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local man a disaster, more news at nine

Chapter Text

16875442388: I’m running by the store for lube on the way home.

16875442388: Is there anything you want?

Ardyn L. C. Izunia: ☜︎♑︎♑︎⬧︎ ✠︎✠︎☹︎ ♍︎□︎■︎♎︎□︎❍︎⬧︎♋︎ ⬧︎♍︎♋︎❒︎♐︎………………slime man

16875442388: Why are you like this?

Ardyn L. C. Izunia: :-)…………..slime man



“I don’t have any clean underwear,” Ardyn lamented, sitting on top of the break room table as he checked something off in his weird book of boss stuff. “My ass hurts.”

“I don’t want to know that,” Aranea replied, holding up a bag of coffee grounds. “This one?”

“No.” She dropped it back in the box and groaned. “No, I mean, not like from getting fucked, but that too—“


“I had to wear a g-string today and Aranea my darling I could not be having a worse wedgie if I tried.” Aranea closed her eyes. Breathed. Stood up, and pointed at her boss.

“You,” she told him, “I would sell to Shiva for one corn chip.” Ardyn looked put-out at the very suggestion.

“After all I do for you, my spider. Look, all I’m saying is that I wish Cor would own something that wasn’t a pair of tighty whities that I could borrow on laundry day.” He sighed, put his chin on his hand, and closed his eyes. His mascara was perfect. “I can’t retain my reputation in tighty whities.”

“One corn chip, Ardyn!”



16875442388: Where is my ten-ounce Crownsguard mug?

Ardyn L. C. Izunia: ✋︎■︎ ⧫︎♒︎♏︎ ♍︎♋︎♌︎♓︎■︎♏︎⧫︎ ✏︎…………...slime man

16875442388: Why.

Ardyn L. C. Izunia: ❄︎♒︎♏︎ □︎■︎♏︎ □︎❖︎♏︎❒︎ ⧫︎♒︎♏︎ ⬧︎♓︎■︎&︎.…………...slime man

16875442388: Why are you insisting on doing this.

Ardyn L. C. Izunia: ✋︎ ♐︎♏︎♏︎●︎ ●︎♓︎&︎♏︎ ⍓︎□︎◆︎ ♎︎□︎■︎❼︎⧫︎ ♋︎◻︎◻︎❒︎♏︎♍︎♓︎♋︎⧫︎♏︎ ❍︎⍓︎ ⬥︎♓︎■︎♑︎♎︎♓︎■︎♑︎⬧︎.…………...slime man

16875442388: If I ever find out who taught you how to do this, I’m arresting them.

Ardyn L. C. Izunia: :-(…………...slime man



Ardyn and Cor’s apartment was definitely not big enough for the whole lot of them, but they were managing somehow. Mostly because Ardyn had “played” a “gracious host” and in order to free up a chair for someone else had sprawled into Cor’s lap and left the other man looking flushed and uncomfortable. Once again, Ardyn Izunia’s definition of personal space remained loose, at best. Aranea and Cindy had done the same, but Luna, Crowe, Nyx, Biggs, Wedge, Gentiana, Ravus, Drautos, and Luche were are sprawled on every other available surface.

Luna, despite it being October, was wearing two extra sweaters, a hat, and two pairs of pants. “I,” she had insisted at the beginning when Ardyn had ben beatifically dealing cards, “Refuse to lose again.”

“Your poker face is terrible,” Crowe had shot back. But, Biggs and Wedge had apparently brought pre-made Monster Mashes, and halfway into the game Luna was still completely dressed and smug about it, although her brother had lost his pants, Aranea was down to her bra on top, and of all people Ardyn was losing. Ardyn. Ardyn, whose poker face could withstand firebombing, probably. Was losing. Badly.

And he’d even started the night wearing four scarves.

Now he was down to just his pants.

“I’m quite cold,” Ardyn complained, sprawling more in Cor’s lap. “I feel like it’s unfair that Cor can see my cards.” Cor, who looked both turned on and uncomfortable in equal measures, Aranea didn’t think was paying any attention to Ardyn’s cards. If she had to hazard a guess, he was paying a lot more attention to the fact that his boyfriend had an arm slung around his neck and the button of his too-tight jeans popped. Why could he just not dress like a middle aged man.

“You’re cold,” Ravus whimpered, in only his boxers. “You’re cold.”

“Oh, grow up.” Nyx was raking it in. Nyx always raked it in. “Should’ve worn more clothes.” Ravus glared at Nyx like he could met his head in.

“Next hand,” Cor finally managed, and Aranea groaned as Ardyn shifted in his lap, making the other man gulp.

“Ride your boyfriend’s dick after we leave,” Cindy called, kicking Ardyn in the head. He did not look even the slightest bit abashed.



16875442388: I’ll be home at seven.

16875442388: I love you.

Ardyn L. C. Izunia: ✋︎ ●︎□︎❖︎♏︎ ⍓︎□︎◆︎ ♋︎■︎♎︎ ⍓︎□︎◆︎❒︎ ■︎♓︎♍︎♏︎ ♎︎♓︎♍︎&︎ :-)…………….slime man

16875442388: I take that back.

16875442388: I’m single now.

Ardyn L. C. Izunia: No !

16875442388: Too late.

16875442388: Get your own apartment.

16875442388: You were warned.

Ardyn L. C. Izunia: COR !!!



Ardyn won.

It was kind of brutal.

Aranea left minus her bra and socks.

“How did he do that?” Crowe complained as she struggled back into her cami, glaring at where Ardyn was sitting in only very tight do you want s’more? Boxers sprawled on Cor’s lap and rich as hell. “How did he do that?”

“Two words.” Aranea shrugged unhappily into her sweater, and ticked off fingers on her hand as she spoke. “Boyfriend. Erection. That's his long con; he gets naked, distracts Cor, and then cleans house.”

Crowe looked a little sick.



I love scarves!!!: Prompto !!!…………...slime man

[CAMERA]: wh

I love scarves!!!: This is awful!…………...slime man

[CAMERA]: what happened mr izunia my dude

I love scarves!!!: Cor hates my Wingdings !…………...slime man

[CAMERA]: no offence my dude

[CAMERA]: but

[CAMERA]: your wingdings kinda suck

I love scarves!!!: Says the boy who texts in Comic Sans like some kind of disgusting heathen !…………...slime man

[CAMERA]: ok that

[CAMERA]: was uncalled for

[CAMERA]: q__q

I love scarves!!!: Good !!!…………...slime man



Aranea Highwind: COR

16875442388: What?

Aranea Highwind: WHY

Aranea Highwind: IS YOUR BOYFRIEND


Aranea Highwind: IN WINGDINGS

Aranea Highwind: AND HOW DO I STOP IT

16875442388: If you figure out the answer to either one of those questions, please share.

16875442388: Inquiring minds want to know.

Aranea Highwind: DUMP HIM

16875442388: I did.

Aranea Highwind: GOOD.

Chapter Text

[KNIFEx3]: so

[KNIFEx3]: if I make an april fools joke in december

[KNIFEx3]: is it still april fools

[SPIDER]: what

[KNIFEx3]: I stole a streetsign

[SPIDER]: you did what

[KNIFEx3]: in my defence, drautos was there, and he didnt stop it

[KNIFEx3]: it also wasnt my idea

[SPIDER]: was he drunk and/or dead

[KNIFEx3]: im ignoring that question

[KNIFEx3]: look anyway

[KNIFEx3]: do you have room in front of the coffeeshop

[KNIFEx3]: for

[KNIFEx3]: a really good joke

[SPIDER]: im rly fuckin suspicious of you rn nyx

[KNIFEx3]: trust me ara

[SPIDER]: you say that like

[SPIDER]: the last time you told me that

[SPIDER]: it didnt end with me

[SPIDER]: naked

[SPIDER]: hungover

[SPIDER]: and with fifteen gil in my pocket

[SPIDER]: in the middle of an empty arcade

[SPIDER]: at four in the morning




“Well,” Mr. Izunia was sucking on the cap of his pen like he was going to fellate it, and Aranea felt like it should have been more of a warning sign than it was. As it was, she was just vaguely horrified and fascinated in equal measure. “You have a very robust resume, and I really need someone around here who can manage the place so I don’t have to open every day. Because I like sleeping until ten.” At least he was honest. “Do you have any questions, Aranea?”

“Uh,” she blinked. “Just one, I guess.” Ardyn smiled. He had a very disconcerting way of smiling. It reminded her, viscerally, of a crocodile. “What’s M.T. stand for?”

Ardyn paused and then burst out laughing. “Oh, that little old thing!” He stood up. “I’m going to go print your new hire paperwork so you can sign it, feel free to go get a drink on the house. Caligo is basically useless, but he can make a mean black coffee.”

“And the M.T?”

“Be my general manager for a year, and I’ll tell you.”



“Technically, I did not break any laws.” Titus Drautos was as stern and staid as a fucking rock, and apparently a giant jackass, but Aranea had never heard Kingsglaive’s owner say more than fifteen words at a time in almost six years, so she had always just taken Nyx‘s (and Cor, and Monica, and the King’s, and Ardyn’s, although nobody should ever take Ardyn seriously) word for it. At the moment, he seemed to be playing the role of a big wet blanket. Neither helping nor hindering.

“It was my idea,” Pelna pointed out as he lifted the side of the massive streetsign that just said ATTRACTIONS in a vaguely menacing way with off-kilter legs so that it looked like it was walking towards you, trying to balance it. “Technically if anyone broke any laws, it was me.”

“Do you really think I would let either one of you break any laws for a shitty practical joke?” Drautos asked, as Aranea rubbed her hands together, trying to warm them in her mittens. It was four thirty in the morning on a Wednesday, and she wanted to be asleep. Instead, she was standing in the street in front of the cafés, watching bad decisions get made in action.

Nyx and Pelna, in response to Drautos’ question, glanced at each other before they said, in unison, “Yes.”

He looked like he’d just sucked on a lemon. But did not, in any way, deny it.



Aranea had been working food service since she was fifteen. At twenty-eight, that meant she’d spent almost half her life making food for stupid people. She actually kinda liked it, most of the time. It had also given her a preternatural sense for really terrible customers. So, when a woman of about forty with an I Want To Speak To A Manager haircut, on her phone with an ugly knockoff-couture jacket on came in, Aranea winced.

“Looks like we got a pita coming,” Aranea said, loud enough for Biggs and Wedge, who both looked around until they saw the woman. Pita, of course, stood for pain in the ass.

Biggs sighed.

“Its Tuesday,” he whined. “Nobody should be allowed to be annoying on Tuesdays.”

She marched up to the counter and, without getting off of her phone, proceeded thus: “I want an iced extra-hot triple-shot soy raspberry mocha cappuccino with extra foam and cinnamon.” Aranea was pretty sure that wasn’t an order that was an order, let alone on their menu, but— “And I want a turkey sandwich with double tomatoes, vegan cream cheese, and no onions on a scooped everything bagel. For here.”

“On a what?”

“Bagel.” The woman snapped, and then spun her finger around. “Scooped.”

“Right,” Aranea said. “Of course. Right.” She had no fucking idea what she was being asked for but, whatever. “That’ll be 300 gil, you can swipe your card over there.” The woman did that and then flounced off, and Aranea closed her eyes for a moment.

She could feel the drama. It hadn’t happened, and she could feel the drama already.



“Does anyone know what M.T. stands for, anyway?” The Prince was cute, for a nineteen year old, with fluffy black hair and big soft baby animal eyes that gave Ardyn’s doe-eyes a run for their money.

“Nope,” Aranea replied, washing a mug. “I’ve gotten a different answer about when I’ll be told every time I ask.”

“So is Ardyn just lying to you about it?” Aranea started to dry off the mug, and shrugged.

“You say that like he doesn’t do that literally every day.”



[SPIDER]: what does mt stand for

[SPIDER]: do you know

16875442388: Maroon Teletubby.

[SPIDER]: dont tell him you said that or you aint ever getting laid again

16875442388: You heard what I said.



