Actions

Work Header

Good Luck Charms

Chapter Text

Part 1

The first time you and Aranea Highwind meet, you don't get each other's names. The first time you meet, she's trying to bash your face in with her lance and you erect a wall of ice between the two of you as you shove the pretty-boy prince behind you. The first time you meet, you stare at each other for a fraction of a second through the cracked ice before the battle resumes.

It feels like it lasts longer to Aranea.

She remembers your intense, almost taunting expression from behind the ice -- rippled and warped in your haste to bring it into existence, iridescent under the harsh fluorescence of the imperial base’s spotlights. She remembers the cold mist on her skin, goosebumps breaking out along the surface. She remembers you.

The other guys that Pretty Boy totes around? It’s almost like they fade to black when you fix her with that teasing look. She knows their names, sure -- Four-Eyes, Chocobo, and Muscles. She has to know their names... Those are their names, right? But (y/n) Iovita... (y/n) Iovita sticks out with two bright eyes and a wicked, self-satisfied smirk; ice between the two of you and fire in her veins.

She replays how quickly the wall sprang up over and over in her head -- it materialized in the blink of an eye. Impressive. And you don’t stick out purely because of your magic or because the creep who hired her, Chancellor Ardyn Izunia, won't shut the hell up about you when she reports back. Though there is that...

The second time you two meet in Vesperpool on some fool’s errand for mythical mythril, she's ready for you.

Biggs and Wedge share a secret glance when she gets a fiery look in her eye the second the chancellor mentions you. She tells herself she’s not going to let you get away no matter how skilled you are with your fancy magic tricks. Because the second you open your innocent looking mouth to ask her if you should expect to get banged... “with your lance, of course, Ms. Highwind,” she knows you’re slick. About as slick as any other merc she’s come across.

Except somehow playful and not at all malicious. Disarming is the word she’s looking for. And that makes you dangerous.

She has a difficult time pinning down exactly what it is about you that draws her in. Are you actually charming? Or are you so charmless that you seem charming? Like those dogs that are so ugly that they're cute? Maybe it's how you handle yourself? That arrogant gait, chin lifted, eyes glancing down that noble looking nose of yours. Shoulders back, spine straight, weight always balanced and centered.

Honestly, you look like an asshole.

And Aranea likes the look of this asshole.

Your voice is modulated, inflections added carefully, sparingly in her presence. But when you're off to the side with the men, with your men, the mask cracks and a goofy smile lights up your face, softens those sharp eyes, relaxes that rigid posture. She wants you to talk to her like that. Then again, she doesn't. She wants you both ways. She wants the haughty arcane advisor and the awkward mage.

And Aranea is clever and resourceful. It doesn't take her long to figure out how to get you to reveal more facets of yourself. All it takes is some biting sarcasm tossed your way and you're hurling it right back, eyes glinting with interest and curiosity. The mercenary likes this look, too.

Maybe the thing that sets you apart from the others is that you aren't exactly polite in battle? You don't ask if Aranea needs help. You just help. You send a goblin sailing away from her, look her in the eye, then leave. You’re brusque in battle -- snarky, witty, cutting everyone and everything with your tongue.

The ruins are cold and eerie but you’re a bright light, illuminating the area with lame jokes and sideways glances. In truth, Aranea hasn’t been this amused on a job in a long time. Biggs and Wedge are great, sure. They’re loyal and hardworking. But (y/n) Iovita is fun -- an unknown element with a dash of something... awkward? That’s what it is! You’re awkward!

Aranea almost laughs aloud when she realizes it as she helps you up after knocking a hobgoblin off of you. She lets her hand linger in yours a little longer than necessary and your eyes go so impossibly wide, mouth hanging open, that she thinks you might have been seriously hurt. In an instant, that haughty mage is gone and she’s holding a fool.

She couldn’t place it before because there’s no short supply of ego among mercenaries, but that quirkiness of yours, that “mage magnetism” as she calls it in her head, is nothing more than pure, unadulterated awkwardness. It’s hilarious.

Aranea watches intently as you handle that staff of yours like it's an extension of your arm. How you keep your weight balanced at all times -- grounded, she realizes, in preparation to dodge daemons agilely. And you look confident. Not awkward. She watches every time you turn on your heel with your jacket spreading out around you like you’re bathed in ink, bringing magic either out of the end of that twisted looking staff or the tips of your fingers -- sometimes a snap of two fingers, sometimes they’re all splayed out like you’re reaching for something...

And she finds herself wondering, as you weave a spell of lightning with those twitching fingers, just how skilled you are with your clever hands. When she says this without an ounce of shame or jest, you choke on your own spit. The awkwardness is back.

“I’m sorry?” You give her an unsure smile, attempting to save face. “What was that?”

The feeling of three pairs of eyes on you makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. The guys are watching, though they’re a bit of a distance away. You’d just slid to the woman’s aid on your knees, zapping a skeleton as you went. Then you’d hopped up and iced a crème brûlée before she shattered the ice sculpture to pieces without missing a beat. And honestly? Aranea has to admit to herself that she quite liked the sight of you on your knees.

“I said that I wonder what else you can do with those wicked little fingers of yours,” Aranea quips.

You dust a bit of dirt off of your knees to distract yourself from those intense green eyes. “Make cake,” you finally say with a shrug and the mercenary huffs a barely audible laugh through her nose.

The merc narrows her eyes at you. “Y’know, I’ve heard of you before -- not just your family, but you. (y/n) Iovita.” She shakes her head, wisps of silvery hair moving gently. “I know a few people who would pay good money to have you."

"That’s-” You pause to assess her, squinting your eyes and smirking, “Are we still talking about mercenary work, or...?"

Your brazen comment takes her off guard but she doesn’t show an ounce of it. She looks you up and down, setting you on fire with her hooded gaze before drawling, "A few things, now that I think about it. You cut a nice figure in black."

“Well,” you clear your throat, “nice to know I can market myself.”

She isn’t easily flustered by your crude deflection, cherry red lips curling up into a smirk. “You know that’s not what I meant.” She crosses her arms and shifts her weight onto her right leg before remarking, “But I’d still like to buy some of your time.”

“Oh?”

“What do you eat?”

Behind you, you hear Noct snort and murmur to the others, “If they list everything, we’ll be here all day.”

Prompto hushes him, fixated on what’s unfolding before him. He can hardly believe it! (y/n) has game? He’s wondering how the hell you’re so damn smooth. First Cindy, then Coctura, and now Aranea? You’re a regular lady-killer like Gladio said... Except that’s not what it is at all.

The mercenary nearly gave you an impromptu lobotomy the last time you two met. You aren’t flirting, really. You’re on your guard. Well... except that’s slowly becoming untrue. Because this banter? You’re living for it. Aranea Highwind is allowing you to be a little conniving troll and she seems to be enjoying it.

“Anything,” you reply tightly, wanting so bad to turn around and threaten Noct for throwing you off your groove.

Her lips twitch. “Perfect.”

Wait. Is this a date? Did you just get asked out on a date? Did you just let yourself get asked out on a real date? You’re excited and anxious in equal measure. Because, in truth, you’ve never been on a date before. So you’re kinda feeling like screaming and jumping for joy and you’re kinda feeling like puking.

You pause before drawling uncomfortably, “So...”

“So...?” Aranea mimics, eyes glinting. You’re too damn amusing for her. She didn’t expect you to be so peculiar with this odd brand of quirky, awkward charm. She’d built you up in her head as some arrogant, aloof Spire mage when in fact you’re the exact opposite. What a treat.

“What time should I pick you up on my boss-ass scooter?”

Aranea laughs before she can stop herself. Teeth capture her bottom lip as she narrows her eyes at you and snaps back, “I’ll be the one doing the pickin’ up, mage.”

Well, you don’t expect that to happen in her personal imperial-grade airship with the others in tow. After you get the mythril, she just shuttles you all to Lestallum where chaos ensues because of some daemons. You’re about to disembark with the others (Prompto keeps shooting you and Aranea “stealthy” looks) when she stops you.

A strong hand rests on your shoulder, keeping you from following the others just as Aranea says, “Hey, Iovita. Hold up.”

You do as told, telling the others to go on ahead without even looking at them. For a moment, you and Aranea just look at each other. She’s assessing you, measuring you up a few times in just a few short seconds. You’re freaking out and pretending to keep eye contact when in reality you’re staring at her left eyebrow.

Finally, mercifully, the mercenary says, “Give me your phone. I’ll call you and set up a time to go after some daemons.”

“Wait,” you screw up your face even as you eagerly get out your phone to do as you’re told, “so, our date is gonna be a daemon hunt?"

Aranea snatches your phone from your hands and texts herself from it before snarking, “What? That too intense for you, mage?”

You huff, stuffing your phone back into your pocket, “Hell no. It’s just a little...”

Green eyes pin you. “A little what?”

Mouth goes dry under her gaze and you reply at length, “A little... gritty? Not romantic?”

The mercenary lowers her gaze to your chest, then lower to your abdomen, lower, lower... before flicking her eyes right back up to stare you down. "If you worked under me, we'd need to outfit you better."

You’re thrown off by how she totally dodges what you just said. But you’re feeling a little too flustered to call her out on it. Instead, you query, voice a bit tremulous though still being cheeky, "Oh? What would you want to see me in?"

"A pointy hat," she shoots back sarcastically and punches your shoulder, "and some armor."

“Ow!” You yelp, grabbing your poor shoulder.

She narrows her eyes and crosses her arms. “Next time, don’t say things like that to me unless you’re gonna put your money where your mouth is.”

You narrow your eyes right back before disembarking. Throwing her a look over your shoulder, you snark, “Maybe I was gonna.”

Chapter Text

Part 2

How do you want to play this? You've asked yourself this several times: in the middle of battle, when you really shouldn’t; hands stilling, losing your train of thought as you teach Noctis about some virulent poison. Pursuing someone like Aranea Highwind leaves you feeling dizzy and out of your depth. A contact high just from hearing her name. And that's all you've heard.

She hasn't followed up on that promise of a date in almost two weeks. Hasn't called or texted despite getting your number. Frustration has been a familiar feeling to you these past few days. To say you’re distracted would be the understatement of the century. Which is why you ask yourself how you’re going to play this. Because this is a game.

Except it isn’t.

Aranea Highwind isn’t in the business of playing mind games. She plays it straight. She isn’t intentionally stringing you along. But she has a lot to do, a lot to think about. Leaving the Empire? That little thought has taken root over these last few jobs with the Empire. Dealing with their daemon obsession has been off-putting. Yet she overheard the chancellor talking about recruiting you as if it were a very real possibility...

“A bit of patience will pay off splendidly. The Empire will have itself the blessing of Ramuh himself in (y/n) Iovita before the year ends,” he'd claimed.

And she wonders. And she picks up the phone before you can engage in the mind games that were part of daily Spire living. She isn’t some upper-middle-class socialite dawdling in magic. She wasn’t born into one of the many ridiculously wealthy and powerful families whose offspring you’re accustomed to dancing circles around. She’s not messing around. So, neither should you.

When you get the call, her voice makes your heart skip a beat with just a few abrupt words: “This Saturday at nightfall. I’ll find you.” And you aren’t sure what to do. This is your first actual date. Too embarrassed to admit this fact to the two guys who think you’re a player (let’s be real, Iggy and Gladio aren’t fooled) you call Drusa.

“What do I do?”

The older woman pauses, still digesting the avalanche of information you sprung on her the moment she answered. You're dating a mercenary? When did that happen?  “Just dress nice and be yourself, dear. That’s how you won this Aranea woman over in the first place, right? You were your charming self. Oh, I always knew you would be a heartbreaker once you got out into the real world... either intentionally or not.”

“Hardly,” you snort, a bit flushed at the flattery. Or is it flattery? “But thank you, Drusa.” Thanks for the information that you don’t use.

Because while you fully intend on being your usual self, you botch the rest. Hanging around Noctis has lowered some of your standards for apparel as did your Vine debut which made going incognito a necessity. So while you would normally don your Crownsguard fatigues, you’re in jeans, sneakers, and a-

"Nice sweater," Aranea sneers.

You and the merc both internally cringe for very different reasons. She’s playing it too cool, so cool that she nearly turns you to ice. Usually, people find her acerbic wit off-putting. She hopes she didn’t just ruin this date before it even started with her harsh tone. But you know she's being facetious. Bottom lip pouts out as you put your hands on your hips, having your Moogle sweater on full display.

"Thanks. An admirer made it for me," you reply snootily, nose stuck up in the air. You never had an admirer before meeting Prompto Argentum and now you have one in Iris Amicitia -- the maker of the sweater. But it’s a little chilly and you adore the young Amicitia, so you threw on the sweater without really thinking. But, boy, you should’ve thought.

‘Cause it’s a little childish looking, to be honest. The whole thing is sky blue with a goofy looking Moogle smack in the center, taking up almost the entirety of the front. Iris had made it for you when you got sick after a cold, nighttime hunt. And the way you gushed over it nearly had the girl’s face on fire. Despite the sentimentality, despite the cuteness... It’s not date-wear. Hell, Aranea is dressed to the nines as per usual.

That maroon armor of hers is spick and span -- you almost mistake it for being new. Her ash-colored hair is elegantly swept back and... has she always worn lipstick? Subconsciously, you f eel for the tube of chapstick in your back pocket. If it weren’t for the armor, you’d almost forget you two were daemon hunting.

Aranea drawls, snapping you out of your musings, “An admirer?”

“Is that so hard to believe?”

Like rubber, the mage bounces right back with that haughtiness Aranea finds so damn funny. Green eyes glimmer in amusement, razing over the sweater before resting on your face. "Do you have a lot of those?"

"Admirers? Hell no," you snort and she appreciates the admission... and the self-deprecating laugh that rings through the silent night shortly after. Gods, why does she like your laugh so much? Why does she like this dorky mage so much?

Little do you know that you have an admirer in Aranea Highwind. She’d contributed to the astronomical number of loops your Vine performance got; laughing at how your awkward ass threw up a peace sign in tandem with your cup of coffee when you got ambushed at a gas station by a fan of the infamous Iovita clan and how the Vine cut off right as you accidentally tilted the cup and had black coffee scalding your fingers with a: “Oh, fu-!”

Pale green eyes alight on your staff and she gives you one of those sinful smirks that you haven’t been able to stop thinking about for days. “I see you’re ready for a fight even if your sweater says you’re ready for your first day of pre-school. Let’s go.”

After you finish gawking at her back, you pick up your dignity and hurry on her heels. The hotel in Old Lestallum is at your back so you don’t see Prom and Noct peering through the blinds at you. Prompto had called Noct over when Aranea first approached you, having rounded the corner from the side of the hotel to sneak up on you as you sat on a bench outside.

“I think Aranea actually likes them,” Prom breathes, as if you two might hear him.

Noct watches you go thoughtfully. “Yeah.”

Curious, you look around at everything as you follow the mercenary. Once you’re out of the small town, there’s no sign of her airship or a car or anything. Are you two really going to hoof it the entire time? Though you sigh and swear under your breath, you’re grateful that you’re wearing good shoes. And you’re a little relieved that she doesn’t try to make small talk with your socially inept self. But once the silence drags on for long enough to make you uneasy and when nothing has happened for a solid five minutes, you pipe up, “I have a question.”

A flash of green, a quick glance over her shoulder at the mage that struts behind her. “Shoot. And would it kill you to walk next to me?” Aranea grins at your startled expression. “I wanna be able to look at that sweater easier.”

Gods, she’s such a sarcastic ass. You flush and pick up your pace to match hers. After a moment of regretting wearing this sweater that traps so much damn body heat, you ask, “Is there gonna be food?”

She sighs, “Yes. There’ll be food after.”

“What kind?”

“The kind you eat.”

A none too subtle way of telling you to shut up about the food. So, with nothing else to talk about, you hazard an attempt at that most dreaded of interactions: Small talk. And you might as well, right? This is a date after all... Or is it? You can’t recall any film where hunting was a date. Unless Aranea is one of those thrill-seekers...

Arms swing listlessly at your sides, making your bare hands turn cold and clammy from the cool night air. Unbeknownst to you, it also solidifies that childish image created by the sweater. Dirt and sediment crunch beneath the heel of your shoe. So, what makes this different from a hunt? By this standard, I’m dating four men.”

Snarky right out of the gate. Aranea appreciates it. That over-inflated ego of yours is what caught her attention, after all. But it’s your charmingly awkward personality that really reeled her in. So, she isn’t annoyed in the slightest even though she scoffs, “Fair enough. For each daemon you kill, I’ll-”

“Give me a kiss?” At her stony expression, you shrug and joke, “I’ll settle for the ones of the air variety, so you know.”

“If you can kill five daemons on your own, I’ll give you a kiss,” she concedes, hiding a smirk. The effortless way that she brandishes her spear makes your step falter. Though it’s not like she’s going to kill you, you still grow a bit wary at the sight of that spear that had nearly lobotomized you the last time you were on the wrong end of it.

Five?” You balk, totally aghast, and picking up your pace once more. Just to look like you’re on the same page since you’ve no idea why she’s gearing up now, you slide your staff off of your back and carry it in hand. “Where’d that number come from? Why not-?”

“Five daemons.” When you open your mouth to continue arguing, she stresses, poking your forehead so hard that you stumble to the side, “Five. Daemons. You hear me, Iovita?”

“Oh, fine,” you gripe, rubbing at the spot on your forehead. “And, so you know, it can still be an air-kiss or one of those quick cheek ones you give to an aunt.”

All of that sarcasm and posturing does wonders. The particular brand of magic that you utilize is damning and destructive. Maybe you’re showboating? The armor of ice that you don certainly hints at showboating... As does the guardian of stone that you form from the ground that you walk on.

Funny how a desperate attempt at impressing Aranea is what makes you do all sorts of magic you’ve barely practiced. Hell, the first “stone guardian” you ever made was a foot tall and fell apart in the rain because it was made of too much dirt. You’d cried about the thing’s demise even though it wasn’t even sentient.

“What the hell was that thing?” Aranea asks, barely breaking a sweat after going toe-to-toe with a couple of skeletons. Skeletons. Yes, you creating a stone guardian was a bit of an overreaction to seeing a creepy-ass winged skeleton shuffling over to you like it was part of a greaser gang.

Eyes dance over the golem that settles back into the earth, hunching into itself to become a boulder once more. “Um... an enchanted boulder.”

“Impressive, Iovita.”

You preen. “Why, thank you very much, Highwind.”

Green eyes flash, that cherry mouth pulls down into a skeptical frown. “But I’m not really surprised, actually. The chancellor seems to think you’re a strong mage.”

A startled blink. You play it off like it’s sweat that dripped in your eye even though you aren’t sweating. “Does he now? How flattering.”

“What’s your story with him? He seems to know a lot about you, which is pretty interesting considering the Spire basically had everything about you scrubbed off the face of the world.” And Aranea would know a lot about that. She did a hell of a lot of research on you... or tried to.

“The truth?” A labored sigh escapes you. Footsteps are smothered by dirt as you continue onward in the search for more daemons. With Aranea at your back, you admit, “He’s a childhood friend.”

“Hm. A childhood friend who wants you to work for the Niffs.”

“Imagine that. We could be coworkers.” The empty smirk that you throw her way over your shoulder, the light in your eyes subdued, good-humor nonexistent, has Aranea wanting to push the subject. “I wonder if they have a policy against workplace romances?”

A gauntleted hand clamps down on your shoulder, forcing you to stop mid-step. “What’s your endgame, Iovita? Are you actually going to leave your prince and go work for his enemy?”

Wicked eyes survey her coolly a moment before you answer, “Though you fascinate me to no end, my plans are between me and my royal charge.”

Aranea releases you. Gauging by the offense that streaked across your face, she can assume that you aren’t switching sides. But since you didn't outright deny it, you might be going to work for the Empire? Very interesting. You continue to interest the mercenary more and more. The mage who fancies themselves a potential spy? How cute. However, she can’t help the little flicker of concern that stirs in the back of her mind.

Though you’re arrogant and act like you could take on the world, she wonders about your safety. Childhood friend or not, she doesn’t think the chancellor is the type to take kindly to betrayal or games. However, this is hardly a conversation for a first date.

Aranea curses herself for letting her curiosity steer this excursion in the wrong direction. But if her probing bothered you, you don’t let it show. You’re back to singing your own praises and showing off in no time. And Aranea stifles snorts and chuckles at everything you do, especially when you do the cringiest thing ever: You give yourself a self-five when she leaves you hanging after taking down three flans with just one spell.

“And that,” you dust your hands off on your thighs, totally accomplished and proud of yourself, “makes five.”

The smirk on her face reaches her eyes. Looking totally uninterested, the merc sighs, “Hmph. All right, Iovita. C’mere.”

“Ooh. How romantic,” you tease though butterflies have invaded your stomach. Heart hammers against your chest even as you swagger on over toward her. “C’mere? You woo me, Ara.”

Aranea tries not to flush at the nickname. When the hell did you start calling her that? She scowls and snaps, “Do you want it or not? ‘Cause I’ll gladly give you a smack instead, mage.”

You snort, fan yourself like you’re too warm (and you are actually too warm), “Wow. You’re making me feel all tingly-”

One arm wraps around your waist to pull you into her once you’re within reach and those red lips crash against yours. Fingers instinctively wind their way into her hair, tugging her closer. Her arm tightens its grip, having you flush against her. A gauntleted hand grabs the back of your neck, controlling every aspect of the kiss until you graze your teeth against her bottom lip.

She pulls back to sear you with that pale green gaze. Aranea savors the moment, the sight of you. Those wide eyes, so starstruck and fascinated with just the faintest haze of lust. The way your lips glisten under starlight, quiver ever so slightly. How your warm body feels pressed completely against hers, so needy. A smirk quirks her lips. The way you swallow is audible. She knows you’ll remember this moment as vividly as she will.

Good.

Just as the mercenary dips her head down and presses a scalding kiss to your neck that has you rolling your head back with a sigh, the earth shifts and you nearly bring the both of you crashing to the ground as you stumble. Aranea is alert and shifting into a battle stance before the iron giant has even started pulling itself up into the world.

“Oh, come on!” You whine when she lets you go. “We should’ve put a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door.”

Ara snorts and cuts her eyes to you. “Let’s just get this over with.”

“I hate iron giants,” you grumble, readying your staff.

“I’ll have that put on a shirt for you, mage. Now, shut up and get to work.”

And thus you get back to work. You work overtime to erect stone walls between Aranea and the daemon, flinging chunks of earth at it when it raises up its cleaver to strike. Perhaps it starts to grow irritated with how often you make it stumble, with how frequently you interrupt its attacks? Because before you know it, the spotlight is on you and you’re center stage.

You’re battered and bruised but it isn’t from the daemon. Having had to fling yourself out of the way of devastating attacks, all of your injuries are self-inflicted. Palms are skinned when you fall to your knees, bathed in sweat and panting heavily. “I don’t think I can do this for much longer,” you warn Aranea.

Green eyes snap to you and she twirls her spear. "You're handling yourself fi-"

A loud yawn of metal being bent interrupts her. Once more, the earth shifts and you’re sent on your stomach from the aftershock of a massive hand colliding with the ground. Really, you don’t want to do it, but you look over your shoulder anyway. A curse is immediately spat from your lips just as Aranea swears.

A red giant.

The seriousness of the situation isn’t lost on Aranea. One look at your exhausted self and she’s ordering, "Get yourself out of here!"

That gets you rejuvenated. Ignoring how your palms throb and how your joints ache, you lurch to your feet and brandish your staff once more. The merc practically rolls her eyes into the back of her head at your stubbornness. What? Did she say the magic words to recharge your damn batteries? Why won’t you just go?

“Like hell, I will!” You shout, answering her unspoken question.

She growls, “Suit yourself. But don’t blame me when you die.”

“Wait. If I’m dead, how can I-?” That question goes unfinished because she shoves you out of the way of the red giant’s blade and you’re eating dirt. Between coughing up dirt clots, you serve as the bane of the daemons’ existence; for each time they use gravity, you’re dispelling it with force, and each time they strike out at the mercenary, you’re quite literally ripping the world out from under them.

“Can we wrap this up? I don’t want to further destroy the ecosystem!” You’re being a sarcastic little troll but you’re exhausted. It’s not that your magic wears you out, but it’s... actually kind of embarrassing. Yes, you’re worn out from dodging and weaving, but as a scholar who had to stick to a strict schedule, you’re accustomed to sleeping early. And it’s late. And you’re tired.

There’s no way you’ll ever tell Aranea that her romantic, late-night dates are too late for you.

Ara merely gives you a grunt in response for your snark. The iron giant falls quickly, already worn down by the mercenary. All that’s left is the red giant which shares the same fascination with you as the other daemon. After this fight, you’ll be able to put “professional distraction” on your résumé. Maybe after “survived a wicked backhand from a red giant”?  Because one misstep and a rolled ankle later and that’s exactly what you get.

The flat end of the sword smacks into you. It’s an instant knockout. One second you see the blade coming for you and the next everything is black. You don’t even hear Aranea yell your name. You don’t feel how your body rolls along the ground before stopping face-down. For a split-second, Aranea Highwind thinks you’re dead.

The hardened mercenary doesn’t recall the rest of the fight with the daemon. She doesn’t remember anything through a haze of red. All she can remember is suddenly having you in her arms. Blood drips down from your nose, your bottom lip is busted open, and your face is already starting to swell up and bruise, particularly around your eyes. You look like you’ve been in a car wreck.

Breathless, she urges you, “(y/n)! Wake up!”

For a long, agonizing minute, you’re unresponsive. But then your brow furrows as you become aware of the acute pain in your head. Eyes strain to open, the stars above seeming blurry and far  too bright before focusing. You look around once you regain consciousness, gaze finding the woman who holds you. “Ara-Aranea?"

She sighs in relief -- does it so softly that you don’t even hear her. "I'm here."

A shaky hand reaches up, fingertips grazing her jaw. That hint of contact has the mercenary’s blood on fire. It’s a battle to not lean into your touch. Aranea swallows hard, observes the way your eyelids flutter. Though you seem fine and fairly lucid, she’ll need to check you for a concussion once you’re sat upright. That was one hell of a hit.

"I thought...” you trail off pathetically, hand falling away from her.

“You thought what?” She draws you nearer, cradling you in her arms; her fragile, stupid, headstrong mage.

“I thought..."

Okay, she was worried at first but now she’s getting a little impatient. "Spit it out, Iovita."

Doleful eyes look up at her, blink once. The moment you pout out your bottom lip, Aranea knows you’re perfectly fine and that you’re going to piss her off. "I thought you said there was gonna be food."

She drops you.

Chapter Text

Part 3

Aranea would be lying to herself if she said she didn’t feel guilty about getting you injured. She feels guilty as hell. The annoying mage got banged up trying to rescue her, after all... Imagine that, some glass-cannon mage trying to rescue a dragoon? Ara snorts into her coffee just thinking about it, a small smile on her lips. You must think yourself quite the dashing one and perhaps you are. But sometimes she thinks you’re purposefully obnoxious.

Like now, with you sitting across from her in a diner, eating an egg salad sandwich with your face all busted up. All cocksure, you’d refused to use a health potion. Oh, correction, you’d refused to “waste” a health potion on “superficial” wounds. That alone told the merc that you probably suffered brain damage from that tremendous hit. But the older woman couldn’t get the foolishly ascetic mage to part with a single health potion.

By the Six, how she wanted to smack the back of your damn head when she spied not one but five health potions in that ugly-ass bag of yours. With endearingly upturned eyes (and your left eye full of blood from a busted vessel), you’d innocently informed her that they were homemade and crafted specifically for her and your friends, not for you to use. Did Aranea hate that that made her blush? Yes. And she wanted to smack you again.

But she refrained, as she’ll find herself doing so very often in this unconventional relationship that she was under the impression wouldn’t even become a relationship. To the mercenary who technically still works for the Niffs and who is writing this date off as “surveillance” work, like the chancellor had been harping on her to do, this little dalliance with (y/n) Iovita is just that: A dalliance. Nothing serious.

It might just be a daemon hunt and then a sandwich that makes her not want to kiss you again. It might just be hookups from time to time. She tells herself that, yet she’d gone out of her way to find a clinic that was open so late at night to get you checked out. No concussion (Aranea nearly gave you one when you shot her a haughty look after you’d been cleared) but your blood pressure was low.

“Have you skipped a meal?” The doc had wondered and Aranea nearly smacked her for giving you more fodder to whine about the date. Dammit if you don’t have a way of reeling people in.

Such a strange trait for you to have. There’s nothing particularly charming about you. No offense. It’s more of an... overall type of allure. For instance, they don’t even sell egg salad sandwiches here in this damn diner and yet here you are, eating that monstrosity of a food just ‘cause you asked the cook if he knew how to make one. You didn’t demand it. You weren’t rude. All you did was smile shyly and blink your eyes and bam!, you had an egg salad sandwich. The cook seemed to preen over your compliments.

Aranea isn’t sure if she even gets it, whatever “it” is. That magnetism might’ve turned her head, but it was your magical prowess that really raised her eyebrow and piqued her interest. This quality of yours, however, is... Icing on the cake, maybe? The mercenary thinks it’s funny as hell, mostly because she knows how godsdamned awkward you are. For people to fall at your feet like you’re some sort of charmer? The merc is getting dinner and a show, for a certainty.

You’re entertaining, that’s all. Like a clown but not as creepy. Or a kitten with tape stuck to the bottom of its paw. So thinks Aranea.

Green eyes watch as you poke at the cut on your lip with your tongue before sipping your soda. All of your facial wounds are beginning to clot, leaving them looking inflamed. They’re very itchy and the mercenary has had to scold you many times already to keep from scratching or picking at them. There are about five in total: One splitting your bottom lip, one on your chin, and the other three are scattered on your cheeks and nose.

Gods, one date and she gets Prince Charming’s mage all busted up.

But if you’re upset with this turn of events, you don’t do or say anything to suggest it. In fact, when you aren’t all awkwardly quiet, you’re suggesting other places that the two of you can go the next time you go out. The quarry of all locations is brought up to entice the dragoon with money and battle. What a presumptuous mage. And when you aren’t talking about future date locales, you’re chatting away about books and video games.

“I keep telling Noct that my phone isn’t top of the line, so it can’t play King’s Knight, but he keeps acting like I’m just being difficult,” you sigh, bending your straw between your fingers. “Besides, truth be told I’m kinda glad of it. The thing takes too much data to download and I don’t want to admit to him that I’m currently running on fumes storage-wise ‘cause I’ve been documenting the plants and animals of each region. I know it’s all been done before, but it’s fun.”

“You could document the daemons, too,” Ara suggests for no particular reason, stirring some sugar into her coffee when the waitress comes by to top it off.

The way your face brightens makes her smirk. “You’re right! I can’t really rely on Prompto to get the shots that I want since I don’t want to make him feel like I’m stomping all over his creative spirit or trying to dictate what he does... That’s a good idea. Thanks, Aranea.”

The fact that she addresses what you’re saying now as opposed to joining in the conversation when you were suggesting date ideas is your cue to pump the brakes and flip this car in reverse. Though not exactly an expert in social interactions, you know enough to puzzle out when someone isn’t interested. The last thing you want to do is come across like a massive asshole. Dammit if you wish she’d want to date you, though.

It’s a little warm here in the diner. The heat comes from the friers which are churning out a massive amount of fries despite the fact that it’s just you and Ara here. Apparently (‘cause you had to ask), this Crow’s Nest gets a lot of hunters coming through the door at this late hour and they always order fries. It’s like some sort of ritual. Who knew the one thing people craved after killing a bunch of daemons was fries? Can’t really judge them, though. You got backhanded by a daemon and then had the strangest craving for an egg salad sandwich, of all things.

Fluorescent lights flicker, a low hum that you can hear if you concentrate hard enough. There are dead insects in the lights up above, their corpses silhouetted. It’s a common sight. That’s the only reason why you didn’t pull a face or suggest eating anywhere else. Takka’s is probably the only roadside diner you’ve been to that doesn’t succumb to such lapses in hygiene.

Soda is sipped in earnest. It’s a little on the flat side and a touch too sweet, but you’re not complaining. After that fight, you were famished and in hardly any position to get picky about your food. Speaking of food, you’re in awe over the fact that Aranea doesn’t eat. She sips her coffee, placing a vibrant lipstick stain on the white porcelain, and that’s all. Apparently, she eats before a hunt. Wish she’d told you that before.

Fingers drum on your thigh beneath the table. There’s an electronic chime. Eyes flicker down to your phone which reads 1:15 a.m. just as five sweaty hunters enter the diner. You and Ara are given a cursory glance before the hunters make a beeline for a booth toward the front of the establishment. Now that you no longer have the benefit of privacy and the awkward silences are carrying on for worrying periods of time, you think it’s time to go.

It’s difficult not to feel disappointed in how things turned out, not that you blame someone like Aranea Highwind for finding you uninteresting. Hiding a frown, you lament your bookishness and wonder how you lucked out in getting the mercenary to go out with you in the first place. Such self-flagellation is both unbecoming and unnecessary. While you’re thinking you didn’t hit it off with Aranea, the merc is thinking this date went well, considering the whole daemon screw up.

“So, this has been really fun but it’s getting kinda late,” you admit, mouth charmingly full of egg. A wry smile is shot your companion’s way when you find yourself back under that unrelenting green gaze. Gods, your face hurts. “Thank you for the sandwich.”

Leaning back in the booth, Aranea arches one fine eyebrow and bluntly questions, “Who said I was paying?”

You stare at her. “Thank you for the sandwich.”

Ara snorts and sips her coffee once more, hiding her smirk behind that off-white porcelain. “Uh- huh. No problem, mage.”

Honestly, she’s just giving you a hard time. The merc fully intended on buying your meal after asking you out and then accidentally being the reason why you got backhanded into oblivion. The older woman glances around the diner, ever alert and aware of her surroundings. When she catches the proprietor’s eye, she waves him over for the bill.

Part of her wants to be irritated with you for ordering something that’s 100% a date killer. The older woman had every intention of walking you across the street back to your motel and giving you a kiss goodnight. But you’ve got two things working against you: Egg salad and a split lip. Such a shame. She thought you were a pretty good kisser, too.

The air is balmy and the scant streetlights of Old Lestallum have soft, orange halos around them. You don’t know it, but Noct and Prom haven’t slept a wink in anticipation of your arrival. You’ve been gone for hours (“Do you know what two people can do in hours?” Prom had asked, all scandalized, only to get a slow, deliberate blink from his best friend.) and you’re going to have a lot of explaining to do once everyone takes a gander at your busted up mug. You’ll have a hell of a time convincing Prompto that you aren’t into “weird stuff.”

But in the meantime, you briefly enjoy the nighttime sights and sounds with Aranea. She’s relatively quiet company, you’ve noticed. No room for mindless chatter, everything she says has a purpose and a meaning. It’s... pretty intimidating when you think about it. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t like you? That realization makes you scowl up at the stars. Six, the one time you decide to get out of your comfort zone to talk more than you usually do and it has the opposite effect of what you wanted.

Honestly, Aranea actually didn’t mind how talkative you were in the diner. Your easy chatter was actually kinda soothing in its own bizarre way and she learned a thing or two about alchemy, which she never would’ve gone out of her way to learn about. The mercenary finds that she quite enjoys your company. She casts you a sidelong glance as the two of you make your way across the lonesome, humidity-slickened street.

Blood dots the misshapen moogle on your sweater, looking black in the night. She wonders if those things really are good luck, considering the ordeal you went through. Suppose they are... That blow might’ve killed anyone else. It would’ve taken just the slightest change in the position of your head when you were hit and when you fell for there to be a drastically different outcome for you. That makes her stomach twist. You’re such a fool.

The two of you stand outside of the motel room door. It’s awkward. As awkward as things have been since you took that beating, anyway. Clearing your throat, you glance off to the side at a random parked car and address it rather than Aranea. “So...”

And here it goes. Like a hawk, Aranea Highwind watches the nuance in the expression on your face. There’s a crease between your eyebrows, a slight pout to your bottom lip. You’re as shifty-eyed as ever but still trying to play at being aloof. The mercenary notices how stiff your shoulders are and crosses her arms, which only makes your rigid posture worse. What happened to that haughty mage from earlier? Gods, you’ve been acting weird ever since you sat down in the diner.

Aranea doesn’t know that you think that she finds you boring or childish. She’s not a mind reader, after all, and she’d scoff if she knew you jumped to such a conclusion. Back at the diner, she was only so silent because she’s not really sure what to do about you. Sure, you’re cute. But she’s technically supposed to be doing surveillance work on you and reporting back to her weird-ass employer. Aranea doesn’t have time for distractions, no matter how funny or charming she may find them to be.

Still, she’d like to see where this goes all the same...

Which is why she finds herself so bluntly informing you, “I’ll see you next Saturday.” Does she savor the way your face goes blank before it lights up? Maybe. Does she have to fight off a smirk when you clumsily attempt to hide the way your face lights up? Possibly. Is she going to make it her goal every time you two see each other to make you make as many embarrassing expressions as possible? Perhaps.

But then you blink and wonder with those eyes all imploring, “Do you... have the time for me?”

For some reason, her stomach does things that she threatens it not to do. It twists and churns, goes all hot and cold at the same time. For a moment, she’s that insipid diner cook who got all abashed by you complimenting his “cooking prowess” based off of one egg salad sandwich that Ara thought looked remarkably subpar. The mercenary is suddenly all jelly legs and frazzled nerves and one racing heart. What the hell is that about?

Cheeks so suddenly and infuriatingly aflame, Aranea Highwind scoffs harshly and looks away from you, feeling hot in the mild, midnight air. “Don’t act all coy about it. I’ll make time for you.”

And the grin on your face at her response makes Aranea’s bizarre reaction to your doe-eyes about a million times worse. Things are about to get interesting.

Chapter Text

Dating Aranea Highwind

  • She doesn’t really like texting too much. It’s too inefficient and impersonal (plus, she just wants an excuse to hear your voice for a moment). And gods save you if you spam-text her. Expect brief and direct phone calls. None of that "No, you hang up!" nonsense. She's a busy woman. She'll hang up on you and make fun of you for it later. "Are you a kid, or what?"
  • She’ll plan the dates. I mean, you can try and get a word in edgewise but you should prepare to be a passenger. However, she's not totally opposed to suggestions. Just be prepared to sell her on them. Flirty glances and sly smirks usually do the trick. Puppy eyes, too. Oh, and her one weakness: "Hey, Ara? I'd be really happy if..."
  • The dates are typically... not typical. Don't expect movies, quiet dinners, or "corny crap." Dates are memorable and exciting. Think hunts and exploring places you've never been to before. She wants the date to actually be engaging. They tend to feel effortless even though she puts a lot of thought into them.
  • If you're soft, you might want to tell her to ease up on the playful punches. She's totally the puncher, the smacker, the elbower. It's all for skinship without being too sappy. Hold her hand if you want her to kiss your wrist along your pulse before unceremoniously dropping your hand as if nothing happened.
  • Totally the type to smack your butt in public if you say or do anything she likes. Will definitely abstain if you're uncomfortable with it and if you ask her not to. It will turn into laughably awkward pats on the back. You can see her physically restrain herself. She even blushes a little and mumbles a curse to herself.
  • Endearing nicknames will earn you a roll of those green eyes and a scoff. Plus some other things... Best be prepared for some teasing nicknames, yourself (e.g. Four-Eyes, Freckles, Shortcake, Beanstalk, Babyface, Bookworm, Nerd, You... pretty much any defining features or traits will be made into a pet name).
  • She will quite literally fight someone for you, especially if your feelings are easily hurt. No mercy. Same goes with getting sick. If she could, she would throat-punch the flu for you. Instead, she'll settle for dropping by your place with soup and some of her acerbic wit. "Ugh. You better not get me sick... c'mere."
  • She'll appreciate you going out of your comfort zone for her but it's not expected and definitely not required. The relationship is always at your pace. She goes to great lengths to make sure you're comfortable in the middle of jabbing her elbow into your ribs if/when you make a lame joke.
  • Quick, stolen kisses. Expect them on your temple, the corner of your mouth, and on your neck. There's some force behind them; she'll grab your waist or the back of your neck for a bit of leverage, and it's like she always has on a lipstick or tinted lip balm to leave a mark for just such occasions. She picks colors that are impossible to simply rub off. Yes, it's on purpose.
  • Totally steals your clothes. That t-shirt you've been looking for forever? She has it. It smells like you and she can be a bit sentimental. Sometimes she likes a more personal reminder of you when she's out working. Oh, and no. You aren't getting it back. Hide your shirts, hide your socks... 'cause Aranea's stealing all your stuff.
  • When she spends the night, she waits until you wake up before leaving. Or if you're sleeping in too late for her schedule, she'll wake your lazy butt up to tell you she's headed out. If you make her breakfast or ask her to stay with a particularly pathetic expression on your face, prepare to be late to wherever you need to be.
  • You'll have to be the one to say "I love you" first. She'll smirk and drawl, "Yeah, I know," and then a slow, sinful grin will spread across her face, the corners of her eyes crinkling. She won't say it back carelessly. It's only said in heated and private moments; against your neck or your mouth, with it just being the two of you. There's no audience for her love because it's just for you.

Chapter Text

Part 1

The evening is scorching and you curse the sun even though your magic can’t actually curse the sun. Still, a sweaty mage can hope. Especially when your scooter threatens to roll backward and ruin all of your forward progress each time the road slightly inclines. Every bump elicits a swear from you, each drop of sweat that gets in your eyes earns a groan. And then you see it: Sanctuary.

Rather, Hammerhead.

Same thing.

When the blonde mechanic had offered to fix up your scooter any time, despite the challenge it proved, you didn't think you'd need her services so soon. It’s just one wreck after another with you. First Ignis Scientia mowed you down like you were grass and then you rammed right into a dualhorn crossing because you were too busy trying to change the music on your phone (Iggy would be so proud).

Sweat drips down your brow and you wipe it away with the back of your arm. This is murder. Pure and simple murder. Right now you wish Gladio was here so you could guilt him into pushing the scooter for you. But you’re alone. Your lucky self wrecked the scooter while you were on one of your spur of the moment herb hunts after recalling that Takka had mentioned there were Eos green peas in the area.

You’d argued with the others that it wasn’t a far drive from the Three Z’s Motel in Longwythe to Hammerhead, and it wasn’t like the guys were actually doing anything that required you to stand by. Everyone was wiped out from bounty hunting but you just couldn’t get those damn peas out of your head. There’s this old recipe for a burn poultice that Magister Roe had taught you and you’ve been dying to make it. Plus, you’re kinda excited to see how the others will flip when you rub them down with pea paste after they get scorched. Especially Noct.

“What in the world?!”

You hear her well before you see her. The blonde mechanic comes rushing to your aid the second you step foot in the entryway of the garage, your pathetic chocobo-yellow scooter resting heavily against your side. You can't help but notice that she gives you a thorough once-over with those olive green eyes, checking if you're okay before launching into the longest lecture on road safety that you’ve ever been subjected to in your whole damn life.

Behind her, Cid comes ambling over from the depths of the garage. He takes one look at the scooter with its cracked headlight and dented front end, looks at you drenched in sweat, and shakes his head with a huff of a laugh. You swear you hear him murmur something that sounds a lot like, “Dee would be fit to be tied right now,” as he walks away to go and sit on his lounging chair.

To be honest, your mother would probably murder you if she was still around to see this -- or worse, if she found out what led up to the wreck. Maybe the crotchety old man doesn’t give you an earful because his granddaughter is busy burying you alive? Either way, you’re grateful. You don’t need Cid and Cindy both dog-piling on you right now. And you’re sure you’re in for another lecture when Ignis gets his hands on you. Isn’t the wreck in itself punishment enough?

“I promise I’ll be more careful from now on,” you assure Cindy, thoroughly chastened. If you had a tail, it would be tucked between your legs right now.

She humphs, arms crossed and weight shifted into her right leg, “I know you will.”

Damn! Honestly, you didn’t even think Cindy could get pissed. Not that you think about her a lot... Okay... Sure, you've daydreamed about her. You two have spoken at great length a few times when the group needs to gas up or resupply, but not nearly enough for you to screw up and anger her. Mostly it’s just been a give-and-take of revealing personal information; her love of Crown City tech, your love of ancient enchantments, what she does in her limited spare time, what you do in yours.

You think about that slow, easy smile of hers, the way her green eyes glint with humor from beneath the bill of her cap when you get a little too enthused about the nitty gritty details of enchanting-work. And dammit if you don't feel like you burst into flames the second she touches your shoulder. Because she always has to clap you on the shoulder right before you head off back on the road. And you always watch her in your side mirror. And she always watches right back.

"Well,” Cindy interrupts your thoughts, green eyes on the sky, “it's a little late. Sorry, but I won't get to work on 'im 'til mornin'."

"That's fine." You look back at the setting sun before returning your gaze to her. With a jolt, you realize Cid isn’t even sitting outside anymore. Just how long has Cindy been grilling you? But this is a blessing in disguise. Because you aren’t sure you’d be able to ask this if Cid were watching you. You clear your throat, try to look casual, and query innocently, "Since I’m gonna be here overnight -- at the caravan, I mean -- would you like to get a drink with me?"

Olive eyes zero in on you, intense. One eyebrow arches, face impassive. She hums, "Hm?" even though you both know that she heard you. Oh, she heard you perfectly well.

But her non-answer still serves as a wrecking-ball to your glass-house of confidence. You stammer out, "Like soda... or..." eyes drop down to the ground where you toe the cracks in the pavement, unable to look at her as you admit, "I have a bottle of whiskey."

"Is that the reason why you wrecked that poor scooter?" Her tone is sharp but her eyes are teasing. You’d know that if you could muster up the courage to look her in the face.

"No," you respond immediately, defensively. "I wasn't drinking and driving."

"All right, all right," she laughs, secretly loving to see you flustered and not your usual haughty self. "Sure thing, darlin'. Just gimme a sec."

You watch as she heads off behind the garage before you get the whiskey out of the scooter's storage tail. You pause, swirling the amber liquid in the large glass bottle. The crimson and gold label is already peeling and bits of the wax seal on the top has cracked and fallen off.

When you’d left the Spire for the second time, you hadn’t realized that you’d taken your mother’s aged whiskey with you. Part of you wonders if she’d approve of you taking shots from it much the same way she had; after a long day, to celebrate, or to break the ice like now. In truth, she’d probably just be irritated that you swiped it at all (she never approved of your sticky fingers). But better in your hands than stuck in that pit of vipers.

You shoot the guys a group text, saying you'll be staying in Hammerhead for the night and requesting a pickup in the morning. Prompto immediately sends you like a million sad faces, you get a "k" from Noct, thumbs up emoji from Gladio, and a paragraph of scolding and confirmation of pickup from Iggy along with a reminder to eat dinner and sleep well. You text back dutifully: “Yes, mother.”

Cindy comes back from around the garage, sans working gear, dusting her hands off on her denim shorts. Her eyes immediately fly to the large bottle of whiskey in your hand and she fights back a grin. Yeah, the bottle is almost comically large. Gods, you hope she doesn’t think you’re a heavy drinker or anything. To fan away your budding awkwardness, you shrug lazily and suggest, “How about we get some sodas from Takka? It’s pretty much the only way I can drink this stuff.”

The blonde shrugs right back, looking way cooler than you. “All right, hon.”

Somehow, you both wind up on top of the convenience store, facing out towards the open desert. Cindy had suddenly said, as you split your iced sodas with whiskey under Takka’s amused gaze, that she had to show you her favorite spot. You were too busy trying to get the ratio of whiskey and coke just right that you didn’t see how nervous and flushed she looked, fidgeting with the bottom of her yellow jacket. The skilled mechanic had properly composed herself by the time you looked up and nodded your consent.

You spot a voretooth walking around in the desert, looking inky under the cover of darkness, and turn your gaze up to the stars.  The night is beautiful. The air is cool and dry and you can faintly hear music playing from Takka’s Pit Stop. An upbeat tune drifts up as you sneak a peek at Cindy beside you only to find her staring right back. Eyes snap back to the desert in an instant.

Fingers fidget with the straw of your whiskey and coke, the cup nestled between your knees, condensation bleeding through your pants to dampen your skin, feet dangling over the side of the store. "Um... You're really good at what you do," you say lamely, “so I’m sure you’ll have the scooter up and running in no time.”

Cindy chuckles, a soft, breathy sound, "Here I was thinkin' you were as slick as a snake oil salesman. You're a cute lil' thing.” She feigns a look of sudden thought before adding, “Awkward but cute."

You snort, cheeks flushing in indignation. "Gee, thanks."

She laughs, leans toward you to bump you with her shoulder. "It was a compliment! Truth is, I thought you might be kinda sly but over the past few weeks I’ve found that you're..." she trails off, looking at you from the corner of her eye before smirking, "genuinely charmin'."

You note that she hasn't returned to her place since she bumped you, arm still flush against yours. The coolness of the desert melts away and you’re suddenly too warm. "Thanks..." You murmur, bringing your cup up and sipping lightly.

"Why'd you flirt with me?” She suddenly asks, nearly making you choke on your drink. Cindy apologizes quickly before launching right back into it, obviously not all that apologetic. “The first time I fixed your moped, remember? I mean, folks flirt all the time -- sometimes it's just their way of bein' friendly."

With your shoulder, you bump her right back. "For the free chocobo decal, of course." She laughs and you grin. "In truth? To see you blush."

"Really, now..." Cindy trails off, staring out into the desert, green eyes not really seeing.

"Hm? You're radiant when you blush."

A blush stains her cheeks and she tugs down the bill of her cap a bit as she huffs, "There you go, bein' all slick again. Am I gettin' my hopes up for nothin'? Is this the whiskey talkin'?"

"Hopes?" You start, turning to stare wide-eyed at her.

That blush gets darker and she scowls. "Really, now, (y/n)?"

"What?" You ask innocently.

"Is this flirtin' to be friendly or somethin' else altogether?"

You sip your whiskey and soda and return to pretending that the desert is interesting. "Both," you admit after a while.

She hums. "Both?" The mechanic seems to think on that for a moment before replying, "Both works just fine."

All is quiet. The song playing in the diner changes to something more somber. A woman’s voice croons to a jazzy tune. Cindy puts her hand down between you two, fingers curling over the edge of the building. Your hand finds its way on top of hers.

Cindy Aurum is perhaps too smooth for her own good. Or you’re too awkward and she’s overcompensating. She places her drink down beside her and cups your jaw to turn your face toward her, fingers cold and damp from the condensation on the paper cup. It’s a heady contrast, the coolness of her hand and the cold concrete of the building beneath your thighs compared to the warmth of Cindy’s lips.

She smells like oil and whiskey with something sweet under the musk. She tastes like sweet soda and strong alcohol and you're consumed in an instant; lost in her touch, her warmth, her smell, her taste. Fingers wind in her curly blonde hair as one of her hands presses firmly against the small of your back, urging you closer and closer until you're left with no other option but to get on your knees and straddle her lap.

Your knee knocks over her drink and you swear before trying to right it. The mechanic giggles, grabs the hand that’s grasping for the toppled drink, and puts it on her shoulder. Your eyes lock. Her hand is hot against your skin, running up your side, under your shirt. She's bolder than you, surer in her movements. But if she thinks you're clumsy, she doesn't say it.

In fact, she finds it endearing. The way you squirm under her touch, emitting soft gasps that only she can hear. She feels selfish with you. Coveting every sound you make, every bit of flesh she can get her hands on. It's an intense introduction to making out, to say the least. And when you two look back on this moment, her teasing and you blushing indignantly, the lenses in Cindy's nostalgia glasses get just a bit rosier when she finds out she was your first kiss. When she tells the story, to your chagrin, the night sky is suddenly full of fireworks and wild chocobos run in the distance.

Like I said, just a bit rosier.

Chapter Text

Part 2

A strange dance has started and you don’t know where it’s going or how it’ll end. All you know is that you’re living for it. For every single moment. All you know is that every time you stop off at Hammerhead with the guys, your stomach twists and your heart finds its way into your throat where it stays until Cindy calls you over to discuss tune-ups for your scooter; with “tune-ups” being something you very quickly learned was code for “a private chat that inevitably ends in making out behind the garage and whispered assurances that you’ll be safe and that you’ll be back.”

You don’t know who decided to keep the relationship on the down-low. All you know is that you kind of like the secrecy, the sneaking around. But...

Cid is most definitely wise to the shenanigans of you two and you know for a fact that Iggy and Gladio know what’s up because Gladio never ceases to tease you and Iggy never ceases to reprimand Gladio for teasing his fellow advisor. You can feel three pairs of eyes watching you each time you hunch your shoulders and follow Cindy, trying so hard to keep your face from burning.

And it’s a little surprising that Cindy’s grandfather hasn’t taken you aside to “have words.” Then again, you chalk it up to Cid respecting Cindy as an adult and likely knowing you’re totally harmless because of how damn painfully awkward you are each time you sneak off with his granddaughter -- his granddaughter who wears an evil grin each time she strings you along behind her.

It’s not that you’re opposed to one-on-one time with the woman. Not at all! One of the things that drew you to Cindy is how easy she is to talk to. There’s a warmth to her that radiates from the inside out and though you’re awkward as hell, you find that talking with her is effortless. It’s the kissing and heavy petting that has you way out of your depth. But you two have come to a sort of understanding within the past couple of months. You communicate often about your relationship (something Cindy insisted on every time you’d clam up) and consequently, you and the blonde mechanic know a lot about each other.

But maybe she knows more about you than you even know about yourself.

And you two text a lot, too. Mostly just you sending her shots of the scenery since she’s usually too busy to send an obligatory morning text. As well as the occasional:

"Cindy, guiding light of my life... how do you change a tire?"

"Gladio told me to send you nudes. I think I remember that phrase from this one movie but I also immediately think of the weird humanoid oil paintings in Magister Ingrid’s office. (sent image) Anyway here’s a picture of a cat Noct fed in Galdin."

"Look at this wax and the price. Is this guy trying to rip me off?"

Followed by her responding in kind to each of your messages:

"Hon, I showed you how to change a tire last week. (and five minutes later) Wait. Why do you need to change your tire now? What did you do? Put Ignis on. Now."

"(y/n), sweetheart, you almost gave me a heart attack. Also, that’s a real cute cat."

"We sell that wax here way cheaper. Put me on the phone with that storekeeper, will ya?"

You two have an easy rhythm in place already, is the point. You’re basically two people who started dating and then became best friends. Which is why when you pull into Hammerhead behind the Regalia you immediately know something is wrong. You just know it. It’s a feeling that you get in your gut and in your bones -- some indescribable dread mixed with terror. Terror of what? You aren’t even sure. But you’re starting to get a clearer picture when you see the cold look Cindy gives you followed by her effortless rebuff of your greeting.

Yikes.

Ignis and Gladio are immediately aware of the tension but they don’t bother poking or prodding at you for details. When the guys have all settled into the caravan, you decide to test your luck and mosey on over to Cindy like nothing is amiss. You make the sound of your boots clacking against the pavement in the warm evening air louder to make her aware of your presence before resting against the side of the Regalia next to her. After a moment of silence passes, you carefully side-eye her. “Good evening, Cindy,” you greet politely, painfully politely.

Olive eyes flicker over to you but she continues to change out the Regalia’s windshield wipers like she doesn’t have a tense mage right next to her.

You clear your throat loudly, “Uh, yeah... So, you said we should talk out our issues and I’m getting a sneaking suspicion that you’re pissed off with me.”

“I’ll be by the caravan in a minute, (y/n), just leave me be,” Cindy huffs.

But when she sees your concerned expression, the mechanic sighs, glances around, and places a quick kiss on the corner of your mouth, the bill of her hat bumping you in the head. This earns a playful chuckle from her, but she quickly snuffs it out to glower and go back to work. As you saunter on over back to the caravan, you pat yourself on the back for how damn hard you make it for her to stay mad at you.

Oh... You have no idea how wrong you are.

It’s as you’re sitting around the table outside of the caravan, sipping coffee with the guys and talking about your plans for tomorrow, when your sixth sense for trouble starts going off; it’s a sense that you never knew you had until you started dating Cindy (and she’ll quickly say the same damn thing about you, tenfold). You can see trouble walking right up to you guys in a yellow jacket and denim shorts.

Cindy plops herself right down on one of the plastic chairs next to you, leans over, and presses a firm kiss to your cheek with a grin like she wasn’t giving you the cold shoulder not half an hour ago. The chatter around the table immediately stops.

Dammit.

Your cheeks burn like someone just set you on fire. Ignis and Gladio exchange a knowing look and you begin chugging your coffee loudly after you greet Cindy in a voice that’s way too high. In a voice that tries to sound like she didn’t just kiss you in front of everyone. “What’s this all about?” Gladio asks slyly, already knowing the answer but wanting to hear it from the horse’s mouth.

“Oh, we’re goin’ steady,” Cindy replies, casual as can be.

Prompto gasps loudly before slapping his hands down on the table and yelling, “What?!”

It’s the ultimate betrayal in his book. No, he’s surprisingly not all that torn up that you’re dating a woman he was majorly crushing on. He’s feeling betrayed because you didn’t tell him. You’re basically best friends! At least, he secretly calls you his bestie when Noct isn’t around and you’re quick to quip that he’s a massive dork because everyone knows you can have more than one best friend, even a hermit like you.

“Geez,” Noct complains, rubbing his ear, “not so loud.”

“When did this happen, if I may ask?” Ignis queries after he sips his coffee. Though he sounds polite enough, you can see a devious glint in his green eyes and you damn him a million times over in your head.

“Well, it was when they wrecked their scooter for the second time,” Cindy takes off her cap to run her fingers through her hair a moment before replacing it. “I reckon it was about seven in the evenin’ when they asked me if I wanted to have a drink with ‘em. Of course, how could I say no to that face?” She reaches over and pinches your cheek only for you to swat her away. “They’re so cute when they pout.”

