"My parents want to invite your family to Insomnia to celebrate the Dawn Solstice with us this year."
Nyx looks down at the top of Noctis' head where it's resting against his chest, and hits pause on the game they're playing. "Yeah?"
Noctis nods, shifting enough he can tilt his head back and look up at Nyx, his expression a little wary. "They offered to pay for them to travel too, if that's a problem. I think they just really want to meet your parents."
Nyx's lips twist into a funny little smile as he thinks about that. It's true that he and Noctis have been together for almost five years at this point. Noctis has even been to Galahd and met Nyx's parents and his sister, but the two families have never met each other. Nyx can just imagine the earnest look on Regis Caelum's face as he extends the invitation, and Aulea's eager grin, so much like Noctis' when they get excited.
"Selena's been bugging me about when I'm going to invite her to Insomnia," he admits. He runs his fingers gently through Noctis' hair. "Are you alright with them coming?"
Noctis laughs a little, snuggling in against him again. "You've seen how we celebrate the Solstice, Nyx. A few more people aren't going to make much difference. It's just..."
"Just?" Nyx prompts after a moment of silence, and he's amused to notice Noctis' cheeks are tinting pink.
"Just..." Noctis avoids his eyes, blush steadily deepening. "It's a Lucian thing, that when the two families meet each other, it usually means there's going to be a marriage soon."
Nyx just hums softly, thoughtfully, and threads his fingers in Noctis' hair to pull him up for a kiss.
Caelum Manor is beautiful all year round, the gardens meticulously tended and the classic architecture kept clean and in good repair, but Noctis has always loved it best in the winter. Aulea always goes all out on the Solstice decorations; candles in every window meant to represent the wards around the old havens, encircling the household in safety for the longest night of the year. Holly and rowan branches hung over the doorways and pine branches woven through the staircase banisters are traditional Daemon wards too.
Noctis can appreciate the beauty of it a lot more now that he's moved out and it isn't one of his chores to run around and make sure all the damn candles stay lit. It's a lot easier in the apartment, they only have three windows and the balcony to contend with.
"How do you celebrate the Solstice in Galahd?" Noctis asks curiously as they wrap a string of LED lights through the railing of their balcony. It's not quite traditional, but the rental board already only barely tolerates lit candles as it is.
When he visited Galahd, it had been early summer, warm and sticky with humidity, and he realizes he doesn't know how they celebrate the most important holiday of the year. Since Nyx's family will be joining them in Insomnia, he wonders if they can somehow bring a few of the Galahdian traditions here.
Nyx grins at him. "Well, our winters there are a lot milder than the ones you get here. So in Galahd, the festival lasts all night. We string lights up around entire squares, or sometimes entire towns, instead of just individual homes. People set up booths with food, and everyone comes outside to dance and drink and mingle until the Dawn. It's a lot more about community and everyone coming together to wait out the Longest Night. In Insomnia it seems a lot more centered on individual families."
He pauses, and leans over to ruffle Noctis' hair, ignoring his squawk of protest. "Actually, from what I've seen the way you guys celebrate is a lot more Galahdian than Lucian."
Noctis huffs a little, combing fingers through his hair to try and get it back into order. "Well... When they were younger, Cor and Dad neither one had any family, so they always sat through the Solstice Night together. After Dad married Mom, they kept inviting Cor, because... at this point he is family, you know? And after that it just seemed obvious to invite the Amicitias because Clarus had always been close with both Dad and Cor too, and then I made friends with Prompto and he doesn't have any real family either..."
"My family is going to love it," Nyx says confidently. "Way more than the stuffy formal single-family dinner most of Insomnia seems to do."
Noctis laughs and goes back to stringing lights. "I guess it depends on the family? Ignis seems to enjoy the quiet of just him and his uncle, but that's Iggy for you."
"True," Nyx snickers quietly. "There, I think that does it."