Aranea didn’t question where Nyx had stolen the first three scarves from, and over the following week and a half, more and more of Ardyn’s scarves seemed to be vanishing and reappearing on the ATTRACTIONS sign. Since the sign had nothing else on it but scarves, it was beginning to look like the attractions were Ardyn’s scarves.

On a foggy day, condensation building on the city streets, Aranea got to the café door and found another stupid bullshit tableau waiting for her. “Cor?” She blinked at the Marshal, who was shifting from foot to foot in parade rest like he knew that he was between a rock and a hard place shaped like Ardyn Izunia. He was in full uniform, his peacoat collar turned up against the chill fog and wind, and he nodded.


“Why—“ she began to ask, and then turned to the Marshal’s two companions. They were standing directly in front of the sign. On the bottom was Clarus Amicitia, looking extremely warm in a down coat, holding onto one side of the sign for balance. There was a pair of legs hooked over his shoulders, and as Aranea looked further up she found King Regis currently sitting on Clarus’ shoulders, his grey hair windblown and the both of them chagrined and caught red-handed.

Regis was taping one of the Infamous Holiday Cards to the ATTRACTIONS sign.

“I’m going to go inside now,” Aranea announced, feeling rather like she’d just stumbled into some strange ritual, and hurried in to prep for opening, hoping they’d be gone by the time she came back out.



[SPIDER]: cor

16875442388: Yes?

[SPIDER]: whats mt stand for

16875442388: Major Trouble

[SPIDER]: thats a new one

16875442388: You heard what I said.



The woman came up immediately after she got her coffee. “I,” she said, down her nose, despite the fact that Aranea in her heels was taller than her, “Asked for it iced.”

She had, in fact, asked for it iced extra- hot. But whatever.

Aranea smiled through her teeth in her very best imitation of Ardyn. “Of course. Iced, you said? Let me just take that back for you.”

This happened two more times. “It’s lukewarm,” was the first and “No, I asked for it extra-hot.” For the second. Then it was “This steamed milk is just so little, I asked for extra. Are you sure this is a cappuccino? Can I get this in a to-go cup?”

“I,” Aranea said to Biggs, as she went to go get the sandwich the woman had ordered, “Am going to eat her.”

Biggs shook his head. “You sound more like Ardyn every day. It’s creepy. Don’t do that.”



There were now at least thirty scarves on the ATTRACTIONS sign. Every scarf Ardyn wore to the café was somehow vanishing from around his neck by the end of the day.

That night, as Aranea ate dinner, her group chat buzzed.

16875442388: Whichever person or person(s) is stealing Ardyn’s scarves:

16875442388: Cease.

[CROW]: give me one good reason

16875442388: Because I have had to buy him a new scarf every day for the past week and he has borrowed every scarf that isn’t nailed down.

16875442388: I am including in that making up with his nephew for five minutes, stealing his scarf, and getting into a fight again.

16875442388: Please either stop stealing his scarves or begin returning them.

Biggy: you are so boring

biggy: spoilsport

weggy: awww

Drautos: stop buying him scarves

Drautos: hes grown

Drautos: he can buy his own

16875442388: You aren’t helping, Titus.



“Ardyn,” Aranea said, on the fourth anniversary of her being his general manager. He didn’t look up from where he was texting very rapidly, but the grunt he gave her told her he was listening. “I’ve been working here four years.”

“Yes, and I love you, and you can never leave, because if you do I will be alone again, except for Cor, and he drinks all his coffee black and can’t cook worth a damn, so it would basically be being alone.” Ardyn paused, and looked up at her. “You aren’t trying to quit. Right?”

“No.” As much as she debated it. Daily. She could never leave; at this point he’d grown on her rather like a mould and gave health benefits and a living wage. “What does M.T. stand for?”

“Oh, you know!” Ardyn replied.

She did not, in point of fact, know.



The woman came back up almost immediately after getting her bagel, and Aranea took a deep breath and plastered her face as blank and bland and happy Customer Service as possible. “Is something wrong?” Her voice was sickly sweet when she spoke, and she could see Wedge shudder where he was making a smoothie, looking warily over at her.

“Yes!” The woman snapped. “My bagel, is not properly scooped.” Aranea had just told Biggs to do whatever he thought that meant, since it hadn’t been made clear. “I demand a new one.”

“Well, ma’am, as you can see from our deli case, that was our last everything bagel. So I can give you an extra spoon to scoop it to your satisfaction, you can bring it back up and we can finish scooping it, or I can give you any of our other available bagels as a replacement.”

“Absolutely not.” The woman sniffed. “The customer is always right. I can’t have it like this; I need you to give me a whole new one.”

“And as I just told you,” Aranea explained, fake-patience hiding her overwhelming desire to bite the woman, “We’re out of everything bagels. So I can give you a different kind of bagel, or scoop the one you have to your satisfaction, but I cannot give you a whole new everything bagel turkey sandwich.”

“That’s another thing,” the woman snapped, poking the counter. “I am almost certain those tomatoes are not organic. Or Roma.”

“Well, they’re organic, we buy them fresh from the farmer’s market. They’re heirloom.”

“Well, how do you know they’re organic if you’re buying them at a farmers market? You have to get them packaged to prove they’re organic!” Aranea smiled wider.

“Well, ma’am, I can assure you that they’re organic heirloom tomatoes. We can remove them from your sandwich if you don’t want to do so yourself.”

“No, I want a new one.”

“And as I previously told you, we can’t do that, because we’re out of everything bagels.” The woman looked furious.

“You,” she snarled, “Have done nothing but botch my orders. How your little establishment stays open when it cannot do even the simplest of tasks is baffling to me. Especially with Kingsglaive across the street.” Yeah that was a funny note, because Aranea was pretty sure Nyx would have started a brawl by now. “I demand to speak to the manager.”

Aranea very, very slowly smiled, and felt years of hate and anger from working shitty jobs rear its ugly head deep in her soul of souls. She tilted her head sweetly on the side and said, in a voice so sugary it could have killed, “Ma’am, I am the manager.”



[SPIDER]: seriously wtf does mt stand for

16875442388: Do you really want to know?


16875442388: It stands for:

16875442388: Motherfucking Tjackass

[SPIDER]: im not friends with you any more.



“Honestly!” Yelled the break room. “Will you people stop stealing my scarves! The joke stopped being funny about a week ago!” Ardyn stormed out, his hair in full-on angry cat fluff. His shoulder-cut shirt was totally impractical for the December weather without his scarf, and he was tugging on a sweater in a huff. “I’m going to Denny’s,” he snapped at Aranea, who looked studiously innocent although she was hiding his missing extra-wide hand-knit chunky scarf under the register. “Because that is where you go, when you have no friends, and everyone is out to get you.”

“See you later, then.”

He turned amber eyes on her, and shook a finger.

“I’ll catch you red-handed eventually.” Ardyn waltzed out after that, and then drove past on the street in his stupid terrible raspberry-pink convertible. He was gone for the better part of the afternoon, and only came back as Aranea was getting off-shift with his coat off one shoulder. He threw the door open and leaned against the jamb, cheeks flushed. He had a shopping bag in one hand, and looked buzzed. At minimum.

“Your boy eggnog here is,” Ardyn said, tossing his hair.

“Did you get drunk alone at a Denny’s?” Aranea replied, and Ardyn sniffed.

“Well, I have no friends, and you have all betrayed me, so I took my troubles to the eggnog.” He looked like he’d been crying. “And then I went and bought several scarves, and now I am going to go take all of them down off of the sign and then go home, sit with my cat, and cry.”

Aranea sighed, and got out her phone to call Cor.



“Well then,” the woman sputtered, “Who is your superior?”

“The owner,” Aranea replied. “But he’ll tell you the exact same thing I just did.”

“Then I demand to speak to him,” the woman snapped. “You have wasted my time all the while I’ve been here and he will answer.”

Aranea ugly laughed. “You,” she said, “Really do not want to do that.” The customer looked ready to knife her. “Seriously.”

“Oh,” she snarled, “I do.”

“You don’t,” Aranea repeated. “Just trust me. Take a spoon, go scoop your bagel, don’t talk to the owner.”

“This instant!”

Aranea was grinning. “Your funeral,” she said, and then turned toward the back room. “Hey Ardyn! A customer wants to speak to you!”



[SPIDER]: does it even stand for anything?

…………..slime man: ofc ! What do you take me for, darling ?…………..slime man

[SPIDER]: a dumbass

…………..slime man: :-(…………..slime man

[SPIDER]: so what does it stand for?

…………..slime man: guess !…………..slime man

[SPIDER]: no

…………..slime man: do you really want me to tell you ?…………..slime man

[SPIDER]: ill bite you ardyn

…………..slime man: m stands for slope…………..slime man


[SPIDER]: hate

[SPIDER]: you

…………..slime man: :-3c…………..slime man



Ardyn appeared out of the back room when called, and swanned calmly over to the counter. Today, he was wearing a black Crownsguard t-shirt that had clearly been Cor’s once, with the bottom hem cut off to make it a crop-top, over a mesh shirt that came down past his wrists to hook over his middle finger knuckle. Paired with a ridiculous pea-green pair of corduroy skinny jeans and soft brown ankle boots, he somehow managed to make it look perfect. Despite the fact that it all did the exact opposite of match his hair.

“Oh,” he said, finger pressed to his immaculately-made-up lips, staring unblinking at the woman across the counter from Aranea, “I heard, don’t worry.” He smiled, and it absolutely did not reach his eyes.

His nails were painted the same red as his hair, and the way he kept looking at this woman, it really looked like he’d just dipped his hands in the blood of his enemies.

“What can I do to help you, ma’am? I heard you disagreeing with my manager about your scooped bagel.”

“Yes. I want a new one.”

“And as Aranea so helpfully told you, multiple times, that was our last everything bagel.” His smile was widening, and Aranea was considering getting away from ground zero. “We can give you a different kind of bagel, or we can scoop the one you have. But, you know, the longer that you stand here arguing petty semantics after ordering food that clearly was not on our menu that was made for you without any complaint, your bagel gets soggier and soggier.” His smile did not falter for a moment. “Just think about it. Those lovely organic heirloom tomatoes slowly soaking all of their seeds into the bagel, getting the crust soft and goopy. And as they do so, the cream cheese begins to get tacky and hard, discolouring with the air. And still you stand here, arguing about whether or not it was scooped well enough.

“Well, let me tell you, if you so desperately want to have a brand new sandwich when I can clearly see that yours is perfectly untouched, you’re welcome to bring that plate up here. Then, because of legal code, you will have to watch me as I take it over to that trash can and scrape the entire thing, untouched and uneaten, directly into the garbage, rather than letting one of my employees eat it, or better, giving it to one of the homeless who live on this street. So you will watch me waste perfectly good healthy food because your bagel wasn’t scooped out enough, and then your new version will come, and you will have some other complaint. The turkey is too dry, it seems off, or the cream cheese isn’t spread thickly enough.

“You’ve already wasted two cups of good coffee, and I had to watch them get poured down the drain. You’ve wasted my manager’s time, you’ve wasted my food, and you’ve wasted my money. It is out of goodwill that we make sure our orders are exactly as we are given them, and you’ve used all yours up, honey.” Ardyn winked at her. “Now, if you go across the street to try and pull this shit on Titus, I can tell you that Nyx is a far less forgiving Manager than Aranea is, and she already has no patience for fools.”

“How dare you speak to me this way!” The woman sputtered. “I’ll—“

“What?” Ardyn fluttered his eyelashes. His mascara, Aranea was pretty sure, was illegal in several cities. “Call the Crownsguard? In case you hadn’t noticed the shirt, I’m the Marshal’s boyfriend. So that would be a waste of your lovely time.” He picked up a plastic spoon and handed it to her. “There’s your spoon, and you can go scoop your sandwich yourself. And if you ever come up here and speak to any of my employees like they aren’t human beings again, I will personally make your life, and only your life, a living hell if you so much as ever step foot inside the door of my café again.”

The customer was speechless, and looked just this side of pants-pissingly terrified. Aranea wanted to kiss Ardyn. On the cheek. And maybe only the once.

