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Sitting at the long conference table among just about all the major world leaders of Eos, Noctis resisted the urge to fiddle with the leather collar around his neck.

It wasn't that it was uncomfortable—high-end adult boutiques knew their stuff—but it was new. Just put on for the first time this morning, actually, along with a matching leash as per the punishment for losing his bet with Gladio's latest girlfriend.

The idea behind it was apparently that Noctis was an actual real life cat, and it would be appropriately humiliating for a cat to be collared and leashed like a dog.

Or something.

The whole party had been pretty smashed by the time the issue of his lost bet had come up (maybe he'd been lounging in a particularly feline way or something?), but when he woke up this morning with a killer hangover, there was a box containing a collar and leash waiting on his apartment doorstep.

And he, like an idiot, had put them on—completely forgetting that today was the day the peace negotiations were taking place.

Peace negotiations that he absolutely had to attend as the Crown Prince of Lucis.

It wouldn't be such a big deal if he'd been, you know, thinking clearly this morning, but unfortunately, he hadn't been. He'd had a massive headache, a vague mess of memories that involved a lot of vodka and online shopping, and a desperate need to stick it to the man Gladio's girlfriend.

And thus, his outfit.

Like the collar and leash weren't bad enough, somewhere in the middle of those alcohol-saturated memories, he remembered someone (who was probably also Gladio's girlfriend, but he couldn't remember exactly) laughing about how even wearing a BSDM collar he'd still be too much of a good kid to pull off 'slutty.'

Somehow, he was pretty sure he wouldn't have backed down from that challenge even if he'd been sober.

Prompto, the true bro that he was, had helped him pick out the whole outfit. Noctis distinctly remembered the words, Of course it's sexy, man! It even has it written on the front, see? being said.

In hindsight, maybe he should have asked Ignis. Ignis would have stuffed him in a sweatervest and insisted they were in vogue and saved Noctis's drunk ass from, well. This.

Honestly, if the shirt that arrived at his door had had 'sexy' printed on it, it would have been a mercy.

No, it was printed with, 'Sexii and I nyaow it,' because his past self was a horrible, horrible person, and Prompto was worse. The thing barely even qualified as a 'shirt'; no sleeves, arm holes that gaped down to his hips, made of a dark, silky fabric that was made to cling.

He had had the sense to know that assless chaps and leather daisy dukes were off the table, thank god. (Yes, they had come up. Yes, he had considered them. Yes, he was pretty sure they were still in his shopping cart.) Skinny jeans covered his legs and his ass, so that was the way to go.

Remembering that he had to go to the Citadel today, he'd grabbed his jacket on the way out—the long one with the skull buttons—thinking he'd cover up to get past various authority figures and then shuck it when he could.

And when he'd arrived, he'd immediately been ushered into the conference room with a hissed scolding for being tardy, his signet ring pushed into his hands and his chair pulled out for him.

Yeah.

So here he was, sitting in a very important meeting with people he needed to impress or else... while wearing literal bondage gear and the 'sluttiest' outfit he and Prompto could come up with. The inner lining of the collar was even embossed with TOMCAT.

Thanks, Gladio's girlfriend. Just... thanks.

His father stood to speak, and Noctis took the opportunity to discretely tug the collar down a centimeter or two.

Across the table, the Niflheim Commodore eyed him with a knowing smirk.

Noctis dropped his hand as quickly as he could without drawing additional attention.

(The Commodore gave off the air of someone who was quite familiar with boys in collars, which was kind of awkward for a lot of reasons, not least of all that she was the quote-unquote enemy but also... seriously hot.)

Either fortunately or unfortunately, soon he was so bored he couldn't even summon up embarrassment anymore.

He'd always thought conferences and council meetings were dull, but putting both Emperor Aldercap and King Regis in the same room was all new levels of mind-numbing. Normally he could sit through a two-hour meeting no problem, but he stopped hearing actual words at the half-hour point and had given up sitting straight at the full hour in. By then, Senator Claustra's eyes were the only ones that weren't even a little glazed over—even Cor, standing at the head of the Crownsguards that lined the walls, kind of looked like he wanted to die.

Cor the Immortal never looked like he wanted to die.