You furrow your brow and object, “I didn’t pout.”

“And then they brought out the whiskey-”

Gladio chuckles, “Nice.”

What happens next? Not even your loony ancestor Florus the Seer could’ve foreseen it (even though he totally couldn’t even see the future, the liar). Cindy takes it upon herself to tell the guys, in vivid detail, about the events of that night. And she wears the sweetest look on her face the whole time she digs your grave. Because, no, the guys aren’t going to let you live this down.

“They were so sweet. And they're a hugger, to boot! That's perfect in my book.”

Your eyes are bugging out and the guys definitely look uncomfortable. Well, Gladio looks like he’s about to piss himself laughing. Aghast, you say, “I only grabbed you because I was this close to falling off of the roof of a damn store! Your ‘romantic spot’ was a death trap!”

“The sky lit up with fireworks-”

“What the-? Cindy, no!”

“It was a magical first kiss-”

“Was... Was that a damn pun?”

“And the chocobos-”

“What’s going on?!”

By the end of it, you can’t even feel your face anymore. It’s been consumed by a blush. Halfway through the story, Noct said he wasn’t feeling well and left for bed. Ignis tried to be respectful of your private life as he excused himself, tugging Prompto after him. But Gladio? Gladio stayed to collect more ammunition. What a friend. What a pal. When you’re finally, mercifully alone with Cindy, face in your hands, you mumble pathetically, “Why... Why did you do that?”

She crosses her arms slowly across her chest and leans back into her chair, appraising you with critical green eyes. “I couldn’t help but notice that you rode in here like a hotshot without your helmet on.”

You blink and look up. Did you? Honestly, sometimes you forget to put it on and usually, Ignis will pull over, get out of the Regalia, and order you to put it on like an old fogey. But it was such a short drive from Crestholm Channels that you guess Iggy either didn’t notice or he figured it was unlikely that you would wreck your moped on the short trip to Hammerhead. Now, you wish one of you had noticed.

“You were punishing me?” You balk. "Over a helmet?"

With a bright smile, Cindy gives you a peck on the lips and hisses when you’re nose to nose, olive eyes serious, “Next time you decide you wanna drive around without a care in the world for your safety, I’ll read 'em the poems and love letters you wrote for me.”

You freeze, completely horrorstruck. “How dare you use my passion for the written word against me!”

As Cindy laughs at your expression and insists that there won't be any problems if you actually start taking your personal safety into consideration, you press into your chair and cross your arms with a huff. You didn’t know you were dating someone so evil...

Chapter Text

Part 1

Enchanting is solitary work. Actually, all of your hobbies tend to be rather seclusive in nature. Reading, herbalism, enchanting... Back in your room at the Spire, your alchemy table could’ve been called your best friend. A sad fact. But it’s something you’ve grown to accept. In fact, you quite like the soothing silence of these hobbies. Which is why working with Dino Ghiranze is going to prove to be one of the greatest challenges you’ve ever faced.

You do it to yourself, though. When Noct brings some rare gem to the journalist-turned-jeweler and receives a pretty but useless bracelet for his efforts, you snatch the trinket and comment on how it “speaks” to you. So focused on the bracelet, you don’t notice the man’s eyes shine like the gems he’s so enamored with.

“It speaks to you, huh?” The brunet grins, ego growing out of control at such simple praise from the taciturn mage. He’s had his eye on you for a while now but you always came across as someone who is completely out of his league. So reserved and dignified... He doesn’t know you’re only so quiet because, by the time you all reach him in Galdin, you’re exhausted. You’re also, quite frankly, peeved. Because Dino’s little requests are never little requests.

Though the gems in question are certainly pretty they almost always come with outrageous strings attached. At the moment, you’re mostly still thinking about the stifling confines of Costlemark Tower. Blame your shortness with the jeweler on the red giants and nagarani that tag-teamed your sorry butt. You’ve always been more of a sideline spell-casting kind of mage. But close quarters don’t afford you that luxury. Which is why you pettily needle the brunet jeweler in Galdin. The jeweler who has a massive crush on you.

“Yeah,” you drawl, slipping the fine metal and polished gems between your fingers, “it says, ‘I’m useless but I know (y/n) can make me useful.’”

Dino’s brow furrows. “Hey! That’s one finely crafted bracelet you’re holdin’ right there.”

“Yes, it is. I’m not disputing that fact,” you ignore how easily his cheeks go pink from praise, “but what I am saying is that I can take this piece of jewelry to the next level in ways that you can’t.”

See? You do it to yourself.  Because Dino quite literally jumps at the opportunity to work closely with you. He leaps up from his seat, a gleam in his eye, and exclaims, “Then show me what you got!”

Oh, boy. Was that a challenge? That sounded like a challenge. Dino unwittingly gets under the seemingly calm mage’s skin with his tone. It’s like being in the Spire all over again; with some mage who is too damn old to be fronting, trying to get in your space and intimidate you. Except, of course, you don’t detect a hint of aggression from Dino.

By this point, you’ve already got Noct’s elbow in your ribs about half a dozen times for your perceived rudeness. Arms cross and you survey the brunet jeweler coolly. The bracelet enhances strength, as all precious gems do. Just having the bracelet in your hand for a moment and you’ve already stripped the base enhancement off like tissue paper. “Okay, then,” you finally assent before turning your gaze to Noctis and the others. “I’ll see you all back at the caravan. I’m about to school this fool.”

Stop,” Prompto moans though he’s grinning. At first, he was worried. Gods, the look on your face was so intense when Dino challenged you that Prom thought you might strike the poor guy down. He knows you have a competitive streak. The many eating competitions you’ve had with Gladio are a testament to that fact.

Noct adds on to Prom’s complaint, side-eyeing the jeweler for a second before looking back at you. “Rhyming doesn’t make you intimidating. How many times do we have to tell you that?”

“Take your time, (y/n). We’ve finished up for the day,” Ignis reassures you, cutting everyone else off before they can further distract you. Plus? Everyone is filthy. Showers and food are necessary.

As the guys all depart, Gladio claps you on the shoulder and you’re left alone with one enthused Dino Ghiranze. You don’t know how high-energy he is. All the times you’ve seen him, he’s been sitting pretty here in Galdin, waiting for Noct to swing by with some unrefined gem and to bend the prince’s ear once more -- waiting to catch a glimpse of the mage who made his heart skip a beat with a bored glance when he asked about their staff upon their first meeting.

Water laps at the dock, the only sound. It’s at this time that you realize that Dino might actually be awkward. Because where he was bursting with energy, eyes gleaming, now he’s quiet and fidgeting since your friends left. Teeth capture your bottom lip. Spending so much time with two socially awkward dorks named Noct and Prom, you’ve begun to steadily surmount your own social ineptitude.

Where once you read too much into silence -- let it stir you up into a panic, let your imagination run wild with fears of inadequacy -- now you take a step back from it all. It helped to have patient and understanding people like the guys around rather than judgmental and taunting magisters. A support system rather than a wake of vultures. All of this practice and work leads to you seamlessly handing Dino the bracelet and querying, “What sort of enchantment would you like to see, Mr. Ghiranze?”

The way you cross your arms and put your weight on one leg, hip jutted out? Damn. You look way too cool. The contrast between the casual look of your oversized lavender cardigan and the stylish appeal of your form-fitting black leather pants has the gears in Dino’s head turning. Sometimes he wishes he could get a picture of you: His muse. But he’d die if you found out what he’s been doing.

Ever since he first laid eyes on you, so interested in the metalwork of your staff, he put his journo hat back on and interviewed all of the people you’ve spoken to at Galdin; from the gift shop worker to Coctura (“Dino, I’m kinda in the middle of- Why don’t you talk to them yourself?”). Gods, why does he suddenly become so uncool when you’re around? He’s in way too deep. Feels like a damn fool for it, too. What is he? A kid? All of that love at first sight nonsense is just that... nonsense.

This is a weird infatuation that has him going all weak in the knees whenever you’re around; that has him breaking his neck to watch you leave. Secretly, he hopes that by working with you, he’ll fall out of it. You’ll have some fatal flaw that he can’t overlook. You’ll put ketchup on mashed potatoes or something like that... And, yes, he’s totally going to ask you to dinner. Of course, he will! He’s going all in. Ready for rejection and to wear a smile when it happens.

“Just Dino,” he hastily corrects when he realizes he’s been stuck in his head for too long, fumbling with the bracelet. “And... well... What kinda enchantments do you do? You said the bracelet spoke to you, right?”

A smile quirks your lips at his quizzical expression. “That I did. I’m thinking...” you wave your hand in the air, trying to come up with something impressive to surpass whatever expectations he might have, “something with a bit of a punch? How would you feel about your lovely bracelet emitting noxious gas when the wearer is attacked?”

He blinks. “Whoa. What? You can do that?”

Color him impressed. Color you satisfied with his reaction.

“Of course I can,” you drawl, shoving your hands in your pockets and turning your gaze up at the people who dine in the restaurant behind him, “I wouldn’t suggest it if I couldn’t.”

“Sure. Whatever works for you, doll.”

An eyebrow quirks at the name but you brush it off to inform him that you need to go somewhere more secluded. Though there’s no risk of your conjured poison cloud harming anyone, you’d much prefer to do it somewhere less public and with less of a chance of anyone freaking out and thinking you’re trying to kill them all while they eat their food that costs a small fortune.

“The beach should be fine. It’s getting late so no one is there,” you inform the dapper jeweler, immediately turning on your heel and heading out for the beach. Dino freezes, registering what you just said, before hurrying off after you when he realizes you’re not waiting. He blatantly ignores Coctura’s pointed smirk as he chases after the swift mage.

You can hear Dino’s footsteps following after you, thudding against the wood of the pier. Compared to your light tread, he sounds clumsy. It’s something he’s very much aware of. Six, it’s like everything he’s doing is lame. He’s the Cool Guy™! For crying out loud, usually he’s so suave; dressed smartly and fast talking. But with you...?

Dino watches you drop down to your knees on the deserted beach. Eyes turn up to him expectantly and he finds himself rooted to the spot, struck by the intense expression on your face before it’s broken by a perplexed raise of an eyebrow. That snaps him out of his little schoolboy musings. Tugging on his tie, he saunters on up to you like he wasn’t just gawking.

“You tryin’ to get me alone, (y/n)?” Dino jokes, eyeing the sand a moment before reluctantly kneeling next to you. Dammit. These are expensive pants! And he’s wearing his good shoes, too! But Dino grins and bears it to tease you. “’Cause, hey, all you gotta do is ask. Don’t need to go to all these lengths, though I do appreciate ya wooing me.”

With a snort, you dryly inform the brunet, “If I were wooing you, you’d know. Now, please hand me the bracelet and please don’t freak out. What’s going to happen next won’t hurt you. I promise.”

“Freak out?” He parrots but hands you the bracelet without further questioning. Mostly because of how you shoot him a glance. Okay, he’s totally asking if he can take a picture of you... in the most un-creepy way possible.

He’s thinking of a few angles to capture you in, so caught up in his thoughts, that he does exactly what you asked him not to do. In Dino’s defense, any sane person would flip out if they suddenly found themselves surrounded by a thick green cloud of hellacious smelling smog. It’s like sulfur! The brunet yelps and smacks his hands over his mouth and nose, eyes watering. Cheeks warm up when you pin him with an unamused smirk but all shame vanishes with the smog.

It’s just a snap of your fingers. He watches as those digits come together and slide against each other. Just that simple action has the toxic cloud spiraling and funneling into the pretty emeralds that decorate the bracelet. The trinket shimmers for a moment -- the same way one can see a heatwave over pavement in the summer -- before all is back to normal.

Those steely eyes are wide. In the back of his mind, Dino is grateful that he isn’t gawking. The way you turn your face away and stifle a snort into the sleeve of your sweater snaps him back into reality. With shaking hands, he picks up the bracelet and inspects it closely. It looks exactly the same as before. Did you even do anything?

“What?” You hum and stand. For his sake, you pretend you don’t notice Dino checking you out as you stretch. “Were you expecting it to look different?”

“Kinda,” Dino admits, eagerly taking the hand you extend to him and standing up. “How do we know if it works?”

Dino feels like he shouldn’t have even asked. Was the universe listening in on this conversation? Or did you conjure the seadevils that stalk the beach behind you? Surely not the latter. Hell, he doesn’t even know if you can conjure creatures. And he highly doubts you’d conjure something that looks like it wants to eat you alive.

When Dino’s face goes pale, you follow his line of vision and cluck your tongue. And like that, you’re reminded of how exhausted you are from your trip to Costlemark Tower. Irritation finds a home in your frontal lobe. “You had to ask, huh? I think I'm gonna have to call you a jinx. And,” the bracelet is yanked from his hands and slapped around his wrist, “you’re about to find out if this works.”

Several things happen at once. Dino sees you whack a seadevil over the head with your staff (he winces, not for the creature’s sake but because nothing so pretty should be used as a weapon), a scaly tail whips out at him, and his life flashes before his eyes. However, the creature doesn’t even get to touch him. There’s an ugly, startled noise from the creatures and the sound of the flailing of large bodies. He’s knocked out of the way of an incoming tail by something solid and the air goes rushing out of his lungs when he hits the sandy coast.

When the dust and the smog clears, the seadevils are left unconscious. Dino turns to you with wide eyes. His eyes go even wider when he finds you on top of him. All he can say is: “This is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.”

“Friendship,” you hastily correct. As hastily as you roll off of him, in fact. You toss the sharp-toothed monsters a disdainful look as they slumber, just happy to have got out relatively unscathed. On the plus side, you got a couple of scales and a tooth from the one you knocked over the head before Dino’s bracelet gassed them all.

Dino blinks for a moment before finally getting up. “What?”

“The saying goes: ‘This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’”

“Oh.” He scratches the bridge of his nose in an effort to ignore how hot his cheeks are. “Huh. Coulda swore it was ‘relationship.’”

“Yeah. It’s not.”

Damn. You’re not trying to be cold but it’s certainly coming across that way. All of that practice with handling silence and awkward pauses is tossed out of the window. The two of you stand in silence among the sleeping seadevils. Dino toys with the bracelet around his wrist and you cough uncomfortably into the crook of your elbow. After a few more agonizing seconds of this, you reach over and dust the sand from his light brown hair, making the jeweler go ruby red.

He watches you, backlit by the sunset, as you continue to straighten him up and murmur apologies for tackling him. Under normal circumstances, he’d be all over your case for messing up his hair and ruining his clothes. But instead of reprimanding you, Dino finds himself blurting, “You hungry, partner?”

“Partner?” You repeat with a laugh, taking a step out of his personal bubble to straighten yourself out. “You a cowboy now?”

“Like... work partner? Partner in crime?” Dino explains even as he prays to be struck down or for one of the damn seadevils to wake up and eat him to put him out of his misery. As if digging his own grave is his favorite hobby, he continues, “And I’m callin’ you that ‘cause I think we’ve got a good thing goin’ here. I make the jewelry and you enchant it.”

Head cocks at the sound of that job proposal. It never really crossed your mind to monetize one of your favorite hobbies. Usually, you just drop off enchanted trinkets at random in the hopes that someone will find a use for them. And you like Dino. Though you’ve always admired his passion for his craft, you never realized how charming and funny he is. So, after waiting for perhaps too long, you shrug and admit, “I could eat. Let’s talk business over dinner.”

You have no idea of what you just signed up for. Enchanting is never going to be the same again with Dino Ghiranze hanging over your shoulders to watch you work your magic. You also don’t realize just how much you two are going to click. But how could you have guessed that you would get on so well with the journalist-turned-jeweler who has the most ridiculous requests?

On the way to the Quayside Cradle, you spot the guys lounging outside of the caravan. You give them a casual wave that almost turns into a rude gesture when you see the sly smirk on Prompto’s face. The urge to be rude is nearly impossible to surmount when Gladio looks up from his book and wears the exact same expression as the younger man.

Their reactions don’t make sense. What? Do they think something is going on with you and the brunet? It feels like a giant leap of the imagination... until you realize that the restaurant is closed and therefore they assumed you were only headed in that direction because you were going to book a room with Dino. Kudos to you, because you somehow resist the urge to smack your forehead.

“Oh. Didn’t realize it was so late,” Dino laughs, rubbing the back of his neck. “Well, I gotta room and- Why’re you lookin’ at me like that? No! I’m not trying anything here!”

“So defensive. All I did was raise my eyebrows,” you tease. Oh, all you can do is tease because like hell will you let it be known what you were thinking. You tell yourself not to act so high- strung or he’ll get creeped out and assume you’re after something else. ‘Cause you totally aren’t... “Anyway, your room better have food or I’m out.”

Dino’s stomach twists and he hides his nerves with a charming grin that gets your stomach twisting. He tells himself to be cool or else you’ll get creeped out and assume he’s after something  else. ‘Cause he totally isn’t... “It has a kitchen. Ol’ Dino’s gonna be your chef for tonight.”

With a shake of your head, you sigh, “Whatever you say, partner.”

Chapter Text

Part 2

“I thought you meant you had a room-room, not a suite. Are you secretly the son of the owner of Quayside Cradle?” You tease upon entering the massive hotel room.

The ceilings are sky-high and the spacious room is skillfully divided into a fully-equipped kitchen with a breakfast bar, a furnished living area, and a dining area. The balcony overlooks the water and a door leads to a massive bedroom with an en suite bathroom. Everything is in a stylish slate gray, off-white, and silver. But there are touches of Dino’s creative spirit lying around.

That last bit is a clue that has your eyebrows rising. This isn’t just a rented room. He actually lives here. There are framed photos that he most likely shot himself, there’s an outfit laid out on the bed in preparation for tomorrow, and the kitchen counter has an antiquated coffee pot that no hoity-toity place like this would deign to provide. Just who the hell is Dino Ghiranze?

As if on cue, said journo-turned-jeweler states, “Nah. It’s all about knowin’ people. Not everyone’s part of a famous family, my magical friend.”

“Mmhm,” you hum suspiciously and he laughs at the comical glare you’re giving him. Dino guides you from the entryway to the kitchen where he pulls out a chair at the breakfast bar for you. After giving your thanks, you take a seat and watch the brunet bustle on into the kitchen. He keeps his vest on and tries to roll up his already rolled sleeves. Tips of ears burn pink when he catches you smiling at that nervous little gesture.

“So, uh...” Dino clears his throat and shoots you a suave smile, “What do you feel like?”

“What do you have?”

He looks around the kitchen as if he has x-ray vision or something, considering absolutely no food whatsoever sits out. Rubbing the back of his neck, he suggests, “I could whip you up a nice omelet, a salad, some noodles...?”

“It’s a little late, so salad sounds good.”

“Nice! Health conscious, huh?” He asks, already setting about pulling a head of lettuce out of the refrigerator along with some oranges, strawberries, and blackberries. Well, that’s one way to have salad and you aren’t about to insult his default fruit in his own home. The lettuce is pulled apart and he begins to wash it as you lean your elbows on the counter.

“Not particularly? It’s just,” you check your phone and your eyebrows shoot up, “8:15. Wow.”

Dino throws his eyebrows up as well, fully concentrating on making his mage-crush the best damn salad they’ve ever had. “That late already? Man, if it gets any later you’re gonna have to spend the night.” It's said so blasé. He actually doesn't mean anything by it other than it's late and you might be too tired to return to the caravan after you eat and discuss your new business venture.

Still... Still...

Even though you can’t detect a hint of an ulterior motive in the guy, his little passing comment has your neck heating up and you bite the inside of your cheek. Is he legitimately smooth or do you actually have a thing for this guy? It might be a bit of both if you’re being honest with yourself. You reply at great length, struggling not to laugh, “Uh-huh...”

To his credit, Dino does a great job not sweating all over the salad. Your gaze feels like a spotlight and he’s performing alone on a stage, having forgotten his lines. The fruit is rinsed and sliced unevenly, lettuce is cut into manageable pieces. Everything is dried before being plated. All of this is done under your watchful gaze, chin resting on your fist.

The kitchen is a flurry of activity with Dino practically putting on a one-man show for your viewing pleasure. The coffee pot is rinsed out and the machine is turned on. Pristine crystal glasses are pulled out of the freezer, thoroughly chilled, and wine is elegantly poured. You wonder when salad became something that required so much pomp and circumstance.

Dino glances up every now and then to look at you looking at him. Slowly, his nerves ease. Especially when you make idle chitchat. He’s amused by your commentary on his place -- how you just can’t get over how nice it is. “Much nicer than the room I shared with the guys our first night here.”

Huh. That comment sits funny in his gut. But Dino shakes it off and announces, wiping his hands off with a towel, “Bit of fruit, some vinaigrette, and bam: One damn fine salad.”

“Awesome!” You admire the greens on the plate and refrain from commenting on how he drizzled the vinaigrette like an artist. You also refrain from informing him that it’s now 9:15 due to all of his showboating, not that you minded watching. However, you can’t refrain from asking, “So, what did you burn?”

“What?” He goes pale, eyes wide. “Oh! The coffee!”

A hand comes up to your nose and you chuckle, “Yeah. That’s a very distinct burnt coffee smell. Like a punch in the face.”

Dino pulls the coffee pot out but the grounds were already used up and the pot is full. The peril of letting the pot get too hot before you brew your coffee. What a waste. The jeweler rubs his forehead, leaning against the counter, and sighs, “Damn. It was supposed to go with the cookies.”

“Cookies?” At the sight of pre-packaged cookies laid out elegantly on a plate with a drizzling of some sort of berry sauce, you blurt, “I don’t mind burnt coffee. Coffee is coffee to me, Dino.”

His eyes are sparkling like those jewels he so admires when he hears you say his name. “Really? Great!” He settles down next to you at the breakfast bar. Really, he’s trying to be too damn slick. There’s a perfectly good dining table but sitting here allows him to be closer to you. Your knees almost touch and he feels like he’s back in school. With pink cheeks he urges, "Well? Dig in!"

“Thank you for the meal,” you say politely before eating your food. It’s sweet and tart and so refreshing. Gods, you didn’t realize how hungry you were. You can feel the brunet next to you shooting you looks, waiting anxiously for the verdict. Clucking your tongue, you side-eye Dino and drawl, “You were right.”

“I mean, I’m always right. But what am I right about?”

You grin. “One damn fine salad.”

He returns your grin, eyes glinting. “Glad you like it.”

As you two dine on salad and wine, you find that you have a lot in common. You both are passionate individuals. While he can carry on forever and ever about his muse and how he goes about getting inspiration for his works, going so far as to go and pull out a photo album to show you architecture he’s photographed, you can go on forever about enchanting and herbalism. His passion for writing hasn’t died out despite the job change. Dino blushes and shows you a few short stories he’s worked on since he quit being a journalist. “It’s fiction -- not like what I used to do, ya know? I mean, I know it’s not anythin’ special.”

“No, it’s really good. You certainly have a rare talent,” you muse, unaware of the intense look he gives you for that comment, so busy reading. He watches you closely; gaze flickering over your enchanting eyes, how you subconsciously worry your lip as you think, how your brow puckers a bit and you tilt your head.

“Thank you.”

His voice sounds so sincere that you look up from the notebook in your hands. That expression? Directed toward you? Heart stutters and heat creeps up your neck. With a dignified cough to clear your throat, you query lightly, “Ready to talk business? That’s why you brought me here, right?”

“Heh. Right, right.” The brunet blushes and takes the notebook when you hand it over. He places it on the breakfast bar before returning his gaze to you. “We gotta come up with a name for our business, partner. How ‘bout, ‘(y/n) and Dino’s Dynamite Enchantments’?”

You snort at the obvious joke and bump him with your elbow. “That’s cute. But maybe something a bit more dignified? We want to be taken seriously, after all.”

Dino grins at your playful reaction. “After we settle on a name, we should consider doin' a bit of networking. Y'know? Get our name out there.”

Head bobs in a nod. “I travel a lot, so if we can get cards made some time, I can leave them at rest stops.”

“Smart thinkin', (y/n).”

Yeah. Smart thinking. Smart thinking... Except that statement of yours evokes strange feelings in the man sitting next to you. In reality, he rarely sees you and it’s never consistent. Weeks can go by without you gracing him with your presence, which is what has him casually asking for your number, “For business purposes, of course!” That qualifier only serves to make him more suspicious.

After that, you two fall into an awkward silence. There’s absolutely no need for you to stay now. “Business” was discussed and if there’s anything else to talk about, he has your number now. It’s late. Time to go. Yet you linger. Index finger traces the rim of your empty wine glass. When Dino asks if you want any more, you decline. “Maybe coffee?” You ask. You don’t even do anything. It’s just a slight tilt of your head, eyes turned up to him, that has him scrambling off of his chair to go get you coffee like there’s some great rush, face cherry red.

Gods, you’re so oblivious sometimes. Well, oblivious of your effect on others. ‘Cause those were inadvertent bedroom eyes. Sometimes you’re just so used to working people that it becomes your default setting. Except right now? With Dino? After watching him cook for you, after listening to him ramble on about everything he’s passionate about? Well, maybe Dino is oblivious of his effect on you? Because here you are in his room with him, trying to find reasons to stay.

And those bedroom eyes probably weren’t so inadvertent...

“Thanks,” you murmur, taking a sip of the burned coffee. Wow. That’s... Wow, that’s acidic. Dino tries not to laugh at the way you screw up your face before you can stop yourself. A cookie is handed to you and you take it eagerly. The vanilla crème filling and tart berry drizzle clear your palate of that awful taste. “Thanks.”

“No problem. I, uh...” Dino internally swears at himself to just tell you that he’s loved spending time with you; that you’re everything he was wishing you’d be and more. Boy, he’s mad at himself. Because he was hoping you’d be boring or rude so this crush could just die tonight and stop making him a lovestruck fool. And all he did tonight was make himself fall even deeper.

You’re waiting for him to finish talking but it doesn’t seem like that’s gonna happen any time soon. What with the way his eyes look down at the bar and he picks at nonexistent lint on the sleeve of his shirt. You damn him for not talking because now your gaze wanders. A mental note is made to yourself that you might have a thing for toned forearms. Shit.

“It’s kinda warm in here, huh?” You find yourself asking, much to your horror. ‘Cause you’re warm, yeah. But it’s not because of the room temperature. It’s actually a little chilly in here.

Dino’s eyes snap up to meet yours. “If you want, I can lower the-”

“No, it’s fine,” you interrupt. He watches as you undo the top button on your shirt. Fingers move so effortlessly, the button sliding out of place, crisp fabric shifting to reveal a hint of more skin. When he looks up to your face, his heart stops at the sight of your intense eyes fixated on him. He hadn’t realized he’d stopped breathing.

Cheeks a demure pink, he stammers, "I- Sorry."

"Are you sorry for looking?” Head tilts, eyebrow quirked. “Or are you sorry that you got caught?"

Dino gives you a hard look. He’s completely sincere when he answers, "Neither. I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable just now."

In your head, you wonder what you set yourself up for. Dino had mildly annoyed you when he challenged you earlier in the day. Up until that point, he was just the attractive jeweler who asked for perhaps too much with his ridiculous quests. The jeweler who Gladio joked was worse than Prompto when it came to crushes. And when you’d asked what he meant by that, the Shield had just laughed.

And now you know. Oh, you know. Today has been a wakeup call. Today is the day that you get a partner in crime and you were totally unaware of it. A partner in crime who is incredibly considerate and remarkably dorky for someone who swears that he’s cool. He’s cool! Just a snorts-while-he-laughs, stumbles-over-words, spouts-off-random-factoids kind of cool. And you find that that’s definitely the kind of “cool” that you’re into.

Arm bumps against the bar as you lean against it, still in your seat. Gods, you look so effortlessly casual that it kills him. Head tilts, eyes half-lidded, and you murmur, "You didn't make me uncomfortable." You survey him coolly like this. He might combust. “I have a question for you, Dino.”

“Shoot,” blurts Dino. Mentally, he screams at himself.

“Why do you always watch me?”

“Huh?” That gets him to stop internally screaming.

You shift and rest your arm on the bar, fingers drumming against the cool countertop. “Whenever I come around with Noctis and the others, I mean. And even when I don’t, actually. Because when I don’t go with them to give you your latest shiny treat, I hear that you’ve been asking about me. Why is that?”

Cue the internal screaming once more. Those rats! Those sneaky bastards! How dare those guys tell the way-out-of-his-league mage that he asks about them?! Oh, gods, and the way you’re looking at him right now? He feels naked. Feels so exposed. Those eyes draw him in and strip him down. Those eyes have his heart pounding against his ribs to be free.

Miraculously, he finds his voice for long enough to stammer, “I-It’s because...” No. He can’t do it. “I’m in love with you.” Well... Looks like he can do it and he can botch it, too. Love? Oh, surely the universe is laughing at him right now. That internal screaming? Yeah. It’s a deafening roar at this point -- nearly drowns out all coherent thought.

“Well, I don’t love you.” Wow. That’s as blunt as a baseball bat to the head. Dino is pasting on an amiable, totally-not-hurt smile when you finish, “But I do like you, Dino. Perhaps, in time, we’ll be on the same level. However, I do want you to know that I like you a lot. I admire you and I was wondering if you’d allow me to kiss you.”

For Dino Ghiranze, time stops. As he sits there, frozen with the most strained smile on his face, you begin to sweat. You blew it. You swear you blew it. Though the guys have helped you overcome your issues with one-on-one talks, they haven’t quite been able to soften your tone. You’re a Spire mage and Spire mages tend to club people over the head with their words. For a massive building full of scholars, there’s no time to mince words or fool around. Mincing words is for romance or if someone fell down the staircase again and died. And while the guys have rubbed off on you, particularly Ignis and Prompto who have much softer edges and better bedside manner, it’s easy for you to slip back into Spire talk.

When the silence has lasted too long, you slide off of your seat and begin to retreat for the door. “It’s late,” you call over your shoulder, hastening to escape this horror show, “and I’m sorry if I offended you. I’ll just be-”

“Wait!” Dino scrambles off of his chair.

Maybe it’s a bit of desperation that spurs him on. Just the idea that sometimes he can go weeks without hearing anything about you -- without seeing you, without a rumor springing up to give him some glimmer of hope that you’re okay. That desperation combines with your admission of your feelings into something dizzying and heady.

Already at the door, you turn to him just as he grabs your waist and pulls you into him. Lips press urgently against yours, warm and soft from daily use of lip scrubs and lip balm -- all of that self-care paying off splendidly when he gets an appreciative hum out of you. One arm snakes around his waist, the other around the back of his neck to deepen the kiss. When he looks back on this, he’ll call it a “magical moment” and you’ll boo him.

You’re pinned between Dino and the door; the cold door a sharp contrast from the heat of his body. A bite on his lip escalates things. He gasps and moans at the feeling of your hands moving down his sides to rest on his waist, of your tongue gliding over his, of your legs spreading so he can push desperately into you and give the two of you some much-needed friction.

Fingers twine into his perfectly combed hair and he doesn’t complain; relishing the feeling of your fingertips against his scalp, dragging down to the nape of his neck where you hold him. His hand finds its way under your shirt, eyelids fluttering, pulse quickening. It travels up and up and up at a glacial pace, waiting to see if you’ll stop him. You don’t have to.

Because your phone goes off.

“Sorry!” You gasp, breathless as you struggle to recompose yourself. You’re absolutely buzzing. Blood feels like it’s fire in your veins as you yank your phone from your pocket, hands shaking. It’s a text from Iggy asking if you’re staying out. You nearly throw your phone across the room with a frustrated yell.

“I... Uh...” Dino still hasn’t removed himself from you, perfectly content to stay between your legs with his sweaty cheek against yours and his hand on your bare chest. And then when he finally remembers what exactly it is that he’s doing to you, every point of contact scorching hot, he backs off with a dignified and totally not embarrassed cough.

Now that you’re cooling off, you ask yourself some very serious questions. Eyes flicker over the blushing brunet who stands a few feet away from you, all in wonderful disarray. Those questions are answered firmly. “Y’know,” you cross your arms and lean against the door, “you were right earlier, Dino.”

“A-About what?” He’s still breathless but he can’t bother to feel embarrassed. Gods, he just wants to kiss you again. Just wants to hold you and feel you.

Outside, behind him, the moonlight reflects off of the water. You glance down at your phone before meeting his heated gaze. “It’s late. I think I’ll stay the night if that’s okay with-”

“Yes!”

Chapter Text

Part 3

You’re a daemon.

That’s what it is.

Dino Ghiranze swears that you’re evil incarnate. Such a smooth talker -- smoother than him! You’re criminally charming. When he’d had you backed up against the door you’d looked flustered for maybe a second. Expression was so sweet even as you spread your legs for him. For just a moment you let him believe he was the one in control. And then it all got interrupted with a text and it was like you were a different person. No longer taken aback by his sudden kiss, you held the reins.

All of his charm? All of his quick wit? It went right out the damn window with just a smirk of your lips at his overeager response to your brazen proposition. The tables have turned and he can’t say he doesn’t like it. But, dammit, he wishes he could be just a bit cooler around the object of his affection. He fears that every time he opens his mouth, he’s turning you off. Commentary on the rising price of gold, what the weather in Galdin should be like tomorrow, and how he loves the shape of your ass. He almost punches himself for letting that last one slip. Thank the Six you laughed it off.

Warm water pelts your face, soothing nerves and clearing your head. It’s a hushed cascade, the showerhead an absolutely ridiculous but wonderful thing. Eyes blink away water to watch the LED lights on the rain showerhead change from blue to purple to red. You close your eyes and grin, knowing that he’s still in the doorway. Enraptured.

He’d laughed nervously when you guffawed at the sight of the bathroom. “This is a little... excessive,” you’d teased, another glass of wine in hand. Dino held the bottle to his chest, a nervous gesture that he still has to actively refrain from doing as he continues to watch you from the doorway. Everything echoes in here. Dino fears you can hear his heart pounding.

Some shower gel is lathered up on a sponge before you begin to clean off. A mixture of dirt and sand swirls down the drain. You hadn’t realized how dirty you got from that little scuffle with the seadevils. It was Dino’s suggestion to rinse off, of course, but you were grateful that you didn’t have to awkwardly ask to use his facilities. “No offense or anything, but can we... I mean, can we shower first?” At your quirked eyebrow he went on to nervously ramble, cheeks scarlet, “It’s just that we were out on the beach, gettin’ kinda sweaty, and-”

“Dino, calm down,” you’d chuckled at how he nervously tugged at his tie. “I understand.”

Part of you still feels nervous. That glass pane separating you from Dino does you absolutely no favors. Such a fancy, modern bathroom. No shower curtains here. But you put on a wonderful act. You pretend that you aren’t about to die of embarrassment. You pretend that what little wine you imbibed can give you strength. Fat chance of that. Yet you’d put on a wonderful façade when Dino fixed you with those gray eyes, all abashed, and he’d suggested, “You can go first if ya want. I’ll just-”

“Watch?” You’d joked... and he’d taken it as an invitation. The jeweler honestly didn’t know if it would be ruder to refuse than to accept and he’d be lying to himself if he said he actually wanted to refuse. He’s a gentleman, sure! But-! Well-! But then you began to undress right in front of him and he was transfixed.

Each button took an age to undo, fingernail sliding under the clear plastic and moving the white fabric over it. One, two, three... Dino started to feel a bit lightheaded, unwittingly holding his breath as you unfastened each one. Soft linen fell to the tiled floor in a pool with lavender wool. Back leaned against the cold wall and you got to work on your belt. Dino thought that if he gripped the wine bottle any harder, the damn thing might shatter. Still, he kept it to his chest and watched. Your black belt was whipped off with a swish! and Dino thought he saw his life flash right before his eyes.

Because you’re going to be the death of him. You’re definitely going to be the death of him.

Laughter rang out in the massive bathroom at his besotted expression. His endearing noises of embarrassment and arousal made it so much easier for you to unzip your pants and pull them off (internally damning the leather for being so clingy). Then you turned your back on him, much to his disappointment, and took off your underwear on your way to the shower.

Such a haughty strut for someone in the nude. But Dino has been glad to lean against the doorframe and watch. Water beading on your skin, suds dripping down your body, feeding a voyeuristic need he didn’t even know he had. Damn, you’re a great actor. Coy and irresistible when in reality you want to laugh awkwardly and say, “Okay, the joke’s over! You can go wait in the bedroom!”

Instead, you turn your head, lock eyes with his, and drawl, “Wanna join?”

Why do you do this to yourself? But it’s just that each time you look at him, you’re emboldened by that expression of his; eyes hooded, lids fluttering every now and then, lips slightly parted. And you’ve seen from your peripheral vision each time he’s released that damn wine bottle to touch himself before realizing what he’s doing and gripping the bottle once more.

Dino almost doesn’t hear you over the water and his own pounding heartbeat. The question sends a jolt through his entire body, makes him squeeze the wine bottle to his chest to the point that he thinks he might’ve just bruised himself. Breath hitches and he thinks it’s far too loud -- he swears you hear it and that’s what makes you smirk.

Dino is stunned. The second you make eye contact with him, he feels like he’s been caught doing something he shouldn’t have even though you’ve known he was there the entire time. It’s hard to talk. It’s hard to swallow. Under that wicked gaze, it’s hard to do anything. And when he takes too long to respond, you look away shyly and one hand slowly travels down between your thighs. See? You’re a damn daemon.

Jaw clenches and he watches you go for a bit longer. Watches the muscles in your forearm flex as you lean heavily against the tiled wall of the shower. Gray eyes burn at the sight of you rolling your head back, a soft sigh falling from your lips. He’s already started undressing but not once does his gaze stray from you and what you’re doing to yourself.

There’s a cool burst of air as the shower door slides open and closes. Then there’s the comforting heat of his body and his erection is pressed insistently against your back. Warm hands move strangely. It’s somehow bold and meek at the same time, a tremor there yet he still tweaks one of your nipples and has you gasping when one of his hands replaces yours between your thighs.

You lean heavily against him as he works you gently. His movements are slow and torturous, savoring the feeling of you beneath his hand. It’s languid. He takes his time. Lips move up and down your neck and shoulder, leaving a trail of love bites that make you hiss and groan. When you start to feel that familiar, buzzing feeling creeping up on you, you grab his wrist and pull him away.

“Thought you needed to rinse off?” You ask cheekily despite being short of breath. Gray eyes watch your chest rise and stutter as you struggle to even out your breathing. Flustered, you toss the sponge you’d had in a death-grip in your hand the entire time at his chest and that seems to snap him out of his lustful haze.

“Oh, uh... Yeah.” Dino shakes his head with a charming laugh and begins to awkwardly go through the motions of scrubbing his arms down. “Yeah. Sorry ‘bout that, (y/n).” Sandy brown hair darkens with water, flops over his forehead and gets in his eyes until you find yourself swiping it away. The ex-journalist freezes at the feeling of your fingertips tenderly grazing over his forehead. That affectionate gesture hits him right in the gut.  This isn’t just going to be sex, is it?

Six save you both.

Dino swears his heart stops when he meets your gaze. The sponge falls on the shower floor as his lips crash against yours. You make an amused noise at his desperation but it quickly morphs into a gasp when he grabs your ass and pulls you flush against him. His tongue slips into your mouth just as you slip your hand down between the two of you. The heat of your hand is almost too much to bear. He cries out the second you rub your thumb over his head and begin to give him long, slow strokes. Your grip is too loose. The way your lips smirk against his tells him that this is payback for him taking his time with you earlier. Gods, you’re evil. Gods, you’re evil.

Your thumb circles his head on each upstroke, your other hand trails down his stomach and dips between his thighs to cup and gently squeeze him. At this point, he can’t focus on kissing you and he damns you and himself for it. Dino’s trying to be an attentive lover but all he can do is moan perhaps too loudly for his neighbors’ liking and squeeze your ass. And then you do it.  It never crossed his mind that you would utilize magic right now.

It’s the slightest tingle of ice over the tip of his cock that has him slipping backward with a choked gasp. You catch him with a startled yelp. The two of you lock eyes; him in your arms and so close to having knocked himself out and you kneeling awkwardly over him. It starts with a snort from you at his expression and ends with the two of you sitting on the shower floor in hysterics.

“Sorry about that,” you laugh, one hand on your forehead. “Six, I should’ve given you some sort of warning.”

“No, no. It’s all right. I appreciate ya bein’ spontaneous,” Dino chuckles, rubbing the back of his neck. Six, he wants to die... Not counting the fact that he probably almost would have if it wasn’t for your quick reflexes. How lame would that be? To die in the middle of a magical handjob? He wants to cover his face in shame. He wants to die!

After a moment of silence, you get up and turn off the shower. Metal squeaks and the cacophony ends, leaving the bathroom eerily quiet. Sparing Dino an awkward glance, you suggest, “Well, how about we take this somewhere where we’re less likely to crack our heads open? Hm? Not to freak you out, but I almost didn’t catch you.”

Wait. What? You still want to continue? After that debacle? After how completely uncool he just was? Dino blinks up at you in confusion. Your expression is sincere, eyes warm and a self-deprecating smile on your lips. It makes his heart squeeze and his blood buzzes once more. Gods, you endear yourself to him more and more...

“Smart thinkin’,” Dino grunts, turning his face away as he stands to hide his charmed blush.

You’re standing naked in the middle of his room as you continue to dry off with a towel. Dino now has no shame staring at you as you do this, sitting on his bed with his obvious erection, eyes all over you. Funny how that works. Trying to be aloof, you look around and comment on the various pictures he has everywhere which he blushes prettily at and thanks you for. It’s... awkward.

“Do you have any condoms?” You blurt when you can’t take it any longer. ‘Cause this? This is painful. This should be categorized as a form of torture and outlawed. At the sight of two wide gray eyes, you shamelessly add, “And I don’t care what anyone says, there’s always time for lube, so...”

“Ye-Yeah! Of course. Got both.” Dino snaps out of his trance and gives you a funny look as he hurries over to his dresser and begins to rummage through the bottom drawer. The brunet shoots you a somewhat bashful look over his shoulder. “I mean... You actually wanna, (y/n)?”

Shoulders shrug, trying not to look too disinterested but also wanting to put him at ease. “It’s why I’m still here. Unless you don’t want to, of course. I’d be more than happy to just sleep-”

“No! I do!”

A grin spreads across your face as you drop down onto his bed and rub your ears. “Ow.”

His cheeks flush. “Shit. Sorry ‘bout that.”

“Don’t worry. You’re cute.”

“Psh! Cute?” Dino grumbles, cheeks pink. The last thing he wants to hear is that he’s cute as he puts a damn condom on. And can you stop watching? I mean, yeah, he watched you shower and masturbate and then watched you dry off, but... He feels a bit self-conscious as those wicked eyes watch him roll the condom on. “I’m not cute...”

Your smirk is pure evil. “You’re right,” you concede, beckoning for him to come closer with a crook of your finger, “you’re the most beautiful man that I know.”

Like he’s under your spell, Dino Ghiranze numbly walks over until he’s at the foot of the bed. Eyebrows knit together, face and neck red with indignation. “Beautiful?”

“Yes,” you simper, getting on your knees so you’re eye to eye. His hands rest on your waist instinctively, grip increasing when you press feather-light kisses onto his forehead, cheeks, nose, chin, and finally his lips. He feels your smile against his lips and he can’t help the dorky smile that you get out of him as you drawl, “Absolutely beautiful. I mean, just look at those eyelashes.”

Dino laughs, “Quite the charmer, eh?” A sly smirk is shot his way before you back off and give him a pointed look. Cheeks flush once more. “Oh, right.”

It’s with the utmost care that Dino waits for you to comfortably settle on your hands and knees before carefully applying lube with his fingers. Breathing hitches and your jaw twitches when he gets cute and sinks a finger into you. Then he adds another, curls them, and you’re left biting your lips and twisting your fingers into the bedsheets.

“You ready?” He asks, voice low, and you nod your head when you feel him press against you, stopping short of entering you. There’s a displeased noise in the back of his throat. “Nah. Not like that. I wanna hear you so I know.”

You toss him a startled look over your shoulder, suddenly feeling flustered at his consideration. “I’m ready, Dino.”

Instinct tells you to stop breathing but you push it aside in favor of deep, relaxing breaths. Lips come down to plant shaky, wet kisses along your shoulder blades. Hot breath ghosts along the back of your neck once he’s as deep as you can take him. The two of you stay like this for a moment. Dino breathes heavily through his nose, still kissing you and waiting for your word.

“Go on,” you breathe.

Dino starts nice and slow and talks a bit too much. With every thrust, he asks if that feels okay, with every pull he wonders if you’re all right. Tension is in his voice, makes it kinda high and funny but you tell yourself not to laugh. Your head drops down onto the bed, forehead pressed against the soft sheets. It’s not a pace that either of you is happy with for long. Your impatience comes out in a forceful grind against him when he makes to gently thrust into you once more. It makes the brunet freeze and choke on a groan, fingertips digging almost painfully into your hips as you take him in deeper than he’d intended to go. You feel his thighs tremble against you.

His breath comes out in short puffs. (y/n),” your name is something strained in the back of his throat. “Y-You sure?”

Six, Dino, yes!” You groan in frustration. “Just-!”

And he shuts you up immediately.

The sounds that come from the two of you are downright lewd and have you thankful that Dino can’t see your face. It’s an audible smack of skin on skin with wet noises as he pounds into you. Fingers twist into the sheets as you gasp and moan, back arching as he moves you bodily with each forceful thrust. Teeth bite down onto your shoulder and you swear. Dino’s saying something. It’s all nonsense. He’ll be grateful later that you don’t understand a word of what comes pouring out of his mouth. Declarations of love and a running commentary on  how damn good you feel and what a great job you’re doing.

Six, save him, his own version of “dirty talk” is so damn embarrassing.

You reach behind you and grab his hair. Vanity almost gets the best of him. Dino almost whines about you messing with his ‘do, but when you pull it makes his cock twitch and has him seeing stars. Now he’s making even less sense, hips thrusting erratically and one hand coming down over yours on the bed. He laces his fingers through yours. His other hand comes up to your chest and slowly drags down. Blunt fingernails leave a burning trail down your chest and stomach until he eases up on the pressure and those agile fingers of his get to work on you as he thrusts in and out of you. His body is a cage around you.

It’s almost too much. Blood pounds in your ears as you hiss and moan incoherently. No, it is too much.

Pressure builds exponentially. How he felt in the shower, how he feels now. His breath ghosting across your back, the way he stretches and fills you. The sound of his voice going high and needy, the throaty grunts and groans that he emits when he bucks into you. The heat of his body over yours. It’s dizzying. It has you spiraling out of control faster than you wanted.

The snap of his hips, the heat of his hand, the way he throbs deep inside of you. It all shoves you headfirst over the edge, has you screaming his name as you come undone. Brain is a buzzing mess of jelly while Dino continues to thrust in and out of you. He clings onto the way you say his name, replays it over and over in his head like a mantra to get him there with you. For a second he can’t see. Can’t hear. He’s buried deep inside of you as he cums; gripping the sheets on either side of you, mouth agape, eyes screwed shut, hunched over you. Dino feels like he just ran a damn marathon in a dead sprint the entire time. Thighs shake as he sluggishly pulls out of you and he only has enough energy to flop down lazily on the bed beside you.

The room spins and h is own heartbeat is all he hears. Blindly, Dino reaches over and strokes your back. You shudder at the sensation before lazily dragging yourself the short distance to rest your head on his chest. Like this, you can hear his pounding heartbeat. It brings a smile to your face, a smile which you wake up wearing in a daze. Eyes blink blearily in the presence of relentless sunshine.

“What the hell?” You groan, sitting up in confusion. Instead of being at the foot of the bed, you’re resting comfortably on the bed like a normal person surrounded by overstuffed pillows and fluffy blankets. The early morning sunlight reflects off of the water just beyond the balcony. It takes you a moment to remember where you are.

“Guess you’d call me a knockout, huh?” Eyes snap to the doorway of the bedroom to find Dino with a cup of coffee in hand, a plate of pancakes in the other, and a cheesy grin on his face. At your nonplussed expression, he adds bashfully, “Ah... I didn’t have the heart to wake ya up, doll. Sorry if you wanted to leave right after. Uh...”

You survey him closely. He’s in a button-up and slacks -- it’s probably as casual as he can get. That sandy brown hair is carefully combed but there’s just something about him that seems different. Those gray eyes look brighter, cheeks flushed. Cheeks turn even redder and you realize you’ve taken far too long to respond and dispel his fears. “No, I wanted to stay,” you assure him (Six, you fight off a blush when you realize how hoarse you sound) and he’s grinning once more. Gesturing toward the food, you ask, “Is that for me?”

“Of course! And I didn’t burn the coffee this time,” Dino responds proudly. He begins to saunter on over to you with breakfast in hand but freezes when you throw the covers off. How could he forget that you’re naked? There’s a lump in his throat that doubles in size when your wicked eyes lock with his. Heart nearly explodes when you raise an eyebrow at his reaction.

“I’m a bit sore,” you pout and Dino swears it’s a very real possibility that his heart might stop. He damn near drops the pancakes he spent forever trying to perfect when you query lightly, “Mind helping me get dressed?”

Yup.

You’re definitely a daemon.

Chapter Text

Part 4

Dino sips on nothing, having finished his morning coffee over an hour ago. Insecure thoughts have plagued him for days on end. You said you’d call. One amazing night together and half a great morning, and all he has to show for it is a text that you haven’t even responded to. He thinks he ran you off with that stupid talk of “love.” He’d allowed himself to get so swept up in that fantastic evening that the most regrettable thing slipped out from between his lips.

At the time, he thought you handled it well. You’d brushed off his feelings not completely cruelly, but you were blunt enough to get him to understand that you reasonably weren’t “there” yet. It’d been a rather one-sided pining, after all. He’d fallen for you from afar and you were too busy to notice his lingering stares or flirtatious comments. Now, however, he’s starting to think your rebuff might have been hinting at something more.

Gray eyes blink at the phone’s screen where an admittedly clingy message glares up at him:

I had fun last nite. ;) When do u think you’ll be back in Galdin???

He sighs, sounding positively tortured, and thuds his forehead against the table. Considering he’s currently in public, that’s not a very smart move. More than a few people stop dining on overpriced seafood to stare at him before resuming their meal. Oh so pathetic, Dino is pawing at his phone once more, forefinger hovering over the call button for the contact identified simply as “The Daemon.” But, just when he’s mustered up the courage to tap that green button, he hesitates.

Should he call first? Waiting on you to make the next move feels like torture. It’s been two days. Two. Days. Are you playing some sort of game? Is this all being done on purpose? Was he actually a one-night stand and he didn’t even realize it? That’d certainly make working on jewelry with you that much more awkward. Oh, gods, he’s already ruined his first ever business partnership!

Maybe he should text you again? Maybe you didn’t get the first text? What if your number was put in incorrectly? Why is he acting like he’s in grade school?

“Ugh! C’mon, man! Get it together!”

From her station at the Mother of Pearl’s grill, Coctura gives the sandy-haired menace a pitying look. She, much like the other workers at the Cradle, has witnessed the comedic tragedy that is  Dino Ghiranze’s infatuation with you. His blatant staring when you first waltzed into this corner of Leide had tongues wagging. Usually, the guy is criminally suave and is the one being pursued by bored and wealthy vacationers. Dino’s reputation as a bit of a playboy isn’t accidental or misattributed, after all.

Yet you flipped that reputation on its head. There’s something about you that Coctura can’t put her finger on, but she totally gets it. Whatever “it” is. Some magnetism that can turn a man into a simpering, gawking fool who can hardly keep his tongue in his head. Well, your “it” factor has that effect on Dino, at least. Coctura can definitely attest to that.

When you first started coming around, Dino dialed back the flirting with everyone else and the world famous cook was tempted to let you eat for free as long as you distracted him. ‘Cause, seriously, the amount of distracting he usually does has plummeted and Coctura is so damn grateful. Sure, the attention was nice... every once in a while. But gods he was relentless. It was like he was bored or something; just looking for a distraction from whatever he came to Galdin Quay to accomplish.

A “distraction” doesn’t appear to be what he’s looking for in Crown Prince Noctis’ arcane advisor, though. And Coctura can’t speculate if he’s barking up the wrong tree or not.

Admittedly, the night you went back with him to his room, Coctura won a hefty bit of gil. Things looked to be smooth sailing for the serial flirt; there’d even been a kiss outside his room in the morning. At least, that’s what a maid had claimed. But Coctura figures she has no reason to doubt her. There had been noise complaints from the rooms neighboring Dino’s, after all, and he’d been walking on air long after you departed from Galdin.

It’s just the following couple of days that has everyone placing bets once more. The chatterbox has been quiet and only ever speaks to himself in outbursts of obvious frustration. For a second, the chef thinks her flirty friend got ghosted, which is unfortunate. She didn’t take you for the sort to do that -- disinterested, sure, but not the type to intentionally lead someone on and then drop them after you used them. Coctura shakes her head. What the hell is she thinking?

It’s only been two days! Six, Dino is even getting into her damn head with his paranoia. Sure it sucks not to hear back from a lover, but that doesn’t always spell bad news. You’re hardly an average person. Just your name alone is evidence enough that you’re destined for a life on the move or at least one of relative seclusion. Two days, thinks Coctura, isn’t that bad. Now, if this silence on your end starts to creep into three-day territory, well...

Coctura just hopes, for her friend’s sake and the sake of her wallet, that you aren’t leading Dino on.

A sentiment that Dino definitely shares with her, minus the concern for her funds. Teeth worry his bottom lip, gray eyes focused intently on his cell phone which rests on the table before him like he’s awaiting some important call. Normally, he’s not this much of a wreck. He’s been dumped faster than this before (if this silence is your way of dumping him) but his agitation comes from more than a perceived rejection of feelings. He’s worried that he creeped you out. He’s worried that he made you feel put out.

And if your silence means every awful thing that he thinks it means, he wants an opportunity to apologize.

So busy with his personal catastrophe, the journalist-turned-jeweler doesn’t notice a sleek black car and a chocobo-yellow scooter pull up into the Quayside Cradle’s nearly empty parking lot. So busy agonizing over an imaginary rejection and the idea of having weirded you out to the point that you’ve blocked his number, Dino doesn’t see you sauntering up to his table; a clear sign that you weren’t avoiding him, otherwise you would’ve walked right on by him along with your friends.

Said friends are battered and bruised with bags under their eyes. How many times did you and Prompto frog Noct’s shoulder for refusing to take a break? Enough times for Iggy to tell you two to knock it off before he started frogging you two right back in retaliation (oh, the haughty smirk Noct had shot your way when Ignis came to his defense, as per freakin’ usual). But even the prince’s retainer had to admit that two days of wandering Crestholm Channels was pushing it. After slipping and falling in a sewer over a dozen times, Iggy had had enough. Without Specs' support, Noct relented.

The sun is still high in the sky but all anyone can think of is sleep.

Yet you put on airs. Even dead tired and as filthy as a walking trash bin, you act like you’re dressed to the nines and at court. Your usual arrogance lilts your voice as you call, “Hey.”

Frozen. Like a statue, Dino keeps his finger hovered above that damn call button until the phone’s screen dims before finally automatically locking due to inactivity. There’s a soft screech of metal on wood as a chair at his lonesome, miserable little paranoid table is pulled out for one haughty and smelly mage to sit down. Booted heels kick up onto the chair opposite you, gaze trained on Dino Ghiranze‘s pale and almost horror-stricken face.

When he doesn’t say anything, you correctly guess what’s wrong. How many times did Noct pout when you wouldn’t respond to his texts? Even gifs? It's just plain impolite to ignore a text. Your throat is cleared and you confess, “I just saw your text about an hour ago, by the way. There wasn’t any reception where I was.” You sigh, blissfully unaware of the way you effortlessly and effectively release Dino from his worries. “I would’ve responded but I thought just showing up would give you a hint as to when I’d next be in Galdin. Hint: Now.”

Dino’s cheeks begin to heat up. He swears he can feel Coctura staring at him. She’s smirking, isn’t she? Damn her and her dog ears! “Oh,” Dino laughs breathlessly. “Don’t worry ‘bout it. I, uh, hadn’t even noticed that you didn’t text back. I’ve been pretty busy.” Such a flimsy lie that you see right through. Guilt creeps up on you and you can’t help but smile at the brunet dork.

You choose not to needle him about his obvious lie. Instead, you conversationally inform him, “Noct likes coming to the Cradle after we’ve been exploring for days with no rest. I was... sort of hoping I could use your extravagant shower again as a reward for what I brought you.”

“Huh?”

“A necklace. One might stumble across the strangest things in a sewer.” You dig in the pocket of your sweaty sweater and dangle the piece of jewelry from your fingers. Gray eyes appraise it greedily, insecurities and fears are already forgotten. A smirk quirks your lips at his transfixed expression. “I thought you might be able to rehab it. It has... nice bones.”

Reaching out, Dino takes the necklace from you and appraises it. The chain is golden and thin and has several teardrop-shaped pendants dangling from it. Those teardrops, upon closer inspection, are made of jade. It’s quite a find and the design is antiquated, harkening back to a time where more subtle yet clearly expensive pieces were in vogue. “Yeah. It’s got a pretty unique design and antiques are all the rage.” He pauses, bites his lip. “So... Did ya miss me?”

Dino peers at you, gray eyes framed by those beautiful eyelashes. He’s pushing his luck and he knows it. But this is his flirty persona. Everyone expects him to be carefree and suave! Cheeky is what you expect from him. You’ve always known him as the cheeky jeweler in Galdin who asks for way too many damn favors. And he gets your heart fluttering in anticipation with that lame come-on .

You play along, planting your elbow on the table and cupping your chin. A grin splits your lips and you simper, “Of course. I couldn’t wait to get out of that dump and see my handsome partner again.” Now you lean back and slather the drama on real thick. “The thought of your beautiful eyes was what kept me going. If it weren’t for that... I don’t think I would’ve made it.”

