noctis points his fork at Ignis accusingly, as a possibility occurs to him. "Unless you haven't even met him in real life. Is this a dating app thing? Did you meet him on the internet?"

"No. He was in the--" and then Ignis stops, and shakes his head. "Never mind how I met him. He is quite attractive enough, believe me. I feel quite out of my league."

Well, that's not okay. Ignis isn't allowed to think of himself as ugly. Noctis considers, squinting at Ignis thoughtfully. "I bet he thinks the same. You're tall and athletic and clever and stuff. Did he ask you out?"

"Well, yes."

"There you go then."

Ignis huffs out an amused noise. "Well, thank you for the vote of confidence. And stop trying to hide those mushrooms."

Noctis sighs, and resigns himself to clearing his plate.

--

It's only one week later that Noctis goes down to Ignis's office and is surprised to find Ignis isn't there. Noctis scouts around and down a corridor sees Ignis is in the kitchen; more the point, Ignis is leaning against the counter, long legs crossed out in front of him, smiling slyly.

Next to him is a tall, dark and distinctly handsome man in Kingsglaive uniform, daggers and all, talking to Ignis. Noctis can't help but stare. Is this Ignis's Glaive, then? A man with heavy designer stubble and visible tattoos?

Ignis spots him, and raises his chin and eyebrows in acknowledgement. The Glaive says something, glancing over at Noctis, and Ignis holds up a hand and beckons to Noctis.

"Hey," Noctis says, when he's closer. "Just wanted to check an event date with you."

"This is Nyx," Ignis says, indicating the man next to him. "And this is Noctis. Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum, that is."

The Glaive -- Nyx -- executes a deep formal bow to Noctis, and then lifts his chin and flashes a grin at Noctis that goes straight to the back of Noctis's neck before straightening up. "A pleasure, your Highness," he says, in a voice that's nearly a purr.

"Likewise," Noctis says. This is Ignis's new boyfriend? Hot damn.

"Nyx here is about to head back to the proving grounds," Ignis says, an edge in his voice that turns it from a statement into a command.

"Will I see you later, then?" asks Nyx, giving Ignis a puppy-dog look.

Ignis shakes his head, his smile twisting into that strange sly one again. "No."

"You just let me know when. I'll be there," Nyx says, and then he ducks past Noctis to leave. Noctis turns to watch him walk down the corridor, and it's a hell of a view. The man walks like a panther.

"Which event?"

Noctis turns back. "Huh?"

"Which event date were you checking?" Ignis says, patiently, and his expression looks very amused, as if he knows exactly what Noctis thought of Nyx and is finding it hilarious.

"Oh, the charity auction thingy. So that's your boyfriend?"

Ignis shakes his head. "Last Wednesday of the month, and alas, no."

Noctis considers this. The guy looked like he was flirting with Ignis, but if Ignis says they're not dating, then it must be true. "Then he's available?"

"Noct."

"Just sayin', if you don't want him--"

"We went on a date, I just don't want to go on another one." Ignis uncrosses his legs and stands up properly. "Although your taste in men is improving. Come on, I have some paperwork for you to sign, while you're down here."

Noctis trails after Ignis, still unravelling this new data. Ignis is still dressed up in this new look of his, dark shirts and tight trousers, and Noctis can just about accept that Ignis is now dressing like this all the time. And Ignis went on a date with a man who looks and sounds like sin, and yet he's turning down having another date. What kind of guy would Ignis want more than one date with?

And how come Ignis -- nerdy, not-as-funny-as-he-thinks-he-is Ignis -- is getting asked out by guys like that, anyway?

--

Noctis is in Ignis's rooms. They don't hang out here often, but Ignis has a new kitchen gizmo he wants to try. It's some sort of meat boiling thingy, Noctis had tried to listen but honestly Ignis's collection of kitchen gizmos mostly all sound the same to him and as long as the enticement was meat and not vegetable then Noctis is down for being a guinea pig.

"Good week?" Ignis asks, his back to Noctis.

"Alright, yeah."

"Picked up any insalubrious boys I need to defend to the Council for you?"

Noctis sticks his tongue out at Ignis's back. "No."

"How restrained of you." Ignis looks over his shoulder at Noctis. "Any prospects?"

"Geez, I'm not that--"

"Before you get defensive, this is longer than you've gone without a boyfriend in a long time," Ignis says, and turns his attention back to the food he's cutting up. "Did losing Besarius break your heart that badly?"

Besarius had been funny, and Noctis had liked him. But he'd also kept trying to push Prompto into buying cars that Noctis now knows were stolen, so Noctis has grudgingly decided that he really was kind of an asshole. Even so, he'd have liked the chance to break up with the man himself, instead of being told that it was being taken care of on his behalf. "Nah," he says, anyway. "I'm just not looking, right now."

"I understand that's when love is supposed to just fall into your lap." Ignis pushes some buttons on his new gizmo, and then crouches to peer at the little display on the thing. "Perhaps the same thing will happen to you."

"Meh."

Ignis pushes another button, and stands up. He turns, wiping his hands on a towel. "You've that charity ball this week, and that auction later this month. Maybe you'll be swept into the arms of some philanthropist that the Council can't possibly object to."