Suffice to say: it was boring.

And he'd never noticed that the shoulder seams of his jacket itched. Probably because he'd never tried wearing it over something sleeveless, but he still felt kind of betrayed. His very favorite jacket, and it itched.

An hour and fifteen minutes in, and he gave up and unbuttoned the jacket, hoping to at least shift the seams away from where they'd been chafing since he put the damn thing on. It exposed the text on his shirt, but caring was for people who weren't listening to... this.

Shifting the jacket helped, but also brought his attention to the leash tucked into the inner pocket. Oh yeah, he was still wearing that too, wasn't he.

...Whatever.

An hour and a half of listening to the emperor outline some very long-winded agreements and his father argue them in equally long-winded ways, the leash was swinging around Noctis's index finger, wrapping all the way up and hitting the coil with an audible click, then unwinding the other way and rewinding in that direction.

Only about half of the people at the table were putting effort into sitting straight anymore. Both the Commodore and High Commander of Niflheim, who sat across the table, had their chins rested in their hands, eyes unfocused.

The Commodore's gaze was fixed on Noctis, but that was less weird than it should have been. He suspected her eyes had just landed on him because he was a moving object in her line of sight.

His ass was going numb, Noctis noted distantly. He slouched in his seat, trying to give his abuse blood vessels some room to work with, and set his knee against the old, heavy wooden table to brace himself there.

The Commodore's gaze sharpened.

"Then it's decided," his father said, "Lucis will have exclusive taxing rights over the southern border of Leide."

Oh yay. A decision.

Another twenty minutes, and Noctis finally, finally gave into the urge to yawn. Stretching made the jacket scrape against his bare sides, and pulling it away from his skin just brought his attention to how his shirt was clinging to him.

Ugh.

His father spoke again, this time with, "Lucis will have exclusive taxing rights across the southern coasts of Duscae and Cleigne as well."

Well, at least it hadn't taken an hour this time.

Noctis's phone buzzed.

Regis shot him a death glare, and Noctis muted his phone with a slightly panicked smile.

Still, that didn't stop him from checking it as soon as his father's back was turned.

It was from Prompto, who, incidentally, was supposed to be as statue-like as the rest of the Crownsguard.

Prompto: dude
Noctis: dude
Noctis: help
Noctis: i think my brains are going to leak out of my ears
Prompto: urs and mine both, man

Already Noctis felt a little more alert.

His dad must have noticed, because Noctis was immediately subjected to another glare. Very pointedly, he plucked at his cloak.

Noctis set his phone down on the leg that was still planted on the floor and pulled his jacked back over his shoulders. Ow.

Prompto: guess thats just ~official meetings~ tho, huh?
Noctis: nah
Noctis: normal meets are way easier
Noctis: why are they still talking about border tax
Prompto: i dunno
Prompto: im not the prince here dude
Prompto: why are they still talking about border tax?
Noctis: ugh

Noctis shifted again, crossing one leg over the other and slouching a little further, like that might let him slide under the droning voices. He pulled at the leash in his hand, using it to help him crack his neck, and sighed.

This was so. Boring.

Prompto: dude
Prompto: when ur dad ask
Prompto: s
Prompto: stretch and say aye

Noctis blinked. What?

"Then we shall take a vote," said the king. "All in favor of this tax law, say 'aye.'"

There was a brief moment of silence as everyone tried to figure out what had just been said, and Noctis stretched mindlessly.

"Aye," he groaned first, then collapsed back into his seat, wincing and rubbing his throat. Only how many more hours left?

A stilted chorus of 'aye's followed him, to which Dad looked... strangely surprised. Next to him, Senator Claustra's lips were thinned in irritation, and on the other side, Emperor Aldercap looked downright angry.

What had the law been, again?

Half-hidden behind a much bigger Kingsglaive member, Prompto did a little fistpump.

Noctis: uhhhh what
Noctis: just happened?
Prompto: ur dad got a law he wanted dude
Noctis: ssssweet?
Prompto: hell yeah!

Noctis still felt like he was missing something, but some of the stress had left Dad's face and Prompto seemed happy, so he could deal.