Heat rushes into his cheeks. He’s so dumb. Because obviously, you mean “partner” like a “business partner” and not like a “romantic partner” or “life partner.” Trust him, he knows that. Still, Dino just can’t help the color that stains his cheeks. That blush is nearly scalding when Noct calls out to tell you the group’s room number and you presumptuously reply that you’ll be staying the night with Dino in his room. “To work on our latest piece,” you add as if that’ll keep Dino from dying of a heart attack.

“Sorry,” you smile politely and chuckle, obviously nervous. “I didn’t mean to put you on the spot.”

“Nah. I was gonna ask you to come over anyway,” drawls Dino, suave as ever with a pink face. “In fact, I was kinda hoping that this would be a regular thing. Y’know?”

Head tilts. You furrow your brow and wonder, “That what would be a regular thing?”

There goes that blush again. Gods, how red is he, he wonders? He’d die if he actually asked you and you bluntly told him. Cherry red. He’s cherry red. Maybe even redder than a cherry. Crossing his arms over his chest, Dino leans back in his chair, casual as can be, and clarifies, “You stayin’ with me. Whenever you come to Galdin, my door’s always open to ya, (y/n).”

“Oh. Thank you.”

“It’s nothin’.” Oh, but it’s somethin’ and you both know it. It’s just that neither one of you wants to be the first one to say it.

You’ve been wondering if this is going to be one of those friends with benefits deals or if Dino wants something more conventional. ‘Cause, to be fair, the two of you kinda already botched it if the whole “conventional” route is what he’s after. Typically, sex comes after an actual date. At least, that’s what you were taught. That’s what had Prompto all in awe of you when he found out you’d slept with Dino twice (What? Your best friend interrogated it out of you!). You’re a little embarrassed to ask Dino, though.

But you also hate confusion and miscommunication more than you do embarrassment. In your experience, those two things usually lead to the painful kind of embarrassment -- the type that you remember years later, right before bed as you stare at the ceiling and wish for death.

“So,” you suddenly speak without having the faintest clue of what you’re going to say, “I have a question.” Okay, neutral enough. It’s a good start.

A waiter comes by with two iced teas that neither of you ordered. Food will come shortly. Thank Coctura and her nosy nature for that. Dino shoots the chef a weird look that’s some amalgam of irritation and gratefulness before returning his gaze to your serious self. Gray eyes blink at you in curiosity. Dino Ghiranze doesn’t have the faintest clue that you’re about to murder him. “Yeah? What’s up, babe?”

Lip twitching a bit at that pet name, you straighten your back, turn your will into iron, and bluntly ask, “Do you want to date or do you want to keep this strictly sexual?”

Damn Coctura and damn her damn iced tea! Dino is choking to death, having smartly decided to take  a sip of his free beverage as you expertly dealt the killing blow. Those usually clear, gray eyes are red and watery, face red with strain. It only gets worse when you stand and come to kneel beside him, patting his back and fussing over him. It gets even worse when the waiter putters over to perform abdominal thrusts before Dino can thrash away.

“I’m fine! I’m fine!” The brunet jeweler rasps, taking a few steps away from the table, back facing you and the waiter. Shoulders still shake with suppressed coughs. At the grill, Coctura forces herself to focus on cooking. Her shoulders shake, too.

Concerned, you offer the waiter an apologetic smile and reassure him that everything is fine. When he leaves to check on your non-order, you approach Dino. The back of his neck is crimson and you aren’t sure if it’s because of his coughing fit. Tentative, you reach out for his shoulder and grab it before you can think better of it. He tenses at the contact but doesn’t turn back around.

“I didn’t mean to take you off-guard. I just don’t want to leave everything up in the air and have the two of us behaving awkwardly around each other,” you admit. When he continues to refuse to turn around, you sigh and rub soothing circles into his shoulder with your thumb. “Look: That question? That wasn’t me trying to corner you into a relation-”

“Let me ask you somethin’.”

Though slightly peeved at being interrupted, you coax, “Go on.”

His voice is still raspy and he still feels like dying because he made a spectacle out of himself in a semi-crowded restaurant. But Dino finds the strength to turn around and ask, “Without takin’ my feelings into consideration, do you want to date me? ‘Cause I know I said some stuff that night and I don’t want you doin’ this just because you feel sorry for me or somethin’.”

His jaw is set and his expression is severe. Those delicate eyebrows of his are knitted together and he’s finally gone back to a normal color. Don’t get him wrong, though you took him aback with that question, he’s thrilled by the idea of dating you. It’s just that he has some reservations. Namely, he doesn’t want you offering to date him out of guilt or any sort of pressure. Chalk it up to him being a serial over-thinker. A guy doesn’t become a journalist without some critical thinking skills and ethics.

But does he actually have those critical thinking skills after ditching a lucrative job to pursue another career where he has no contacts-? Okay, he needs to deal with those recurring career insecurities another day. Not when he’s talking about a relationship with you.

With a sigh, you grab his hand and lead him back to the table. Thankfully, people have stopped staring and your food has already been served. Between bites of rice pilaf, you reassure him, “Trust me, if I just wanted sex out of you I wouldn’t have put a relationship offer on the table. I’m not the type to offer things that I’m not willing to give.” You stop to savor the pilaf. By the Six, that’s amazing. You’ll have to order some for Iggy later. “And about what you said that night? I’m not holding that over your head.”

“Really?” Dino smiles weakly. “‘Cause it was pretty pathetic.”

Eyes flit up. He hasn’t touched his food. Reaching across the table, you pick up his fork and cut a piece of flaky fish off of the grilled filet on his plate. The fish is prodded against his mouth and he turns red once more. “Say ‘ah,’” you command and he complies easier than he wanted. Smirking, you offer him another piece before handing over the utensil. Once Dino is finally eating, you gently scold him, “What you said wasn’t pathetic, Dino. It was sweet. I’m sure you’re going to be very easy for me to fall in love with.”

Dino wonders if you’re playing a game called “How Many Things Can I Get Dino to Choke On?” because there he goes again and the waiter is actually needed this time. After making a scene twice now, you’re acutely aware that your table has garnered an audience. Diners keep casting you and Dino curious glances, possibly wondering when the next show will start. Food is eaten in silence now, the tips of Dino’s ears a vibrant red that simply won’t abate. At least he's smiling now.

When your dorky brunet companion is done, you stand and beckon for him to follow. At his furrowed brow, you grin and flash his keycard. “C’mon. Let’s go and work on that necklace, partner.”

Dino looks from the keycard to you very, very slowly. “Wait.” He stands and begins to pat his pants down. “I had that in my back pocket.”

You cock your head. The sleek piece of plastic is toyed with between your fingers. “Yeah?”

“I’ve been sitting this whole time! D-Did you do it when you were behind me?”

“Dino, honestly? What’s your point?” Hands behind your back, you begin to walk backward away from him toward the entrance to the Quayside Cradle. Damn, you’re too cute. Dino doesn’t know if he wants to pinch your cheeks or hold you close. “Let’s go already. If we finish work early, we might have time for other things.”

He’s frowning. Why the heck does his partner know how to pick someone’s pocket? What the heck did they teach you in the Spire? But when you mention the prospect of working on jewelry and other things, Dino’s eyebrows rise of their own accord. “Ah...” Dino wants to reprimand you for picking his pocket like a common criminal, but the closer you get to the hotel, the less pressing it seems. The jeweler shrugs. “Fair enough.” And then he’s right on your heels.

Chapter Text

Dating Dino Ghiranze

  • Prepare for inspirational speeches. He followed his dreams, so you should, too. You deserve nothing less than the best and you shouldn’t ever settle. Never give up. He’s a walking cat poster if you’re ever down or seem even remotely dejected.
  • Bad flirting. Like... all the pickup lines. Even when you’re already a couple, the pickup lines don’t stop. They’ll never stop, so strap in. (“Are you religious? ‘Cause you’re the answer to all my prayers. No? That one not workin’ for you? Okay, um... You look great, babe, but you know what’d really look good on you? Me.”)
  • “Hm... I dunno. What do you feel like?” Listen... You’d better have an answer to that damn question or you’ll be stuck in an infinite loop of trying to figure out where to eat until you both starve to death. He’s remarkably indecisive about picking food.
  • The spam texter. Back-to-back texts are his game. He’ll send sentence after sentence rather than just a paragraph. Doesn’t use emojis or “stickers.” Prefers to stick to the good ol’ text-based emojis so expect a lot of ;) or even :3. You’ve been warned.
  • As an aesthete he really appreciates visually appealing and stimulating things. This means he’s easily distracted and if you dress nice you’re gonna hear about it all damn day. “Wow. You look amazing! That color on you? It’s-" “Babe! Look at that! The architecture is so-" blah, blah, blah.
  • Expect him to suddenly stop talking or doing something to whip out a notebook and start sketching and writing stuff down. He’s struck with inspiration for his next piece at random and you tend to be his muse for a lot of his more intricate pieces of jewelry. He doesn’t mean to offend.
  • He’s particular about his clothing. No, you can’t borrow his clothes. Yes, it’s super hot when you wear his clothes... but he wants them back. Total hypocrite ‘cause he’ll take your damn clothes whenever he wants. “Listen, it’s just the way you looked when you wore this- No, please! Give it back!”
  • Not shy about giving his opinion if you ask for it, especially when it comes to what you’re wearing. He’ll tell you if a color isn’t flattering, if a picture isn’t composed well, if some writing is superfluous, or if dinner just plain sucks. “I mean... it’s eh. Y’know?” Very, very opinionated but he isn’t rude about it.
  • Total baby when he gets sick. If he’s sick and you aren’t around, you’re gonna hear about it via a million texts with pathetic pictures that might lead you to believe that he’s actually dying. Just go over to his place. Bring comfort food and watch whatever he wants. Dote on him. He’ll pay you back tenfold when you get sick.
  • Clingy, clingy, clingy. But, listen, he’s totally not clingy. He tries to be the cool guy™ but he’s far too soft to try and play at being indifferent. If he misses you, he’ll try to tell you by way of a sudden influx of texts or random phone calls in the hopes that you’ll get the message.
  • Selfies. Expect morning selfies ("woke up like this lol”), afternoon selfies, lunch selfies, new haircut selfies, just-came-up-with-a-cool-idea selfies, saw-a-dog selfies, sunset/sunrise selfies, this-car-looks-cool selfies, I-miss-you selfies, just... Dino can come up with a reason to take a selfie at any time.
  • The first to say “I love you.” He tries to do it casually, staring straight ahead and not really looking at you. Immediately feels like he needs to throw up after if you don’t say it back fast enough. No pressure to say it back, though. When you say it, he wants it to be sincere. But he says it frequently and at random.

Chapter Text

Part 1

“Consider this: You haven’t met him yet.”

It’s a flawed argument, Decima knows, and she knows she could’ve approached you differently, too. For starters, she could’ve immediately corrected you when you took Ravus’ file out of Talmudge’s hand and called this all an “arranged marriage” under your breath. But Talmudge was there and she couldn’t reveal the true nature or the origins of the ordeal.

She also could’ve told you about it after you met the Oracle. But she’d had a bit more on her mind and the timing was off. It was a cycle of finding excuses to not reveal to you that once upon a time she’d been naïve and full of fanciful dreams of her child’s future. Those fanciful dreams in reality? They feel like micromanagement. They scream of duty over love.

Which is why your mother has eased her stance on it. It’s why she has taken a firm step back and allowed you to dictate the details. Decima’s relationship with you is already tense. She doesn’t want to do anything else to push you away. Gods, these teenage years have been absolute hell. What happened to that chubby-cheeked mageling that clung to her robes?

“Consider this, mother: I still don’t like him.” One of her crystals is turned around between your fingers. Sat on her sturdy wooden desk, you look at her over your shoulder and scowl. “And arranged marriages are so antiquated. Since when did we become royalty? Since when did Lord Ravus get enough power to boss around-”

“Consider this: You haven’t met him yet.” Decima takes a quill and jabs your rear, making you yelp and hop off of her desk. “Eighteen-year-olds do not sit on an official’s desk. There was no power play to this, (y/n). This was decided years ago... And for the last time it’s not an arranged marriage.” The Arch-Mage extends her hand to you expectantly and you relinquish the crystal with a pout.

Yes, this is technically not an arranged marriage... It was a promise between two friends to have their first-born children married. A silly thing, really. A fairytale formed at the first sign of trouble on the horizon, when both families realized that they were exposed to all sorts of terrors. But then Sylva had her son and it took eight years for Decima to have you. “What took you so long?” Sylva had teased.

The proposed union was not even formally arranged. But Decima became more convinced to see at least some sort of meeting come to pass once that old friend died and that family line was thrown into the fire. And she was relieved when Ravus responded to her letter -- a formal invitation to the Spire of Duscae, Eos' premier college of arcane studies. Ravus' invitation is a bit tenuous, though, because-

“Isn’t he with the imperials?”

Silver eyes watch you as you stand at the window that affords the office a stunning view of the sprawling Duscaen wilderness. You stare down at the trees, fingers drumming against the window. It’s a bit odd, Ravus’ position. Though you say “imperials” like a slur, something spat from your mouth, you don’t necessarily hold it against Ravus Nox Fleuret.

If there’s something living in the Spire has taught you, it’s the necessity of wearing certain masks in certain scenarios; to be different people for survival. You wonder if that’s what Ravus was doing when he joined the imperial army. But he mustn’t have done too good a job of it or maybe the imperials are just suspicious. Because when he comes here tomorrow, he’ll have company. The Tenebrae pawn and his imperial escorts.

“What a title,” you muse to yourself. “The Tenebrae pawn and the Spire mage. What a pair. Both surrounded by people who would much rather see them dead.”

“You’ve read the dossier that Magister Talmudge provided. Don’t ask pointless questions.” Decima rearranges her crystals on her desk and refrains from scolding you for smudging her window. She’s been too stressed lately. While you’ve been doing the fun planning, she’s been walking a tightrope of bureaucratic red tape. “The Spire is neutral territory. We house students from all over Eos.”

Except that’s not necessarily true.

The Spire may house people from all over, but it has historically been loyal to the Lucian kingdom. Almost every mage who graduated from the Spire has gone to work in the Lucian army (sometimes the Kingsglaive), especially since your family of Lucian loyalists took over. So the college can’t claim total neutrality. Which is why you were surprised when you heard the Empire allowed Ravus to visit. Because you highly doubt the decision was his alone.

“So, if I do end up marrying him, who do I kill? Prince Noctis or Lord Ravus?” You’re only half-joking. In truth, you’re nervous. Just what in the hell is your mother thinking? Before Tenebrae fell, maybe this could’ve happened. But as it stands now, you’re being prepped to serve as the arcane advisor to the future king of Lucis... y’know, the Empire’s sworn enemy?

What exactly is your mother hoping will happen? That you’ll get Ravus to defect? Because you know it’ll be over your mother’s dead body that you’ll become an enemy of Lucis. Not when every Iovita since practically the dawn of time has served the Lucian kings. So, surely that’s not her plan. Is this how the line of the Mages will protect the line of the Oracles? Tea in the Spire greenhouse and a whirlwind wedding will fulfill an old promise between ancient family lines? The very idea has you laughing aloud.

Decima quirks one fine blonde eyebrow at her randomly laughing child and sighs, “(y/n), enough. Tomorrow will be your first meeting. The two of you don’t even have to get married after. Six know I’d never hear the end of it otherwise.”

“You know me so well,” you tease before leaving your mother’s office. It’s midday and you still have classes to attend. Plus, you have some last-minute micromanaging to do at the greenhouse. What? Just because you’re trying to make the setting perfect it doesn’t mean you’re actually looking forward to meeting Ravus Nox Fleuret!

He’s just another sign of how your life isn’t your own. Another way of having the one thing that’s supposed to be yours and yours alone planned out and arranged before you’ve even really lived it. Decima hasn’t heard the end of your complaining about Ravus since the meeting was announced. And, unfortunately for her, she won’t hear the end of him after it, either.

Chapter Text

Part 2

Okay... So, you feel a bit dumb for immediately thinking that he’s bigger than his picture, ‘cause duh. But Ravus Nox Fleuret is intimidatingly tall. The only other person you’ve met who has been as statuesque has been... well... someone you’re trying to forget. That daemon of a man, Ardyn Izunia, who had mysteriously shown up in your childhood to seemingly befriend you and who just as mysteriously disappeared in your adolescence after you had a falling out.

While his pernicious brand of hostility was something that you could ignore in your childhood, it was different to hear the sarcasm in his voice through grown ears -- the special kind of spite that he harbored just for you. To this day, you still have no idea why he came around the Spire...  But, anyway, childhood drama aside, your shock over Ravus' ungodly height is covered elegantly with a too-wide smile and a weird noise in the back of your throat that you hope he can’t hear but he does.

The fact that no one announced Lord Ravus' arrival irritates you. It’s not just because it allowed him to sneak up on you but because you feel oddly offended on his behalf; as if his appearance in the Spire is as trivial and mundane as a parent stopping by to visit their child. Your mother doesn’t even know that he’s here and she won’t know until you’re already having tea. She’ll greet him as he leaves.

Faerie lights decorate the greenhouse and a small, white painted table sits by the roses. It’s raining outside, a soft pattering against the glass panes, and the delicate smell of earth lingers in the air with the aroma of roses. It’s quite romantic for someone who was so very much against having this meeting in the first place. The silhouettes of imperial soldiers outside by the door are a mood killer.

Striving to be on your best behavior even though you don’t particularly want to be here, you greet, “Good afternoon.”

The easy cadence of your voice is something Ravus makes note of. He also makes note that there’s a fine edge of arrogance there that adds a bit of a lilt to your tone that most nobles have. The former prince of Tenebrae is startled by your appearance: That flattering finery and composed expression. However, he makes no undignified noises and reveals not a single thing on that placid face of his.

There’s an ethereal quality about you that’s amplified by the lush surroundings of the greenhouse. You look at home, at peace, and yet like you don’t belong. Though he wasn’t expecting you to look like your mother or your grandfather, as his own mother had warned him years ago of those strange Iovitas, he finds that he’s a bit... taken. This must have been what his sister meant when she said that you were “funny” after she'd met you in secret years ago to engage in one of those fabled Mage-Oracle meetings.

Leave it to Lunafreya to speak cryptically.

“Good afternoon,” Ravus finally responds. To him, it feels like he takes too long to reply but in reality, he blurts it on the heels of your own greeting, making your lips quirk.

You make a sweeping gesture toward the table with your hand. “Please, sit.”

He ducks that head of silvery blond hair and waits to sit in tandem with you. Okay... that was a good start. There’s a tea set on the table which consists of a teapot, two cups, a creamer, and a sugar bowl. The white and ochre teapot suddenly becomes extremely fascinating. You both reach for it at the same time and pull back. He’s older, shouldn’t he pour the tea? You’re the host, shouldn’t you pour the tea?

Mildly irritated looks are exchanged before you two can catch yourselves. Six, you probably shouldn’t have picked something that requires so much pomp and circumstance or is subject to varied customs. But what should your first meeting (in which you're supposed to discuss an engagement, of all things) have consisted of? Hot wings? And because you’re your own favorite comic, you start snickering.

Ravus isn’t amused. Isn’t this supposed to be a professional meeting? Yes, he was surprised that Decima Iovita still considered him to be a potential spouse to her child after he was stripped of everything -- honestly, he was a bit flattered and felt a pang of melancholy when he got that letter that spoke of such an old promise -- but his mood is quickly souring.

Quite a chip to have on that pretty shoulder of his.

He only came here because this was something he had promised his beloved mother he would do. To unite two family lines of great magical power and to protect each other in such a way. Yet here’s one half of that united front laughing at the other. There’s so much that’s projected onto you that Ravus might as well list screen-times and hand out popcorn.

The older man stands abruptly and so do you. It’s a reflex on your part. The soldiers outside shift their weight at the sound of porcelain rattling on a metal table. Eyes are hooded as you stare at the silver-haired ex-prince, all humor gone. Though you despise confrontation, absolutely no one who has ever confronted you can say that they came out on top.

It’s what you were hoping for. Not potentially getting decked by an army guy, of course, but... this. The contempt on Ravus’ face. Him screwing everything up and not you. Him finding fault and calling everything off. But dammit if you aren’t a perceptive little mage. Because you don’t just see contempt in those heterochromatic eyes. You see hurt.

With a heavy sigh, your eyes are cast down and you take your seat. The teapot is picked up and you carefully fill each cup. “Which one of the magisters snubbed you? My money is on the one that looks like a walking corpse with Godfather levels of jewelry. He tends to be the most insufferable. If I’m being honest with you, a hateful part of me always hopes he’ll slip on the stairs and do me a favor.”

As Ravus continues to stare down at you, his anger withdraws. Because you look so serene and sincere (a little too sincere when joking about death... but the older man thinks it’s safe to say you were 100% serious). You’re arrogant and haughty like all the other Spire mages, yes, but there’s something in you that’s lacking compared to them. Lacking but not in a bad way.

It was in the way he was greeted and made to wait in the Spire’s entryway while the very same magister who greeted him and instructed him to wait passed by nearly half an hour later as if Ravus wasn’t there. It was in the way that a student blinked at Ravus and asked him what he was doing before telling him to leave and go around back to the greenhouse. It was in the way Ravus heard them laughing at his back.

And he finds that it’s not in you.

He would be lying to himself if he said he wasn’t at least a little bit curious about you before Decima wrote him and that may have driven him to meet you. Along with the agreement between your parents. Ravus was familiar with your name, of course, and with your family. He knew his sister had paid you a visit when she was traveling and fulfilling her duties to the people as Oracle. It was supposed to be a secret but he knew. But he had heard of you before that. From his mother and from the news.

Whenever your name showed up in the news (all three times), it wasn’t a blip. It was big news. It used to be constant gossip in tabloids when it first came to light that an infant Iovita was being raised in the Spire. It was all secretive, so of course, rumors spread. People said there wasn’t a child, to begin with until the Arch-Mage paid a visit to the king to swear her child to the service of his.

And, once he was sure that an Iovita child actually existed, Ravus had asked his mother why you were being kept away -- so curious about you in his youth. She had responded that the Iovitas had always been very secretive with their children. There was something mysterious about their training or something like that. Some personal test of their mettle, Ravus assumed from his mother’s vague talk, before they were ready to go out into the world and fulfill their noble obligations to the Caelum bloodline.

When he was young and naive enough to look forward to such things, he found himself looking forward to when you would make your debut. He was eager to see what you would do, who you would become. Though your powers were not divine, he wanted to see those legendary feats of the Iovita mages. And five years later? The Iovitas made their customary pilgrimage to the king (no pictures, of course). The trip was supposed to seal the deal. The little arcane advisor to-be was supposed to be raised alongside the Crown Prince.

But all of Decima’s flowery words seemed forgotten as she reportedly refused to have her child raised outside of the Spire. She wanted more time. More time? That was what the papers got caught up on: “Is there something wrong with (y/n) Iovita?” An infamous headline that seemed a bit foolish and definitely reactionary -- without a photo of the child in question and without any sort of basis for those claims.

And so, a concerned Queen Sylva called for Decima to visit to discuss that latest development. The two had consulted with each other often over things they’d never reveal the nature of. It wasn’t unusual. The two families usually crossed paths through the ages, intertwining and then going their separate ways like passing strangers. Decima Iovita usually came around Tenebrae with nary a warning to her arrival and not a photograph to mark that the visit happened. As it was with their ancestors: the nomadic Iovita seeking out the Oracle in some clandestine visit in the dead of night, hushed words and strange pacts forged.

But when the meeting adjourned, Ravus didn’t detect any concern in his mother. He’d asked her what had happened, if (y/n) was going to be living in the Crown City any time soon, and she’d smiled to him and simply said, “The mageling is not ready yet.” All was well. And a year later a letter arrived that made his queen mother go pale: something happened with (y/n) and they would be staying in the Spire indefinitely. Sneaky Ravus had spied a bit of the letter, curious and concerned over how his mother had reacted to its contents.

My child has been taken in by the beast. Regis mustn’t know. My queen, I am begging you, you must-”

And his mother had walked in and her face had gone blank. The letter was burned at once and Sylva refused to answer any questions. Well, Ravus didn’t bother asking any. He’d never seen such an expression on his mother’s face, or lack of expression, before that day. Then Sylva had a long conversation with young Lunafreya -- a conversation which he wasn’t privy to. Ravus' mother had assured him that he and the mage would still be wed. This led him to believe that nothing was amiss but he was still so curious.

The mystery grew and grew until tragedy dashed it from his mind altogether with his mother's death. Until now, when he’s confronted by the myth, the mystery that is (y/n) Iovita: The mage that was taken in by the beast. And he didn't know what his mother meant then and he still doesn't know now. Because after he had confronted his sister about her visit to the Spire, she’d told him about it as if she’d been eager to share some secret that couldn’t be contained.

From what Luna had told him, you were polite, deferent, and incredibly poised for someone so young. She’d been so impressed with you -- enamored, even. “They’re so sweet, brother. They have such kindness to them even after being locked away and alone for so, so long.” She’d smiled sadly then, blue eyes glimmering. “They were very funny, though I don’t think you would appreciate their humor.”

“Is that why you visited?” He’d asked. “Because you did not want them to be alone?”

His sister had replied slowly, “There was that aspect to it, yes. Mother had told me that I needed to see (y/n) because the Arch-Mage was worried-” she cut herself off then, “worried about (y/n). But I fear (y/n) already turned to another source for aid. There was nothing I could do. I delayed the trip and I believe (y/n) will pay a dear price for it.”

“Lunafreya, if that mageling did something detrimental to themselves, it’s not your fault. You are not culpable for the actions of a stranger.” He was still so bitter at that time. Bitter from the loss of his beloved mother.

“(y/n) is no stranger, brother," Luna had reprimanded him. "They are to be our family.”

That old curiosity is piqued all over again when his eyes inevitably trail over you and the good-natured smile on your face; a smile that doesn't belie anything "beastly." He’d thought many, many things about you before he even met you. Yet you surprise him today -- that naive curiosity of his bubbling up to the surface. The Iovita who was “taken in by the beast.”

It takes a lot of tea and a bit of slapstick comedy on your part (you put too much sugar in your tea and gag, making those mismatched eyes glint from over the top of his cup) before Ravus will finally get out of his own head and tell you of his reception. It’s relayed through stiff lips, eyes locked on yours to not appear broken or as if the display got under his skin... a bit too late, considering his offense at you laughing at a joke in your head.

You’re disappointed when you hear of it. A daily routine for you. “Spire fuckery” is what you call it and Ravus quirks a brow at your crass language. You didn’t know anyone would have the gall to subject an imperial soldier to it much less the former prince of Tenebrae. So you regale him with tales of your exploits. Namely, your favorite ways to pay back Spire fuckery.

When you’ve finished telling him about a flaming toilet, the greenhouse fills with silence.

You’ve already drained your social battery and Ravus doesn’t even seem to have one. It’s not an uncomfortable silence, though. He allows you to be quiet. Doesn’t press you to make conversation like all the others who think that you must, as the future arcane advisor to the King of Lucis, be full of mindless chatter to entertain foreign dignitaries despite you being the asocial sort -- the consequence of a life of studious isolation. In Ravus' presence, you don’t feel rushed or anxious. There’s something very calming and sobering about him. Something sad, too.

You find that you want to figure out what it is. You find that you want to see if he actually has a secret social battery hidden somewhere that he wasn’t comfortable showing you during a first meeting. But you only have two hours and time is nearly up. Wait... Is it? Wow. Time is nearly up and you don’t even know if you made a good first impression.

“Do you have a phone?” You suddenly ask, leaning back in your seat and watching him closely.

He’s been tracing the rim of his teacup with his forefinger for a while now, occasionally looking up at you or at the various plants. Soft smiles are exchanged only when eye contact is made, otherwise, he’ll stare at you and look away when he thinks he might get caught. But now he stops the nervous habit and looks up at you. “I’m sorry?”

“Do you have access to a phone? Or email? I only have a Spire email address which I rarely use aside from for assignments but...” you dig around in your pocket and pull out your cell phone, “I was wondering if I could have your- Why are you looking at me like that?” Cheeks burn and you scowl at the faint smile on his lips. “I’m asking for your number, not asking you to ma-”

You stop of your own volition. That lame joke? It hits a little too close to home where you two are concerned. It also reminds you two of your own stupidity. This was a meeting that was literally planned for weeks in order for you two to seriously discuss the proposal that your parents laid out for you. Yet the concept of marriage was never referenced until now... as a joke.

So busy being bashful, so busy getting a feel for each other, you didn’t meet today’s one goal. Ravus feels particularly perturbed. He’s usually so focused on duty and honor and he’d planned an entire speech for how he would convince you of the benefits of the union (he’s actually lucky he forgot) yet you completely distracted him. He can't even recall the last time he'd been distracted.

“Do you not have a phone?” You break the silence once more. “If not, I can invest in something like a Bat-Signal so you’ll know if I need to speak to you. Or do you communicate by carrier pigeon?”

“You’re absolutely ridiculous, (y/n).”

It’s the most he’s said to you at once this whole meeting; a meeting which consisted mostly of you asking questions and him responding with monosyllabic responses, fill-in-the-blank conversations, and grasping attempts at mind reading. As he leaves with your laughter in his ears, Ravus finally realizes what that “funny” quality of yours is. You’re magnetic in every sense of the word.

Chapter Text

Part 3

Some might say that you’re too suspicious. You say that you’re pragmatic. Because there’s just something a little off about Ravus Nox Fleuret being able to send you letters -- his way of contacting you after that greenhouse meeting. An imperial soldier corresponding with the next Arch-Mage and arcane advisor to the future king of Lucis? It’s always in the back of your mind, that suspicion.

It carefully crafts your responses, stills your hand when you’re about to reveal something a bit personal. And damn that silver-haired bastard. Because he totally lowered your defenses with his social ineptitude and sharp tongue that day; left you vulnerable to a strangely poetic spirit that comes out in the written word.

When you get the first letter, you think you’re being taken for a ride. But, by the Six, does that awkward nerd have a way of disarming you. Because, to his credit, he doesn’t address the marriage proposal in his first letter. It’s something that’s suggested to him from a chancellor with perpetually smirking lips, golden eyes glinting and planting bits of advice in the ex-prince’s subconscious.

“How was your meeting with (y/n) Iovita? I daresay they’re quite charming and their partner should be, as well. It would be difficult to hold their attention otherwise.”

Ravus was left feeling rather chagrined by that unwarranted comment. Feelings of inferiority were inflamed but he never let it show in his letters. Each one was brimming with confidence and a strange softness. Each one ended with a short poem from one of his favorite poets to bring you serenity... No, seriously.

The first time you read one of those short poems, you stared at it for an age, so damn confused. The letter was flipped around in your hands, looking for something to indicate that it was a joke. But he was sincere. Flowery words of wisdom at the end of every letter. And obviously, you needed to do something comparable. You don’t know it, but Ravus greatly appreciates the painfully lame ways that you start and end every letter. “Hey there, silver fox...“ Oh, how he’d blushed. What sort of greeting was that? “Your charming friend, (y/n).”

Charming, indeed.

Things didn’t stay sunny, though. News of the arranged marriage and of the meeting in the Spire spread like wildfire. It added a certain level of pressure that neither of you wanted. Oracle and Mage dealings are typically secret. This was supposed to be, as well. But Decima knew it would get out. Of course, it would.

It was why she had informed Regis beforehand. Though he wasn’t about to tell one of his oldest friends that she should rethink the affair, he had warned her of how things might play out in public. It was nothing she hadn’t thought of before. That Decima Iovita, always a few steps ahead of her enemies...

Anything to paint you in an unflattering light was pounced on by the Spire, the college's old guard wanting to usurp the family of usurpers once and for all to finally regain control of such an ancient and powerful institution after four generations of Iovita rule. And King Regis went out of his way to publicly endorse the union of “two honorable family lines.” You were flattered and slightly confused for the defense of your honor until one thing came crashing down on your head... The whole world was working under the assumption that everything had been decided.

“Don’t let anyone pressure you, (y/n),” Drusa tuts, glancing at you from over the top of a heavy tome. It’s been a few months since the first meeting and the kindly magister is finding it difficult not to laugh whenever you bring Ravus up. Failing to do so casually, you no longer attempt to find a proper segue to discuss him.

Drusa Alomar, your second mother figure, can now say with 100% confidence that she knows Ravus Nox Fleuret’s favorite colors, how he likes his tea and how he takes his coffee, the type of humor he enjoys (yours... your type of humor, but Drusa thinks that might have been a white lie on the commander's behalf), every last one of his hobbies, and that he’s fond of dogs.

She’s spared the nitty gritty details of philosophy and politics.  Those are things that are heatedly debated and have you throwing your pen down and taking a long walk before you get back to composing a response that consists of something other than colorful names for Ravus' opinion on King Regis. And Ravus has to keep from rolling his eyes at your blind loyalty.

Sat in Drusa’s brightly-lit office, you silently brood. But for the perceptive magister, your brooding is too loud. It’s an exaggerated pout and crossed arms. It’s narrowed eyes staring intently at a random point on a wall. The palpable moods of (y/n) Iovita are infinitely distracting. It’s with a resigned sigh that Drusa realizes she isn’t going to get any reading done.

Honestly? Drusa is tickled to death that you've fallen for the man you said you disliked before having met. And all it took was one interesting meeting and a series of flowery letters. But she supposes the letters are what really did it. The perfect medium for two awkward people trying to get to know each other.

“He’s visiting next week.”

She’s startled by your sudden statement. It’s said like you just found out it’s going to storm on a day that you planned to have a picnic. The inflection of your voice, the sigh, and the pout of your bottom lip. Shoulders slump and you slouch against the mustard yellow chair in her colorful office. Watching you closely, Drusa wonders, “And that upsets you?”

“No.”

“So why do you look like someone just ate the last of the pudding?”

“Because it’s been nearly a year,” you reply waspishly.

Drusa purses her lips at your short tone. She leans back in her old leather chair. “Did you want him to visit sooner? More often?” When you don’t respond, she closes her book and sets it down on her desk. “All of the above? None of the above? I can’t read your mind, dear.”

“It’s because, despite how you say I shouldn’t let anyone pressure me, time is still pressuring me.” At her nonplussed expression, you carry on to explain, “We’d agreed that we’d come to a decision upon our second meeting.”

Something tickles Drusa’s brain. Eyes narrow at you. “Hold on... This second meeting was planned two months ago, wasn’t it? Didn’t you have a hand in planning it?”

“Yes,” you huff, glare intensifying. At this rate, there’s going to be a hole burned in the wall.

It was your suggestion that things get decided so soon. Not that “pressure” was getting to you (in fact it made you want to keep things in limbo forever out of spite) but you were and are tired of delaying the inevitable. A decision has to be made and these months have been sobering. Because none of this was about romance yet you’d taken it upon yourself to make that the focal point. This is about survival. This is about the Oracles and the Mages being at the end of their line; something Ravus would occasionally bring up.

I assure you, under my protection, you would not be subjected to such denigrative behaviors.

Under his protection? You’d marveled at such comments, squinted your eyes and shook your head. He’d humored your questions but never lost sight of what this really was. From the moment he got your mother’s letter, he’s been ready to fulfill his duty. All of this? It was a labor for your comfort -- to warm you up to the arrangement. However...

If Ravus actually disliked you, he wouldn’t give a damn about going through all the effort to try and make you feel comfortable with him. He’s not one to suffer fools gladly and he’s kept every letter you’ve sent -- read and reread them with a soft smile on his lips at a joke that’s so unfunny that you somehow made it funny. He can imagine your delivery, a pause for laughter that will never come and a scoff of, “Screw you. I’m funny!”

Though you aren’t ready to say that you’ve “fallen” for Ravus Nox Fleuret after a year of letters, you think you might be ready to go through with this dutiful marriage. You know the union is for his protection (funny, because he thinks it’s for yours) but you still want to maintain some level of autonomy in your life. The idea of an arranged marriage still leaves a bitter taste in your mouth...

“Have you made up your mind?” Drusa queries, practically on the edge of her seat though she looks calm. She knows that you’re conflicted -- it’s as plain as day for her to see. You’ve developed an interest in Ravus but it’s soured by this whole arranged affair -- like a storm cloud hanging overhead.

Finally, you stop glaring at the wall to give Drusa a doleful look. “Yes. Of course.”

A tricky spot: To be the reverent mage in all aspects of your life. But you’ve been formulating something to say to him -- one important condition of this union, if you will -- that he damn well better agree to. This is, for all intents and purposes, a business arrangement as far as you’re concerned. And you just want to make sure you aren’t going to get burned in the end.

Drusa almost begs to know what you’ve decided but the two of you are interrupted by a polite knock on the door. Your mother enters, gliding into the office, hands behind her back, and fixes you with a funny look. Silver eyes glint. It’s slightly teasing and full of good humor as she reveals a pristine letter. “Another one, (y/n).”

You call it “business” yet your heart leaps when you see the letter with your name penned neatly on it.

You’re in your room in a flash and you can’t keep the grin off of your face when you see the familiar arc of Ravus’ fastidious hand. If you close your eyes you can hear that pompous voice speaking to you, oozing derision in response to a crass joke. You’ve quickly learned that he utilizes your own name as a reprimand.

I’m sure mother will be thrilled to properly greet you during your next visit and I’m always up for seeing the magisters shit bricks. They thought they’d ruined everything by treating you so poorly.” you'd written, the tip of your tongue caught between your teeth and eyes narrowed.

An exasperated, “(y/n),” is what you get for that comment. The sigh practically comes off of the paper. Cheeks hurt from grinning so much. It makes you laugh aloud. And then you want to punch yourself. Gods... This is just downright sad. So much for this being business. So much for you not falling for the guy.

Eyes go from starry to irritated. “Dammit.”

Chapter Text

Part 4

The reality of what this is is at the forefront of your mind. It’s something you force yourself to remember. Those letters? They were a trivial formality. They put you a bit at ease, knowing that you won’t be bound to someone who is complete garbage. Not seeing eye-to-eye politically is a given. What did you expect?

Still, you feel like that’s something that needs to be addressed. You think about it as you run your index finger over the fine edge of your knife before resuming your work of crushing cloves with the flat of the blade. Sat at your alchemy table, you contemplate everything you’re going to say to Lord Ravus tonight when he dines with you in your quarters.

That sounds far more intimate than it is.

Having dinner with you in your bedroom? Oh, how romantic. To be sat under the gaze of the nine eerie portraits of your ancestors in a room where the windows whistle with wind and the cold creeps in? With imperial soldiers standing watch outside like the caged, silver bird’s wings are strong enough to see him safely out of the window of a chamber that’s so dizzyingly high up?

With an aggravated sigh, you set your blade down and scowl at the brown bits that decorate the table. The spicy musk of clove lingers in the air well after you’ve gathered the dust and the bits and bottled it all up for later. You can’t concentrate. Haven’t been able to think about anything other than this damn meeting for days now.

And neither has Ravus.

What was supposed to be a formality on his part quickly turned into his favorite little ritual. To receive those letters from (y/n) Iovita, each one smelling like some unique spice, each one with just a trace of that magic that always buzzes around you, is something he cherishes. He hadn’t expected that.

There’s a warmth about you that makes him feel welcome. Nobody has bothered to make him feel welcome in a long, long time. You go to great pains to write to him. The older man knows how busy you are, schedule packed with all sorts of lessons and meetings as the Arch-Mage in training and future arcane advisor. Still, you make the time to write. Sometimes you include an enchanted trinket in your letters.

He finds himself feeling like a giddy boy each time, wondering what you’ve sent him when he sees the envelope is distended.

First, it was a button. A button. Heterochromatic eyes had squinted skeptically at the words on the page. Were you joking? Did you think he was a fool? A button was supposed to shield him from the heat? “Sew it onto your shirt,” you’d instructed. He felt a bit daft doing as you said but sure enough, when he was in a hot climate, it worked. If only it wasn’t hot pink...

All of the things you’ve sent him have been odd but helpful. Touching, really, that you think of his well-being even under these circumstances. Ravus finds it heartening but doesn’t want to get ahead of himself and trick himself into believing that he can predict your answer to the proposal from these acts of kindness alone. And he’s, quite honestly, shocked by his cold reception this time around and is grateful that he hadn’t got his hopes too high up.

Again, it rains when you two meet. A running theme with the mage and the soldier: Gray skies and soft rain; weather that makes one feel lethargic and sleepy. The rain patters against your window and you stand with your back to him well after he’s greeted you to make his presence known. He refuses to allow himself to shift uncomfortably in the doorway.

Gaze is cast down at the lush greenery far below. Trees sway and you close your eyes. That warm, clean smell rushes in when you unlatch your window and open it. A gentle spray of water dots the front of your shirt but you pay it no mind. Stiffly, you turn your head and look at Ravus over your shoulder. “We need to come to an understanding before anything is set in stone.” Your tone is modulated yet forceful.

There’s power in your voice even when you keep it low. It hits Ravus right in the chest and puts him on edge. Something’s changed in you. Now that reality has set in, your affection is withdrawn. This discussion will be all business.

“Agreed.”

You turn quickly and make your way to the table that’s been set nearest to the door. With a crook of your finger, the bedroom door slams shut right behind Ravus; an unnecessary display of your skill with gravity. A power play. Though it makes you look like a bit of a blowhard, your grandfather would be proud as he was prone to such subtle posturing.

It’s an effort for Ravus not to turn and look behind him but he feels like you know he wants to. There’s a devilish gleam in your eyes before you snuff it out and sit elegantly, chin raised and hands on your lap. You gesture for him to follow suit and he does so rigidly, back so straight that it doesn’t touch the back of his chair.

“How was your trip?” You ask conversationally, placing your napkin on your lap before eating your meal. This is a proper dinner and you have to force yourself to not basically inhale your food in the usual Spire way where everything is rushed and good food is appreciated but never savored. As a result, it looks like you eat in slow motion. Ravus slowly raises an eyebrow.

He flicks his napkin out and sets it on his lap. “It was tolerable.”

“So, that means it was good. Nice views on the way here, I’m sure,” you muse, chasing an errant lentil with your spoon. Gaze flickers up to him from beneath your lashes. “By the way, how did you enjoy the walk up to my quarters? Was it invigorating?”

Ravus almost laughs. The memory of the sound of his escorts’ labored breathing as they climbed the seemingly endless flights of stairs makes the corner of his mouth twitch. “Quite invigorating, yes.”

“Good.” A slow smile makes its way across your face. The spoon is put down and you push your bowl away. “You’ll need to have that royal blood of yours pumping. I need you sharp.”

Heterochromatic eyes snap up to meet yours. “I suppose you’re ready to discuss the arrangement.” It’s a statement, not a question. The former prince of Tenebrae somehow manages to straighten his already ramrod straight back even more. Six, that looks uncomfortable. You almost ask if he needs a massage.

“You suppose correctly,” you drawl, taking on the air of one who is so disinterested that it borders on being unfriendly. But what you’re about to say is nothing insignificant. You want Ravus Nox Fleuret to know that you’re dead serious. And, oh, he’s beginning to get the message. Those eyes of yours are downright simmering.

Chin rests comfortably in the palm of your hand as you lean forward, elbows on the table. From hooded eyes, you survey him coolly, almost impudently. Ravus bites the inside of his cheek at your gall. He supposes this is how the youngest of the infamous Iovitas conducts business -- a sneaky tactic of head games and trickery. Of course, he'd heard the rumors about you before he even met you -- before he got to know you.

People said you were a hellion and he found that to be true on the first day. But they also said that there was a coldness, a rigidity to you that would come out in formal settings. And when that coldness would rear its head so too would cunning. He sees that now as plain as day.

Right now you’re unnerving him with your behavior. You set him on edge with your cold reception, softened him up with mindless chatter, and now you strike when he’s just got comfortable. Six, dinner isn’t even finished yet and you’re keeping him on his toes. He hasn’t even had a bite to eat.

As if reading his mind, you tut, “You can eat as I talk. It’s mostly going to be a lot of me talking at you, as usual, anyway.” When he doesn’t make to resume his meal, you drum your fingers against the smooth surface of the wooden table and sigh, “All right, fine. Let’s just get to it, then, shall we?”

“Agreed.”

"I'm sworn to protect and guide Crown Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum-" his eyes narrow marginally, "- and I'm a loyal servant of the Lucian kingdom. A marriage changes none of that. This is a binding contract in which we're sworn to protect each other. But that doesn't mean I'll be loyal to the Empire."

"And neither does it mean that I shall be swearing fealty to Lucis," Ravus replies moodily.

Eyebrow quirks and you say slowly, "I agree. I'll protect you to the best of my ability, Lord Ravus, but know from the outset that you are and always will be secondary to my duty to my king and my country."

He’s quiet a moment. Blue and purple eyes burn into you. Somehow, that felt too cruel. To be considered secondary yet again. To be pushed aside in favor of another. Though he wholly understands your call to duty since he has and always will prioritize his sister Lunafreya, the way you said it so coldly, so bluntly, was jarring.

“Agreed.”

When Ravus returns to Niflheim, successful at finally arranging for this union to take place and in just a few short months, too, people will think he failed at first. He’s more harsh and shrewd. But although he’s brooding, although you’ve put him in a foul mood with your cold pragmatism, he rereads your letters and tells himself to be content with the warmth he finds there.

Chapter Text

Part 5

Nobody really understands how unconventional this is. For an Iovita to be married? Legally? It’s just not something that’s done. A marriage is a surefire way to get a spouse hunted down and killed by mercenaries that "definitely weren't" hired by the Spire old guard. But Ravus Nox Fleuret is someone with a bit of weight behind his name and he’s certainly not easy prey to vengeful noble mages.

Honestly, he’s the perfect match for you. Well, that’s a little extreme. A royal or someone in a position of power is the perfect spouse for an Iovita purely for the fact that the Spire shies away from having targets placed on the backs of those of high rank. But being hermits, the opportunity to marry into a prominent family was never a possibility for the Mages.

Ravus’ title and reputation alone should be enough to make you relatively untouchable and Decima has no doubt in her mind that you’ll find a way to parse out your duties to be a stalwart protector of both the lines of the Oracles and the Kings. She knows it’s a lot to ask of one person. But your mother will never stop searching for ways to shield you from the Spire.

Decima contemplates this as she goes over the details of the wedding with her only child. You look fatigued and maybe a bit malcontent. All of the excitement that was once stirred up at just the sight of one of Ravus’ letters is restrained. She rightly guesses that you feel foolish for having allowed yourself to get swept up in courtship.

Nearly a year of letters, of getting to know one another, all gone down the drain once you were hit with the sobering reality of the arrangement. A funny thing to forget. But communicating with Ravus made forgetting grim details so easy. Hearing about the weather in Niflheim might’ve seemed a dull thing for other people, but...

Ravus knew of your arrangement with the Spire. He was made aware of it by both his mother and Arch-Mage Decima. To be confined for so long? He understood that your training was intense but he still felt a pang of pity for you. The imperial soldier found himself purchasing postcards during his travels and writing to you about different climates and landscapes in vivid detail. Such an interesting and unlikely companionship soured by something that was promised before you two were even born.

And Decima feels responsible for your withdrawal but she knows it would’ve been more unkind to simply have Ravus visit and let him win you over with his... charms...? Honestly, your mother has no idea how you were won over by her old friend’s rigid son. She’d always imagined you’d fall for someone more like your father, though you’d never met him.

Charming, witty, and kind. He’d had a softness to him that seemed so contrary to his occupation as a hunter. It was so easy for the Spire to make someone like him disappear. A hazardous occupation and an unrecognizable name. He meant nothing to anyone but everything to Decima. The Iovita matriarch sighs softly under her breath. Pale eyes hover over your face where you pull an expression that’s so very much like him. She wants to reach over and hold your hand but she knows you’re in a foul mood...

Back to the matter at hand, Decima felt it would be deceitful to allow Ravus to court you under false pretenses. The silver-haired lord wouldn’t have allowed it, anyway. He’s far too forthcoming by far, something that will get him in a spot of trouble with Decima and a certain chancellor in the near future. So, even if your mother had ignored her conscience and told you of Ravus’ visit with a few key details missing, the ex-prince would’ve corrected the error.

“Mother, who does this farce benefit?” You suddenly ask, pulling Decima from her musings. Silver eyes watch your face, the way shadows are cast along it from the crackling fireplace in her spartan office. A felt-tip pen draws lazy circles on the rough draft of a menu. There are doodles in the margins. One looks like Magister Talmudge being chased by a bear.

“I beg your pardon?”

Those warm eyes of yours glance up to meet hers. There’s defiance in your gaze. Decima swears it’s been there since birth. “It’s not even a proper marriage so why are we going through the pains of... menus? Guest lists? Flower arrangements? Can’t we just sign that lovely, legally binding contract and be done with it?”

Decima sighs, looking over said guest list once more. “(y/n), Ravus is a lord-”

“Since when has anyone’s title other than the king of Lucis’ ever meant anything to our family?” You interrupt irritably. Six, it’s all you’ve heard in the damn Spire. Students who have never even deigned to speak to you have been going on and on about the wedding ceremony that will be conducted here. The wedding of a lord of a once great house... oh, and you, the mage with no house.

Fine,” Decima concedes, barely refraining from rolling her eyes. “He’s of the Oracle line. Therefore he at least deserves some sort of ceremony.”

“Yes. Where he can’t bring any guests and it’s all going to be gawking magisters and their pissant families who, once upon a time, went after our family like big game hunters but are now asking what colors they should wear and are deciding between the meat and the vegetable plate.”

“(y/n)!”

Your mother’s offended tone has you shrinking back into the confines of the stiff chair in shame. Bottom lip pouts out. Gods, at nineteen you still act like a petulant child in the company of your mother. “Drusa isn’t included in that generalization, obviously.”

Decima pinches the bridge of her nose. She knows you’re right but do you have to be so godsdamned obnoxious about it? “He’ll have one guest,” she hastily corrects, finalizing the guest list with an official stamp so Talmudge can set about having the invitations delivered, “that’s all he’s allowed by the kingdom. I’m sure you’ll be happy to see him again.”

“Oh? Again? Who is this mysterious guest?”

“He’s a large part of the reason why getting your correspondences to Lord Ravus was relatively painless. You remember Ardyn, don’t you? It hasn’t been that long since his last visit, but...” a quill is toyed with between her fingers, the most that Decima Iovita will ever show of nervousness, “memories can be a bit spotty.”

That curious gaze of yours burns her. You’ve always been too curious for your own good. An inquisitive mageling getting into all sorts of trouble and a shrewd mage who will never, ever leave well enough alone. “How does he know Lord Ravus? Why does he have so much sway with the Empire?”

Your mother doesn’t meet your eye, voice icy. “He's a high-ranking official in Niflheim but to us, he’s a man of no consequence, (y/n).” Despite the warmth of the fire and the comforting light it provides, Decima looks eerie. Her pale face goes blank, silver eyes intense and posture rigid. Through body language alone, she’s telling you to drop it. Of course, you don’t.

“A high-ranking official in Niflheim?” You all but guffaw, recalling how he'd been introduced to you in your childhood, how he'd been allowed to pay you welfare visits up until you turned fifteen; asking about your studies, asking about how you were being treated in the Spire. Oh, knowing this new bit of information you hardly think King Regis gave those visits a green light. "That's hardly what I'd call 'a man of no consequence'! Why on earth would you introduce us if you knew all along that he was with-?"

“I’ve had enough of your questions. This wedding won’t plan itself.”

Funny how your mother, whom you can argue with until you’re blue in the face, can shut you up at any moment with just the tone of her voice. Yet you keep your hard stare on her a moment longer, just to let it be known that you aren’t pleased with being left questioning before you go back to looking at the menu. Silently, you brood over the hows and whys of Ardyn Izunia's presence in your life. Perhaps it was linked to your arranged marriage all this time? More likely, there's something more sinister afoot gauging by your mother's iced-off expression...

But she's right. This damned wedding won't plan itself and you can't continue to brood over the man who frightened you off with his knowledge of the dark magic you were dabbling in during your childhood -- the man who knows your secret shame as the "moral mage." Fingertips drum against your mother's desk without rhythm. Six, you’ve been staring at the same lists for days now but you honest to gods don’t know the difference between a bisque and a "cream soup." Sighing, you insist, “Everything on the menu is fine, mother, and I’ve already decided on the color scheme with Lord Ravus.”

“Oh?” That’s the first she’s hearing of it. Since your second meeting with the man, the letters have become few and far between. Well... The letters that you send. Ravus still sends the same amount as if he’s genuinely attempting to court the mage even though the engagement is settled, trying not to allow himself to be disheartened by your lack of response.

What he doesn’t know is that you’re fighting with yourself to not become attached. A funny thing... to not want to become too emotionally committed to one’s future husband. It’s a difficult thing, really, to keep that line in the sand; to sternly remind yourself that this is business. Sometimes you think Ravus has forgotten. He’s even sent you pressed flowers.

“Yes. He’d like a very specific shade of blue if we can manage it. Something as close of a match to a sylleblossom as we can get.” A heavy, tired sigh escapes you. This wedding planning has been brutal and, quite honestly, boring. At first, it was a little exciting. But now you just want to put your head through the desk. “I have a reference that we can use. He sent it to me.”

“Not to worry. I already have one,” your mother responds contemplatively. A perfectly preserved sylleblossom pressed between the pages of a book. A gift from the Oracle -- well, the woman she had known to be the Oracle. Funny that he would do the same for you. But you two have obviously become close, after all, no matter how you like to pretend otherwise... Decima looks down at the menu without really looking at it, a soft smile on her face.

Chapter Text

Part 6

It’s a stilted mockery of a wedding. The ceremony was supposed to take place outdoors on the grounds but it got rained out at the last minute. All those decorations have gone to waste. And now the two of you stand across from each other in the dining hall. Ravus feels completely outnumbered. It’s his wedding and he can’t even have his sister here.

Lunafreya had wished him well. “All the happiness in the world for you, brother.” Those blue eyes were teary and the elder sibling didn’t have the heart to tell her that no romantic love had blossomed during the time that he communicated with the young Iovita. He still wanted to bring her here. If only he could...

Ravus tells himself that if he just focuses on you, he can get through this without any bitter, biting remarks to ruin the ceremony. You’re a vision in silver, this moment feeling so ephemeral. Behind you stands Arch-Mage Decima Iovita and her second-in-command, Magister Talmudge Ainsworth. No one stands behind Ravus. The one who wanted to was told stiffly to sit down with the rest of the guests. Ravus was unmoved by lighthearted protests.

He had to deal with the damned chancellor’s running commentary all the way here, though he must admit that he listened keenly when your childhood was brought up. “You knew (y/n) when they were a child?” He’d asked, curiosity masked by a thin veneer of a disaffected tone.

Eyes like molten gold had flashed. “But of course! I am their oldest friend," he'd bragged. "I do hope I can trust you to take good care of them? Oh, to be young and in love. But I’m sure you must already be growing weary of my rambling.” Ardyn Izunia had smiled so genuinely that Ravus was completely unaware that the man had nothing but ill will toward you both -- you more than him.

And at the moment, the thing that feels as if it’s slowly killing Ravus Nox Fleuret and making him feel ill right now is you. There’s a subtle downturn to your lips, eyes slightly hooded. Hands are clasped politely in front of you, shoulders pushed back and spine straight. You seem to glow in the dreary stone dining hall of the Spire.

Ravus had hoped to have a word with you before the ceremony started. But there was so much rigamarole over the sudden change in the weather -- the Spire mages acting as if they might melt from a drop of water -- that he couldn’t get to you. And then when the lightning struck? One would swear the world was ending. Then you open your mouth and slowly kill him in an entirely different way. Your vows are so formal, so emotionless.

You bring up duty several times and Ravus feels his teeth clench together more and more. From the sea of mages decked out in sylleblossom-blue and silver, two fiery brown eyes watch attentively. A smile crawls onto that placid face when Ravus’ vows consist of warm words. He tells you how he looked forward to your letters and how he was struck by your humor and warmth when you met. There’s a hint of teeth in Ardyn’s smile when you become visibly flustered, hands trembling so much that you nearly drop the ring as you go to put it on your husband. Laughter ripples through the crowd and it’s silenced by a glare of mismatched eyes.

This farce doesn’t need to be believable. Nobody needs to think that you two actually love each other. It’s his name that you need and the magic that he requires. Protection, like you said in your vows. And yet the silver-haired lord presses his forehead against yours before placing a chaste kiss on your cheek and there’s polite applause.

You’re stunned a moment before you smile demurely at the guests to hide your bitterness. That ring burns your skin. A sour thought creeps up on you like a cold chill running up your spine. You realize you could’ve loved him. If it weren’t for all of this? The arrangement? You actually could have loved Ravus Nox Fleuret.

Who’s to say you can’t?

Pride? Your damned ego? Common sense? It’s just that you feel like you’re being duped. You’d expected to hate Ravus. A part of you definitely still resents him for being part of the arrangement and you know that’s irrational because, clearly, he doesn’t resent you for being part of it, too. But that resentful part is what tells you not to fall in love.

Maybe I already have?

That thought keeps the wine flowing during the wedding feast. That feeling like you’re the butt of some great cosmic joke has you struggling to hold back laughter when your mother’s lovely toast to the happy couple goes from well-wishes to innuendo about the sanctity and secrecy of Mage-Oracle contracts -- she just can't help herself and it only hammers home the thought that this is all a farce and that you're more the fool for falling in love. Cheers, indeed.

“The bisque is lovely,” Ravus murmurs from beside you and you slowly roll your head to the side to look at your new husband. Spoon dips down into the pale orange soup and comes up to his mouth. He eats soundlessly, so refined and dignified. When he feels your gaze on him, Ravus glances at you and suppresses a blush.

You stare brazenly for a bit longer, holding his gaze. Eyes are glossy, lips slightly parted and brow puckered ever so slightly because you’re just so damn confused about how someone can eat soup without making a single noise. Then you snap out of it and correct him with a grin, “It’s a cream soup.”

The corner of his mouth twitches. “Ah. I see.”