Is Ignis trying to make Noctis feel better or worse? "Let's be real, with my track record, if I hooked a rich philanthropist he'd turn out to have made all his money by, by kidnapping. Or through child pornography."

Ignis's expression is just on the very edge of pity.

"Ah, maybe I'll just swear off guys. Or--"

"Or just take things more slowly, Noct. Get to know them before you fall for them, hm?"

Noctis sighs, in as long-suffering a manner as he can. "Yes, Dad."

"Good boy. And in the interests of testing your patience, the meat will need another half-hour. Shall we find some trashy TV to entertain us?"

Anything to stop Ignis harping on about Noctis's love life. "Sounds good."

--

The charity ball is dull for about three-quarters of it, and then in the last hour Noctis is approached by a slender young man with longish black hair and a filthy grin who proceeds to treat Noctis like he's the most fascinating person in the room. They drink champagne and Firi -- the young man -- tells Noctis about his real estate business and how much he loves travelling.

"I should take you with me to Galdin Quay one day," Firi says eventually, his eyes dark and his mouth quirked in a little smile. "It's beautiful."

"I hear it's really good for fishing," Noctis says, because he can't help himself.

"Indeed." Firi takes a sip of his champagne. "And just what might you hook there, I wonder?"

The line, combined with the way Firi is watching him over the rim of his glass, makes Noctis confident he's being hit on. "Well, depending on the company, the finest catch there is?"

Firi smiles again, and his right hand drops below the table, gently grazes the back of Noctis's hand. "No, I think I would be landing that."

Noctis thinks about what could happen, about how he's been so unlucky with the men he likes, and he very deliberately keeps his hand exactly where it is. "Do you?"

Firi's fingers stroke gently, back and forth. "I'm not so bold as to think I'd reel you in on our first meeting. But perhaps you might let me take you out sometime?"

"I might." Noctis takes in a deep breath. "Look, you know who I am. I have to be--"

"Careful. Cautious. Of course you do." Firi takes his hand away, and then reaches into his breast pocket and pulls out a card. "Here. My phone number. If you don't wish to be seen out with me yet, then we can just… talk. No obligations beyond that."

Noctis takes the card, looks down at it. It's just Firi's name, and a cell phone number.

"But," and Firi's hand drops, again, strokes down Noctis's fingers, "I am bold enough to tell you that you are beautiful and fascinating, and I will make time for you whenever you ask it of me."

Noctis stares, slightly awestruck; Firi is handsome, evidently a successful man, and he's here at a charity ball which means he's likely not a criminal or somehow morally corrupt. And he wants Noctis.

Maybe Noctis's run of bad luck is over? Maybe Ignis was right, that all he had to do was swear off men, and the right one would just turn up?

The MC is back on stage; he clears his throat into the microphone. "Ladies and gentlemen -- the Last Waltz. Please take your partners."

Firi sets down his glass, and lifts his hand up, extending it to Noctis in invitation. "Shall we?"

--

Noctis floats on air for the next few days, through several meandering conversations with Firi about everything and nothing. They don't make plans to meet up, not quite, but Firi talks about places he thinks Noctis should see and Noctis is tempted to tell him to show him them in person.

Ignis has brought over dinner, because there's some meeting notes he wants Noctis to read and bribery is always a good way to make Noctis inclined to do it. Noctis doesn't even realise he's humming a waltz to himself until Ignis taps him on the shoulder.

"What?"

"Who is he?" Ignis asks, smiling down at him.

Noctis isn't sure he's ready to claim Firi, not like that. "Uh."

"Or she, I suppose?"

"No, it's a he," Noctis says, automatically, and then bites on his tongue. Damn.

Ignis grins. "So there is a man. Is he terribly unsuitable?"

"Actually, he's… lovely. And I don't think he's a criminal. He's in property." Noctis sets down his pen. "We met at the ball, and we're not dating. Not yet. But I think I like him."

"Tell me about him."

So Noctis does, as Ignis checks over Noctis's annotations. He explains that Firi loves to travel, and that he has a cat, and that he likes Accordan wines and punk-influenced dance music, and how ridiculously handsome Firi is.

Ignis smiles at all the right moments. "He sounds quite the man."

"He is."

"But you're not dating yet, you said?"

Noctis shakes his head. "I remembered what you said. Patience. And he understands that I have to be careful, in my position."

Ignis tips his head to one side, narrows his eyes at that. "He knows you're the Prince."

"Of course he does, we met at the ball. Firi knows, he hasn't asked me for a thing, and it hasn't scared him off." Noctis shrugs. "I'd rather he knew than that he find out and then freak out."

"Yes, I suppose so." Ignis pauses, halfway through turning a page. "Firi. Why do I know that name?"

"Firianis Meldez," Noctis says, enjoying the way the name sounds in his mouth.

"Hm. I think his father is one of the department chiefs in the Citadel."

"Yeah?"

"Do you mind if I look into him? I doubt that connection would cause any issues, but something's nagging at me about him."

Noctis, startled that Ignis is even asking permission, shrugs, and then watches with impatient nerves as Ignis types things into his phone. There's nothing that could be wrong with Firi, he thinks, firmly. Firi's sweet and respectable and gives money to charity and--

Ignis sets down the phone, very carefully.

"Bad news?" Noctis asks, as lightly as he can considering how hard his stomach has just dropped in his chest.

