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The room was dark, save for a subtle green glow. Large, cylindrical tanks sat in rows throughout the room, each in sets of five. The faint light seemed to be coming from the tanks, lit up from the bottom, illuminating their contents.

People.

There were people in the tanks. Wires connected to their bodies and hooked up to monitors. The monitors in view showed the people all had steady heart rates.

“Are... are they alive?” Noctis asked, eyes darting between the tanks in front of him. He kept his focus on their faces, some appearing to be eerily similar to ones a few tanks down. It didn't help that every person was also completely nude.

Ignis stepped forward, fingers on his chin as he examined the monitor and the person inside. “It appears so,” he said, frowning. “In the strictest sense of the word, at least.”

“What's that mean?” Noctis stepped up to the tank in front of him, looking at the young man residing in it. His hair was light, though he couldn't tell what color it was thanks to the light.

“It means they are being kept alive by machines,” Ignis explained. “Not unlike life support.”

“What the hell is the Empire doing to them?” Gladio asked. “Hey, what's that?” He pointed to the young man Noctis was looking at, down at his right wrist. “A barcode?”

Ignis moved closer to the tank, bending down and adjusting his glasses. “Indeed. It might be what we need to get through the security doors in this facility.” He was silent for a few moments as Gladio and he searched around the room.

Noctis stayed in place, moving his hand to the cold glass.

The man couldn't have been older than Noctis himself. His body was being supported by hooks under his arms and he was thin, too thin in Noctis' opinion. Like he was being given just enough nutrients to survive. A quick look to the tank next to him revealed the same thing. All the people in the tanks were thin. He focused back on the man in front of him when Ignis spoke again.

“It seems this is the only tank ready to open.”

“Huh?” Noctis blinked, turning to face the taller man. He saw Ignis pointing at something to his right and followed the line of his arm.

A green light was light up on the panel. Most of the other panels in the room were red, and a few blues were dotted around. He had no idea what blue could mean but red and green were obvious.

Ignis gently pressed the button and a soft, feminine voice filled the room.

“Initializing final procedure.” All three men looked up at the voice “Unit number 05953234.”

“Look!” Gladio pointed to the tank as the liquid inside drained.

“I'll find some clothes for him,” Ignis said, leaving the two men standing there.

Noctis moved away from the tank, never looking away from the young man. “How could they do something like this?” he asked, disgusted with the Empire. “Creating people for-for... Gods, I don't even want to think of the reason.”

“I believe it is for the sole purpose of creating Magitek Soldiers,” Ignis replied.

Noctis felt his stomach drop as he looked to his adviser. He had what appeared to be a pair of hospital scrubs folded over his arms.

“The Empire doesn't have enough citizens as of late for them to have as many soldiers as they do,” he explained. “We had received intellegence that they were cloning a select citizen or citizens for the sole purpose of filling their ranks with expendible lives.”

“Expendible?!” Noctis shouted. “People aren't expendible!”

“I am aware, Highness,” Ignis said calmly. “Though it appears the Empire doesn't share our view on the matter.”

Noctis gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. He knew the Empire was shady but to clone people just so they could throw their lives away?

“Guys, it's opening.”

The two men jumped slightly when Gladio spoke, turning their attention back to the tank. The front raised open and Noctis stepped out of the way to avoid being hit by the glass. “Are we sure he's alive?” he asked, taking a cautious step closer.

The young man was still being supported by the hooks but all his weight had shifted and Noctis knew the metal supports had to have been uncomfortable. That is, if he could even feel anything.

Ignis gently pushed Noctis out of the way, stepping in front of him and draping the shirt over his shoulder. He carefully removed the wires stuck to his body, the lines on his monitor going still. “Gladio, help me get him dressed.”

Gladio nodded and moved to pick the young man up, lifting him off the hooks as Ignis slipped the pants onto his body. Noctis stood on his tiptoes to try and see over their shoulders.

“Set him on the floor.”

Noctis was, once again, pushed out of the way as Gladio laid the man down on the metal floor. Noctis shuddered for him, knowing the floor had to be ice cold. The whole facility was freezing.

Ignis crouched down next to the man, Gladio on the other side. He placed his fingers on the man's neck, nodded, and bent down, placing his ear near his mouth. “He has a heart beat but he doesn't seem to be breathing.”

“How is that possible?” Noctis asked, crouching next to Ignis.

“There may still be liquid in his lungs,” he stated. “Gladio, will you pump his chest while I give him mouth to mouth?”

Gladio gave him a nod, placing his hands over the man's chest. He started with thirty pumps, counting quietly, and looked to Ignis.

Ignis gently tilted the man's head back, pinching his nose, and breathing into his mouth once. He glanced down at the man's chest before giving him a second breath. Gladio repeated the process of thirty pumps.

Nothing.

Noctis carefully took the man's wrist in his hand, feeling a steady pulse. He didn't understand why he wasn't breathing if he had a pulse. Those two things should go hand in hand, right? He watched the other two men repeat the routine, Ignis breathing into his mouth and Gladio pumping his chest.

The man coughed on the fourth round, spitting up a thick liquid.

“Easy, easy,” Ignis cooed, helping him to his side as he continued to cough up the liquid. “You're alright.”

Gladio gently rubbed the man's back as he sat up, looking between the three men. “Are... are you my superior?” he asked Ignis, voice slightly shaky and hoarse.

“No, I'm not,” he replied. “None of us are.”

“Oh.” The man was silent for a moment, looking down to his lap. He glanced back up at him. “Will you be my superior?”

Ignis paused at the question, Noctis and Gladio watching him. “If that is what you want,” he finally said.

The man nodded.