The moment is interrupted by a smiling redhead sauntering up to the newlyweds’ table, hands behind his back. “Words cannot describe the feeling that overcame me at seeing two of my favorite people being united in holy matrimony.” A small box is placed before you two. “I wish you two a lifetime of happiness.”

Your gaze flickers up and down your dear old friend. Well, more like your dear old frenemy. At first, when you saw him after all this time, fear seized your gut and you felt ill, thinking he might blab about your past dabblings in dark magic, in necromancy -- the ultimate sin of magic. Sure, you had been a child and only resurrected a toad because you had been tricked by a daemon, but you don't think Ramuh is the forgiving sort.

But now you’ve imbibed perhaps a bit too much liquid courage on your wedding day because you act as though you and Ardyn Izunia never fell out of step, that he never waved your lapse in judgment over your head. “There was a dress code,” you drawl, taking in his assorted clothing. It's severely lacking in silver and sylleblossom-blue.

Amber eyes gleam. There’s that sharp-tongued mage; like a razor’s edge, just how he remembered. But he can see the alcohol clouding your eyes. He doubts you’ll be so familiar when you’re sober. “My humblest apologies, dear. Perhaps you’ll overlook my indiscretion when you see what I brought you?”

Ardyn smiles at the way the lord and the mage stare at the small, neatly wrapped box like it’s a thing with teeth. Despite its size, it’s quite heavy and is wrapped in simple parchment paper. Twine holds it all together and when you can no longer take the teasing look in those golden eyes, all it takes is a simple tug for the twine to come undone.

The box is made of fine redwood. You and Ravus exchange curious and wary looks before the silver-haired man takes the box in his hands and opens it. On a white velvet cushion sits an iron shackle. Golden eyes observe your unaffected expression. Fine silver eyebrows knit together when Ravus picks it up. Magic buzzes against his skin.

This is something that Ardyn found ages ago during one of his visits to the Spire. The memory is faded, blurry. You recall him discovering the artifact in a hidden floor beneath the Spire basement. The two of you had gone in the basement because you thought you'd heard voices -- the wild imagination of an odd child. You'd sought out Ardyn for protection, sent him down into that hidden floor and he'd come back with that. He pocketed it and you thought nothing of it. All you cared about was that there were no monsters in that strange, hidden room. 

“You’ll have a use for it, I’m sure,” Ardyn smirks, addressing only Ravus.

Pale brow puckers, lips tugging down into a scowl and Ravus is about to fire off a rebuttal when your words turn his ire into ash.

“What a fitting wedding gift.”

Both men stare at you even though you grumble it under your breath and into your wine glass. A slow sort of smile winds across Ardyn’s lips, eyes flashing, and he wishes you both the best once more before returning to his seat. Your malcontent is palpable; as are Ravus’ hurt feelings over your comment.

Tonight, Ravus Nox Fleuret will have the honor of escorting you to the derelict guest quarters just outside the gate on the Spire’s grounds. Well, “derelict” is a strong word for “tiny house that hasn’t been slept in, in nearly four years.” It’ll be your second time going beyond the gate and you’re brimming with excitement. You focus on just the liberating act of being beyond the gate to firmly thrust everyone’s expectations out of your head. Because as far as the rest of the world knows, this is an actual loving marriage. And you’ll coast along on that assumption for as long as it continues to grant you privileges you could only dream of having.

The fact that the cottage is decorated nicely with candles and actual sylleblossoms is something you side-eye before taking a sip of water. Clearly, this had to be Drusa’s doing. The house is one room skillfully divided into a bedroom that doubles as a living room and a kitchenette on the far wall.

Shoes are pulled off and you remove your elegant, intricately embroidered silver tunic with the utmost care. With your backs to each other, the two of you dress in sleepwear and you immediately flop down onto the bed with a tortured sigh. You stare up at the ceiling. The musk of mold lingers beneath waxy “Ocean Breeze.”

“At least that’s all over. Thank the Six there’s no wedding night. I’m already exhausted,” you joke wryly as Ravus tentatively gets on the bed beside you.

Heterochromatic eyes widen marginally but he doesn’t say anything. Hold on. This was something  you two really should’ve discussed. How in the world did you two manage to butt heads over politics, philosophy, and even theology but you didn’t discuss if... coupling was going to be part of this arrangement?

He’s silent as you turn on the tiny TV that sits precariously atop the only dresser in the room. It’s tuned into the news. Your wedding is a blip on the ticker, scrolling by alongside the development of a sinkhole somewhere in Leide. With pursed lips, you flip the channel to something else. A low-budget movie plays and you leave it on.

The mage and the lord brood.

As expected, the guests had consisted primarily of magisters and their families from their fancy Houses. King Regis sent an “ambassador” and there were some men you didn’t recognize -- friends of your mother, apparently. Ravus was a bit surprised to see members of some prominent families from the world over in attendance. Such is the Spire’s reach.

“How long are you staying this time?” You query, settling comfortably against the pillows, eyes trained on a man in a monster costume lumbering around on-screen.

“Just for the weekend.” Is Ravus’ brusque response.

This bed is too small. Ravus eyes the couch but it’s far too short for his stature and he isn’t about to have you sleep on it to satisfy his own comfort. You watch him from the corner of your eye before reassuring him, “You can get closer. Trust me, though I know the pleasure of having a bed to myself, I also know how to share.”

Stiffly, the imperial soldier scoots closer until his side is touching yours. Six, it’s like lying next to a damn statue. The awkwardness and the wine form a heady mix. Ravus feels you shaking before he hears your laughter. Hands come up to cover your face and your husband simply watches, a slight smile on his lips. “What is it?”

It takes you a while to calm down, wiping tears from the corners of your eyes. “Everything,” you finally admit. “I mean, honestly? I think we could have come to some sort of agreement that didn’t involve an arranged marriage, but that’s just me using that pesky old logic. But, if I’m being frank with you...”

The way you trail off leaves Ravus hanging off of your words. He damns you for leaving him hanging like that, eyes intense and attentive, but he doesn’t pester you. He already knows you well enough to know that if there’s one thing you hate, it’s to be badgered, same as him. The two of you are remarkably alike.

You peer up into his face. He sits up against the headboard and you’re comfortably reclined on the bed. There’s something about the way you’re looking up at him that makes his heart flutter in his chest. Finally, he looks away, too flustered by far just from a simple look from the mage.

Alcohol buzzes in your fingertips which you drum against your thigh. Eyes remain fixated on Ravus as you slowly state, “At least I like you. I can take comfort in knowing that I married a man whom I may not always agree with but whom I can say that I respect and... like. No matter how much I may act like a little shit,” you add with a self-deprecating smile.

Well, at least Ravus doesn’t have to tell you that you were behaving like a “little shit” the whole night. A soft smile graces his features and the two of you continue to watch the cheesy made-for-TV movie in comfortable silence until you nod off. Then Ravus turns off the television, pulls the covers  over you, and falls asleep.

Chapter Text

Part 7

Deception is your strong suit. Smoke and mirrors, playing others for fools. All traits that Ravus Nox Fleuret has absolutely no patience for. Mostly because he doesn't have the head for it. Speaking out of both sides of one's mouth? Discarding honor and slipping it back on like a cheap robe? He can't wrap his mind around it.

Yet you do it so easily, so seamlessly. With a charming smile to hide every indiscretion. And the commander finds that he has even less patience for your particular brand of mendaciousness, no matter how disarming or flattering you may be. He can abide by your lies but only if he isn't the target audience.

Such a typical thing of a mage. Being a liar, that is. But he hadn't expected you to be so skilled, so crafty and artful. Even in letters, it peeked through the words. Hell, you even bragged about pulling the wool over a magister's eyes. So, he knew what to expect of you. Funny that he didn't expect to be on the receiving end so soon.

"This was fun," you murmur and he can tell that you're lying. Sprawled out on the bed, pillow nestled under your chin as you rest on your stomach and watch TV. You’re in your pajamas and it’s barely 7:15 p.m. yet you’re acting like you’re already going to call it a day. And what a day it was. Scrabble and made-for-TV movies.

Ravus is one of only a small handful of people able to expertly sniff out your lies. And this lie stings a bit. Because you're talking about how you find his company... except you aren't. Though he can sniff out your lies he can't discern their intention. You don't find him boring. You find being confined to the house boring.

You'd hoped that your "honeymoon" would afford you more freedoms than this. As it stands, you've been resigned to playing Scrabble (He destroyed you at it. It was a lot of: “That’s not a word!” “Yes, it is.” “Let me check- Oh, dammit. It is.”) and watching television. There are other things to do together but you aren't nearly bored enough to be that brazen.

"Am I boring you?"

There it is, that honest nature of his. The silver-haired lord will never stop trying to get you to be just as truthful. It's amusing to you, how steadfast he is with regard to veracity. Little does he know that white lies are sometimes necessary. Though he's kind, he's terribly blunt due to that damn commitment to the truth.

That habit of bludgeoning you to death with his words has you slowly closing your eyes and rubbing your temples with your fingertips. Already, you two act like you’ve been married for decades when in reality being shut up in a tiny house has probably aged you several years. A sitcom plays on the TV. The laugh track triggers at this exact moment.

Shooting Ravus a look over your shoulder where he sits at the head of the bed, you scoff and respond, "No, Lord Tight-Ass,” his hooded eyes and pursed lips are ignored, “I'm bored with being stuck in yet another building. A smaller one, at that. Though the company is lovely and infinitely amusing, these walls close in on me each day."

"It has only been two days."

“You have one day left.”

Ravus tilts his head to the side. He can read the displeasure in the hard lines of your body. Even though you’re in a rather casual and sprawled position, your muscles are bunched, coiled with tension, and there’s been a subdued severity in your eyes over these past couple of days. “When you say it like that, it’s rather ominous,” he notes.

“Well, the idea of wasting my time with you is pretty grim.” And then you realize what you just said and sigh. That quiet disappointment? Two days together and you’ve developed a sixth sense for it. Sitting up, you flop down onto your back beside Ravus like a lazy cat. “I meant that I don’t want to waste our time together, not that I think being with you is a waste of time.”

For a while, those obnoxious, exaggerated voices that attempt to play some stereotype are the only sounds in the room. Ravus’ intense gaze is palpable, it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up and goosebumps break out along your skin. Is he a ghost? Gods, you’re trying so damn hard not to look at him. But how can you not?! It’s so obvious that he’s staring. And when you glance up, he finally looks away.

Nerd.

Ravus fidgets and immediately stops. That’s one thing he’ll always hate about being around you: You make him fidget. You’re far too endearing for your own damn good and it’s like you don’t even try half the time. The silver-haired man should’ve known better. Being charmed by your letters obviously meant he’d be charmed by you in person. It’s just that you’d been so awkward when you two first met. But then you exchanged letters for nearly a year, got to know each other in that way, and... He’ll admit with a stony face that he’s fallen for the mage. There’s no shame in it. You’re his spouse, after all.

However, he doesn’t want to be the only one in love. That would be shameful. So, he’ll keep his feelings quiet and held close to his chest. For your sake and the sake of his pride, he’ll continue to pretend that this is just business and that he’s content with that, same as you. Even when, like now, you give him some hope that you don’t still think this marriage is a business arrangement...

“What would you like to do, then?”

Those cunning eyes narrow at him. When you look at him like this, he becomes determined to maintain eye contact. Too bad extended eye contact is your weakness. He has you slowly trying to become one with the mattress as he continues to stare you into oblivion. When you can’t take it any longer, you look away.

Damn. He won.

But you sorta give him the win. He so rarely gets any social wins with you, anyway. Without a word, you get up and make your way to the kitchen, the threadbare rugs that cover the stone floors are rough against your bare feet. A quick glance out of one of the small windows shows you that the sun is close to setting. Orange light filters in through the blinds, making the cramped house look strangely melancholic. A bottle of champagne is taken out of the refrigerator and placed on the linoleum countertop.

The tiny bathroom is entered and you straighten yourself out as you raise your voice and speak to Ravus. “I have a radical idea,” you announce, a grin evident in your voice. Though you technically aren’t allowed outside, seeing as how a guard is conveniently taking a stroll through the house’s overrun garden once every few hours, you’ve already got the patrol routes memorized and are raring to go.

Ravus, however, isn’t easily sold on “radical” ideas. He’s the cautious sort. Besides, he’s supposed to protect you. How’s he supposed to protect you if you just go looking for trouble? Then again, how much trouble can a sheltered mage get into? He’d be surprised, actually. Very, very surprised.

“What do you have planned, (y/n)?”

Feelings of claustrophobia are staved off by keeping the bathroom door open. The bathroom is just a sink right next to a toilet and then a makeshift shower was somehow wedged into the corner. The “detachable” showerhead already fell off and nailed you in the back during your morning shower. You've got a nice welt along your spine from it.

Fingers quickly work through your hair and you tidy up your appearance. Actual clothes are thrown on and you brush your teeth for some reason before you call out, “Come nightfall, why don’t we go out for a walk?” It’s silent. Weight shifts onto one leg so you can peek out from the bathroom to look at your quiet companion.

That heterochromatic gaze immediately falls on you once you’re in his line of sight. He’s going to comment about the daemons when you add, “These are blessed grounds, so no harmful creatures can get here. Trust me, I tried finding some before when I had my introductory biology lessons. It’s so boring here.”

Then you’re ducking back into the bathroom, leaving the former prince of Tenebrae to contemplate your little plan. So, safe means boring to you? Such is the life of a civilian compared to that of a soldier. It’s very telling to Ravus. He’s going to have his work cut out for him when it comes to protecting you.

While you’re in the bathroom, Ravus gets dressed for a walk in the woods. Under normal circumstances, he might refuse to entertain your “radical” idea, but he knows how dissatisfied you’ve been with being cooped up and he’s sympathetic to your peculiar plight. It was him who wrote to you about various locales so you could live vicariously through him, after all.

A cloak is thrown on over his casual clothes just as you bustle out of the bathroom. You collect the champagne from the counter as well as two plastic cups that you’d found under the kitchen sink. The moment you turn around, a bark of a laugh rips right out of you. Here you are in a t-shirt and the sweatpants you wear to train in while Ravus dons a tunic and cloak.

That guffaw rings in his ears. The silver-haired lord can already feel a blush threatening to creep up his neck at your reaction. Those wicked eyes of yours are crinkled in the corners, a huge grin on your face. Ravus looks down at his dark, intricately embroidered cloak and sniffs, “I can cha-”

“No, no! Stay dressed like that!” You laugh, trying and failing to reassure him with your gibing, “You look cute in your civvies.” It’s said with clear teasing intent. Civvies? He’s dressed to the nines at the drop of a hat and your t-shirt has a hole in the hem and reeks of herbal tea (an accidental spill that seems to haunt the damn garment like a ghost).

You go about putting your shoes on like nothing is amiss while Ravus is rooted to the spot. Over the simplest comment that probably wasn’t even meant as a compliment and was most likely just intended to smooth out his ruffled feathers, he’s stunned. Heterochromatic eyes watch you pull on boots, tucking in your sweatpants. Dammit. You’re so uncouth and you’re a habitual liar. He knows this to be true. So, why is he so enchanted by you?

As if reading his mind, you look up from the foot of the bed and turn the soldier to stone with your gaze. Lips quirk into a knowing smirk. “Let’s keep the TV on but turn out the lights. Then we’ll make our daring escape.”

Daring escape? Ravus wants to laugh at your hyperbolic way of speaking. Even in your letters, you’re prone to hyperbole -- the dramatic mage. But he entertains you at every turn. Like you requested, the lights are turned off and the two of you sit at the foot of the bed until nightfall, which comes quickly. The time is checked. The patrol has just passed. Then you’re sneaking off into the woods on the Spire’s expansive grounds. It’s humid out, making Ravus regret the cloak already. Thick trees reach up to the inky sky, toads croaking and crickets chirping down on the forest floor. Aimlessly, the two of you walk in silence. When you realize that it’s beginning to get too dark to see, you come to a halt.

“What’s wrong?” Ravus’ voice is hushed, kept low due to all of this cloak-and-dagger you’ve conjured up from seemingly nowhere. You don’t respond, instead conjuring up something else entirely. After handing off the champagne and cups to Ravus, your hand is turned palm-up and a fireball flickers to life. It’s kept small, emanating warm light, and you grab Ravus’ free hand before continuing on toward nowhere.

“Nothing’s wrong,” you finally say, eyes darting around at the shadows that jump out of your way, “I’m just... trying to find us a nice, romantic spot to sit.”

Again, you tease and taunt him. It’s what you always do, what you’ve always done. But Ravus doesn’t know that you only do it with him. To the silver-haired lord, you’re charismatic; and since he’s only ever really seen this side of you (along with a glance at your social ineptitude), he comes to the wrong conclusion that this is how you are with everyone. Besides, why would you treat him differently when you’ve made it clear to him time and time again that he’s nobody special?

Still, still... your words and how you hold his hand makes his stomach twist. And what happens next on this jaunt through the woods? It only serves to further confuse him. This entire relationship will befuddle the two of you for years to come. Because while you like to remind him that this is just business, you constantly say and do otherwise.

Tonight is the beginning of such a contradictory pattern.

Ravus has kept track of the direction you two have been going just to be sure that he can get you back safely. When he begins to think that you mean to keep on walking until you’re completely out of Spire territory, you come to an abrupt halt in the first clearing you two have come across since  leaving the cottage. Here, the moon and the stars provide ample light.

Your hand is closed into a loose fist and the flame dies out, leaving the two of you in an eerie blue light. You release Ravus and drop down onto the ground. You warn him that the ground is a bit damp. The former prince furrows his brow at you before whisking off his cloak with an impressive flourish and spreading it out on the dewy grass. At your doe-eyed expression, Ravus flushes and instructs, “Sit on this. We don’t need you catching ill.”

“If I get sick from wet sweatpants, then my family line really is doomed,” you laugh, crawling onto his fancy cloak. He doesn’t make to sit down immediately, so you pat the spot next to you to urge him on. “If I’m the only one sitting on your nice cloak, I’ll feel awkward.”

Well, he can’t have that, now can he? Without further ado, Ravus sits down next to you, legs uncrossed and the heels of his boots digging into the earth. Your gaze lingers on his long legs a moment and then you remember yourself and ask him to pop the cork on the champagne. Again, he silently does as told, letting the foam spill out onto the grass rather than his cloak.

“Do you want the plain pink cup or the white one with the...” you squint and bring the plastic cup up to your eyes in this limited light, “is that a cat?”

Ravus plucks the cup from your hand and inspects it. “A fox.”

“The hell kinda-? Never mind. A fox cup for the silver fox, it is, then,” you taunt, taking the cup back as well as the bottle of champagne. You pour until the alcohol is almost to the brim of the cup before attempting to hand it back. However, Ravus ain’t havin’ it. Heterochromatic eyes are hooded.

“I thought I was allowed to choose?” Ravus objects.

“You want the pink one?”

“You’ll have the fox,” Ravus replies simply, pouring champagne into his pink plastic cup, not filling it quite as high as yours. “Do you care to make a toast, (y/n)?”

Not really,” you think blandly, but you know you’ll entertain him anyway since he makes so few requests as it is.

Quite dramatic, you raise your plastic cup and spout, “To honor, duty,” you see the reservation hidden in his eyes and cast yours down, “and love of family. We’re family now, Ravus, whether you like it or not.” You bump your lame plastic cup against his and take a long drink.

Again, you joke and make light of things that ought not to be made light of. Again, you say something that makes the stony soldier feel rather strange. For a moment, he simply watches you. Head tilts back as you drain your cup and hiccup at the carbonation with a barely audible “Ow.” Now you’re looking at him. Ravus hurries and takes a sip from his cup.

In the moonlight, he looks rather fascinating, you note. Funny what that silvery-blue light does to his pale hair. His profile is rather nice; a strong nose and nice brow. Honestly, he looks nothing like Lunafreya. Siblings (though not Iovitas, with Decima and Lysandra being exceptions to that rule) are supposed to look alike, aren’t they?

He seems to have... what do your fellow classmates call it? Resting bitch face? Gods forbid you ever say that aloud, he has such remarkably thin skin and zero tolerance for fuckery. But he seems to have a rather high tolerance for your fuckery; more than all of the magisters combined. You’ve got  away with saying quite a lot of rude things in his presence.

You’re broken out of your trance when Ravus refills your cup. “Thank you,” you murmur into your champagne, eyes now trained on the trees. All you can smell is the crisp scent of the champagne mingling with the musk of damp earth. It feels good to be outdoors, out under the vast starry sky with pleasant company. Though you’re a bit loath to admit it, Ravus Nox Fleuret makes you feel... safe? He has natural protective instincts much like yourself and you find it rather interesting that he’s already shown well before you got married that those protective instincts extend to you. A cynical part of you says that’s because he was trying to win you over...

Toads and crickets fill the silence along with the occasional owl. When you can’t take much more of it, you begin to make pleasant conversation. Which, let’s be real, isn’t your strong suit. Still, you try. But you really shouldn’t have, because you start with, “I find it kind of odd that people find you intimidating, Ravus.” Immediately, you feel those mismatched eyes on you.

“You don’t find me intimidating, (y/n)?” He smiles when you shake your head. “Well, I do not find you intimidating, either.”

That smarts a bit, though it shouldn’t. Considering who your “heroes” are (or were), the desire to be intimidating has always been there. Because being intimidating in the Spire means that people will think twice before trying to square up. Such odd aspirations for a mage to have. Whether you like it or not, many will find you intimidating and then some in the future.

But right now, Ravus is looking for a bit of camaraderie, not to insult you. You’re two individuals who have been isolated and shut out by many people at every turn. He sees in you a kindred spirit and wishes to convey as much. Unfortunately for him, you’re so kindred that your skin is just as thin as his.

You snort, “Well, you’ve been privy to my spelling errors in ink. So, the illusion of perfection? That ship sailed eons ago.” He’s cast a displeased side-eye. “But back to you. I don’t really see it -- the intimidation factor, I mean. I guess when a man writes you poetry, you cease to view him as a war hawk. But, y’know, pretty poetry or no, cross my king and I’ll have to kill you.”

Ravus sips his champagne from his plastic cup, eyes on the softly twinkling stars as if that will help him ignore the unnecessary bite in your tone. “Yes. So you’ve warned me.”

You’ve said it almost constantly.

“That was a nice game. I’d like to take you on again. But if you attack my kingdom I’ll have to kill you.”

“Isn’t this a beautiful place? I wonder what the rest of Lucis looks like. Oh, by the way, if you mess with Lucis, I’ll have to kill you.”

“You remember that I’ll kill you if you raise a hand against my prince, right? Okay, cool. Just checking.”

Part of Ravus argues that you’ve only said it so often out of sheer boredom. Being so confined in the Spire and then being transplanted to and confined in an even smaller building? You’ve made your frustration known in small ways; longing glances out of the windows; sighs when travel commercials come on. But you’ve also made it known through those alienating threats.

Mistakes are things that you catch on to quite easily. Force of habit from unrelenting magisters who expect nothing short of perfection from you and then resent you for being a perfectionist.  Ravus’ passivity in the face of your unwarranted remarks makes the acknowledgment of errors come faster. Because, oh, his silence is a damning thing.

Seriously, when he goes all quiet like this you feel like you just kicked a puppy and now it’s looking up at you with big, sad eyes filled with betrayal. The only course of action is either to apologize or to redirect. “Have you spoken to your sister about me?” Redirect, it is. What an odd subject.

“Yes,” Ravus replies hastily, eager for a subject change as well. He’s always eager to move things along after you make yet another sobering comment on where he stands with you. “Quite often,” he admits.

His response hangs in the air along with the humidity. It gets you thinking about your promise to the Oracle. How funny that you constantly remind Ravus that he’s secondary to your king when you steadfastly swore yourself to Lunafreya. Then again, Lady Lunafreya isn’t actively working for the Empire.

“Has she told you anything about us?” You wonder, tracing the rim of your plastic cup with your forefinger. It’s rough and uneven; as if it was exposed to excessive heat like in a dishwasher and ended up warped.

“Only that she visited you in secret. She never revealed the nature of the meeting.” Something that has never ceased to bother the former prince. He and his sister have always been open with each other or tried to be, at least. So when he confronted her about her clandestine meeting with the young Iovita mage and she remained secretive, it incensed him. She only spoke vaguely and just talked about how she personally viewed you.

“Right. I have to be the one to do that.” From the corner of your eye, you cast Ravus a sidelong glance, one that he returns. His curiosity is piqued though he does a spectacular job of remaining impassive. A warm breeze rustles the leaves up above. “I suppose you should know. But, of course, you can’t tell anyone about this.”

“Of course,” Ravus readily assents.

Champagne tickles the back of your throat. “Your sister is under my protection.”

“Protection?”

The way he repeats you? That skeptical edge to his tone? You know what he’s getting at. What does protection mean from someone who has sworn to protect someone else to the best of their ability? What does it mean coming from the Spire’s prisoner? “I won’t be confined to this place forever. When I’m out, I’ll watch over her.”

“Your duty is to your prince, as you like to boast.”

“Yeah. It is. It has been from birth. But now... it’s to my king, my prince, my country, Lady Lunafreya, and you.” That stare of his is a hard thing to ignore. You gaze out at the dark trees. “My greatest hope is that you won’t force my hand, Ravus. I’m the type of person who likes to keep promises. It would be a great shame to have to break my vow to someone.”

“You mean your vow to me. You have made it no secret that I am secondary to your king. If there is to be any vow broken, we both know it shall be the one you made with me.”

Hurt is all you hear and Ravus is ashamed of it. If he could, he would take back everything he just said. In a moment of passion, moved by the sincerity in your voice and the solemnity in your face, he allowed his frustration to come forth. You’ve divided yourself up and given him the smallest piece, a piece that you, up until this point, have said that you’re ready and almost eager to take away from him.

And now you say this? What sort of game are you playing at, Ravus wonders? He’ll wonder this again and again and again over the years as you struggle to spread yourself so thin between so many people whilst keeping your relationship with Ravus on a knife’s edge. Duty and honor and love. One will always languish from your inattention. And when  you inevitably reach your breaking point, unable and unwilling to maintain this constant juggling act, you don’t make the choice that Ravus expects.

Reaching across your husband, you pick up the champagne bottle and pour him some more. The pale golden liquid is sloshed into your cup and delicately sipped rather than chugged. Keen eyes alight on Ravus’ reserved face and you offer him a soft smile. “Funny how things work out. But I think we both might be underestimating me.”

Chapter Text

Part 8

There’s a long silence after you say something so cryptic that even you have a tough time deciphering it. Heterochromatic eyes burn into yours. Ravus’ entire being seems to burn beside you -- a sweltering heat in the humid night. In the absence of cogent thought, in the absence of a viable method of deflection, you drain your plastic cup of champagne and sprawl out on the ground to stare up at the stars without a word.

But Ravus still stares at you, eyes only marginally wide as if you just slapped him.

This whole arrangement is more than he bargained for. If he’s being honest with himself, he never foresaw getting married. The former prince didn’t have time for romance -- it wasn’t a luxury that he thought he could afford. Up until he received Decima’s letter and met you, Ravus has spent his life dedicated to his sister and to his mother’s memory... and, perhaps, caught up on the allure of revenge, as well.

Romance wasn’t in the cards, or so he thought.

Even now he wonders. Eyes drift over you and he wonders. Communication with you is easy but it’s far from simple. Though -- by some miracle or accident -- you’ve become his touchstone, Ravus continues to be befuddled by you. Some might argue that it’s an unfair game that you play and Ravus would be a proponent of that sentiment, though a phlegmatic one. These games of deflection are for the sake of your ego and Ravus’ is considered only occasionally.

Like now.

Something startlingly endearing and possibly loving escapes from your lips and you choose to stare up at the vast sky as if you just commented on the weather or another banal thing. That statement that conveyed so much in so few syllables is ignored. That statement that sent a bolt of electricity up Ravus’ spine and squeezed his heart until he felt like he might die, is ignored. And he knows that if he dares to ask you about it, to beg to know what you meant by it, you’ll feign ignorance.

In your efforts to keep this business arrangement nice and clean, you’ll inadvertently hurt the one you’re supposed to be protecting.

It’s far from fair. But it’s also far from being entirely your fault. Because the stink of professionalism is all you smelled when Ravus first approached you. You could read it between the lines in his letters. He was so detached when discussing your marriage in those letters that you didn’t even realize that he’d fallen in love with you. For his affections are restrained and modulated. Especially when he knows there’s an audience; the chancellor's golden eyes razing over each letter, lips curling into a hybrid of a smirk and a scowl.

You and Ravus are both fools masquerading as even-keeled professionals.

And it’s like everyone knows it but you two. Nights are spent agonizing over whether or not feelings are honestly reciprocated and any outsider looking in can point out just the way Ravus looks at you like a man who has been on a long journey and is finally home. Or they can point out to Ravus how your posture slackens and you stay close by his side, eyes lighting up each time he opens his mouth. Yet you’ll still both ask, “But do they really?”

Funny how the very thing that brought you two together is what you’ll have to surmount before you can truly be together.

Because that spoken contract, that duty to your families, is like a parasite that sucks out all confidence and common sense, leaving you two with nothing but self-doubt and perhaps a bit of self-loathing, too. Sadly, those aforementioned feelings are familiar to you both; possessed in spades by a man who lost it all and a mage who will forever live in the shadow of all the Mages who came before them. It’s so familiar that you can sense it now, sitting next to you.

And, as usual, it’s like you read Ravus’ damn mind.

Tonight is going to be one of those few moments where your ego is pushed aside for the sake of his. Because, contrary to popular belief, you have a heart. And though you're often loath to admit it, it belongs to Ravus. Eyes cut to him and he doesn’t look away. The way the moonlight catches his pale hair turns it into spun silver with his face in cool shadow. His expression is reserved so that your prying eyes can’t ferret out the emotions that he’s too ashamed to let you know are there. At the sight of his stiff posture, you sigh, “Can I be honest with you?”

“Always.”

His reason for brooding? You know it but that self-doubt tells you that you don’t. It glibly informs you that it’s foolish hope that tricks you into believing that Ravus has turned so cold after your statement because he feels the same way and is apprehensive. It’s more logical, says self-doubt, that he retreated because he was repelled by the idea of you developing feelings for him and genuinely wanting to protect him because of those feelings rather than your call to duty.

Yet you benefit from drinking way too much champagne to actually give a damn about making a fool of yourself at this moment. Too bad, come morning, the addition of champagne will make Ravus wonder if he can actually take your words to heart.

Without even waiting to gather your thoughts, you blurt, “I’m very fond of you. Like... uh...” And you immediately lose traction. You really should’ve gathered your thoughts. Now you’re left grasping for some tendril of a cogent line of thinking under that piercing gaze. “See, remember that film I told you about like a long time ago? With the ship and the useless lovers?” Ah, the old default.

“Yes.” Ravus relaxes now. His favorite letters came in the form of movie reviews. Well, he saw them like movie reviews. Really it was just you writing to him about how things in the Spire were going and then you’d go off on a tangent about a film or a TV show you secretly streamed. Though he liked getting recommendations, nothing pleased the silver-haired lord more than your scathing commentary on shows that truly let you down and got under your skin.

He still reads them.

While your favorite letters deal with different locales and what he would call the "daily tedium" of his life so that you could feel like you were there with him, Ravus’ favorites always have some punch of your personality. Crude language, strange similes, and bizarre anecdotes? Ravus goes over them when he’s in a foul mood the same way you stare at the postcards and spirit yourself away. (y/n) Iovita is Ravus Nox Fleuret’s favorite comedian and Ravus Nox Fleuret is (y/n) Iovita’s favorite traveling companion.

The solider gets comfortable as you sit up on your elbows and spit, continuing on with your tangent that he can’t determine the direction of, “When I saw it, it infuriated me because I thought: ‘What a bitch. She said she loved him but she didn’t even try to keep him alive!'"

Ravus bites the inside of his cheek. There’s just a bit of a slur to your words now, eyes a bit glassy and breath shallow; though the latter might be because you’re working yourself up over a film you watched a long time ago. “I recall that, yes.”

“The thing was, though, that...” Voice trails off into a barely audible mumble. Shame still lingers. Sitting up fully now, you reach across your husband for the bottle of champagne once more and keep it firmly in your lap after pouring yourself more bubbly alcohol. Ravus quirks an eyebrow and you stare at it rather than look into his eyes. “If you love someone -- truly love them -- then you love them for their good and not merely for what good they bring to you. You know?”

Ah, you’re getting philosophical again. You always do that, Ravus notes. The product of a Spire education. Many a philosophical argument has been had between you two, but the ex-prince finds that he agrees with you on this rather shakily made point. “I suppose I understand what you’re saying.” Ravus sips his own champagne, which he’s been quite conservative with. “Do not merely claim to love someone if you simply love them as a means to some selfish end and not as an end, as a good, in themselves. Correct?”

Eyes blink slowly at him. “Yeah. However, with that film, it really aggravated me that infatuation was being conflated with love. You know? I may not be well-acquainted with love outside of definitions or familial love, but I can recognize it.” The confession is complemented by a gulp of champagne and an unwavering, mismatched gaze upon your face. That gaze warrants yet another gulp and the unsteady pouring of more alcohol. Crickets chirp like you just told an unfunny joke in the deafening silence of Ravus’ anticipation.

“After you get to know someone, then you can love them,” you continue, now staring down into your plastic cup with its unskilled drawing of a fox. “And you don’t do it out of spite because of your bourgie family making you marry some equally bourgie fuck. I think that was the issue.” You wave your hand in the air, wave off that tangent upon a tangent. “Anyway, the ending pissed me off because the film was hailed as some great love story but it wasn’t even love. And, like, that was super obvious in the end. No, I didn’t expect them to both die together but if you say a man is the greatest love of your life, at least make some fucking effort to save him!”

Where once he was content to listen to his favorite thing -- that is, his spouse going off on a film -- now Ravus is growing impatient. Because this tangent? It doesn’t feel like a tangent. It’s obvious to the silver-haired lord that you have a clear objective in mind but you’re stalling. Stalling for what? The part of him that has got to know you over this past year says you’re stalling out of fear. It’s clear in the way you fidget and use profuse profanity. When you’re more assured, you speak concisely.

The pink plastic cup is in danger of cracking in Ravus’ grip. “While this conversation is even more amusing now than it was in your letter, may I ask what you’re trying to tell me, (y/n)?” He’s as placating with you as always in the hopes that you’ll come down from this anxiety-and- champagne-fueled trip to tell him what you want him to know. For his efforts, he gets more word vomit.

More champagne. More and more until it’s all gone and you’re left feeling a bit queasy. Still, you speak rapid-fire, “The lovers had a purely sexual relationship with some emotional bonding... maybe. I’m either being too cruel or too generous in that assessment. Either way, my point is that sacrifice has to be made because if you love someone then you love them for them and not just because you get sexual pleasure from them or someone to watch shitty romance drama films with. But that sacrifice can’t be one-sided and still be considered love. Or if in extenuating circumstances -- like a ship sinking or being on two opposing sides in a war -- if it’s one-sided, it can’t be, like, super one-sided. There was room on that door!”

Those heterochromatic eyes burn into your soul. “(y/n).”

The tension in his voice is ignored. “My point is... Even though I just poked a million holes in that story to sink the damn thing to the bottom of the ocean along with the ship... The greatest love story I ever bore witness to pales in comparison to what I feel for you, Ravus.” Your hands are shaking. It’s quiet. You look into his eyes and almost kill him. “What I said before? About surprising us both? If there’s a door, I’m keeping both our asses on it no matter what it takes. And you don’t even have to lift a finger. You don’t have to feel that way for me. I’m selfish like that. ‘Cause it makes me feel superior to know that... to know that I love you like that.”

Pure, deafening silence.

In an effort to finally put (what you thought were) your husband's feelings ahead of your own, you believe that you've just socially and, from a business standpoint, killed yourself. There's no way to save face now. There's no way to backpedal and say that your confession was a slip of the tongue considering it was a very longwinded diatribe. 'Cause this is cold, emotionless business and you've thoroughly screwed yourself by saying you have feelings. You feel sick to your stomach. But that might just be the champagne.

And Ravus' stomach feels a little odd, too.

For the second time in his life, Ravus feels like time has stopped and the world as he knows it has ended. But this time, it’s different. It’s not as if he can't breathe and darkness encroaches upon him every second. No. It’s as if he can finally breathe again. It’s as if he can finally live again. He has to say something, he knows that, but he can't find the right words as he looks into your eyes. Cautiously, he reaches for you; watches as you watch him. The warmth of his palm against your cheek makes your eyelids flutter and you lean into his touch. Ravus swallows. It’s audible. Setting his cup of champagne down, Ravus tentatively leans forward as if this is his first time going to kiss someone. And maybe it is.

But then you turn away and throw up.

Chapter Text

Part 9

The night is dark and humid. Trees obscure the moon and the stars. Nocturnal creatures watch a strange beast bumble through the woods. It has four legs, but two of them don’t seem to be working properly; they drag and trip over roots and rocks before being slightly lifted off of the ground altogether. Ravus holds you close to his side, the scorching heat of you burning through his tunic as he supports you.

There’s an overwhelming scent of some musky herbs radiating off of you. If only it was powerful enough to subdue the putrid stink of vomit mingling with tart champagne. You’re quiet now. Slowly, you die of shame and your brain struggles even slower to formulate some sort of damage control. How easily you forget the way Ravus had looked at you after you confessed your feelings. Shame blots it out because he didn’t say anything.

You’ve destroyed him. Carelessly and unwittingly, you’ve destroyed him.

With a drunken confession, you’ve completely and utterly destroyed Ravus Nox Fleuret. It’s far too cruel. You’re far too cruel. Because you couldn’t even be considerate enough to confess such deep feelings while sober. No. No. You confess in such a way that there’s room for doubt. And doubt? That’s a thing that festers like an untreated wound. It’s a wound that you won’t tend to until it’s nearly gone necrotic.

Ravus is too proud for his own good in this way.

Though he tells himself that he isn’t ashamed by the fact that he loves you, his pride refuses to allow him to say so; refuses to even let him ask you about tonight. Funny, because if he’d just tell you how he feels, you’d feel secure enough to confess without the protection that alcohol affords you. You’re a mage who requires actions and words. Ravus, being a man of few words, thinks that his actions should be sufficient enough for you to understand him.

And in relationships, there needs to be give and take. But you two? You’re just a couple of takers when  you’re backed into a corner and afraid of being made a fool of; silently demanding more and more proof of the other’s love while giving nothing in return. For anyone else, your full-blown confession and what follows tonight would be enough evidence of your love. But, alas, Ravus isn’t just anyone.

Too pragmatic, by far, he’ll forever remember the weight of that empty champagne bottle in his hand. It weighs far more than drunken words.

“I’m sorry for your cloak... I mean, I’m sorry about it.” Throat is raw and your voice sounds terribly hoarse from all of your retching. Nearly an entire bottle of champagne will do that.

If he wasn’t sure that you were plastered judging by your diatribe about the portrayal of romantic love as something akin to infatuation in modern film, which you then went on to argue is detrimental to viewers in-between retching sessions as if you were writing some sort of thesis on the subject, Ravus certainly knows now. So wrapped up in your fevered words, the commander noticed but didn’t really register the sheer volume of alcohol you were chugging.

He shifts the empty bottle under one arm as he shifts you under the other. “It’s no trouble, (y/n).” Even as he says this, his throat tightens a bit at the thought of the soiled black cloak he holds in one hand, barely hanging from his fingertips in an attempt to keep regurgitated alcohol and stomach bile as far away from him as possible. Tired eyes glance at you. “Are you feeling any better?”

His question is answered by you suddenly shoving yourself away from him and stumbling toward some trees. The sounds that follow have Ravus grimacing as he makes his way to you. It’s as you’re leaning heavily against a tree that you feel something large and warm press down onto your back before it begins moving in slow, soothing circles. Eyelids flutter, that cold sweat you’ve broken out into forgotten momentarily by the calming presence behind you.

“Thank you,” you murmur, tree bark biting against the palms of your hands.

It’s a sentiment that’s repeated too many times as your husband helps you back to the cottage; stated like an automatic reflex each time he shifts his arm against your side to keep you upright. Through the darkness, you two stumble. The flame you conjure in the palm of your hand is unreliable, flickering in and out of existence due to your lack of concentration before Ravus gently requests that you stop trying.

Slowly, you’re getting a few your bearings back. Stomach cramps abate to allow you a momentary reprieve in which you hasten to think of some saving grace to save face. And Ravus is none the wiser, fully committed to aiding his ill spouse.

He doesn’t know that he’s helping a daemon over the threshold of the tiny house, practically forced to carry them and place them down onto the small bed. You’re staring up at the ceiling as Ravus tugs your boots off, watching the way the blue and white lights from the TV flicker and cast odd shadows. There’s a squeak and the sound of the refrigerator door being closed before Ravus is sitting on the bed beside you, trying to get you to drink a cup of water.

Tonight, Ravus is introduced to a sneaky tactic of yours. It’s reserved for special occasions -- a last-resort type of attack. Your mother knows it well. It’s crafted for underhanded manipulation rather than your usual artful kind. Doe-eyes. Not even an upturned gaze from beneath your lashes. No. It’s doe-eyes and a self-deprecating half-smile. This look is shot his way in the blue light of the television while you take the cup of water and sip it tentatively.

This look of yours makes his face burn. This look makes him blush so hard that his ears start to ring.

“What’s wrong?” It’s the only thing the commander can think to ask. All of your expressions up until this point have been sharp, pointed things: Sneers and smirks; slanted gazes and side-eyes. This? It’s a softer thing. Your lips make such a delicate smile and your eyes are so wide and imploring. Words are what ultimately betray such an endearing expression.

Over the mouth of the plastic cup, you inform Ravus a bit too loudly, “Just so things aren’t weird... I don’t blame you for not- for not returning my feelings. I don’t think anyone has ever had a crush on me. Not that I was aware of, at least. And I’m not saying that to make you feel bad for me! Gods, no! I’d hate you if you did. I’m just- I’m just saying this so that... Ugh. Just know that we’re good. Just redact everything from your memory. Gods know I will.”

The silver-haired lord’s gut reaction is to disabuse you of the notion that he doesn’t return any feelings you may or may not have for him. However, your lack of ability to modulate your tone and the slur in your speech gives him pause. You aren’t in your right mind. Ravus knows this. So, the former prince can’t even be sure if you were even lucid enough to know what you were saying when you rambled a supposed confession of affection.

Doubt leads him to primly respond, “I can’t imagine why no one would have romantic feelings for you, (y/n).” He’s glowering at your plastic cup almost resentfully. Yes, he’s heard on several occasions that drunk words are sober thoughts. However, this sentiment was spoken by soldiers in his company who were... rather unsavory sorts. And Ravus strives to not be that sort. Though he’d love to take you at your word tonight, he’d prefer a clear-headed confession.

“Is that a hint of sarcasm I’m detecting?” You laugh acidly, reclining back onto the bed once you’ve finished your water. All of that liquid in your belly sloshes, prompting you to pull a funny face at the somewhat uncomfortable sensation. There’s another uncomfortable sensation: Again, he doesn’t say that he feels the same way. While you’re feeling quite sensible and not “shitfaced,” the glassiness in your eyes tells Ravus another story.

So, you’re left to interpret Ravus’ cool demeanor as a firm and proper rejection. The commander plucks the cup from your hands when you lie back, mismatched eyes dark and hooded in the poorly lit house. He, for one, isn’t exactly amused with the situation at hand. Though, to be honest, he’s not upset with you. He’s more upset with himself for not realizing you’d been imbibing so much.

“No. I’m sincere. You... have a charming personality,” he admits, putting the cup away.

What do his words even mean right now? What are they worth? Ravus figures they’re worth absolutely nothing to someone who probably won’t even recall any of this come morning. And he’s right. You won’t recall it. Not immediately, at least. But he sees no harm in humoring you in the meantime. He’ll humor you at every turn, really. One of Ravus Nox Fleuret’s greatest weaknesses: The desire to humor (y/n) Iovita at nearly any cost.

“Uh-huh,” you drawl, grinning evilly and pulling a pillow to your chest in anticipation, “tell me more.” In all honesty, you figure you might as well get a few laughs out of this situation. Ego smarts and you could go for a chuckle. An obnoxious commercial plays on the TV behind Ravus as the former prince struggles to formulate a proper response. The orange and red flashing lights turn his pale hair into fire.

Ravus clears his throat and confesses, “You've got a pleasant face and... and an appealing figure.” See? He socially hobbles himself for your benefit. ‘Cause the second those words leave his mouth, he’s dying on the inside and secretly grateful that you hopefully won’t remember any of this. Six, he prays that you won’t.

Cheeks hurt from grinning so much, the pillow stifling laughter. The psychological pain that R avus is going through right now is almost worth it for that look on your face. “Wow. Please stop before my pants unzip themselves.” Never mind. It’s so not worth it. This is a moment that he’ll forever agonize over. Given the opportunity to wax poetic about how you look in moonlight or how your eyes shine when the sunlight catches them and he says... That?

He couldn’t even comment on how he enjoys the sting of your biting wit? Or how just your presence brings him comfort? Now he fears he seems like an inarticulate fool to you. He’s written you original poetry, for crying out loud!

(y/n).” It’s all he can manage in this moment of complete mortification. The small cottage’s stone walls seem to close in on him. He’s back to being an awkward teenager struggling to confess feelings to the object of his affection. Stars above, no wonder he’s been single all this time! It’s in this moment that he realizes he’s far more skilled with the written word than the spoken sort.

A highly dignified snort breaks him out of his horror-trance. Those evil, glassy eyes blink at him, framed by delicate lashes. “Well, my sweatpants don’t have a zipper. But, anyway, you’ve honestly made my day,” you chuckle, settling comfortably into the bed. “Even if it was unintentional. Then again, I could always rely on you for a laugh.”

“How do you mean?”

“I always found your letters humorous. I... uh... I’ve kept them all. Should probably recycle, go green and all that but... Call me a sentimental mage.” Your admission hangs in the air, the jingle to a sitcom playing in the background before a marathon of reruns begins. Eyes are downcast, that sting of rejection becoming salient once more. Before Ravus can say anything, you’re burying yourself under the covers and murmuring, “Anyway, I’m tired. Good night.”

Heterochromatic eyes watch that great lump of blankets that is his spouse. It shifts and shakes before finally going still. Carefully, Ravus reaches out and places his hand on where your shoulder is. He can feel your heavy breathing as much as he can hear it. “Good night.”

He doesn’t sleep. On his final night with you, Ravus Nox Fleuret doesn’t get a wink of sleep. Pale blue light filters in through dusty blinds and he’s getting dressed in proper clothes. A small breakfast is made by the soldier but the mage isn’t roused. He checks on you several times. The light turns yellow and then orange. There’s a knock on the door and the commander gives you one long, last look before gathering his things and leaving the Spire.

For years, after you recall this night, you’ll hate yourself for getting drunk. You’ll hate yourself because your inebriation makes Ravus dismiss your confession as nothing more than the drunken ramblings of a mage who likes to play games. You’ll hate yourself because drinking nearly an entire bottle of champagne gives you such a horrible hangover that you waste your last day with him. And you don’t get to see him again until he’s pointing a sword at Noct’s neck.

Ravus’ pained visage blows the dust off of something long forgotten.

Thinking you still have the luxury of unrequited feelings, you’re entirely too cruel for your prince’s sake. It takes a while for you to fully remember this night. You recall talking about the portrayal of love in film and then blowing chunks. That’s all. Everything after is a blur of those haunting eyes, the stars, and flashes of artificial light. It just takes a while. Every embarrassing or traumatic memory of yours takes a while to resurface, after all.

And it only comes back to you when you get stuck one stormy night in a motel, holed up with the guys after you’ve verbally disowned Ravus for Noctis’ sake. You’re feeling so terribly alone, thumb instinctively going to your bare ring finger. That old film comes on TV, flickering and sounding tinny, and you remember the words that you told Ravus, remember how he touched you like  you were made of glass, remember the sincerity and the warmth in his eyes. You remember everything. Your tears are blamed on the film’s sad ending.

Chapter Text

Part 10

Perfect parents don’t exist. Perfection in parenthood is a pipe dream that’s oft discarded the very moment a child is born. Sometimes it’s thrown out beforehand, as was the case with Decima Iovita. When she found out she was pregnant with you, your mother told herself she would be the perfect mother. Oh, the many goals that she had for herself.

She would be present and attentive. She would be doting and loving. She would be everything Tacitus wasn’t to her and Lysa. She wouldn’t follow in her father’s footsteps and be a stranger to her own child. Reality was swift, however. How quickly it cut her dreams down at the knees. Because she was fated to be a single mother, a magister, and King Regis’ Arch-Mage. Too many roles to fill. Of course, someone would languish from her inattention. 

Prenatal care was about the only thing she had complete control over. Even then, other people -- family and strangers alike -- were making plans for you before you were even born. And she let them. Passivity was always the safer option, especially when she had another person’s welfare to consider. That was a personality trait that Lysandra hated in her twin. The woman thought that Decima lacked a backbone because of how quickly her twin would acquiesce.

But Decima had always been the pragmatic sort. She bided her time, observed her surroundings, and took only calculated risks. It was the only reason that she outlived her sister.

But it’s one thing Decima deeply regretted: That passivity with regard to her child. And the one instance where she was passive when she had no reason to be, passive in order to preserve family lines with the promising of a future that wasn’t hers to promise, is what she deeply regrets today. Because her passivity for the sake of preservation has ruined your future.

There’s no reason for Decima Iovita to travel to the Citadel this day. It was a twisting of her gut and restless nights that had her hastening to Insomnia before the imperials arrived. It was a concerned whisper about suspicious activity from that old, persistent creature lingering in the shadows  -- from the daemon that you summoned so long ago, the daemon that attached itself to you henceforth.

Ruining your future is all Decima can think about as she makes her way down one of the Citadel's many corridors, robes sighing against the religiously polished floor, steps soundless and light. The atmosphere here is sober and tense. All of the sunshine in the world couldn’t lighten the mood when she spies Reggie sat at his desk, brow furrowed and jaw set. Those soulful eyes snap up to her when she clears her throat.

“Hello, Decima. May I ask what you’re doing here?” Regis stands to attention when that tall woman darkens his doorway. He’s ill at ease though he tries to hide it from knowing eyes, surveying his former advisor. Long blonde hair is pulled up into an elegant bun and Decima wears black robes as if she’s in mourning. Regis had been alerted to her presence and agreed to see her, though his gut reaction was to turn her away.

“This is merely a social call,” Decima reassures her king, a tranquil smile on her pale face. She enters the spacious office and crosses the room to stand before Regis’ desk. Each step is careful, measured. Each expression is calculated and precise. She won’t have her old friend knowing that she’s here because an ancient daemon came to her with ill-tidings.

Regis’ eyes flash. “An odd time for one, I’m sure you realize.”

“The imperials have just arrived,” Decima says it like she’s reading a weather forecast. Hands are clasped behind her back, knuckles bumping against her steel staff for comfort. She looks like an imposing crow in this light office. “Yes, I see how my timing may be viewed as odd. May I accompany you to the treaty signing, my king?”

Always with that formal way of speaking. Regis sighs at the fine edge in Decima’s voice. She’s daring him to turn her down. And turn her down he shall. Well, he’ll attempt to. “Dee. You’re retired. I can’t have you in that room. You know this.”

And the former arcane advisor won’t ever admit that that stings a bit. It’s foolish to feel that way. She’s the one who retired to make room for her erudite child, after all. “I do,” Decima admits. “But there’s nothing saying I cannot wait outside for you with the guards, is there?”

“Why are you here?” It’s asked on the heels of her question. Answering questions with questions? Now she knows he’s tense. Regis wonders if Decima knows what will transpire today. He wants her to leave. But she won’t. Not even if he ordered her to. And Reggie is loath to ever actually utilize his title against his friend.

It’s quite underhanded for Decima to capitalize on that softness with an airy, “I just wanted to see an old friend again. I’m ailing from- What do people call it? I’m ailing from empty nest syndrome? (y/n) has left the Spire, you see. They’re with your son. I came here for some familiar company. I thought you could use the same, considering we both love our children so much.”

And like that, those sharp eyes soften. Decima could talk Regis into almost anything. Those beguiling Iovitas. They can talk themselves out of most scenarios, it would seem. But silver tongues can’t cheat death. And when Decima goes to the Citadel, she knows this.

And she’s so very sorry to you.

Neither Decima nor Ravus expects to see each other today. Decima supposes it was reasonable to have the commander attend the signing, silver eyes watching unblinkingly as her son-in-law shoots her a furtive look, brow furrowed. She waits placidly, as still as a statue once the doors are closed and she’s done sharing a meaningful look with Clarus.

Ravus is filled with sickening dread. The sight of his mother-in-law compounds the fear that Lunafreya’s presence already creates within him. An impossible situation. Because love and revenge are contrary to each other. The duty to protect family is momentarily pushed aside in the pursuit of fulfilling some perverse duty to his late mother and his country.

Perfect people don’t exist. Nobody is without faults. Especially not Ravus Nox Fleuret. Because he knows what the right thing to do is and yet he chooses revenge. It’s a moment of weakness -- of succumbing to the darkness within himself. It’s darkness he knows his mother would be ashamed of if she were still alive. He can see that shame in his sister’s eyes.

He knows, deep in his heart, that you would be ashamed, too. It pains him. But it doesn’t pain him enough to still his hand. The memory of all of those letters penned, the phone calls, the enchanted trinkets, and that short honeymoon have to be stifled and snuffed out. Yet he can still imagine the disappointment and the anger on your face. Despite his best efforts, he can hear your threats. Delivered with a devilish smile and serious eyes, each one is like a dagger in his chest. Still, he persists.

Revenge is a bitter, gnawing thing that always hungers. And right now? It froths at the mouth, ready to finally eat.

Ravus knows he has options. He can't claim that he doesn't or that he didn't. At any time, he can stand up and warn of impending danger. At any time he can save lives. But that would risk saving lives that he, frankly, doesn't think are worth saving. The bitterness of great loss is so deep in him. And he hates that his bitterness makes you lose so much. In pursuit of selfish goals, he ruins your life the way he perceived Regis to have ruined his.

And Ravus knew what would happen the moment he saw Decima Iovita in the corridor. He can't plead ignorance. You’re so like your mother in that way. Doggedly loyal. Selfless and honorable. He knew that would be the last time he would see her alive as those large doors closed. The second she heard the first sounds of trouble, that elegant staff would be drawn and she would doom herself readily and willingly.

The two people whom you love the most think of you that day. They know that you’ll be angry with them -- distraught and nearly brought to ruin when the news reaches you that your mother was killed in Insomnia and your husband was part of the siege. They hope that you can forgive them as they lay bloody and in agonizing pain on the floor. They hope that one day you can understand why they did what they did.

Decima’s formal yet kind letter is looked at when Ravus is recuperating in Niflheim. That sloping, slanting calligraphy makes his stomach twist, especially when he reads how that perfect mother gushed about her child's accomplishments and positive traits in an attempt to garner his interest. And as he lies in pain, he recalls the way his heart fluttered when you put that ring on him. He recalls how easily he slipped that ring off of his finger to put on another. And he’s so very, very ashamed.

And he’s so very sorry to you.

Chapter Text

Part 11

Married life afforded you small luxuries that you and Ravus both capitalized on, for better or worse. For starters, you got phone calls. Being a supposedly “neutral” institution, at least politically despite its location in the kingdom of Lucis, the Spire isn’t on any imperial blacklist. Ravus was permitted to call his spouse when he had free time and he did so often. The quality of those calls, however, was debatable.

The first time you two shared a phone call, it was just two days after your honeymoon and you were left staring curiously at your phone like it was some mythical creature before you finally answered it. It honestly took you so damn long to answer that Ravus feared he’d be sent to voicemail. Having never received a call from anyone outside of the Spire in your entire life, you didn’t say anything when you answered. Instead, you played the waiting game.

Ravus listened to the silence on your end for a solid five seconds before clearing his throat and wondering, “(y/n)? Are you there?”

The sound of his inquisitive voice was like a dagger in your gut. He twisted the blade. Because before you got trashed that one night? The champagne only got flowing after you laid your heart bare to radio silence. Sure, it was cryptic. You told him you would save him and he just stared at you with those haunting eyes. Then you started off with some diatribe and... Six, ever since you woke up alone in the cottage, you feared you made an ass of yourself in the black hole of that night.

But back to the simple act of phone calls.

Ravus triggered an awkward but cherished pastime that day. It would continue on until you left the Spire. He contributed to the gaping chasm in your chest with his consistent schedule. He never missed an opportunity to call on his spouse and it filled you with so much hope that you never could have possibly fathomed that he would do exactly what you always knew he would do: Act against Lucis.

Like a romantic fool, you tricked yourself into believing that phone calls and letters and that honeymoon in the guest quarters meant he would just... stop being an imperial soldier. Even when he left and returned to Niflheim, a little voice in the back of your head said he wasn’t really an imperial soldier. But why would he stop, you ask yourself? He never even said that he loved you , after all.

And you two never even brought up the honeymoon during all of those calls. You could talk about literally anything else but that. On the off-chance that the conversation somehow found its way going in that direction (usually by Ravus’ doing, but always subtly and in the hopes of one day getting you to soberly state your feelings), you’d steer it back to something safe so as not to have to relive the solider’s stoic rejection of you.

A stinging “rejection,” but of course that didn’t stop you from indulging in these activities and pretending that he loved you. Just like you were so easily taken with courtship, so too you were easily taken with “married life.” As you called this marriage a sham, you enchanted more tokens of affection to be sent off to the commander. As you reminded yourself that Ravus never once told you that he loved you, you grinned and laughed at the fact that he had a cell phone now and that he signed his texts.