"I think you need to talk to your Firianis." Ignis heaves in a breath. "There's no easy way to say this. He's married, Noct."

It's like being punched, and sucks all the breath out of Noctis's lungs.

"It's entirely possible he's separated from his wife," Ignis adds. "And there are no children involved that I can see."

Noctis nods, dumbly. How the hell can Firi be married?

"Noct? Talk to him." Ignis scooches his chair up next to Noctis's. "Don't assume the worst. If he's in the middle of an impending divorce, then--"

It makes numbness turn into anger. "Then he should have told me."

"Yes. I agree. But call him to get his side of things -- or text him, or however it is you communicate with him. I'll let myself out."

Noctis grabs Ignis's wrist, before Ignis can finish standing up. "No. Stay. I'll phone him. Right now."

Ignis lowers himself back into the chair, and nods.

It's only three presses and one swipe to get to Firi's phone number, but by the time Noctis lifts the phone to his ear his hand is shaking.

"Noctis? How lovely to hear from you."

No words are coming out. How bizarre.

"Noctis?"

Ignis pats Noctis's other hand, encouragingly, and Noctis swallows around the lump that's formed in his throat. "Firi," he manages. "You, um. How are you?"

"Oh, all the better for being distracted from this dreadful book -- it's supposed to be a fair depiction of the wars in Solheim but of course it's very biased." Firi laughs his silvery laugh. "What about you? How fares your day?"

With Ignis's hand still resting on top of his, Noctis takes a deep breath. "You're married."

There's a long pause, and then Firi laughs again, but it sounds falser. "Oh, my word, you didn't know? Did I not tell you?"

"No."

"Oh, darling boy, yes, I have a wife. She lives out in Cavaugh, in a farmstead I bought for her. We don't have a great deal in common, and she and I agreed to both live our lives, well, apart. It's better for both of us that way. She has her loves, and I mine."

Separated, then. Noctis feels the lump in his throat begin to unknot. "Oh."

"I'm terribly sorry. It must have come as an awful shock to you."

Noctis pulls his hand out from under Ignis's, turns away a little in his seat. "It did. How could you just forget to tell me?"

"Honestly half the time I forget I have a wife," Firi says, and there's a wistfulness to how it's said that makes Noctis feel sorry for him. It must be hard, marrying someone you just don't have a connection with. "I'm sorry. She really doesn't matter, though, does she?"

"Well." Noctis looks over his shoulder at Ignis, who is polishing his glasses and doesn't meet his gaze. Damn. Well. Noctis tries to imagine the Council's reaction to Noctis publicly dating a married man. "I think maybe it matters, yes."

There's no noise at the other end.

"Not to me. Well, I don't know, really, I think I could live with it personally. I really like you, Firi."

"But you need to think of how it looks to others," Firi says, and there's a flatness to his voice now that makes Noctis feel awful. "I do understand."

"I'm sorry."

"No. I am." Firi lets out a sigh, and Noctis can just imagine him pushing his hair back as he does so, graceful even in sadness. "If you change your mind?"

"Then I'll beg you for that trip to Galdin Quay." Noctis bites at his lower lip. "Okay. I'm sorry, I gotta go."

"Very well. It's been a privilege, Noctis. Be safe."

Noctis swallows down the sadness before it makes his voice go funny. "Yeah. You too."

The line goes dead, and Noctis puts down his phone, and then Ignis is hugging him and Noctis is crying like a kid onto his shoulder. Shit. He wasn't even dating Firi. Why is this so hard?

"You did the right thing," Ignis murmurs.

"Fuck you for telling me," Noctis manages, choking out in a half-laugh to make it obvious it's a joke.

Ignis makes a soothing noise. "Yes. I ruined everything. I'm sorry."

Noctis pulls back and wipes his nose on his sleeve. "Better I know now. Shit. I like Firi. Liked. I really thought I'd managed to fall for someone decent."

"There are decent men out there."

"Yeah?" Noctis manages a smile, though it doesn't feel right. "Then how come you're still single too?"

Ignis's mouth twitches. "Because I don't know where they are either."

That's apparently just enough to make them both laugh, painfully and unhappily.

"Come on," Ignis says, and pushes the paperwork away. "This can wait. I think we both need to go drown our sorrows in something unhealthy. There must be a dessert parlour somewhere. My treat."

It's not going to make up for Firi. But it might make Noctis feel a bit better, all the same.

--

Noctis sticks his head in Ignis's office, and does a comically exaggerated double-take at the sight of him.

"I know," Ignis says, holding up a hand. "I know. They broke during training."

Ignis's glasses are taped together at the bridge and on the left-hand side. It's a surprisingly clumsy-looking fix. Noctis would have expected Ignis to have mended them so well it'd be hard to see the joins.

"I'm going to pick out a new pair later." Ignis opens a drawer and pulls out a folder. "I had vaguely planned to try something different. Maybe something frameless."

Noctis squints, tries to imagine Ignis's face without the heavy frames of his usual spectacles. "Really?"

"Mmhmm." Ignis opens the folder, flips through it. "I do need you to sign this for me first."