Of course, it didn't take long for them all to slip back into that low, buzzing hum of brain-rotting debate, and it didn't take long before Noctis was trying to find a position in this chair that wouldn't make his leg go numb.

Prompto: hey man?
Noctis: yeah?
Prompto: you know how there's that window waaaay up in that corner?
Noctis: ........yeah?
Prompto: turn your face to it and then look at the king&emp with just ur eyes
Noctis: ....???????
Prompto: trust me dude
Prompto: im a photographer
Prompto: just look really bored at em if one catches u ok

Well, that was more interesting than just letting his brain cook out.

Prompto: oh! and like.. jerk the leash or smth
Noctis: ??????????????
Prompto: just to make noise
Prompto: maybe if u look bored enough theyll get a move on lol
Noctis: they'd kill me
Noctis: do i look like i want to die to you?
Prompto: kinda?
Prompto: u look rly bored dude
Prompto: its close

Noctis... couldn't exactly argue with that.

Noctis: just so you know
Noctis: i have no idea why i'm doing this
Prompto: because it makes ur eyes do the thing man
Prompto: its so cool

Thing? Noctis wondered, but obligingly turned his face up to the window and set his jaw on his fist. It was a little weird dealing with the influx of light—not really painful, just slightly uncomfortable—but it faded to normalcy quick.

The leash was pretty satisfying to fiddle with, actually. Strong, supple, soft leather dyed black, silver fastenings and pale stitching. It felt sturdy in his hands, made not to hurt or give in to anyone struggling against it.

Noctis pulled at it, felt the tug at the collar. It was a pretty nice feeling, actually. Not really in a sexy way, but in a bare-feet-in-thick-carpet kind of way. Luxurious.

He'd have to leave a nice review or something.

The click of the clasp caught the ears of the people at the head of the table.

The senator and his dad both shot him scathing looks, but the emperor seemed to take pity on him because, after a second, he said, "Perhaps we should take this to vote."

So soon?

The other two looked surprised too.

Prompto: yessssssssssss
Noctis: ???
Prompto: dont worry about it man

Noctis sighed and raised his chin back to the window, listening to the wave of 'aye's rolling down the table.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that the Commodore and the High Commander weren't even pretending to pay attention to their leader. They were both staring at Noctis.

He turned his head far enough to look at them and tilted it slightly in silent question.

Ravus abruptly decided that the head of the table was incredibly interesting, but Commodore Highwind's eyes just brightened in delight.

Noctis was once again reminded that she was probably intimately familiar with boys in collars.

(Okay, that... actually was pretty sexy, if he thought about it. In ways that the collar alone was not.

Noted. For later.)

For now, he decided that dropping the leash would be showing weakness, and showing weakness did not strike him as a good idea.

Thankfully, Prompto gave him an excuse to do it anyway.

Prompto: like
Prompto: theoretically
Noctis: am i gonna like the way this ends
Prompto: maybe?????
Prompto: if com. highwind stepped on you
Prompto: like in a sexy way...
Noctis: dude
Prompto: inquiring minds, dude!
Noctis: dude
Prompto: so is that a yes dude or a no dude
Noctis: it's a "is this really the time, dude?"

Prompto shot him a pout from his corner, and Noctis rolled his eyes.

The debate went on, and somewhere between Noctis's third swallowed yawn and his sixth, he started to wonder if it would really matter if now was an okay time to think about Commodore Highwind stepping on him. The droning was probably more effective than a bucket of cold water would be.

Prompto: ooh! oh oh oh!
Noctis: what now?
Prompto: slouch a little, will ya?
Noctis: ...
Prompto: you know, like stacy from calculus does sometimes
Prompto: with her legs like
Prompto: you know
Noctis: ............
Noctis: ....................
Noctis: ..............................................
Prompto: stop typing judgy dots and do it man
Prompto: and let ur jacket slide down ur arms

Typing, 'i don't know why i listen to you sometimes,' instead of judgy dots, Noctis slouched in his seat and spread his legs to the limits of his skinny jeans (which wasn't very wide, really), both knees braced against the table and his shirt silk-slipping against his chest and abs.

This was actually more comfortable than his last position.

Prompto: cuz im great
Prompto: now look really bored @ everyone

At least Prompto wasn't asking anything he couldn't do. Or even much that he wasn't doing already.