“Lift your arms,” Ignis said softly. “Let's finish getting you dressed.” Another nod as the man raised his arms up. Ignis pulled the shirt over his head, straightening it out once it covered his chest. “Can you walk?”

“Yes.” He stood slowly and pulled his arms over his chest, shivering. “It's cold.”

“I'm afraid this was all I could find for you,” Ignis told him. “We can look in another room for something warmer. We should be moving, I don't know if waking you set off any alarms.”

The man nodded but didn't move his arms.

Gladio sighed and shrugged off his jacket, leaving himself in a tank top and dropping it over the man's trembling shoulders. The man looked up at him, eyes wide.

“Gladio, you'll freeze,” Ignis exclaimed, though he made no move to take the jacket from around the man's shoulders.

“I'll be fine,” he shrugged. “It's only 'til we find something better for...,” he paused, furrowing his brow at the man. “What's your name anyway?”

“Unit number 05953234,” he stated.

“How about we come up with a new name for you,” Noctis suggested. “Something that's not a number. Like, I'm Noctis. This is Gladio,” he pointed to the older man, “and this is Ignis.”

The man looked to Ignis, getting a short nod. “I... guess that's okay,” he said. “If my superior says it's okay.”

Ignis tensed at the words, knowing full well he brought it upon himself. “I do,” he said softly. “Is there anything you'd like to be called?”

The man shook his head.

“Very well, I will think of something,” Ignis smiled at him. “But it will have to wait. We need to get what we came for and get out of this facility.”

Noctis led the way out of the tank room, heading down a new hallway. Ignis was behind him with the young man between himself and Gladio.

Gladio smiled and shook his head when he saw how much his jacket swallowed the man's body, his fingertips just visible under the cuffs. He was still shivering, barefeet barely making a sound on the floor. They'd have to find him shoes before they left the building. He might have been a created person but he could still feel cold and there was a thick layer of snow on the ground outside.

“Hey, you think you can open this door?” Noctis asked, looking expectantly at the young man. They had stopped outside a large double door. Beside it was a control panel with a scanner.

The man glanced to Ignis for reassurance, getting a soft smile. “It's okay.”

“I can try,” he said, stepping over to the panel. His eyes scanned the screen on the panel. “This is the records room,” he informed them, hovering his forearm over the scanner. It beeped twice, the door sliding open.

He stuck to Ignis' side as they searched the room, mostly glancing around. He wondered what these people were even looking for, they seemed to be going for the records at random, stacking them up on a table after taking a quick look through them. He noticed they seemed to be putting them into two piles. A 'good' and 'bad' pile, he assumed.

The man called Gladio, who had given the young man his jacket, scooped up the smaller pile of files, giving the other two a nod. “This it?” he asked, counting seven folders.

“Yes, there doesn't seem to be much here on the MT units,” Ignis replied. “We should get these back to the king.”

“Maybe Cor had better luck,” Noctis hummed.

“Information on the MT units is stored in Gralea,” the man stated, shifting uncomfortably.

Gladio groaned. “I don't think even Cor could get into Gralea without being found out.”

“At any rate,” Ignis started, “let us leave this facility quickly and get back to Lucis.” The other two men gave him a nod as he turned and stepped close to the young man. “Would you like to come back with us? We can take care of you.” His voice was gentle, soothing the young man into relaxing.

“Yes,” was the reply he gave.

Ignis nodded, placing a hand on the young man's shoulder. “Let us go then.”

“Are we sure this is a good idea,” Noctis whispered. They had arrived at a hunter outpost nearly a days drive from the Imperial base. The snow was still falling around them, but it had tapered off to a light flurry.

The young man was over with Gladio, having a warmer outfit picked out for him. He still had Gladio's jacket wrapped around his shoulders.

“He seems to follow my instructions with no qualms, so I believe it's fine,” Ignis replied, looking over at the other two men. He detested ordering the young man around but he seemed to be lost without some sort of instruction so Ignis had swallowed his pride and became the young man's 'superior', as he requested.

He turned back to the weapon seller, browsing through the items on display while Noctis tested a sword. Reaching for a pair of gold trimmed daggers, he stopped, fingers inches from the blades. A pair of guns caught his eye, a sleek cursive writing telling him they were called 'quicksilver'. Ignis had been intending on getting the young man a weapon, something he might be familiar with, to protect himself on their trip back to Insomnia. A gun might be a good choice.

MTs were known to use guns among the variety of weapons they had seen them use. Mostly sniper rifles, but Ignis felt a smaller handgun would suit the young man better. It would keep him away from the thick of a fight but not so far as to were the others couldn't reach him if he was in need of help.

Noctis handed the sword back to the seller, shaking his head. “I'm gonna check on them, make sure Gladio doesn't get the poor kid a full leather outfit or something,” he said, patting Ignis on the back. “Though it would be kinda funny to see.”

“Please make sure he gets a proper jacket,” Ignis told him. “I'll be over in a moment.”

Noctis gave him a small salute, walking over to the shop.

“I'll take the daggers and one of the quicksilvers, please,” he said, grabbing out his wallet.

The man at the truck nodded. He grabbed the weapons and placed them in two boxes, sealing them before handing them over. Ignis held out the gil for the items. “Pleasure doing business with you.”

“Thank you,” he said, taking the boxes and placing them under his arm, wallet back in his pocket. He then headed over to the other three men in the shop, seeing only Noctis and Gladio when he entered. “Where is he?” he asked, touching Gladio on the arm. He noted that Noctis had a few items of clothing in his arms but none looked to have sleeves. More summer clothes than what he would need until they reached the port back to Lucis.