Noctis picks up the pen, scans the document quickly; it's the emergency-expenses sheet for Noctis's 'staff', including Ignis, and Ignis has filled it in with 'optician' with a blank space in the cost column. "Like we don't pay you enough to buy your own glasses," Noctis mumbles, but initials the line and signs the bottom.

"The glasses I have in mind would put a significant dent in my paycheck," Ignis says, taking the form away. "Oh, don't look at me like that. I've had this pair for longer than I care to remember, and this is an allowed expenditure."

"I wasn't objecting to the Citadel paying for them. I was just surprised at you buying expensive designer clothing."

Ignis looks at Noctis with a strange expression, then down at himself. Noctis follows the look; Ignis's shirt is a dark red, sort of silky and patterned in a busy black floral design. There's a small golden logo on the pocket, interlocking initials of one of Insomnia's most famous high-end fashion brands.

"Huh. Okay, clearly I need to pay more attention."

"Evidently."

"Well, come show me your fancy new specs later. We can get takeout, you can explain to me what I'm supposed to think about the new tax proposals for Leide imports."

Ignis opens his mouth, then closes it, then coughs as if embarrassed. "Well, no, I'm busy tonight."

Oh. Ignis must have another date, Noctis thinks, and that feels sour to contemplate somehow.

"As are you, at the same thing," Ignis says, and leans back in his chair. "The charity auction? You're attending with several members of the Council and a few courtiers."

Whoops. "Shit, that's today?"

"It is. Since you've clearly forgotten, shall I have someone run over to your apartment and collect appropriate clothing for you?"

"Please."

"There'll be a car, I believe, collecting you and the Councillors from by the East Gate at about twenty past seven. I'll have the clothing put in your office before six. Try not to be late." Ignis smiles. "I won't be sitting with you, but I'll wave from my seat at the back with the other common folks."

"Right. See you later, then."

--

The 'charity auction', as Ignis dismissively keeps calling it, is in fact The Grand Insomnian Immigration Health and Education Fundraising Auction. It's one of those affairs that apparently are very prestigious and hard to obtain tickets for. Noctis is there because he's a patron of the associated charity, along with the others at his table. Said table is front and centre in a sunken, roped-off area reserved for VIPS. There's free champagne for all attendees, to loosen people's grasp on their wallets. There's row upon row of pre-reserved seating with numbered paddles to raise for bidding purposes, canapes served by smartly-dressed waitstaff, and an overwhelming air of expensive luxury.

Noctis isn't permitted to take his seat until everyone else, has to first to give a small opening speech from the auctioneer's podium about the charity and its aims and the goals for the evening. It's not a hard speech to give, not having spent years learning how to deliver speeches like this, and Noctis nails it, making the whole audience laugh on cue and handing over gracefully to the pretty young comedienne who will be hosting the rest of the auction.

He takes his seat, to general polite applause, and only once the comedienne goes offstage -- a break before the auction items start to be announced -- does he take a look around him at the table.

Oh. Oh god. He's sitting between the Finance Minister -- one of the major contenders for Most Boring Man In Insomnia -- and Count Richelius, a noble and Council member who always seems particularly disgusted by Noctis's boyfriends.

He looks around for possible escape options; people do mingle at these things, there are plenty of gaps in the auction itself to allow socialisation and there are spare seats at all the tables in the VIP section to allow movement. It's why the event is so popular. So if there's anyone better, Noctis could take his drink and paddle and politely go over to say hello and then just neglect to return to his real seat for as long as possible.

The next table to his right is all young ladies of the court and a few older women too; Noctis dismisses it immediately since he barely speaks to these girls as it is and when he does it's because their pushy mamas are angling for status. The table on his left is older businessmen and women, not entirely to be dismissed as a refuge; none of them can be as dull as the Finance Minister, after all. Beyond that, on the far end is the largest table, containing a mix of people Noctis vaguely recognises from other charity events as organisers and high-flyers and…

Oh god. It's Firi. And Firi has noticed Noctis looking, and is trying his best to not make eye contact.

Right, well, not that table.

Only one more VIP table, at the far right. More Council members, a few of the aristocracy. Not a particularly promising haven, either.

Noctis sighs, and tries not to slump sulkily into his chair. Too many people watching.

His phone buzzes. He pulls it out, under the table, and swipes the message from Ignis open.

What's wrong?

Shit, clearly he's not hiding his discomfort enough. Hv u seen who Im sitting wth? and I hv no route of escape frm the BOREDOM ugh whr r u?

Row Y, near the centre, with few other CG folks.

Noctis can't really turn around in his seat to look, but anything above about row P is pretty damned far back. He taps his phone. Wanna be up frnt? Space at my table

I'm not a VIP and I'm with my friends.

Ow. Time for some emotional blackmail. Im not ur friend? :(

There's a long, long wait until the next message buzzes. Tell the rope-wranglers to let me in, and buy me something nice in the auction.

Ur my hero

Getting Ignis admitted to the VIP section is just a matter of waving over one of the waiters and having a word. He asks Count Richelius politely to move along, and within a few minutes Ignis is there and taking the spare seat that Richelius has vacated in his eagerness to get away from Noctis.

Noctis tries not to actually stare once Ignis arrives; Ignis is looking good tonight. His hair is a bit more messed up than usual, his new glasses are indeed frameless and make his whole face seem to fit together better, and his clothes are, well, tighter than anything Noctis has seen him in.