"So Niflheim agrees to help Lucis restore its militia," said King Regis, not quite a question.

"My dear Regis," said the emperor, "I remember saying no s—..."

Noctis, who'd started fiddling with the leash again, found himself the subject of a strange look from the emperor.

Regis's look was much less strange—it was a look that said Noctis be hearing a very long lecture at the king's earliest convenience, and there was nothing Noctis could do about it. Turning away from his slouching, wayward, sexii and I nyaow it son, Regis repeated, "The militia?"

The emperor jolted. "Ah, yes, the militia? Quite so. Yes. Yes."

"So then Niflheim will help restore Lucis's militia?" Regis repeated, the little uptick at the end belying his surprise.

"Yes, that's what I said," Aldercap muttered. "Now, about— the... what was it? The reforms."

Noctis blinked.

Well, that was... weird.

In his corner, Prompto looked downright gleeful.

Prompto: the camera LOVES ya babey!
Noctis: what
Noctis: what camera?
Prompto: ohhhhh nothing
Noctis: prom i swear to the six that if you're taking pictures of this i will find and burn all that you love
Prompto: no! no camera! it was a figure of speech!
Noctis: figure of speech for what?

"Now that was clever," the Commodore murmured out of the side of her mouth. Next to her, Ravus jumped and looked away. Again.

Noctis glanced up from his phone, wondering if it was okay to let on as much confusion as he was feeling.

"...You don't know," she marveled. The slant of her mouth was very nearly a smile. Noctis wasn't sure he liked the smile it almost was. "You really don't know."

Either way, he didn't answer. It seemed like the safest option.

His phone lit up with a new text.

Prompto: what did she say???
Noctis: she complimented me on... something
Noctis: being "clever"(?????)
Prompto: i mean
Prompto: u are pretty "clever"
Noctis: i can't tell if that's an insult or not
Prompto: let's go w/ both
Noctis: ...thanks
Prompto: ;)

Quite suddenly, the head of the table had both the Commodore and the High Commander's attention. The Commodore's full lips flattened and twisted, matching the furrow in Ravus's brow and near snarl on his mouth.

Noctis tuned in, but he was too late to catch the topic of the conversation.

Noctis: hey dude, can u hear what they're saying up there
Noctis: i missed it
Prompto: bro ur gonna run this country one day
Prompto: u gonna be ok?
Prompto: r we gonna be ok?
Noctis: did you hear what theyre talking about or not?

There was a radio silence long enough to make Noctis look up, and when he did, Prompto was biting his lip, his fingers hovering over his phone screen.

Noctis: prompto?
Noctis: you okay?
Prompto: theyre talking about the MTs
Prompto: and whether they should be outlawed
Prompto: because human rights violations
Prompto: the emperor's kind of a slime lmao
Prompto: & his chancellor's worse
Noctis: oh
Noctis: thanks

Shit.

Hhhhopefully this would be just as long-winded as the rest of it. Hopefully Dad would be able to pull another one of those weird victories?

But no, the Emperor was unrelenting, and between him and the Chancellor, Niflheim was winning.

Shit.

When he finally managed to tear his eyes away from the head of the table, Commodore Highwind was giving him a contemplative look.

"You don't look so good, Prince Charming—" Prince what now? "—What's a' matter?"

"Uh," he said, because up this close, he could see the calculation under the performative concern.

"Is there an issue, Commodore Highwind?" someone up there asked—Senator Claustra?

"Yeah, kinda," she said, not breaking eye contact with Noctis. "Prince Noctis here is looking kinda... pale. When was the last time you let this kid eat?"

Subtle mocking lurked under fake concern that covered up real concern that was laced with something cold and hard and razor-sharp. The whole mix left the hairs on the back of Noctis's neck standing up.

"We hardly have the time to break for brunch," Senator Claustra said scathingly. "If that is all—"

"Oh, not brunch. Just get him a piece of candy or something." The smile on her face was definitely outright mocking now, her tone sly enough to match. "Sure would be a bad omen if the Crown Prince of Lucis fainted in the middle of a peace talk, now wouldn't it?"

