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When Ignis let himself into Noctis's apartment, it wasn't exactly a surprise that Noctis was perched on the back of his couch, one knee under his chin, his arms circling his legs. Noctis spent a lot of time in poses like that, broody ones.

And it was a spectacular view he was staring at, at that. High up in this apartment building, overlooking smaller buildings and the central park, and with a view towards the Citadel if you were out on the balcony. From Ignis's apartment, on a lower floor, the view consisted of the walls of other buildings, though if you went out of his balcony you could just about see the park, at the end of the road.

Ah well. If Ignis had been free to choose for himself, he wouldn't have lived here at all.

He set his bag on the floor next to the table, with just enough emphasis for Noctis to surely have heard it, and then retreated back into the kitchen.

Noctis didn't move from his pose, though Ignis was pointedly clumsy with the preparation of the food, and then with the cooking. Oil hissing in the pan. Steam rattling the lid of the pot. Impossible to ignore, surely?

"Dinner," he said, somewhat at a loss, as he set the plates on the table.

Noctis made a noise that indicated that he'd heard, and didn't move.

"If you're not hungry--"

"I'm not."

Words. Well, that was a start. "I brought you the reports for today."

"Mm."

The curry looked and smelled good, even if Ignis did say so himself. But it wasn't protocol for him to eat before the prince did. "How was work?"

"Mm."

Protocol be damned. Ignis took a taste. Hm. Next time, a little less turmeric, more salt, he thought. Another forkful. And perhaps steam the rice a tad longer.

He heard Noctis shift, on the arm of the chair, and he glanced up -- but no, Noctis had just swung his other leg over, so he was sitting on the back of the sofa, his whole body now facing the window.

"Perhaps," Ignis said, setting down the fork, "you'd rather be alone."

"I think I would," Noctis said, his tone even.

Well then.

Ignis locked Noctis's apartment behind him, and sighed. Noctis had visited the Citadel today, and that always made him difficult, his relationship with his father a strained shadow of what it had been when Noctis was a child. Or so Ignis's father said, and Ignis had no reason to doubt him. Perhaps it was merely that; Noctis brooding on the future. Or perhaps, more charitably, he could assign blame to the the Empire. Their visit set everyone on edge, and it would have hit Noctis hard to see his father having to negotiate with them.

Yes, almost certainly. And if so, Noctis would brood, and then he would shake himself out of his sour mood -- as, mercifully, he always did -- and return to being laconic but not ill-natured with it.

In the meantime, Ignis thought, he had enough ingredients to attempt that curry again.

--

Noctis had a part-time job in a small grocery store nearby, working around his college timetable. It was a very flexible job, and they endeavored not to treat him as a member of royalty, and after the first few months the novelty had worn off for the citizenry enough that he was no longer visited by gawkers. Ignis approved, and was rather proud of Noctis for persisting with it.

Noctis was currently dating one of the girls who also worked in the store. Vitiana. She had worked there longer than Noctis had, in fact. Ignis had run a shallow-level security check on her, as he had on all the employees, and she seemed suitably… normal. More importantly, she wasn't very impressed by Noctis being 'the prince'. To hear Noctis talk, she was only impressed when he got good grades at college, or when he restocked the shelves faster than expected.

It was quite a new relationship, such that Noctis still reacted to its mention with embarrassment. Ignis thought that was sweet, but refrained from saying so. Noctis was more comfortable with teasing than sincerity, on the whole, but there'd be time enough to tease Noctis later.

Ignis often dropped into the store, to buy Ebony and to keep a light eye on Noctis's activities.

Tonight, though, Noctis wasn't there when he dropped in. Perhaps he was out in the back, in the warehouse part? Vitiana was crouched in one of the aisles, mid-restocking, and Ignis picked his way across the crates on the floor towards her.

"What?" she said, when he coughed to get her attention, and then turned. "Oh. You."

Unusual. She was usually rather charming. Perhaps it had been a tough day.

"Noct not here?"

"No." Vitiana scowled. "And so I'm stuck doing his work, and mine."

Ignis bit down an apology. It wasn't his apology to make. But it did seem unlike Noctis to shirk his shift like this, and very unlike him to land his girlfriend with more work as a result.

"Call him," Vitiana said, and she knelt again. "Maybe he'll answer you."

Outside the store, Ignis frowned upwards -- the clouds promised rain to come -- and took out his phone. No answer, from Noctis.

"Ayup?"

"Is Noctis with you?"

"No." Prompto's voice turned sharp with worry immediately. "What happened? You need me to look for him?"

"No, don't concern yourself," Ignis said. "I'm sure he can't have gone far."

"He said he had a headache, in class," Prompto volunteered. "Maybe it got worse. He probably went home to sleep it off."

"That's very likely." Ignis could see their apartment building, from here. He squinted. Terrible, really; he should know immediately which floor was Noctis's, but he always had to count down from the top. Four. Five. Six. Seven. But if Noctis was home, he'd likely be in the main room, on the other side. Still, no need to panic Prompto. "Ah, yes, I think he's at home. Sorry to bother you."

"Hey, no worries."

Ignis took the stairs; the elevator was slow and he'd never quite trusted it. He let himself into Noctis's apartment quietly, and padded slipperfooted into the main room.

A mess. More so than usual, these days. Snackfood goods, all opened and barely tasted, scattered on the table. Comics opened and then, from the looks of it, tossed aside. A can of fizzy soda, opened and knocked sideways once mostly consumed, spilling out its last dregs onto the floor.

Noctis, on the balcony outside, both hands gripping the railing, the wind raking through his hair.