“Any more questions?” She, very meekly, shook her head. Ardyn nodded. “Thought so.”



[SPIDER]: hey drautos

Drautos: what

[SPIDER]: would you fight a customer for nyx

Drautos: I wouldn’t fight myself 4 nyx

[KNIFEx3]: wow

[KNIFEx3]: im single now

Drautos: cool

[CROW]: whatd ardyn do

[SPIDER]: I just watched him eviscerate this woman

[SPIDER]: it was like the kind of shit you dream about

weggy: she deserved it. I wish id filmed it

biggy: who wants a bagel scooped

biggy: what even is a scooped bagel

biggy: is this some shitty new fad

[SPIDER]: anyway

[SPIDER]: he’s basically my benevolent fairy gaymother

[SPIDER]: and someone remind me of this the next time I decide that I cant stand him aka tomorrow

16875442388: You misspelled “malevolent” Aranea.

[SPIDER]: that too

Chapter Text

Cor had, in the last ten years, learned to read King Regis’ face like an open book. He wasn’t a very expressive man, but there were signs, and right now, he looked as tired as Cor had ever seen him. Doubtlessly, though, part of that was the fact that he’d been off his HRT for the better part of the last six months while pregnant, and his beard had taken a serious beating.

“I,” the King at last began, squeezing the bridge of his nose, “Need a favour. One that I would not ask for if it wasn’t a situation where I thought it was actually needed.”

“Whatever you ask, Sire.” Cor relaxed slightly, knowing it wasn’t an order, and leaned against the desk slightly, breaking parade rest. “Is something wrong?”

“No.” Regis paused. “Yes? It’s nothing wrong with me.” He leaned back in his chair. “My uncle needs. A bodyguard.”



Opened his mouth, and very slowly closed it again. Finally settled on: “Your father was an only child.” And immediately after, “You have an uncle?” The look on the King’s face as he nodded was one of both consternation and unfortunate acceptance. Apparently, said uncle was not an uncle that he wanted.

“Unfortunately, yes. I have an uncle. He’s illegitimate, and two years my elder.” Cor had to really work to wrap his brain around the concept the man had placed before him. He couldn’t see Regis having an uncle. Let alone one who had to have unfortunately appended in front of his name. “We...don’t get along. For various reasons. Regardless of my personal feelings about the man, my grandfather did acknowledge him and adopt him into the family officially, but that’s not the problem here.”

“Then what is the problem?”

“His ex-husband threatened to have him shot, for reasons that surprisingly are not entirely his fault, and I’m now morally obligated to make sure that doesn’t happen, as much as I would like to see him get shot. I need someone to be his bodyguard, at least until we get this thing figured out.” Regis tapped his fingers against the desk and then dug the heels of his palms into the bags under his eyes. “I know it’s not officially a part of your job description, but…”

“It’s fine,” Cor replied. “Reg, when I agreed to become Marshal, I knew what i was getting into. It’s a part of the literal job description to be your bodyguard.”

“But it’s not me you’re bodyguarding.” Regis exhaled into his hands. “It’s my uncle. Who is gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide, can’t wear proper clothes, and owns literally over a hundred scarves. The only reason I’m even forcing you to suffer him is that I’m pretty sure he would try to have sex with anyone else I sent just to spite me, and you’re too smart for that.” Cor didn’t admit that it had a lot less to do with not being too smart and a lot more to do with his giant, unhealthy crush on his married best friend. Who was also his King. “You’re just about the only person I trust to not accidentally fuck him.” Cor paused, and found himself smiling. He pressed a hand to his forehead.

“You say that like it’s happened before.”

Regis just stared at him.

“Are you sure he’s your uncle?”

“If he wasn’t, I would personally have run him over years ago.” Regis shook his head. “But he’s your problem now. I’ll give you his number, and he’ll come here tonight so you can meet him properly. You’ll have to stay with him until everything’s sorted.”

“I can handle protocol.” Cor straightened to parade rest. “Anything else, Your Majesty?”

“Don’t kill him,” Regis settled on. Cor somehow thought that was a pretty low bar to set.



Cor had been invited over to the royal apartments after his shift, rather than returning home. He was sitting on one of the couches with Noctis bouncing on his knee, babbling about something he’d done that day when the doors flung open, revealing the strangest man Cor had ever seen standing there. He was Cor’s height, wearing a paisley shirt that was cut down below his collarbones, hideous trousers that looked like shit vintage wallpaper, fingerless black gloves, and a maroon pair of galoshes for the rainy day outside. He was also wearing a fedora and no less than five scarves, all of them mis-matched different paisley patterns and all of them the exact wrong shade to complement anything else he was wearing. To top his terrible, motley ensemble, his hair was fucking raspberry-maroon and wildly curly from the humidity. It was so red Cor was almost certain it had to be dyed.

“You called,” the man announced, spreading his arms before he doffed his hat and bowed from the waist, “And here I am, like an obedient lapdog. Shall I come to heel as well, Your Majesty?”

“Fuck off,” Regis replied, not looking up from the book he was reading in the corner. “You look terrible.”

“You have absolutely no sense of fashion,” the man replied, before he turned toward Cor. He glanced over Cor for a moment, and then grinned at Noctis. “Noct!”

“Ardyn!” Noctis launched up off of Cor’s lap and sprinted as fast as his little toddler legs could carry him across the room. Ardyn laughed and scooped the boy up, upside down, and then spun him back upright and held him critically at arms length.

“Aha,” he said, triumphantly. “You have grown. I believe my treatments are working.” He let Noctis dangle from his hands, stretching out to kick his toes toward the floor. “You’ll be taller than your boring old father any day now.”

“What’ve you got?” Noctis replied, and Ardyn sighed, settling the prince on one hip. “What’ve you got?” He repeated excitedly, pulling Ardyn’s hat off and putting it on his own head, the brim dropping down to cover his entire face, setting him off into a fit of hysterical giggles. “Ardyn!”

“Here,” the man replied patiently, producing one of those hard butterscotch candies that Cor associated with little old blue-haired grandmas, not thirty-something gay men with bad hair dye and terrible clothes. Noctis grabbed it with genuine delight and had it unwrapped and in his mouth in about five seconds flat. “Where’s your brother, darling?”

“Sleep-over,” Noctis replied, with the patience of a child who has only very recently learned the impressive word they are sharing. He pushed the brim of the hat back over his eyes. “Give me one for Gladdy too!”

“Only if you promise not to have it instead of giving it to him.” Noctis nodded very seriously, his blue eyes huge. Ardyn sighed and handed another one over. “I am trusting you, Princeling.” Ardyn put Noctis down a moment later and came waltzing over to the King, patting Clarus on the head, ruffling his long hair, as one pats a dog and kissing Regis on the cheek. “You look terrible. At least let me cover your poor sunken cheeks and eye-bags.”

“I hate you,” Regis replied, grinning blandly up at the other man. “With genuine detestation.” Ardyn pinched his cheek.

“You’re even more miserable pregnant, I don’t know how Clarus can possibly deal with you.”

“Ardyn,” Clarus said, staring at the man, “Your own ex-husband wants to shoot you. You have no room to talk.”

“Oh, that happens to everyone.” Ardyn put his hand on his hip and turned around to look at Cor with an appraising eye. “Nothing out of the ordinary.” Clarus was now wearing the same look of long-suffering apathy as the King. “And who is this lovely boy?” He looked like he would have totally willingly eaten Cor alive. Not in the slightest bit reassuring.

Cor realised extremely belatedly that his mouth was hanging open. Ardyn tapped a finger against his full lower lip. His lipstick was pristine. There was no good way for Cor to ask, your uncle is this disaster? Without possibly starting a family crisis. Especially since he was now having a complete crisis of faith because, on the one hand, Ardyn looked like he’d gotten dressed by climbing into a dumpster and his hair was a disaster, but on the other hand...he was fucking gorgeous. He was gorgeous, and he knew it, and he looked at Cor like he wanted to eat him.

Oh no.



Ardyn’s car was as much of a disaster as he was. Somewhere under layers of junk and performative homosexuality was a really nice vintage convertible, Crown City make, but on the surface it was the same maroon as his hair, had pink tyres, and a moogle pom on the antenna. Ardyn had only very reluctantly agreed to drape himself into the passenger seat like an overdramatic cat, and only after Cor had insisted it was basic protocol to drive. “I am capable of driving, you know,” he muttered, as Cor shifted the seat back and reached out to fix the mirrors. “This is extremely invasive.”

Cor, after their introduction, had decided the safest thing for both his sanity and his libido was to be as brusque and professional as possible. Ardyn seemed like the kind of person who could eat endless patience for lunch and come out the other side somehow fifteen-hundred gil richer and in possession of the shirt off your back, so it was probably best that he keep the man away with a ten-foot pole.

Cor just drove, and listened as Ardyn rattled off directions to his apartment alongside half a dozen other, totally unrelated, threads of conversation. Talking about this or that, rambling on about his knitting club, complaining about how hard it was to get a date now that he was single and HIV+, talking with his hands as often as not. When they pulled up beside the building, Ardyn practically twirled out of the car, and Cor followed him with vague unease up to a third-storey walk up apartment. It was beautiful. It was even, if he hesitated to use the word alongside Ardyn, tasteful. There were scarves everywhere, and Ardyn kicked his boots off at the front on a shoe mat, Cor following suit.

“So you have to stay with me,” Ardyn continued seamlessly from a five-minute long diatribe about why his building didn’t have an elevator, somehow disrobing down to just his shirt and one  scarf fast enough that Cor didn’t even see it happen. “Is that right?”

“Yes,” Cor replied awkwardly, following the man into his kitchen. Ardyn leaned his hip against the granite countertops and pulled a beer out of his fridge, offered one to Cor that he didn’t even need to consider turning down with a shake of his head. “Your couch is fine, as long as I can keep it between the door and the bedroom.”

“At your height?” Ardyn arched one perfectly plucked eyebrow as a gigantic orange persian came into the room and began to twine between his feet, purring wildly. “Your shoulders would barely fit on it. Clarus shares my nephew’s bed, I’m sure it would be perfectly fine for you to share mine. It’s quite large.” Cor couldn’t even begin to figure out how to reply to that.

“Sir, Clarus and the King are married.” Ardyn pressed a hand to his chest in mock-astonishment.



“Well, I mean, if you don’t share beds before marriage, I’m newly divorced. I know someone who could absolutely do a shotgun wedding.” He paused, and then burst into laughter. It was the ugliest laughter Cor had ever heard, some full-bodied mix of a giggle and a snort and totally unrepentantly itself. It made Ardyn throw his head back, reveal the pale line of his neck above his scarf, skin peppered with red stubble. “Shotgun. Oh, that’s good.”

“Sir, the King has apprised me of the situation. I rather think that it’s no laughing matter.” Ardyn waved a hand.

“If I get shot, I get shot. Astrals know it would be a load off of my nephew’s back, sweep the bastard under the table. Get me out of the line of succession so he doesn’t have to deal with any unfortunate legal issues like his ascension to the throne caused. Totally stupid, if you ask me. Noctis is the best heir he could have; just like his father at that age.” Ardyn sighed. “Anyway, I really think you all have nothing to worry about, but if you want to sleep on the couch I shan’t stop you. Your aching back is your problem, not mine.”

“The couch is fine,” Cor insisted. “Thank you.” Ardyn almost looked sad.

“You know you don’t have to call me sir, Cor.” The way that he tasted Cor’s name was somehow completely obscene. Could you give head to a word? “Just plain Ardyn is fine. I’m not anyone important.”

“You’re a Lucis Caelum.” Cor replied, arms folded behind his back at parade rest, sword at his hip and guns holstered under his arms. He was Crownsguard, and this was his job. And he could remain explicitly, obviously professional. “You’re Sir to me, Sir.”