Noctis's face burned, but Commodore Highwind was unmoved by the glare he shot her.

"Anyone got a lollipop? No?" Her incisors flashed, her gaze just as shrewd as before. "Well go get one, then."

Cor nudged a member of the Crownsguard to take his place, and the talks went on as he disappeared around the corner.

Prompto: dude really?
Prompto: i know we kinda went around the bender last night, but didn't u get breakfast or smth?
Noctis: no
Noctis: but it wasn't me
Noctis: i'm fine
Noctis: i don't know
Noctis: she just
Noctis: that
Prompto: ...huh

Yeah. Seriously 'huh.'

Noctis fiddled with his phone case as he waited, digging his nails into the cracks and half trying to hear the debate at the top of the table and half desperately trying not to think about it.

The Commodore wasn't necessarily a better topic, but... What the hell would the Commodore gain from getting him candy. It wasn't like she could poison it—Cor was the one getting it. He honestly couldn't think of any other reason she'd even start this.

Even if it felt like an age, it didn't take long for Cor to come back.

Before he could hand Noctis the sucker, the Commodore crooked her fingers in a 'give it here' gesture.

Slowly, just as baffled as the rest of them, he handed it over.

"Is this truly necessary," Senator Claustra snapped, patience frayed to the quick. Next to her, Dad looked almost as irritated. The emperor, worryingly, was smirking.

"Hold your horses," Commodore Highwind drawled, then caught the top twist of the wrapper in her teeth and pulled, revealing a cherry red ball of hard candy.

Which... um. Okay. Noctis was listening now.

She got to her feet, her chair scraping back, and leaned over the table, the low cut of her breastplate suddenly much more... notable than before.

And the come hither gesture she gave Noctis was much more commanding than her last.

Nameless questions whirling in his mind, Noctis also got to his feet and leaned over the table. Heat was starting to bloom in his stomach, which was understandable, but also? Timing.

As soon as he was in range, the Commodore caught his leash, wrapped it twice around her hand, and tugged him closer.

Noctis went.

More evidence to the 'familiar with boys in collars' theory: the Commodore knew just how hard to pull to get him where she wanted him without discomfort on his end. Noctis was reeled in, the collar digging into the back of his neck and pulling away from the skin of his throat entirely, and oops that was, yep, definitely a thing for him, his breath coming shorter in ways that had nothing to do with his air supply and a match set to light the heat in his stomach.

This was an awesome time to figure this out. Really.

Thanks, whatever higher powers were looking this way. Just... thanks.

Eyes slanted, she stopped pulling when their faces were only a few breathless inches apart. This close, he could see the hazel flecks in her ice-green eyes, smell the chemical lilt of her cosmetics, bone-chilling

Slowly, deliberately, she rested the candy end of the lollipop against his lower lip and smirked.

Noctis swallowed, and really hoped that no one had been able to see his dick twitch.

He was giving up on trying to understand the situation, but this message was clear enough. Eyes half-lidding of their own accord, he parted his lips just enough for her to slip the ball between them, sweet candy hitting his tongue and a tingle shuddering down his spine.

Holding her cool gaze, he closed his mouth around it almost completely, just as delicately as she'd given it to him.

"Good boy," she purred, her voice all smooth engines and coeurl fur. Before Noctis could process that, she leaned in closer and breathed, "Make it count, kid."

Then she let him go and toppled back into her chair, sinew and armor and hunter's grace, and swung one shapely leg over the other, looking very, very smug.

Noctis sank back into his own and resisted the urge to resettle his shirt to cover his groin—that would be more telling than anyone actually staring at his crotch would see. He retrieved his leash as casually as he could.

At the head of the table, the king looked horrified, the emperor blank, and the senator ready for murder.

"If you are all quite done, we have important matters to discuss."

Commodore Highwind ran her tongue over one of her incisors. "Discuss away."

Prompto: dude
Prompto: i am
Prompto: so
Prompto: so
Prompto: jealous
Prompto: holy shit
Noctis: what the fuck just happened
Prompto: dunno
Prompto: com. highwind gave u a lollipop
Prompto: & everyone else a boner?
Prompto: thats what it looked like from here
Noctis: ......
Noctis: everyone """"else""""
Prompto: ok i cant blame u for that
Noctis: six

Noctis couldn't scrub his face (that would be even more telling than adjusting his shirt and squirming in his seat), so he started playing with the sucker instead, swirling it in his mouth and sucking away the sugar it left behind.