And since you were his spouse, he was even allowed to send you items with the letters (yes, though he could now text you, he still enjoyed writing letters even if texts meant you bombarded him with memes he’d never admit to laughing at). More than just pressed flowers, at least. It was always things he thought might catch your fancy: Bottled herbs, books, and, once, he entertained the idea of having a dog taken to you so you would have company.

He was dismayed when your mother pointed out the Spire’s strict policy on animals. “Some students and staff have allergies,” she’d said, putting her hand over her mouth when she got the call. And she’d started to get an inkling of what had her child so head-over-heels for the former prince of Tenebrae: A stiff, charming quality and endearing formality. “But thank you for asking, Lord Ravus. I’ll have you know, (y/n) would have been thrilled to have a dog.”

When Decima saw Ravus in Insomnia, she regretted writing him about that old promise. It wasn’t because she hated her friend’s son for aligning himself with who he perceived to be an ally despite the Empire being an enemy of Lucis. Decima had always been too kind-hearted for the hate required for grudges. No, it was because she set you and Ravus up for heartbreak. And at that moment, in the corridor before the treaty signing, she realized it.

Beneath all of the good intentions and her unwavering belief that you were strong enough to handle anything the world could throw at you, that you could be the Mage for King and Oracle, your mother overlooked the position you would eventually find yourself in if the Empire finally made a critical move against Lucis. She overlooked the position Ravus would be in if he aided and abetted the Empire.

You and Ravus would be ruined.

And honestly? Your mother was correct in her fears. Nothing could’ve prepared you for the news of Insomnia’s fall, that the treaty was a sham. Nothing could’ve prepared you for the news of your mother’s demise. Nothing could’ve prepared you for the news that Ravus Nox Fleuret was there when she died. And absolutely nothing could’ve prepared you for the way your friends looked at you when the news broke.

“(y/n)... Are you okay?” Asked Prompto. Those blue eyes were all big and sad, like a kicked puppy. He was the first one to approach you. Noct, understandably, had a hard time looking at you. As did Gladiolus.

“Yes.” The word was bitten off and full of venom.

Exactly how many times did you tell stories about Ravus to all of them? How many times did you inadvertently sing his praises? As bizarre a claim it might be, you were humanizing the enemy.  But at the time, you thought the treaty would come through and you might have a chance to actually be with Ravus. Try as you might, you just couldn’t help yourself when you all found yourselves in situations that you believed Ravus would be able to get you out of despite him being miles and miles away.

Prompto always seemed taken by the way you spoke of the older man. It was easiest for him to forget exactly who the silver-haired lord aligned himself with, especially with the way you waxed poetic about him in your own subtle way. The others? Not so much. But they never held your marriage to the former prince of Tenebrae against you. The marriage was, after all, arranged. And doesn’t an arranged marriage preclude love?

So, rather than feeling like your loyalty must be a tenuous thing in the wake of Insomnia’s fall, they think you’ve just been dealt a bad hand. It’s worse than them being suspicious of you. It’s so much worse. Because it comes with pitying looks and kid gloves.

Yet this pity was something you had been able to tune out as time went by. It got easier to brush aside when you pretended that two people you loved died that day rather than one. And just when you thought you finally mastered the art of ignoring puppy eyes, just when you thought you got over Ravus and his betrayal, you see him today. Your left hand instinctively clenches, that metal ring feeling like it bites to the bone.

It’s a cool night. When you look back on today, you find that you can recall all sorts of seemingly insignificant details. The cracks on the pavement, the smell of burning oil in the air, the way the industrial lights of the imperial base you all ransacked completely washed out the twinkling stars. You even remember the loose thread in your shirt’s sleeve that aggravated your arm near your wrist. Maybe you focus on that because you want to forget other details.

Words fail to properly describe what you feel when you’re forced to face off with Ravus. It’s a bizarre amalgam that you’ll never fully disclose the nature of to the guys. To Drusa, you confess that you were relieved to see him alive and relatively well (“But his arm, Dru...” “Yes. I heard he... suffered an injury.”). But he might as well have shoved that sword through your gut when he put it to Noct’s throat.

The silver-haired commander forced your hand. That’s what you’ll tell yourself when all of this is said and done. Wedged between Gladiolus and Ignis in the back of the Regalia, you’ll tell yourself you were in the right. After all, you and Ravus both agreed that this was a marriage of convenience and it would dissolve the moment one of you made a move against the other. But you choose to be viciously cruel and vindictive rather than cool and level-headed.

It’s a severe case of tunnel-vision that leads Ravus to not immediately see you when he spies Noctis. It’s frustration and anguish over having to stand idly by while his sister imperils herself for that ingrate’s sake that has him pointing a blade at the boy’s throat. And it’s memories of Ravus’ soft breath of a chuckle over the phone at one of your lame jokes that has you forcing Ravus to suddenly duck in order to dodge a chunk of cement aimed at his head.

Honestly, if you were actually meaning to hit him, you would’ve hit him.

Even after dodging what would’ve been a wonderful concussion, Ravus is relieved to see you. Mismatched eyes rake over you from head to toe, taking in your attire, trying to see if he can spot any wounds. You look as healthy as ever. Stars above, that’s such a relief. At least one person he loves is in good health. There would’ve been hell to pay for Noctis if you showed any signs of affliction. And then he sees your deadly expression.

Funny how betrayal at the hands of others never made you petulant. When the Spire sold itself to the highest bidder and when Talmudge had you sipping on poison, you were angry, sure. But it was  the type of anger that burned fast and bright and you were over it, already moving on and having artfully plotted revenge. With Ravus, however? This type of anger simmers. No revenge is planned because you know it will bring you no satisfaction.

Hurting Ravus, physically at least, would only hurt you. You know that. But you erroneously assume that hurting him mentally, emotionally, won’t do the same.

And as a grieving mage, you’re so damn spiteful. One of the things Ravus Nox Fleuret has always envied about you is your relationship with your mother. No, not necessarily the angst. Not necessarily all of the drama that he could detect in the restraint in your voice or between the brief lines of your letters. Your love for her was obvious. And he knows that he sat by while that was taken from you. It’s why he doesn’t defend himself.

Golden eyes from off on the sidelines survey the hard set of your jaw and the iciness in your eyes. Standing amongst the destruction of the imperial base, you fit right in. You look ravaged and desolate, expression is so severe that it nearly ages you a decade. Oh, how that naïve little mage has grown and become ruined by the world. Though it ultimately brings Ardyn Izunia no pleasure to see you hurting, your pain is a means to an end.

“Shall we give the happy couple a moment to catch up?” He wonders, voice lilting. Ardyn almost, almost wipes the teasing look off of his face when your wicked eyes snap onto him. Those molten gold eyes shift from your face to the staff on your back. Though you don’t have the thing in hand, Ardyn knows better than most that the staff isn’t necessary for a brutal magical attack.

For his part, Ravus doesn’t accept or deny the chancellor’s offer. The commander is still reeling just a tad. Though you had warned him many a time of how you would turn your back on him the moment he raised his hand against Lucis, King Regis, or Prince Noctis, your follow-through is jarring. The contempt on your face, the rigidity of your posture, almost feels surreal. You look at him like he’s an enemy. And he knows he made himself one.

Perhaps that’s what really hurts the most? The knowledge that he did this to himself? That he did this to the two of you? With a rational mind, knowing full well what the consequences would be, Ravus Nox Fleuret aided in the dismantlement of everything you hold near and dear. After all of the destruction, after the Crystal was secured and Ravus was given his accolades, the chancellor had pulled him aside to impart upon him some kind words.

“Fret not,” the redheaded serpent had cooed. “You’ve done your spouse a great service. They were indoctrinated at such a young age to put king and country above themselves and now our precious mage has no kingdom to die for. One day, they will thank you. I know I am certainly grateful for your service.”

Today, it’s more obvious than ever that his role in Lucis’ destruction is something you’ll never thank him for. It’s something you’ll hold against him for what feels like forever. So, he keeps silent. Those heterochromatic eyes are resigned but his face remains impassive, shoulders squared and spine so straight. With the others still at your back, watching on in silence, Ravus Nox Fleuret won’t utter a single word of apology.

One hand raises in a dismissive gesture. You’re lucky the guys can only see the back of your hand, unable to see the crescents in your palm from how hard you clenched your fist. “Wait outside of the base for me,” you say, voice flat but authoritative. Reluctantly, they retreat with the Regalia and only then do you address Ardyn. “I’ll take you up on that offer. You and I have had a few times to touch base, so I’d very much enjoy a tête-à-tête with my husband.”

It’s only when that devious chancellor backs off with an unnecessary bow that the commander realizes exactly how distraught you are. Without an audience, without your prince to impress with your  restraint and composure, there’s a violent crack of electricity around you that spiderwebs the second you two are alone. Ravus doesn’t even flinch and you don’t offer a single apology for that outburst.

Then you pace, back and forth like a caged animal. Occasionally you tug your sweater close to your body as you think of what you’re going to say. It’s strange. Since the news broke, you had formulated a grand speech that you would give to the emperor if you ever found yourself alone in a room with him. You’d carefully planned how you would torture the old bastard. But Ravus? No speech was drawn up for him. Certainly, no method of torture was thought of.

Your quiet fury has every muscle in the silver-haired lord’s body winding tighter and tighter. It’s so different from your flamboyant, over-exaggerated manner of behavior that you usually adopt in his company. How you actively avoid looking at him is disquieting. How he misses those soft looks you would give him that you thought he never saw. The moment you stop, boots scuffing loudly against concrete, Ravus clings desperately to those memories.

Because he knows he’ll need all of his strength to get through this conversation. And you always, without fail, gave him strength.

That haughty swagger of yours is taken up once more to replace the robotic way that you’ve been moving. Hands clasp behind your back and you lift your chin as you speak. “It’s always heartening for me to see a figure from my past in good health, Lord Ravus. I’m pleased to know that when I defeat the Empire’s lapdog, he will be in top form.”

Well, that stings a bit. The silver-haired lord purses his lips and asks, “Are you going to attack me, (y/n)?”

Your name spoken with that sharp voice, falling off of those frowning lips, is more lethal than any poison known to man. Oh, how amusing it is that you bolstered your nerve for so long only to be shaken down to your core at the sound of your damn name. Nostrils flare, you swallow hard, and for a moment Ravus actually thinks that you do mean to attack him. There’s a flash of something in your eyes and he wonders if you mean to kill him.

“You know,” you chuckle and it rings hollow, “I was never the type of person to think that I would get married. Being locked up and, in a sense, isolated from people within my own age group, I was never afforded the opportunity to connect with someone else to where romance seemed like a possibility.” Throat tightens and jaw clenches. “And then I met you.”

To say that it pains you to say this would be the understatement of the century. It’s physically painful for you to admit to Ravus, nice and sober, that you loved him. Past tense. Well, you insist to yourself that it’s past tense. Given everything that he’s done, given everything that he’s been complicit to, you tell yourself that your love for Ravus Nox Fleuret absolutely must be left in the past. And for a little while, you believe that.

And you’re only telling him this now because you want to emphasize just how much he hurt you to make you withdraw your love. You want to hurt him. That’s all. It’s not like you’re throwing out a lure and hoping he’ll take the bait, take the opportunity to confess to you that he loves you. That’s not your ulterior motive. No, you just want to make him feel guilty and let him know where he stands with you. That’s all...

When Ravus doesn’t respond, stunned into silence though you don’t know the root of the sudden loss of his voice, you confess, "After I met you, after we were wed, I had believed that this aspect of my life would be simple if I was, I don’t know, strong enough or good enough in my duties. I would love you and you would love me back and it... it would last for the rest of our lives."

“Why would you think that I would love you?”

That question asked immediately on the heels of your confession, pierces the cool night air like a blade. It renders you speechless in the worst way possible. And Ravus doesn’t mean to phrase it that way. It sounds so terrible, so cruel, and Ravus feels like the world falls out from under him at the split-second of shock and anguish on your face. Oh, but his dismay isn’t even a fraction of what you feel in this moment.

Ravus merely wants to know how in the world (y/n) Iovita, who had bemoaned the engagement since the start and made it a point to tell him that romance was never even a factor in the arrangement, would come to view what they whole-heartedly insisted was a business agreement as ever-lasting love. He wants to know when you realized you loved him. He wants to know if, after everything, you still do because he does.

Because a small part of him fears that this might be some sort of ploy. You’re angry -- understandably so -- and the commander fears that you’re teasing him with your love just so you can snatch it away as punishment for his treachery. Head games. Oh, he knows you’re ever so good at them and that’s what he thinks this might be. The silver-haired lord suspects that you’ve known about how he adores you and you’re looking to exploit that.

The timing speaks volumes. How easily he can sniff out your deceit. How many phone calls were there? How many texts? Letters? Each one afforded you an opportunity to tell him that you loved him but you waited until now to do so. It’s a regret that you’re both going to have to live with: Tainting confessions of love with politics and nationalism. Because from here on out, those confessions will be doubted.

As much as Ravus would like to take your pain away, he knows that you want him to hurt. He doesn’t begrudge you that but he can sense that you're being dishonest about something. He can sense that you're playing a game. That alone keeps him from saying the words that you so desperately want to hear. And your attempt to shame him for being loyal to the Empire by telling him that you used to love him backfires terribly.

Your face is expressionless, a blank slate. That love? You think you can kill it now. Standing before you is the man who could’ve saved your mother. But he didn’t. And why? Your eyes drag pointedly over that magitek arm. The disgust in your gaze might be capable of killing Ravus Nox Fleuret. Lips part and you hiss, “I never thought you would love me because I always knew that you loved your imperial handlers above all else.”

It’s an unfair statement but you aren’t feeling particularly benevolent. Before you even met Ravus, you understood what self-preservation could look like and what it could call for. For all you know, the Empire could’ve sent someone else to blockade Noctis today and you could be orphaned and widowed if Ravus had decided to be a turncoat for your mother’s sake. That doesn’t make it hurt less, though. That doesn’t make his choice any easier to swallow.

Nobody protects the Mages.

Words sorrowfully spoken to you by Lunafreya and implied heavily in the book of Cosmogony. You never really understood it until you were forced to grow up. You always thought it just meant the obvious: You’re the protector of the King, gifted to that family line by Ramuh, and the Astrals couldn't be assed to make someone to protect you. But you know now that it means your position in the world is a bit more perilous than that. Nobody is looking out for you. Not Ramuh, not your mother, and not even your own damn husband.

It’s a sobering but erroneous thought.

That thought has you swiftly bringing your hands before you. Your tone is flippant. “This ring was part of a set, as dictated by tradition. You told me so yourself before we were wed.” That silver ring is wrenched off of your finger. There’ll be a bruise later and you’ll have a hard time bending that digit. That ping! against the pavement will stay with you two for a long time. “There’s no use for it now. It means as little to me as it apparently meant to you. It’s worth less than dirt.”

Heterochromatic eyes dart up from that small silver circle at his feet to the stoic mage who stands before him. Panic twists his stomach. He thought you were playing a game but you’re the embodiment of hurt and rage. “(y/n)-”

“I’d ask you for a divorce, but what’s the point?” You interrupt, already turning on your heel. “I’m just going to kill you anyway. It’ll save us both the paperwork,” you call over your shoulder, but you don’t spare him a glance. You can’t bring yourself to without welling up.

And you’re half-right. About killing him, anyway. Or at least a version of him. It’s a shame that this is one of merely a handful of times where you’ll get to see Ravus before his death and you’re disowning him and throwing your wedding ring at his feet. The good news is that your mother was right about one thing: You can overcome whatever life throws at you. Even the death of Ravus Nox Fleuret.

Chapter Text

Part 12

He hasn’t given up on you.

No effort is made on your behalf to contact him, but Ravus Nox Fleuret has not and will not give up on you. He knows that now, before Leviathan's trial, isn't the time to try and force his presence on you. After that travesty of a meeting, after he completely missed his opportunity to take you in his arms and proclaim his love, Ravus knows that you'd likely strike him down if he tried to arrange a meeting with you. Especially after he threatened your prince, your charge and best friend (he'd scoffed at the reports), right in front of you. The only way he can be sure of your safety is to have you followed. Same as Lunafreya

But dammit if you don't make it difficult.

Until the very end, Ravus Nox Fleuret won’t give up on you. But he falters and keeps his lips firmly sealed against the words that he yearns to say to you, and that perceived “coldness” will cripple his efforts. Ravus only says those three words when his time in this life is coming to a close. And when the next chapter in your bizarre new life with each other is started, those three words will cease to be enough. Those three words won’t keep you safe and close like he desires. In fact, they’ll only serve to push you further and further away each time he utters them with those frowning lips and hopeful eyes.

When Ravus looks back on that traumatizing moment when you abandoned him in that sacked base, he realizes that there had been a change in you. So relieved with just being able to see you alive and healthy, he’d overlooked the darkness in your eyes. Even then, you were spiraling. And that confrontation just weighted you down to hasten your descent. The two of you have always been alike in that regard: Control freaks. It was a loss of control that had you unraveling at breakneck speed. Ravus was unaware that you’d died shortly after having entered Noctis’ employ, after all. Died trying to save Noct and came back to life with the Shield’s aid.

It was to Noct's benefit that Ravus didn't know.

Fingertips drum distractedly against his thigh, a photo in his hand from the most recent report on your  whereabouts. Heterochromatic eyes stare blankly out of the window. Altissia is a beautiful city. It would’ve been a lovely wedding, he admits with a painful twinge in his stomach. Lunafreya would have made a stunning bride in that dress -- more than Noctis deserved. But there’s nothing he can do now. That’s a strange feeling: Having everything out of his hands. It’s too dangerous to have tabs kept on you for much longer and there’s no point in keeping tabs on Luna now. Such a sobering realization that the commander came to when he was contemplating how best to keep both you and Lunafreya alive.

Each imperial spy that he’s had follow you has disappeared shortly after reporting back and being sent into the field once more. After the third one, he's beginning to take it as a sign that keeping tabs could backfire, because what if the spy reported to someone other than him? Then you would be exposed. Besides, he already knows that that damned chancellor has his own mercenaries looking after the Crown Prince and you. He already knows that Ardyn Izunia is making it his personal objective to woo the mage to the imperial side. And Ravus doesn’t know if he’d be relieved or more distressed if you defected. If you came to work for the Empire, you would be in the chancellor’s employ.

That’s the deal the redhead struck with Iedolas, after all.

Since the last time he saw you, Ravus has been in a near constant state of turmoil. Those two rings hanging off of a thin silver chain burn his skin from under his clothes. Sometimes he considers getting a shorter chain since it feels like the damned things always end up near his heart. They feel like fire when your name is in the chancellor’s mouth and being spat out of the emperor’s. Iedolas is growing weary of this courtship. More and more frequently he’s suggesting having you killed since you pose a significant threat, saying it quite plainly as if Ravus isn’t even there in the damn room, as if he isn’t talking about the commander’s spouse.

But then those golden eyes always blaze and the chancellor always coos, “Now, now. If we lose (y/n) Iovita, we lose not only the Spire but the very hand of Ramuh himself. Though I’ll agree that the Mage is quite stubborn, it will only make this inevitable union all the sweeter.”

Is it inevitable?

It’s funny, really, how Ravus Nox Fleuret clings to the belief that he can save two people who are hellbent on ruining themselves for the sake of Noctis Lucis Caelum. Here’s Lunafreya, withering away and refusing his help, and he’s heard the most bizarre stories about (y/n) Iovita. There are accounts of people seeing you roam the wilderness at night. Imperial spies report that you’ll leave the prince’s side on occasion to disappear into the darkness. You've got a “familiar” now p- some strange creature that changes form, some strange creature that you talk to as if it can understand you.

Mismatched eyes stare at a picture that was taken of you outside a Crow’s Nest diner, the one next to Hammerhead in Leide. The first thing Ravus looks at is you, obviously. He takes you in almost greedily, drinking in your appearance, assuring himself that you’re in good health and being taken care of properly. Then he allows himself to observe the rest of the photo. You’re holding a flat-faced feline by the scruff of its neck and you look to be bickering at it. Big, yellow eyes stare directly at the camera. They’re empty yet they still manage to fill the commander with a sense of dread.

“Looking at pretty pictures, are we?”

Ravus suppresses the urge to roll his eyes at the sound of that lilting voice, at the sound of that perpetual smirk in that lilting voice. Ardyn Izunia doesn’t bother knocking. He saunters on up to the commander and peers at the photo, which Ravus doesn’t bother to move out of sight. The way the smirk on Izunia’s face falters doesn’t bring Ravus any pleasure. It’s more disquieting than amusing , the way the chancellor’s jaw tightens and his eyes harden. However, Ravus doesn’t know what it is about the picture that garners such a reaction. But he has an inkling and Ardyn quickly proves it right.

“Such nasty rumors about our sweet mage are cropping up all over the place,” he tuts, looking at Ravus from the corner of his eye. Fingers drum on the windowsill, so full of nervous energy. Is the chancellor fidgeting? A coy look is shot Ravus’ way. “I’m sure you’ve heard them. Though you’re no spymaster, these rumors aren’t the type that one has to do much digging to unearth.”

“About the familiar?” Ravus asks though it’s more a statement than a question. He doesn’t really understand what all of this talk is about, considering the chancellor has his own affairs to take care of, as he likes to cryptically boast. He’s due to be on an airship, is he not? In preparation for the Hydraean’s inevitably destructive trial that’s sure to nearly sink this beautiful city?

“Indeed, the familiar.” Ardyn hums like a pleased tutor, like Ravus just answered that, yes, two plus two does equal four. It’s almost a bit condescending. Then again, nearly everything that comes out of the chancellor’s mouth has an edge to it. “Do you still have that wedding gift I gave you and dear (y/n)?”

Well, that’s an odd question. But having worked closely (too closely for his liking, honestly) with the chancellor for a while now, the silver-haired lord has come to expect seemingly random questions and observations from the redhead that are never so seemingly random. And that “wedding gift”? The damned shackle, more like. And though Ravus internally complains about the change in the discussion, he wonders why Ardyn is bringing it up. In fact, Ravus had had the gift inspected shortly after the honeymoon. Imagine Ravus’ surprise when he was informed that that strange wedding gift was ancient in design.

“In design? It appears to be a mere shackle to me,” he’d replied to the inspector.

“Yes, well... It’s enchanted, you see. The properties of enchantments can be tricky to discern, however, this one was quite easy to place given its strength. It suppresses magic. And I said it was ancient in design because no enchantment known to man has ever been as strong as those crafted by Lumis Iovita: The Enchanter.” The old man had smiled and returned the shackle with some reluctance. “That’s a priceless artifact that you have there. Quite a generous gift.”

Ravus had meant to ask Ardyn how he'd come across it but knew the redhead would never give him a straight answer. Ravus had meant to tell you about it but he wanted to keep it a surprise, thinking you would be thrilled to have something of your family’s in your possession -- an heirloom of sorts. But he never got the chance to see you again before Insomnia fell, and after... Well, you’ve certainly made your feelings known. You never want to see him again and when you do, you say you’ll have his head. Again, those damned rings burn against the commander’s chest. Complain as he might, he’ll never get rid of them. He’ll only relinquish one of those rings and it will be to put it back on your finger where it rightfully belongs.

“I’m still in possession of it, yes,” Ravus finally replies at great length.

Ardyn taps the photo in the commander’s hand and sighs, sounding genuinely relieved, “Oh, good. With this development,” the word oozes from his lips with pure derision, “I am afraid that shackle might come in handy.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Cuff your spouse,” Ardyn states plainly, making a gesture of clamping his hand over his left wrist for emphasis, “and save their life. Or else that creature will take them for all they’ve got. Already it tries to coerce (y/n) into performing necromancy. Do you know the price for necromancy, commander?”

“No.” And Ravus wonders exactly what the chancellor knows. Ever since he met Ardyn Izunia, Ravus Nox Fleuret hasn't trusted the man. What's the term that you use? Ardyn gives Ravus "bad vibes"? The man is a snake who came from seemingly nowhere. He's wickedly intelligent and is in possession of a wealth of knowledge on a bizarre range of subjects. Now necromancy is joining that list. That mask of a face ices over in the way it always does when Izunia is playing an angle and those lips smile, an attempt to disarm those who don't know any better. But Ravus knows better. At least, the commander likes to think he does.

“Life for life. The universe accepts no substitutes.” There’s a lie in there somewhere, delivered with bright white teeth and twinkling gold eyes. “And that beast that has beguiled your lover knows this as well. (y/n) is being played for a fool and they’ll be a dead fool unless...” Again, he makes the clasping gesture.

All at once, Ravus knows that Ardyn is telling the truth. Why? His mother and Decima, of course. He's taken back in time when he'd peered at a secret letter penned by your mother. You'd been taken in by the beast, she'd said, and so you wouldn't be allowed by Noctis' side in the Crown City as previously promised. Something about the alleged beast made that an impossibility and Ravus hadn't understood what any of that meant. Never did. Until now. 

It's with the utmost trepidation that the commander wonders, “How do you know this, chancellor?” Because surely Ardyn never had a chance to peek at such a letter.

“Is that really the question you want to ask of me? Is that the question that will save (y/n)?”

It’s an excuse to leave without explaining himself. To leave without revealing how he knows the "true" nature of the creature that you like to call your familiar. And it won’t take long before Ravus discovers that Ardyn wasn’t merely spreading falsehoods when he came to him with this strange tale of a creature with a penchant for necromancy. He gets to discover firsthand how that old necromancer will inadvertently make you suffer. It will bring you back again and again and again. It will bring you back as a traitor, a defector, a turncoat. It will bring you back and in your pain, you’ll close yourself off from the rest of the world.

And then Ravus Nox Fleuret will mercifully cuff you.

Chapter Text

Part 13

Failure has a funny taste.

It’s a bit like black coffee. Bitter, bold, and startling. And like with black coffee, you lie and say that it doesn’t taste bad. You’ve got a palate for it now. Ravus would never claim such a thing. Because for him, there’s no growing accustomed to the taste of failure. For him, it’s more akin to blood on one’s tongue -- sharp and metallic. There’s no getting used to it.

Ravus is living in a nightmare and you’re still trying to dream.

He’s unaware of what you’ve done, of what role you’re playing in attempting to save the world. Necromancy? Soul binding? You try to make his nightmare into a dream. For a little while, you succeed. He’s unaware that you’ve become his nightmare. He won’t know until it’s too late; until you’re so far gone in this dream of yours that there will be no coming back from it. Not for you, at least.

When Lunafreya dies, you’re painfully aware of who mourns her passing. The sanctity of life and death are things that you tell yourself aren’t important. What you do in the darkness of an old, rundown motel is rationalized. The immediate gratification of reviving who you consider to be an old friend outweighs the pernicious effects on your body and soul. For necromancy has a way of tainting even the purest of beings.

Toying with that most basic of universal moral codes is hardly inconsequential.

After Lunafreya’s death, Ravus mourns privately and plots his revenge. His revenge, of course, is to bite the Empire’s hand and aid Noctis for the sake of his sister’s memory. His grieving process makes far more sense to the average person. But yours? Yours is a strange kind. It’s a completely different animal, borne from a lifetime of relying on magic and having that magic be hailed as your sole defining trait.

You’re the Mage, after all.

Ravus has the luxury of not having had an upbringing like you and Lunafreya. Though he and his sister  were raised by a fair-minded mother, Sylva reasonably had to bestow a certain burdensome knowledge onto her daughter. Ravus was spared such teachings as he was not the Oracle. But he knows what his sister was taught: An infuriating idealization of self-sacrifice. Same as you.

Which is what makes anger pervade his grief far more than sorrow.

He’s a man of action, not words. You’re composed of both. Words to mask your actions. Words to try and get people to understand what you’ve done. Ravus simply lets his actions stand alone. This is why you’re given no warning of his impending visit. This is why you’ve yet to reveal that you’ve raised Lunafreya from the dead -- you’re still struggling to find the right words to explain away your immorality.

“Arch-Mage (y/n) isn’t currently taking visitors, High Commander,” a soldier dutifully informs him, blocking the gated entrance to the Spire’s grounds.

The silver-haired lord is quite a sight to behold for the common person. His extravagant armor and that strange prosthesis nearly cause the gate’s guards to quake. The deep, emerald green of the Duscaen wilderness serves as a backdrop which Ravus Nox Fleuret stands out against. The poisonous frown he wears also serves to make him that much more difficult to ignore when he’s met with resistance.

Having to postpone his revenge in order to see that you’re in good health wouldn’t normally irritate the silver-haired lord so much. Your well-being is something he would never take for granted. However, he can’t say that he isn’t incredibly frustrated with you. To have you bend your knee to the emperor after all that’s happened? Ravus knows it’s a ruse, but you’re playing with fire and he can’t lose someone else.

The former prince has continued to keep his allegiance to the Empire, or at least the appearance of it. He’s far more even-keeled than most people. The very second that word reached him that you were meeting with the chancellor, he swore to himself that he would wait just a little bit longer before returning the Sword of the Father to Noctis. Ravus can hardly be described as reactionary.

But this cunning slant to his actions isn’t enough to fool everyone.

It was arguably the Empire’s interference that led to his sister’s death, after all. What person in their right mind wouldn’t think that Ravus would turn on the Empire after that? The silver-haired lord thinks his cold loyalty over these long years affords him the reputation of one who isn’t so easily turned to disaffection. He relies on the fact that he’d been promoted to High Commander as a testament to the Empire’s reciprocal loyalty.

If he ever voiced such a thing to you, he’d be in for a rude awakening.

It’s probably the only way in which he’s naïve. Ravus doesn’t think everyone is a straight shooter like him but he thinks they should be. But the world isn’t always as it should be. It’s full of connivers, with the silver-haired man’s lovely spouse being one of them. Your kind feasts upon the bones of his. “Straight shooters” are easy prey because they’re far too moral in that way -- principled. You’ve told him so before yet he’ll never listen. His sincerity will be his undoing.

And that honest man crosses his arms and stares with the full weight of his superiority at the soldier. Such a tall man, he doesn’t even need as many titles as he does to intimidate anyone. “Tell the Arch-Mage that I’m here and that I will not be turned away.”

His command is complied with easily, the soldier hastily pawing at his belt to get his comm device. This deference to military superiors, something that’s drilled into a soldier’s head, is what will have these soldiers replaced with mercenaries when word reaches Ardyn that Ravus was allowed  access to you. Although the redhead seems omniscient, he’s busy terrorizing Noctis & Co. when Ravus pays you a visit today.

All the way up in the Spire, you’re called and informed that there’s an uninvited guest at the gate: The High Commander.

Blood runs hot and then cold. The only reason you can think that he’d be here is to tell you how much you let him down. You’d sworn to protect Lunafreya, after all, and though you already righted that wrong, Ravus doesn’t know and he won’t know until you can be certain that such a revelation won’t have dire ramifications. Namely, that Ardyn won’t come for yours or Luna’s head... but mostly yours for your cheek.

Fingers drum against the smooth wood of your desk.

There’s a glass of whiskey -- neat -- tantalizingly close to your fingertips. Sunlight from the window refracts through the crystal glass, making colors dance around the spartan room that you’ve yet to redecorate since it last belonged to your mother; Talmudge thankfully not being in power long enough to add any personal touches to the Arch-Mage’s office, which you’re certain would’ve been garish to the extreme.

Phone nestled between your shoulder and your ear, you purse your lips a moment before ordering, “Let him pass and direct him to my office.” You hadn’t expected him to call on you.

Considering everything he’s gone through and your subsequent mistreatment of him, you expect to be the last person Ravus Nox Fleuret would call on. Fingers twiddle together, full of nervous tension as the minutes drag by. The heel of your boot clacks against the floor as you bob your knee up and down. By your feet, under the desk, your familiar uncurls itself from its ball of black fur to slink out of the shadows.

A lean body brushes between your feet and walks under your chair, a slender tail curling around your leg a moment as it goes. The daemon in a black cat’s skin stretches in the warm light before the office’s window. A voice that only you can hear lightly wonders with a contented sigh despite being awoken by your neurotic behavior, “What’s wrong? Is Ardyn finally paying you a visit?”

“No,” is your hasty response, “he’s not. It’s Ravus.”

And that gives you a bit of relief, oddly enough. Though you’ve been waiting anxiously for Ardyn to finally visit you after all the pomp and circumstance around your defection died down, he’s a difficult man to get into contact with if he doesn’t want to be found. So, although it would both thrill and horrify you to hear that Ardyn is, well, here, the lesser of two evils is definitely Ravus.

At least with Ravus, you don’t think he has the capacity to kill in cold blood. You’d need to provoke him first and you tell yourself you’ll be doing none of that today, despite the fact that, unbeknownst to you, he’s coming here in such a foul mood that literally anything other than your complete and total compliance with his wishes will set him off.

“You should be happy, not nervous.” That cool voice snaps you out of your trance and effectively gets you to cease the annoying bobbing of your knee. Before the window, the daemon cat suns itself. Yellow eyes crack open to appraise you, the creature you summoned far less critical of you and far more supportive of you than even yourself. It’s a little odd that it has, over time, become as much a level-headed guide to you as Magister Drusa.

When you don’t respond, instead staring mutely at the furry creature that rests on its belly, the daemon adds, “He’s likely here to render aid. It would be difficult for you to find someone who cares for you as much as him.”

Eyes track back to the wooden desk and the glass of amber liquid that sits atop it. Being behind enemy lines has put quite a few things in perspective for you. For the sake of your own safety and in order to cozy up to people you intend on backstabbing, you’ve said and done things that you’re positive have made your ancestors roll in their unmarked graves. In short, you’ve gained a new appreciation -- rather, sympathy -- for what Ravus has endured. Sure, he became the Empire’s lapdog in order to put himself in a prime position to seek revenge against Lucis and you’ve become the newest lapdog to seek revenge for Lucis, but the immediate results are the same: Social isolation and the contempt of your allies.

These weeks after your feigned defection to the imperial side have been difficult. You can’t stay in constant contact with your friends or the jig, as they say, will be up. And although becoming a thorn in the Empire’s side with your spendthrift ways have been more amusing than you thought imaginable, it hasn’t garnered the reaction you’d wanted.

Ardyn’s ire was your goal. A frightening thing to be on the wrong end of, but you’d hoped to turn his gaze from Noctis to you. But that has yet to happen. Instead, you’re like a child throwing a tantrum; doing all sorts of things to get the redhead’s attention to no avail. The fact that you’re playing the role of the turncoat and it hasn’t paid off? That’s what’s most difficult. It’s like you made all these sacrifices for nothing.

You’ve completely decimated your reputation, shamed your family, and for what? For Ardyn to, yet again, turn it around on you by denying you satisfaction? The truth is, although you view Ravus as the “lesser of two evils” with regard to an unexpected guest, he’s still an “evil.” Shame is what you feel most days; that, and immense irritation with not only Ardyn but yourself.

When you were still reeling from Lunafreya’s death and Ardyn’s role in it, you’d made a rash move. No good decision ever comes from an emotional mind but you’d convinced yourself that you were being pragmatic. After one night, you ceased to be the moral mage and that’s something that you fear Ravus will be able to see the very moment he looks at you.

It’s not enough that you know that he knows (along with the rest of the world) that you withdrew your support from Noctis and his broken kingdom. That, on the face of it, is bad enough. That alone makes you a hypocrite of the highest order. After all, you’d disowned Ravus for crossing Lucis and now you’ve gone and cast the kingdom aside altogether.

Yes, this “treachery” is all for show. But... that’s a secret. You liken yourself to some spy in a film noir even though most key players in this dangerous game that you’re playing don’t buy your “turncoat” status for a second. Your friends know it’s a ruse. Ardyn knows. Ravus knows. Lunafreya in her house in the wilderness knows. It’s the worst kept secret in the world.

Even still, neurotic Iedolas who has been gaslighted on a near constant basis by Ardyn Izunia bought your pretty little lie and that’s what counts for now. That’s what has imperial soldiers patrolling the Spire’s grounds and sleeping in the college’s vacant beds. That’s what has you so high-strung. Because you don’t know that Ravus can see right through you. You think he’s as oblivious as Aldercapt.

Honestly, you give yourself too much credit and Ravus too little.

“What sort of ‘aid’ could he possibly give me?” You finally ask the daemon after a lifetime of contemplative silence. The daemon has watched you all the while, yellow eyes unblinking and thin tail thudding rhythmically against the warm stone floor.

“I don’t know. I’m not a mind reader.”

Eyes cut to that damn cat and you snark, “But you sure are helpful.”

“I try.”

Absentmindedly, you run your thumb against the underside of your bare ring finger. You wouldn’t blame Ravus if he actually came here for your blood rather than to aid you, as the daemon suspects. As far as he knows, he’s all alone in the world and has you to thank for it. There’s a purposeful knock on your door -- authoritative and assured. It startles you out of your gloomy reverie which has lasted an age.

A black bullet shoots back under your desk, that small body now sun-warmed against your ankles. A swig of whiskey is tossed back before you quietly clear your throat and command, “Enter.”

The wooden door swings open and in walks Ravus Nox Fleuret. It must be your curse to feel as many things as you do every time he enters the same room as you. Yearning, like it’s been a lifetime since you last saw him. Grief, because you know that he’s still living in a world where his beloved sister is dead. Cool reservation is what he wears like armor against your wicked gaze.  It protects him from having his selfish intentions ferreted out by the cunning mage.

For a moment, the two of you simply exist within the same space. You both wonder if the other will make the first move; to speak, for you to stand or perhaps for him to sit. Ravus’ nerves are abuzz, as they usually are in your presence. His statuesque frame nearly takes up all available space in your doorway. When you can stand the ridiculous sight no longer, you professionally roll your eyes and resume sipping on your whiskey.

Elegant black robes sigh as you stand, carefully walking around the small body at your feet that can melt into shadows on a whim. You come to stand before your desk, leaning back against it so that firm wood bites against your hips. Head dips down in an elegant bow. “High Commander.” You miss the way his jaw tightens at that formal greeting. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this sudden visit?”

You've got a lot of moxie; a trait that you have a near endless supply of. And right now it’s just as annoying as it has always been to the former prince. He knows you’re putting on airs. A vision in black, there’s a fatigue in your posture that you attempt to hide from his perceptive gaze. There’s a reservedness in your visage and something akin to sorrow in your eyes.

Fingers fidget around the glass of whiskey in your hands. When he fails to respond, you begin to feel bizarrely guilty under that mismatched gaze and snap, “Why are you here?”

A blunt question garners a blunt response. “Excuse me? You feign treason and then wonder why I’m here?”

Again, those lovely eyes of yours roll, but instead of going from side to side you practically roll them back into your skull in your frustration and tension. “Thanks for answering my perfectly reasonable question with another question. So, you’re here because I’m allied with the Empire.” It’s a statement. You aren’t asking him to confirm this.

Walking up the stone steps to your office, Ravus carefully planned each word and every pause that he would make in the lecture he’s about to bestow upon you like an unwanted gift. Ravus may  not blame you for Lunafreya’s death (in truth, he still blames Noct) but he definitely blames you for the choices you’ve made in the wake of that tragedy.

Everything is still raw. Ravus is still deeply in mourning and yet he makes the time to come to you in the hopes of shaking some sense into you. Though he couldn’t do so for his sister, although he’s certain you’re just as stubborn as she was, the soldier has to do this. In Ravus’ eyes, you’ve thrown yourself to the wolves. You’ve drenched yourself in blood, thrown on a necklace made of raw meat, and walked out into the wilderness.

And, like it or not, your friends would very much agree with that ridiculous comparison.

Cunning as you may be, that silver tongue of yours isn’t reliable. If someone wants you dead, it’s highly doubtful that you could talk your way out of a murder plot. Yet you act like you’re bulletproof. Like your confidence (arrogance, more like) is armor. Heterochromatic eyes simmer down at you. He’s yet to sit. He’s yet to move out of the doorway, as if blocking you in or blocking the world out.

A blunt speaker, Ravus doesn’t care about the feelings of people outside of his immediate family. But you’re someone whom he considers to be within his immediate family as his spouse. Therefore, this is going to be tricky for someone who is accustomed to cutting people down without a blink. Even though he thought long and hard about what he’s going to say to you, he still hesitates.

“I’m here because you’re playing a game of make-believe that’s almost certain to end badly for you.” At your unmoved expression, Ravus all but hisses and moves to stand right before you, closing the door behind him as he goes, tall frame imposing, “Should I reveal to you just how many times the emperor threatened your life? How he was not wholly sold on the importance of your fealty and thus needed constant reminders of the worth of your name to still his hand?”

Is this supposed to surprise you?

When you were kneeling down before that old bastard, all you saw was animosity in his eyes before you turned your gaze down in deference. That feeling? Of hating someone so much that you want them dead? It’s certainly mutual. With this sobering thought in mind, you trace the mouth of your glass with your forefinger and drawl, “If you’re here to warn me that there’s a plot to have me killed-”

“I’m here to tell you to give up this folly of yours, (y/n). Does your prince approve of what you’re doing?”

Now you’re both bristling. He because you’re so irritatingly flippant about a serious issue and you because no, Noctis definitely doesn’t approve of what you’re doing. A sore spot, Noct’s displeasure. Here you are, risking life and limb and the thing that bothers you the most is that your best friend doesn’t support you. He allows you to do what you feel you must do, but that’s hardly comparable to active support.

But did you really expect Noct to be enthusiastic about it?

You left him in his grief; in his time of need. While he was still reeling, you foisted your harebrained scheme upon him; the scheme to provide him with support no matter the distance between you two by pulling your soul out of yourself and giving it to him. Though he’s now blessed with your resistance to and capacity for great magic, Noctis would much rather have you by his side.  Like Ravus, he’s never seen you as a useful object. He sees you as someone he cares deeply for.

Noct would be on Ravus’ side right now. And you know it. And you hate it.

There’s an act to be played, however. Brushing aside all troubling thoughts of the raven-haired royal, you raise your chin and simper at your estranged husband, “What are you talking about? I only answer to the emper-”

“Enough.” The soldier watches as the mage’s face ices over at his brusque tone but he presses on. “I’ll not have you speak to me like I’m a fool. I know that this is a charade, (y/n). No one knows how deep your loyalty to that boy lies more than I do. A loyalty so strong that it trumps marriage vows.”

There’s a sneer in his voice but you don’t see it marring his visage as you glance to the closed door at his back.

Does he truly want you dead? Because talking about things like this (even if you’re certain your office hasn’t been bugged) is a surefire way to land you in hot water. So distracted by a multitude of things -- going over the schedule of the new researchers in the Spire, trying to recall if anyone has any business on this lonesome floor, and Ravus’ very presence -- you unwittingly default to your stinging snark.

Anything trumps the vows of a marriage of convenience, Lord Ravus.”

There’s a twitch in his jaw. That you see because unfortunately, your eyes fly to his face in horror the moment those words leave your lips. Funny how even in the wake of what you perceived to be a scathing rejection of your love in that imperial base, you fret over hurting the man’s feelings. Anyone else wouldn’t give a damn about hurting the feelings of someone who so callously brushed them aside when they were their most vulnerable. But you have the misfortune of being in love.

Emotions are a bitch,” you can’t help but bitterly muse under the hellfire glare of one Ravus Nox Fleuret.

Composure is quickly regained, the hurt is temporarily ignored, and Ravus snarls, “Leave now before you overstay your welcome. Not even the chancellor is on your side and from where I stand, you’ve no one of import backing you. The very second the emperor realizes what you’re up to, he’ll order every last soldier who walks these grounds to kill you. He’s a paranoid man, (y/n). It will not take much to move him against you.”

And he’s not telling you anything that you don’t already know. He’s not telling you anything his own sister didn’t already knock you over the head with. That damn Luna didn’t miss a beat from the moment you revived her. The siblings are remarkably alike in that way: Iron-willed and staunch defenders of the Mage to an almost obnoxious degree.

“I suppose this is the extent of your visit,” you sigh, feigning boredom. You turn away from where his body heat scalds you and resume your position behind your desk. With another disaffected sigh, you sit on your high-backed chair and drawl from frowning lips, “If this is all you had to say, then please take your leave of me.” A lazy wave of your hand adds insult to injury as if he’s an annoying fly that you’re trying to bat away.

Mismatched eyes stare down at you. One more step and he’s standing right before your desk. Shoulders square and spine straightens. He searches your face. “I came here to tell you that I intend to swear myself to Noctis.”

Whiskey curdles in your gut.

Eyes snap up to the High Commander’s stoic face and you smartly guffaw, “What?” At your ankles, a fuzzy creature wriggles and instructs you to ask better questions. “What are you talking about? You hate him! You’ve attempted to get in his way multiple times, Ravus. So, excuse me if I’m behaving as if this is all coming out of nowhere... Because it is.”

Still, Ravus refuses to sit. “I’m not necessarily doing this for his sake," he gloomily admits. "I’m honoring my sister’s memory and I had made a promise to her before the trial. I’m merely fulfilling that promise.”

Gaze fixates on the minimal amount of alcohol left in your cup. “I see.” How easy it is for you to forget that the rest of the world is still living in a reality where Lunafreya is dead. Here’s her brother, before you and in mourning, and Luna is not three miles away in the Nebulawood. You have the power to end his suffering with a single sentence. But you won’t.

Unable to look at the pained expression you wear for much longer, Ravus turns his gaze to your glass of whiskey as well and announces, “I’ll be returning to Niflheim to intercept Noctis before-”

For a moment, he’s completely taken aback by how quick you are. You’re up out of your chair and by his side before he can even form a coherent thought. As if not a single misunderstanding has plagued your relationship, you find yourself wrapping your arms around Ravus Nox Fleuret. Call it an uncharacteristic outburst. Guilt makes you act in funny ways.

That bruised ego of yours is forgotten for his sake. This is one of those rare moments where you shrug away the fear of rejection to put Ravus’ needs firmly before your own. This is one of those rare moments where you give Ravus entirely too much hope as he immediately wraps his arms around you in kind, taking a moment to commit this feeling to memory, to cherish the feeling and the scent of you.

“I’m sorry that you’ve been through so much,” you whisper, unable to commit to the cruel lie of giving him your condolences. “I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye and that we... had a falling out, but...” Your eyes are stinging and you mentally damn your sentimentality. “I’m sorry.”

He can’t help but think that this all feels surreal, given you’d disowned him quite vocally not too long ago. Even now, he’s reminded of that fact as your head presses against the matching wedding bands that he wears beneath his shirt. There’s something you’re not telling him. He’s getting a sense of that the longer this hug lasts. Instead of questioning you and ruining the moment, he holds you closer.

What might hurt you the most at this moment is the realization that Ravus is still trying to fulfill the oath he made to you on your wedding day. There was no reason for him to come here to warn you of danger or to reveal his intentions with Noct. There was no reason for him to worry about your well-being and attempt to get you to save yourself. Yet here he is, dripping with contempt for the careless way that you treat yourself.

After a moment, the silver-haired lord pulls away to look into your eyes. “Please. Leave this place.”

Ever the blunt talker.

Startled by his sincerity, you move out of his grasp, hips hitting your desk once again. The moment is lost. Your senses are regained, ire returns and secrets are hidden once more. That ire is more directed to his horrible timing. Because he waited until everything has gone to shit to become your ally. He waited until you two are fighting, until he became complicit in your mother’s death, until you allowed his sister to die under your watch.

He waited until there are so many reasons for you two to hate each other. He waited until it’s too late.

Breath rattles in your chest with phlegm. Tears are dried behind the billowy sleeve of your black robe. Heterochromatic eyes watch as your face turns to ice and he knows you’re going to reject him. “Ravus-”

“For once, think of yourself.” His mismatched eyes are glistening. A fire burns in them. “For once, care about yourself, (y/n). Give up this charade and return to your prince’s side.”

“Return to my side.” It’s what he wants to say but he’ll never say it. It seems far too presumptuous a thing to say to someone who revoked their feelings for him. Because although you hugged him, although you showed him a rare glimpse of affection, he knows that he’s done nothing but hurt you. He thinks you must hate him for coming around and attempting to play the role of the caretaker after all this time.

And part of you does.

It’s why he doesn’t continue to badger you once you turn your back on him and hiss, “You should go.”

And he does. He goes without complaint. But he promises himself that he’ll come back for you once he returns the Sword of the Father to Noctis and swears his allegiance to the boy. It’s what motivates him to hurry along with his quest. It’s quite possibly what causes him to have a deadly lapse in judgment. It’s what he thinks about during his last moments alive: Saving the Mage; rescuing (y/n) Iovita from the lonesome Spire and holding them in his arms once more.

Chapter Text

Part 14

You’re going to go after him. You don’t know it just yet, but you will and it will be the biggest mistake of your life.

Well... Actually, it’s tied for first place on that admittedly long list of “big mistakes” that you’ll make in your lifetime. And it’s honestly more of a double-edged consequence that you’ll face rather than being something that’s wholly terrible. Because while the immediate ramifications are horrible, your following of Ravus provides you with the opportunity to make amends and right a wrong.

Too bad righting a wrong will also have dire consequences. It’s almost as if the universe refuses to allow you to catch a break.

But for now, the idea of following after Ravus isn’t even truly in your head -- it’s planted but has yet to flower. All that swirls in your mind are troubling thoughts of how you and Ravus left things. Having already experienced the jarring trauma of suddenly finding out that someone you love died while you were off fulfilling your primary duty to Noctis, you find yourself in the position of worrying to the point that it must border on some form of neurosis.

“I should’ve given Ravus something,” you blurt, much to the surprise of the daemon who has been busy hopping around happily on your desk as you’ve paced. A cup of coffee in your hands does nothing to wind you down. Keyed up. That’s what you are and you’ve been in this state for a couple of days now.

The tiny green bird comes to a halt and peers at you with one eye, its fun stopped at the sound of tension in your voice. Well, it should’ve known you were in a foul mood considering you always provide it with distractions when you’re feeling low so as not to worry it. This latest distraction consists of various colors of paint and a blank sheet of paper for the daemon to do with as it wished. Little multi-colored bird tracks are the result.

That tiny eye blinks in polite curiosity. “Like what? I suppose you mean something more than a hug, though I guarantee you that he appreciated the sentiment more than you’ll know.”

A scowl is shot the daemon’s way. You didn’t know that it saw that. “Hugs don’t stop bullets or blades.”

“Ah.” The daemon’s voice lilts and then falls. Your pacing continues. Paint begins to dry. “So, you wanted to outfit him with protective magic. Then why did you allow him to walk away? Rather, why did you order him away?”

“Because I’m stupid.” That response is grumbled into your tepid coffee. Too distracted by your own thoughts, you don’t even bother warming the caffeinated beverage up.

“Says the prodigy,” the daemon sighs, as it always does when you make self-disparaging remarks. “You’re no such thing. Your relationship with your husband is... complicated.”

“And he uncomplicated it by about a thousand-fold by swapping sides. Funny, his timing. It’s so very funny,” you spit, not sounding the least bit amused. Fingers rake through your hair before you let your hand fall listlessly to your side. “What was he thinking? Coming here like that and just-just...”

Unblinking eyes continue to watch you as you come to a halt before the window. Gaze trained on the vast wilderness below, you sigh.

“If we leave now, you can likely catch him before he meets with your liege. He can't have gotten terribly far. At most, he's in Gralea. I doubt he'd have made it into the Keep.”

The way your shoulders square in response to that casual suggestion is observed keenly. Fingers tighten around the porcelain cup. Coctura has already informed you a few times that the dishwashers wish you wouldn't let your coffee just sit in the cups because they stain easily and it’s bothersome to get those stains out of white porcelain, as it takes a few hours of letting them sit with a homemade paste.

With this in mind (as it always springs to mind when you nurse your coffee), you throw back the cold beverage and grimace. Voice thick, you wonder, “Can you find him first and see if...?”

Verdant wings stretch out and the daemon takes flight for a brief moment before perching cutely atop your head. It’s trying to be ingratiating, as it usually is when it wants you to heed its advice or follow through with a plan of its making. Tiny talons scrape gently against your scalp as the creature steadies itself. You can see its reflection in the window if you strain your eyes.

“Yes, dear?”

“Did you just get paint on my head?” No response. Huffing because you know the daemon is going to act all pleased that you’re actually sort of taking it up on its offer, you finish your previous question, albeit a bit moodily now that you have paint on your head, “Can you go find him for me first and check if I actually do have the time to catch him before he meets up with Noct? I don't need Noct knowing I could've easily abandoned my post at any time. It would only irritate him despite the fact that I'm playing the long game.”

“Of course.” There’s a smile in that voice as the bird shifts. “I shall do so promptly and will be back before you know it.”

And then it’s gone, having fallen into the shadow at your back.

You’re thinking about all the wrong things when you turn back toward your desk and return to it, placing your empty cup on that smooth surface. You’re thinking about what you’re going to say to Ravus when the daemon takes you to him. Running on auto-pilot, you sit on your chair and open a drawer -- the second one from the top, your knickknack drawer that Gladiolus would surely make fun of you over -- before rummaging through it. You’re thinking about what you’re going to pick out of that drawer and what enchantment you’ll use.

What you should be thinking about is currently outside of your realm of comprehension.

Because at this moment, why would you think about how best to try and condense everything you’ve ever yearned to tell Ravus in a way that he’ll understand before the scourge fully corrodes his mind? Why would you think about how best to console yourself when you realize that window of opportunity -- to tell him -- was shut before you could even make it on the scene? Even when you’re thinking in worst-case scenarios, that particular scenario is never thought of.

Although you sometimes seem to enjoy torturing yourself with grim thoughts, your imagination is lacking.

From among the pile of refuse, a bottle cap is fished out and admired. It’s painted red with swirling white letters. It's perfect. After all, Ravus seemed to enjoy the hot pink button you gave to him. He must like bright colors. You're so blissfully unaware of what your daemonic companion is watching unfold. Such terrible timing to rise into the realm of the living just as Noctis Lucis Caelum rams his sword into Ravus Nox Fleuret’s gut, with the older man having seemingly no reaction to a blow that should’ve been fatal.

Yellow eyes watch. The air is sniffed and Ravus' fate is discovered.

Just as you begin to narrow down a list of enchantments, there’s a flurry of green feathers and you’re forced to throw yourself back into your chair in order not to get hit in the face with a wing as the daemon springs out from under your desk. A bit of down has to be pulled off of your bottom lip before you can properly complain. “What the hell is wrong with you?!”

It's been less than five minutes. Tiny chest heaves once and composure is regained in an instant. The daemon doesn’t like to appear distressed in your presence. It prefers to maintain an aura of confidence and a façade of poise in order to convey to you that it’s your reliable counselor and confidant. But it had to get to you quickly to relay troubling news. It had followed Ravus’ energy, an expert tracker, but it was sadly too late. If only it had suggested seeking Ravus out sooner...

The creature has always had an appreciation for aesthetics. It was quite fond of Ravus’ coloring -- blond hair so pale it looked silver and such strange eyes, too. In fact, the creature’s fondness of the human form was why it had altered itself to look more human back before it had fallen into this wretched state. It rid itself of pointed ears, clawed fingers, and curled horns all in the hopes of looking human.

Now one of the fairest humans it has ever seen looks more like the daemon than the creature is comfortable with. Now it must choose its words carefully in the presence of the dead man’s spouse.

Such an eloquent speaker and yet it dawdles, shifts from foot to foot under your burning stare. Though it's wasting time, the creature that you summoned thinks that might not be such a bad thing. The stink of death was in the air -- sweet and foul. And having such a strange relationship with death as the daemon does, it isn't even subconsciously trying to keep you away from the battle because Ravus is dead. No. It's keeping you away because it doesn't want you to experience "negative emotion."

Logically, it doesn't want you to think that the thing that's currently attacking your king is your husband. It doesn't want to put you in a seemingly impossible situation where you might consider siding with the daemonic version of Ravus Nox Fleuret because you've befriended a daemon once before. Though the soul might be trapped in a corrupted vessel, it already seeks release . The daemon knows that feeling well. Ravus succumbed to it and is no longer in control.

There was no lack of willpower or will to live. The daemon knows that, too. It's not as if Ravus simply gave up. The scourge takes root in a person in a way that only the Oracle can undo. That gentle touch of light against a soul, to purify and expunge the darkness entirely. But this is tricky, for the daemon knows what happens to corrupted vessels once a daemon is put out of its misery.

If it had lips, the daemon would purse them right now. “He’s in battle.” Well... That’s careful enough.

“What?” You wonder, alarmed. The ridges of the bottle cap bite into your palm, nearly breaking the skin until you unthinkingly drop the thing where it pings against the stone floor. Leaning forward, you address the bird on your desk, “Is he okay? You’re acting weird.”

There’s a strange kind of tension in the bird’s small body, like the thing that pretty skin conceals might burst forth in its distressed state. “He’s going to lose this fight. You cannot aid him now, (y/n). It would be best if you don't see him like-”

Fear sends an electric jolt through your gut.

You aren’t really thinking. All you register is that Ravus is in danger and that’s all.

You don’t really process the fact that the perpetually helpful daemon offered him no type of aid in this alleged fight and doesn’t vocally offer him any on your behalf now that it has returned to you. Many a time, when it has updated you on your friends’ welfare, it would mention that it dragged an enemy daemon into the shadows or something like that if your friends were in battle. Secretly helpful. Yet it’s no such thing today.

“Take me to him. Now.”

As you always are in the face of hardship, you’re forceful and calm. Shrewd and even-tempered. It’s what comes after that worries the daemon. Once, it was reckless driving and carelessly imbibed poison after you’d learned of your mother’s death. Another time, it was sleepless nights and the neglect of your health after your own brush with death. But tensions are building up. The last time you were given grave news, you’d let that mask slip and you’d screamed and shouted; made windows explode in your anger.

And the daemon knows that you’ll not take what awaits you in Gralea lightly.

Curtains are drawn, shutting out the light, and you turn to the daemon who has shed its false skins. Even as you stand there all stoic, so certain that you’re prepared for the worst, you aren’t exactly prepared for the worst. The daemon almost tells you what to expect, teeth parting to expose that pink tongue before closing once more. A boney hand reaches out to you and you take it.

An unwinnable battle? For Ravus?” You think, so curious.