Ignis has gone from spotty nerd to kinda smoking in a remarkably short time, he manages to think.

"Hi," he says, like an idiot. "Thanks."

"You're welcome. Once I spotted Master Meldez I really couldn't let you suffer alone up here." Ignis crosses his legs, folds his arms, manages to make both movements look relaxed. "And besides, my colleagues were rapidly getting a little too drunk on the champagne."

"You're the best."

Ignis smiles, and leans in close. "Does your status allow you advance notice of what might be up for auction, by any chance?"

"Ha." Wow. Ignis smells good, woodsy and smoky. "No. They keep it pretty hush-hush. But you know the usual drill; signed stuff, one-off commission work, art, tickets to things. They'll announce the big ticket items in a bit, though."

"Hm."

"I know promised I'd buy you something nice, but, uh, try not to empty my bank account?"

Ignis just laughs, and Noctis finds himself thinking that he really will try to buy Ignis something this evening. If something just right shows up, anyway. It'd be nice to make Ignis smile and feel appreciated and, well, to make Ignis feel happy about spending time with Noctis.

The comedienne comes out and the lights dim, and the auction begins.

The big-ticket items form an impressive display; a 'bottomless' VIP year pass to a high-end Insomnian dining club, an oil portrait of the winner done by a famous artist, an all-expenses trip to Galdin Quay for two -- which makes Noctis cringe and feel glad that Ignis is sitting between him and any possible glimpse of Firi -- and a frankly gorgeous sports car decked out in chrome and blood-red trim. The comedienne explains that the top items will be auctioned off at the end, allowing people to budget for those bids and also hopefully enticing people to stay for the whole evening.

Ignis's fingers twitch noticeably at the dining club pass when the items get listed for the second time, and Noctis shoots him a stern look.

"No, I don't want it," Ignis whispers, so close his breath ruffles Noctis's hair, just audible above the rolling background music. "I've dined there. It's mediocre. Not much of a prize."

Noctis stifles a snigger.

"Anything catch your fancy?"

"Mm. Not up there, no." And Noctis slams his teeth closed before he can say anything dumb about fancying anything not onstage. Ignis isn't for flirting with, even if he does suddenly seem to have blossomed into unexpected handsomeness. "I might bid on the car, if the price seems low enough. It's too cool not to."

Ignis nods, solemnly, and then raises a glass. "Well. Here's to enjoying the hospitality and trying to find a bargain."

"Sure, I'll drink to that."

It's a surprisingly fun evening -- more fun than Noctis usually ever has at these things. Noctis stays where he is, with Ignis at his side, watching the items being auctioned and occasionally venturing lowball bids to show willing and to encourage bidding generally. Ignis often has opinions about the items, and Noctis likes arguing about, for example, whether there's actually any point bidding on rare Kelly Crow merchandise when mostly nobody even remembers who she is.

Other VIPs drift over in the gaps to say hello, angle for favours or to make polite conversation, and Ignis shares a few sly observations about said VIPs as soon as they're out of earshot.

"You know, he still believes we all think that's his real hair," Ignis says, quietly, and tips his empty champagne glass hopefully towards one of the waiters. "Even his wife."

Noctis chokes down a giggle "Ow. Harsh."

"It's not harsh, it's true. It's not my fault the truth is unkind." The waiter dips his arm as he approaches. Ignis takes two glasses from the tray and hands one over to Noctis. "Thank you."

The comedienne onstage claps her hands. "And our next item! A fine and custom-build set of Dighiraanze steel knives, honed razor-sharp and perfectly balanced. Imagine these in your kitchen!"

Noctis turns to look at Ignis, as the comedienne talks about lifetime guarantees and tang and certificates of authenticity and how every Dighiraanze blade is slightly different because of the way they're made. Ignis is very obviously smitten with those blades up there, his eyes gone intense and intrigued. And really, who better deserves fancy-schmancy cooking knives?

Noctis lifts his paddle.

"And there's our first bid, from our royal patron! Ten thousand yen!"

Ignis looks at Noctis, as if shocked. "Noct?"

"Shush, I'm buying you a thing."

"No, I'll get them myself, don't be silly." Ignis hesitates, and then smacks himself gently in the forehead with the heel of his hand. "Or I won't, since I left my paddle under my old seat with my coat. Drat."

Noctis has been outbid in the meantime, so he raises his paddle again and claims the 40,000 yen bid.

"My friends had better not be using it in my absence;" Ignis says, and then swats at Noctis's arm. "Stop that. I was joking about you buying me anything."

"But you like these. You'd be bidding for them yourself if you had your number. Pay me back if you want."

Ignis actually looks relieved. "Oh."

70,000 and Noctis's arm goes up again. At 140,000 yen, Ignis tugs at his elbow and hisses, 'Noct, this is getting too expensive', and Noctis just transfers the paddle to his other hand so that Ignis can't pull his arm down again.

The bidding concludes at 330,000 yen, with Noctis the rather smug winner.

"I can't believe you did that," Ignis says, and he's trying to look stern but he's losing the battle because Noctis can see how pleased he is. "I'll have to pay you back in installments."

"Enh, I've got enough money. Pay me back by using them to make really good food. I'll happily eat that many yen-worth of your cooking."