Was a Lucis Caelum,” Ardyn replied, and in those four words all the emotive humour had gone out of his voice. His tone had hardened into something like obsidian and steel and magma, and Cor felt a tingle at the base of his spine. He had known at first sight that most of the man’s persona had to be something painted on thick over something else underneath, something greater and. Something worse. His amber eyes, ringed with green, were as sharp as knives. “And never a legitimate one at that. I don’t need your unplanned pity, Marshal.”

“It’s not,” Cor replied, steady as stone. “You are a Lucis Caelum. It is my job to guard you. Sir.” Ardyn rubbed his chin.

“Regis doesn’t know what he’s missing out on in you,” Ardyn settled on at last. His smile was rather like the cat that got the canary. “I really like you.”

Cor felt Worried.



The following three weeks were three of the longest of his life. Cor would wake at false dawn, and cook awkwardly in someone else’s kitchen after a bad night of sleep on a couch that was, actually, too short for him. He discovered that Kar, the enormous persian, had an opinion of him that ranged between good for using as a launching pad at best and I will puke on everything you loveat worst, and Ardyn’s reassurance that Kar treated everyone like that was not in any way reassuring, at all.

And after he woke up, Cor would just...sit there. For almost five hours. Because he had never seen Ardyn rise before ten. Sometime near to eleven the man would roll blearily out of bed and crawl out of his bedroom. With his hair a wreck of curls tumbling about his collarbones and his face soft with sleep and wiped of makeup, in only an oversized t-shirt sagging down off of one sharp shoulder and revealing his pale, surprisingly well-toned legs to halfway up his thighs, in moogle slippers, with Kar huge and fluffy and clutched protectively to his chest, he was a walking, talking bad decision waiting to happen. The fact that, before he got dressed, he wore a pair of maroon plastic hornrims with bottlecap lenses, slightly askew, that brought out his freckles, just was a whole other level of unfair. Every “morning”, he would stand almost catatonic in the kitchen and make coffee, face buried in his cat, and stare at Cor like he still wasn’t sure to make of the bodyguard he’d been assigned.

Cor had been totally unsurprised that Ardyn didn’t really seem to have an actual job. He was technically employed in some capacity by the Insomnian government, but he never seemed to do anything at all that looked like work, and spent most of his time parked in coffeeshops or chic boutiques buying weird scarves. Cor soon found himself adopted into the man’s personal space bubble, and turned into either an errand boy or a clothes stand.

It was a little refreshing. All of twenty-seven, he was always a little astounded by the general berth people gave him and the respect he got. The youngest Marshal in Crownsguard history, people tended to be astonished by him. And Ardyn just...didn’t seem to give two shits.

He didn’t seem to give two shits about much of anything, honestly. His entire life seemed to be one waste of time to the next, accompanied by hours spent sprawled boneless on his laptop in cafés or on his couch, Kar purring and kneading his thighs. Cor still really wasn’t sure if the uncle thing was entirely real, because after that first night he never saw another shred of the Lucian edge he was used to from Regis; just good humour and ridiculous flamboyant absurdity.

It was after the first month that the changes started to happen. Ardyn’s last remaining shreds of personal space vanished at the end of that month, and he began to just casually loop their arms, press their sides together, lean over to whisper into Cor’s ear. He would park himself on the couch and drape his legs casually over Cor’s lap like he’d always been there, and on the rare morning he had to wake up before ten like some kind of savage, he would collapse boneless over Cor’s back and grumble about getting up in the morning, making coffee in the morning, having to get dressed in proper clothes in the morning, ad absurdum.

He also kept touching Cor. A hand on his elbow, an arm around his shoulder, a pressure at the small of his back. Kept offering to give him a hand, fluttering eyelashes, and it was all Cor could do to step away and breathe and remember the King’s words: do not accidentally sleep with him. It wasn’t even the accidentally any more. It was the sleep with him.

One night, with the last chill of winter still in the air, Cor had to go to a late meeting that Ardyn had negative interest in attending. “Do not leave your apartment,” he instructed the man. “You have your panic button?”

“I’ve never panicked in my life,” Ardyn replied, waving a hand. “Don’t stand in front of windows, don’t go to the door, don’t interact with anyone not on the secure network, don’t drink, have no fun, be a wet blanket. Marshal, you shan’t even notice you were gone.”

Cor doubted that. But whatever.

He came back late that evening, nearer to tomorrow than yesterday, and found when he entered the apartment that Ardyn had sprawled himself and his absurdly long legs in one of the armchairs in the living room to read by the low light of one of the table lamps. He was wearing a tiny pair of satin maroon panties edged in black lace, and Cor’s cast-off Crownsguard t-shirt, the open vee of the collar revealing pale collarbones. Ardyn had tied his thick mess of hair up into a little ponytail at the back of his head, his glasses slung low on his nose.

He was wearing Cor’s socks.

Cor stood, just inside the apartment door, and very slowly closed it. Stared at the man as Ardyn licked one fingertip and turned the page of the book to the next one. He had taken his makeup off, but his absurdly long lashes hardly needed mascara to brush against the lenses of his glasses.

“How was your meeting?” Ardyn asked, not looking up as he uncrossed his legs and slid one out as far as it could go, the toe pointed to reveal the thinnest curve of his ankle. Cor leaned back against the door. His mouth felt dry. Ardyn tucked one loose curl back behind his ear.

The panties he was wearing were cut so low that, as Ardyn shifted and his shirt rode up slightly, Cor could see the curls at the base of his stomach. His pubic hair was as damn red as the hair on his head. Somehow, that was not nearly as reassuring as it should have been. When he didn’t respond, Ardyn looked up, blinking owlishly behind his thick glasses. “Cor?”

“Are you trying to seduce me?” Cor blurted. Ardyn blinked behind his glasses, and then burst into his ugly, ridiculous laugh.

“Wow,” he laughed. “You are dense as hell.” Ardyn set the book aside and rolled to his feet. He moved like a liquid, all sinuous muscle and robed power, no wasted energy despite the fact that he never stood up straight or put in any effort to anything he did. It would have been lazy, if it hadn’t been for the fact that it clearly took serious effort to keep up the façade. As it was, it was instead an impressive show of self-control and hidden depths. “Cor,” Ardyn continued, coming forward through the kitchen, to stand just in front of him.

Cor was staring at the pale, soft flesh of his inner thighs, just at the edge of his panties. Ardyn shaved his legs; he wore too many pairs of skinny leggings to not. It meant that there was nothing to stop him from seeing how damn soft his skin was with downy red here and there. There was a freckle just by the hem of his panties. It was supremely unfair.

“I’ve been trying to seduce you for half a month,” Ardyn continued, leaning forward to drag one manicured finger down the lapel of Cor’s uniform jacket, his nail-polish the same maroon as his hair, glossy and almost-wet in the low light. “Trying to seduce you was fluttering my eyelashes and wearing low-cut shirts and having a popsicle and making a mess so I could lick off my lips. Trying to seduce you was letting you feel how nice my ass is. Trying to seduce you,” he continued, leaning forward until Cor had flattened himself as far away from the man as he possibly could, his face flushed with arousal and his dick uncomfortably hard, “Was bending over after i dropped my tic-tacs to pick up every single individual one.

“This,” Ardyn continued, “Is not me trying.” There was that cat-with-the-canary smile again. “This is me, currently seducing you, to come take me to bed, and fuck my throat so hard that I’m hoarse tomorrow.” He paused. “With protection, of course. I’m HIV+ and you can never be too careful, even with ART.” When he didn’t wither at that suggestion, Ardyn’s smile widened, crinkling the edges of his eyes. Up this close, Cor could see how the amber became green just at the rim of his pupils, the mix of colours that muddied to brown from too far away. He had a very small mole under his left eye, and he had lip gloss on.

“Um,” Cor said. His tongue was glued to the roof of his mouth. “Regis told me that you would try to sleep with me.”

“Because you’re gorgeous,” Ardyn replied. “And nice, and you don’t treat me like I’m second-rate or worthless or run away the more that you learn about me.” As he spoke, he was dragging his finger down Cor’s shirt, and Cor could have pushed him away, but he did no damn such thing. The opportunity was there. He absolutely did not reach out and take it. “You listen to me, and you have really lovely hands. Has anyone ever mentioned how blue your eyes are?”


Ardyn curled his fingers into the bottom of Cor’s shirt, and pulled it away from his stomach. Ardyn was almost as tall as he was, just barely shorter than him. Cor had never noticed before; it was so slight. He never fucking stood up straight. He’d never noticed.

“You’re disgusting and you sleep until noon,” Cor replied, trying to figure out if staring at Ardyn’s gloss-shiny lips was the wrong thing to do. When he wasn’t sure, he just kept doing it anyway, because they looked nice. “You don’t have a real job. Everyone hates you.” Cor somehow didn’t hate him. The fact that he didn’t seem to give half a damn about literally anything was refreshing. “Your ex-husband wants to shoot you. Tell me one good reason I should do literally the exact opposite thing of the one order Regis gave me before telling me to be your bodyguard.”

Ardyn’s smile grew wider until it was no longer cat with the canary but cat with the entire birdcage at the pet store. He looked like he could have eaten Cor alive.

“I have nice hair,” he replied, not moving any closer, the warmth of his fingers warm against Cor’s stomach as they slid up under his body armour, pulling it away from where it kissed his skin. “And no gag reflex.”

Cor’s brain fell out somewhere the back of his skull, and pretty much the rest of his this is a bad and terrible idea that Regis will never forgive you for and also he could probably kill you in his sleep went right with it. Brain: disengaged. Dick: now driving.

“This is a terrible idea,” he said, when Ardyn stopped kissing him long enough that he could breathe, his cock steel-hard in his slacks, and Ardyn’s bright eyes flashed, his smile halfway up his cheeks.

“Oh, I know.”


16875442388: Regis.

His Royal Majesty Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII: You only call me Regis when you’ve done something really stupid.

His Royal Majesty Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII: Oh no.

His Royal Majesty Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII: Please tell me you didn’t fuck my uncle.

His Royal Majesty Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII: Please just tell me you let my uncle get shot.

16875442388: Your instructions may not have been clear enough.

His Royal Majesty Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII: Cor!

His Royal Majesty Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII: I asked you for one thing!

16875442388: I got my dick caught in your uncle.

His Royal Majesty Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII: HE IS TRASH AND YOU ARE WEAK.

16875442388: In my defence,

16875442388: His hair is nice and he gives good head.

His Royal Majesty Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII: This is the exact opposite of a thing that I needed to know.


“Hold this for me, wouldn’t you, darling?” Cor oofed gently as Ardyn shoved three scarves into his hands. Without them, Ardyn almost passed for a normal human being in a light daffodil-yellow cable knit sweater, red jeans, floral-patterned flat cloth shoes, and a camisole. Around his wrist was his medical ID, the steel glinting silver and bright in the clear sunlight. He still had one scarf left, but it was all taffeta and satin, so it could theoretically be a fashion accent and not Some Weird Ardyn Thing. “I need to look my best.”

“For what?” Cor asked, following the other man, tucking the scarves beneath his arm, keeping an eye on the crowd around them. It was cool for June, and people were out en masse to enjoy the good weather before it got hot again, families walking in clusters and scads of children laughing as they pounded down the sidewalks. They were in a fairly populous walking plaza, and Cor had stuck himself to Ardyn like a particularly devoted burr through what was now four open-air market stalls. He had bought a scarf at every single one of them. Like he needed more.

“Oh, you know me!” Ardyn had somehow managed to perfect the skill of giggling like he had nary a care in the world. It never reached his eyes, Cor had started to notice. His façade was good, but the more time that you spent with him, the easier it go to see right through him like glass. “Centum Eos, always taking pics.”

“Honestly,” Cor started to say, way fonder than he was meant to be, when hair prickled on the back of his neck. He’d been in combat long enough that he knew when something was wrong, and he instinctively put himself between Ardyn and the open air, boxing the other man in against the nearest wall. He dropped the scarves, one hand on the hilt of his sword, the other reaching for his pistol.

“A little fresh Marshal,” Ardyn started to say, before Cor turned as someone approached and there was the sharp car-backfiring retort of a gunshot. The first bullet flew past Cor’s shoulder and impacted the brick wall of the building they were beside, chips spraying his face, one of them gouging a long line over his eyebrow, and he dragged Ardyn down, wishing fervently the man was shorter than him so this would be easier.