“In the changing room. Don't worry, there's no leather,” Gladio chuckled.

“That's not true, these boots are leather,” Noctis stated, holding out a pair of black boots.

Gladio merely shrugged. “He said he liked the look of them.”

There was the sound of a curtain opening and Ignis looked towards it, seeing the young man in a dark outfit. He looked uncomfortable but it seemed to be more because he was being watched than the outfit itself. He shifted on his feet, now clad in thick winter boots. The pants he wore had an animal print to it, large, dark hexagons just barely standing out on the black fabric. There was a black shirt underneath a dark, wool lined jacket.

“Is this okay?” he asked, holding his hands in front of him, thumbs sliding against each other as he looked between the men. He seemed to visibly relax when he spotted Ignis.

“It will do just fine,” Ignis told him, getting a nervous smile in return. “Let's remove the tags so we can pay for everything. Gladio, would you hold these?” he asked, holding out the two boxes.

Noctis called the shopkeeper over while Ignis began to carefully remove the tags from the clothes, making sure he didn't startle the young man. He handed over the tags and the woman headed back to the register to ring up their purchase.

It would be expensive, they hadn't planned on picking up a new companion who needed new clothes, but if they camped instead of using the motels and caravans once they were back in Lucis, they should have enough money to make it back to the city. Noctis would complain, but he would get over it.

He watched as Noctis pulled out his wallet, making a face at the price he was told before handing over the gil.

“Come, we need to catch the train,” he said softly, placing a hand on the young man's shoulder, leading him out of the shop. Gladio followed behind, still carrying the weapon boxes, with Noctis beside him, holding a paper bag with the new clothes.

“Where is Lucis?” the young man asked as they stepped outside, causing Ignis to stop for a second.

“It's a continent to the east,” he explained, leading them to the train station half a block away. “It will take a week to get to the port via the train, and then it's a two week journey on a ship to the continent.” He paused for a few seconds, watching the young man's face. “Are you sure you're okay with coming along with us?”

The young man nodded, looking up at him. “Yes.”

“Alright,” he replied. “I will need to get you a ticket for the train.”

The young man nodded again. He frowned after a few seconds, rubbing his stomach. “I'm hungry,” he murmured.

“Iggy, I'm hungry too,” Noctis chipped in, pouting his lip.

“We're all hungry, I'm sure,” Ignis said, shaking his head. “We can get something in the train's dining car. Wait here.”

Gladio and Noctis nodded, watching Ignis leave for the ticket booth. The young man tensed when he left, looking like he wanted to follow but knew he had received orders. “He'll be back in a minute,” Gladio told him, giving him a soft smile.

The young man relaxed at the words, returning the smile with his own, albeit much smaller smile.

Ignis returned a few minutes later, a small sheet of paper in his hand. He held it out towards the young man, who frowned down at it. “This is yours,” he said. “If you like, I could hold onto it for you?”

“Please?”

Ignis nodded. “Very well. Let's get on the train, it should be leaving shortly.”

Gladio led the way to the open door, stepping onto the train and turning left. “Let's find an empty sleeping compartment first,” he said, heading for the sleeping car.

“Good idea, I need a nap,” Noctis yawned, stretching his arms over his head.

“And wait for dinner?” Ignis smirked, knowing the prince would never turn down a meal.

Noctis sighed loudly, throwing his head back. “Fine, dinner first.”

“Found one!” Gladio called out, poking his head into a sleeping compartment. “Looks like no ones claimed it yet so let's get to claiming.”

Noctis and Ignis followed him in, Noctis immediately dropping the bag of clothes to a bottom bunk and climbing up the ladder to the upper bunk.

“Don't just stand in the hall,” Gladio said, calling the young man over with his hand. “Come in.” He had placed the boxes next to the clothing bag, sitting next to them.

The young man cautiously entered the cabin, looking at the four beds. “Do... do I get a bed, too?” he asked, looking up at Ignis.

“Of course. Would you prefer the top or bottom bunk?” Ignis asked.

He looked between the two unoccupied beds before speaking. “Bottom? If that's alright with you?”

Ignis nodded. “Oh, before I forget,” he started, grabbing the box with the gun, “this is for you. Our journey through Lucis can be dangerous, so it would be best if you had some sort of protection with you.” He held it out and the young man took it carefully. “And I've thought up a name for you. From now on you will be Prompto Argentum.”

“Prompto, huh?” Noctis hummed from his bunk, hanging off the edge to watch the other men. “I like it.”

“Yeah, sounds like a great name for you, kid,” Gladio grinned.

The young man, Prompto, nodded, trying out the name a few times before smiling. The other men were slightly stunned by the smile, not knowing he could look so happy and bright. Prompto opened the box in his hands, blinking up at Ignis when he saw the gun.

“Do you know how to use one?” Ignis asked.

“I... I don't know?” he replied, staring down at the weapon in his hands. “I have the data, but I've never had the practise.”

The compartment was quiet for a time as Prompto turned the gun over in his hands.

“Hey, can I ask what the numbers on your barcode mean?” Noctis asked suddenly, causing everyone to look at him, Ignis giving him a hard glare.

“Noctis, that's highly inappropriate,” he stated, rubbing his eyes under his glasses.

Noctis shrunk back on his bunk, ashamed.

“It's my production year,” Prompto said softly. He held his wrist up to show off the number.

Ignis leaned forward to get a closer look at the numbers. “So, you were born twenty years ago?” he asked, choosing the word 'born' in place of 'created'. Prompto nodded. “Do you know the date?”

“I believe it was the twenty fifth day of the tenth month,” he replied, pulling his arm back.

“Cool, you're only a few months younger than me,” Noctis said, smiling. He hopped down from his bunk with a grunt.