Ignis gives up on the solemn face and smiles at that. "I think I'll have to finally attempt sashimi. Are you willing to suffer my attempts at filleting salmon?"

"Ignis, I will even buy the salmon."

Nothing else in the rest of the auction even comes close to being worth buying, although Noctis does bid a few more times and very nearly decides to make some kind of point to Firi by outbidding everyone for the Galdin Quay vacation. He refrains, mostly because, well, he has no interest in the publicity that'll go with it, and nobody to take along on a romantic trip, and he's damned well not going to waste his money just to show Firi he can get to Galdin Quay on his own.

The car is hard to let go by, but the bidding gets up into the millions, and Noctis has a quite lovely car of his own already.

Everyone is tipsy and content as the auction winds down. Noctis leaves Ignis chatting merrily to one of the Councillors and goes to settle up his tab and collect his prize, and then when he gets back to the table he gets to present Ignis with the heavy wooden box stamped Dighiraanze.

Ignis opens it, and his expression when he sees the knives inside is soft and pleased and makes Noctis want to blush for having provoked it.

"They're glorious," he says, and then glances up at Noctis and smiles warmly. "Truly exquisite. You're spoiling me absurdly, and people will gossip that you're buying expensive gifts for your chamberlain, you know."

"For my friend."

"...yes. Your very lucky and grateful friend." Ignis lowers the lid. "They'll be evicting us soon. I shall just get my coat and then… how are you getting back to the Citadel?"

"I've a driver bringing the car around. Need a lift?"

Ignis shakes his head, and then stands up. "I've had a really splendid night. Thank you. It's been, well. Wonderful."

"Yeah. I had a great time too." Noctis shoves his hands in his pockets, wonders how you're supposed to act at the end of an evening that feels suddenly, awkwardly like it's been a really good date. "See you tomorrow?"

"Of course." And then, to Noctis's surprise, Ignis hugs him. It's been a long time since they hugged, for some reason, and Noctis realises that he's missed it. Noctis pats Ignis's back, uncertainly, until Ignis pulls away. "Tomorrow, then."

"Yeah. Okay."

Ignis picks up his box, flashes another pleased and grateful smile at Noctis, and goes off to find the friends he arrived with.

And all Noctis can think is, oh, no. Not him. Not of all the possible men you could fall for now. Not Ignis.

--

They're in Ignis's place, because Ignis did promise sashimi. Noctis brought over salmon, which Ignis laughed at him for, and now Noctis is perched on a stool watching Ignis cut neat lines into the flesh of a Cavaugh Snapper. Ignis has long, supple fingers, holds the blade with complete confidence and just tightly enough to whiten his knuckles, and his expression is so serious that it makes Noctis want.

He longs to take the knife out of Ignis's hands, wants to press his lips to those knuckles and the inside of Ignis's palm, wants to cup Ignis's face in his hands and kiss a smile back onto it.

If Ignis were anyone else -- well, nearly anyone else -- Noctis would be angling for a way to do that. And Noctis has been trying to stop the quiet, insistent thought that there couldn't really be an objection to him dating Ignis of all people. Ignis is the epitome of respectable. He's not married. He's absolutely not a criminal, and if he wasn't Noctis's Chamberlain… but he is, and Noctis's oldest friend besides, and it really isn't fair for him to have suddenly blossomed into this funny, clever, confident, attractive man.

Ignis transfers the sliced snapper onto a plate, fans out the pieces, and seems to be looking at his work critically. Noctis's opinion, which he's keeping to himself, is that the fish is going to taste the same whether it's perfectly rectangular or kinda wobbly, but Ignis is the kind of person who cares about doing things exactly right.

"It'll do," Ignis says, and lifts the platter up onto the breakfast bar between them. "Snapper nigiri." He puts a little bowl of soy sauce next to it, and then some squidgy-looking wasabi on a tiny plate next to it.

"Very professional-looking," Noctis says, and picks up his chopsticks. "So we're starting with this one."

"It's the lightest-flavoured of the sashimi for tonight."

"Huh."

"And," and Ignis reaches below the counter, and then presents Noctis with a bottle. "We have suitable refreshments to accompany. Rizan."

It's one of the knock-your-socks off distilled golden spirits from the Galahdian archipelago, which Noctis is pretty sure doesn't officially pair with any food except late-night junk food from street stalls, but he's always adored the stuff and nobody ever serves it at any functions he goes to. "Oh my god," he says, and grabs the bottle. "Amazing. Glasses, now."

"I'll pass until after I've finished with the cutting. But go ahead." Ignis hands down one of the glasses from the overhead shelf. "Start without me."

Noctis lowers the bottle, and can't help but look at Ignis as if suspicious. "Are you trying to get me drunk, Ignis Scientia?"

"You'll be less critical of the food that way. Anyway, I'm certain your tolerance for that stuff is higher than mine. I'll catch up to you in intoxication very fast."

It pours out slowly, like syrup, and Noctis sniffs appreciatively. Rizan is allegedly made from rice and herbs, tastes and smells like a supersweet wine mixed with citrus and roses, and when he takes a sip it evaporates off the back of his tongue. "Whoa," he says, almost coughing. "I'd forgotten how strong this stuff is."

"Try it with the fish."