“Stay down,” Cor snapped, one hand still clasped around Ardyn’s neck. “Keep your body behind me.” Ardyn had gone very still and very quiet, but not with shock: indeed, he was just more intense, all of his usual ridiculous energy tamped down and pressing on his confines like it wanted to break free of his skin.

“Verus,” Ardyn said quietly. Cor nodded. He looked over his shoulder—the person he had felt there gone—to try and sight where the shot had come from. There was nobody on the street shooting and another one hadn’t been fired, so it had to be a sniper. From the rooftops, probably. But even as he craned his head around to look he couldn’t see anyone obvious, no glint of sunlight off of a scope.

“Hit your panic button.” Ardyn fumbled to do so, his breath high in his throat. Like his nephew, in a crisis, Ardyn was as reliable as the stone under your feet. “We need to get you inside, somewhere out of—“

Ardyn, amber eyes staring over Cor’s shoulder, gasped. Cor spun to follow his gaze, not shifting out from where he had the man pinned, and saw what he did. Across the street, on the roof of a low bank of buildings—Cor didn’t have to think about his motion, just did, and stopped the second shot with his body, grunting as the bullet impacted his lower back, body armour redirecting the injury to just badly bruise rather than tear him apart. It would have hit Ardyn’s head. Another shot that he took just below the first, and he could feel the heat of the shell tearing through his outer layers, skimming his side and leaving a long, bleeding graze.

“In!” He barked, trying to herd Ardyn back into the nearest building, but as they shifted, Ardyn abruptly stood up, stared over his shoulder at the direction the shots were coming through, and Cor just about had a heart attack, trying to get between the man and the shooter, but Ardyn’s handsome face was suffused and hot with rage as he curled his lip and yelled,


The following moments were mostly Cor shouting in pain and alarm as the next shot hit him in the bottom of the bicep, ripping right through the muscle and skin and narrowly missing shattering the bone. It was good, though, because that was the only thing that slowed the bullet before it finally hit his target, slamming directly into Ardyn’s chest. His eyes went wide, and the hot scarlet bloom of blood over the buttercream cashmere of his sweater made Cor feel immediately sick with anxiety. “I’ve been shot,” Ardyn managed, stupidly, before shock hit his body, and he stumbled, Cor barely catching him before he slumped to the ground, crouching between the injured man and what was, apparently, his ex-husband.

Blood was bubbling between his lips. The bullet had hit him directly in the sternum. Cor had to just forcibly shut down anything more complex than instinct—not thinking about the danger because HIV was treatable if he got it but Ardyn dying wasn’t—as he used his uninjured hand to put pressure on the injury, to keep Ardyn from bleeding out. “Ardyn,” Cor murmured, grabbing the other man’s neck, forcing him to look at Cor’s face. “Ardyn, you have to do your best to stay calm. Ardyn, I need you to stay with me.” He could hear people screaming, and an EMT was there. Thank the Six for his panic button. “Ardyn—“ The whites of his eyes were visible all the way around. He was as pale as a sheet, his lipstick-red lips somehow almost as dark as his hair. “I love you,” Cor said, before he couldn’t say it, as they pulled him from his arms and to an ambulance, latex gloves and emergency specialists starting triage as they moved. “I love you, and if you die, I’m going to find you and personally fucking kill you again.”

As soon as Ardyn was with the EMTs, with the Crownsguard forces, Cor was moving. Everything else afterward could be dealt with later. He’d seen the rooftop Izunia was on, and it wasn’t hard to sprint across the square, find a fire escape, and scale to the top. When he got there, three buildings down, the man was still there, seemingly frozen in midaction.

Cor didn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Adrenaline would only take him too long before his own injuries needed treating, and he was damn fucking lucky that the man hadn’t escaped in the chaos. Cor had his sword in his hand and was tearing across the rooftops before he could think too long, and when Izunia looked up at him he—

He had Cor’s eyes, the same almost-luminescent blue, bright as the sky and the stars.

Cor didn’t think about it too hard.

He chased the man as Izunia started running. He was a solid head shorter than Cor was, mousy and nimble, but Cor was in better shape and caught up two roofs over by pulling his pistol and putting a bullet clean through the man’s kneecap to drop him like a stone. Cor went the last twenty feet at an angry, storming walk, and slammed his foot between the man’s shoulderblades, pinning him to the roof. He made a surprised, pained noise as Cor took a knee, smashed his face into the cement, and enjoyed the wet, ugly crunch of his nose breaking perhaps a little bit more than he strictly needed to.

“You have the right to remain silent,” Cor snarled, as he pulled handcuffs from his jacket, exercising his full rights as Marshal of the Crownsguard. “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a full court of law.” He wrenched the man’s wrists tight until he was wheezing with pain, shoulders uncomfortably pinioned. “And I, personally, want to cut your dick off and shove it in your mouth, so don’t fucking test me.”



When Regis arrived at the Royal Hospital, minus infant-Iris and both the boys who had only been left over vociferous protestations, the afternoon had just begun to turn toward sunset. Drautos pulled the Regalia up to park in the circle drive before he and Clarus climbed out, opening the door for Regis, flanking him as they entered the hospital, Clarus surreptitiously trying to flatten his hair as the wind gusted, blowing it up and revealing his growing bald spot.

“I keep telling you to shave it,” Regis said, not unkindly, as they walked inside, a very harassed nurse coming up to meet them. “That will hide it better than combing it backwards.”

“I like my hair,” Clarus replied, scowling, before he cut off because the nurse had joined them.

“How is he?” Regis cut to the chase, shaking her hand. She winced.

“He’s out of the woods for sure now, and he’ll live. Your uncle is a lucky man.”

“I know it.” She explained the nitty gritty details as they walked to the room that had been set aside for Ardyn, Regis waving as they passed civilians on their way to the private wing. Ardyn had been extremely lucky: the bullet, slowed by Cor taking it first, had hit his sternum head-on and shattered it, but had missed his spine, had lodged in the muscle of his trapezius, and no bone fragments had cut any arteries, damaged his lungs, throat, heart, or any other major organs. They had, though, apparently, somehow burst his appendix.

“Disgusting,” Regis said, monotone, when he heard. “That would only ever happen to him. Thank you.” She bowed and left as he reached the private room and pushed the door open, Clarus following him in and flanking the inside of the door as Drautos took his post at the outside, the both of them standing at parade rest. Regis sighed when he saw who was sitting there waiting, sprawled in one of the uncomfortable hospital seats, currently shirtless.

Cor looked up at him. He looked uncomfortable; nauseous probably from the post-exposure prophylaxis. He had a few sticking plasters on his face, over a long thin gash that had been stitched shut above his left eyebrow and over a few, smaller scrapes beside his eye. His left arm was heavily bandaged above the elbow and in a sling, and his side had been bandaged as well, icepacks taped on in layers against his left side. “Reg,” Cor said.

“Cor,” Regis replied.

The Marshal, very slowly, sprawled out his very long legs. He was naked from the waist up, his clothes surrendered to the Crownsguard who had arrived to start the investigation, and Regis tossed him the shirt he’d brought, on request, which Cor struggled to get on one-armed. “So,” the Marshal said, fixing his hair when he managed to get his shirt on and Regis sank down gratefully in the chair next to him, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I can’t help but feel like I didn’t get filled in on some crucial info.”

“Yeah,” Regis said after a moment. “I may not have given you the full story.”

“You’re a great friend.”

“Let’s not have a fight about this.” Clarus snickered by the door. Regis shot him a withering glare. “I may have exaggerated the danger being for petty reasons and not for actual reasons.”

“If I was going to get shot for him, you should probably have given me the details.” Regis grunted. Cor was right. “Reg—“

“Do you take him seriously?” Regis asked, abruptly, and Cor paused. Blinked. Rubbed his chin.

“, in what way?”

“I mean, do you look at Ardyn and think, that is a man who could tie his shoes by himself?”

“No?” Regis spread his hands in defeat.

“And that’s why I didn’t tell you!” He dragged a hand over his face. “Ardyn’s been Royal Spymaster since he was eighteen.” The room was absolutely silent, and Regis snuck a look at the younger man. Cor was staring at him like he’d just declared that the sky was green and midnight happened at noon. He opened his mouth and then, very slowly, closed it again. “It’s on a need-to-know basis to keep him anonymous and his network safe, so I didn’t mention it because I knew you wouldn’t believe it, and—“

“Are you fucking shitting me?”

“I wish I was.”

“Ardyn running narrates everything he does up to and including take a shower!” Cor had put a hand to his temple and apparently was experiencing his entire life shattering around him. “How the hell is he Royal Spymaster?”

“Because nobody ever expects it,” Clarus explained, fortunately taking it off of Regis’ plate. “Because he’s flamboyant and ridiculous and stupid and overdramatic and lies about everything and is the smartest person I’ve ever met. Would you have ever expected that was what he did?” Cor, mutely, shook his head. “That’s why he’s so damn good at it.”

“Normally.” Regis growled. “Normally, he is. Verus Izunia was the Insomnian head of the Niflheim spy network, and Ardyn had originally planned to get to know him, to bring him to our side if he was trustworthy and turn him double-agent.”

“He fell in love,” Cor finished, cutting the narrative effectively in half. Regis nodded mutely. Cor sighed. “Ardyn is a fucking dumbass.”

“Well, now you’re officially a part of the family,” Regis laughed. “If you can admit that he’s a disaster, you’re really a Lucis Caelum now.” They got quiet as they waited, the three of them, and finally, Regis clasped the other man’s uninjured shoulder, squeezed it. “He’ll be all right.”

“I know, I heard.” Cor scrubbed a hand over his face. “Regis, I shouldn’t have let him get to me like this, it’s because of me that he got shot—“

“Cor, you took three bullets for him.” Regis pulled the younger man over to hug him tightly around the shoulders. “It’s my fault for trying to avoid putting you in a bad situation that this happened. You did the best you could, Cor. I’m just glad he’s alive and we now, for a totally unrelated reason to spying, have Izunia in custody.” Cor still looked worn and tired, and it had nothing to do with his injuries or the day.

“I’m not good enough to be your Marshal, Reg. I should have been better, I should have—

“Shut up,” the King said, gently. “You’re one man. If I thought he had been serious, if I thought Izunia had known, I would have done thrice what I did. Ardyn will tell you the same.”

It was another twenty minutes before they rolled his uncle in, pale and oddly small on a hospital bed. The surgeon that came with him put up x-rays on the screen in the room and walked Regis, Clarus, and Cor through the details. “He’s going to be a mess for a while,” the surgeon warned, hand on his hip. “His meds regimen is going to have been badly interrupted because of the surgery and the recovery he’ll need. It shouldn’t cause any sort of reoccurrence of HIV symptoms; he’s still very much in latency. I’m more worried about his Bipolar, since he’ll have to adjust his meds, but...that’s a problem to address once he’s out of the ICU.”

“Are you sure he’s fine?” Regis asked, fingers steepled, still baffled. The surgeon nodded.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, Your Majesty. Mr. Izunia is a very lucky man. Most people die from this. All he got was a burst appendix.” Regis rubbed his temple.

“That’s some definition of it. Thank you.” The surgeon bowed and left, and once he was gone, Cor shifted his chair over to Ardyn’s bedside, took his hand and watched his face. He was still out after the surgery, and his face was soft and slack, his red hair a tangled mass around his face. He was pale with blood loss, and his chest was supported with a brace. The surgeon had explained how they’d repaired his ribcage with a metal prosthetic, but it would take some time to set properly, and then more time to heal.

Knowing Ardyn would be waking soon, Regis got his phone out and called Gladio, explaining to both their sons over the phone the situation, Noctis begging to talk to his uncle down the phone. Promises were traded to see him as soon as he was well enough, and then Regis had to abruptly hang up when Ardyn stirred.

