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A Swordsman's Triumph! Contentious Countess Edition

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There are a few small places in any given stretch of highway where the veil of the universe wears thin, and the majority of them can be found between two and four in the morning, wedged in rest area gift shops and gas station bathrooms. Only truckers, Hunters, and exhausted drivers in the middle of an endless road trip can find them, and Gladio, staring blearily at a rack of books behind a case of Ebony, is pretty sure he's there.

He reaches for one of the soft-cover books on the rack. A redheaded man in a fedora smiles up at him, his shirt unbuttoned to the waist and yet still tucked into his tight pants, the sunrise gleaming off his exposed pecs. Gladio flips it over and tries to focus long enough to read the embossed print on the back.

A Swordsman's Triumph!

The notorious lost book of Regina Dear, recovered from her estate after thirty years!

Adventure!

Murder!

Sweltering nights!

Sequel to the *Famous Contentious Countess series! Banned by Niflheim AND Tenebrae!

"Huh," Gladio says. "That's a plus." He looks up. Prompto is actually trying to haggle, which never works in Insomnia but seems to be winning over the equally dazed cashier, and Noct is outside with Ignis, skimming through his phone by the car. Well. It won't hurt to try it out, anyways. Gladio's pretty familiar with romance novels, after he and Iris found their mother's secret stash a few years back and divvied it up between them. Sure, the ones advertised like this aren't always high literature, but it's like eating junk food for dinner. Sometimes you read a book because it's fun, not because you want to learn anything.

Gladio waits for Prompto to wear the cashier down, then spends all of three gil on a banned book. He climbs into the Regalia--Someone else is renting the caravan for the night, lucky bastards--and turns the cover.

Thirty minutes later, he starts to frown. Then he sits up, checks the publish date, skims backwards through the book, and squints at the page.

"Prince Nox Floret," Georgio said, in his stiff, humorless voice. "I have bad news. Your father, Reginald, and your mother, Andromeda, and all seven of their lovers, have died in the destruction of Entrancia."

Nox's biceps flexed in misery. "No," he said, laying a hand on his pecs, which heaved in the characteristic way of all Florets, spilling out of his tight white shirt. "No, it can't be."

"I'm afraid so," said his grim, entirely unattractive guard. "The elves of Nerfheim betrayed them at the treaty signing. You are the last Nox Floret, and your betrothed, Lady Yunafresia Caltem, has been lost in the chaos."

Nox cried out, overcome with grief, and flung his tight, pert buttocks onto the couch.

Gladio stops, a hand on the page. Is the author saying that Nox had thrown himself to the couch and happened to have a tight ass, or that he'd somehow detached his ass from his body and threw it down in a fit of grief? And Nox Floret? Nerfheim?

He flips ahead. Here, Nox and his guard, Georgio, his advisor, Icia, and his best friend, Wolf McWerewolf--Otherwise known as Howl Silvermoon, but honestly, it's pretty damn obvious--pile into his car to find Yunafresia.

The first sex scene happens about a quarter into the book, which is pretty rare for that kind of novel. Nox fucks Silvermoon in the back of the "Regina," their car, and Silvermoon... Oh, gods. Silvermoon howls.

Still, the description of Nox getting a prostate massage is pretty spot on.

Gladio glances over at Noct, who's lying in the back seat with his feet propped up on the door, head tilted back. He doesn't look much like the chisel-chinned man on the cover, but... Gladio turns back to the book.

"We can't continue this," Icia said, as Nox thrust into his perfect round globes. "You're bound to marry Yuna in Atlantis. Oh. Ohh, Nox!"

"I wish the others could see you like this," Nox whispered. He pushed Icia up against the mirror, digging his hands in his white-blond hair. "You're exquisite. Perfect. Yuna would love you--she'd have you on your knees for her--"

Gladio slams the book shut and drops it to the floor of the car. Beside him, Noct shifts in his sleep. Gladio swears softly, opens the car door, and stalks off to the gas station bathroom, where just the thought of rubbing one out in the dank shadow of a growing mold spot stops his interest right in its tracks. He washes his face for good measure, then goes back to sleep it off.

That night, Noct comes to him in his dreams.

He's wearing a white shirt that flaps gently in the breeze, and he's smiling crookedly, which always looks a little more sinister in real life than it seems on the page. He beckons to Gladio, and Gladio lurches forward, tipping into the dark--

He wakes to the sun rising over the gas station warding lights, and an uncomfortable heat coiling in his gut. He blinks into a crinkled paper bag, which Noct lowers to his lap, obscuring the worst of what the night had left behind.

"Breakfast," Noct says, and climbs up onto the back of the car. Gladio grunts and subtly adjusts his pants while Ignis and Prompto argue over whether to stop in Lestallum for a proper shower, and Noct closes his eyes and tilts his face up to the sun.

Noct's always been fond of the sunrise, even if he does pretend to hate it half the time. Gladio remembers when he used to stay over at Noct's place, sometimes, and he'd wake up to find Noct sitting out on the balcony, eating leftover takeout and tapping his pen against the latest reports from the Citadel. The sun would rise over the skyscrapers, sliding across the table, and Noct would turn up his face to it, eyes closed in a quiet, private moment of bliss. Gladio always felt like an intruder in those moments, a stranger witnessing a rare glimpse of grace, but he could never bring himself to look away.

Not even now.

"Better eat soon, big guy," Noct says, and Gladio jumps, thrown out of his thoughts. "We're heading to Lestallum."

"Well, that's settled, then," Ignis says, and Prompto scrunches his nose at him. Gladio quickly fishes out a sausage bagel from the bag, then leans down to retrieve the book from his feet.

Georgio was the most reliable, most unromantic soul in Nox's life, and Nox knew he would be lost without him.

Oh, Georgio tried to be flirtatious, sometimes. Nox caught him trying to chat to a woman at a ball when they were younger, but Georgio was so bland, so dull, so entirely uninteresting, that the poor woman

Gladio flips to the next page, scowling darkly.

"Oh," Nox said. "I'm so sorry, Georgio. As much as I'd love to have you pound me into the floor, as you say, until my moans shake the walls of the cosmos itself and I fall apart at the seams, I'm afraid my heart belongs to another."

"Right," said Georgio. "Okay, then."

"Hold the fuck up," Gladio says, and Noct gives him a curious look. "Sorry. Book problems."

Then the world crystallizes around Gladio in a pinprick of horror as Noct says three words that will haunt him to the end of time.

"Let me see." He holds out his hand, and Gladio, awash in panic, sits up and tosses the book halfway down the hill.

"Yeet!" Prompto shouts. Noct stares after the book, watching the patch of grass it landed in slowly disappear around the bend, and turns to Gladio, mouth open.

"We aren't talkin' about it," Gladio says, and before Noct can say anything else, leans forward to turn on the radio.