Ignis felt his pulse begin to slow. Noctis was here. In the middle of an epic strop, if he'd ditched work and reverted to slobbishness, but here.

He slid open the door.

"We broke up," Noctis said, after a moment of silence.

Noctis and Vitiana? Oh. No wonder Noctis was behaving like this. "I'm sorry to hear that," Ignis said, truthfully. "Did she say why?"

Noctis turned, and gave him an odd look. "No."

"A pity." Ignis looked out, past Noctis. The sky was still darkening; it was going to be a stormy night. "Well. I'll let you return to your thoughts."

It wasn't hard to return the place to some sort of order. Comics on the shelf, half-full junkfood containers carefully resealed and put away. The sticky residue of the drink was the worst of it, and it took only a little elbow grease to remove that. As he stood, something caught his eye, under the sofa. Another comic, no doubt.

No, he realised as he retrieved it. Lady Lunafreya's notebook. Splayed facedown, with no thought for the spine of the book, treated more appallingly than Ignis had ever known Noctis to treat it. And stained, on the blank open page, faintly, water droplets having warped the page wherever they fell.

Hm. A press with a warm iron might fix the warping without damaging the paper overmuch. But why would Noctis have gotten water--

He looked over at Noctis, whose back was to the room again. And suddenly it registered, how red Noctis's eyes had looked.

Tears. These were tear-marks. Oh dear.

No doubt Noctis had wished to confide in Lady Lunafreya, his childhood friend. From the blankness of the page, it was evident he'd been unable to find the words he needed. Ignis closed the notebook; the tears were dried, he'd do it no harm by leaving it untreated.

The place restored to some sort of order, he went to the kitchen. Doubtless Noctis had filled himself with his sampling of the junkfood, but it was part of Ignis's duty to ensure that Noctis didn't only eat junkfood. Perhaps he could come up with something that was as much treat as nutrition.

Noctis reentered the room, and yanked the door back across as hard as if he expected it to slam. It merely clicked back into place, naturally. Ignis only allowed himself to glance over; it was raining now, and Noctis's hair and shirt were damp. Thank god their young prince wasn't quite melodramatic enough to stay out there in the rain.

"Your supplies were limited," Ignis said, "but I think I can fashion something."

Noctis came over to the counter, and put both hands on it. His clothes were filthy, Ignis thought; stained as if he had rolled in the snack foods he'd opened instead of eating them.

"The comics are on the shelf. The notebook is back in the drawer."

"Do you know what happened?" Noctis asked. "Do you?"

Ignis picked up the chopping knife. Mince the onion, thoroughly.

"They're marrying me off," Noctis said, his voice suffused with rage. "And I don't even get a choice."

Ignis glanced up, and then down at the knife, marshalling his thoughts. A political marriage? Was this arranged by Niflheim, marrying Noctis to someone in the Empire so the throne would eventually fall into Imperial hands? If so, it was a miracle Noctis was this calm over it.

The knife vanished from his hand, reappearing in Noctis's grip. "Do you hear me?" Noctis said, fiercely. "They're making me marry her."

Ignis pushed his glasses up his face. "When did you attune yourself to the chopping knife?"

"I--" and Noctis put it down, and glared at him. "Do you know what it's like, having to give up everything just because of who my father is?"

Yes, I bloody well do, thought Ignis. He opened a drawer, and pulled out another knife. It vanished from his hand again.

"Are you listening?"

"Yes, Noct. I'm listening." Ignis took out a third knife -- ill-suited for food preparation, but it would suffice -- and set it down on the chopping board. "An Imperial request, I surmise?"

"Those assholes," Noctis said, more softly. "I like Vitiana. Or I think I did. And I had to dump her, and I can't even tell her why until it's official."

Ignis sighed, sympathetic, and then picked up the knife again. Focus, he thought. A long slice, first, across the top of--

The knife vanished again. "Noct, I am fully capable of preparing a meal and listening to you at the same time."

"I don't care." Noctis turned, and strode back to the sofa, and flung himself into it. "You can't possibly understand anyway."

"Can I not?" Ignis folded his arms. "Let me see. The Empire, a force too large for us to do aught but make peace with, has made it part of their peace terms for you to marry as they see fit."

Noctis glowered at his own boots.

"As a result, you -- very appropriately and maturely -- realised you would have to terminate your current relationship. You are wounded by this action, naturally, but you understand it is part of the duties that dictate your life for you." Ignis held out his hand, and flexed, reaching into the gap where Noctis's powers allowed him to retain objects. The knife reappeared in his hand. "Is that accurate?"

Noctis shrugged, wordless.

"Your father would not have promised you lest he saw no other choice." Ignis set about the onion again. "You are right to be angry, but it achieves nothing."

"Well, I damn well can't pretend to be happy," Noctis said.

"No, perhaps not."

There was a long pause in which the only sound was the noise of the knife on the chopping block.

"Noct? Friendly advice?"

"What?"

"Take a shower. I'll finish dinner. You'll feel better clean and with food in you. I'm not--" Ignis added, seeing Noctis's expression turn even sourer, "saying that it will fix anything. But it will allow you to consider your options more calmly."

"What options?"

"Indeed. Allow me to think while I cook, and I'll get back to you on that."

That actually brought a faint, reluctant smile to Noctis's lips. "Uh-huh. Fine. I'll go shower."

Noctis was gone for perhaps a minute.

"You have got to be kidding me," Ignis heard, and then Noctis returned, shirtless but still booted. "The water's cold."

Oh. Ignis turned, and opened the boiler cabinet. It flashed, redly, next to a number Ignis couldn't decipher. "Naturally," he said, with a sigh. "My keys are in my bag. Go shower in my apartment, if the problem doesn't persist all through the block."