Prompto watched him for a few seconds before he spoke again.

“Let's go eat so I can get some sleep.”

Gladio noticed Ignis writing in his small notebook before he slipped it back into his jacket pocket, raising an eyebrow at the man.

“Noctis, you should put Prompto's new gun in the ether so he doesn't have to carry it everywhere,” Ignis suggested. He turned to Prompto and smiled. “You'll still be able to access it if and when you need it,” he explained. “All our weapons are held in the ether connected to Noctis' magic. After we rest up for a bit, I'll have Noct teach you how to access your new weapon.”

Prompto looked nervous about handing the gun over but he held it out after a few seconds. Noctis placed a hand on it before it disappeared into a flash of blue crystalline shards, causing the younger man to gasp in shock.

“You'll get used to it,” Noctis told him.

Chapter Text

The dining car was loud, most of the booths and the entire bar space taken up by other passengers. Noctis groaned, searching for an empty table for the four of them. There was one. At the other end of the car. He thought about warping to it, to save himself the walk, but knew Ignis would scold him. Also, it would probably terrify the other passengers. He could see the headlines now.

Prince of Lucis attacks train full of Empire citizens!

Noctis groaned once more and shuffled down the aisle. He slid into the booth, dropping his head to the table as Gladio sat next to him, nudging him with his elbow.

“Fall asleep and I'll eat your dinner,” he teased.

Noctis only waved a hand in Gladio's general direction. He peeked over his arms when Prompto sat opposite him, looking around the room nervously.

Ignis gently placed a hand on Prompto's shoulder, giving him a soft smile. “Too many people for you?” he asked. “We could get something and bring it back to the bunks. We don't have to eat out here.”

Prompto shifted in his seat, avoiding everyone's gaze. “No, I'll be okay. It's... it's just really loud,” he told them.

“Don't worry,” Gladio said suddenly, getting Prompto to look up at him. “It's the dinner rush. Kinda hard to avoid the noise but it does mean people are less likely to pay any attention to you.”

Prompto nodded, eyes focusing on the table again.

“I'll go place an order for us.” Ignis turned away from the table, hand leaving Prompto's shoulder. Noctis noticed the way his shoulders tensed again at the absence of the touch. He knew the feeling only too well.

Ignis had always kept him grounded and calm when he was younger, especially when they were in a crowded place. Parties at the Citadel were the worst when he was growing up. So many people coming up to him, cooing over him when he was still a child, saying how handsome he was getting as he became a teen and young adult. But Ignis' hand on his shoulder or the small of his back always kept him from breaking down in front of everyone. His soothing voice always had Noctis' shoulders relaxing, letting him know no harm would come to him while Ignis was around.

It was one of the many, many reasons Noctis had fallen for Ignis.

There was a few minutes of silence at the table before Ignis returned, four bottles of water in his hands. He placed them in front of the other three men, keeping one for himself. “It shouldn't be too long before it's ready,” he said to the table, sitting next to Prompto. He touched his shoulder again, fingers brushing lightly against his jacket for the briefest of seconds. “Are you quite sure you wouldn't prefer to eat in the bunk?”

Prompto shook his head. “I'll be okay,” he replied.

Ignis nodded. He had noticed Prompto relaxed under his touch and he wondered if it was a reflex or if he was perhaps touch starved. He adjusted his legs underneath the table, pressing his knee to Prompto's, just to keep contact. The younger man smiled to himsef before reaching for his own bottle of water, taking a small sip.

“Did either of you two remember to purchase pajamas for Prompto?” Ignis asked, pulling his clothing bag from the ether. Noctis and Gladio froze, avoiding Ignis' gaze. “I'll take that as a 'no'. Noctis, let him borrow a pair of your pajama pants.”

“Sure thing.” Noctis pulled his own backpack from the ether, dropping it to the bed he was sat upon. Digging through the articles of clothing, he grabbed a pair of dark grey sweats as well as a pair of pale blue loose fit lounge pants.

Ignis caught the pants as they were tossed down. “Thank you,” he said, turning to Prompto. He had shed his jacket and boots, standing beside his bed in a black long sleeve top and jeans. “Here, these will be more comfortable than your jeans. We can get you a pair of your own when the train stops in Tenebrae.”

Prompto reached out, taking the pants with a nod. “Thank you,” he said softly. He looked up to Noctis on his bunk, watching him for a few seconds as he changed into the sweat pants, shoulders on the bed and hips arched up. It made Prompto want to laugh. He didn't though, feeling it was inappropriate. “T-thank you, Noctis.”

“No prob,” Noctis smiled. He tugged a sweatshirt over his head. “Sorry if they're a little big.”

Prompto looked around the room, watching the other two men for a moment. Gladio was reading in his bunk, clothing tossed to the foot of the bed and pants changed to a deep red in color. They looked to be of a similar material to the ones in Prompto's hands. Ignis had started to change into a pair of dark blue pajamas, a faint checkered pattern just visible on the pants. He gave himself a short nod and placed the pants on his bed, removing his jeans.

Ignis had been right. The new pants were much more comfortable than the jeans. Much looser on his legs and softer in material. He placed his folded up clothes at the foot of his bed, near the wall, and sat, facing out.

Noctis leaned out over his bunk, the movement catching Prompto's attention. “Gladio,” he whined, stretching out an arm towards the man.

Gladio chuckled, setting his book aside. “Yeah, yeah.” He stood from his bed, cupping Noctis' cheek and kissing him softly, ruffling his hair afterwards. “Night, Noct.” He dropped back to his bed when Noctis turned to stare at Ignis, pouting.