To Noctis's surprise, it pairs really well, and he makes an appreciative face and gestures approvingly with the chopsticks at Ignis. "So good."

Ignis picks up Noctis glass, takes a very tiny sip, and then has a slice of the snapper himself.

"See?"

"That works far better than I'd expected," Ignis says, and puts down his chopsticks. "I had all this intention to serve this like a proper sushi chef would, dish by dish, but to hell with it. I'm going to just cut all the fish now and then I won't be unable to drink with you as we eat."

Noctis looks at the small pile of washed and cleaned fish on the counter. "Want me to help?"

It becomes a competition; Noctis can't cut as precisely as Ignis but he can go fast, and he motors through the salmon and then the tuna, while Ignis from his counter assures him that the octopus will be delicious and that the fish roe is going to be 'stunning' with the rizan.

Noctis ferries the plates over to Ignis's little dining table, and then the glasses, while Ignis prepares some shrimps, and then finally Ignis comes over and sits at the table with him. They admire their work together; tiny slabs of shiny flesh, some neater than others, the roe glistening in bulbous heaps, the shrimp oddly comical next to the rest of it.

Ignis takes a few photos on his phone, and then spreads his hands out wide in a gesture of 'start eating'.

"Which one first?"

Ignis shrugs. "I doubt we'll care after the first few glasses. Try a bit of everything, keep eating what you like."

"You rebel, you," Noctis says, pouring out generous amounts of rizan. "I wanna try the roe, then."

"Prepare to be dazzled."

The roe bursts on his tongue, salty and light, and Noctis can see why Ignis said he'd like it. He piles more of it on his small plate, then filches the plumpest piece of salmon from under Ignis's chopsticks, and allows Ignis to give him three slices of the octopus.

It's pretty close to perfect; the doors to Ignis's balcony thrown open to the late summer evening, the heady rizan and the fresh fish, and Ignis laughing at Noctis's first reaction to the surprisingly chewy octopus.

They still have almost half a bottle of rizan left once they've cleared their plates, and Ignis suggests they watch something on TV, so they move to the sofa and Noctis can't see any good reason not to flop contentedly against Ignis's arm once there.

Ignis flips through the options. "Justice Monsters Five?"

"Oh my god, are you serious?" Noctis grins at the splash screen, a cartoon straight out of their childhood. "Yes. Absolutely. Let's be silly nostalgic drunks and boo at Lord Vexxos together."

"Is he even in it at the beginning?"

"I dunno, play the thing and we'll find out."

Ignis does, and then Noctis feels him shift in his seat. It seems like he wants his arm back, so Noctis sits up a bit, and then to his surprise Ignis puts that arm across the back of the sofa as if they're, well, dating, as if he expects Noctis just to snuggle into his side like a boyfriend.

Hm.

Well then.

Noctis does exactly that, curls his feet up and leans into Ignis's side, rests his head against Ignis's shoulder. It's a misjudgment, he realises immediately. He can feel Ignis's surprise at the close contact, a sudden startled rigidity that Noctis pretends not to notice.

"Noct," Ignis says, quietly, "is -- are you -- hm. Are you okay?"

Noctis shrugs, still keeping his eyes on the screen as the opening sequence blossoms through colourful explosions. "This is good. Comfortable."

"I don't disagree. But I suppose what I want to know is, how drunk are you?"

Oh. Noctis turns his head. Ignis is right there, his eyes unreadable behind his glasses. "Not very. A bit."

"Ah. I see."

Noctis has to look away; their faces are too close, too easy to just close the gap and kiss Ignis. And that would be something he couldn't take back doing. "C'mon," he says, instead, nestling back down against Ignis's shoulder as if he's been given permission to do so. "Look. It's the Gargoyle Monsters."

"Noct." It's said very carefully. "I just want to clarify what--"

Noctis huffs out a sulky noise. "Ignis, can't you just let me be a bit drunk and relaxed and comfy here?"

"Is that all this is?"

Noctis can hear the wistfulness, and it hurts. Ah, crap. "I can't have more than that with you," he says, and it comes out in a mumbled rush. "I know that."

There's a pause, and Noctis wonders if Ignis even understood, and then Ignis is sitting up, pushing Noctis up too. He closes his eyes, doesn't want to see Ignis being reasonable and kind and telling him sensible things about status and boundaries and all the rest of the things Noctis knows are coming.

Ignis's hands cup his face, and then Ignis's mouth is pressing against his, and Noctis's eyes open in shock. Ignis is kissing him, softly, eyes closed and brows drawn down in an expression Noctis can't discern from this distance, and then Noctis decides not to think any more.

Ignis is a surprisingly good kisser.

"Oh," Noctis manages, when Ignis lets him breathe again. "Um."

"You," Ignis says, eyes intense and a sly smile on his lips, "had better have meant it when you implied you wanted more than just a platonic cuddle. I've wanted this too much to take that back."

Noctis lifts a hand, tugs Ignis's glasses down and aside. "Stop talking. More kissing."

They kiss until the streaming service asks them if they want to keep watching, though Noctis has no idea how long it's been, just that the TV stops making sounds. Ignis is a very good kisser when he gets going, and Ignis's sofa is a very good size to make out on. Ignis pulls Noctis down on top of him, skims hands up Noctis's shirt and lavishes attention on Noctis's neck in a way that sends all the blood straight to Noctis's cock.