"Got it. Okay. Thanks."

Ignis managed to call the maintenance team -- a fix was promised, tomorrow morning -- and still had the risotto ready and the dessert chilling in the fridge by the time Noctis let himself back into the apartment. Noctis had appropriated some of Ignis's clothing while he was up there, button-up shirts and slacks of a sort Noctis would never deign to wear ordinarily. They were a little long on him, and he'd rolled up the sleeves a few turns. Combined with the damp hair falling softly around Noctis's face, and his bare feet and hands, it made Ignis recall a time when a lover of his had stayed overnight, and in the morning they'd--

Ignis tamped the thought down. Heavens, he'd seen Noctis fresh out of a shower before, this train of thought was quite unnecessary. "Here," he said, spooning the risotto into a bowl, his hands less steady than he'd like. "And there's mousse, afterwards."

"Thanks. This--" and Noctis laid down a large manila envelope, "was downstairs. It's probably your notification about, well, you know."

Ignis looked at it, and then back at Noctis's face, and poured himself a bowl of the risotto. "I'll examine it in a while."

"Yeah? You sure that's okay?"

"I don't imagine the contents will change before I finish eating."

It was a silent meal, ruminative, but Noctis seemed less vicious than he had been, and he cleared away the plates and waved Ignis back to his seat. "I can find dessert, trust me," he said over his shoulder.

Ignis unwound the string holding the envelope shut, and slid the report inside upwards, to verify the contents.

Ignis Scientia,

As advisor to the prince, you will have been aware of the negotiations underway--

Ignis skimmed for Noctis's name.

--in accordance with the Empire's demands, Prince Noctis is to be wed to the Lady Lunafreya of Tenebrae. Their wedding will take place in Altissia, as soon as--

Lunafreya? Ignis was so startled he let out a laugh.

"You think this is funny?" Noctis demanded, from the kitchen, the plate of dessert held in both hands.

"No, no, but--" and Ignis gestured at the report. "You're to wed the Lady Lunafreya?"

"Yes."

Ignis blinked, startled by the abruptness of that response. And then thought of the notebook, and the tearstains upon it. Oh.

Noctis heaved in a deep breath, and then brought the dessert to the table, setting it between them. He plucked two spoons out of the air, and shoved one across the table to Ignis. "I know. Luna."

"Forgive me, but… you like Lady Lunafreya, I thought?"

Noctis shrugged, and stabbed his spoon into the mousse. "She's--she's nice."

But nice wasn't enough to justify a marriage, Ignis thought. "Understood."

"No, I mean." Noctis sent the spoon away again, and squared his shoulders. He took another deep breath, fisting and then relaxing his hands. "Luna's great, really. But we're friends. I don't fancy her."

"Did you attune yourself to your entire cutlery drawer?"

"Practice." Noctis shook his head, irritated. "You've gotta help me, Specs. I can't marry Luna."

Ignis considered that. "See it from her perspective," he offered. "They'll use her as a pawn in some marriage, sooner or later. They're rather obliged to, no?"

Noctis snorted. "The blood of the Oracle. Right."

"Then consider who they might choose instead of you."

"You--" and Noctis swallowed hard, and then shook his head. "It's still not right. I'm too young for her, like a kid brother. That's what she wrote me, you know, that I was like a little brother."

"She hasn't seen you in a long time. You're not a child any more."

"She's seen photos. But… I feel the same way. She's like a sister. Or more distant, like a… a goddess. Pure. Holy. No more real than Gentiana."

"Divinely touched," Ignis offered. "Like an Oracle?"

Noctis scowled.

"Whatever she is, Noct, you are the Chosen King by those same prophecies."

Not the right thing to say, Ignis realised, by the way Noctis shrunk into himself. Would Noctis ever regard himself as worthy of the title that had been laid upon him?

"You and the Oracle are destined to be side-by-side," he added, trying to clarify. "This marriage, perhaps that's merely destiny showing its hand."

Noctis shrugged, the tiniest motion of his shoulders. The mousse sat between them, the only mark upon it the wound where Noctis had inserted a spoon, and only now did Ignis recall that Noctis had a distaste for mushy desserts. A poor choice to comfort Noctis with, just like his words. He stood.

"I'm not helping," he said, quietly. "You're not wrong to grieve for what you have lost. The best I can suggest is to distract yourself. A movie, perhaps. Or a book. And in the morning, I will accompany you to the Citadel, and we'll see what must be done."

Noctis nodded, and stood up. He pushed Ignis's hands aside, and took the dessert back into the kitchen.

"Goodnight, then," he said, not looking at Ignis.

"Yes."

Ignis let himself out of the apartment, and sighed again. Poor Noctis. But the boy had known he'd likely have to give up his girlfriend one day. Political marriages were more common than any other, for royalty, and no matter how 'normal' a life his father wished to give Noctis there were hard limits to what that could encompass.

He was in bed, some time later, when a faint knock on the door was succeeded by the sound of the lock turning. Who even had his keys?

"Who's there?"

"Me," a familiar voice replied, and then the door closed. "Noctis, I mean. There's no heating in my apartment."

The boiler. Of course. Ignis got up, wrapping a robe tightly around himself.

Noctis was in the hall, in Ignis's clothing still, looking sheepish. "I was watching a movie," he said, "and it was cold, and--and I attuned to your keys, earlier, and--"

"It's fine. I'll make the couch for you." Ignis put a hand out, reassuringly, to pat Noctis on the shoulder. "Or, if you wish to pull rank, you can take my bed."

Noctis's mouth went up at the side, a wry grin. "You gonna be in it if I do?"