He plugs in the string of lights and pulls Noctis against his side, ready to escape the cold for the warmth of indoors.
Nyx's family arrives at the north docks the afternoon of the Solstice. Nyx picks them up in Noctis' car and drives them back to Caelum Manor, where Noctis is trying very hard not to laugh at his parents.
"Mom," he says, stepping close enough to nudge his shoulder against Aulea's and reaching out to forcibly remove the cloth from her hands. "That's the third time you've dusted the same shelf, I've been watching."
"Oh, I know," Aulea sighs, blowing her fringe out of her face and giving Noctis a wane smile. "I just want to make sure we make a good impression."
"You'll be fine," Noctis kisses her cheek, and her smile widens. "Nyx's family couldn't care less about appearances, I promise. Where's Dad?"
"Noctis?" Regis calls on cue, coming down the stairs with his shirt half unbuttoned and a tie in each hand, his face set in a sort of anxious pout that meant he was overthinking his entire life. "What do you think-"
Noctis rolls his eyes so hard he swears he catches a glimpse of the Astrals laughing at them. He crosses the room to take both ties away from his father. "Dad, no." Noctis himself is only wearing comfortable, dark-wash jeans and a button-up. Leave it to Regis to think he needed a full suit. At least Aulea seems to get it, wearing a pair of leggings and an oversized sweater to ward off the winter chill.
The doorbell rings, and both his parents jump like startled cats. They give each other wide-eyed looks that have Noctis rolling his eyes again, and Aulea hurries to get the door before one of the servants can.
"This is hilarious," Cor snorts from the direction of the kitchen doorway, and Noctis glances over to see him biting into a pastry pilfered from the cooling trays. He looks as deadpan as usual, but his eyes are sparkling in a way that means he's genuinely amused, and Noctis grins in return. Cor finishes chewing and swallows, and then ticks an eyebrow up at Noctis. "I can make myself scarce until dinner, if you want."
Noctis shakes his head firmly and reaches out to grab his godfather by the sleeve, pulling him toward the front hall where the noise is starting to grow. "You're family. Besides, if I can't get out of this, you're not either."
Cor actually snorts a laugh, following along behind him.
"Noctis!" Selena bounds over to throw her arms around him as soon as he appears, and Noctis laughs a little and hugs her back. "It's so good to see you! You guys need to call more often, we do have the internet in Galahd, you know."
"I know, I know," Noctis smiles sheepishly. "It's good to see you too."
Selena Ulric is a few years younger than her brother Nyx, which means she's still a few years older than Noctis. She's more petite, nearly a head shorter than Nyx, but just as full of energy. When Noctis had visited, their mother had spent half the time telling stories about all the trouble they'd gotten into when they were younger, much to Noctis' delight and Nyx and Selena's embarrassment.
Speaking of their mother, as soon as Noctis manages to slither out of Selena's hug, he finds himself immediately embraced by the tall, stately figure of Sana Ulric. She's the tallest of the family; both her children seem to have inherited their father's shorter stature. Her hair is pulled back neatly under a colorful scarf, save for the few beaded braids left to hang over her shoulders. Nyx has been teaching Noctis a little about what the patterns mean, and he can pick out the beads that probably denote her birth family, her marriage into the Ulrics, and her occupation as a healer.
"Hi Sana," he says, flushing a bit. He wiggles, and she lets him go, looking amused at his momentary blush. He quickly smooths down his shirt, turning back to the rest of the chaos. "Uh."
Somewhat to his relief, it looks like Nyx has already taken care of introducing their fathers. Regis already looks more relaxed now what the Ulrics are actually here, clasping hands with Solis warmly. Noctis has thought before that if Solis is an indication of what he has to look forward to as Nyx ages, he's got it damn good. Father and son look startlingly alike, Solis just has more pronounced crows feet around his eyes and more gray in his dark hair. He has the same easy grin that Nyx does, and he seems to be using it now to set Regis even more at ease.