Ignis shook his head, smiling as he stepped over, kissing him as well. “Goodnight, Noct,” he said and turned back to climb up to his bunk.

“Night, Prompto,” Noctis smiled, giving him a wave.

Prompto blinked up at him, wondering if he was expected to repeat the... the - he wasn't sure if it was a ritual or perhaps a Lucian custom? In the end, he settled for a quiet “Goodnight” and slipped underneath his covers. The light was turned off and the room went silent. Prompto fell asleep before he knew it.

Soft sounds woke Prompto. The sound of someone talking quietly, the metallic clinking of the train as it rode along the rails, the soft footsteps of people walking in the hall outside their sleeping compartment. He opened his eyes to the soft morning light filtering through the still closed blind. Sitting up in bed, he heard a voice speak to him.

“Good morning, Prompto.” It was Ignis. He was sat on Gladio's bed, next to the man as they talked, hand resting on Gladio's, thumb gently rubbing his wrist. “Did you sleep well?” he asked, voice just above a whisper.

Prompto nodded, rubbing his eyes. They felt crusty and he rubbed harder.

“I was about to head to the showers,” Ignis started, drawing Prompto's attention to him again. “Would you like to have one before we head to get breakfast?”

“Yes,” was the reply. Prompto really did want a shower. His skin felt sticky from the liquid he had resided in before the other men activated him.

Ignis nodded. He leaned forward, giving Gladio a kiss on the lips, before standing from the bed. He pulled a bag from the ether, one Prompto hadn't seen before, and grabbed two towels from inside it as well as a smaller bag filled with a few small bottles. “Are you alright with sharing my toiletries?” he asked, looking to Prompto.

“Yes,” Prompto said, gathering up his jeans and a new pair of boxer briefs. He didn't have any of his own and knew they were needed when bathing.

“Follow me then,” Ignis said before turning to Gladio. “Make sure Noct doesn't sleep too long.”

Gladio gave him a thumbs up, his attention back on his book.

Prompto followed Ignis from the compartment and down the hall, in the opposite direction from the path they had taken to the dining car.

“The showers here are in a car of their own, each with a door that can be locked,” Ignis explained. They entered a new car, one side lined with doors. “There's a small area for your towel and clothing just inside the stall,” he said, coming to stop in front of the first vacant shower stall. “I will wait outside for you to finish before I take my own shower.”

Prompto tensed at the thought of being in a locked room alone. He tightened his grip on his pants, holding them to his chest as he gave the shower stall door a once over.

“Or I could wait inside with you?” Ignis offered, carefully touching Prompto on his elbow.

“Yes, please.” Prompto stared up at him. “I... I don't want to be alone.”

Ignis nodded, removing his hand. “There's a curtain to block you from my view but I will still be in reach if you need me.”

The shower stall was small once they both stepped inside, Ignis locking the door behind him. He began to believe Prompto may have had a fear of abandonment or possibly just a general fear of being alone. When he added his theory of him being touch starved, Ignis wondered what the Empire did to the young man to give him these fears. Whatever it had been, it clearly wasn't good.

Ignis placed one of the towels on the small seat in the room, his own clothes going on top of it. “I'll hold onto your clothes,” he said, holding out a hand.

Prompto nodded silently. He started to remove his clothing, glancing over at Ignis and seeing his face turned away. Curiosity got the better of him as he tugged his shirt over his head, placing it over Ignis' arm. “Why did you kiss Gladio this morning?” he asked, pushing the pants down his legs and stepping out. “And Noctis last night? Is it a custom in Lucis?”

“It's because we are together,” Ignis answered simply.

The answer confused Prompto. Wasn't he together with them? They were travelling together, so he was, right? “Should I have kissed you too?” he asked, giving Ignis the remaining clothing.

“No,” Ignis laughed softly, pulling his arm back to his chest. “What I mean is we are all in a relationship with each other.”

“Oh.” Prompto said nothing more. He understood what a relationship was and knew that he was an outsider in theirs. He didn't mind, as long as he had Ignis' presence to keep him calm, he was happy being an outsider.

“Hurry and shower. I'm sure you're hungry,” Ignis said softly, giving his back a small push closer to the shower. He closed the curtain behind Prompto and leaned against the door.

Prompto was quiet while he showered, clearing his head as he washed his hair and body. It was only a few minutes later that he switched off the water, wiping the majority off his body with his hand and pushing his hair back from his face. When he turned and opened the curtain, a towel dropped over his head. He looked up to find Ignis smiling softly down at him, rubbing the towel over his dripping hair.

He had already stripped himself of his clothes, his own towel wrapped around his hips. Ignis released the towel when he slid it down to Prompto's shoulders, covering his chest. “Finish drying off and get dressed. I shall only be a few moments,” he told Prompto.

“Okay,” Prompto said. He grasped the towel around his shoulders, pulling it around himself as Ignis stepped around him.

The sound of the curtain closing and water rushing filled the small room as Prompto dried his body. He moved quickly, not knowing exactly how long Ignis would be. He didn't want to hold him up if he finished before Prompto even had his clothes on.

He hadn't needed to worry. He was dressed, hair still slightly damp and dripping onto his shirt, when the shower was once again turned off. The curtain didn't open immediately. Prompto saw shadows behind the semi-sheer material, watching as Ignis dried himself off in the cubicle.

His hair was slicked back when he finally pull the curtain back. Prompto thought the style suited him. He didn't voice the opinion in case it wasn't wanted.

Ignis narrowed his eyes slightly at him and Prompto began to fret, wondering if Ignis could read his thoughts. “You need to make sure you dry your hair properly,” he said, shaking his head lightly. He reached out, grabbed Prompto's towel, and rubbed it over his head again. “We wouldn't want you getting sick. We still have a long journey ahead of us.”