The words hung there, Ignis not quite believing they'd been said, and then Noctis flushed pink.

"Sorry," he mumbled. "I had a beer, and I'm--I'm not--sorry."

"It's fine," Ignis said, his mouth making words automatically. "I… let me get some sheets."

He closed the bedroom door behind him, and ran a hand down his face in quiet despair. Well. It would be a long night, with that suggestion ringing in Ignis's ears. But he could get through one night. Glasses first, a shield between him and everything else, and then spare bedding. Sheets. A blanket. A pillow… well, he could spare Noctis one of the two on his own bed, he had no others.

Noctis helped him set up the bed, darting apologetic looks towards him the whole time.

"I've to report to the Citadel early," Ignis said, warningly, as he folded down the top of the blanket. "But then, you have college, and--"

"No, I don't," Noctis said. "I went and handed in my withdrawal."

But-- "Why?"

"They want me to marry Luna immediately," Noctis said, and he picked up the pillow. "Like, we set off, you, me, whoever else is coming along, and we go to Altissia this week, if we can."

"It's not even been formally announced," Ignis said, and he could hear the astonishment in his own voice.

"I know."

Ignis stared at Noctis, at the expression -- sulky but, now, resigned -- and felt real pity. To have to give up a relationship was hard. To have to give up everything, his whole life as it was, all at once, must feel like being torn apart. It wouldn't matter if Noctis had always longed to marry Luna. Under these circumstances, it was a miracle Noctis hadn't just packed a bag and run. Ignis wouldn't have blamed him.

"But you're right," Noctis continued, shoving the pillow down onto the end of the sofa. "It's as bad for her. And if not me, then maybe someone worse. So I'll do it. I gotta."

Ignis sat down, heavily. "At least, once you're married, you can bring her back here. She won't be a captive of the Empire, then."

"Yeah. Maybe." Noctis sat down next to him, and fidgeted with the rolled-up sleeve. "There's always a silver lining, huh."

"Noct, at least you're friends. Some royal marriages don't even have that."

"I know." Noctis nodded, but was still worrying at the cuff.

"You'll wear a hole in it," Ignis said, and put a hand over Noctis's to still him.

Noctis turned his head to look at Ignis. He was temptingly close, his eyes wide and that luminous blue, and his cheeks still a little pink from, well, who knew, the beer or his earlier embarrassment.

Noctis was pretty, and Ignis had spent a long time carefully not thinking about him this way. It really wasn't fair.

"Ignis," Noctis said, and that pulled Ignis's eyes down to Noctis's mouth, damn him. "Ignis, I--it's not official yet, so I'm not, not betrothed, not yet, right?"

"Noct--"

"So I can still do this," Noctis said, and then his mouth was on Ignis's, hot and insistent.

Ignis pulled back, regretful, as soon as he could think to do so, not nearly as soon as he should have. "Noct, no. This isn't appro--"

"Appropriate, right." Noctis ducked his head. "Okay. You can just say no, you don't wanna, I get it."

But that wouldn't be truthful, Ignis thought, and he cleared his throat. "You're just tired," he suggested, gently, "and you'd think better of this in the morning. Get some sleep."

Noctis was hunch-shouldered again. "Sure."

Ignis fled. His room door firmly closed, he let himself fall back into his bed, permitting himself a well-muffled moan of frustration. Noctis was his charge, his employer. It would be completely appalling to take advantage of this vulnerable state. It didn't matter that Noctis was the aggressor -- Noctis had been drinking, Noctis was upset, and Noctis was not thinking sensibly.

But Noctis was a good kisser, and now Ignis knew it he didn't think he'd ever forget it.

His bedroom door had no lock, and so a few sleepless hours later he was startled but not wholly surprised when the door opened. "Ignis," Noctis said, in a half-whisper. "Ignis."

"I'm awake," he said, sitting up and fumbling for the lamp.

"I came to apologise," Noctis said, and now he was in Ignis's room, sitting on the edge of the bed.

Ignis found his glasses, and donned them firmly. "It's unnecessary."

"No. I made you uncomfortable in your own home, and I'm sorry."

"Noct, you're still drunk--"

"Actually, I'm not. Stone cold sober, here. I should go back to my place."

To an unheated apartment, with the rain and wind still howling outside and leeching all the warmth from the city. "You don't have to do that."

"Yeah, I do." Noctis looked down at himself, and then back at Ignis. "If I don't, I'm just gonna lie on your sofa, with your pillow that smells of you, and wish it was you."

Ignis smiled, softly. "You'd do better to think of your ex-girlfriend, I'm sure."

"Maybe. Haven't liked her as long as I've liked you." Noctis went pink again, and then held up a hand in an odd, negating gesture. "Shit. Sorry. Maybe I'm still a little drunk after all."

It felt like a kick in the stomach, hearing that. Noctis had… liked him? But Noctis thought him fussy. Fastidious. A nag. A mother, he'd said, often enough for it to be a joke between them.

"God, though," Noctis said, and then he slung himself backwards, to lie crosswise on the bed, just below Ignis's feet. "Can you imagine me, married? I'll be an awful husband."

"I quite agree," Ignis said, pushing his glasses up his nose reflexively. "You can't cook, can't clean--"

"Yeah, yeah, just as well we'll have a palace full of servants to do that, right?"

"Indeed."

Noctis lay there, staring up at Ignis's ceiling, and Ignis became aware of his own pulse, racing. This was Noctis, in Ignis's bedroom, on Ignis's bed, having indicated some sort of long-held secret desire on his part for Ignis. Unfathomable, just a few hours ago. Almost unfathomable now. And yet here we are.

"You'll be with me, though, right?"