"Mom," he calls Aulea's attention, holding out his hand to her. "This is Sana, Nyx's mother, and his sister Selena."
"A pleasure," Aulea's eyes brighten, stepping forward to offer her hand to Sana. "I'm Aulea-" She squeaks as Sana grips her hand and pulls her forward, leaning in to give Aulea a light kiss on the cheek rather than the handshake Aulea was expecting. She relaxes from her momentary surprise quickly, though, returning the gesture and earning a warm smile from Sana. "Dinner will be ready soon, but let's all go sit in the living room."
Nyx had gone over the menu with the cooks and helped them blend in a few more Galahdian dishes and tastes into the meal. The result is delicious, spicier than the Caelums are used to but not so spicy that they don't like it. Noctis, who'd gotten used to eating down in the Galahdian district with Nyx or letting Libertus guinea pig new dishes on him, takes extra chili flakes to sprinkle over his stew. It earns him an approving slap on the back from Solis and a thoughtful look from Cor, who proceeds to also add more spice and seems incredibly satisfied with the result.
So far everyone seems to be getting along. Sana, a healer who'd trained as an apprentice and then taken over her teacher's practice, and Aulea, an Insomnian-trained and certified pediatrician, are deep in discussion of something very medical that everyone else has decided not to listen too closely to. Noctis, Regis and Solis get caught up in a discussion about fishing techniques in the rivers around Insomnia versus the oceans around Galahd, and the two fathers are already making plans for fishing trips together come summer. Selena has either developed a genuine crush on Cor or (far more likely) is enjoying making both Cor and Nyx extremely uncomfortable by flirting with him.
Dessert will be served later, after everyone else arrives for the party, so after dinner there's a lull.
"Noctis, kitten, would you check the candles?" Aulea glances up from whatever complicated diagram Sana is drawing on a napkin, and Noctis sighs.
"What am I, ten?" he scowls, but obediently gets up to go into the kitchen and find the bag of spare candles. Nyx and Selena follow him, glad for the excuse to duck away from the parents for a few minutes.
"Checking the candles?" Selena asks curiously, and Noctis smiles, showing her the candle holder set on the sill of the wide window in the kitchen. It's burning low, so he takes out a spare and carefully lights it from the existing flame before blowing the first one out. Nyx tugs the spent candle free, careful of melted wax, and Noctis sets the newly lit one in it's place.
"This is the longest night of the year," Noctis says unnecessarily, since the Galahdians literally call the Dawn Solstice the Longest Night. "So we keep candles lit in every window for a week or so leading up to the Solstice. It's supposed to symbolically keep Daemons away and show any lost travelers the way to a safe place. When I was a kid it was always my job to run around the whole house and make sure none of the candles have burned out."
He makes a face, but Selena laughs in delight. "That's such a nice tradition! We have a similar one, but we usually string lights in circles around gathering places instead, so that everyone inside will be safe. Do you want some help?"
Noctis shrugs. "It's not that hard a task, it's just a big house. I wouldn't mind the company though."
It doubles as a tour of the house for Selena, too. They start at the top of the house and work their way down. The attic is impeccably clean, but a little spooky with boxes stacked everywhere and old furniture draped in sheets.
("I can't believe you even put candles up here!" Selena giggles as Noctis sits on Nyx's shoulders to relight the candle in the tiny attic window up near the ceiling.
Noctis just shrugs. "Any unlit window is an invitation for Daemons," he recites the old Solstice saying.)
Below that are the bedrooms; his parents' big master bedroom and bath ("Holy shit," is Nyx's only comment on seeing the size of their onyx tub), the guest room and bath where Solis and Sana will be staying, Noctis' childhood bedroom where he and Nyx will be staying ("Awwwwwww," both Ulrics chorus, and Noctis shoves them out before replacing the candle in his window himself), and the spare guest room where Selena will be staying. The decor is rich and warm without being gaudy. Aulea had redone most of Caelum Manor after she and Regis married, modernizing it and getting rid of some of the heirlooms ("Eyesores," she scowled) that had been cluttering the place. Noctis has seen old photos, and he has to admit he prefers his mother's version.