“How long?” he asked.

Ignis had released the towel, picking up his glasses off the pile of his clothes. He placed them on his face, and hummed. “I believe it will be a little under four weeks before we're back in Insomnia,” he answered. He pulled on his boxer briefs underneath the towel. “If there are no delays, that is.”

Prompto nodded. He removed the towel from his head once his hair stopped dripping and picked up his dirty clothes, balling eyerything up in his arms. He missed the look Ignis gave the action.

Once Ignis was re-dressed, a white pinstripe shirt and dark blue trousers with suspenders, they exited the bathroom, Prompto stepping through the door first.

He didn't miss the look another passenger gave him as Ignis shut the door. Behind him, Ignis cleared his throat and gently touched his elbow. The man turned away from them, heading down the corridor.

“Don't mind him,” Ignis told him, leading Prompto back to the sleeping car. “I don't think he meant any harm by his look.”

Prompto didn't reply. The look he had received had confused him. A raised eyebrow and an unusual glint to the man's eye. He wondered what it meant.

Re-entering their bunk, Prompto saw Gladio hadn't moved from his spot. Noctis had, though. He was resting, face down, on Gladio's stomach, arms around the bigger man's waist. Gladio glanced up from his book, one hand on the back on Noctis' neck, and he gave the other two a nod.

“Woke up long enough to crawl into my bed,” he chuckled, scratching at the back of Noct's head.

Noctis groaned, sliding his face to peer up at Ignis and Prompto. “'M awake,” he mumbled.

The towel and clothes in Prompto's hands were taken away, Ignis unrolling them. He folded the towel over the ladder to his bunk, on a rail underneath his own towel. “You should have a shower, Noct. I know it's been a few days.”

Noctis grumbled causing Gladio to laugh. “Fine, fine.” He pushed himself up, sitting between Gladio's legs, and turned, sliding off the bed. With a loud yawn, he stretched his arms above his head. A flick of his wrist caused his backpack to appear in his hand, the blue crystalline flash startling Prompto. Tossing the bag over his shoulder, he made for the door, stopping in front of Prompto for a moment. He reached out, fingers just brushing Prompto's cheek, and smiled, “Your freckles are really cute.”

“Noct, seriously?” Ignis scoffed, shaking his head.

“What?” he whined, withdrawing his hand and pouting at Ignis. “They are.”

Gladio stood behind Noctis, pushing him through the door and into the hall. “Go shower,” he laughed, shutting the door on his face. Ignis gave him a look and Gladio sighed, grabbing up his own bag and exiting the room.

Prompto was standing still, staring at the closed door. The touch had startled him but it wasn't unpleasant. Not quite as comforting as Ignis' touch but still nice. It made him feel warm inside. He missed it already.

“I apologise for that,” Ignis said suddenly. “Noct is... sometimes he forgets himself when he's tired and says what's on his mind.”

“I don't mind,” Prompto said softly, smiling to himself.

It was three days before the train stopped at Tenebrae. The only stop between the station the group boarded from and the port. It was a break for the passengers who would continue on so they could stretch their legs, buy anything they might need for the remainder of their journey. Around half of the passengers gathered their bags, Tenebrae being their final stop. The ones who's final destination was the port would reboard in four hours time.

Prompto was in awe at the size of the city. And the sight of the castle up on the hill. The air was fragrant with the smell of flowers, sylleblossoms according to Noctis, and the salt of the ocean.

“The Oracle and her family lives in the castle,” Ignis told him as he led the way into the city proper. “They have ever since the first Oracle was chosen by the Astrals almost two millenia ago.”

Prompto's data told him nothing of the Oracle.

“I'd introduce you to Luna if we had time,” Noctis said offhandedly, arms behind his head. He ignored the look Ignis gave him, telling him it was a bad idea. “Maybe next time we get to come, I'll see about getting an audience.”

“Noct, I don't think Lady Lunafreya has the time,” Ignis started.

“What's the Oracle?”

Noctis froze, spinning around to stare at Prompto. Prompto genuinely looked confused. “She's... well, it's kinda hard to explain what an Oracle is but I guess she's like a healer?” He looked to Ignis for help.

Ignis smiled and nodded. “The Oracle is charged with the stability of Eos. She cleanses the world of, I believe diseases would be a good word, and can commune with the Astrals for guidance.”

“That's a lot of responsibility,” Prompto said in awe.

“Indeed,” Ignis replied. “Come, let's get our shopping out of the way so we can get some lunch before we head back to the train.”

“Speaking of Lady Lunafreya,” Gladio said, grinning, “here comes Umbra.”

Noctis turned and smiled when he caught sight of the black and grey dog. “Umbra, hey boy,” he said, crouching down to pet the dog's head.

“Seems Lady Lunafreya is aware you're in Tenebrae,” Ignis said.

Prompto frowned at the statement. How would she know Noctis was in the city? And how would seeing this dog tell them that? He watched Noctis take a small red notebok from a pack on the dog's back. He couldn't read what it said or what Noctis put inside it. It felt inappropriate to ask.

After replacing the book back into the pack and rubbing the dog's ears once more, Noctis stood. Umbra barked at him and turned, going to leave the way he came. His eyes focused on Prompto for a few seconds, making the young man tense up, before weaving his way through the crowd.

“Umbra is a messenger for Lady Lunafreya,” Ignis said, catching Prompto's attention. “He brings a notebook that she uses to communicate with Noctis.”