Ignis smiled. "Of course."

Noctis went quiet again. A few minutes passed, and then he said, "I wish you had let me kiss you for longer."

"Noct, let's not dwell on--"

"No, I know. But still." Noctis lifted a hand to his mouth, letting his fingers rest on his lower lip. "It was good, wasn't it?"

Ignis sighed. Was it worth lying, really? "Yes. It was a very good kiss."

Noctis sat up, immediately, and his expression was so hopeful it made Ignis's heart ache. "Then--"

"No, Noct. It's been a confusing night for you," Ignis said, softly, trying to keep reason uppermost in his mind. "Whatever you're feeling, it's prompted by, by--"

"Stop telling me how I feel," Noctis said, with a scowl. "I've fancied you for ages. Tomorrow, I won't be allowed to think about it any more. I kissed you, and you know what? I don't regret it, I'm not sorry, and I'd do it again if--"

Maybe it was the withdrawn apology that did it, but Ignis's self-control finally snapped. He kissed Noctis, grabbing at Noctis's--Ignis's own--shirt collar to haul him in close enough. Noctis made a surprised noise into the kiss, but kissed back with enthusiasm enough to make Ignis's head spin. Oh. Oh no. Noctis's hands were moving, one on Ignis's neck, one curled into Ignis's t-shirt, and Ignis was losing all sense of how far he should allow this to go, all sense of when would be enough.

Somehow, as the kiss continued, Noctis wrestled him onto his back, so Noctis was straddling him through the sheet, Ignis's arms around Noctis's waist. Noctis pushed himself upwards so he was on his hands and knees, putting just a little space between them. He grinned down at Ignis.

God. With that smile, Noctis looked more than pretty, he looked beautiful, Ignis thought. He lifted a hand to touch the side of Noctis's face, a little startled to find it real and warm to the touch. "Noct," he said, aware of the yearning in his body, and then stopped, unable to decide what to say.

"Shush," Noctis said, and then he shifted his weight to one side, and reached up to tug Ignis's glasses down his nose. "C'mon. Take these off."

Ignis obliged, folding them one-handed and shoving them onto the table by the bed.

"Better," Noctis said, and then let his hand drift downwards a little, to the collar of Ignis's t-shirt. "And this."

"Noct."

"What, you think I'm just here for the appetiser? C'mon."

Ignis frowned, and shifted sideways, turning himself so Noctis slid off him and onto the bed beside him. "Please, Noct. We can't have sex."

"Can't we?" Noctis looked stubborn. "Ignis, I'm ready. I'm good to go. I want this."

"Do you even know what's involved?"

"Do you?"

Ignis blinked, and pushed himself backwards and upwards, so he was sitting against the headboard. "Yes, in fact."

"Oh." Noctis lay there for a moment, and then shimmied upwards, raising his head just enough to put it on the pillow. "I didn't even ask, shit. Do you… you have a boyfriend?"

"Had," Ignis admitted. "Several, if we're counting."

"Huh, look at you. Quite the stud."

"Hardly."

Noctis moved again, to sit up next to Ignis. "Okay. What happened to them?"

"Ah, well. It's hard, you understand, having a high-powered job and being a single mother too."

Noctis snorted, and leant against Ignis's side. "You're saying it's my fault."

"More that my schedule makes it hard for a boyfriend to feel valued."

"Oh. Then it is my fault."

"Shh."

Another kiss, this one soft, and Noctis's hands pulling at Ignis's t-shirt until Ignis relented and let Noctis pull it off him. Noctis's hands immediately went to Ignis's chest, spreading his fingers out wide as if measuring the width of him.

Ignis's fingers were unbuttoning Noctis's shirt before he even realised it, and when he paused Noctis laughed at him and unfastened the last two himself.

"There," he said, and let Ignis push the shirt off his shoulders, "now we're even."

Noctis was slim but untoned beneath his clothes. Supple skin over a body where the muscles weren't too evident. It was lovely, Ignis thought, that subtle softness beneath soft skin. It made Noctis a delight to kiss, the subtle yield of flesh beneath lips, and Ignis kissed everywhere that didn't make Noctis squirm away as well as several places that did.

For his part, Noctis let his fingers trail over Ignis's body, hot trails of desire dragging along Ignis's skin in the wake of each caress, and made noises that sounded encouraging.

The waist of the slacks was a little loose, too, and when Ignis tugged downwards at them he was treated with just the topmost half-centimeter or so of thick, dark hair, a stark contrast to the pale skin of Noctis's abdomen.

"Please," Noctis whispered.

Like some kind of fantasy, Ignis thought, light-headed. The Prince of Lucis, half-naked, begging, hard, in his bed.

Noctis helped Ignis unbutton him, both of them shaky-handed, and Ignis didn't even have Noctis halfway out of his pants before Noctis was kissing him again, fierce and urgent. Ignis managed to fumble the slacks downwards, helping Noctis pull his feet out, without having to break the kiss again. He shoved all the clothing sideways, off the bed with the tangled mess that had been his sheets.

"Wait," Noctis said, suddenly, and he turned and leant off the bed, reaching for the pants. He pulled something out of his pocket, and then glanced, looking embarrassed, at Ignis.

Had Noctis brought supplies? Ignis was about to make some joke about making assumptions, and then Noctis opened his hand.

The little green charm from Noctis's bedroom. Ignis sat on his heels, and waited.

"Carbuncle," Noctis said, and he wriggled back up the bed, and set it on the bedside table. "He, uh. Protects me. He watches over me."

"And you think he should watch this?" Ignis asked, amused.

Noctis glanced over at the figure, and then rotated it to face away from the bed. "There."