If he just focused on that, this wouldn't be so b—

Prompto: .........say
Prompto: com. highwind with a strap-on...?

Noctis choked.

Noctis: not! talking! about! this!
Prompto: right
Prompto: got it
Prompto: she seems more like a rider anyway
Noctis: p-r-o-m-p-t-o
Prompto: ...wish she'd call me a good boy
Noctis: wish she hadn't said that in the middle of a damn meeting
Prompto: ok thats legit
Prompto: but like...
Prompto: why did she??

Noctis glanced up at the Commodore, who was still watching him with that lazy predator satisfaction.

She cocked an eyebrow at him.

Noctis ducked the look, going back to his phone.

Noctis: your guess is as good as mine
Noctis: she told me to "make it count"
Noctis: ?
Prompto: well im sure gonna make it count
Prompto: still wondering how you 2 managed to get all that hotness in a single room
Prompto: not that im complaining
Noctis: dude

Okay, to be fair Noctis would probably also have his head stuck in the gutter if he didn't currently have very good reason to try to get it out, but Prompto wasn't. Helping.

Noctis: look, theres something weird going on
Noctis: i dont think shes exactly interested in the state of my dick, prom
Prompto: i dunno
Prompto: sure looked like she was interested in the state of ur dick from here
Noctis: prompto

Glaring at Prompto in meatspace didn't yield much by way of results either—his best bro just rolled his shoulders with the most innocent look Noctis had ever seen him try to pull.

Huffing near-silently, Noctis hollowed his cheeks and pulled the lollipop out of his mouth, absently swirling his tongue around it and then sucking it back in. Cherry wasn't really his thing, but hey. It was candy. Candy—especially hard candy and powder candy—was so inconvenient to vet (and so... specialty to make) that it was a rare treat. Cor must've felt seriously pressed for time if he'd picked this up.

Ravus was giving him a very strange look, but Ravus was a strange person in general and Noctis was too busy sulking to pay much attention to him.

This lollipop was his only friend now.

Prompto: oh
Prompto: OH
Prompto: I GOT IT
Noctis: no
Noctis: whatever it is: No.
Prompto: nononono
Prompto: i figured it out!
Prompto: what she meant
Prompto: u gotta make the lollipop count, dude
Prompto: with like
Prompto: oral fixation
Noctis: ...oral what?
Prompto: you knowwwwwwww
Prompto: lick it, suck it, swirl it
Prompto: deepthroat it if u gotta
Noctis: ...
Prompto: ...
Noctis: bro
Noctis: do i wanna know?
Prompto: prob not
Prompto: just do it tho
Prompto: & b like super annoying w/ it

Noctis sighed.

Sure, he could do annoying. Better than trying to get his brain out of the gutter alone. He doubted he could make Prompto regret telling him to be 'annoying,' but he sure could give it a shot.

With this in mind, he pulled the sucker out of his mouth and slurped.

Listening with half an ear to the human rights discussion, Noctis clicked the lollipop against his back teeth, pulled it out and licked it clean, pushed it back between his lips and then licked away the trail of sugar.

It was actually pretty easy to get into after the initial awkwardness—especially when he started getting results. The Crownsguard was shifting uncomfortably before long, the emperor kept trailing off to glance at him, and the annoyance seemed to fuel Senator Claustra's arguments into all new levels of blistering precision strikes.

It was an easier victory for basic common decency than Noctis had feared; in the end, only the Niflheim chancellor was really pushing for continuing MT production, and he could only do as much as Emperor Aldercap would back him on. The emperor himself didn't seem especially attached to the position, especially not with the pushback from his peers.

That agreement, too, was wrapped up quicker than expected.

Noctis gave the papers that had been slid to him a quick skim before signing and passing them on—this was one decree that needed everyone's written agreement—and when he looked up, he found Commodore Highwind regarding him proudly, like he was a dog that had successfully performed a trick for a live audience.

Rrrrright then. Moving on.