Prompto blinked up at him. He didn't understand how it was possible. “That's amazing,” he said, looking back towards the dog. It was nowhere to be found. “How do you know the Oracle?” he asked, turning back to Noctis.

Noctis shrugged and scratched at the back of his neck, glancing away. “I-it's complicated.”

“They were friends as children,” Ignis told him, leading the way through the city street. “Noctis came here when he was young to be treated for an illness by her mother, the previous Oracle. They met during his stay.”

Noctis shrugged again when Prompto looked over at him. “Okay, I guess it's not complicated.”

Four hours later, they were boarding the train once more, making their way to the compartment they occupied.

Prompto had a bag in hand, filled with a few things Ignis said he would need for their journey, including his own toiletries and a pair of pajamas. His eyes had went wide when he saw them in the shop, instantly moving towards the outfit. Gladio had gave him a warm chuckle when he saw the clothing, saying it suited him. Pale blue pants with a cactuar print and a white shirt, a small cactuar embroidered on the chest. Ignis had suggested something more 'grown-up' but Noctis agreed with Gladio and said he should get it.

He had.

Ignis had also bought him a backpack to store his clothing, solid black with a grey trim. Simple and functional.

They entered the bunk, door closed behind them, and Prompto carefully set his new items down. He turned to Ignis and took his hand. “Thank you, Ignis,” he smiled brightly, trying to show how appreciative he was for everything he had done.

“I-you're welcome,” Ignis said, flushing lightly.

“Hey, check it out,” Noctis smirked, nudging Gladio in the side. “Ignis is blushing.”

“Shit, you would be too if you were on the receiving end of that smile,” Gladio chuckled. They laughed harder when Ignis turned to glare at them, Prompto releasing his hand in confusion.

“Did I do something wrong?” he asked, looking between the three men.

Gladio shook his head, smiling at the younger man. “No, no. We're just teasing Iggy out of love,” he said, patting Prompto on the head.

“I wish you wouldn't,” Ignis huffed.

Chapter Text

Gladio grinned at the scene across from him. Ignis was sat on Prompto's bunk, book in hand and Prompto's cheek pressed to his shoulder. They had had a long day in Tenebrae, Prompto wanting to see as much of the city as he could and Ignis humoring him, letting Prompto lead the way. It was no more than an hour after reboarding the train that the exhaustion hit him. The younger man was fast asleep, knees loosely pulled up to his chest, arms draped over his lap. He looked to be at complete and utter peace. He always seemed so content when Ignis was near.

“I think he likes you,” he commented, giving Ignis a wink.

Ignis rolled his eyes, letting out a soft breath. “He's merely comfortable around me, is all.”

“Iggy, you went through this with Noct. I don't know how you can't see it,” Gladio said, keeping his voice low, book abandoned on the bed beside his thigh. “The looks the kid's giving you, the way he practically clings to your side. He's smitten with you.”

Ignis stared at the older man, unamused with his smirk. “He's not 'smitten'. It's more akin to... imprinting.”

“Wait, he thinks you're his mom?”

“Gladio, please,” Ignis started, pinching the bridge of his nose. “We've only known Prompto for four days. And he's only two years younger than me. Plus, as much as I loathe the thought, he thinks I'm his superior, so he's bound to be... attached to me.”

Gladio laughed softly, shaking his head. “Call it what you want. I still think he likes you.”

Ignis didn't reply. He slid off the bunk, being sure to hold Prompto up for long enough so he could lay the younger man down. Pulling the cover over Prompto, Ignis watched him grip the top of it and roll towards the wall. He switched the small wall light over Prompto's head off and moved to sit on Gladio's bed.

“What are we gonna do when we get to Insomnia? He'll need papers to get past the security gates, even if he's with us,” Gladio asked, the conversation turning serious. “It'd probably be best if the Glaive didn't find out he's an MT until we get the chance to talk to the King.”

“We may have to have Noctis work something out beforehand. Possibly send a message to the king about getting him clearance,” Ignis said, leaning against Gladio. His arm wrapped around Ignis' shoulder, making him hum. “We have nearly three weeks until then, let's just get to Lucis before we start thinking about what to do.”

The shower curtain slid open, metal rings scraping off the bar, and Gladio stepped out, towel around his waist. “All yours,” he said, reaching for his clothing.

There was no response.

He looked up at Prompto. The younger man was leaning against the door, eyes unfocused, head angled slightly downwards, and shower products held loosely in his arms. He had yet to even strip like Gladio suggested, so he'd be ready to jump into the shower when it was free.

Ignis had requested that one of them were to go with Prompto when he showered. Gladio was sure it was because the younger man had a fear of being alone, but he never commented on it.

“Prompto?” he called out, watching the other man for a few seconds before trying again, reaching out and touching his elbow. “Prompto?”

Prompto's eyes shot up to Gladio's, finally focusing on him. “Sorry,” he apologised. “Is it my turn?”

Gladio nodded, moving his hand away. “Yeah, it's yours now. You were really zoning out there, weren't you?”

There was a frown on Prompto's face, eyebrows drawn together, when he pushed away from the door. “Zoning out?” he asked.

“You were staring off into space,” Gladio said, trying to explain. “Were you daydreaming or something?”

“I don't think so,” Prompto said softly. It looked as if he was trying to remember what he had been doing.

Gladio shrugged and turned back to grab his clothes. He glanced over when Prompto's motions caught his attention.

The younger man had stripped off his shirt and Gladio frowned. He was still far too thin. They all knew it would take time for Prompto to gain a healthy amount of weight, for his ribcage to not be so noticable, wrists not so bony, pelvic bone not so pronounced.

”Over feeding him would only be counterproductive,” Ignis had said. ”It is better for him to have smaller portions until he is able to eat a full sized meal.” Gladio had agreed with him wholeheartedly.