Ignis let his gaze drift. Noctis was nude, and when he noticed Ignis was looking at him, he drew his legs up and placed a hand over his chest and another over his groin. It was such a cliched, maidenly pose that it made Ignis want to laugh, but Noctis looked embarrassed. Best not to laugh at him.

Instead, Ignis held out a hand towards Noctis, and then Noctis surged forwards and kissed him again. Noctis's skin against his skin, Noctis's arms around him, Noctis's cock, hard, pressing into Ignis's stomach. Ignis let his hands slide down, to where Noctis curved out again -- not very far; Noctis didn't carry much weight on his bum, it seemed -- and then squeezed, gently. Noctis made a noise, into the kiss, and then one of his hands was inside Ignis's trousers, squeezing in return.

Was Noctis going to mirror everything Ignis did?

"Noct," Ignis murmured, untangling them a little. "What do you want?"

"You?"

Ignis pressed a kiss to Noctis's cheek. "I'm flattered, and that wasn't what I meant."

"I know." Noctis's other hand, flat against Ignis's chest, over Ignis's heart. "I, ahh. Don't ask dumb questions."

"Merely, if you want sex, Noct, then I need to retrieve things from my bathroom."

Noctis's eyes narrowed with amusement. "Why keep them there? Sheesh."

Why, indeed. Ignis lifted Noctis's hand up, and kissed the back of it. "Or we don't do that, and we explore other pleasures."

He was relieved that Noctis didn't immediately reply. He kept his head bowed over Noctis's hand and kissed it a few more times, until Noctis said, "can't we, y'know, see how it goes?"

"Certainly," Ignis said, and lifted his head. This time, Noctis kissed him, and then pulled Ignis towards him, determinedly, until Ignis was on top of him. It wasn't long before Noctis was pushing at Ignis's trousers, and so they had to come off too. Fairer, perhaps, but Noctis's thigh slid up between Ignis's legs, subtle and insistent pressure that made Ignis wonder. Had Noctis done this before? Any of this? With anyone?

Ignis pushed the question aside, and took Noctis into his hand.

He wasn't quite prepared for the reaction that got him; a sharp inhalation, Noctis's head tipping backwards, Noctis's eyes closing, Noctis whispering, "oh", Noctis's hands sliding off Ignis's back as if their tendons had been cut.

Each movement of his hand earned him further gasps, earned him Noctis grinding his hips into the bed, Noctis lifting his arms above his head and sprawling out shamelessly in a way that Ignis would never have dared dream of.

Heady and intoxicating stuff indeed.

Ignis shifted, curling himself downwards, so he could taste Noctis. Noctis made such noises as Ignis mouthed at him; pleading, disbelieving groans, and so Ignis did what seemed obvious to him. He spread Noctis's knees apart, lifted one thigh over his shoulder, took Noctis into his mouth as deeply and slowly as he could bear, then again, and again. Noctis kept trying to squeeze his thighs together, in response -- some reflex, not conscious, Ignis thought -- but didn't reach for Ignis's head or grind himself upwards into Ignis's mouth, and so earned himself a place in Ignis's private list of lovers' responses as wonderful.

Noctis was also verbal in his pleasure, spilling out words that Ignis in any other circumstance would have scolded him for.

"--shit, Ig… oh, oh yes, hnnn, ahh, oh, you, you really, oh… ahhh, fuck, oh god--"

Noctis's hands moved, clutching at the pillow, pulling it down over his face, muffling his moans. Ignis pulled away, one hand still around the base of Noctis's cock. "Don't. Let me hear you."

"Ahh." Noctis flung the pillow sideways, and whined. "Ignis."

"Better," Ignis said, and went back to extracting as much noise as he could -- his neighbours would hate him, but let them -- swallowing around Noctis a few times along the way until the need for air interfered, letting his hand and mouth work together until Noctis made a broken, addled noise and came into Ignis's mouth.

There was a long pause, afterwards, as Ignis gently held Noctis in his hand, swallowing down the taste in his mouth, and Noctis stared up blankly at the ceiling.

"Fuck."

Ignis chuckled. "Such language."

"Yeah, and I kissed my mother with this mouth just today." Noctis lifted his leg up, so that Ignis could duck out from under it, and then let it flop back down onto the bed. "Oh, god. Ignis."

"First time?"

"Yeah." Noctis rolled onto one side. "And that's not sex? Geez."

Ignis crawled up the bed, to lie down next to Noctis. "It is sex. But not, as it were--"

"Yeah, yeah, I get it." Noctis turned his face into the mattress for a moment, and then shivered, all over. "Can't believe you did that," he muttered, into the sheet.

"Was it not what you wanted?" Ignis asked, as archly as he could manage.

Noctis lifted his face up again. "Wouldn't have known how to ask for it. Thought you'd, I dunno. Hands, or something."

"Disappointed, Noct?"

"God, no." Noctis shivered, once more, and then slowly sat up. "You want me to--"

"You're not obliged," Ignis said, quickly, though his cock disagreed entirely.

Noctis stared at Ignis, then glanced down at Ignis's cock, then back at Ignis's face. "What, you think I won't? I'm not gonna be as good as you, maybe, but--"

"It's hardly a competition." Ignis reached out, and stroked the side of Noctis's face. "I meant exactly what I said. You are not obliged."

Noctis pushed his hand away. "Shut up, Specs. On your back, c'mon."

"Ah, romance," Ignis said, smiling, but rolling onto his back nevertheless.

Noctis was obviously inexperienced, that became clear immediately; Noctis's teeth just a little too evident, Noctis overestimating his capacity for holding his breath. Ignis broke his own rule, and -- gently -- used his hands to guide Noctis's mouth, whispering instructions and praise, letting himself moan because he understood how wonderful that felt to hear, until he withdrew his hands entirely and let Noctis push him over the edge.