"Who's this?" Selena points at a pair of portraits hanging in the stairwell as they head back downstairs. "That guy looks so much like you, Noctis."
"Everyone says that," Noctis rubs a hand over the back of his head self-consciously. "That's my... like hundred-times-great-grandfather, Somnus Caelum."
"Somnus..." Selena's brow furrows, the name obviously ringing a bell, and then she blinks in surprise. "Oh! The Dawn King's brother? So this is..."
Noctis nods at the other portrait. "My something-times-great-uncle, Dawn King Ardyn Lucis Caelum." He's never been able to decide if he likes the portraits or not, though he understands why they still hang here and why they always will. When he was a child they'd creeped him out, but now that he's older he feels like he understands something more from them; the tiredness in Somnus' eyes and the sadness in Ardyn's slight smile. He's wondered more than once what it would have been like to know them.
"Oh wow," Selena pulls him back to the present, looking a little star-struck. "I had no idea my brother was dating royalty!"
Both Noctis and Nyx snort in unison. "Six no," Noctis rolls his eyes. "Please don't, I'm not."
"You've never heard him snoring," Nyx smirks, earning an elbow to his ribs. "Or seen him and Regis in matching dorky fishing waders."
The doorbell ringing several times in succession saves Noctis, and he races down the rest of the stairs to open the door and catch Iris as she flings herself through it, the rest of the Amicitia family hovering behind her, waiting to get in out of the cold. And Prompto, Noctis notes with satisfaction as he sees the blond with Gladio's scarf wrapped around his neck and Gladio's arm settled easily across his shoulders. They must have picked him up on the way.
"Oh my Gods!" Iris vibrates herself out of Noctis' arms, bounding over to clasp Selena's hands between her own. "I love your hair! Did you do it yourself?"
Selena looks a little startled, but then she beams, running a hand proudly over the long, elaborate plait. "Mother and I did it together. I'm Selena, Nyx's sister."
Iris looks over at Nyx with an incredulous expression. "You have a sister and kept her from me all this time?" She hooks her arm through Selena's, apparently deciding they were best friends, and Selena laughs in appreciation. "Seriously, my entire life is nothing but boys ever since Luna moved back to Tenebrae. I'm Iris, I've known Noct and his family forever because our dads have been friends since before any of us were born. That's my brother, Gladiolus, and his boyfriend Prompto, and my mom and dad."
The rest of what she might have been saying is drowned out as Noctis' parents and Nyx's parents come out of the dining room to greet Clarus and Roselyn and introductions start all over again. Noctis edges away from the worst of the noise, and nearly jumps out of his skin when Nyx's hand lands on his shoulder.
Nyx chuckles softly. "Come on, kitten, basement retreat."
"Thank the Gods," Noctis breathes. He stands on his toes to catch Gladio's eye and incline his head slightly, and sees the answering grin and nod of recognition. When he and Nyx get to the basement Cor is already there, and he wordlessly cracks open another pair of beers to hand over to them.
"Glad Iris has a distraction this year," Gladio rumbles as he comes down, though he looks amused.
"She's already got Nyx's sister doing little tiny cornrows in her hair," Prompto laughs, accepting a beer from Cor and then perching on Gladio's lap as soon as he sits.
"They'll start in on make-up next," Nyx sighs. He settles back in his seat, wrapping an arm around Noctis so they can cuddle close.
There's a roar of laughter from upstairs, and everyone tilts their heads. "...Ah," Cor says after a moment, looking some strange mix of amused and faintly worried. "That sounds like they're playing cards. Do your parents play cards, Nyx?"