“You said,” Ardyn murmured, his voice raw and wet, “That you loved me.” His voice was barely above a whisper, and Cor leaned forward, looking up at Ardyn with the same look he’d worn as a teenager when he looked at Regis: like Ardyn made the sun come up in the morning, like he could do no wrong. It was a little odd, to see it turned on someone else. But good. “’S that true?”

“Yes,” Cor whispered. “I thought you would die.”

Ardyn smiled, lop-sided and stupid. “But I didn’t. You’re stuck with me.” He looked at Regis, his amber eyes hazy. “I need a safer cover.” Ardyn yawned, waved his free hand, IV drips rattling. “Maybe I’ a coffeeshop, or something.” Then, he winked. “I stole your Marshal.”

The King sighed.


Chapter Text

December 27, 22:35


“I,” Ardyn was standing in the doorway to Aranea’s apartment on a Tuesday in late December, snowflakes caught in his hair and feeling more than a little bit windblown from the weather outside. She stared back at him in her pyjamas with her hair in curlers, “Need a favour.” He’d just waltzed in from the snow when she’d buzzed him in, and she looked about as pleased to see him there at half-midnight as he himself was to be in attendance.

Aranea stared at him. “Okay,” she said at last, “I’ll bite.” Ardyn solemnly held out his apartment key to her, and she took it, her confusion increasing by the second. “What?”

“I have been invited,” Ardyn drawled, sarcasm dripping from every word, “To the family holiday out at the chateau. For my birthday party, I am told, although I’d much rather spend it here, with you all, than stuck with a bunch of old spoilsports. However, I have been assured repeatedly that it will be fun and I will enjoy it and everyone wants me there.” All of which, of course, was patently untrue, but he was stuck with it, now. He waved a hand. “You know what family is like.” Aranea was staring at him with a look on her face that clearly said: no. She had no idea what family was like. “Anyway the nub and thrust is, I need someone to look after Kar for me while I’m gone, and you’re the only person I can think of he’ll willingly eat for.” Kar, at seventeen, was even more surly and ill-tempered than he had been at one.

“Why are you asking me?” Aranea managed after a moment, baffled. “Kar barely tolerates me.” Barely tolerated meant that Kar had never, at least to Ardyn’s knowledge, peed on anything she owned. “You should get Noctis to do it, Kar actually likes him.”

Ardyn pressed his hand to his forehead and sighed. “Well, I would ask him to do it, since he loves that little monster so much, but darling, he’s coming to the party.” Ardyn sighed, perhaps a touch over-dramatically. “My beloved great-nephew is perhaps the only person I want to actually be there, although I’m sure he’d love to use the excuse of catsitting to get out of it. But if I’m stuck with his father at New Years, then so is he.”

Aranea opened her mouth.




December 31, 10:00


It wasn’t like he’d meant to not tell Aranea. After all, she had been working for him for five years, and it wasn’t exactly a state secret, or anything. Well, it sort of was. But it wasn’t the kind of state secret that nobody knew, it was just the kind of state secret that was more of a family secret than a governmental one. But when you were royalty, it was hard to tell where family shame became public shame.

So not telling Aranea hadn’t been an intentional lie, he just…found himself never mentioning it, for one reason or another. Mostly because then he would have to have a really stupid, annoying conversation about it.

The following morning, M.T. closed for inventory as Ardyn tallied up the last purchases for the holidays before they left to Family Hell, Cor reading the morning paper and enjoying his day off, Aranea leaned over the counter at work and pinned him. “Okay,” she said, tapping her ballpoint pen on the wood countertop, “So you were gonna tell me you were Royalty when, Your Highness?”

“Don’t call him that,” Cor said without looking up from his paper. “It goes to his head and then he acts like an asshole.”

“I am an asshole,” Ardyn replied, unperturbed. Cor grunted. “He’s just saying that because nobody ever takes me seriously enough to call me Your Highness. Technically I am a Prince,” he paused, sucked on his pen cap obscenely. “Well. If an illegitimate one. Although, goodness, I can’t think of the last time anyone but Cor called me that seriously. And even then, Cor only pulls out Your Highness when he’s balls deep—“

Cor stepped on his toes. Hard. Ardyn kicked him in the shin in return. Aranea looked like she’d just swallowed something really, really gross.

“This has to be a joke. How can you be a Prince and nobody knows?”

“Well, plenty of people know.” Ardyn shrugged. “I have a Wikipedia page, albeit under my maiden name. I’m just not in the line of succession, so nobody really cares all that much.” Aranea ignored him and looked at Cor.

“He’s joking, right?” Cor looked up at her, a fleck of foamy milk caught on his upper lip about which Ardyn could have written odes. That nobody would have bothered to read. “This is an elaborate, and stupid, joke. Right?”

“I would never play along with one of his jokes.” Cor held up a finger to forestall Ardyn butting in that he did regularly play along with the King’s jokes, and why would he play along with Regis and not Ardyn? “It’s not playing along if I’m on the clock, Ardyn.” He, petulantly, started deep-throating his pen. Cor, who had known him for the better part of twenty years, ignored him. “No, Ardyn is actually a Lucis Caelum. If a terrible one.”

“His hair is fucking maroon! And he’s tall! The King and Noctis are both tiny!” Aranea paused. “And Lucis Caelums go grey early.”

“I haven’t got a single grey hair on my perfect head,” Ardyn lied, checking off the next thing down on his inventory list. “Have you ever seen a grey hair on my perfect head?”

“No,” Cor turned the page of his newspaper, “Because you dye it.” He glanced up, a smile playing around his thin lips as Ardyn glared at him like a look could melt the skin off of his face. “Oh, I’m sorry, was that something I wasn’t supposed to say?”

“You’re the soldier, Marshal.” Ardyn waggled his pen. “If I stab this in your eye, will you die?”

“Don’t turn this into a weird lover’s spat!” Both men looked over at Aranea. “I’ve seen his pubes!” She paused. “Not like I wanted to. But. His hair is actually that red!” Ardyn sighed.

“Well, yes, I got it from my mother. But I’m not getting any younger, you know. Some of us don’t look good as silver foxes.” He’d started going grey at the same time as Regis had, in his early thirties. Unlike some people, though, Ardyn had refused to go quietly into that good night. Honey, his hair had missed auburn big time, but he would own it every day for the rest of his life. Ardyn stood, sighed dramatically. “When royalty stands you’re supposed to stand, you know,” he said to Cor, tapping the other man on top of the head with his pen.

“That’s just the King,” Cor didn’t look up at him, but did smack him on the ass. “Go count your to-go cups so you don’t spend the entire vacation freaking out about it. I’m not going through that again.” As Cor spoke, Ardyn’s phone buzzed, and he artfully pulled it from his pocket to check his texts.


Darling Nibling [BLACK HEART]: um

ARD: What’s up ?…………...slime man

Darling Nibling [BLACK HEART]: have you + cor left yet

Darling Nibling [BLACK HEART]: I kinda

Darling Nibling [BLACK HEART]: um

ARD: Sweetheart, did u sleep through your parents leaving ?…………...slime man

Darling Nibling [BLACK HEART]: well like

Darling Nibling [BLACK HEART]: I mean sorta?

Darling Nibling [BLACK HEART]: I didnt actually dads just in like

Darling Nibling [BLACK HEART]: the shittiest mood and I didnt wanna be in the car with him driving

ARD: :-(…………...slime man

ARD: My poor Noctis !!…………...slime man

Darling Nibling [BLACK HEART]: you know the thing he does where he

Darling Nibling [BLACK HEART]: taps on the brake every .2sec

Darling Nibling [BLACK HEART]: that thing

ARD: Yes I know The Thing™ .…………...slime man

Darling Nibling [BLACK HEART]: anyway can you and cor give me a ride out?

Darling Nibling [BLACK HEART]: I can come by the apartment

ARD: Come to M.T. we’re doing stock !…………...slime man

ARD: Coffee on the house ;-).…………...slime man

ARD: Did Iris & Gladio go with the Boring Boys?…………...slime man

Darling Nibling [BLACK HEART]: yea

ARD: Their loss ;-)…………...slime man

Darling Nibling [BLACK HEART]: thanks uncle ardyn

ARD: Always !!…………...slime man



“We’re giving Noct a ride,” Ardyn told Cor off-handed, and then added to Aranea without blinking, “Fuck off.” He left the room, but as he got into the stock room, Ardyn paused as he heard Aranea drop her voice to a hushed whisper.

“If he’s the King’s uncle, how old is he?”

Ardyn sped backward so fast that when he wrenched around the corner his hair and scarves weren’t even artfully aflutter, he was just red-faced and glaring. “Well, his birthday is the first and he’s turning f—“ the other man had started to say, and he froze when he saw Ardyn looking at him like he was going to commit homicide. Cor hesitated, and then very slowly took a long sip of coffee. Smart man. “State secret. That’s classified information.”

“You just don’t want him to get angry at you!”

“You can’t ask a lady her age!” Ardyn said, and Aranea jumped, glared at him.

“You are, like, the exact fucking opposite of a lady!”



The stockroom was a mess after the holidays, as it always was. Their business was up with tourists and visiting friends and family, and Drunk Holiday Party Ardyn never put anything back where it went, so he ended up on top of one of the stock shelves, digging through dusty old paper napkins, trying to find the rest of the to-go cups. They’d had less left over than he thought. Ardyn had left the café door unlocked, since he was a lazy piece of shit. They were leaving as soon as he was done making sure what he had to order, and as Cor sat there nursing his coffee while Aranea cleaned up the signs for the new year’s menu, Ardyn banging about in the stockroom, the door opened. The bell clanged.

“We’re closed!” Shouted the stockroom. “Come back after New Year’s!”

“No, you’re my ride.” Aranea paused where she was scrubbing down one of the signs and turned around to see Prince Noctis standing there, looking warm in a huge puffy winter vest, his black hair sticking out at odd angles under his hat. He also looked like he’d just rolled out of bed. Ardyn, summoned by the young man, swanned out of the back room and came over, squishing his cheeks and pulling him into a hug that Noctis endured with the sort of longsuffering anguish that accompanied any young adult’s response to overzealous relatives. Holding the Prince at arms’ length, Ardyn tsked his tongue against his teeth.

“I wasn’t expecting you anytime soon. I thought you’d be in bed until after lunch!”

“Na.” Noctis yawned. “I wasn’t actually that tired. Papa can’t tell when I’m faking and he didn’t make Gladio come check. Can I have that free coffee?”

“Of course. But really Noct, you can’t just rely on your softhearted uncle to give you a ride when you fake sleeping late. Your father is going to give me an earful.” Ardyn tweaked his nose, and Noctis grunted.

Aranea, now that she knew, could see the resemblance. Creepy weird giggling? Never stood up straight for literally five seconds ever? Both fell out of the gay tree, hit every branch on the way down? Stupid hair? Yeah.

Noctis sat down in the chair Ardyn had vacated earlier as his uncle came around the counter and started making his drink. “You’ve been cadging free drinks off of me for years,” Aranea accused Noctis, who looked up at her, surprised. “For like. Four years! And I’ve always been afraid to give them to you because I figured Ardyn was gonna get pissy about it! And not once did you mention that this jackass is your uncle.” Noctis blinked.

“I thought you knew?”

“No!” Aranea yelled, anguished. “Like, nobody ever tells me anything around here! I didn’t know that was what the L.C. in Cor’s phone stood for, and I still don’t know what M.T. stands for!”

“M stands for slope,” Noctis replied. Like it was obvious. Like anyone would have any fucking clue what that meant.

“I didn’t realise it was such a big deal.” Ardyn said, somewhat dreamily. “All this time, surrounded by royalty. Bullying royalty. Occasionally lacing royalty’s coffee with laxatives as an office prank. Being mean to royalty. Maybe I should have told you sooner, so you would be nice to me.” Aranea didn’t reply, but it was unspoken: there was no way she would’ve been nice to Ardyn. He sighed, dejected. “I suppose it was too much to hope for a little bit of decent respect around here.”

Cor laughed as he turned the page of his book. Ardyn glared vaguely at the back of his head, and went to give Noctis his coffee.