He'd said to Noctis that it wasn't necessary to swallow, or even to have Ignis in his mouth when Ignis came, but Noctis did so. His expression looked much as Ignis would expect of someone experiencing both for the same time, mixed with distinct pride.

"Gross," Noctis said, wiping at his mouth, and then grinned. "Well. Not that bad. Worth it."

Ignis let his arm spread out sideways, in invitation, and Noctis curled himself into that gap eagerly.

"You were marvellous," Ignis said, sincerely, kissing Noctis's cheek. "Thank you."

Noctis nestled closer, one hand on Ignis's chest. "Can't believe you let me do that."

"I seem to be defying many of your expectations tonight," Ignis observed.

"Well, yeah. I fancied you, I told you. But I didn't think you'd… ever."

In fairness, Ignis was still very, very aware that he shouldn't have let any of this evening happen. Still. From this vantage, he found regret hard to muster. If he was to be fired for inappropriate actions with his charge, then he might as well be fired for a full night of passion as for a brief smooch on his sofa. "Mm."

Noctis's hand trailed down, a little, to Ignis's stomach. "You look better naked than I expected, too."

"Flatterer."

"It's true." Noctis shifted, and propped himself up on one elbow, facing Ignis. "If I'd thought you'd--well. I might have tried my luck earlier."

Ignis craned his neck, pressed a kiss to Noctis's forehead. "Advice?"

"Sure."

"Don't dwell on what might have been."

"Right." Noctis dipped his head, staring down at Ignis's upper arm. "Sorry. Just realising, now I gotta give this up too."

Ignis pulled Noctis into a hug, felt Noctis shake a little, hoped desperately that Noctis wasn't crying. Not now. Please, Noctis, no tears.

"It's fine," Noctis said, lifting his head, mercifully dry-eyed. "It's fine. I've got tonight. It'll have to be enough."

Ignis couldn't help it; he let his eyes flick over to the clock on his dresser. 3:30am. And his alarm would prompt him into rising at 6am, to be washed and dressed and at the Citadel before 8am. He could claw back some time; he could stay abed until 7, perhaps a little later. But it wouldn't be enough time, not to love Noctis and leave him. It would never be enough time.

Noctis kissed him again, all the same, and the kiss became sultry, languid, promising. Noctis's hands more confident now, each touch teasing, and then Noctis on top of him again, for more kissing.

"Ignis," Noctis said, in the gaps between kisses, "I want--mmm--I want to--sex, Ignis. Can we? Please?"

"Gladly."

It took a while for Ignis to extract himself from the bed, from Noctis's caresses. And then he stood there, in the bathroom, staring at himself in the mirror.

The crown prince of Lucis. Really, Ignis? Is this wise?

He swung open his medicine cabinet, to avoid having to keep looking at himself. Condoms. Lubricant. And then he closed the cabinet, and scrutinised himself again, this time keeping his father's voice at bay. Stubble, darkening his jaw, rough when he rubbed it. Noctis, barely two years younger, still hairless there.

It would take only a moment to shave now. He did so, and splashed on a dash of aftershave, out of habit, and then returned to the bedroom. Noctis had pulled the sheets up, onto the bed again, covering him to the waist. He gave Ignis a sweet, encouraging smile as Ignis entered, a smile that made Ignis's heart thump in his chest.

This wasn't remotely wise.

Ignis put the condoms and the lubricant down on the side -- Noctis's eyes lingered on both, before returning to Ignis's face -- and then got into the bed.

Noctis kissed him, and then made a surprised noise, and then nuzzled his nose into the juncture of Ignis's neck and jaw. "Whoa. You smell good," he declared.

"Is that so?"

"And you're all smooth." Noctis inhaled, deeply, and then smiled at him, with the joy of discovery. "Man. You always smell this good after you shave?"

Ignis chuckled. "Usually."

Noctis kissed him again briefly, then reached past him and picked up the condoms, turning the packet around and squinting at the back.

"Whichever way you'd prefer, Noct," Ignis said, gently.

Noctis bit at his lip, still reading the back, and then handed the packet to Ignis. "I don't know. Never done it, remember?"

No, of course. Ignis considered, but it was an absurd decision and his mind couldn't quite wrap around the idea that either way was within possibility.

"Again, neither is obligatory," he tried, but Noctis shook his head firmly. "You're sure?"

"Yeah. I am." Noctis rolled onto his back. "C'mon, Ignis. Don't keep me waiting. Choose."

Ignis tipped his head to one side, thinking, and then nudged at Noctis's side. "Other way up, I think."

Everything was so new to Noctis, Ignis thought as Noctis twisted in place, and yet Noctis was doing his best to cover any reluctance or nerves with that stubborn, single-minded determination to do this, as if it was--well. As if he'd never have the chance again.

As a result, it didn't take much -- some whispered encouragement to relax, to move a little, some gentle probing -- before Noctis was making soft, surprised noises of pleasure into the pillow beneath his head.

"Good?" Ignis asked, and Noctis looked down, over his shoulder, at Ignis, and nodded, his eyes half-closed. "More?"

A shake of the head. "I'm ready."

Noctis, whether by instinct or guesswork, even canted his hips in a helpful direction as Ignis, as carefully as he dared, sank himself inside. Oh. Oh, Noct. Tight, hot, clenching around Ignis in a manner clearly out of his conscious control, tension strung through his entire body. Too tight. "Shhh," Ignis said, one hand under Noctis's thigh, one hand smoothing down Noctis's spine. "Relax, please, please--"

Slowly, slowly, Noctis did, letting out his breath in little stuttering gasps.