Eyes screwed shut, you can only fear that Ravus must be having an altercation with Ardyn or something terrible like that. Though it’ll take some finesse, you assure yourself that you can talk Ardyn down. Because surely he’ll be distracted by your impudence, by your utter gall to actually leave the post he specifically assigned you to that he’ll falter even just a minuscule amount. You expect to turn the tides in Ravus’ favor as his protector, as the Mage.

You’re unaware that you’re walking into a battle that you, too, are destined to lose.

Chapter Text

Part 15

He begged for death.

You don’t know that when you step out of the shadows only to have the cacophony of battle ringing in your ears. Eyes snap open and for a split-second you’re a child again, wanting to squeeze your eyes shut until reality decides to change itself for you. Words can’t describe the jarring mix of emotions that suddenly flood through you, culminating into an audible bang! of electricity that strikes down from the metal ceiling above like an errant bolt of lightning.

For one moment, all eyes are on you. A collective feeling of dread makes the air heavy before your friends turn around to continue trying to kill your husband.

Face blank, you stare. You stand and you watch Prompto aim and fire, watch that creature barely even stumble back. You watch Gladiolus hack and slash at limbs, drawing viscous blackness out of that beast rather than blood. The stink. The odor, you note, is very familiar. It's sweet and foul and familiar, much the same scent that comes from the thing that stands at your back. But it attacks your friends. Wearing half of Ravus' face, it attacks your friends.

Electricity crackles in the air around you. You squeeze your eyes shut and grit your teeth, struggling to center yourself and suppress those terrible emotions.

“He’s already dead,” the daemon murmurs at your back, hoping to ward you away from the grotesque creature that shambles around with labored breath. The daemon doesn't want you to make any rash decisions. It knew this was a bad idea. Boney fingers dig into your shoulders to jolt you back into your senses lest there’s another emotional outburst that winds up actually hitting one of your friends. “Let us stay here, (y/n). You needn’t involve-”

“Leave me.”

You almost feel insulted that the daemon wants to coddle you from this: the result of your inaction, the consequence of how handily you wielded a grudge. Because, for the sake of your own  wounded pride, you afforded Ravus no protection. Despite your promise, despite your vows, you turned him away not once but twice. Now... As the daemon said, he's dead. And you aren't quite sure what to do with that.

Not wholly unacquainted with death, you aren't paralyzed in the face of it. However, this is different. Aunt Lysa, your grandfather, your mother, hell even Jared Hester, their deaths were different from this because you logically knew that you weren't at fault in any way. But this? You spoke to Ravus not long ago and knew he was going to swear fealty to Noctis and subsequently put himself in harm's way. You knew. And you knew, shortly after he left, that the emperor had called for his execution for abandoning his post. You knew. Now you have to fix what you broke.

It hurts to breathe.

What is this? Rage? Pain? It’s hard to parse the two out of this strange amalgam that seems to have no beginning or end. All you know is that it’s burdensome. It’s heavy and sits on your chest, pressing down to the point that air can no longer enter your lungs. Wet heat streaks down your face. One time. Two times. It’s ignored along with that heavy feeling as you brandish your staff and stride out onto the battlefield. It’s ignored along with the grim and wary faces of your friends.

This is going to hurt. You know it. Somehow, this pain is only going to intensify.

It’s inescapable. Haunting. Terrible. It feels like you’re dying. And you hate yourself. You hate yourself so, so much because you can’t find the words to say anything coherent to the man you walk up to. Apologies for all of the time you wasted by being angry and proud get lodged in your throat, stuck behind a lump that won’t go away. Pleas for forgiveness suffer the same fate. Knees are weak. Stomach is lead. But somehow, some way, you keep your arms strong enough to wield that staff of yours; wield it with the intent to kill.

"Ravus," it's barely a whisper quivering in the air, "I'm so sorry."

Left in the dark, a small part of Ravus’ mind that wasn’t corrupted had consoled him, telling him that he had Lunafreya to look forward to being reunited with as well as his mother; not knowing you'd robbed him of that. The small part that remained intact for just long enough told him to be happy that you were safe even if he wouldn’t be able to see you for a while. Even as he mourned the time he lost with you, he prayed that it would be a long time before you crossed paths in the afterlife. He begged your friends. And then he was gone. He was fighting.

But now there's a name, "Ravus," and now there's a flicker that gives the creature pause, that halts its attack. Breath wheezes from lungs, dark eyes stare down at the mage. Two intense eyes, clouded with pain, stare back. A pop of a cork. The smell of the forest, damp earth. Television flickering. Excitement, a letter with a button. Cruel eyes and a smirk, a man yanks a necklace away. Two rings, tinkling noises. Crying. The crying.

No one will tell you that you cry the whole time. No one will tell you about the wretched sobs or screams of rage that precede each strike of your staff against the pathetic monster’s chest. At one point, to the others, it looks like the daemon lets you hit it, it looks like it stops fighting altogether. Those haunting black eyes never leave your face and you can’t see a thing; blindly lashing out with brute force alone, not once casting a single spell for fear of that magic being out of your control.

The smell. All you can think about is the smell of corruption that shouldn't be there; he should smell like the cologne and aftershave that he nearly drowned himself in the first time you met, so nervous and wanting to woo you. All you can think about is how he only has half a face. All you can think about is how much this must have hurt him because succumbing to the scourge doesn't come quickly. And you think and you wonder if it would’ve hurt less if you hadn’t been the one to  deal the killing blow to a creature that didn't even fight back.

Clang!

Metal staff falls to the floor after sliding out of the daemon’s chest, that pointed end painted black with tatters of tainted flesh clinging on. Hands shake wildly now, held out to your sides as you accept what you've done. Those black eyes continue to stare at the stranger who isn’t a stranger. They stare at the flicker, let that slideshow replay as the wretched creature falls to its knees and collapses.

You don’t hear anything that anyone says. There’s a dull roar in your ears -- blood pounding to the point that your ear canals actually feel like they’re filled with a raging fire. There's one thing that you hear before the world seemingly ceases to exist. It's squeaked at your back from downturned lips. It's tinged with compassionate sorrow and complemented by a careful touch to your shoulder that you can’t rightly feel. Prompto still stands behind you after saying it.

“Ardyn.”

There's more to it. There's actually a whole sentence attached to it. But you don’t hear it. Instead, you cling to that name. Desperately, you cling as if that buoy can keep you afloat; as if your anger will keep you from sinking.

Knees hurt from sudden impact. It’s so hard to see Ravus’ ruined face, tears making him look all wobbly and unfocused. Hands still shaking, you can’t bring yourself to touch him, coming just an inch away only to pull back. If you touch him, that will make this real. You pray for the tears to stay, too. Because as long as you can’t properly see him, then... it’s not him. It’s someone else. You’re hunched over the corpse of someone else’s husband, not yours.

The tears fall.

You can see his face now, all blackened and warped and twisted. Now you say it again: “I’m so sorry.” It’s pathetic; whimpered out from between shaking fingers, hands clamped over your mouth to futilely keep the sorrow in; full of regret. Some cruel and barbaric creature has ripped your heart out of your chest. That can be the only explanation for what you feel right now. It amplifies when Ravus’ ruined body begins to bubble up and fade away.

Someone is crying. It’s a horrible, wretched sound, full of phlegm and pain. It echoes in the room as the guys stand around you, unable to bring themselves to look at you as you reach out toward nothing. You don’t even realize that that horrible sound is coming from you until Prompto comes up from behind you to hug you and you gasp at the sudden contact. The tears continue to fall. Unable to take it anymore, you bury your face in Prompto’s neck and he holds you even tighter.

You pray that this is just a horrible nightmare. But you know that reality will never be so kind to you.

“We have to go,” Prom murmurs against your temple. He wants to ask how you got here. He wants to ask where you came from. But none of that feels important right now. Not when his best friend is shaking in his arms. The sharpshooter is blissfully unaware that it’s the pent-up magic that writhes inside of you that’s making you quake so; struggling to keep it all tamped down out of fear of another outburst that might harm your friends this time.

Noctis doesn’t know how to approach you. Nobody really does. But he more-so, as he feels like he has some blame in this. You were a frightening sight to behold on the battlefield. And Prompto? Well, he just defaulted to what he knows works best. Noct had almost stopped him and so had the daemon. But he was lucky that you love him and were so desperate for the comfort of a  friendly touch. From behind the blond, Noct hesitantly says, “(y/n)... You can stay here. We’ll go on-”

“Absolutely not,” you snap. And just like that, the haughty mage is seemingly back to normal. A façade is put up. Soft fabric rubs furiously at your cheeks. You push away from the blond, shaking your head as you stand to your full height. The guys stand around you, waiting. For the moment, grief gets reeled back. You beat it away like it’s a wild animal trying to attack. It’s over, you tell yourself. For now, you’re here with your prince and Ardyn must be here, too. You’ll not leave Noctis unprotected, not while that bastard is skulking about.

“Are you certain?” Ignis queries. Oh, no. He’s using that soft voice of his, the one reserved for when he knows you’re upset. The one that only makes you more upset.

Glowering up at the harsh fluorescent lights of the Keep, you all but spit, “Of course. My cover is likely blown to bits by this point. Nobody in their right mind would expect me to remain complacent in my position now that the chancellor has killed my husband.”

“He didn’t deserve to go like that, Magey.” One strong hand claps down on your shoulder. The Shield seeks to console the mage. “He was-”

“A good man? I know. He always was even when...” Even when you tried to pretend that he wasn’t, even when you told him so and renounced him to his face... Your breath is taken away from you, making it difficult to speak. Throat is cleared to no avail. That damn anger of yours isn’t strong enough. It grows weaker as the seconds pass, allowing sorrow to climb back up. Eyes cast down, you hiss, “Give me a minute. Please.”

And they do. Without a word, with nothing but full understanding, your friends move on from you. They won’t go far but they’ll go far enough for the daemon to come creeping toward you on light paws. It’s something fluffy and soft for you: a very plump dog with big ears and a pompom for a tail. Teeth grit, you pick it up without a word and bury your face in its chubby neck. For a while, it’s quiet as it allows you to hold it and sob into its neck. It can feel your despair. It will heal your despair. Or at least for a time.

“I can get him back.” The temptation. Always there. Always a contract ready to be signed by the desperate. You don’t respond. The daemon wonders if you heard.

Old memories get stirred up like sand in high tide. It can recall offering much the same thing to an ancestor of yours: Lumis. Selah, his son, was succumbing to the scourge and had killed himself in fear of what he'd become. The daemon would have had to entreat the Oracle, a woman who would do anything for the Mage. She would have purified the body. She wouldn't have judged Lumis for using necromancy or for taking help from a daemon. And neither will Lunafreya when the daemon gets Ifrit to give up the tainted body.

“Like with the Oracle,” it hisses in your ear, desperate to please its summoner-descendant, “I can bargain on your behalf with the gods to reclaim his body for this realm. Then you can search for his soul and raise him from the dead. You’ll have your husband back. I assure you.”

Except, unlike with the Oracle's revival, it's not compassionate Shiva who will need to be convinced of this. No, the daemon will have to go crawling to the Betrayer. It will have to subject itself to that sinner's smirk as the Infernian gazes upon his handiwork. Then he'll likely call on Ramuh to humiliate both parties. It will do Ifrit's bidding, as he never gives without first receiving. Just for you, it will debase itself one more time.

"Will you accept my offer?"

There’s the hook. The catch. In this way, the daemon treats you much the same way it does the pseudo-mages who invoke it. Power is dangled before you, your weakness is preyed upon, and an offer is made. However, after the initial sales pitch, the daemon changes its routine just for you. It won’t make you pay the price. It will pay for you. And you? Well, you’re about to offer it something that it can hardly resist, something that will make the humiliation of Ifrit's gaze worth it. Pulling the fat dog away from you, you stare into its dark eyes and nod.

“You bring Ravus’ body and I’ll bring Ardyn’s head,” you reply coldly. The daemon’s eyes flash at your offer. “We’ll make an evening of it.”

Chapter Text

Talk It Out

Miscommunication seems to be yours and Ravus’ schtick. From small things to big things; things that you can laugh at as soon as it happens and things that neither of you will admit kept you up at night. The latter typically involves a lot of shifty glances and furrowed brows; squinty side-eyes and pouted mouths. Guess who does which? The problem is that even though you’re the most outspoken of the two of you, you’re still a rather reserved individual.

Growing up in academia with adults whose average age rounded off at a solid 57 didn’t exactly foster an exuberant personality in you. Well... Not easily exuberant. You shine brightly once you’re comfortable. Confrontation and miscommunication, however, leaves you rather dulled. And you awkwardly teeter in limbo with Ravus for a while after an interaction is bungled. The shocker to most people who don’t know your relationship is that Ravus is always the one to start a discussion.

You’re a match made in awkward heaven that way: Two people who hate to be wrong and who hate confronting the people they care for. It leaves you in a painful stalemate that Ravus Nox Fleuret simply doesn’t have the nerve for. You’re perhaps more hardheaded than he is since any faux pas committed by your hand is gladly left in the past. Ravus? Oh, sweet Ravus just can’t abide that evasive nonsense. It eats him alive. Without him, everything would fester and the relationship would likely rot.

When he finally grows weary of the head games and wants to talk, he tries to create intimate spaces, be it small coffee tables that require close proximity for you to both use or requesting that you two have your meetings in the greenhouse where you first met. He does everything he can to put you at ease and hopefully, by extension, put himself at ease for a discussion of feelings and to untangle the web  of misunderstandings that you two seem to always find yourselves in. It doesn’t go unappreciated. But honestly, the routine is so predictable.

The silver-haired lord grits his teeth and sits you down or calls you. He starts a discussion not readily but certainly willingly. And that’s where his momentum ends: Getting the discussion started. Actually, he sort of flubs that, too. The former prince of Tenebrae can get you alone or on the phone, he can sit across from you at a table, and then he stares you into oblivion because his mind is racing with a million scenarios of how you might misconstrue an apology or how he might make things worse.

It’s happened so many times that the people around you think you’re working off of a script: (y/n) does or says something suspect that sends Ravus spiraling down a rabbit hole trying to figure out what they meant, a few tense days pass, and Ravus calls on (y/n) for an uncomfortable sit down in which (y/n) does most of the emotional legwork and the two go back to harmonious cohabitation. Lather, rinse, repeat. Sometimes the roles are reversed but, as stated, Ravus is always, always, always the instigator for talks.

After things are made right, there’s an affectionate pat on the shoulder or a warm smile. Well, before the two of you had a big blowout in which real feelings were made clear, that’s how misunderstandings were resolved. Now there are gentle touches, a hasty kiss on the cheek that leaves your lips buzzing and has Ravus walking around with a ghost of a smile on his face for the rest of the day. Sometimes, Ravus will press a chaste, lingering kiss to your forehead and he has to snap you out of a daze right after.

The script remains even after feelings are made known, though. Reassurances are still sought and that onerous “script” is even followed for silly things.

It isn’t strictly assigned to incidents that span across days (like when you forgot your anniversary because you assumed Ravus wasn’t looking forward to it... yikes). For instance, you’re very particular about your food. You like certain things even though you’ll eat most foods and sometimes you’ll go a whole day looking forward to a specific treat to reward yourself with after a long day of work. Once, you were looking forward to a donut. Ravus doesn’t even like donuts, so you didn’t think he’d eat the last one. Yet there he went and you’d pouted.

An hour passed and a dozen donuts found their way onto your desk. So touched by such an endearing gesture, you called him over to thank him and wondered if he’d like one, to which your stoic husband simply replied, “Thank you for the offer, but I don’t like donuts.” As expected, that triggered another incident in which your laughter was met with a prim and overly defensive, “Donuts are far too unhealthy to be eaten in excess.” Ravus was nearly driven mad by you passive aggressively eating junk food and glaring at him for the next five days until you got ill off of too many donuts, thus proving his point.

Then there was the tea incident. There are many “incidents,” really, and they all have such benign and simple names that completely do them justice. You and Ravus can immediately recall the exact events of every incident in vivid detail if they’re mentioned. The donut incident, the stairwell incident, the pillow incident, the incident with the underclothes, and so on. Good news is that since you’ve had so many incidents, you’re both quick to utilize them in an educational and constructive way.

Funny, that. Despite your best efforts of saying such things as, “Ravus, you shouldn’t bottle things up. Remember the stairwell incident?” or your husband gently scolding, “There’s no need to feel embarrassed in my presence, (y/n). I’d like for you to rest easy around me and know that I’m not critical of you. Do you recall the... the incident with the underclothes?” there are still new incidents. It’s like you two are destined to bumble around in your relationship. But dammit if you don’t try to ease that embarrassment.

Like now.

You’re certain that with the number of candles you’ve lit in this room, you’re sure to burn the place down. An effort to be sweet and endearing might lead to you dying in a blaze. Is there any other way that you’d rather go? According to this version of the script, you’re the one who has bungled things by making Ravus think you find him obnoxious, so you have to make it right. You’re deviating a bit from the norm. Ravus has yet to approach you over your last disaster of a discussion.

The discussion in question concerned your absence from home. You’ve been gone on your secret missions, doing “magey” things, and Ravus has been left behind to wonder when you’re coming back or even if you’re coming back. Though he’s told not to worry, though he knows that you’re a capable mage, “relaxing” is easier said than done. Especially because the silver-haired lord doesn’t know what he’d do without you. Of course, he doesn’t say as much and instead comes across as overbearing.

You’d been gone for days during your most recent quest. Days upon days with no word sent to Ravus or anyone else that you were fine. The older man had practically paced a trench in the floor when you finally returned. You acted so blasé, like your extended leave of absence couldn’t possibly have any negative connotations attached to it. And Ravus? Ravus had been furious. He’d gone pale in his anger, mismatched eyes blazing though he kept his expression neutral.

“What’s the big deal?” You’d snorted in response to his concern, oozing with derision. “I’m an adult, Ravus. I can take care of myself like a big mage. I don’t need you breathing down my neck. I used to have a mother and you aren’t her, so don’t pretend to be.”

Those words were like a slap across the face. Ravus’ jaw had tightened and he retorted, "I have tried to be nothing if not an open book for you- to be honest with you. All I ask for is the same in return, yet you constantly thumb my pages and play me for a fool. Secrets and lies are your specialty, not mine. Do not expect anyone, least of all me, to wait patiently while you decide if I’m worthy of the truth or not, (y/n).”

Compared to all of your past misunderstandings, that had been the first actual argument to spring up from one. It happened yesterday and you didn’t sleep last night. Neither did Ravus. Ravus just stared at the ceiling of the bedroom and you stayed at your desk, pretending to work. Less than 24-hours and you can’t take it anymore. Maybe it’s personal growth? Maybe it’s guilt? Maybe it’s both? But this time around, you can’t let your faux pas fester until Ravus does something about it.

This time the pouts are on his face. Coupled with the frowns, it’s almost an instant knockout. So here you are, putting enough candles around the sitting room to create a substantial fire hazard and rearranging his favorite cinnamon cookies on an ochre plate. The matching teacups are placed on the coffee table so that they practically mirror each other. It’s... a little much. But Ravus Nox Fleuret already knows that you’re a little much.

It’s why he’s only surprised for a split second when he enters the room and why he only thinks the room is on fire for a little bit longer until he sees you puttering around. Goodness, it’s hot in here. Though he already knows what this is about and he appreciates the lengths you’re going to for him, Ravus can’t help that he has the urge to go and blow out all of these candles. Listen, it’s clearly dangerous. All of your efforts to make up for being rude are almost about to get you another lecture.

“What’s all this?”

So busy neurotically arranging and rearranging the placement of the candles, you don’t realize  Ravus is here until he speaks. Startled, you almost drop a fat, round candle that smells faintly of amber and whirl around. There in the doorway, bathed in orange light, is your bemused spouse. Those perpetually frowning lips are pursed, heterochromatic eyes hooded, and brow creased. You only stay stunned for a moment before snapping out of it and gesturing toward the loveseat that’s next to the coffee table.

“Please, have a seat. We need to talk.”

Gods, you have the worst way of sitting people down for talks. “We need to talk.” is like a verbal death sentence, especially coming from you. At least for Ravus, anyway. For him, it can mean one of two things: You’re upset with him or you’re leaving again. And while he admires your dedication to your duty as the Mage, a small part of him can’t help but wish you’d be so dedicated to him. He’ll never vocalize that desire, of course. Ravus Nox Fleuret loathes guilt-trips.

Considering that “We need to talk.” has negative connotations in both scenarios that he’s cooked up in his head, Ravus sits stiffly on the loveseat, adjusting for a moment on the lumpy cushion. Stars above, he’s asked you to throw out the damned thing for months now but you’ve some sentimental attachment to it. He’s unaware that it used to sit in your mother’s office before you had it moved to your office here in the home you two share. You’ve been scolded many a time on this ugly loveseat.

“Have a cookie.” It’s said almost aggressively in your discomfort. Sounds a bit like a threat more than a polite invitation, like you’re liable to shove one of the damned things down his throat. Your tone has Ravus quirking a delicate eyebrow before reaching over to the plate of cookies to entertain you. A small bite is taken out of the cinnamon cookie. You’ve just made them. Ah, so this really is an apology? That’s a first. He’ll have to be certain not to let his expression become too satisfied or you’ll get all huffy.

As Ravus chews his cookie like it’s a tedious thing, taking far more time than necessary for such a boring and simple action, you clear your throat and turn toward him on the loveseat, folding your left leg under you. Heterochromatic eyes are on you all the while, hidden slightly behind pale eyelashes. Firelight flickers across his face, softening his sharp facial features. Again, you clear your throat. There must be something stuck in it, Ravus thinks. He almost puts his cookie down to grab your cup of tea for you but he doesn't want to break your concentration.

Suddenly, you blurt, “I should’ve sent you a message to say that I’d be gone for longer than expected. I’m sorry for snapping at you and for being so brazenly disrespectful. You deserve better and I didn’t mean to make it seem like I find you obnoxious or unworthy of being kept ‘in the loop’ of what I do. I promise that I’ll do right by you from here on out and I’m not just saying that. I’ll show you the next time I leave. If I fail, well, you have permission to strike me down as soon as I return.”

You end that speech on a joke and now it’s time to catch your breath.

“(y/n),” Ravus sighs, rubbing his fingers together to get cookie crumbs and dusty cinnamon off of them. Lips purse and his gaze flickers between you and the crumbs on his lap. Damn, he’d tried not to be messy but it’s like you purposefully make these cookies the messiest things in the world. “Though I appreciate your hyperbole, it’s not necessary.”

“Did it ruin the moment?” You query lightly, eyebrows raised.

He appraises you for a moment after that question. Though his heart certainly swelled when you hastily offered him that sincere apology and promise, and though he felt his pulse quicken at the sight of your upturned eyes and fidgeting hands... you kinda did undercut the seriousness of the situation. Listen, he’s been agonizing over being considered a nag or having his concern be viewed  as a burden by you. He just wants to know that his care for you isn’t... unwanted.

“A little. However, it’s so very much like you.” Well, he’s always been bluntly honest. At your flat, mildly insulted expression, Ravus hastens to clarify lest there’s another incident borne from this, “That wasn’t an insult.”

“Hmph. Did it ever cross your mind that I might actually like when you inadvertently insult me?” You gibe, leaning against the cushion of the chair, arm draped over the back in comfortable repose, “Imagined slights are like our form of dirty talk.”

“Behave yourself.” Ravus tuts, eyes narrowed at you. When he looks at you like this, you have a difficult time telling if he’s being flirty (a rarity) or if he’s actually scolding you. “Based on how you pout and have, on more than one occasion, nearly stomped your foot like a petulant child at my chastisements or my admittedly lacking attempts at expressing myself properly, I find it highly unlikely that you enjoy when it happens.”

“Wow.” You fake a frown, arms crossed now. “Way to kink-shame me.”

Maybe this is personal growth? Considering you went out of your way to address the elephant in the room first despite your own discomfort, it definitely seems like growth. And Ravus’ acceptance of your awkward apology was certainly far more gracious than his usual subtle “I knew I was right the whole time but it’s still good to have you admit it even though it’s like pulling teeth” face. The two of you might actually be getting somewhere if Ravus starts doing emotional la-

Mind blanks.

One moment you’re crossing your arms and pouting at Ravus even though you’re totally content with how this apology went, and then the next moment you find yourself pulled against your husband’s chest. He smells like his usual spicy musk with an added hint of sweetness from the cinnamon cookies. The gentle pats on the shoulder or on the back, the brushing of his hand against the back of yours, none of that prepared you for this.

You learned so many things about Ravus from his letters years ago. Honestly, that’s arguably the only way you could’ve learned so much about your husband before the two of you entered into an arranged marriage and before you started living together. His likes and dislikes, hobbies, pet peeves, and even how he takes his tea. What you didn't learn is that he's a wonderful hugger. You swear he’s the best hugger you’ve ever met. Just don’t say that around Prompto.

Into his shoulder, you murmur once you’ve got over the initial shock, “I, uh, also wanted to thank you for your concern. Even if it might make you go prematurely gray, it feels nice to have someone worry about me.” Arms encircle him and you pull him closer. With a grin, you add, “You know exactly how to feed the worst parts of my ego.”

And that’s exactly what he was hoping to hear. Sorta. Even with more misunderstandings than most people have in a lifetime, it’s almost like the two of you can read the other’s mind. Reassurances are readily given once an understanding is reached. Ravus smiles softly against your temple. Leave it to you to remain all impish during a tender moment. “Then I shall do so often,” he jokes and savors the way you laugh against his chest.

Chapter Text

Call Me pt.1

Good morning.

-Ravus

Eyes blink blearily at the message on your phone’s screen. It’s five in the morning and you’ve been reading up on ancient runes for about an hour now. Your husband never misses a beat, always sending you a good morning text even if you know he won’t be free to respond to your messages throughout the day. It never fails to make your insides feel like they turn to mush or send your heart racing off like the wind. Especially that dorkily endearing way of his in which he always, without fail, signs his texts like some old fogey.

A sleepy smile crosses your face and you bite your bottom lip, fingers drumming contemplatively on the polished surface of your dark wooden table. About this time, he’s probably training before going off on whatever it is his job calls for -- you aren’t too sure, it never feels right to ask Ravus what the Empire asks of him, considering you’re wholly sworn to Lucis and the two are still very much directly opposed to each other. But you have a flimsy grasp of what his schedule looks like, pieced together with little hints of what he’s doing when he responds.

You find yourself in a devilish mood. Outside of your bedroom window, the heavens have parted and it’s raining torrentially. That white noise serves as the perfect backdrop for you to think critically about your next move. Now, typically you respond back with a brief “Morning” with no punctuation to indicate if you’re cheery or not quite so enthused. Or, perhaps, you’ll jazz things up with an emote. Maybe a peace sign or thumbs up if you’re particularly busy and can’t grace the commander with actual words.

Though he’ll never tell you, it does irritate Ravus Nox Fleuret when you can’t even be bothered to spare him at least the dreaded “K.” I mean, emojis? Who exactly is he to you? Some stranger whom you regret giving your number to? He’s your husband, for crying out loud! The least he deserves is “K.” And he won’t admit it, but his phone isn’t as up to date as yours so he can’t see those emotes half the time. But the silver-haired lord will only ever have that conversation in his head  since he knows you’re an extraordinarily busy and important individual...

Plus, let’s be real, if you ever found out that he has an ancient relic of a phone that doesn’t get your fancy new emojis, that’d just make you spam him with more to frustrate him, leaving him to glower at the dreaded box with the question mark in it, wondering what you could’ve possibly sent him. Is it a heart? Is it a gun? Who knows? He definitely won’t know ‘cause he won’t be able to see it and he’d never in a million years ask you to please, for the love of all that’s good in the world, lay off of the damn emojis!

But it’s a fun little morning ritual all the same. Just a nice little display to show that you each care about how the other is doing. It’s tame. Considering this is an arranged marriage where only one person has confessed their feelings (which you still cringe at the memory of), it’s... nice enough. But it’s just nice. It holds not one ounce of intimacy. It isn’t any different from messages you might get from your own mother, for crying out loud. And as the mage who has fallen quite hard for the silver-haired lord, you’ve been wanting to change that for a while now.

Gods, you don’t know what you’re thinking. Fingers toy with the buttons of your shirt a moment longer, allowing you to really, really contemplate what you’re doing. You’re giving yourself about a million outs at this moment. ‘Cause this can either be hilarious and possibly mutually beneficial, or it can spell social death and you can say goodbye to this pleasant morning routine of polite texts. Because what you’re doing is not fit for polite company and you can only pray to the gods that Ravus will be alone when he opens your message.

And perhaps they answer your prayers. Because when Commander Ravus Nox Fleuret’s phone buzzes with a message from his spouse who lives all the way off in Duscae, he’s blissfully alone in his gloomy office in Niflheim. He’d just gone over the file of a recently botched mission and is feeling tired already. But the sight of your name on his phone’s screen brings a comforted smile onto his stoic face. And then the picture you sent him loads and he almost drops the damn thing on the floor.

The pages of your book turn and they sound much louder than usual. It’s probably because you’re stubbornly ignoring the way your phone keeps buzzing with Ravus’ caller ID flashing on the screen. Six, you’re sweating like mad, nearly breaking out into hives, not actually reading anything on those turning pages though you’ve flipped through half the damn book at this point. When you realize Ravus isn’t going to stop calling, you snatch up your phone and exit your room to go for a quick stroll to relieve you of some nervous energy.

Then your voicemail pings and the phone goes eerily quiet. Out in the empty stone corridor, you hold your phone away from you like it’s a thing with teeth. Oh, this is what intense and instant regret looks like. It looks like the cheery little bubble in your alerts. Should you throw the damn thing down the stairs? No... Breaking your phone won’t undo that last regrettable ten minutes of your life. It won’t erase that somewhat risqué image from Ravus Nox Fleuret’s mind. Maybe you should throw yourself down the stairs? 

Shaking your head, you decide to own up to your mistake and get this over with. With a shaky finger, you click on the alert and press play. “(y/n),” Ravus’ voice is remarkably uptight, prompting you to slap your hand over your mouth lest you laugh aloud in the corridor. You can practically see the sweat on his brow and the color in his cheeks. Oh, how red he’d gone at the sight of you with that dreamy smile and that mostly unbuttoned shirt with "Good morning" as the accompanying message. Good morning, indeed. “When you get this message... Call me.”

Chapter Text

Call Me pt.2

It’s easy to avoid someone when you don’t have to see them.

It’s especially easy when they don’t even live in the same country as you. But just because something is easy, that doesn’t mean it’s right. Guilt and shame are all that you feel as you dodge calls from your husband all throughout the next day. Not that he calls incessantly. He just calls at his usual times and texts right on schedule, as if nothing is amiss, not giving away the fact that you’ve got him more anxious than he’s ever been in his adult life.

Like you, the man is a control freak. Part of the reason why he excelled in the military was for that sweet, sweet government clearance that would allow him to take better care of and look after Lunafreya. And now you’ve gone and taken power away from him. Not to say he ever had power over you, but the power balance in this relationship has always been equal despite his title and fancy awards and your future title and future direct-link to the King of Lucis.

A wrench has been thrown in the system by turning that symbiotic give-and-take into give-and-now-Ravus-keeps-giving in the hopes of please, please getting a mere word in return. On a string, you seem to dangle him. A cruel and clever puppeteer who sensed his growing carnal desires and sought to capitalize on them. Except that’s totally not even what happened. Though an expert on reading people you may be, “libidinous” cues are usually lost on you if they’re directed toward you.

‘Cause your evil ass doesn’t know how to exploit that. Sure, you’ve exploited fellow students’ crushes on each other (“Keep teasing me and I’ll tell Toros that you like him.”) but how are you to know that you’re currently exploiting Ravus’ feelings for you? You’re married to the guy. An arranged marriage. An arranged marriage where you’re pretty sure you’re the only one in love and he just sees you as a very good friend that he happens to be married to.

So, you’re here ducking and dodging calls and texts like a pro boxer because you think what you just did can be classified as sexual harassment (and, oh, it can... if you'd shown anything) and you aren’t quite prepared to lie down and take a very traumatizing beating. You just need a bit more time to ready yourself to apologize. That guilt that festers in your very soul isn’t just from avoiding Ravus, it’s from the possibility of sending him something unwanted. Gods, you act as if you sent him a nude photo.

And so does Ravus. Because a couple of buttons undone on a shirt that you typically have all nerdily buttoned right up to your damn throat got his imagination running wild and had him spinning more theories for your motivations than those weirdos who think the imperial government reads all of their emails... even though they do. Anyway, that photo was analyzed far more carefully than any ancient painting regarding the first King and the Astrals.

For one whole day, Ravus Nox Fleuret was an expert behavior analyst. Your posture was scrutinized as rigorously as your expression. He became too distracted in his duties that he shamefully bumped into a doorframe a couple of times, so lost in thought. And he wonders how he gave himself away because, obviously, you know that he fancies you despite the fact that the two of you agreed to enter into a loveless marriage. Did he let something slip on your honeymoon?

He was certain, absolutely positive that he awoke before you every morning, so you couldn’t possibly know that he’d wound up spooning you during the night. Or did you wake up first? It would’ve only taken one time for you to know... Then again there was that one time that you came out of the bathroom in only a towel because you forgot to bring a fresh pair of underwear into the bathroom with you and he’d fallen to the floor when he went to sit on the couch, seeming to miss it by a mile in his rattled state.

Logically, you must know. And thus he reads contempt in your expression where there is none. This is his punishment for blurring the line, isn’t it? You’re showing him that those amorous feelings of his aren’t returned by not returning his calls or texts. Damn, that man can make a mountain of a molehill. It’s like a talent, he’s so good at it. And you feed the beast by avoiding him and thus, in his head, confirming what he fears and “knows” to be true.

Until you call.

For a whole day, you’ve been reconsidering all of your life choices and none of them have filled you with as much regret as sending that stupid selfie. The time you accidentally sent a magister through a window? It pales in comparison to the sight of your phone’s screen flashing with an alert. And you know you’re being unfair. That’s what makes you call even though you dread the fallout. The idea of Ravus being upset, with you as the cause of his discomfort? You can handle the fallout for him.

Honestly, the two of you are hilarious. Control freaks and worrywarts. You find trouble where there is none and in the end wind up making the trouble yourselves. The concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy sums up your very lives. You thought your selfie upset Ravus, which it didn’t, and so you withdrew and then he ended up upset. It’s a theme of miscommunication and simple misunderstandings that wind up turning into exhausting ordeals. But today you seek to correct at least one of them.

In the comforting quiet of your bedroom, Ravus’ contact information is clicked and you hold your breath. It’s nighttime, your dinner sits untouched on your table, and rain patters against your window. The scowling visages of your ancestors stare down at you as you sit cross-legged on your bed. There’s a ringback tone. Eyes screw shut and you begin to softly hiss a desperate mantra of, “Please, don’t answer! Please, don’t answer! Please, don’t-”

“(y/n).”

“-answer- I mean, Ravus! Hi! Hi.”

Is it possible for a person’s skin to peel off from cringing so hard? Because it feels like that might happen at any moment. On his end, Ravus doesn’t even register your mistake. He’s just so glad to hear from you at last. A few curious looks were shot his way as he all but speed-walked to his quarters  the second his phone started going off and he saw your name on the screen. Heart in his throat, he’d answered breathlessly and was just happy to hear your voice.

Now, he doesn’t know what to say. He’d spent forever putting words into your mouth and thoughts into your head that he never figured out what he’d even say if and when you finally answered him. That usual blunt way of talking is reeled in in favor of playing the waiting game. If you were anyone else, if he didn’t feel so strongly about you, he’d plainly ask what the hell you were thinking when you sent him that image. He’d ask what your goal was. He’d demand to know your motivations. Such a sharp tongue is dulled and, instead, he asks, “Have you been well?”

He’s always on his best behavior around you. Not to say that he becomes a different person or plays a role rather than be himself. It’s just that, around you, he isn’t so on edge or... irritable. But now, with one picture, that’s changed. He chooses his words carefully, tries not to be as sarcastic or as blunt as he typically is even though he knows you enjoy his acidic wit. Muscles are full of tension over a simple phone call as if he’s in battle rather than speaking to his beloved spouse.

“Busy,” you blurt, hastening to excuse your neglect of his calls. Such a shameless copout. "It's- I've been busy."

And Ravus doesn’t buy it. “I see.” Lips are pursed. You can almost hear the sour expression on his face. “I’m glad you called despite your schedule.”

Could your ancestors’ portraits look any more judgmental? Six, why the hell did your grandfather insist on having them put in here? And why did your mother agree? Gaze fixed on the floor so you don’t have to look Aela the Banisher in the eye when you speak, you chuckle weakly and admit, “I also may have been avoiding you.”

“Is it because of the voicemail I left you?” The silver-haired lord asks though he’s pretty sure he knows the answer.

Like a pitiful puppy, you make your eyes all big and sad even though there’s no one here to manipulate with such an expression (which, to be fair, is your most effective weapon against the commander so at least you use the right one). But Ravus can hear the pout in your voice when you murmur, “Yes...” You take in a shaky breath, squeeze your eyes shut, and stammer, “A-And I’m very sorry about sending that photo to you. I didn’t mean any disrespect. I was just trying to be funny!”

“Funny?”

There’s an edge there. It’s so fine that it nearly cuts your ear. He knew it. Ravus knew that you were jerking him around when you sent that damn photo. Teeth clench and blood boils. If there’s one person on this planet who hates being fooled with, it’s Ravus Nox Fleuret. And he especially hates to have his feelings toyed around with as if they’re meaningless. His poor phone is squeezed so tight in his hand that he accidentally ratchets up the volume and nearly deafens himself when next you speak.

Sensing his anger, you try to make amends in that self-deprecating way of yours. “Yes, funny. And what’s a funnier sight than... y’know... me... trying to... seduce... you...?” Call the presses, because a miracle has just taken place: A dead person just spoke over the phone. In your defense, your brain sort of turned to mush in the middle of trying to assuage Ravus’ anger. Struggling to find some believable excuse, you vomited out the truth when you came up with nothing. You pray that Aela can banish you from beyond the grave.

In his quarters, Ravus Nox Fleuret stands as still as a statue. Just so you know that you aren’t alone, his brain is mush, too. Usually, the former prince of Tenebrae doesn’t like to be wrong. It’s a feeling that makes his cheeks go red and has him scowling. It’s a feeling that he hates. Except now he’s wrong and now his cheeks grow red for another reason entirely and he doesn’t hate it. You tried to- No, you did seduce him with a simple picture texted early in the morning. That was why you sent that photo.

Before you can panic and hang up, Ravus suddenly proclaims, “I believe this might be a conversation better suited in person. It’s of a more delicate nature and the phone doesn’t seem appropriate.”

For a moment, you just sit there on your bed. What? No reprimand? Oh, gods, is he gonna destroy you in person? That seems like a bit much for a tame photo. That’s not fair! You wince and ask, sounding just as pitiful as before, “Are you saying that you’re coming here?”

Ravus adjusts the volume on his phone and clears his throat. “If that’s all right with you.”

“Um. One moment.” You set your phone down and pick up a pillow to scream into it. Once that’s out of the way, you clear your throat and reply primly, resigned to your fate and ready to face your punishment, “That’d be fine. When will you be here?”

“I can most likely be at the Spire within the next two weeks.”

You almost pick the pillow up again but feel like these requests for scream time might send the wrong message. Gracious. You want to appear gracious now that you’re going to get your slap on the wrist. “Oh.” That tone? Gods, your voice comes out too damn high. “Okay. Would you like me to have the greenhouse prepared? Or can we have this discussion in public?” You pray for a public chat. Ravus doesn’t like to make scenes so if the two of you are around other pe-

“The greenhouse sounds ideal. I’ll tell you when the day is set.”

“Sounds good,” you chirp, totally dead inside. “I’ll see you then.”

“Yes.” Ravus straightens his back, chin raised. “I look forward to it.”

Chapter Text

Call Me pt.3

It was funny at first. Y’know, the whole sending a somewhat suggestive but still innocent selfie... thing. Anxiety is the greatest killer of humor, however. And your anxiety was never higher than when Ravus told you to call him. But now it’s even higher because now he’s coming here to resolve this issue. He’s coming here to scold you properly. Or so you think.

Six, you never thought you had a weak heart until now.

Peak health, yet you feel ill. Many times you contemplate calling your husband and telling him you’ve been quarantined and please don’t come over. A quarantine probably won’t stop him from lecturing you, though. Ravus has never been the type to miss out on an opportunity to come out on top. And you fear that you’re going to pay dearly for your “joke” and he’ll destroy you.

You’re still living in an alternate reality where Ravus doesn’t love you. You’re still living in the shadow of a rebuffed confession. Nobody ever forgets their first rejection and his silence in the wake of your fevered words cut right down to the bone. Funny how you forget the way he’d cupped your cheek. Funny how you forget the smell of him as he leaned into you. It’s forgotten because of the great tragedy of his black traveling cloak and the champagne that filled your stomach to bursting.

Gods, talk about embarrassing.

Yes, of all the things to slowly fade into existence for you from that black hole of a night, that’s what your masochistic mind chose to remember. It was recalled in the dead of night with burning cheeks  and a sudden yearning for death. You’d cringed so hard in the middle of your midnight readings of ancient runes that it was a miracle you didn’t collapse into yourself like a dying star.

And now you’ve another thing to be embarrassed over: You’ve overstepped your boundaries and must now pay the price.

You knew better than to send Ravus a (hardly) scandalous selfie. Your mother raised you better than that. Oh, how you wish you could blame that lapse in judgment solely on the early morning hour. But when sleep deprived, people tend to put too much sugar in their coffee or put on mismatched shoes. They don’t send a suggestive photo to a man who amounts to little more than a business partner or, more generously speaking, a good friend.

And reasonable people immediately own up to their errors. They don’t ignore a situation of their own making for a whole day and then come up with lame excuses. You feel like you’ve fallen in Ravus’ eyes. How much lower could you possibly go after vomiting on his pretty black cloak? Ugh, and you’d said you were trying to be funny? You confess to loving him on your honeymoon, get rejected, puke on his clothes, and then make a sexual joke eons later? Six, you crave death. And perhaps Ravus is coming here to give that to you.

He thinks about that, too, as the day of his leave comes up. Not about your whole vomiting episode; that’s put clear out of his head. What he thinks about is one word.

“Funny.”

You’d said you were trying to be funny. You’d said the idea of you seducing him was funny. Doubt creeps up, it sneaks up on him like an assassin, striking his burgeoning confidence down in its prime. How quickly he’d jumped to the conclusion that seduction quite plainly meant seduction when the word fell from your lips like honeyed wine. Yet you’d called it a funny joke. Oh, regret comes at Ravus Nox Fleuret hard and fast, dissolving that confidence of his like cotton candy that fell in a puddle.

It’s such a shame, too, that all of his confidence is dashed away the instant he comes to this conclusion, which happens right on the Spire’s doorstep. It strikes him like a bolt of lightning. Such terrible timing for this realization. For a moment, he’s tempted to turn right back around and leave. But the idea of disappointing you, considering you’d sounded so excited when he called to tell you the date of his arrival, keeps him from going away to hide his shame.

Ravus can never risk disappointing (y/n).

In reality, that totally wasn’t “excitement” on your part. It was startled horror masquerading as polite interest when you got that dreaded call. For days you waited to hear back from him. For days you prayed that he wouldn’t be able to get time off. Drusa had thought you were in danger at the sound of your high voice and poked her head into your room only to find you staring wide-eyed at your phone which you’d tossed away from you onto your bed as if it bit you.

Honestly, you’ve been so keyed up ever since, that everybody thinks you’re just really excited to see Ravus again. How are you supposed to admit to doing something remarkably stupid and regrettable? How are you supposed to look your mother or Drusa in the eye and tell them that you’re behaving like you overdosed on caffeine because you tried sexting with Ravus? Well... “Sexting” is way too strong a word to describe what you did, but... basically!

The stage is set and there’s no backing out now. Not for either of you. Ravus is unaware that he could’ve suddenly canceled and you’d actually be happier for it. But where would the fun be in that? The silver-haired lord is doing the decent thing, after all. Nobody likes last-minute cancellations, right? And he’d really love to see you, even if that means he’s going to come out looking  like a fool for believing you legitimately meant that you were trying to seduce him.

Besides, with you, all he has to do is keep his mouth shut for five seconds and you always spill your guts the moment that he levels you with his gaze. He’ll get the truth out of you and probably won’t have to reveal his shame. You’re funny like that. A total conniver, silver-tongued and evil-eyed, yet you turn to stone and crumble beneath his unwavering stare. Nobody else holds such power over you. Seriously, it should be a giant red flag to Ravus and yet the commander remains as painfully oblivious as you.

A match made in awkward heaven, as they say... Listen, people say that.

Anyway, today the obliviousness is going to be put to a swift and abrupt end. Though you gently pumped the brakes with your honeymoon confessional, you’re going to slam on them since Ravus seems to be the sort who needs his forehead nearly hitting a dashboard ‘cause he doesn’t quite register a slow deceleration, a slurred confession. Sober declarations of love typically have that effect. And it helps when passionate words are met with eager action.

“Good morning.”

The abruptness begins with you nearly having an early morning heart attack.

The glass panes are fogged up, the warmth of the greenhouse such a stark contrast to the bitter cold of the morning. Pale blue light filters in through the glass, casting everything in a silvery, melancholic glow. Outside, it begins to rain, Ravus barely missing the shower. The soft pattering of icy raindrops cascading down on the greenhouse serves as a soothing backdrop that does little for your frayed nerves.

You’re tense, all hard angles with a severe line for your shoulders. Hands are kept busy, tending to "Dragon’s Breath" celosia which needs no fuss from you. The vibrant red foliage isn’t even touched. Fingers hover near it but only so as not to remain idle. It’s already flowered under your care, the adaptable plumes far more eye-catching than anything in the greenhouse. Well, Ravus can think of one thing that’s more enrapturing than the crimson plant you pretend to tend to.

Eagerly, he awaits your returned greeting. Even if you don’t harbor any romantic feelings for him and have just been playing at some cruel game all this time, Ravus is happy to see you, happy to bask in the ever-present warmth of your presence. Such a strange dichotomy; the former prince finds himself at ease in your company yet you’re one of only a few people who can claim to make the ice prince nervous. Strange, that; considering all you do is joke and pull faces.

Like now.

You compose yourself and throw on a cheesy grin like a cheap robe before whirling around. “Good morning!” The sudden sight of your favorite person turns you into one giant ball of nerves. So tall yet so light of foot, it was pathetically easy for him to sneak up on you. You’d expected to hear the telltale clang of his fellow soldiers’ armor, but there are no silhouettes lingering by the greenhouse doorway. He’s alone. Somehow, that makes you even tenser.

Guess he wasn’t kidding when he said he wanted this private...

Keen, mismatched eyes appraise you. You look tenser than Ravus has ever seen you before, including on your wedding day when you nearly dropped his ring and practically shoved the thing onto his finger. Looking to put you at ease and not start this meeting off on the wrong foot, your husband wonders, gesturing behind you, “Does that plant serve some purpose?”

He catches you off-guard a moment before that scholarly hat is donned and you reply with a  genuine smile, “This celosia is aesthetically pleasing and easy to care for, but it doesn’t really have any risks or benefits. I’m trying to get Magister Talmudge to incorporate it into his teachings for students who find it difficult to get plants to flower. This should be less intimidating than azaleas. I say it’s better to ease students into such a delicate aspect of their herbalism lessons rather than set them up for failure.”

That head of silvery hair tilts slightly, the commander frowning at the plant. “Sometimes risks are worth making. For the sake of bettering a student’s skill in horticulture, I’d wager wading into the deep end couldn’t hurt.”

Oh, you disagree, but Ravus doesn’t know that Talmudge likely gets off on embarrassing his students. Despite yourself, you grin. It’s the full-blown kind, the type that makes the corners of your eyes crinkle and causes Ravus’ stomach to do flips. “I’ve missed you, my sourpuss friend,” you boldly admit with a chuckle. Faking it ’til you make it, you casually gesture off to the left and say, “The usual setting was made. Tea and cookies, since I assume you likely had breakfast already.”

“I did,” Ravus admits, but he makes no move to sit at the quaint metal table to sip on tea and nibble on cookies. Instead, he simply stands before you, seeming to shift ever so slightly from foot to foot. He’s in his military garb, which is as fascinating to look at as it is impractical for the humid greenhouse. That pale, angular face is schooled into something that’s meant to be disarming, but Ravus has never been very good at making pleasant expressions. As a consequence, you’re a live wire.

The silvery blue light that filters in makes him look downright ghostly. It casts pale shadows along his face, exaggerating the harshness of his neutral frown. Whatever fluke of levity you two managed to set up between each other with such an easy, carefree greeting is knocked right down like a house of cards. Of course, he wouldn’t let you off the hook over that photo. You let your hopes get up when he talked about the celosia... Anticipation is what sours the mood. For you, anyway.

The longer Ravus continues to stare at you in silence, willing you to say something more, willing you to initiate one of your less than smooth segues into the point of the conversation, your feathers begin to get all ruffled. That whole tactic of his? Of waiting in silence for roughly five seconds for you to spill your guts? Though a tried and true method, it’s not exactly the best thing to do right now. Not when you think he’s here to punish you.

‘Cause in your experience, people are only silent and they only stare with unblinking eyes because they’re angry, not because they’re waiting with bated breath for a sober confession from the world’s most awkward hermit mage. And when Ravus does it, sure, you usually chalk it up to a character trait since the guy is careful with his words and doesn’t speak carelessly, but right now all you’re thinking about is that stupid photo and his insistence on suddenly coming here to talk to you about it.

Resigned to your fate, you sigh and let your arm fall to your side from where it had continued to gesture awkwardly to the table. “Listen, if you’re going to upbraid me, I’d like a bit of warning so we can take this outside. I don’t need a negative and, quite frankly, traumatizing experience to taint one of my favorite places in the Spire. At this rate, I’ll only have my bedroom and the toilets to relax around.”

That gets him to blink, breaking his concentration. “Upbraid you?” He nearly scoffs at such a ridiculous assumption. Seriously, when has he ever treated you like anything other than an equal? Okay, yeah, he knows he can be a little harsh but you’re always quick to fire back and never seem to take his barbs to heart, returning them in kind. “You honestly think I traveled all the way here to berate you?”

Well, it’s certainly more plausible than him traveling all the way here to get lucky, so...

Arms cross over your chest, eyes cast down to Ravus’ pristine boots. By the Six, this is already terribly exhausting. Confrontation is always horrible for you despite your crafty way of speaking -- you’re only so crafty in order to avoid situations like this. And to reopen this particular wound? It’s too cruel of him to come here to remind you that he doesn’t want you. This could’ve been taken care of over the phone. Hell, you would’ve been happy with an impersonal text to remind you that this is all business and to behave yourself.

It seems today is your day to get in your weekly sighing quota.

With a heavy sigh, you tiredly wonder, “Why else would you be here, Ravus? Certainly not for the weather. Look, I know it was inappropriate for me to send something like that photo to you. The last thing I wanted to do was make you feel like I was trying to force myself on you by continuing to make unwanted advances. I swear, Ravus, I’ll never send another picture like that again. I understand that this is all business and I won’t try to blur that line again.”

“Do you love me?”

The question is ripped from his lips, making his cheeks color subtly. You haven’t said it outright while sober. You’ve danced around it, used alcohol and movie references to cloak it. You’ve sent a photo and sent winky faces and colored hearts in texts, but you’ve never once said it. For a man who claims that taking risks can sometimes have rewards, he feels like a coward in this aspect of his life. Because this? Romance? With you? It’s too delicate, feels like a glass figurine in his hands. He doesn’t want to risk this.

Y’know, Ravus is almost too blunt. He comes across as crass and maybe even ignorant. Boorish. That’s the word. The former prince of Tenebrae is boorish compared to your quick-talking self. Sure, his words are pretty and refined but they’re delivered with sneers and scowls, spat from those perpetually frowning lips. And with you, there are no sneers and there are no scowls, he doesn’t spit like a viper but he’s still alarmingly direct.

Right now, he stuns you with his words. A question that’s eaten at him since you slurred your confession, it comes shooting right out of him like a bullet and you’re dazed. Damn. Damn. You envy his gall. Don’t envy him too much, though, because he might actually drop dead at any moment if you remain quiet for any longer. It takes a second for you to regain your senses, and when you finally do, you find that you’re more irritated than before.

While Ravus is feeling like he’s one step away from being on top of the world, you’re feeling low. The only thing that’s rising is your temper, for you don’t realize how desperately Ravus needs your words to confirm your actions. You look off to the side and murmur, “Are you seriously asking me that?”

Is that thunder? No. Just his heartbeat. Ravus clears his throat, the epitome of professionalism despite how he’s sweating like mad beneath his fancy clothes, and explains, “This trip is... Excuse me, this visit wasn’t intended for me to chastise you, (y/n). I merely wanted to discuss your intentions for sending me that photograph.”

A fire burns hot and bright within you.

Ravus can see it now, see it gleaming in your eyes as your nostrils flare and you pin him to the spot with that steely glare. He’s offended you. Exactly everything he didn’t want to happen is seeming to come to pass, and so quickly, too. Stars above, he should’ve just kept his mouth shut like he told himself to. He should’ve let you do all the talking since you’re ever so good at crafting  pretty words and stringing them all together.

Humid air seems to grow thicker with the change in mood. Are you angry? Why, yes, of course. Because you’re a fool in love and Ravus is standing here before you, playing games like he didn’t slam-dunk your feelings into a trash bin on your honeymoon. The gall to ask you something so obvious. Is this his angle? Play the part of the patronizing partner in this whole business agreement so he can shame you out of having feelings for him?

Six, it just might work.

Chin lifted, you sneer, “My intentions? Have I committed a crime, Ravus? How many times must I confess my feelings? How many ways must you shame me? I love you. Call me greedy. Call me fickle for going back on my word. I know I was the one to say that there’d be nothing between us other than a duty to our families. I know I was the one to say that you’d never be anything more to me than my ward. Call me anything you want, Ravus, but don’t you dare try and toy with me like I’m some kind of-”

One hasty, unskilled kiss on the lips and his blood is fire in his veins. This feeling will live with him forever. It’s so different from the affectionate kiss he’d placed on your cheek, your forehead. The commander tries to convey so much to you through this desperate gesture, strong arms wrapped around you and pulling you impossibly close. It’s almost uncomfortable, this heat between the two of you. Combined with the humid air, it’s downright sweltering.

Your soft scent -- like old books and soil after a hard rain -- is driving him mad and your reaction is immediate and satisfying.

Arms wrap around his neck, head tilting back as your eyes flutter shut. Should you be embarrassed for so quickly and easily giving in? You think the hell not. You’ve waited long enough for this. Stunned for one agonizing second, you’re proud to say that you come to your senses quite quickly. Maybe it’s because you’ve fantasized about this more often than you’d care to admit? No matter the case, this certainly beats getting reprimanded over an innocent selfie.

Something sharp hits your nose. It smells like a bit too much cologne, slapped on in Ravus’ haste to see you, and sweat because oh, gods only know how you make the man sweat. Even before you sent him that picture, you’ve made him sweat, turned his head, made him think all sorts of things. He’s waited a long time for this, too. Where before he might’ve lacked imagination, he’s had it in spades after you came along.

It’s an attraction that he feels in his bones. It wasn’t enough that he found you clever and amusing upon your first meeting. The letters you two exchanged only fueled his burgeoning interest. And then, when you confessed? Drunken as you may have been, it sent him over the edge. Then that photo? It wasn’t even the fact that you undid so many damn buttons on your shirt. The look on your face gnawed at him, made his gut twist itself into a million knots.

Not a lot of good things have happened to Ravus in his lifetime. In fact, it feels like it’s been years since anything good has happened -- and maybe it has. But then you came around; a windfall, the bit of fortune in his misfortune. If your family lines hadn’t been in jeopardy, the two of you never would’ve had any occasion to meet. He’d still have Lunafreya worrying about him and his lack of friends. He’d still be alone with his insatiable thirst for revenge, surrounded by enemies.

So, please, don’t let this be a cruel joke.

As if reading his mind, you pull him closer still, push yourself harder against him, bring your hands to his shoulders. The fabric of his pristine white coat is stiff and you’re pinned between the raised garden bed and something even stiffer. A lump forms in your throat, heat flooding into your cheeks , and Ravus hides a wince before pulling away. There’s no way on Eos that you didn’t feel that. The silver-haired lord curses his body and his foolish imagination. It's just a kiss!

Seeking to alleviate some of Ravus’ obvious discomfort, seeking to dash away that frightened look in his eyes, you joke, “That was rude of you. I wasn’t done monologuing.”

Ravus chuckles, relief flooding his system, and he takes a very subtle step back. Thank the gods for the concealing nature of his uniform. Though it traps heat, at least he has that going for him. The gods only know that he doesn’t want to come on too strong. So, he goes along with your charity joke. It isn’t the first time you’ve bailed him out of a faux pas with your humor. “Is that so?” He clears his throat, voice sounding too thick. “Do go on."

Under his burning gaze, put so suddenly on the spot because you just had to make a joke, you puff out your cheeks and murmur, “You’re really stealing my thunder, Ravus. I can’t remember what I was going to say now, but I guarantee you it was really good.”

The imperial soldier merely huffs a weak laugh through his nose.

It’s quiet a moment in this stuffy greenhouse, the two of you standing in thoughtful silence, lips buzzing and blood pumping. Did that really just happen? You’re both left wondering, a bit dazed and awestruck. Rain continues to patter gently against the glass panes, water trickling down in small streams. In the Spire, classes begin. It’s a Wednesday, the middle of the week, so Talmudge isn’t teaching herbalism. You've got the entire greenhouse to yourselves today, just as you’d planned.

“So,” you drawl, finally breaking the silence, “about that tea?”

“I love you.”