"So, on to the matter of territories," said Senator Claustra as she finished signing the dotted line. "I think now would be a splendid time for Accordo to declare its independence. Wouldn't you agree, Emperor Aldercap?"

At least the senator didn't spend a million years beating around the bush, Noctis thought, suppressing a snort.

That said... not beating around the bush didn't exactly make the debate go faster. If anything, it just seemed to make the fight more brutal.

Which, granted, was more interesting to listen to, but Noctis still suspected that the lollipop might rot his teeth out before any real progress was made.

Back to square one.

After about half an hour of this, he concluded that even candy could get boring in the right circumstances, apparently.

The chair he was sitting in wasn't really meant to be rocked back and balanced on its hind legs, but Noctis managed. Setting one combat boot against the edge of the table and resting the other on top of it, he pushed back until he found that sweet spot where the chair was almost perfectly balanced, but not quite. It was a testament to the situation that his father didn't even glance at him for it.

There were only so many ways one could wrap a leather leash around their fingers, and Noctis had run through them all about twenty times before Prompto texted him again.

At this point, Noctis didn't even bother to hide his phone.

Prompto: hey. dude.
Prompto: i had an idea
Prompto: can you tell them why accordo should be free?
Noctis: you mean like join the discussion?
Prompto: yeah
Noctis: i guess?
Prompto: do that
Prompto: & when u do, use ur knockout voice
Noctis: my... what?
Prompto: uhhhh u kno the one
Noctis: .........no?
Prompto: ...ok nvm just
Prompto: imagine u just got off training, that voice
Prompto: where it goes all low n rough n tired
Prompto: just trust me on this bro
Prompto: shit the emp's getting nasty

Noctis was starting to get the feeling that he was missing a lot more than he'd thought at first, but Prompto wasn't wrong—the emperor was circling in for the kill.

He fumbled for his notepad, then when it became evident that he'd left it behind, reached over and picked up Drautos's, ignoring the man's grunt of surprise and ensuing glare.

Dropping his boots to the ground again and crunching the lollipop his teeth, he gave himself until he finished chewing the sugar shards to round up his arguments. They weren't very good arguments, but at this point he was just stalling for time and hoping the Senator could regroup while he talked.

Build off Dad's point about the Empire's resources being spread thin keeping the territory, point out the advantages of building and restoring the rapport with the traders, stand with the Senator and promise her support, like Dad has been—having his successor back that up with help...

Noctis swallowed the last of the candy, coughed at the bits stuck in his throat, and rubbed it gingerly.

Hadn't Prompto said something about his voice?

"I have something to add," he said, speaking loud enough to reach the head of the table. (Annoyingly, his voice still rough.) Once he had their attention, he continued, "We also believe in the benefit of Accordo's independence, Emperor Aldercap. As my father mentioned previously, the Empire's military resources are already overtaxed. Leaving Accordo to look after itself wouldn't impact the Empire's might in any significant way—a simple immigration agreement would secure the benefits the empire currently enjoys with its occupation without putting such a burden on your own government. More than that—"

He coughed again, wincing at the sting and wondering how the rest of them could go all day and night talking shop. It was downright supernatural. Maybe it was a power only granted once you'd been King for long enough? Like, an astral would descend and fix your lungs so you could talk for two hours straight without choking—or even taking a breath.

(He should've just tossed the candy.)

He ran his fingers under the edge of the collar again, and still rougher, he went on, "More than that, Accordo's wealth is directly tied to its trade and tourist traffic; both of those are severely hampered with its occupation. It affects not only Accordo, but the rest of Eos as well." He turned his face in the direction of the window and stared the Emperor down as he said, "Their olive oil and wine selections were unmatched. I know I'd be very disappointed if they were forced out of business—wouldn't you?"

The Niflheim Chancellor was seized by an abrupt coughing fit, like he'd accidentally inhaled his spit or something.

It was nice to know Noctis wasn't the only human left at this table.

"...Yes," said the Emperor, which he hadn't said to any of the arguments before.

Noctis blinked. Then, more hopefully than he probably should have let on, "Then do you have any other concerns about releasing Accordo?"

Mute, the Emperor shook his head.