"Sshh, it's fine, I promise." Ignis pressed a kiss to the middle of Noctis's back. "It's just new, your body's adjusting."

Noctis buried his face in the mattress, and then lifted his bum up, a little, a movement that made Ignis gasp at the friction. "Come on," Noctis half-growled, raising his head. "Do it."

Well then.

Noctis made a grunting, guttural sound when Ignis gripped his hips, and another as Ignis settled himself deep inside Noctis, and then he was scrabbling at the pillow, babbling a string of half-formed cursewords and moans as Ignis did his best to make each stroke good for Noctis. It was certainly good for Ignis, and it sounded good for Noctis. Ignis managed to coax Noctis up, onto his hands and knees, then so his knees were further apart. Perfect; oh god, perfect. Urgent motions, all speed and no finesse, but it was impossible to slow down now.

"Your hand," Ignis said, driving himself deep, hearing an answering groan from Noctis. "Touch yourself, Noct."

After a faltering, wobbly attempt to oblige as he was, Noctis lowered himself back down onto one elbow, knees spread wide. "Fuck--Ignis--don't stop--fuck--"

It was a beautiful sound when it came, Noctis's whine of release, and it took perhaps four or five thrusts after that for Ignis's own climax, fingers so tight on Noctis's hips he must have left marks.

Heavy breathing and amused noises, from both of them, in the wake of it, Ignis careful as he withdrew, tying off the condom, tossing it into his wastebin, then finding a towel to clean them both with.

Noctis, sprawled lissomely on Ignis's bed after, thoroughly debauched, his hair a wild tousle against Ignis's pillows. Ignis tried to capture the image in his mind. A rare privilege, his prince so unguarded.

"I hope that satisfied," Ignis said.

Noctis stretched, luxuriously. "It really did."

Ignis pulled the sheets back up, to their waists, and allowed himself to drape an arm across Noctis. As if they were real lovers. As if he could ever have this night again.

"So," Noctis began, and then yawned. "Crap. No, I'm not tired, really."

"It is late."

"Yeah, and we're neither of us that old."

Ignis kissed Noctis's cheek. "You can sleep. It's not rude."

"Huh." Noctis rolled away, and stared up at the ceiling. "I'm happy. Is that selfish?"

Ignis waited, since that question had to be rhetorical.

"Did you read that report?"

"Some of it." Very little, in truth. Ignis hadn't been able to bear to read the rest, once he got back. It seemed like it could wait until the morning.

"Then you saw? My dad's giving up everything to the empire, except Insomnia."

Ignis's heart thumped, heavy, in his chest. "Everything?" he managed, as lightly as he could. What did Noctis mean?

"Cleigne, Duscae -- even Lucis. Only the stuff within The Wall is gonna stay ours."

"But that's--"

"I know. Can you imagine? How many people are losing their homes to the Empire, to keep Insomnia safe. And here I am, feeling happy."

Less happy now, Ignis thought. There'd been venom in that sentence. "Noct, if concessions weren't made, then potentially the Empire might--"

"I know." Noctis rolled onto his side, and pressed his forehead into Ignis's collarbone. "So, instead of thinking about it, I'm here. And you're here. And I finally--ah, it's dumb. But I finally told you, and you didn't put me off."

Ignis's hand, soothing as he could manage, rubbing across Noctis's back.

"Did--" and Noctis turned his face up, to look at Ignis. "Did you even think of… ah. Never mind."

"I wasn't allowed to think about it."

"Oh."

"I still thought about it," Ignis admitted, and was rewarded by the beginnings of a conspiratorial smile from Noctis. "Don't tell anyone."

"No." Noctis sighed. "About any of this, no."

"I am--honoured, at the very least," Ignis said, even though it made Noctis flush a little, and roll his eyes. "And I suspect you have ruined me for anyone else."

Noctis flushed a deeper pink, all down his throat. "I have not."

"No? Let me see. Handsome, responsive, fun, extremely loud--" and Noctis shoved him away, laughing.

"God, you're such a dork," Noctis began, and then they were kissing again. "I have terrible taste," Noctis added, between kisses, "really, really bad," and then he was giggling, as Ignis dug his fingers into Noctis's ribs to tickle him, "awful, stop it, stop it, oh god."

"That's not what you said earlier."

"Oh my god, why did I ever have a crush on you," Noctis said, but he was laughing, and running his hands through Ignis's hair, and he pulled Ignis in for another kiss.

That kiss was interrupted by Noctis yawning again, and seeming genuinely horrified at himself.

"Just… sleep, Noct." Ignis pulled the sheet higher, and drew Noctis closer. "I'll wake you."

"A nap," Noctis said, half a question. "Just… don't be gone when I wake up."

Ignis glanced at the clock, half-wishing it was facing away like Noctis's charm was. "I won't."

With the light dimmed, Noctis was asleep in an amount of time that Ignis wouldn't have credited if it weren't Noctis. Ignis lay there, with Noctis curled in his arms, occasionally letting himself stroke Noctis's hair. Noctis deserved this, he thought, a chance to sleep and wake up, held by a lover.

It was going to hurt, letting him go in the morning. And yet, still, in comparison to what Noctis was giving up, Ignis's pain was minimal, inconsequential even.

He stared over at Noctis's charm. Carbuncle. Ignis stretched out his fingers, and just brushed the edge of its tail. Noctis had said it protected him. Watched over him.

Maybe between them, they could cushion Noctis from at least some of the impending pain.

Comforted by the thought, Ignis let his head rest on Noctis's, and let himself nap too.