“Okay. So I’m morbidly curious now.” Ardyn and Noctis looked at Aranea and gave her an identical eyebrow cock. It was a little eerie. “What the hell is happening that you’re both so worried about.” Cor turned the page of his newspaper in the pause that followed, and Ardyn pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Every year,” he explained, “For my birthday, which is New Year’s Day, the family as a whole has this ridiculous get together out at one of the chateaus in the countryside. It’s nominally supposed to be a fun and wholesome bonding experience wherein we all get together and reflect on how much we love each other.” He winced. “In reality, it’s a fucking nightmare. Every year. Something always goes wrong.”

“You always get drunk,” Cor interjected. Ardyn ignored him.

“So I haven’t gone the last few years. I’m already the black sheep of the family, they aren’t losing anything by me missing. But this year the foot got put down and I must attend and be on my best behaviour.”

“I dunno, it could be fun.” Aranea scratched her chin. “I’d love to have a get together with my family.” The expression that the two Lucis Caelums made in response was rather similar to that of a person swallowing a lemon.

“’Look at how much you’ve grown!’” Noctis imitated, sarcasm dripping from his voice. “’You’re so tall, you’ll be taller than your Father soon!’”

“’When are you going to start acting like proper Royalty? Don’t you know nobody in our family buys thrift!’” Ardyn chimed in, in an identical patronising tone.

“’Are you sure you want to go with Noctis as your chosen name? You can’t always trust decisions you made when you were a child!’”

“’I’ve heard yoga can help with depression, does it work the same for bipolar?’”

“’I don’t know why you and your father can’t just be straight!’”

Aranea stared. “Wh...what?”

“Every year!” Noctis threw his hands in the air. “It’s always the same thing! Picking at everything about us, and then a fight starts, and then everyone ends up angry and fed-up and we don’t talk about it!”

“My sister in law is a real nightmare,” Ardyn clarified. “The Queen Mother is probably my second least favourite relative. Aside from my other sister in law.” He paused. Pressed his forehead into his hands. “Please tell me Menda isn’t coming this year.”

“She is.” Noctis looked as miserable as Ardyn as he said it.

“Fuck me.”



ARD: Your mother is coming ?…………...slime man


ARD: Noctis mentioned the other one .…………...slime man

ARD: She Who Must Not Be Named !!…………...slime man

[CROWN][MIDDLE FINGER: Sylva invited her, not me

[CROWN][MIDDLE FINGER: So don’t go blaming me.

[CROWN][MIDDLE FINGER: She and Aulea are both coming

ARD: If I die at the end of this party, I am going to haunt the shit out of you !…………...slime man






When they arrived at the chateau, Cor leaned in the backseat and gently shook Noctis awake. “Get up, Your Highness,” the Marshal said, as Noctis snuffled and rolled his face into the upholstery of Ardyn’s atrocious car, mashing his face into the leather. “We’re here.”

“Can we like, be not here?”

“As I told Ardyn: no.” Noctis groaned and rolled out of the car, grabbed his overnight bag, and slouched in after the Marshal, who locked up Ardyn’s shitty convertible. Said man was absolutely nowhere in sight—he’d probably legged it to somewhere—as they climbed up the circle drive, frost-rimed gravel crunching underfoot. About halfway up, the front door to the chateau burst open, revealing Iris.

“Hi Marshal!” She waved. Cor waved back. “Noct, there you are! You guys took for-e-ver!”

“Yeah,” he called back to his sister, “Because Uncle Ardyn and Cor don't speed!”

“Don’t let Dad hear you say that!” Technically, as Regis had pointed out on more than one occasion, since he made the laws about speed limits, he couldn’t speed. (Technically, as Clarus had pointed out on every single occasion that the former had been brought up, the Council ratified his decisions, and while Clarus did have the right to veto or make unanimous calls in urgent situations when none of the rest of the Council was present, he had never, not once, approved any sort of speed limit lifting on the part of the Royal family.) “Where’s Uncle Ardyn?”

Noctis shrugged. "Dunno." Cor pointed over his shoulder.

“Seeing the chocobos.”

The chateau had been built two hundred years before, by some King about whom Noctis was supposed to know a ton but didn’t, and currently it was stuffed fit to bursting with literally every member of his extended family. Cousins, aunts and uncles, far-removed relatives by marriage, and the closer ones too—his parents, his siblings, both his grandmothers and his one living grandfather, his uncle and Cor—and then family friends, too. Cid and Weskham always came, Ignis and his parents, Sylva Nox Fleuret (with Ravus, but no Luna, in tow), Aulea his godsmother, and Menda, Sylva and Aulea’s best friend. And Ardyn’s sister-in-law.

Which meant, the moment Noctis opened the door, he was almost bowled over by three cousins under the age of ten, and walked smack-dab into his grandmother.

“Oh!” Collina cooed, her blue eyes bright behind her thick glasses as she turned around, pulling Iris and Noctis both over, one in either arm. She was a small, chubby woman in her late eighties, and she was nice enough while sober. It was when she got drunk that she became a problem. “It’s my beautiful granddaughters! Look how much you’ve both grown!”

Noctis closed his eyes.

She smelled like Schnapps already.

It was gonna be a long, long night.






By dinnertime, one window had been broken, three children had burst into tears, Ignis had been badly singed by a kitchen accident, and Ardyn had still not appeared out of the chocobo stable.

“I’m telling you,” Menda Izunia was the same age as Noctis’ parents, her bob-cut mousy brown hair mostly grey, wearing a pair of denim overalls and a turtleneck and steel-toed combat boots. Her lipstick was approximately the colour of spilled blood. “He’s too scared to come in here with me here. Probably thinks I’ll kill him.”

“Well, to be fair, you did promise to get revenge last time you saw him.” Sylva laughed when she said it. “Really Menda, you don’t have to be so mean to him!”

“But it’s funny!”

Regis, at the head of the table, had his head in his hands, and Noctis didn’t want to go anywhere near the mess that was his drunk grandmother. As they were sitting there, the whole family crammed in at three separate tables to eat, Clarus came over and flopped down into the chair next to his younger son, threw an arm around Noct’s shoulders.

“You having fun yet?”

“No.” He was twenty-one, but Noctis didn’t even consider for half a second not hiding in his father’s shoulder. That was what parents were for, right? “Can I stop coming next year?”

“If we have to come, so do you. Your grandmother would be heartbroken if you didn’t.” Noctis groaned. “Did you see that your cousin Cicer brought this fantastic homemade hummus?” Noct groaned louder this time. “Seriously. It actually makes that shit edible.”

“Don’t let Dad hear you,” Noct warned. Their fridge at home in the Citadel was like, three quarters health food and Gladio had to keep his cup noodles hidden in his bedroom. Ever since his pregnancy with Iris, Regis had been on increasingly intense health food kicks. They apparently made his pain easier to manage. Noctis just thought that they made his life hell, and meant he had to go to Prompto’s place to have a bagel. “Hummus is good for you, Papa. Chickpeas are an essential source of proteins and nutrients. You can put it on almost anything! Why, I think we should try substituting them to make savoury baked goods!”

“Eugh,” Clarus muttered. Noct giggled.

And then, in the middle of the conversations, the door into the main part of the house from the dining room banged open, revealing—

“And here I’d hoped that you had finally frozen to death,” Regis said. Ardyn was standing there, looking artfully windblown, his cheeks chapped rosy pink from the ocean breeze off of the coast. He’d lost his winter coat and was just standing there in the most atrocious thing that Noctis had probably ever seen his great-uncle in, which was definitely not what he had been wearing earlier on the drive. Then, he’d been in a fairly sensible grey chenille turtleneck, a set of pink lace scarves (three—one powder pink, one magenta, and one peach) and a pair of worn but comfortable looking skinny jeans. Now—

Ardyn was wearing a pair of lime-green spandex bike shorts, maroon flip-flops, and the upper half of a perfectly tailored tuxedo. The jacket looked like it was crushed velvet. He was wearing an opera scarf.

It was rainbow. Noctis hadn’t even known such a thing existed

He had what looked like an entire collection of butterfly barrettes in his hair. He had also dialed his makeup up to eleven, his lips painted a green that matched his shorts but did seventeen kinds of the exact opposite of match his hair, his eyelids covered in gold glitter. His nails were also green. The combined effort was somehow both perfect, and also horrendous, at the same time.

“Aww,” Ardyn sighed, leaning dramatically against the doorframe. Several of Noctis’ younger cousins giggled. Cid made a pained noise. “You almost make it sound like you might miss me!” Cor, a few seats down, had his face in his hands and had slid halfway under the table. Which was the usual reaction to Ardyn existing.

Collina made a horrible strangled noise, and Noct looked over to see his grandmother pale and anguished, clutching her pearls. “Those are not appropriate clothes!” The Queen mother managed at last. “Ardyn, go get changed at once! What your brother would say I will never know—“

“You look like you crawled into a dumpster, and wore what you found there!” Menda cackled, and Ardyn walked past her to the open seat at the far end of the table next to the King. As he passed her, he grabbed her cup off of the table and splashed the entire contents of the wineglass onto her face.

“Bite me, Menda.”






“No, Mother,” Regis said, patiently, as he kicked his uncle under the table, Ardyn stepping surprisingly hard on his toes in return despite wearing sandals, “As I said, it’s up to Noctis if he wants to start in politics. I’m in perfectly good health, I don’t expect him to have to take the throne for some years yet.”

“Well,” his mother had gotten very drunk very early, and had launched into her yearly tirade about making sure Noctis was ready to take the throne if Regis died suddenly and inexplicably, “That was what your father said, and you remember what happened!” Regis sighed.

“Mother, Father had type four, I have type three. It’s a lot less serious in terms of fatal side effects.” Mors’ heart had ruptured when he’d been only fifty-seven. According to every specialist Regis had seen, he had absolutely nothing to worry about. “He isn’t ready,” the King continued. “He’s not even ready for a relationship. He’s just gotten his CFS under control, I don’t want to push him into something he’s not ready for—“

“You can’t call her sleeping through everything a disorder!” Collina snapped, rocking dangerously on her chair. Regis ground his teeth. Next to Collina, Clarus’ mother Brevis put a hand on the Queen Mother’s shoulder to stabilise her. “I don’t know why it’s so hard for your daughter—“

“Son,” Regis corrected, for the third time in the last ten minutes. “And CFS is a pretty serious illness. Combined with his depression, it's been very hard for him to be active, Mother—“

“Really, Collina,” Ardyn might have been a raging asshole the size of the fucking moon, but he was good for one thing if nothing else: being the most hated person at any gathering. And taking the heat. “We’re all very lucky that Noctis doing so well despite his health. You remember what I was like at his age, don’t you?” Ardyn sighed dramatically. “At least he’s not actively dying, he’s certainly doing better than I was.”

“I don’t know what we did wrong,” Collina complained. Regis, his head pressed into his hand as he stared over the table and the chaos, noticed Iris sliding out of the room along with Noctis, and couldn’t find it in him to chastise them. Aulea and Menda were both tipsy and Sylva kept having to coax them down off of the table. All of the children had long since managed to escape their parental captors. Clarus’ parents were in a very involved conversation with Cor and Cid about motorcycles, and his cousin Gaius was telling a very animated rendition of some story. Ignis was poring over a recipe book with the cook and Weskham, and Gladio was flirting a little awkwardly with one of Regis’ third cousins, and he didn’t have the heart to tell his son that she was a lesbian. “Two generations in a row! I don’t know why you can’t just be a normal couple.” Collina sniffed, and reached out to cup her son’s cheek.

There was such a look of anguish on her face. “You were such a beautiful little girl. I don’t know where I went wrong! You would have been such a nice Queen! And you and Clarus would have been the cutest couple. Or if you had to insist on being a boy, you could have married Aulea? I mean, I don’t know what this insistence about being a gay man is all about! You’re really just straight anyway! It isn’t like Clarus is getting anything different than he would have if you’d never ruined your body and had your breasts—“

Regis closed his eyes. “Mother,” he growled, his voice cracking. This was trying. He was being tried. And found wanting. He would not start a fight with his aged mother at the dining room table.