"...Then it's decided," said the King, and pulled out the papers in question.

"Hey, now," said the Chancellor, oil slick, but the damage was done. The papers were being arranged, passed around the head of the table and signed off by all the major players, and Noctis grinned despite himself.

Even Senator Claustra was smiling... if the wry, tired, mildly impressed slant of her thinned lips could be called a smile.

Prompto: OHKO, baby
Prompto: maybe we will b ok when ur in charge
Noctis: ...thanks
Noctis: he gave up a lot easier than i thought he would
Prompto: royal persuasion
Prompto: u've got a gift man
Noctis: just galahd and tenebrae left, right?
Prompto: yep

It was easier to stay alert over the rest of the debate—especially since it went fast. Within the next half hour, the documents were signed and stamped and Tenebrae was once again solely under the power of the Nox Fleurets, Galahd not far behind.

Noctis couldn't help but notice that they were both signed almost immediately after he'd spoken.

It was fucking unnerving.

He liked to think he had a fairly fair view of himself, and his arguments? Were shit. There was no excuse for how effective they were. There just wasn't.

He pulled out his phone after signing off Galahd, trying to be subtle about it but too disturbed to put as much effort into it as he really should.

Noctis: okaaaaay
Noctis: is there mind control going on here or something?
Noctis: cuz this is starting to get creepy
Prompto: not mind control so much as
Prompto: uh
Prompto: dick?? control??

...Dick... what?

He looked up at Prompto, eyes begging him for an explanation, but all Prompto offered was a sheepish shrug.

Noctis turned back to his phone.

Noctis: no seriously
Noctis: what
Prompto: dont worry about it too much dude
Noctis: uhhh i'm gonna worry about it
Prompto: suit yourself

The next bill Noctis was going to put into effect was a research and development fund explicitly for the sake of inventing eye lasers that could roast a guy's bro at a distance of seven meters. He found himself with a need.

"And that concludes the negotiations," his father rumbled as the last paper was passed to the head of the table, sounding amused and smug and chagrined all at once. "We humbly thank you all for gracing us with your time and contributions to this... truly momentus point in history."

"The honor is all ours," said Senator Claustra, drier than the wastes. A staggered chorus of agreements met her statement.

If anything, Nocis thought the people rising from their chairs looked more dazed and horrified than honored, which lent more credence to the 'mind control' theory than not.

Commodore Highwind mussed his hair with an abrasive grip as she passed his seat, muttering, "You did good, kid. Keep it up."

Keep what up, though?

He almost, almost thought he might get away if he followed the crowd, but his father's voice rang out over the scuffle.

"Noctis, if I may have a word..."

Shit.


When he finally, finally escaped the lecture—now redressed in his jacket and his collar removed—Prompto was waiting for him at the gates.

"Man, never thought I'd be thanking one of Gladio's girlfriends for world peace," was what he greeted Noctis with, swinging his arms as he shoved off the wall, and Noctis fell into step beside him. "By the way, the Commodore left a note for you."

The note contained a phone number and an offer to teach him 'the real way to make use of those cute accessories'—which was almost-kinda-not-really unexpected. Noctis folded it up and stuck it in his pocket. He needed to mentally prepare first.

"Why are we thanking Gladio's girlfriend for world peace now?"

"Oh, no reason," Prompto answered blithely. "She was just onto something with that collar." Then, in a total non sequitur: "Did you know that it's practically a Crownsguard initiation rite to have a sexuality crisis during your training sessions?"

Noctis stopped walking.

"Man, none of these guys would make it one day out in the field."

"...What."

"Well, Senator Claustra might. She's scary. Brr."

"What."

"But the rest of 'em folded like a house of cards." Prompto tsk'd and shook his head. "Kinda nice to know, though, huh." He turned in place and held up his fingers like he was sizing up a shot, eyeing Noctis through the rectangle. "And my posing skills? On fleek."

"You—"

Prompto's grin was one hundred percent unapologetic. "The camera loves ya, baby!" Then, apparently, actually took in Noctis' scarlet-faced mortification. "Oh sh—"

"I'm gonna kill you."

Prompto chuckled nervously, then made good on his name by turning on his heel and bolting, Noctis hot on his heels.