"My mother is a terror with Galahdian poker," Nyx snorts and drains the rest of his beer. "If they're teaching her a Lucian game I guarantee she'll have them all cleaned out by morning."
"Great," Cor just nods as though it's an every day occurrence, leaning back to open the fridge behind him and pass Nyx another beer. "Here, you'll need this. Reg is awful at cards."
"No poker face," Gladio agrees with a smirk. "My dad cleans him out every time."
"But," Noctis waves his beer bottle to hold Gladio's point. "If our moms are playing, the dads are all doomed."
"Agreed," Nyx snorts. "I'm staying down here for the rest of the night."
"Like usual, then," Cor looks amused, but the low-key quiet basement party is tradition at this point.
Despite Nyx's words, they do migrate back upstairs, retreating back to the basement whenever they need a bit of quiet. They have to stay up all night to greet the Dawn, after all. That tradition was apparently the same in both Lucis and Galahd, which makes sense since both traditions stem from the same event, the same original festival arranged by Somnus after his brother's sacrifice.
At some point around midnight, the servants help clear the table and chairs out of the big dining room, and Nyx pulls out a CD that Regis had asked him to bring. "Traditionally we get live players, but they're kind of in short supply right now," he laughs. The music starts up, fast and lively, and Nyx pulls Selena out into the center of the cleared area.
They whirl through the dance almost faster than Noctis can follow, even though he's trying to watch what they're doing. At one point Sana and Solis both jump in, and Noctis can see more clearly that it's not a couples-dance like Lucians might think of it, but more of a round dance where the whole group performs steps in unison, weaving in and out around each other.
"Teach us?" he asks when there's a break in the music, and Nyx grins.
Cor turns out to be a surprisingly good dancer, as do Aulea and Iris. Prompto trips over his own feet to start but eventually gets the hang of it, laughing until he bows out to hover around the edges, snapping photos of everyone else. Regis makes a good effort and bows out when his knee begins to ache. Everyone is laughing and enthusiastic, learning the traditional Longest Night dance that the Galahdians believe mimics the runes around the havens and wards off Daemons for another year.
"It has to be done right," Solis tells Iris mock-sternly, and she gasps despite her own laughter.
After the dancing, the servants bring out another round of snacks and drinks, and then Regis officially dismisses them for the night to return to their own families and celebrations.
"We're not helpless," he tells the head cook with a wink and a reassuring smile. "Anything else we need, we'll make the children get for us."
"Hey, get up, it's 6:30," Cor kicks Nyx's ankle gently on his way past, and Nyx sits up. He shakes Noctis gently to rouse him, watching as Cor pauses to blow out the candle in the basement window on his way upstairs. Noctis yawns, but lets Nyx guide him up to his feet. Nyx looks around to make sure they're the last ones in the basement, then turns out the lights on their way upstairs.
The rest of the house is going dark too; Selena and Iris in the attic and working their way down, Gladio and Prompto sweeping through the library and studies, Aulea carefully navigating through the kitchen as candles are blown out and lights are turned off.
They all gather on the back patio, bundled up in coats and scarves and huddled together for warmth. Once everyone is there, the flashlights they'd been using to guide their steps are also turned off.
"This part is the same too," Solis observes, his head tilted back to watch the stars dimming above them. All their neighbors' lights are off too, every car pulled over behind Crownsguard checkpoints so all the streetlights can be shut off. All the neon lights downtown, all the business signs and movie marquees are turned off. The entire city is dark, save for the Eternal Flame that burns at the top of the Citadel, right in the spot where the Dawn Crystal apparently sat one thousand years ago.
The city is dark, but the sky is growing light.
It's a quiet moment, family and friends gathered close together, tired from staying up all night but content in the company.
Noctis has his head tipped back too, watching the coming Dawn, when he feels Nyx tug one of his mittens off. He blinks and turns his head, lips parted to ask when he's doing, and in that quiet moment, no fanfare at all, Nyx slips a ring onto his finger.