Noctis pushes himself up, sits straddling Ignis, stares down at him. Hair messed up, glasses gone, mouth kissed into redness, an expression of delight and desire of his face; Ignis looks amazing.

"When did you suddenly get so gorgeous, huh," Noctis says, reaching out, tracing a line down Ignis's nose. "You used to be this gangly nerd a while back, and now you're, like, top tier hottie."

"Flatterer."

"It's true." Noctis lets his finger drift down to Ignis's mouth, where Ignis kisses it. "I should have been paying more attention."

"Well, I won't disagree," Ignis says, gently. "But you're here now. And I am very glad you are."

"Yeah. Um. What now?"

"Anything you want, Noct. I'm yours."

Holy shit. "Bed?"

"Absolutely."

--

It's some time later; Ignis's bed is rumpled and Noctis is post-coitally curled up to Ignis's side. He can't stop marvelling. Ignis is fitter than Noctis had expected, somehow, all hard lean muscle and pale skin and dustings of dark blonde hair. It shouldn't be a surprise; he's a Crownsguard elite, despite the aura he projects of bookish domesticity. Noctis likes it, likes how Ignis's muscles visibly flex and shift beneath his skin when he moves.

Likes how long Ignis's body and legs are, all graceful lines, strong and supple.

Loves how Ignis's stomach muscles all tightened at once when Ignis came, loved that Ignis came with such intensity that it rippled along his body that far.

Loves that he was the one making Ignis come like that.

Ignis huffs into his hair. "So, please assure me that this isn't a drunken fling."

"Fuck no."

"Wonderful." Ignis shifts, stretches, and Noctis appreciates that too, the shudder of movement along his limbs. "That just means we have to navigate the whole relationship aspect."

Noctis shrugs, stares at Ignis's shoulder, traces a lazy figure-of-eight on his skin. "Boyfriends."

"Yes, naturally -- I meant, the rest of it."

Huh? Noctis looks up, meets Ignis's gaze. "The rest?"

"Are we public?" Ignis asks. "And I don't mean that as a demand. We can be entirely discreet for as long as you like, but if you want us to become public then our positions are complicated."

That deserves a grin and a raised eyebrow.

"Yes, yes. But seriously, in future, if we're--"

"I wanna tell people."

Ignis looks surprised. "Hm."

"If that's okay." Noctis smiles, lets his hand drift over to Ignis's nipple. "I mean, you're like fifty times more suitable than anyone else the Council has seen me with, right?"

Ignis snorts. "I suppose so."

"And besides, you promised that if I dated someone decent, you'd be an advocate for me, defend them to the Council."

"I… yes, I did, didn't I." Ignis puts his hand over Noctis's. "Stop that, you distracting man. Very well, then. I'll come up with my defense for dating my Prince."

Noctis pulls his hand free, strokes down Ignis's torso. "Not alone. I'll tell them with you. When we decide to."

"Hm. You've never done that before."

Noctis glances up at Ignis's face. "Done what? Poke your belly button?"

"Proactively informed the Council about your relationships."

"Oh. Yeah, well. You're different." Noctis drops his chin, rests it on Ignis's shoulder. "You're endgame level. Perfect in basically all the ways. You make me laugh, you tolerate my bullshit, you don't put up with my bullshit when it's too much, you make really good food and you're hot."

"Don't put me on too high a pedestal, Noct, I might injure myself falling off it."

Noctis rolls his eyes. "And you're not afraid to tell me when I'm being silly."

Ignis kisses him on the nose. "It's rarer and rarer these days. Now then. I believe this spot on your neck is in need of some attention."

Noctis arches his neck beneath Ignis's finger. "Yeah?"

"Definitely."

--

The Council's reaction to being informed that Noctis Lucis Caelum is now officially and publicly in a courtship with Ignis Scientia is, well, both a surprise and, when Noctis thinks about it, not a surprise at all.

There are questions, which Ignis firmly states he refuses to answer, about how long they've been dating and how public this news is. Noctis tells them, with Ignis's hand in his, that he won't tolerate being told to end this relationship.

Ignis squeezes, and shoots him a pleased look.

In the end, Noctis's father, who Noctis quietly told the day before and who was visibly thrilled by the news, slams down a hand on the table and announces that the Council has no grounds to object.

They have the Council's blessing.

In all honesty, Noctis knows himself to be a contrary person, and he's expecting to feel a bit put off by having permission. Knowing his father is overjoyed should only intensify the sense that being allowed to be dating Ignis takes some of the fun out of it.

It doesn't, to his surprise.

He still gets a bit grumpy at Ignis, sometimes. Ignis is still his Chamberlain, still sometimes pulls the 'responsible grown-up' card and insists he eats more nutritiously or that he attends a function he'd rather miss.

But Ignis also holds his hand in public and ignores the gossips that call him a gold-digger or that say Noctis is abusing his power in dating someone who works for him. Ignis cuddles up with him, cooks him food and makes him watch terrible old movies. Ignis kisses him until he's breathless and sneaks him extra cookies in Citadel meetings and tries to get him to care about the brand of clothes he wears and makes him laugh so hard it almost hurts.

And Noctis can't wait to go to Galdin Quay with him someday.