Welcome again, silence.

Sometimes, you don’t know if you should laugh at Ravus’ bluntness or not. It used to be something that irritated you, having grown up surrounded by people who talked in circles. At first, you thought he was just rude. How dare he directly answer your questions instead of speaking in riddles? It was so odd to encounter someone who didn’t speak in “maybe’s” and instead spoke in definite “yes’s” and “no’s.” It was refreshing. But you’re not sure if this is refreshing. Because it hits you like a truck.

Staring into those heterochromatic eyes that are filled with sincerity, you find that your mind has gone blank. Funny how you can kiss the guy and be totally cool about it, but when he says “I love you,” as if that wasn’t already obvious, you’re dumbstruck. So dumbstruck that you ask the smartest series of questions you know: “What? Seriously?”

Your husband has absolutely no qualms about repeating himself: “I love you.” He’s thought it a million times, so he figures he might as well say it just as frequently. There’s no shame in it now, not when he knows that you feel the same way and have soberly proclaimed it. When you do nothing but continue to gawk up at him, he presses a kiss to your left cheek, “I,” now your right, “love,” and finally your lips, “you.”

Would it be lame if you fainted right now? Yeah, probably. You’ll soon learn that Ravus enjoys showering you with affection if the two of you are alone. This side of him is private, for your eyes only, and you cherish it.

“Say it again,” you breathe. Now he’s not so shameless, cheeks flushing at your bold request and the way your eyelashes flutter. He’s only ever dreamed of you looking at him like this. Realizing that he’s faltering, cheeks quickly going from a soft pink to a lovely cherry red, you grin evilly and poke  his chest with your index finger. “C’mon. Say it. Say it.”

“Not if you’re going to be childish about it,” sniffs Ravus, still all red in the face. When you prod him  again, he bats your hand away. “Enough. I won’t do it on command.”

“Oh, ho, ho.” You raise your eyebrows, that grin turning more wicked by the second. A hand is brought delicately to your chest as if attempting to calm your heart. “Ravus! Are you telling me that I have to work for it?”

Perturbed, he crosses his arms. “Perhaps.” And then he realizes the implication of his answer. Wow. You’ve never seen someone impersonate a statue so perfectly. Y’know, aside from the poor saps that your late aunt turned into actual statues.

A sly smile on your lips, you wrap your arms around Ravus’ waist and peer up into his face. You’re feeling awfully bold for someone who was about to have a hissy fit over making romantic confessions not too long ago. But if Ravus is going to needle you about that, he forgets any teasings due to the intoxicating feeling of having you so close. His posture slackens, arms instinctively coming up to embrace you. Just as he gets comfortable, you press a kiss to his jaw and then another to his neck.

“Okay. Now say it.”

Ravus bites the inside of his cheek. “I love you.” The former prince of Tenebrae looks at you expectantly. Gods, that almost doe-eyed expression of his makes your stomach feel all squirmy.

“Ah-ah,” you chastise, expression smug. “I gave you two. You’re supposed to say it twice. Equal exchange.”

“I love you,” Ravus sighs, barely refraining from rolling his eyes even though he’s secretly enjoying this lame little game of yours. His grip on you tightens a tad, hands tentatively smoothing down the itchy wool of your sweater, fingertips pressing down on your hips. “If you keep at it like this, the words will lose all meaning.”

Featherlight kisses are peppered onto his chin and nose before you press a firm, scalding kiss to his lips, effectively robbing him of further criticism. Gazing up at the sourpuss soldier with those hypnotizing eyes of yours, you lightly ask, “Do you want me to stop?”

“No.”

“Hm.” A soft smile pulls at your lips as you replay just how hastily he corrected himself. He can feel that smile morph into your signature smirk with each slow, sinful kiss that you drag along his jawline and down his neck. These are the types of kisses that burn, that last. These are the ones he’ll replay in his mind when he’s alone in bed and missing you dearly. The sound of his own pounding heartbeat easily washes out the faint pattering of rain.

In the greenhouse, you’re attempting to live out one of the many fantasies you’ve had about the man you’ve come to love and genuinely care for. It’s a tame fantasy, starting and ending with gratuitous kissing. Hell, this sure beats getting reprimanded over a dumb photo, and even if the kissing ends earlier than you’d like, you’re just overjoyed and riding high off of Ravus’ many declarations of love. There’s no mistaking his words. At least not this time around. How much easier things go when you both actually say what you mean.

“How long have you loved me?” You wonder, continuing to test your luck. Lady Luck must love you today or maybe Ravus is just too drunk off of his favorite mage’s magical kisses because he actually answers you directly.

“Since before we were wed.” Eyes closed, he tilts his head to the side to give you easier access to his neck. He sighs when your fingers trail down his chest, your other hand firm on the small of his back. “Since the moment I met you and you ruined your tea to try to make me laugh. That's when I started to fall for you.”

Hold up. That long? You haven’t even been in love with him for nearly as long and yet you’re the one who did all the confessing first? He sure did take his sweet time. If you weren’t so preoccupied, you might be annoyed. A huff of hot breath against his ear makes Ravus jolt and you snort, “Excuse you? I did make you laugh. It was quiet laughter, sure, but it still counts.”

Ravus smiles at that. “Suppose it does.”

You’re both being coy. You’re both trying not to come across as overeager yet you overplay your hand time and time again. Ravus doesn’t want to reveal that he’s thought of this numerous times and you... Well, actually, you kinda don’t care if you seem like you’re raring to go for something more. Suppose he’s the only one pretending to be all demure while you taunt and tease him.

It’s a slow, almost torturous testing of the waters. Hands shifting up and down each other’s back, never straying too low but definitely hinting that you want to get somewhere. You almost jump when Ravus’ hand is suddenly on the back of your neck, gently tilting your head back so he can easily swoop down and capture your lips in what he hopes is a passionate kiss. Slick heat traces under your bottom lip and you answer his unspoken question hastily.

He hoists you up like you weigh nothing, hands firm on your waist, sitting you down on the edge of the garden bed which is a huge mistake since that’s not exactly the most comfortable thing to sit on. Your subsequent whine goes right to the stiffness at the front of his pants that you both pretended not to notice earlier and when you wrap your legs around his waist in a desperate attempt to get off of the garden bed, his heart nearly explodes at the feeling of the heat emanating from between your thighs.

“We might soon be interrupted, (y/n),” he pants, breaking the kiss, the taste of you sweet on his tongue. Eyes are blown black with arousal and you wonder just what the heck he’s getting off on when your ass hurts so much. Damn, you’ll be lucky if you don’t have a bruise from that narrow bit of wood that he so suddenly dropped you on. Quickly assessing the befuddlement on your face, Ravus explains the obvious, “This is a public setting, after all.”

Oh...

Oh!

Realization dawns on you, heat rising up your neck to spill across your cheeks. Here you were, thinking you might end today with just one more mesmerizing kiss and here’s Ravus offering to reenact one of your fantasies. Or... Wait. No, he’s not. He’s telling you that you can’t have sex here, of all places. It’s what he says, yet he doesn’t step away from you, doesn’t remove your legs from where they’re wrapped around his waist or take his hands off of you. In fact, those strong fingers of his are almost bruising your thighs.

Your mouth opens and closes a few times before you finally say, “There’s my bedroom...”

“Fourteen flights of stairs.” It’s literally all he has to say. The surest test of one’s arousal is the act of climbing, not just one flight of stairs, but fourteen. You don’t hate yourself enough to put yourself through that. “There’s the cottage where we spent our honeymoon,” suggests Ravus when all you do is scowl at the idea of climbing stairs right now.

“Dust mites and moth-eaten sheets?” You snort, grabbing his shoulders for support and letting your legs drop, much to his dismay. Rocking back on your heels, you irritably point out, “It was barely romantic when it was cleaned up. Did you come here with any escorts?”

“They’re in the college.”

“Right.” You nod your head and begin unbuttoning your pants, shoes kicked off easily since you wanted to look “fancy” and didn’t wear your boots for a change. Hey, they were still covered in mud and you were feeling a little lazy. Your black suede derbies aren’t that ugly. They’re just... kinda dorky and impractical for the amount of mud and dirt you stomp around in on the Spire’s grounds.

“What are you doing?” Ravus asks, sounding scandalized, so scandalized that he doesn’t bother to move an inch to stop you and instead enjoys the show. He swears that zipper of yours is impossibly loud with how hypersensitive he is right now. He’s all keyed up, jittery and eager. You’ve pulled your slacks down past your knees, exposing your underwear, when you stop. Damn! He was hoping you’d keep going...

With a quirked eyebrow, you look at Ravus and explain, “We aren’t going to get interrupted. There’s no class here today and your gun-toting chaperones are restricted to the main building. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ll take those odds. I just won’t strip down completely. Y’know,” you clear your throat and kick your pants off, “just in case.”

“All right.”

You’ll get no argument from him. Absolutely none.

All social conventions are brushed aside, ignored. Responsible couples don’t have sex in places where the doors don’t lock. Responsible couples don’t have sex in places where just anyone can walk in. Responsibility can shove it where you’re concerned. You and Ravus both have been waiting what feels like centuries for this. It’s just the icing on the cake, the most important part of your relationship having already been turned into a fun little game that the two of you can enjoy behind closed doors.

Yes, despite Ravus’ admonishment that you’ll soon tire out the words “I love you,” he’ll play your game, again and again, even reversing the roles. Deprived of hearing those words for so long, you’ll drown each other in them and they won’t lose their impact. On a breath, a whisper in the ear, or shouted at his back as he leaves, Ravus Nox Fleuret will never grow weary of hearing you tell him that you love him. Though he may blush and though he may fuss, there will be a secret smile on his lips even after he scolds you for being so brazen in public.

And right now, you’re brazen still.

His uniform has too many clasps and too many buttons. Whoever designed it was a sadist. Having made quick work of your own pants since you saw fit to forego a belt for no particular reason, you’re helping Ravus with his attire. Honestly, you don’t know where his coat ends and his pants begin. It’s a mess. After a second of watching you irritably flap the lapels of his coat back and forth, looking for a button or a zipper, Ravus gently pushes your hands away, biting his bottom lip.

Huffing, you lean back against the garden bed and weakly defend yourself. “Six, one can only imagine that you need a catheter or an adult diaper when you wear this damn thing. My pants came off like tissue paper compared to yours!”

“My uniform sees me through battle. Yours,” mismatched eyes drag down the front of your linen button-up and his stare ends right at your crotch, “see you behind a desk.”

Gods, your nose is so high up in the air it’s a miracle you don’t sneeze on a bird. Gaze haughty and cast down at the love of your life, you sneer, “How do you like health potions? Mages came up with that. Who do you think discovered the properties of phoenix down? A soldier in a uniform that borders on being fetish wear or a mage?”

That was discovered behind a desk? How interesting. I didn’t know people kept phoenixes as house pets.”

You can’t tell if you want to kick Ravus' shin or jump his bones. The story of your life.

“I wish I could condemn you for being a sarcastic shit, but I’m afraid I have no room to talk.”

Ravus elegantly snorts his agreement, working the fastenings on his coat to expose his pants and then pulling them down. He doesn’t remove them and he doesn’t lose the boots. Well, you’re feeling rather exposed by comparison. But you guess he’s expecting to be the one in charge here, considering he can lift you like you weigh as much as a roll of paper towels. That’s a little sobering. Should you start lifting weights? Oh, but then everyone will wonder why you’re doing it and you’ll have to explain that it’s a sex thing...

“Are you certain you want to do this?”

It’s asked for his own peace of mind. Your consent is something that he needs to have stated explicitly even if you’ve been the instigator thus far. You’ve been as sexually aggressive as Ravus always thought you’d be and then some. You’re playful and devious, eager and charming. The silver-haired lord feels a bit like a fogey in comparison; being a bit more prudent with his kisses and trying to not grab at you too much.

“Definitely.”

That assured response snaps him out of his concerning reverie. ‘Cause now Ravus is thinking that he might be too boring for you. All this time he’d been worried about one thing: If you loved him. He didn’t have much time to worry about anything else. But now he wonders... Is he boring? Oh, how he sets himself up, that over-thinker, that worrywart. In an effort to not be boring, he swiftly pulls your underwear down and crashes his lips against yours.

You ignore the uncomfortable way that your teeth hit his, lips parting almost immediately for him. How clumsily he grabs you is forgotten the second his hand finds its way between your legs. Knees nearly buckle and Ravus keeps one strong arm securely around your waist. Hands fumble a moment before you’re able to shimmy your underwear low enough to where you can kick it off, all the while completely throwing off what little rhythm Ravus is able to set.

Humid air makes breathing difficult, especially with how shallow your breath comes now. There’s a sharp pressure against your shoulder where Ravus rests his chin, eyes intense and staring at a fleck of dirt on the glass pane behind you. If he concentrates hard enough, he can see your reflection in that fogged glass, see the way you writhe just as he feels you do it. With how close he holds you, he has to settle for looking at you this way. You don’t much mind it. Hell, the world could end outside and you wouldn’t notice.

Ravus hasn’t ever concentrated this hard outside of battle before; so attuned to your breathing and the intoxicating noises that you make, trying to figure out what you like best. Fast or slow? A light touch or a heavier hand? Rhythmic or erratic? It’s lucky that he holds you, for you’re nothing more than gelatin trying to take on a human form; wobbling and shivering with every stroking of fingertips and gliding of his callused palm against your sensitive skin.

A hitch of breath and he repeats the motion. When he’s met with silence he tries something else.

All the while you’re desperately clinging on, trying not to come undone by just his damn hand and nothing else. Lips and teeth are used cunningly, like weapons. Nose nuzzles his hair out of the way and you nip at his ear then lave at the shell, soothing the pink marks that appear on his pale skin. This is repeated on his neck when he grunts and lifts his head to expose it to you, an unsubtle request to lavish him with attention there.

What’s sort of aggravating him is how you’re keeping quiet. Though he understands your reasoning and thinks it’s smart to keep the volume low on this little amorous session, he thrives off of vocal cues as much as physical ones. Ravus craves more than your hisses and the whines that you hold in the back of your throat. His cock aches when he thinks of what those whimpers would sound like if you two weren’t trying to hide...

Heterochromatic eyes widen and wince when he adjusts his grip on you and everything but his underwear shifts. Should’ve pulled those down, too, ‘cause now the front is damp and sticking to him. Ravus curses himself. What was he thinking? Simple: He wasn’t. He was just thinking about his lovely spouse and finally getting his hands on them. He was thinking about how best to please you and not come across as a bore. No risk of that with the strained noises he gets out of you. The way you buck your hips into his hand is infinitely gratifying.

Everything is amplified tenfold for you as you draw nearer to the edge. The humidity clinging to your exposed lower half, the wet sounds emanating from Ravus’ hand against you, the heady aroma of sweat mixed with arousal and a myriad of greenery. All of it culminates into a ball of fire in your belly. It settles low and tightens, winding up and up and up, making you spread your shaking legs wider for Ravus, making you lean into him and cling desperately to him.

It’s a soft, strangled cry in his ear to please stop right as you dangle over the edge, a death-grip wrapped about his broad shoulders. Ravus’ eyelids flutter at the feeling of your hot, stuttering breath against his neck as you whisper that you don't want this to end so soon. Then his eyes snap wide open when one of your hands uses his pre-cum to slick him down as best as you can, pulling his underwear down as you do so. Nerves are on fire when he hears your hushed, frenzied requests to please hurry, a desperate whine in your tone that makes his balls tighten and his stomach twist.

“Are you ready?” You murmur, looking up into Ravus’ eyes imploringly. One look at your face and his jaw tighten and you’re hoisted up once more by the waist. You fumble to grab him as he pulls you up higher, positioning himself. Carefully (almost too carefully, you’re growing irritated by how delicately Ravus is going about this and the guy wants to laugh at the glassy-eyed scowls you’re shooting him), Ravus guides you down on him and your head rolls back, legs tightening around his waist.

Prepare his grave, ‘cause he gets the moan he’s been desperate to get out of you all this time and can now die happy.

“We’ll take this slow,” Ravus says, trying to act cool and unbothered. His voice is entirely too strained, so much so that he doesn’t even sound like himself. Eyes keep shooting glances at the door. Though no-one is going to be walking through it anytime soon, the former prince of Tenebrae is far too paranoid for his own good. The feeling of you around him, however, is making it harder for him to bother with worrying over getting caught having sex with his spouse in the greenhouse.

You paw pathetically at his shoulders, still adjusting to his size. When he twitches inside of you, you bite down on your lips and merely nod your head in response to his statement. It’s all you can manage, given you’re this close to losing it over the fact that you’re doing this with the man you’ve come to love dearly and admire greatly. Ravus is in the same boat, except he’ll be horribly embarrassed if his boat capsizes as quickly as yours almost did. No offense.

“Is that a yes or a no?” Ravus wonders. He only asks because he can see and feel how tense you are . Damn his mischievous streak. Even when he’s one more of your needy whines away from blowing his top, he finds the strength to tease you.

Centering yourself, you fix Ravus with a steely-eyed glare and snap back, “If you keep acting like you think you’re so damn cute, I’m not above zapping the hell out of you.”

Your husband merely hums in response, holding you steady and then pulling a bit at your legs so he can move you easier. The second the commander starts to carefully thrust his hips up into you, neither one of you is feeling very snarky anymore. You’re both insufferable fools, the only people who can tolerate your and his arrogance and sharp tongues are who you each currently have gripped in a tight, bone-aching embrace.

There’s a lump in Ravus' throat that he struggles to breathe around. You must keep this quiet. Teeth bite down on your bottom lip. He moans softly into your ear, barely a whisper on the air, easily drowned out by the sound of falling rain. It comes again, a bit louder this time. Deceptively soft kisses are pressed against your head, lips trembling with effort. Arms are draped around his neck, forehead resting on his shoulder, eyes fixated on the way Ravus’ muscles tense and relax. You press open-mouthed kisses to his shoulder.

He stares down at you with heavy-lidded awe, breath nothing more than a pant, watching how your linen shirt begins to stick to your back. Before you know it, there’s an insistent tug on the front of your shirt, a nonverbal request for you to take it off. And off it goes without a second thought, Ravus’ hands eagerly exploring every inch of your exposed flesh. His eyes flutter shut, mouth hanging slightly agape as he greedily grabs at you like he’s trying to map out every bit of you.

An audible smack of skin on skin resonates through the small enclosure, the only giveaway to what's going on beyond the fogged glass. Again, you both wonder if this is actually happening, and here of all places. Ravus always assumed that if he managed to court you, he'd reserve this activity for somewhere more private and romantic, like your first home together. It's spur-of-the-moment, not like him at all, but somehow it adds to the passion. To have you completely in his embrace? It almost makes him dizzy.

He's a bit louder now, finding it difficult to stay totally silent. He hisses from between his teeth, grunts when you take him deep, and makes the neediest groans in response to you massaging his back. That only makes you do it more even though you know you should both be keeping it down. Your name is repeated now, a cue to you of what's to come. It's said hastily, almost like a curse or a prayer, and sometimes Ravus doesn't even get through saying it before he's saying it again.

How you two keep such fiery feelings tamped down as much as you manage to do is a miracle for the ages. Thrusts are deep and almost infuriatingly slow, Ravus' hand scalding hot and fingers deftly working against you. One hand holds you firmly in place, clamped down on your hip to keep you from moving bodily with each of his thrusts as they become faster in pace. You feel like everything inside of you is getting shaken up and jostled around. Instinctively, you tighten your grip around his waist, legs beginning to ache.

It’s clumsy and artless and over all too soon, your mutual inexperience letting you both get carried away in this new and exciting feeling. Ravus really, really didn’t think through the whole “keeping his pants around his ankles” thing. Here he was, thinking he was being practical in the off-chance that someone walked in and he needed to quickly get redressed and now his pants have some interesting stains that won’t be easily explained away.

The greenhouse seems to spin and wobble, a flimsy veil of green with vibrant pops of color. Slowly, you release your grip on Ravus’ waist as warmth drips down your leg. All the while,  you’re showered in firm and meaningful kisses to your face and shoulders. Strong hands run up and down your arms which is incredibly distracting when you’re trying to get dressed. It’s almost like Ravus doesn’t want you to get dressed (Hint: He doesn’t.). Funny, since he’s really quick about getting himself presentable.

Ravus murmurs against your temple, holding you close once you've dressed, “I love you.”

“Ravus, you're gonna wear out the meaning of those words,” you tease while you straighten your shirt and casually lean back out of his grasp to rest against the garden bed. When you look back up to see his very unamused expression, you huff, feeling color rise into your cheeks. "Oh! So you can joke around in the middle of sex but I can't do it after? I'm supposed to be the funny one..." Gaze is cast down and off to the side. "I love you, too," you murmur.

After one agonizingly long second, Ravus Nox Fleuret cracks a smile.

Chapter Text

01. The Introduction

Panic.

On top of the anguish of having lost his sister, Ravus feels panicked when Noctis’ friends come to his rescue and you aren’t with them. He tells them of how Ignis was taken by Ardyn, how the bespectacled brunet had obviously been trying to dupe the man, and how he’s ready and willing to aid them in Ignis’ rescue. There’s nothing to be done right now, though. Not when Noct is still unconscious and when you’re away. And that panic? It only increases.

The trial is over and half of the day is spent. Your friends can’t get in contact with you and word reaches them all that nobody has seen you. Crowd control. A panicked Prompto assures him that the day before, they’d all agreed to put you on the backline helping with crowd control. You shouldn’t have seen combat. The guys had been worried that you were pushing yourself too hard regarding your obligations to Noctis so you were given a low-risk job.

Night has fallen.

Wounds are being licked. Noctis remains unconscious. Only when Ravus has threatened pretty much everyone who had been with you when you were helping to evacuate the city, you arrive. In the heat of battle, as you were in the middle of coaxing crying children and placating irritated adults, your familiar suddenly dropped off of the face of the world and stopped giving you updates on how the trial was going. All this time, you’d been trying to find it.

You don’t see Ravus at first, where he broods in a corner of the room. All you see is a grim Prompto and a tightly-wound Gladiolus and you’re quick to explain yourself before they can rip into you. “Sorry for the delay. I, uh, got a little lost in the sauce,” you chuckle nervously, the biggest clue to Ravus that you’re full of it, “and couldn’t get my comm-link to work properly. So, I checked my phone but I forgot to charge it last night and-”

The moment you start word-vomiting, Ravus shrugs away from the wall and turns to stare you into oblivion. Now you see him. Now he sees you. The cuffs of your sweater are caked in blood and  your palms are dirty and already scabbing from where you’d fallen to the ground in a mob of people. There are bits of red streaked along your white shirt from where you’d accidentally touched the fabric with your bloody hands. Bags are under your eyes. You’re sweaty and ragged.

“You’re hurt.” His breathing is shallow at the sight of you. Mismatched eyes dart over your form. Damn the audience in the room. Ravus wants nothing more than to grab you and hold you tight, to tend to your wounds and see if you’re truly okay. Right now, Prompto and Gladiolus feel like they should probably leave the room and give the couple some space. ‘Cause if they thought that this arranged marriage was totally loveless, Ravus put those suspicions to bed with all of his frettings.

“Ravus?” You’re completely taken aback by the sight of your estranged husband hanging out amongst your friends, particularly with the one he knocked the hell out of the last time you all crossed paths. Eyes are narrowed now, hackles rising as you read the room, read those pained and dour faces. None of that angst is directed toward you. No one is about to reprimand you for getting lost. Slowly, carefully, you ask, “Where are Noct and Ignis? Is Lady Lunafreya-”

One name and the atmosphere turns so thick that you’re liable to suffocate. Ravus Nox Fleuret doesn’t even hold his sister’s death against you as you stoically listen as everyone catches you up to speed. And why would he? Yes, you swore to protect her, but she had sacrificed herself to fulfill her purpose. She went on her own terms. Yet he can see the gears turning in your head as something slinks onto your lap from the shadow under the table you all sit around.

Suddenly, there’s a gecko where there never was one. Suddenly, your attention is turned off of everyone and everything else as that familiar silently informs you of your dear childhood friend’s role in all of this. Neither Ravus nor your friends have ever seen you so emotionless. The only thing keeping your temper under wraps is the urgency of the situation. Ardyn has Ignis. Ardyn has Ignis and you know that that man is a killer. Nothing good can come of this.

Nothing good can come of this.

Ravus thinks it, too, but about you. That damned chancellor’s warnings are all that he hears. For the briefest of moments, he thinks to stab the gecko on the table. Your hand is in the way, constantly stroking your fingers down the thing’s small back. Transfixed. You look as if you’re transfixed, staring down at that bug-eyed thing as it stares right back at you. The former prince of Tenebrae gets a terrible feeling from the creature. And then you speak and confirm all of his fears.

“You guys wait here with Noctis until he regains consciousness,” you command. It’s not a suggestion. Back straightening and shoulders squaring, you lift your chin and announce, “I’ll go on ahead and confront Ardyn in Gralea.”

What?” Bursts Prompto, so taken aback because you say this while he and Gladio are in the middle of trying to devise a plan of their own with Ravus’ aid.

“The hell are you talkin’ about, Magey?”

Okay, first of all, Ravus has a hard time deciding what’s irritating him more: The Shield cursing at you, the Shield calling you “Magey,” or you suggesting something so foolish. He settles on the latter, since now isn’t the time to be petty or demand more respect for his spouse. “Isn’t your duty to your king? You should stay here and watch over Noctis as well.”

Wicked eyes snap onto him and you nearly growl, “Ignis is important to Noct. He’s important to everyone. I can-”

“You can what?” Ravus interrupts, so on edge. He’s been on edge since your face iced over when you  heard about Lunafreya. He’s been on edge since you didn’t offer him condolences but rather withdrew into yourself, expression intense. You’re setting off alarm bells with everything you don’t say or do. “Endanger yourself? Get yourself killed because you believe you’ve leverage against Ardyn since he attended our wedding and visited you when you were a child?” Ravus all but spits, seething now.

Well, shit.

In his defense, Ravus doesn’t realize he just outed you. Your childhood friendship with Ardyn Izunia wasn’t something the silver-haired lord necessarily thought you’d hide from your new friends. Blissfully unaware of the fact that you’ve been pretending not to know Ardyn up until this point, he doesn’t know why the tension in the room is suddenly so oppressive or why you’re staring at him with an expression that’s somehow impassive and murderous at the same time.

Or why the gecko seems to smirk at him, for that matter.

For the High Commander voices exactly what that daemon has been telling you since practically the moment you allowed it back into your life: Ardyn Izunia is no friend of yours. Sure, he might have a soft spot for you because of nostalgia and guilt, but nostalgia and guilt aren’t the types of things that keep a man as determined and vengeful as Ardyn from stabbing a mage and leaving them to bleed out, alone and in agony. By speaking out against you, Ravus has earned the daemon’s admiration.

Luckily for you, your friends already figured something weird was going on between you and the redhead. Ardyn pretty much gave you up with his pet names and insistence on being alone with you, both on the drive to the Disc and then in the imperial airship where he personally tended to your wounds from the fight with Titan. Still, Prompto and Gladiolus freeze at having their suspicions confirmed by your irritable husband. And so suddenly, too. Ravus sure is a blunt talker.

Through gritted teeth, you hiss, “No. Surely even you must agree that someone has to keep an eye on that man? Keep your enemies closer, Ravus. I intend on getting close to him by exploiting my rightful claim to the Spire of-”

“Absolutely not.”

You blink, the only way that you show that you’re taken off-guard. Fury boils beneath your skin, begging to be released. It’s made manifest in the blush that stains your cheeks and creeps down your neck at being spoken to like you’re being an irrational child. It’s made even worse by that chuckling daemon that nobody else can hear. Oh, how your shame at your failures during this travesty of a trial burns you. “Excuse me? Who are you to tell me what I can and can’t do?”

“I’m your husband.”

“And?”

And you immediately regret that as soon as you say it. Damn, you could’ve slapped Ravus and he’d look less offended. Ashamed, you cast your gaze down, unable to continue looking him in the eye. To your credit, looking him in the eye this whole time felt like a chore and yet you did it. Though he’s unaware of the way you reaffirmed your promise to Lunafreya mere days before her death, you know that he knows that you’d promised her that you would protect her years ago.

Funny how things work out.

You don’t believe that anyone will understand the guilt that claws at you as you sit here, looking prim and proper and ashamed. Such lofty claims, spoken with all of the assurance of someone so impudently  arrogant, and you’d failed to follow through for her. Not only did you fail her today, but you feel as though you failed Ignis, too. He, like Prompto and Gladiolus, had been less than an afterthought for you as you prepared for the trial. You’d afforded one of your closest friends no protection in battle.

And where is he now?

Is it so wrong for you to want to risk it all to get him back, safe and sound? The man has cared for you since the moment you entered Noctis’ employ. It’s the least you can do, right? The very, very least. Except the three men sitting around this table with you say otherwise with their expressions alone. Ignis wouldn’t want you to be rash. Hell, he might even scold you if you came to him alone. And Noctis? He needs your support now that Ignis is in jeopardy. He can’t lose three people in one fell swoop.

But dammit if your brain isn’t working on overdrive to come up with a solution. And because that’s just how you work, each one involves self-sacrifice. Each one seeks to capitalize on some perk of your birth that you never considered much of a perk in the first place. Inheriting the Spire? Before, you would’ve said you’d die before you stepped foot back into that place. But this is the safety of your friends that you’re thinking about. You’d endure any manner of shame for them.

Especially if it meant making up for your inaction with regard to Ardyn, whom you’d known was filled with nothing but contempt for Noct. You want to slap yourself because of course he’d go after the prince’s friends. Even if Ravus says that Ignis went willingly with Ardyn, even if he says that he’s already got word of where they’re headed and that surely Ignis is still alive, this feels like a horror show. A horror-show that you could’ve prevented if only you hadn’t remained idle.

Sensing that this tension isn’t about to go away any time soon, Prompto stands and clears his throat. Cornflower blue eyes shoot the Shield an insistent look. “Gladio and I are gonna check on Noct.” It isn’t easy for him to say, being your biggest defender. Any time you look remotely distressed, the blond is always jumping to your rescue. But he isn’t exactly sure how he’s supposed to rescue you from your own well-meaning husband and the man who has promised to lead them all to Iggy.

“Yeah,” Gladiolus grunts, pushing his chair back and standing. He’s all nerves, though he’s a pro at hiding it. He’s filled with nothing but concern for Ignis and although he agrees with your drive to hurry and do something about the situation, he won’t back you up on this. In fact, he’s pretty pissed that you’d even suggest going solo. That heated amber gaze flickers over your dejected yet still defiant posture before turning on Ravus. “Try to talk some sense into them.”

Boy, that’s not the thing to say to Ravus Nox Fleuret right now. A command to essentially keep you in line? Though Gladdy doesn’t mean to be offensive, emotions are running high. It’s a good thing that your friends leave before your husband can properly sharpen his tongue. While he’s glaring those heterochromatic eyes at the Shield’s back, you take this opportunity to ask your familiar for some space, which it graciously provides with one last lingering look at the former prince of Tenebrae.

Once the two of you are alone, you turn your icy stare onto Ravus and snap, “Don’t undermine me in front of my friends again.”

“If you stop manufacturing foolish suicide missions for yourself, then I won’t have to,” he retorts, jaw set and eyes flashing dangerously. Ravus has just about had it with your stubbornness. Since the moment you stepped into this room, bloodied and bruised, you’ve been acting like a fool. He knew the second that you heard your friend was in trouble, you were already plotting away. It’s in your nature. To make things right? To take on everyone’s burdens in order to be considered useful? It’ll be the death of you.

And that? Ravus can’t have that. He has nobody left in the world. He’s alone. Save for you. The commander won’t allow you to lift a finger against your own best interests. Even if you think you’re doing the “right” thing as the Mage, he’ll correct you and make you see reason whether you want to or not. Ravus Nox Fleuret will make himself the biggest thorn in (y/n) Iovita’s side; there to puncture and let the air out of fanciful plots, there to be an unwanted voice of reason.

Right now, he can already see that his work is going to be cut out for him. It’s in the way you raise your chin and look down your nose at him like he’s a thing stuck to the bottom of your shoe. While you have experience with magic and arcane affairs, he has experience on the battlefield and is quick to sink every solo mission that you cook up for yourself like you’re a one-mage army. You can see it in his eyes, that determined gleam. You can see it in the set of his jaw. Your work is going to be cut out for you.

Prompto and Gladiolus are lucky that they got out while they could. The tension in the room can be cut with a plastic spoon as you and Ravus stare each other down, daring the other to back off. Neither of you will. This is going to be a running theme: You’ll devise some harebrained scheme and Ravus will come along to shake some sense into you with his usual snark and stony expressions. Then you’ll huff but he won’t relent, even if your disappointment pains him.

Seeing as staring down Ravus isn’t getting you anywhere, you irritably point out, “I’m not made of papier-mâché. I’m not about to fall apart at the first sign of trouble. I can do this and you know it.” Chest heaves and you force yourself to remain calm. You tell yourself if you can be calm enough, you can come out ahead. Yeah, right. “Besides, what do you care? The last time you saw Noct, you threatened his life and now you’re claiming to be looking out for his best interests? Bull-fucking-shit.”

“We swore to protect each other, (y/n), and I won’t stand idly by while you offer yourself up as a sacrifice for a man who is not your king.” At your glare, Ravus snaps, “Give me all the distasteful looks that you want. That won’t change the fact that you’re needed here. After you wasted not a single opportunity to rub your loyalty to Noctis in my face during our time together, I won’t let you walk away from him now.”

“I have to do something.”

“And you will. But charging in after your friend won’t make things better, you’ll only make the situation worse. You’ll turn this from a rescue mission to one of recovery. There’s strength to be had in numbers, (y/n), and as soon as Noctis awakes, we’ll pursue Ignis together. I assure you.” At your resigned silence, at the way you seem to be cursing him without saying a word, Ravus puts his hand over yours and ducks his head down to peer into your eyes. “Do you understand me?”

His gaze is avoided in favor of glaring off at a lamp. You hate that you know he’s right. Though your friends are reluctant to second-guess you, Ravus isn’t so hesitant. Not when he made you a promise. Not when he’s been privy to everything that’s been said of you by the emperor and the chancellor. Like with Lunafreya, the emperor doesn’t care if you live or die. And though Ravus knows you’ll be tempted to play every card you’ve been dealt concerning the Empire, he knows what the outcome will be.

Though you might like to posture and pretend that you’re somehow untouchable because the chancellor has some strange fascination with you, though you might think that you can outsmart that man, Ravus knows better. The man has no loyalties and he’s seeking to prey on yours the way he’s trying to do with Noctis regarding Ignis. Good people don’t stay good for very long around that chancellor. They adapt or they die. And Ravus doesn’t want you to have to make that choice.

In this quaint room, with Ravus’ warm hand over yours, you can almost forget that the world is falling out from under you. At this moment, you’re almost taken back in time. If you close your eyes, you’re in the greenhouse back at the Spire, the rain pattering against glass panes. There’s tea on the table and cookies that Ravus doesn’t like but won’t admit are too sweet for his tastes. Knowing this, you’ll offer him one and he’ll take the smallest bite imaginable under your amused gaze.

After a moment, you return your gaze to Ravus as he continues to try and ease you off of a ledge. Those mismatched eyes are intense. With bated breath, he awaits your response, knowing full well that if you choose to move forward with a plan that he doesn’t know, he’ll be powerless to stop you. Right now, he regrets every misunderstanding that he let lie. The imagined rejections, the perceived insults. If you leave now, he’d never get over losing you.

Voice soft, barely a whisper, you nod your head and relent, “Yes. I understand.”

Chapter Text

02. The Smack

You have a best friend.

Ravus isn’t really sure how he feels about that. On the one hand, he’s happy to hear that you have people in your life who care about you. On the other hand, your best friend makes getting personal time with you next to impossible. It’s not Prompto’s fault, really. The blond is just concerned. Ever since you so boldly proclaimed that you would single-handedly rescue Ignis from Ardyn’s clutches, both he and Gladio have been on edge. You’ve never been impulsive. And that? That was impulsive.

You’re the pragmatic arcane advisor. You only take calculated risks. And those calculated risks? Gosh, you sure take your sweet time coming up with them. Everything that you say and do is measured and precise. It’s what initially made you so off-putting to everyone; that sense of rigidity that bordered on making almost every initial interaction with you feel artificial and contrived. It took a little while for you to warm up to everyone and your friends thought they knew you, but then you did that.

In a moment of desperation, drowning in remorse, your hero complex came out in full force only to get stomped out by Ravus Nox Fleuret. For the first time in his life, Gladiolus thanked the gods for Ravus and so did Prom. Looking back, neither believe they would’ve had what it takes to get you to back down. A little too willful and sometimes remarkably pettish, it would’ve taken Ignis’ steady hand to calm you or Noct’s soothing company.

Gladio and Prom? They only ever serve to rile you up in their own way. Gladiolus and his playful arguments and competitiveness. Prompto and his jubilant personality that can have you wide awake faster than Iggy’s home brew. But now there’s severe, sensible Ravus. Six, if it weren’t for him, Prompto doesn’t think you’d still be here even if all you do is scowl. He understands how you feel, so consumed with worry over Ignis, but he knows Noct would’ve hated if you left and Prom would’ve, too.

“This is the right move.”

That reassurance comes from Gladiolus, not Prompto. It’s said with a grim smile and a knowing look . Inaction, the act of not doing anything, is the hardest thing to actually do. Your tall, brunet pal knows you hate feeling powerless. Hell, he hates it, too. The waiting is the hardest part. It’s why Gladio does what he can to lift your spirits and make it known that you shouldn’t feel so guilty. But he knows it’s gonna have to be a group effort to lessen that arduous guilt of yours that you’re so great at conjuring up.

It’s just that same old tired bag of tricks that you pull out to beat yourself with. Being a control freak and all that, with an unhealthy coping mechanism of deflection and humor so that none of that ever actually has to be addressed. The emotionally aware Ignis and Prompto know it well. Though they never talked to each other about it, they both liked to tag team you when you’d get in a funk. Food and jokes; flavored lattes and tight hugs or ass-pats to momentarily distract you.

And since Ignis isn’t here to supply you with kind smiles and coffee that somehow tastes exactly like a glazed honeybun or like a chocolate donut, Prompto is working overtime to supply emotional support while Gladiolus deals with the nitty gritty of this rescue mission with Ravus. The older men discuss Gralea’s access points, transportation, and Zegnautus Keep. They’ve got all of the details hammered out so the mission can hopefully go off without a hitch.

“I’ll run it all by Noct when he wakes up,” Gladio says, brow furrowed though he’s feeling hopeful. Six, Ravus’ confidence (and his arrogance) has the brunet feeling assured. Sure, the guy isn’t exactly the easiest person to talk to with all of his snark, but he knows what he’s talking about. Gladdy can’t imagine the amount of sarcasm that would be in a room with Ravus and (y/n). He doesn’t know that the former prince actually becomes pleasant company when his favorite mage is around.

“When we get to the capital, try to make sure the boy keeps up.”

Aaaaaaaaand there he goes. Gladiolus sighs.

Noct’s day of recuperation seems to last a lifetime and yet Ravus can’t find the time to get a word in edgewise with you, even after working out a plan with Gladio. It’s like you’re the sun with Prompto rotating in orbit around you, fretting and doting and being so damn annoying. Okay, that’s not fair. Ravus logically knows that the young man is just looking after you when he bandages your hands and brings you food. But, gods, can he get out of the damn way? The two of you are practically attached to each other.

Ravus just needs to have a chat with you, even if he might not be your favorite person at the moment. The silver-haired lord feels that it’s necessary to address Lunafreya’s death since you don’t really seem to have come to terms with it. Either that or you’re the type of person who grieves by not grieving. He wants to reassure you, make it clear to you, that her death should in no way weigh heavily on your conscience. She fulfilled her duty, he wants to say. She’s at peace.

Little does he know that even with such reassurances from the brother of the Oracle, you won’t be satisfied. You can’t just let that stand. The injustice of her death, even if said to have been necessary for her to get the Ring of Lucii to Noct, gnaws away at you. It bites down to the bone before ripping away flesh; a wound that will never heal until you act to staunch it. It’s that action, that desire in you to right every wrong, that will eventually shift the world.

It’s that burning desire in you that gives Ravus pause, for he can’t understand why he feels like you’re in danger. Ever since you were reunited, he’s had this growing sense of dread when he’s around you; like at any moment, something terrible is going to happen. Lightning will strike or there will be a car crash, something sudden and life-altering. And he hates this paranoia. The desire to be rid of it is what drives him to go to you and reassure not only you but himself that everything will be okay.

Today is when it happens.

No, not the random car crash or the errant bolt of lightning. In fact, all thoughts of something cataclysmic happening and you somehow being in the middle of it are dashed from Ravus’ head. Sure, he still wants to talk to you and check in, but those feelings are taking a back seat to something else entirely. It’s funny how Ravus Nox Fleuret can forget fears of the end days for the sight of (y/n) Iovita gazing fondly at Prompto Argentum.

It’s a little odd, to tell the truth, because neither you nor Ravus ever thought that jealousy would get thrown into the mix of your unconventional relationship. Hell, you didn’t think there was a relationship at all. A little too prideful, you both told yourselves that you simply wouldn’t allow yourselves to get jealous or possessive over someone who most likely doesn’t genuinely love you back. Contempt is had for the word “jealousy” with regard to your arranged marriage.

And Prompto is just caring; nurturing and maybe codependent. Then the silver-haired lord wonders why he’s trying to analyze the guy who is currently leaning against the wall beside his spouse, trying to cheer them up with bad jokes. He wonders because jealousy isn’t a thing in yours and his dynamic. There’s just honor and duty with no room for anything else. Sure, you may have confessed to having feelings for him twice, but one time you were drunk and the other time you were being manipulative.

Besides, you made yourself clear when you threw your wedding ring at his feet. Ravus knows that he probably doesn’t even have a rightful claim to any sort of “friend” status with you after what he did, which is why you’re allowing Prompto Argentum to cheer you up and not him. All of that time getting to know each other and he’s almost completely come to terms with the fact that he threw that all away as easily as you tossed that ring down.

Yet here he is, watching you and Prompto from the doorway.

For the first time all day, you laugh when the blond tells you that when Ignis finds out how badly you wanted to rescue him, he’ll blush and Noct’ll be jealous. It’s not the best joke to tell, but you and Prom, along with Noct, have made it a running gag to see what it takes to make Iggy blush. You’ve all even drawn up a list of things: Gushing compliments for his food, when you use extremely vulgar language, and random declarations of undying love. Such horrible deviants, such awful friends.

“So, try not to worry too much,” Prom says, one hand on your shoulder. His back is blissfully to Ravus and he obscures the silver-haired lord from your view. If the poor shutterbug were to see the look your husband is giving him right now, boy, he might faint... or at least attempt to use you as a human shield. “We’re in this together and Iggy’s a tough dude. Everything’s gonna work out, (y/n). Just you watch.”

“Let me take some of your confidence. How much are you selling it for? Can you cut me a deal? We’ll haggle.” You joke, pretending to reach for your wallet the whole time you badger him. Prom snorts and gives you a playful shove. Then you put your hand over his and smile. “Thanks, Prompto. It means a lot that you’re taking time out of your schedule to stop poking Noct with a stick and start beating me with it.”

“Hey! I’m being nice here!” Prompto’s freckled cheeks turn red. “And what do you mean ‘poking Noct with a stick’? Huh?”

The flustered blond is gazed at from beneath your lashes. “I mean I heard you talking to him. Truth be told, if anyone has a chance of making him wake up sooner, it’s you. I tend to put him right back to sleep since he associates my voice with lectures on elemancy and herbalism.”

That gets the blond to laugh, blue eyes glinting. His laughter makes your smile widen. And then Prompto digs his grave and buries himself all in a few short seconds. When he moves away, you finally see Ravus and the strange, indecipherable expression on his face, those heterochromatic eyes unblinking and focused on Prompto. As the sharpshooter goes to walk away and check up on Noct once more, he gives you a nice, firm, friendly smack on the ass as he passes.

In this moment, Ravus Nox Fleuret now knows that he absolutely hates your "best friend."

Chapter Text

03. The Conundrum

Happiness has always been fleeting for Ravus. At least in his adult life. His happiness with you is much the same. It’s rather strange that he was happier before you confessed to loving him. Not that he doesn’t love you back. But it’s the delivery, the context of your confessions, that he found wanting. Ravus couldn’t be happy with a drunken, slurred declaration of protection and romantic feelings. He couldn’t be happy with a confession of love that was spat with vitriol. Your delivery is found to be lacking, and for that Ravus feels remorse and pain, not joy for those confessions.

Happiness is seemingly so unattainable for him.

Sometimes, he thinks this is his curse. The gods struck him with this bizarre affliction: You. Punishment for denying Noctis for so long and for hating that family line for even longer. You’re a punishment: Someone he yearns for deep within his very soul; someone it seems he cannot ever truly have. It’s like a cruel joke. He has you but he doesn’t. He’s betrothed to you but he believes he’ll never have your heart. Such self-loathing blinds him to the truth. Because the fact remains that there have been unprompted confessions of love by the mage.

Perhaps that self-loathing is a sort of self-consciousness?

That would make sense. Consider the reason for his sudden rumination over your declarations of love: The tender look you’d directed toward another man. Truly, anyone else might find Ravus laughable. Actions speak louder than words and he weighs that look against those lacking confessions and finds himself dissatisfied. It’s not a one-to-one comparison yet he treats it as such. Companionate love isn’t romantic love. He conflates the two in his inexperience with both romantic relationships and strong friendships. He conflates the two in his growing jealousy.

Heterochromatic eyes are trained on a certain, unfortunate blond.

That unrelenting stare is enough to nearly make Prompto’s skin peel. In order to seem totally fine and like he doesn’t fear for his life, Prom continues to listen to you read from “An Alchemist’s Guide to Advanced Poisons” and hopes Ravus isn’t jotting down notes to spike his soda. You’re reclined in your seat, one leg propped up on the other, eyes darting over the page, and completely unaware of the silent power struggle ensuing between your best friend and your husband. Ravus broods, leaning against a wall, and remains quiet.

Even though you’re all headed to Gralea and have bigger things to worry about, this is what two people choose to get caught up on.

‘Cause Ravus? Well, he doesn’t give Gladdy or Noct those dead-eyed stares (even though he’s still rather icy with Noctis) and Prompto doesn’t think he can take much more of this silent hell, even if it hasn’t even been 24-hours. In his head, he asks the gods what he, the most innocent person on Eos who has literally never lifted a finger to do something wrong, did to deserve this. Funny how he doesn’t recall smacking your butt with gusto. It goes to show how desensitized Prompto “Ass Smacker” Argentum is to that nonsense. He does it all the time to you and Noct.

Which, in Ravus’ defense, the commander doesn’t know that.

All he knows is that you have the type of relationship with another man that allows for some form of physical intimacy between the two of you. If he ever said that aloud, you might die laughing at the idea that Prom’s annoying habit might be considered intimate. It’s just a friendly gesture that's sometimes aggravating when you aren’t expecting it and are holding something to drink. It’s akin to your banter where you and Prompto take turns declaring your love to Ignis when he takes the time to cater a meal to your tastes rather than to Noct’s for a change.

Camaraderie doesn’t equate to romantic or consummate love. Banter and smacks on the rear aren’t about to make you demand a divorce from Ravus so you can marry Prompto Argentum.

For his part, Prom thinks he knows why Ravus doesn’t really like him. His suspicions aren’t conveyed to you, mostly because the blond sharpshooter doesn’t want to come across as paranoid. Also, he doesn’t know yours and Ravus’ dynamic -- you’re the only married friend that he has -- but he rightly guesses that the battle-hardened soldier is feeling put out by his presence. Prompto fills a role for you that Ravus used to occupy. In his absence, in the wake of his betrayal, Prompto Argentum supplanted Ravus Nox Fleuret as your confidant: The closest role anyone could have to you.

Kudos to Prompto for figuring that all out in one evening and the better half of a morning.

But -- and this isn’t meant to rob Prom of credit -- Ravus has been shooting the small blond one very telling look ever since Prom touched you. At breakfast, with Noct roused and the plan set, Prompto took his usual seat by your side and he saw it. What’s “it”? It’s a surprisingly neutral but nuanced expression that looks to be nothing more than a cursory look on the surface level. It’s lightly hooded eyes and a soft frown, the most delicate knitting of silvery blond eyebrows and an almost imperceptible twitch of Ravus’ upper right eyelid. It’s unassuming and completely dangerous.

Gods, Prompto doesn’t know what to do.

There are more pressing matters to attend to yet he feels like there’s more danger posed to him from Ravus than from Iggy’s tricky rescue mission. He can’t and he won’t stay away from you, but he can’t and he won’t tell you that he strongly believes- no, he knows that your husband is jealous of him and his friendship with you. But would you please do something about it?! Prompto clears his throat and takes a drink of his soda. The hair on the back of his neck rises from Ravus’ unyielding stare and the shutterbug continues to try and communicate his distress telepathically to you, to no avail.

The commander is like a pissed off cat.

Yeah, exactly like that, actually. Prompto attended many a sleepover during his middle school days. Prom recalls this one boy’s cat in particular right now. It looked like your everyday, ordinary cat. It was orange, striped, and had green eyes. But it was pure evil. It wouldn’t let him do anything! With that unblinking stare, so full of malicious intent, it hissed and clawed at him when he tried to go to the bathroom late at night. Prom was basically imprisoned in his host’s bedroom and needed his pal to escort him to the bathroom in order to get safe passage.

And Ravus looks about ready to do more than hiss or swipe at the poor blond when he hazards a super casual glance over his shoulder.

Prompto practically snaps his neck to look back at you where you continue on reading. Six, why are you so oblivious? Prompto almost resents you for not realizing that your attack-cat has him in his sights. Every move he makes, even just breathing, is watched and mentally documented. And with everyone forced to play the waiting game on the way to Gralea, it feels even worse ‘cause Ravus has nothing but time on his hands to just... watch. Prom hardly helps his own case by sticking to you like bubblegum on the bottom of your shoe. But he won’t be frightened off from one of his best friends.

Little does he know that if he’d leave your side for longer than five minutes, it would alleviate so much tension.

As it stands, Ravus is wary of inserting himself in your affairs. He’s afraid. Afraid that he might exacerbate this delicate situation and inadvertently force you into Prompto Argentum’s arms if you aren’t already there. Honestly, this is the most one-sided melodrama ever. ‘Cause all you’re thinking about is how to serve Noct in this trying time and not blowing up on Ravus. To say that you hate being powerless is an understatement. You loathe it with your very soul. It’s detestable and a fate worse than death... Except, it seems to almost be your constant state of being.

Powerless? How funny. Because your magic is powerful and yet it provides you no comfort. You can’t “magic” Ignis back. You can’t “magic” Ardyn into a better person. But there are a few things that you can make come to pass with your strange magic.

Necromancy and soul binding.

Oh, if Ravus could only read your mind right now, he’d be all over your case with his petty jealousy long forgotten. And that’s another thing that’s been bugging you since you’ve all been headed to rescue Iggy: Ravus’ presence. Perhaps that one-sided melodrama isn’t quite so one-sided? Because it’s too cruel. He’s too cruel. To continue on with his promise to protect you even after so coldly rejecting you? Even after his sudden about-face concerning his acceptance of Noct as his king that you’re all just supposed to swallow like honeyed wine?

What kills you is that Prompto (eh...), Noct, and Gladio readily and willingly accept the former High Commander of the imperial army into the fold. They do and so do your fellow Lucians. It’s everything you could’ve ever hoped for him, really. To have Ravus accepted by your friends as an ally? To have him support Noctis’ claim to the throne? You want to laugh at yourself. Laugh because you’re still so bitter about your unrequited love that you almost want to deny him the whirlwind of good fortune he’s experienced in the wake of one of the greatest tragedies to ever befall him.

Before the trial, you thought you’d put Ravus out of your head for good. You’d told yourself to forget him and move on with your life because you two were never going to be allies. But now how are you supposed to get over him when he’s always around? How are you supposed to forget him when he’s a brand new traveling companion? The universe must enjoy kicking you in the teeth. It likes to put Ravus in your way and watch you struggle to keep your composure as he dotes on you in that rigid way of his, like his many rejections of you never even happened.

What game is he playing at, really?

“Doting,” though? Nobody else would see it that way, but you know what his constant presence means. He doesn’t have to be in the same room as you, yet here he is. He didn’t have to forgive you for failing Lunafreya, yet he did. He forgave you and you didn’t even have to ask for his forgiveness . He consoled you and you didn’t even have to shed a single tear, show any sort of weakness. And that’s why you won’t save Prompto from his suffering. Well, not like you know he’s suffering. But the fact remains that your ego is a little too bruised for you to initiate a conversation.

Damn, you’re more bitter than the cup of chicory coffee Ignis tried getting you to drink once.

You can’t keep count of the number of times you and Ravus had arguments concerning the late King Regis and your devotion to him. Or the readiness of Noctis to ascend to the throne. Or the worthiness of Noct concerning your service to him. The latter was a particularly testy topic. Really, they all were, Ravus’ resentment for that family line being such a toxic thing. And although he doesn’t seem too thrilled about it, he’s here and supporting Noct. He’s being the bigger person. Sure, he may be sulking because he thinks one of Noct’s allies romanced his spouse, but he’s here.

“Hey.”

Just like that, you’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, your book snapped shut and put aside so you can get up and greet your ward, grievances long forgotten. In reality, though he gets the brunt of Ravus’ intense stares, Prompto doesn’t really need you to do much once Noct comes around.

Sure, Prompto wants you to intervene but someone is already taking the heat off of him: Noctis and his ironclad grip on your loyalty. Ravus never actually realized how much he wanted from you until he saw what you’ve given and continue to give these young men- these boys. Your faith, loyalty, and unquestionable love. You love Prompto. You love Noctis. Judging by how you vehemently swore to rescue Ignis, you love him, too. Oh, if Ravus had seen the way you tended to Gladio after his altercation with the commander...

Ravus finds himself growing almost childish and petulant as he continues to languish in the shadows of your friends.

Ever since Noct awoke, you’ve been stuck by his side as much as the prince will allow you to be, whispering and conspiring. You and Ravus haven’t exchanged more than a couple of stiff greetings since your brief altercation. So, either rationally or irrationally, the silver-haired lord finds himself in a conundrum. Because lashing out at Noctis? That’s sure to have the exact opposite effect that he so desires from you. Sure, he’ll have your attention, but there’s a clear discrepancy between good and bad attention from (y/n) Iovita.

Meanwhile, as Ravus struggles to come to terms with the relationships you’ve formed in his absence, you’re about to fall down a rabbit hole of your own creation and you’re trying to soften Noct to it. Since practically the moment you entered his employ, you’ve been trying to prove your worth to Noctis -- to show him that you value his safety above all else and prove to yourself that you’re worthy of not only being the King of Lucis’ arcane advisor but worthy of the Iovita name, as well. Such a tall order to fill. And you think you’re about ready to fill it.

Binding magic.

Your ace in the hole is binding magic. A talented enchanter, this seems like the logical place that you’d end up. All roads for you have always led to some form of enchanting magic and binds fall comfortably under that umbrella. Sleep was foregone for this spell. Daemons were attached to your very essence to perfect this bind. In secret, you’ve worked. And now, with the threat of Ardyn and the uncertainty of Ignis’ rescue on the horizon, you’re prepared to lend Noctis your soul, the source of your power, so that he will succeed in his goals.

Honestly, your ancestors would be proud.

Such a massive sacrifice for your king? Good on you. Little do you know exactly how massive it will be if Noct were to, oh, let’s say, wind up enclosed in another plane of existence while he’s in possession of your soul. This spell, this bind, is a temporary solution to the problem that you foresaw with Noct’s use of powers from the Kings of Yore and his subsequent fatigue after utilizing said powers. But luckily for you, you've got an overprotective and quite frankly frothing-jealous protector to ruin your plans for accidentally ruining yourself.

And to think, Ravus Nox Fleuret will save the soul of (y/n) Iovita all because he got riled up over a pat on the butt.

Chapter Text

04. The Threat

The trip to Gralea, to Zegnautus Keep, is one big brood-fest.

Ravus manages to get an imperial airship for you all to travel in and the details of his thrilling theft are only disclosed to Noctis and Gladiolus. You and Prompto are left out of the loop and it certainly isn’t by accident. In fact, the two of you are steadfastly ignored by the silver-haired lord who wears a look upon his face like a man who just ate a lemon -- rind and all. And even if you’re stellar at ignoring being ignored, Prompto Argentum isn’t.

He’s very sensitive in that way. Being around him has made you more aware of others’ feelings (feelings that aren’t related to wanting to do you harm, that is, since your survival instinct -- thanks to the conditioning of one Ardyn Izunia -- is second to none) but that’s a skill that you can switch off as you please. Not so for poor, perceptive Prompto. Ravus’ ire is a thing that he can feel like a blade’s edge against his skin and it’s driving him mad.

Because Ravus Nox Fleuret? He’s a big guy; tall and built like a brick house. He’d felled Gladio once. Gladio. And though the former prince of Tenebrae has been caught many a time shooting you longing looks by the sharpshooter, Prom knows for damn sure that the commander’s secret “softness” certainly doesn’t extend to him. In fact, the shy shutterbug thinks that softness toward you is what fuels Ravus’ anger toward him.

And, dammit, he’s so right.

If Ravus only knew that Prom had already found him out, he’d hate the guy more than he already does. The ass-slap heard ‘round the world was bad enough. But to know that he’s already been read like an open book by that blond simpleton? Oh, he’d really go red with rage. As it stands, he’s having a tough time refraining from snapping at your best friend and it’d be so easy for him to find even more of a reason to find fault with the small blond. Reasons that aren’t so petty.

“I think he’s jealous.”