Ardyn cleared his throat. Clapped him on the shoulder.

“I’ll go get something to drink.”






Somewhere in the time Cor had been discussing the finer workings of his motorcycle with Altus and Cid, Ardyn and the King had somehow escaped to the kitchen and between them drunk three bottles of wine.

“I don’t understand,” Clarus said, as Regis threw back the rest of his glass. The King was sitting on top of one of the counters, and had loosened his tie, and lost both his shoes. “You haven’t had more than one glass of wine in three years!” Ardyn, who was sprawled on the floor and had moved on from wine to what looked like champagne, raised a flute.

“In his defence,” Ardyn said, completely serious, wiping a lipstick stain off of the rim of the champagne flute, as Cor sighed next to Clarus, “Collina is far more palatable while drunk. If she was my mother, I’d disown myself.”

“If I have to have one more conversation about my mother about why you and I couldn’t just be married like a normal heterosexual couple, I’m abdicating the throne and running away to live in a hole in the ground for the rest of my life.”

“I was talking to Altus and Cid for twenty minutes,” Cor whispered, strangled. Ardyn splayed his legs and winked at the Marshal. “Twenty minutes I stopped paying attention! How did they manage this?”

“There’s still plenty of time before midnight,” Clarus said. He watched as his husband reached up onto the shelf behind him with the liquor and pulled out some kind of flavoured vodka, held it at arms length, and then broke the seal. “They might sober up.”

That was a false hope.






“Happy Birthday!” The assorted family cried, as Ardyn blew out the candles on his cake and then stood there, looking bitter and morose.

“I’m old,” he said, to nobody in particular, flopping bonelessly into the chair and glaring at his cake. Someone (Menda) had insisted on putting on all fifty three candles on his cake and making him blow all of them out. “I am old, and miserable, and I’ll be alone forever.”

“I asked you to marry me again last week,” Cor muttered, slicing the cake. “You said no.” He set a slice of cake before Ardyn. “Happy birthday, Ardyn.” The Marshal leaned over and kissed him, and somewhere, Noctis made a gagging noise.

“Gross,” said the Prince. “That’s gross. That’s disgusting.”

For the birthday-cum-holiday presents were passed around, and everyone opened them. Amongst other things, Regis got a cookbook called Fifty-Five Unique Ways To Use Quinoa, Iris got a new phone and immediately scurried off to start transferring the data from her old one, Noctis got a brand new fishing tackle box from Cor, Cor (who was wearing a maroon v-neck with black piping) got three more of the exact same shirt from three different people, who all looked awkwardly chagrined, and Ardyn got a horrendous pink sweater with I am a luxury few can afford written on it. It was vintage. It was terrible.

“This,” Ardyn said, holding it at arms length before he pulled it on over his suitcoat, “Is the best thing anyone has ever given me.”





Ardyn left and came back without his tux but with three different camisoles on instead, and still had the ugly sweater. Regis, at some point, lost his coat and waistcoat. The kids got chivvied off to bed. Noct, Iris, Gladio, and Ignis ran off to do something stupid and teenagery, which was no worse than what the adults were doing.





“So anyway,” Menda explained, her boots up on top of some priceless vintage furniture, while Adryn drunkenly mixed up some kind of monster in one of those water coolers that were meant for fancy parties but tonight was just going to get everyone blitzed, Weskham handing him random bottles after peering at them intently “Like, he grabbed my boob, and you should’ve seen the look on his face when I pulled the switchblade!”

“Knives are illegal to carry within Insomnia if they’re over four inches,” Regis pointed out. He had tipped backwards into Clarus’ lap and lost just one of his socks. He was flushed, hazy, and kept staring at his husband like he was the greatest thing to ever happen to him. “I’ll have you arrested.”

Aulea laughed so hard at that comment, hiccuping, that she fell over sideways and into Sylva’s lap.






“Um,” Ravus said, leaning into the large drawing room that currently contained pretty much the entirety of the above-twenty five population, including the grandparents who were planing an extremely heated game of bridge, while the rest of them just kind of sat there and talked. There was snow in Ravus’ hair, down his shirt collar, and what looked like a dirty boot print marked on his cheek. “Iris is stuck on the roof.”

Cor, very tiredly, removed Ardyn from his lap and disentangled Aulea’s arms from around his neck, waking the woman up. Ardyn swore at him roundly as he dumped the older man on his ass off of the couch.

“I’ll go get her.”






“So,” Iris said, eyeing Gladio’s red solo cup of worryingly unmarked alcohol, “Who is gonna kiss me for New Year’s?” Clarus shook his head at his daughter as she sneaked her hand over to try and steal Gladio’s cup. “I kissed Gladys last year.”

“You’re too old for me to kiss you,” Gladio replied, holding his cup out of her reach. “Kiss Noct.”

“Ew,” Noctis said, looped an arm with Ignis. "Besides, I'm kissing Specs." The other young man's high cheekbones flushed. Ardyn came over and threw an arm around Iris’ shoulder, squeezed his niece as Clarus got the volume up on the tv so that they could watch the ball drop.

“Don’t worry, darling,” Ardyn said, drinking. “Midnight is a whole minute long. I’m pretty sure I can kiss everyone in that time; I am a slut after all.” Cor choked on his drink, and had to get pounded on the back by Altus, spitting whatever mix of vodka, mixer, lemon juice, tonic water, and probably tequila Ardyn had somehow made palatable through the introduction of more fruit juice than anyone wanted to consider. “What?” Ardyn asked, almost overbalancing sideways as he looked back at his boyfriend. “Are you going to deny it?”

“I’m not kissing you,” Regis replied. “Not for love or money!”






Regis, laughing, flopped into Clarus’ lap with a boneless grace that somehow let him do it without spilling a single drop of the glass of champagne he was holding. Smiling at his husband, the King spoke into the general hubbub, loud enough above his usual volume that it carried, “Did you know, I think we might have a leak somewhere in this old roof?” Clarus, consternated, looked around worriedly.

“Why do you say that? I hadn’t noticed.”

Regis, without blinking, grabbed Clarus’ hand and put it on his crotch. Noctis, across the room, made this anguished little mortified noise in the back of his throat and most of the family turned to stare, always on the lookout for That Good Drama™. In the hush, the King said, completely calmly, “Because, Clarus, I seem to be all wet.”

Clarus was, approximately, the colour of Ardyn’s hair.

“Okay,” he choked at last, voice reedy and stressed, as he peeled the King’s drink out of his hand and set it on the side table, hefting the other man off of his lap and into a bridal hold. For his efforts the Consort got a disgruntled squawk from the King. “You’ve had enough. I’m taking you to bed.”

“Gross!” Iris shouted, even as Noctis was moaning in pain. “Gross, that’s gross! I’m grossed out! I will never recover! That was disgusting!”

“That’s how you happened!” Regis shouted over Clarus’ shoulder as he was removed from the room, pointing at his daughter. “A happy accident!”

“I,” Noctis said to the room at large, horrified, “Hate my parents.”





“I don’t see what all the fuss is about,” Ardyn moaned, unhappily, from where he was dumped over Cor’s shoulder like a particularly pink sack of potatoes, his drink dangling from his boneless fingers. “I’m not that drunk.”

“That’s a funny joke,” replied the Marshal. “That’s a really funny joke.” Ardyn sighed, dejected. “No.”

“You are no fun in the slightest, Marshal!”





Cor woke up first when his pillow shifted out from under him, and blinked blearily at Ardyn swaying across their room to the bathroom, and figured the man was just going to take a well-earned piss after drinking half the contents of the family liquor cabinet. He dozed, unconcerned, and then woke a second time when the lights flicked on and Ardyn’s fairly considerable weight impacted the mattress, bouncing him up in the air.

Someone giggled.

“When I wake up,” Ardyn said, slinging a leg over Cor’s hip, grinding down into the crack of his ass, “Yeah I know I’m gonna be, I’m gonna be the man who wakes up next to you.” Cor made a pained noise as Ardyn leaned both hands into his back and someone started playing the song proper on tinny phone speakers to accompany his boyfriend's drunken rendition that could only in the loosest terms be considered 'singing'. “When I go out,” Ardyn continued, getting louder, “Yeah I know I’m gonna be, I’m gonna be the man who goes along with you!”

“Ardyn,” Cor growled into the mouthful of pillow he had, as Ardyn continued to sing, bouncing on top of him, and it wasn’t even remotely sexy. Someone, whoever his accomplice was, was giggling very hard in the background, “Fuck off,”

“But,” Ardyn cleared his throat and then at the top of his fucking lungs began to wail, “I would walk five-hundred miles and I would walk five-hundred more,” the disembodied giggling had increased in volume to disembodied wheezing, “Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles to fall down at your door!” Ardyn was practically bouncing Cor up off of the sheets now, and every verse he got louder until Cor was a) wide fucking awake and b) really fucking furious, and he finally shoved the older man off of his back and rolled over, blinking blearily.

Ardyn was in his pyjamas still, his hair done up in a net for the night, looking not in the slightest bit chagrined. Regis was standing at the end of the bed, filming, one of Clarus’ shirts sliding down off his slender shoulders. He was wearing moogle slippers. “What?” Cor snarled, blinking at both the Lucis Caelums. He hated Lucis Caelums. He hated all of them.

Ardyn leaned forward, grabbed him by the back of his neck, and kissed him like they were in a fucking porno. His mouth tasted freshly of alcohol, and Cor groaned angrily into his lips as Ardyn leaned back and slapped him, waking him up the rest of the way.

“We’re out of cereal.”

Cor slowly hunched over and put his face in his hands as both men broke down into hysterics.





Cor and Clarus met on the way down to breakfast, and looked at one another blearily in the chateau hallway. “Do you know where they went?” Clarus asked, at last. He sounded raw. There were about fifteen hickeys on his collarbones. “Because last I saw of them, Ardyn was giving Regis a piggyback out of our bedroom and they were giggling and had a bottle of absinthe.”

Cor, very slowly, closed his eyes. That explained. A lot.

“Cereal,” was all he said. Clarus sombrely clapped him on the shoulder, and together, they started to descend the stairs before the door to the bathroom down the hall slammed open.

“Papa!” Iris wailed, Clarus stopping mid-stride and reversing direction. “Help!” Clarus took the half-flight of stairs in one stride, Cor following in his wake as they jogged down the hall. Iris was wrapped in only a fluffy pink bath towel, her dark hair mussed and her grey eyes sleepy as she pointed into the bathroom. “I don’t know what to do with them.” Clarus pushed past her, Cor just behind the older man’s shoulder, and they came to a halt, staring at the mess before them.

Regis and Ardyn were together in the tub. Ardyn was still fully dressed in his pyjamas. Regis was in absolutely nothing at all. The empty bottle of absinthe was next to the tub on the ground, and they were both seemingly, nominally conscious. There was an empty pizza box, two empty boxes of cereal, and what looked like an entire pint of ice cream, now empty as well. Clarus very, very slowly sighed and scrubbed a hand over the back of his head, fingers scraping quietly through his buzzed hair. "I," he murmured at last, "Don't want to know. I don't even want to begin to know."

“Ardyn,” Cor found himself asking, his boyfriend grunting and rolling sideways to look up at him. They were both completely soaked, and covered in glitter. Cor didn’t even know where they had gotten glitter, “What. What are you two doing?”

“I,” Ardyn slurred in response, “Am washing myself. And my clothes.” He tried to vaguely gesture at himself, but it was aborted and he just dropped his arm halfway through. “We spilled the absinthe on me.”

Clarus put his face in his hands.

“I am remembering,” he said to nobody in particular, “Why we stopped letting them do things together.”




[SPIDER][GUN]: this just in

[SPIDER][GUN]: I hate your fucking cat

[SPIDER][GUN]: attachment: pisslord.jpg

[SPIDER][GUN]: I turned my back on him for TWO SECONDS to scoop his litter

[SPIDER][GUN]: and he peed in my shoes!

ARD: cute…………...slime man

[SPIDER][GUN]: die.