This is said to you from seemingly nowhere as you sit with Prompto, the two of you sipping on instant coffee and watching a video on his phone. The airship is big but not big enough to actively or effectively ignore your estranged husband, so these cozy moments between you and Prom have been annoyingly easy for Ravus to stumble across. Each time, he’s worn that lemon face immediately after. It’s a fear of that happening again that has Prompto saying such a thing.

“Who?” You mumble into your coffee, eyes trained on the tiny screen where animated cats frolic, “And why does jealousy matter when we’re on a rescue mission? We’ve no time for petty things like that.”

Blue eyes roll hard. Only you would choose to neglect something so serious and call it petty. But Prom doesn’t think he can afford to keep trying in vain to telepathically convey to you that Ravus’ unrelenting glares have him fearing for his damn life. Prompto has to say something before this escalates! And so he does. With those freckled cheeks puffed out in defiance, Prom grumbles, “Ravus and it matters ‘cause he’s your husband and I know you love him.”

Now your cheeks are the ones puffed out in defiance. Being so close, the two of you have some shared mannerisms and habits, which also gets on Ravus’ last nerve. There’s an unrelenting blush that creeps up your neck. Ashamed and embarrassed, you scoff, “Of what?” There’s no point in denying that you love Ravus. C’mon. You’re talking to Prompto. Trying to lie to him is an effort in futility. Plus, he looks like a kicked puppy when you even attempt it.

“Of us.” At your second scoff, Prom gives you a flat look and locks his phone’s screen so you can’t avoid looking at him. Without the distraction of animated cats, you scowl. The blond turns so he can face you properly in the spartan dining area. One hand lands on your knee and Prompto insists a bit desperately, “Just watch him when I’m around. Okay? He looks like he wants to rip my head off. I think... I think it’s because of how friendly we are with each other.”

“Why? Friends are friendly,” you quip, pointing out the most obvious thing in the world. Voices are kept low since sound carries in the giant metal airship. It forces you two to keep your heads together. Honestly, Ravus damns himself for hijacking the one mode of transportation that he thinks pretty much forces you and Prompto to be intimate since the two of you are always whispering conspiratorially, as cunning best friends do.

What really bugs the older man is that you don’t even do it as often with Noct. He’s unaware of how you and Prompto Argentum corrupt each other. The devious blond feeds your evil little gremlin side and you do the same to him. While Noctis isn’t all that big of a fan of pranks and stuff that can put someone out, you and Prom live for that kinda garbage. It’s why you don’t particularly take issue with him randomly smacking your ass.

There’s another “service” that the two of you provide for each other. One that Noct provides, too. But Noct isn’t the one currently in Ravus’ crosshairs as a potential romantic rival. And right now, Prom is determined to provide you with the service of friendly (and kind of stern) counseling.

Those bright blue eyes are serious as he carefully informs his annoyingly oblivious pal, “I mean, you don’t exactly go outta your way to talk to him and you’re always with me, (y/n). I know things are complicated between you two,” his eyes, without fail, dart to your bare ring finger like they always do when Ravus is brought up, “but when we do certain things together, he looks like he’s gonna blow a gasket. Like the ribbing and things like that? Well, I feel like Ravus might think I’m-”

In the middle of his well-meaning talk, you’re suddenly struck with a horrible realization. It’s an intrusive memory, coming out of the blue: Mismatched eyes narrowed to slits, a stoic face turned pink with embarrassment or perhaps anger, and the faint blossoming of pain across your backside. Cheeks suddenly hot, you smack your hand over your forehead and groan, “Oh, no.”

Prom’s instantly on edge from your outburst. “What?” The apologetic and almost pitying look you shoot him has Prom’s hackles rising. He holds onto the metal cafeteria bench for dear life, knuckles going white. Oh, no. This isn’t good.

And you confirm this with the slow, pained way that you confess, “I almost forgot about it entirely because he never said anything, so I foolishly thought Ravus just forgot about it, too, but...” Giving Prom a meek grin that’s supposed to ease his nerves but has the exact opposite effect, you admit, tone soft as if it’ll soften the blow, “I think I know why he’s mad at you. He saw you smack my butt before.”

Prompto goes white. If you squint, you can see his soul leave his body.

“What?!”

“Yeah,” you awkwardly chuckle, shrinking away from him after that cry that was so loud it could rival a chocobo’s. “He might’ve just thought you were disrespecting me. Ravus is kinda a stickler for decorum. He might not know it’s a friendly thing between us and that you weren’t just being a twerp.”

“Oh crap. Oh crap.” The blond shutterbug is practically pulling his hair out now. It was bad enough thinking Ravus was jealous of him. But to now hear that the commander might think the younger man slighted you? Prom stands abruptly from the dining table and paces, boots thudding loudly against the metal floor. Your sharp eyes track his movements carefully. You’re given a pitiful look. There he goes with those puppy eyes again. “What do I do?” Prom moans.

It’s such a shame that you have a hard time turning off your troll mode around your best friend. ‘Cause he almost takes off his boot and throws it at you when you gibe, “Why don’t you smack his ass so he knows it’s what you do with friends?”

No!”

“Gosh! Chill! You nearly destroyed my ears over a joke,” you whine though there’s a tinge of laughter in your voice for his horrified scream. Prompto almost laughs, too, but dammit this is serious! Ravus hates him! And Prom has to admit that he’d hate someone, too, if he saw them smack the object of his affection’s ass. Oh, gods! And he’d done it so enthusiastically, too...

Defeated, totally resigned to his fate, Prompto drops back down onto the metal bench beside you. “I’m so dead.”

Soberly taking in your pal’s distraught expression, you sigh and turn your gaze up to the harsh fluorescent lights that brighten the nearly cavernous room of the lonely cafeteria. “Just talk to him and clear everything up. It’s not that big of a deal.”

So aghast, Prompto balks, “I can’t talk to him! You talk to him!” And Prompto Argentum gets a derisive snort from his magical best friend for all his theatrics.

To you, Ravus is far from intimidating. Before two confessions of love and two alleged rejections of said love, you’d become great friends. You’d got to the point where his razor-sharp tongue wasn’t off-putting but rather you found it humorous. His imposing figure also became less menacing and actually began to bleed into your subconscious preferences. For instance, you’ve often found yourself more drawn to remarkably tall and broad-shouldered individuals than you used to be...

In short, Ravus doesn’t frighten you like he so clearly does Prompto. He frustrates you and has yet to cease annoying you with his presence on this mission, but that’s all. The most you “fear” is that he  might one day find it necessary to remind you that there’s nothing romantic between you two. Though, that seems pretty irrational. Why the heck would he ever need to bring that up? Maybe in asking for a divorce once he finds someone he loves and finally tires of this dutiful contract?

Gods, just the thought of that hypothetical scenario has you frowning so intensely that Prompto begins apologizing, thinking you’re upset with him for wanting you to play the part of his bodyguard against Ravus’ unyielding glares.

One hand waves lazily in the air, a haughty and dismissive gesture that slackens the tension in the lithe blond’s shoulders and gets him to stop blubbering. “Fine, fine. If you’re really that bothered, I’ll talk to big, bad Ravus for you. Hm?”

“I know you’re making fun of me, but I don’t care. Just talk to him,” huffs Prompto, despite being incredibly relieved.

“Yeah, yeah. Go find him for me,” you drawl and blatantly ignore the millionth horrified face Prom gives you. Instead, you pout down at your coffee until Prompto takes the hint that you won’t relent on this.

With a pitiful groan, he tells you that he’s going to go relieve Ravus of his duties and give piloting the airship a spin. It’s like everyone and their grandma knows how to pilot the damn thing. Everyone but you. Is that something that everyone learns? You wonder if it’s a part of growing up. Like how regular people learn to drive a car, perhaps airships are part of that package? You wouldn’t know. All you learned to drive was a moped and you aren’t even licensed for that.

You know, for a short journey between Altissia and Gralea (just a few days by air), a lot of drama is getting stirred up. It’s palpable and unavoidable. It makes Gladiolus choke back many a groan when Ravus Nox Fleuret inevitably finds his way by the brunet’s side. The guy broods way too damn much and when Gladio tries to make friendly conversation, the silver-haired lord is full of snark. Unlucky Gladdy is the only one Ravus can stand to be around since he had a falling out with his lovely spouse.

And his brooding is always over silly things. It's been in response to you jamming your index finger into Prompto’s side when he complained about there only being instant military meals on the stolen aircraft and when Prompto commented that the pudding in one of those aforementioned pre-packaged meals wasn’t “so bad” and he fed you a spoonful from his own spoon. Gladio bore witness to each innocuous interaction and had to deal with the fallout.

For a high-ranking military official as well as being the former prince of Tenebrae, Gladiolus Amicitia has to admit that Ravus is as spiteful as a jealous teen and as easily frightened by his “crush,” too.

‘Cause Gladio can just see the animosity rolling off of the guy each time you and Prompto do stuff together (for some reason, notes Gladdy, Ravus doesn’t get his undies in a twist when you do stuff with Noct) yet he lifts not one finger and says not a single word against the younger man. And Gladio correctly guesses that it’s because Ravus knows that messing with Prompto Argentum is a surefire way to piss (y/n) Iovita off. You’re the only one who is allowed to be a total shitlord to Prom... and vice versa.

So, it’s with immense relief that Gladiolus welcomes Prompto into the control center of the airship just to get King Laser Glares a.k.a. Ravus Nox Fleuret out of his hair. But then Prompto says something that not only makes Ravus pause but Gladiolus as well.

“He-Hey, Ravus? (y/n)’s lookin’ for you.”

Where normally Ravus would sooner knock the guy out than let him pilot the airship and where he might balk at how the younger guy has so carelessly done away with honorifics, his brain turns to mush at even the slightest hint that you and he might be back on speaking terms. And if he didn’t swiftly exit the area in pursuit of you, Gladiolus would’ve brought you here just to end Ravus’ sour mood that’s only served to make him even more insufferable to be around.

The Shield and the sharpshooter exchange a look as they watch Ravus’ retreating back, both hoping for the tense atmosphere between the estranged lovers to finally end so that they can stop walking on eggshells around the two of you.

Cracking his knuckles once Ravus has made his quick and silent exit, Prompto eyes the many buttons and switches of the Niff airship. Those cornflower blue eyes are practically glowing in anticipation. “All right! Show me how to make this baby sing, big guy.”

Gladio snorts, knowing full well how his buddy pilots most vehicles no matter the size, land or air. “Hell no.”

“Aw, what?”

Back in the cafeteria, your rear is starting to hurt from the metal bench. It’s not like this thing was made with comfort in mind. The airship is merely for the temporary housing and transport of soldiers, not for catering to the admittedly high standards of an uppity Spire mage. Such a sad fact is made abundantly clear by the harsh fluorescent lights that are hardly ideal for reading and the bunk beds with what feels like concrete slabs for mattresses.

Although the ship is certainly spacious, it lacks warmth. Sure, an ancient and massive tower of stone isn’t exactly what one thinks of when they hear the words “cozy” and “homey,” but the Spire of Duscae is like a picturesque cabin in the woods compared to the Niff airship you’re in. The ship feels creepily vacant with it only being the five of you here (six, if you count your familiar) in a carrier that’s clearly meant for dozens of soldiers.

The unmanned cafeteria and the deserted barracks serve to crystallize that “abandoned” atmosphere. Being here is like being in a store after hours. There’s something uncanny about it. Like ghosts roam the dimly lit halls of metal and wire, hounding your steps and breathing down your neck when you’re alone. It’s one of the reasons why you and Prompto stick by each other. Though you could logically annihilate the things that go bump in the night, it’s still creepy as hell.

The overall rigidity and discomfort of the airship’s design are why Ravus finds you balling up your lavender cardigan and using it as a cushion on the cafeteria table’s metal bench. He’s spotted quickly by those wicked eyes that have often haunted his dreams. The commander is offered a wan smile which he stiffly but eagerly returns.

“Good morning.”

Such a banal greeting sends electricity up Ravus’ spine. It’s the first time that you’ve initiated something as trivial as small talk in what feels like an age. After he so brutally put an end to your self-sacrificing plan, the two of you haven’t spoken much. He’d thought he’d approached you the right way. That careful touch to your hand? How you’d returned it? Fool that he is, Ravus had assumed that gesture meant everything between you two was fine.

But, oh, can you brood. The two of you are definitely alike in that regard.

After a moment in which he assesses the polite reservation in your expression, Ravus finally returns your greeting. “Good morning.”

“How’ve you been?” You wonder, stirring instant coffee into your mug of hot water. It tastes bitter and like it was made by someone who never once had a cup of coffee in their life, but it’s also your second cup, so...

“I’ve been well.” Mismatched eyes watch you closely. Like he’s made of stone, the silver-haired lord stiffly moves to sit across from you. Back ramrod straight and chin lifted with his usual poise, he hazards to ask, “How have you been, (y/n)?”

“Since you chastised me in front of my friends like I was a child? Or since we last ran into each other and you power-slammed one of my friends against a car?” He gives you a flat look for your lip and you sigh. Remember that you’re supposed to be doing Prom a favor, will you? Besides, not too long ago you got after Prompto for bringing up something as “petty” as jealousy. Isn’t snarking at Ravus for past transgressions petty as well?

But, gods if this isn’t difficult. When you’re upset, rationality tends to slip just a tad like a pretty mask that came loose.

Melancholy. A suffocating sadness. The feeling is inescapable when you’re alone with Ravus, even with cheap coffee and a sore bottom to distract you. It used to be rage that you’d feel when you thought of him. Anger was kinder. Thinking about how he betrayed your kingdom and his complicity in your mother’s death? It never failed to turn your blood hot. It never failed to fuel your desire to see the Empire razed to the ground... But never to see Ravus felled, you note.

Slowly but surely, however, sadness has won out -- come out on top as the smug victor.

And it’s complex. It would be so much easier to stay mad and not only verbally disown Ravus but disown him in your heart, too, as if he’d actually killed your mother. Sometimes, a really cruel part of you wishes to hear that Ravus had actively let your mother die. But from all accounts (and there were quite a few rumors, too), they hadn’t even been in the same room when things went to hell. Your mother had been overpowered in a corridor and Ravus had been in the middle of the fray.

It’s a tangent that you always go off on when Ravus is near or when he comes to mind; like you’re looking for a reason to hate him because you think that you should. Oftentimes, you think you must be losing your mind due to the emotional whiplash that you give yourself. Every time, without fail, you torture yourself like this. You find yourself wondering, “Maybe it’s a lack of closure that has me clinging onto him?

Though Ravus has never outright rejected you, you tell yourself that you know he did. But you also tell yourself that you need him to say it to you directly, no matter how much it might hurt. You need him to kill this love because you lack the strength to do so yourself.

Eyes close and you try to scrub away any thought of that damning tangent. Pride is swallowed for Prompto’s sake (or so you tell yourself) and you attempt to talk to Ravus like you two never fell out of step. “Honestly? I’ve been under a lot of stress. Gods, I didn’t know that being the arcane advisor would be so... exhausting. But it’s fulfilling, too. I love my job.”

Mismatched eyes watch the way you draw patterns against the steel table with your forefinger. The images you draw are visible temporarily from the heat of your finger against the cold surface. Your eyes are downcast as if you’re chastened once more. The former prince rightly guesses that you’ve just mentally chastised yourself.

“From what I gather, you’ve done a fine job.” That strong jaw tightens in a mix of displeasure and pride. Ravus is split in his feelings. Though he still thinks Noct is unworthy of your devotion, he’s at least happy that the boy knows that he’s lucky to have you. “Noctis regards you highly, as he should.”

“I’d hope so. I did die for him once,” you snort and that’s quite possibly the worst thing you could’ve ever said. Leave it to your awkward ass to make a joke of your brush with death. Leave it to your awkward ass to not yet know how to read the room where Ravus is concerned. He still has a tough time accepting Noctis and he’s still in mourning over the fact that his sister laid down her life for the guy. Your words have turned his face white with rage.

“What did you just say?” His voice cuts through the air like a serrated blade.

Fingers immediately come up to pinch the bridge of your nose. Oh, you aren’t getting enough caffeine out of this instant powder to prepare you for an argument. Patience is already thin due to that dreaded caffeine withdrawal and your inner struggle. “Don’t even start. It’s not like he used me as a human shield. I laid my life down for him once because that’s my job. I’d do it again if I had to -- even if I knew there wouldn’t be any coming back the next time -- and I don’t need your approval, nor am I looking for it.”

Those delicate nostrils of his flare. “(y/n)-”

“I don’t want to risk failing again,” you interrupt. There’s something strange in your eyes. It catches Ravus off guard and effectively turns his ire to ash on his tongue. Arms cross and you shut Ravus out with your body language, the bizarre emotion in your gaze snuffed out before he can ferret out its meaning. “I don’t want to wind up breaking another oath, Ravus."

Breath stills in his chest at the mere insinuation in your words. It’s like someone just punched him right in the heart, robbing him of the ability to think or speak or breathe. “(y/n).” There’s pain in his voice and you look down at the table.

It’s been avoided, this subject. It’s been given a wide berth like you’re both stepping around a venomous snake: Your sworn oath to Lady Lunafreya and your failure to uphold that oath.

Throat tight, you can barely hiss out, “I-I’m sorry about Lunafreya. I wish I could’ve done something. I wish could do something.”

Even with the knowledge Ardyn armed him with -- the fact that you’ve been entreated to dabble in necromancy by your familiar -- Ravus does not and will not ask anything of you. Others might be tempted, especially since this feels like and it is a testing of the waters by that taciturn mage. Bait is laid out, keen eyes occasionally darting over his face to gauge his reaction. What rings in his ears is what the chancellor claimed: that performance of necromancy would augur an equal sacrifice on your behalf.

After a moment, the silver-haired lord tentatively reaches out across the table toward the wicked mage, palm up. Mismatched eyes watch the way your throat jerks as you swallow hard. It feels like he reaches for you for a lifetime before you slowly put your hand in his. Ravus feels you flinch when he closes his hand. He holds your gaze as he murmurs, full of sincerity, “As do I. But this was what she wanted; it was what she chose, (y/n).”

A tough truth for him to accept, being the protective older brother. A tough truth that you can’t accept.

What are you supposed to do with that? Are you supposed to thank him for not blaming you for his sister’s death? Are you supposed to go on living your life, knowing that you have the power to alleviate so much pain but that you haven't? You hastily try to gloss over Ravus’ somber reassurance. The wound is still far too fresh. “This isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about,” you grumble, removing your hand from his.

Ravus feels cold without your touch. Slowly, his hand retreats as well. His throat is cleared in a  dignified way and your husband queries, “What did you want to speak with me about, (y/n)?”

“Well,” you attempt at a tease, coffee back in hand and looking to joke about how he’s been watching you like a hawk so you can hopefully soften him up about Prompto’s problem, “I’d like for you to lay off me, for starters. Maybe stop hovering around me like you think I’m going to make a mad, cross-country dash for Ignis?”

Ravus stares at you from across the table. Oh, he has yet to hover. Sure, he may stare, but he does so from afar. He’s gone through great pains to give you space and this is how you treat him for it? A distinct, stabbing pain hits him in the frontal lobe. It’s a wonderful "(y/n) headache," as he calls it when you're the source of it. Lips pulled so thin, the former prince spits, “Perhaps I’ll feel less compelled to keep you under close watch once you stop showing signs of impulsivity.”

A scoff almost makes you choke to death on instant coffee. You barely sputter out, clinging to dear life, “Puh-lease. I’m hardly impulsive, Ravus! In fact, I’m quite the opposite, I’ll have you know.”

All of your playful pomposity is lost on him right now. “Oh, are you?” Ravus’ eyes are almost glowing with his signature low-grade anger. Always with you, his anger is the type that simmers. He’s all intense stares and squared shoulders. Voice low and eyes hooded. It’s a miracle this giant metal ship doesn’t grow hot from his fury. Hands rest on the table, one resting over the other. To anyone who doesn’t know him better, he might actually look amenable and not like he’s about to go off.

Nose so high, you simper, “Yeah, I am. In fact, I’ve been working on a binding spell for months now. Does that sound like something someone prone to impulsivity would do? Making careful plans? I think not.”

The way you look like the cat that got the cream after saying that? Boy, it has Ravus on the edge of his seat. Nothing good ever comes from that expression on your face. Usually, it means you’ve just played someone or you’re up to no good. “A binding spell?”

So determined to prove him wrong about your temperament, you play yourself. “Yes,” you say proudly, “I’ve perfected a spell that will allow me to bind my soul to Noct’s, granting him the ability to perform magic without limits and to increase his resistance to magical attacks. He’ll be just as wonderful as I am,” you gloat.

And just like that, the air seems to leave the room.

Couple what you’ve just told him about this binding spell with your little speech about being ready and willing to give your life (again) for Noctis and Ravus feels like the world as he knows it is falling to pieces around him. Placid as he may look despite the way his heterochromatic eyes flash and his jaw twitches, he won’t stand for this. Over his dead body will you do this to yourself.  He’s still rather gobsmacked that you’d even consider doing such a thing that all he can do is ask, voice like venom, “You are going to do what?”

Joking isn’t working on him. You can see that now. Tension fills your body to bursting when you notice the subtle, deadly gleam in his gaze. A nervous chuckle spills from your lips. “Calm down. I didn’t do it yet.”

“Yet? You’ll do no such thing, (y/n).”

“Oh, dearest Ravus,” you snark, levity gone and replaced with irritation. Nothing irritates you quite like people trying to police your behavior. “You make me feel such intense... feelings. Like  anger and frustration and... hunger, for some reason.”

“You haven’t eaten in hours.”

“Oh.” You blink. “Maybe that’s it.”

“Maybe so,” the silver-haired lord murmurs before getting up and fetching a pre-packaged meal. It’s a far cry from the usual fare offered up by Ignis. But you take it all the same from your husband after he goes through the effort of preparing it for you. It’s some sort of thick vegetable soup that’s supposed to be eaten right from the packet, crackers that could be mistaken for cardboard, and a purple rectangle that you soon discover is a fruit bar.

In silence, you eat. Ravus watches all the while, content to know that you’ve eaten at least once already. That contentment, however, is superficial. It’s temporary. Even as he offers you a tepid smile, he’s thinking about what you just told him. And he knows what he has to do. That shackle that he thought to gift to you? The one Ardyn bestowed upon the happy couple on their wedding day? He’ll use it to stop you from making the biggest mistake of your life.

“Anyway,” you drawl once your appetite has been properly sated (No amount of spoon waving from you was going to get Ravus to eat any of that pre-packaged food, though he went pink at the idea of you offering to feed him. He got more than his fill of that slop when he was training to become a soldier, thanks.), “I have something more pressing to talk to you about.”

Ravus almost rolls his pretty eyes at you. More pressing than you confessing to wanting to rip your soul out of your body to give to that boy? Highly doubtful. Still, your husband asks, all brooding and scowling, “What is it?”

“Prompto.”

How easily he goes from well-founded severity to being all huffy and nearly petulant. Although he’s almost pouting and although he’ll easily get caught up in this conversation, he isn’t going to forget this binding spell nonsense for one second.

“What about him?” Ravus all but pouts and you bite your lip. You’ve never seen him actually pout before. Honestly, you never took the man for a pouter! It’s... bizarre. It’s kinda funny.

Hiding your shit-eating grin behind your mug, you tut, “Stop glaring at him, will you? You’re freaking him out.”

“So, he’s told you that he has a problem with me, has he?” Ravus scoffs and you’re reminded that he’s very much of noble birth with just how damn haughty he is. “Of course he wouldn’t have the nerve to speak to me directly. Does he bring all of his complaints to you, the child that he is?”

You groan at the sneer in his voice. “It’s not like that at all. It’s more like you’re the one with the problem. I didn’t believe him before when he told me you had an issue with him, but, by the Six, I can see it now.” Eyes roll and you huff a laugh through your nose, unable to contain it for any longer. “Gods, you’re a piece of work. Have you been having a silent hissy fit all this time? What’s your problem with Prompto, anyway?”

Mismatched eyes stare at you for a long moment before your husband moodily admits, “He’s too familiar.”

“How’s that a bad thing?” You wonder, genuinely curious. Ravus has never taken issue with you being familiar. In fact, although he initially seemed appalled when you first used expletives in his presence, he smiled right after like the two of you had just indulged in something taboo and liberating. And when you eventually dropped his title when addressing him, you could’ve sworn he  sounded happier over the phone.

Lips pursed, Ravus snootily points out, “He’s not respectful, (y/n). Though you often lack tact,  that boy is far more audacious than even you should allow.”

“Of whom? He’s always nice to you, as far as I know.”

“He’s disrespected you.”

And there it is. You were totally right. All the warning Ravus gets that you’ve found him out is a smug smirk before you trill, “Ah. The pat on the butt.” At his clenched jaw, you barely refrain from laughing aloud. “Ravus, that’s just how he is! He does it to Noct, too. Hell, he might even do it to you if you weren’t always looking at him like you might rip out his spleen.”

“He wouldn’t dare,” Ravus says it like you just proposed Prom might do something far more heinous than touching his ass. Six, you nearly choke on your spit.

“Yeah,” you agree, eyes rolling. Your little joke with Prompto is on your mind. That’s actually a bad thing but you don’t even realize it. “He wouldn’t. But I might if you keep acting like a child about it.”

“I beg your pardon? Is that a threat?” His voice sounds a little strange. You mistake his tone for one of revulsion.

Shoulders shrug, so blasé. “Maybe. If it’ll keep you from- Why are you blushing?”

Across the table, Ravus stands out even more in this great room of muted silver and gray. His angular cheeks have taken on a pink hue that seems to glow under the harsh fluorescent lights. Those thin, pale eyebrows of his are knitted together in some strange mix of confusion and alarm and... interest? You’ve just “threatened” him with a punishment that, quite frankly, doesn’t sound all that bad to him...

“I’m not,” snaps Ravus. He’s a little too quick to attempt to refute your factual claim about the color of his cheeks.

Eyebrows rise up to the gods. “Uh-huh. Well, it’s not an empty threat. Keep being rude to my friend and I’ll...” Funny how long it takes you to realize how weird it is for you to threaten to smack Ravus’ ass, considering how you feel about him. But you feel like you can’t back down now. Not with how he slightly narrows his eyes at you, as if daring you to finish that sentence. “I’ll d-do it.”

Oh, gods, you’re so lame!

So lame that you don’t even wait for a response from the man you’ve forced into a catatonic state with such a strange threat of “bodily harm.” Without looking at the guy (‘cause you can’t force yourself to meet his eye) you leave for the barracks to hassle Noctis into waking up. Ravus does nothing more than stare at where you were once seated, wide-eyed and pink-cheeked. It takes him a solid minute to snap out of his stupor to realize that you left your sweater on the bench.

The scratchy garment is held in his hands. It snags against his metal hand a few times and he softly swears to himself when a thread gets pulled by his knuckle. Mismatched eyes stare down at your signature sweater. What a wonderful excuse to talk to you once more. ‘Cause, oh, does prim and petty Ravus Nox Fleuret want to talk to you properly now that he isn’t buzzing from the mere idea of you being so damn inappropriate and putting your hands on him...

Oh, gods, you’re both so lame.

Chapter Text

05. The Gift

Nestled deep beneath underclothes and sandwiched between work boots, Ravus hides the shackle. He never really stopped to ask himself why he carried it around everywhere. Just in case he crossed paths with you once more and he’d have it at the ready to hand off as an odd but hopefully appreciated gift? Just in case the increasingly paranoid and irrational Aldercapt finally turned on him and he needed to have his most important possessions at hand for a quick getaway?

Both scenarios have occurred and yet the thing that Ardyn bestowed upon you two on your wedding day has remained undisturbed in Ravus’ luggage. Like hotel shampoo, it has sat useless and mostly forgotten in his belongings. However, the very moment you mentioned utilizing your magic to do something so horrible to yourself -- to enchant your very own soul so that you can give it to Noctis like it’s as trivial as any other object you’ve enchanted -- it’s turned into a ticking time bomb hidden with his socks.

“Has anyone seen my sweater?”

Perfect timing.

Heterochromatic eyes snap up in the canteen to watch you putter around; bending at the waist to quickly glance under tables and occasionally getting on all fours where the lighting is poor. Prompto pouts out his bottom lip and insists that he hasn’t when you squint at him. Noct and Gladio say much the same. You’re all about to enter Gralea’s airspace and you’re just now realizing that your staple clothing item has been AWOL nearly the entire day.

From where he sits apart from everyone at his very own cafeteria table, Ravus dabs at his lips with a paper napkin and confesses, “I know where it is, (y/n).”

Four pairs of eyes stare at him with varying degrees of apprehension and interest. Gladiolus is the least invested in your sweater woes while you’re immediately high strung at the idea of being alone with Ravus after that empty threat of smacking his ass. Luckily for all parties involved, there hasn’t been much time for Ravus to stare Prompto down like a bird of prey to a poor rabbit. But, oh, there will be plenty of time after this mission concludes.

With all of the tension of a mage who just recently delivered a very awkward threat to a prim and proper ex-prince, you give a stiff smile that fails to reach your eyes and demand more than you ask, “Where is it?”

“Finish your dinner first and I’ll bring it out to you.”

And without further ado, the former prince of Tenebrae cleans up his spot, deposits the food package from his instant meal into the trash, and leaves the cafeteria without another word. Like a statue, you merely stare after him. Then, in a flash, you’re wolfing down your curry rice (the fanciest instant meal available) and hurrying after Ravus like he didn’t just tell you that he’ll bring the damn sweater to you.

It takes you maybe five minutes to properly scarf down your meal without fear of choking to death and to then clean up after yourself. All the while, your friends shoot you curious looks, thinking that there’s something more to this seemingly innocuous meeting in which a sweater will change hands. In reality, you’re just tense. That’s all. Whenever Ravus calls on you or gives you any sort of attention, it never fails to rattle your cage.

This weird love-hate thing that you’ve got going on with the guy? The one-sided love-hate thing, ‘cause for Ravus it’s just love-love? Your temperament suffers for it. Gone is the aloof mage -- the cool mage. Under Ravus’ gaze, you become irritable and excitable. But under yours? Ravus talks a lot. It’s something the others have noticed. Usually, he’s all snark in your absence and the few words he utters have such a bite that it’s a wonder they don’t draw blood, but when you’re around he’s somehow pleasant.

Jealous for your attention, yes, but pleasant.

Add in the knowledge of your marriage -- how it quickly became taboo only a year in and how you two haven’t had time together for nearly as long -- and it’s no wonder the guys think “handing off a sweater” is code for something else. And it is, unbeknownst to you. Nothing petty or cute will come of it. In fact, what Ravus has up his sleeve will only serve to trouble the waters of this already rocky relationship even more. Initially, at least.

Because Ravus knows you’ve already spoken to Noctis about your plan to protect him. On top of being restless concerning Ignis’ rescue, now the boy is cagey around the former prince of Tenebrae; knowing that he’s about to accept a great sacrifice from yet another person whom Ravus loves dearly. It’s like all Noct does these days is take from the older man. He takes and takes and takes until there’s nothing left for Ravus -- not even scraps.

Gods, there are so many points of tension for Ravus lately. So many that he hasn’t even had a proper moment to mourn. There’s Luna’s death, this mission, and your plan to ruin yourself for your king. It’s a miracle his hair hasn’t started falling out by the fistful. A sour frown tugs his lips down as he unbuttons his uniform and prepares to dress in a clean one in preparation for entering Gralea. It’ll only be another hour, if that. Time is drawing near and he must make his move.

Undressing with the magitek arm is still awkward. Sometimes, Ravus doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to it. Sure it feels like it’s organically a part of him, he doesn’t have trouble controlling it and it isn’t such an odd size that it feels awkward, but the feeling of it against his own skin catches him off guard at times when he allows himself to forget. Even now, he half expects to feel a metal button against the thumb of his left hand. But there’s nothing.

The air in this room is almost sterile -- crisp and clean and smelling faintly of oil, so unlike the room you and your messy pals share. Much like at mealtime, Ravus has claimed his own space. Camaraderie won’t flourish quickly under these isolating conditions but Ravus doesn’t mind. The silver-haired lord really doesn’t care to actually grow any sort of “bond” with your friends. It’s an allegiance of convenience, done in Lunafreya’s name to honor her memory. That’s all.

Caught up in his own head, the commander doesn’t hear your footsteps approaching until you’re rapping your knuckles against the metal doorframe for his attention. Clad in a fresh uniform minus his impressive shirt, Ravus turns to look at you, a frown on his face. You raise your eyebrows at his  pristine white undershirt, about to crack a joke, when suddenly your tongue turns to lead. Against that almost harsh white, along a simple chain, are two rings nestled comfortably against Ravus’ chest.

“What are those?” You feel stupid the second that question leaves your lips. The sight of yours and his weddings bands has startled you. Last you remembered, your ring should be on the ground of a decimated imperial base. You hadn’t thought Ravus would keep it after you threw it down at his feet with venom and contempt dripping from your tongue. Why would he keep it...? Heat rushes into your cheeks and your avert your gaze when you realize Ravus is staring at you.

Much to your surprise, Ravus doesn’t answer your question and (even more of a surprise) he doesn’t tease you for it, either. He merely pulls on his shirt and his coat and pretends that he didn't hear you. “I thought I told you that I would bring your sweater to you?”

Eyes roll now that the familiar agitating atmosphere is picked back up. Sauntering into his lonesome quarters, you eye the many empty beds before sitting on the one in front of him. Little do you know, but Ravus had hoped that you would take a bed here when he took up quarters in the residence hall on the opposite end of the airship from the others’ hall. Of course, you didn’t. Of course, he knew he was being childish and passive and that he was only setting himself up for disappointment.

Mismatched eyes appraise you a moment before Ravus sits across from you on his own bed. The beds are so close together that your knees almost touch. His proximity is ignored and you reply, “You did. But I didn’t want to wait.”

The second he narrows his eyes you know you’ve treaded on some unseen hurt and wish you could turn back time. Six, how many times have you wished for that magic to not be so volatile? Funny how you’ll gladly utilize equally volatile magic just because you’re comfortable with it. Enchantments are tricky business but so is time travel. But I digress. The point is, you immediately know that you’ve picked at a scab called pride and wish you could stop being careless for more than five seconds.

“Ah,” hums Ravus, voice with an edge so fine it’s the envy of blacksmiths all across Eos. “So you’ll relinquish your soul to that boy without batting an eye but can hardly make the effort to listen to me over something as mundane as retrieving your sweater.”

“Would you just stop it already?” You snap.

His nostrils flare. It’s the second horseman of the apocalypse. “I beg your pardon?”

Either not caring that this will be the second argument you’ll have with the guy in one day or not realizing it, you continue on with your nose all up in the air like some hoity-toity noble and your jaw set like a phlegmatic judge. “Stop, Ravus. Stop acting like the only person I’m protecting here is Noctis. I’m still protecting you, too. I know there’s allegedly a hit out on you.”

Ravus gives you a flat look. That pale face of his becomes eerily impassive under the harsh fluorescent light of the airship’s quarters. “I suppose you’re referring to the emperor’s call for my execution for abandoning my post.”

His bluntness in the face of your weak attempt at a joke makes you shift uncomfortably on the stiff bed. Hearing about the order for Ravus’ head had sent a strange series of emotions shooting through you: fear, rage, and a tremendous protective instinct that almost overwhelmed you. You’d gone still in the silence that followed Gladiolus’ news early one morning at breakfast when the commander was checking on things in the airship’s control center. The Shield had almost thought he’d upset you.

In the present, you offer your husband a smile that’s more a grimace and gibe, “Yes. That. Seems you hurt his feelings by not following orders.” Ravus doesn’t respond. He only stares. He wants to say that he’d disobey orders to protect you and Lunafreya again and again, even if it meant he’d be executed, but he says nothing. This leaves you with the opportunity to confess, “The emperor wants you dead but that won’t happen. Not if I have anything to say about it. I’ll never let anyone hurt you, Ravus.”

Silence.

Not uncomfortable silence, but you can both feel something lurking beneath the surface of it all the same. A strange creature, it threatens to break the placid surface and reveal itself as you two stare into each other’s eyes. Before meeting Ravus Nox Fleuret, you always thought that staring was awkward and nerve-racking in all the wrong ways. You never thought it could be something intimate. You never thought it could fray your nerves in ways not wholly unpleasant.

As the intensity of his mismatched eyes grows at your fervent confession, as his heart begins to flutter in the still silence following your words, you break eye contact first and turn your face away to childishly cough into your shoulder, color in your cheeks. “Y’know, you’re actually really easy to talk to... or... talk at when we aren’t locking horns over dumb things. But, uh, I’d really like to have my sweater already if that’s okay with you.”

Ravus casts his gaze down, a ghost of a smile on his lips despite your jab. “Of course.”

A simple turn of his torso and he reaches behind himself to retrieve your sweater from off of his bed. Hands out expectantly, you’re confused when the soldier stands up rather than giving you your lavender cardigan. It takes a moment for you to realize that he means to put it on you. Now you’re really blushing. With the tension of that weirdly intimate moment still fresh and with the knowledge that he wears your wedding rings under his shirt at all times, you bite your lip and stand with your back to him.

His warm breath hits the back of your neck and you go so rigid that you might break at the slightest bit of contact. The line of your shoulders is harsh and rigid, full of expectation. Anxiety cramps up Ravus’ stomach. He knows that he’s going to cross a line that won’t be easily uncrossed. With your back to him, he lifts his pillow and retrieves the enchanted item that he’d stuffed beneath it when he dug through his belongings for a change of clothes.

Ravus looks back to you nervously. You still wait with your back to him. A silent breath is taken and then the silver-haired lord brings the comforting garment close to you.

A small part of him tells Ravus that what he’s planning to do to you is wrong. It’s the very same part that yearns so earnestly for your approval. It would make him a hopeless fool if it could; groveling at your feet for forgiveness and acceptance, begging childishly for attention and affection on par with or surpassing what you bestow upon your friends.

Of course, Ravus tells himself that that part must be ignored for the better outcome. Could he live with himself if he had your affection but allowed you to follow through with this obviously harmful plan? Absolutely not. He’d willingly earn your ire a thousand times over just to have you unharmed. In his head, he repeats that sentiment over and over when he’s met with the sight of your back.

Complete trust. That’s what he sees in your back. Not to reduce your behavior to that of an animal’s, but you do share some striking similarities with wildlife. Always so high strung, you’re almost never at ease. Back straight, legs crossed in contrived repose; you’re always acting, always on your guard. But with Ravus? Even after everything, you still trust him. You make yourself vulnerable in his presence by presenting him with your back. The vigilant mage is comforted by the  soldier.

Trust is what’s sacrificed today. The only thing he thinks you’ve given him, Ravus is willing to trade it away if it means you’ll be safe. And it’s not an easy decision. This plan wasn’t something cooked up in a minute or in a moment of passionate hatred for your loyalty to Noctis. He’d agonized all day. He’d tried to come up with other ways to keep you from Noct so you wouldn’t cast that foolish spell. But this is all there is: the thing he’s sure will make you hate him. Time has pressured him and he won’t buckle under it.

Arms go through the sleeves of the sweater tentatively, like you haven’t worn the damn thing constantly; like it’s new and foreign. Ravus’ hands slowly glide down your arms, smoothing out the fabric where it bunches at your elbows and wrists. The sensation is distracting. That distraction is unfair and cruel. Because as you’re reveling in the feeling of having Ravus so close to you, doing something so endearing, it’s as if the world’s most subdued stun grenade goes off to your right, making you hiss in surprise and jolt.

For just a moment a bright white light explodes at your side, a ringing fills your ears, and then everything goes back to normal... except it isn’t. A distinct weight tugs at your right wrist. You don’t know what it is, but it feels so very wrong and so very invasive.

Lifting up your hand, you blink in confusion at the sight of an iron shackle -- rusted and banged up -- clasped around your wrist. It radiates a strong, negative, thrumming energy. You don’t even have to attempt to use magic to know that this will dispel any and every spell you try. Your body moves before your brain can overcome enough shock to allow you to speak. Fingers strain against the metal, wedged between it and your wrist.

Your left hand grasps the damned thing and you whirl around, away from Ravus. The backs of your knees hit the bed and you almost fall backward. Ravus reaches out to stabilize you but you violently smack his hand away and seethe, “How dare you?”

Those wicked eyes of yours are practically glowing, seeming to absorb the light in the room so that they can scald Ravus right down to the marrow in his bones. The soldier steels himself against that infuriated look on your face. He reminds you in a tone that’s too pragmatic to the point of seeming uncaring, “I told you I wouldn’t allow you to follow through on your plan.”

“Take it off.”

He must be disarmed by how flat your tone is because he goes on to say, “(y/n), this is for your own good-”

“Take it off!” You bellow. Your chest heaves so hard that you think your heart might give out.

Off of those metal walls, your voice bounces, and clangs. Your words beat against Ravus but he’s strong and unyielding; impassive in the face of your fiery contempt. You feel so stupid. You feel so used. You’d let your guard down, allowed Ravus to come close like you’d only ever dreamed of, and he did this to you. He’s rendered you powerless. And for someone who was raised to essentially view themselves as an object to be used for the betterment of king and country, it’s a fatal blow.

Bitter and so full of hate in this moment, you break him with a harsh declaration. “I won’t let you make me into some foresworn coward! I swore an oath to Noctis! We both did! Don’t you dare stand in the way of our best chance at supporting him! Don’t you dare make Lunafreya’s sacrifice amount to nothing because of your damn pride!”

And there it is: The mage’s powerful ability to find a break in one’s armor and deal a devastating blow . No enchantment to suppress magic could ever strip you of that power. Before he can think properly, before he can tell himself that he must remain levelheaded after committing this grievous crime against you, Ravus finds himself spitting, “I’m only here to support you!”

There’s a shift in the airship. The perpetual thrumming of motion, of working machinery, finally stops after days of travel. You’ve arrived in Gralea, at Zegnautus Keep. Oh, the timing is perfect for him, you realize. If he hadn’t shackled you in the comfort of his deserted quarters, he likely would’ve done it in the cafeteria with or without witnesses. At least this way, your ego is saved where your friends are concerned. But it’s dead in Ravus’ presence.

His heart already hurts from your words. It bleeds at the way you used Lunafreya as a weapon against him. But now you break his mask so you can see the wound for yourself. Face made of stone, you spit, “You’re not supporting me, Ravus. You’re only supporting yourself.” Hand still gripping the shackle, you shoot the former prince a disdainful glance. “You’re not my ally. Th-This...” your voice quavers and fingers ache with how hard you grip the shackle, “You...”

Beg. You want to beg and plead with him to let you free, to let you do this. Ego be damned, you’ll throw yourself at his feet and bargain with him if only you can aid Noctis in this way. Because you know, now that you’re here in Gralea, this mission won’t be paused for your petty benefit. Those heterochromatic eyes remain steely, however, even as you tremble. His posture is imposing with squared shoulders and an unmoved visage. You’ll not bend his ear even if you cry and you know it.

Like a switch has been flipped in you, you go still. The silence between you two yawns on. In the vast residence hall with its many uniform bunk beds, the two of you stand like statues. Neither will cave. Ravus Nox Fleuret won’t allow you to be the hero that you think you have to be. Hate him all you want. Scream obscenities at him and curse his family line if you wish. None of it will make the silver-haired soldier back down. So you do it first; moving away to the doorway, seeing yourself out.

You’re quiet all the while. Expression stoic, you walk over to the doorway, chin high and hand still wrapped around that damn shackle. The enchantment buzzes beneath your palm -- unyielding and powerful.

When you make it to the door, Ravus’ eyes on you all the while, you finally snap, “Fine. Have it your way. We both know I won’t be able to pick this lock in time and that I won’t reveal what you’ve done to me out of shame. Noctis won’t be afforded any protection from me for the duration of this mission. But after its conclusion, I’ll take this off and then I don’t want you anywhere near me ever again.” Pinned to the spot with your deadly stare, Ravus flinches almost imperceptibly when you spit at him, “Truly, I’ve come to absolutely abhor you, Lord Ravus. And you make it so easy.”

There’s the crack in the mask: a flash of pain and intense regret in those mismatched eyes. Now you leave, satisfied after driving the blade in. Once in the corridor, you hear a commotion coming from the mess hall. The guys are going back over the game plan for infiltrating the keep and rescuing Ignis. Noct’s voice floats through the air, filled with apprehension and wondering what’s taking you so long. With a trembling hand, you pull the sleeve of your sweater over the shackle, plaster on a smile, and join them.

Chapter Text

06. The Bet

Intense, meaningful stares are exchanged. Electricity is in the air, snapping and crackling at skin. Gladiolus swears there’s something almost pleading in Ravus’ gaze while yours is downright murderous as you all disembark from the airship. He’d had high hopes when you stopped acting childish long enough to call on Ravus, but now the Shield realizes that he really should’ve known better. Hell, out of everyone he’s ever met, you know how to hold a damn grudge like a champ.

Not that he faults you that. Gladiolus knows the type of resentment you hold toward Ravus all too well. He’d been complicit in you and him and His Highness becoming orphans. He’d allowed your loved ones to die for the sake of a grudge. And Gladio knows to take Ravus as an example of how toxic grudges are. Kinda wishes you would, too. He also wishes you would show the man you married a shred of mercy for both your sakes.

Because out of your four new friends, Gladiolus Amicitia is the primary one who stresses the importance of emotional health. A little thing about the brunet that you’d found obnoxious as hell. How dare he suggest that emotional well-being should be held as equally important as fulfilling one’s duty? Of course, you knew he was right in his worries. You always did. But addressing one’s complex emotions and actually dealing with them? Processing them? That’s contrary to everything you were ever taught in the Spire: the place where they’d practically trained you to be an automaton.

And your mother, dear Decima, didn’t exactly have the time to help you unlearn all of that. She was busy fulfilling her roles as Arch-Mage and the king’s arcane advisor. However, even if she had had the time for you she probably wouldn’t have done you much good in that respect. Because while the magisters did stress the suppression of emotion, the Iovitas have always had an unspoken rule about modulating emotion into an “agreeable” range; that is, “adults don’t cry” and as an Iovita, you should be above such silly things.

It’s something that Gladio knows. For all his griping about uppity mages, he did his research. Sure, Iggy researched what you’d learned, but Gladdy was interested in how you were treated and what you were taught about interacting with other people. He’s strange like that: a people person who is wholly invested in people. Funny, because sometimes he totally drops the ball and can be an epic douche for it. Maybe it’s the fact that he knows people so well that gives him the remarkable ability to hit where it hurts? But I digress. Gladiolus knows how you feel; he just doesn’t know how to settle those feelings.

Amber eyes watch intently, scanning you critically when your hands fidget and your fingers tug at the sleeves of your sweater to keep them low. Fingertips are all that show now, hands swallowed by dusky lavender wool. At first, the Shield thinks Ravus might have hurt you. Anger goes flaring in his gut for all of one second before he realizes with an internal scoff that the commander, though irritable, isn’t a cruel man. Besides, if he’d tried to hurt you, Gladio knows the silver-haired soldier would likely be battered and bruised for his efforts.

So... What the heck is going on? Why are you all fidgety and squirrelly? Why does the former High Commander of Niflheim keep making puppy eyes at you and why do you return those looks like the guy stole the last muffin at breakfast? Slowly but surely, Gladiolus begins to realize that these bizarre feelings that you’re harboring toward Ravus have nothing to do with the fall of Insomnia. This feels new. This feels... awkward. And, dammit, even though the guy is worried about Ignis and his primary goal right now is to get the tactician back unharmed, you’re on his radar.

The group is out of harmony.

That’s what hippie Gladiolus is sensing. He hates to have his tightly-knit group out of sync. ‘Cause being out of sync means there’s going to be a pretty big margin of error when it comes to fighting cohesively. And Gladdy can’t have that. So, just as you all enter the Keep, the massive and imposing structure drawing awe from the younger men, the Shield asks Noct to hold on for a second and then you’re being pulled aside. Noctis blinks after his pals. Blue eyes flit uncomfortably toward a rigid Ravus. The prince opts not to say anything.

In the limited privacy of an echo-y corridor, Gladiolus murmurs softly, brow furrowed, “What’s up?”

Just like that, you realize how obvious your animosity toward Ravus has been. Heat rushes up into your cheeks and the manacle about your wrist feels exposed. Not wanting to let on to what’s been done to you and why it was done to you, you break eye contact and scowl off at a darkened corner of the corridor. “Nothing that can’t wait until after we’ve retrieved Ignis,” you respond curtly. With one abrupt sentence, you cut Gladio’s fussing down at the knees. And for fear of rocking the boat, he lets you. You’re all in a hurry, after all.

But Gladiolus' missed chance at playing couple's counselor is picked up and fumbled by Prompto Argentum as the nosy blond gets blindsided at camp after Iggy's rescue mission is complete.

“You did- You were gonna what?”

Prompto doesn’t believe what he’s just heard. It’s been three days since Noctis entered the Crystal and the blond has just started getting his bearings when you suddenly pull him aside to confess something that flips his world on its head. As a certified best friend (he printed the certificate), he knows you only sought him out so he could confirm every bad thing you’ve got to say about  Ravus. But how could Prompto ever when he actually agrees with Ravus? The man is a damn hero.

When faced with the love of his life- no, not just the love of his life but his spouse’s harebrained scheme to remove their own soul in order to fulfill some perversion of duty, Ravus Nox Fleuret cuffed you like a common criminal. Yeah, everyone had been a little confused when you didn’t cast any spells during the Keep’s infiltration and Noct had been a bit keyed up as if he was expecting you to do something, but at that moment Prompto hadn’t thought much of it. Now he knows.

Now he knows why you opted to whack enemies over the head rather than cast spells. Now he knows why Noct almost seemed to be avoiding you.

And Prompto honestly can’t believe you. Yes, he loves Noct, too. Yes, he’d do anything for Noct, like you. The guy is like the brother he never had. But Prom wouldn’t do something as stupid as you were going to do and then act like he was totally in the right. The least you can do is admit that you were wrong... but Prompto Argentum knows that when (y/n) Iovita’s ego has taken a beating, “sorry” seems to get scrubbed from their dictionary. Especially if Ravus is anywhere in the equation.

“Excuse me?” You scoff, gathering yourself up like an agitated bird. The flickering yellow glow of the campfire casts harsh shadows across your face, exaggerating your irritated expression and warping it into something truly formidable. “This is the part where you agree with me that what Ravus did to me was wrong.”

Even as the blond begins to break out in a nervous sweat, he shakes his head furiously and rambles, “No. No, no, no, (y/n). He had it all right!” Despite his frenzied insistence, the shutterbug keeps his voice low. You’re at camp after all. Not only do you two night owls need to worry about rousing Gladiolus or Ignis, but Prompto also has Ravus to worry about. Boy, the sour look the commander had had on his face when he realized the blond was gonna have a late-night chat with his spouse...

Right now, you have not one single fuck to give about waking anyone up. ‘Cause you’re reeling. You waited three whole days out of consideration of your best friend’s feelings concerning Noctis’ departure and you were kinda hoping for some reciprocal concern -- a little empathy.

Reasonably, everyone needed a bit of time to come to terms with what it will take for Noctis to attain his birthright; even you needed some time alone to sit with that uncomfortable feeling. But now everyone is getting back into the groove of things -- moving on to try and make the kingdom a better place in preparation for when Noct returns -- and you had hoped for a little compassion concerning the devastating blow that was delivered to your already strained relationship with Ravus.

So it’s with the utmost incredulity that you snap, “What? Even Noctis agreed with my plan!”

“Probably ‘cause he felt pressured to!” Prompto snaps right back. At your insulted expression, the shutterbug sighs and runs his fingers through his hair. “Look, sometimes you can get really intense. We all know that you’re never insincere when it comes to wanting to protect Noct or any of us, but that... That’s just taking it to another really unnecessary level.”

“With my soul, Noctis’ power-”

And Prom just has to cut that explanation off or else he’s gonna lose his temper. “Would’ve been amplified, I know. You told me.” Soulful, cornflower blue eyes hold your gaze. That compassionate blond can see your pain. His hand falls on your knee. “But you might’ve got hurt. And I know nobody -- Noct included -- would’ve wanted you to trade your wellbeing for a chance at preserving  Noct’s. Ravus was right. I’m just sorry that he had to take drastic action since you couldn’t see it for yourself.”

That comforting hand is swiped off of your knee like lint. Legs cross and you lean back in your canvas chair. Oh, gods. The mask that you choose to wear right now? It’s made of stone and ice. “Are you his best friend or mine?”

Leaning back as well with a heavy sigh, Prompto replies, “Sometimes best friends have to tell each other when they’re wrong. And in this case? You were wrong.” Silence hangs between you two, only broken up by the hooting of owls from the forest behind the campsite. He glances at you. “Besides, if you’d given Noct your soul how long do you think you’d be able to wait to get it back? Not for as long as he’s gonna be gone...”

And he’s right. You know that. You may not want to admit it, but you know it. Though Prompto is hardly impartial -- having a personal and emotional stake in the matter -- it’s a fair assessment that it would’ve been difficult, to say the very least, if your soul had been with Noct when he entered the Crystal. Lumis didn’t mince words in his passage concerning the binding of souls. Long-term binds are extremely detrimental to the one who is bound, causing the bound person to go from one with free will to a thrall.

As such, you would’ve been without your magic unless Noct (the one in possession of your soul) was present to grant you the qualities that your soul would normally bestow upon you itself. Hardly a fair trade-off and you were well aware of that even as you decided that such drastic measures needed to be taken. Fear drove you. Fear and uncertainty of Ardyn and his motives. Deep down, you know what you decided to try to do was and is indefensible. Fear isn’t a good enough excuse to hide behind.

The stars are beautiful out here. It’s like the sky is a dark blanket with millions of diamonds scattered across it. A soft sigh leaves you. The world really feels lonelier without Noctis in it. Three days and you’re already in the throes of Noct-withdrawal. You miss him. You miss him so much. He should be sitting here with you and Prompto, shooting the breeze and taking lame jabs at each other until morning where Iggy will shoot you all an unimpressed look and immediately set about making strong-brew coffee...

It won’t do to burn your bridges over petty pride. Not with the few people you have left in this world.

Reaching out blindly, you grab Prompto’s hand. His squeezes yours and you whisper, “I’m sorry.”

“I know. But I’m not the one you should apologize to.”

“When Noct returns, I’ll be sure to-”

“Not Noct.” Prompto almost winces with how damn hard you squeeze his hand before mercifully releasing the poor thing.

All in a huff, you guffaw, the understanding atmosphere is long gone, “Oh, no way. You’re not seriously suggesting I apologize to someone who backstabbed me like that, are you? I’d sooner smite his sorry, silver-haired ass than apologize to that cretin!”

He sighs, still cradling his hand. Damn the mage has one hell of a grip! Maybe he should dare Gladio to arm-wrestle you or something... That thought is put out of the impish blond’s head long enough for him to insist, “At least do it so he can take the shackle off of you. I can’t believe our resident lock pick hasn’t been able to pick that lock in three days.”

“Oh, sweet Prompto. I don’t know if I should find your lack of faith in me upsetting or humorous,” you sarcastically simper. One perfectly unshackled wrist is lifted up and flexed right before the sharpshooter’s eyes. “It took me less than ten minutes; something I wouldn’t have had the time to accomplish while trying to stay on Noct’s trail without exposing my intentions to everyone, which I’m sure Ravus knew.”

“Does Ravus know you took it off?”

“Nope,” you pop the “p” rather aggressively. Prom never knew it was possible to angrily pop a “p” before. You kinda spit a little bit on him for it.

“So,” the blond muses, leaning in his chair and kicking his legs back and forth, staring out at the shrouded horizon, “I guess that’s why he hasn’t left yet.”

Not particularly liking the lilting tone he’s put on, you hum from between pursed lips, “Hm?”

The lithe shutterbug stretches his arms up with a yawn, freckled shoulders popping as he does so. Looking like the cat that got the cream, he drawls, “I mean, he’s got an airship now and he got us back to Lucis two days ago. All things considered, there’s really no reason for him to stick around...” blue eyes slyly shift toward his magical friend, “...aside from you, that is.”

Most days you roll with the punches with regard to Prompto the Gremlin’s teasing. He never misses an opportunity to rib you and he’ll do it over big things and small things alike. He’ll rag on you for the way you chew on your bottom lip while you read, for how you always sniff your food “like a little bunny” before you eat it, and even how you pronounce some words. In short, Prompto Argentum can be a grade-A asshole. You love the guy to death, but there’s no denying his little catty side.

So, this? What he’s doing now with those slits for eyes and that curled upper lip that looks like it belongs on the Grinch’s face? You think he’s screwing with you when in reality he’s trying to engage in some relationship gossip that he could never get before ‘cause his only best friend never had a girlfriend in his life and neither did he. Now that he has a married friend? Well... Give him the dirty details! Tell him how you got Lord Ravus Nox Fleuret, the High Commander of Niflheim, wrapped around your little finger!

Totally deadpan, you bluntly state, not picking up what he’s putting down, “The second I tell him that I freed myself of the prison he confined me to, he’ll leave.”

“Heh. No, he won’t.”

“I’m certain he will.”

Like he just got prodded with a stun rod, the blond is all flailing limbs for one hot second before he’s standing before you, pointing his finger in your face, and declaring quite dramatically as if he’s some tacky game show host, “Wanna bet?”

Eyes roll instinctively. And then you pause. And then you get that Grinch-smirk on your face that Prom had previously worn. Why would you agree to that bet? Two reasons and one of them is two-fold. First, you’re pretty darn sure Ravus will hit the road when he finds out you’re free and clear because he a.) knows you’re royally pissed at him for betraying your trust and b.) he obviously doesn’t care about you since he so easily betrayed your trust. Second, you and Prompto both could go for a distraction. And at least this distraction will get you easy money and have Ravus out of your hair once and for all... Yeah, right.

“Sure,” you reply with all of the pomp of one who is assured of an easy victory, “we’ll settle this right now.”