The workers behind the counter in the dining car had put up a small fuss about letting an adult order from the children's menu but Ignis had stamped down their complaints quickly and quietly.

“Hey, Prompto! Smile!” Noctis grinned, wrapping his arm around Prompto's neck and pulling him close, cheeks squished against each other. He held his phone out in front of them, the front camera showing their faces on the screen. He pressed the screen, snapping three pictures quickly and pulled away, browsing through them.

Every one had Prompto's eyes half-lidded and unfocused, lips sightly parted, and what looked like confusion plastered all over his face.

“Aww, you didn't smile,” Noctis whined, turning back to him. “One more.”

“Leave him alone, Noct,” Gladio laughed, earning a pout from Noctis, who had started pulling Prompto back in.

“I don't mind,” Prompto said. “I'm sorry I ruined your first try.”

Noctis shot Gladio a smug smile, who rolled his eyes, and leaned back against the wall next to Prompto. “You gotta smile this time,” he said, readying the camera.

Prompto leaned over, like Noctis had done earlier, and smiled just as Noctis tapped the screen repeatedly, capturing four more photos.

“Perfect!” Noctis grinned. “I mean, they're pretty blurry but they look great.”

“Every photo you take is blurry,” Ignis commented from his bunk above the younger men. Noctis made a face and hit his fist against the under side of the bed, Ignis shaking his head at the action. “Temper, temper,” he teased.

“C-can I try?” Prompto asked, fingers twitching as he resisted reaching for the phone.

Noctis nodded, swiping the phone back to the camera and handing it over. “Just tap on the screen and it takes a picture. If you want to take one with the back camera, press here,” he said, touching a small camera icon on the screen. Their faces were replaced with an image of Gladio lounging on his bed, one hand on his stomach and the other behind his head. He glanced over when Prompto gasped, snapping a picture of him.

It was blurry.

He turned his body and Noctis' face filled up the screen as he snapped another picture.

“Let me see it,” Noctis said, grabbing the phone back, unaware of the way Prompto flinched for the briefest of seconds. “Aw, dude. You can practically see up my nose,” he groaned, tapping the screen a few times. “Delete.” He then passed the phone back to the blond.

Prompto spent nearly an hour filling up Noctis' phone with pictures. Mostly of the two of them. His hands got more relaxed and steady as he continued, the pictures becoming more in focus. He had paced about the small bunk, taking pictures of Gladio, the book beside his thigh, his jacket hanging off the hook by the door. He took pictures of Ignis, who hid the files he had been reading from view when he noticed the younger man, the small can of coffee, now empty and resting on its side on the cover, the dry towels draped over the ladder. He had attempted to take some through the window but everything moved far too fast, leaving him with blurry shots of the landscape.

When he returned back to the bed, Noctis had leaned against him, cheek on Prompto's shoulder. “We'll have to get a phone for you at some point,” he mumbled, giving the camera a lazy smile, eyes half closed.

“We can sort that out when we're back in Insomnia,” Ignis said, reading through a new file.

“Really?” Prompto asked, staring up at the bottom of the bed. “I can have one of my own?”

Ignis laughed softy, “Of course. I can come with you to pick one out when we have the time.”

Prompto grinned, holding Noctis' phone tightly in his hands. He looked back to the device, spotting Gladio with his own phone out, pointing at the two of them. He watched as the older man pulled the phone closer to his face after a second, smiling to himself. He tilted his head slightly, ear hitting Noctis' head and startling him. Noctis was sleeping when he focused on him, breathing light and hands loosely in his lap. Prompto wondered if he should not disturb him, should fall asleep in the same position, back against the wall, leaning against Noctis.

It seemed impolite to wake him when he had just fallen asleep.

“I'll get him,” Gladio said, sliding off his bed.

Ignis glanced over at the man, eyebrows raised. He understood what had happened when Gladio pulled back from the lower bunk, Noctis in his arms. “It's been a while since he's fallen asleep like that,” he commented, eyes soft as he watched Gladio place Noctis on the bed he had been using, drawing the cover over his body. “This trip has been exhausting, especially for him.”

Prompto watched quietly as Gladio sat on the edge of the bed, stroking Noctis' hair away from his eyes. The younger man let out a soft huff of breath and rolled over, body loosely curled up.

“We should be arriving at the port by this time tomorrow,” Ignis informed the group as he placed his damp towel over the ladder, two rungs higher than Prompto's. His hair was still slicked back and damp from the shower, fingers running through the light brown strands.

Noctis groaned from atop his bunk. “Why can't we just fast travel like they do in games? Or maybe have a fade out and then, next thing we know, we're back in Insomnia. That'd be cool.”

“Because we do not live in a video game,” Ignis said simply, rolling his eyes.

“Wish we did,” Noctis grumbled, turning his face into his pillow.

Ignis ignored his comment.

“What's that?” Prompto asked, looking between Ignis, as he pulled a small bag from the ether, and Noctis.

“What's what?” was the reply as three heads turned to him.

Prompto shifted under their gaze, jaw tensing for a breif second. “A-a video game?”

That caused a strong reaction. Noctis' head shot up off the pillow, eyes wide as he stared at Prompto. “Wait, dude. Seriously?”

He jumped, scooting back on his bed, scared he had said something wrong, when Noctis hopped down from the top bunk, phone in hand.

Gladio's hand shot out and grabbed Noctis by the arm, holding him back and earning a hard glare. “Noct, relax. You're scaring him.”

Noctis turned back to Prompto, taking in his obvious body language and Ignis standing slightly closer to the blond than he had been. He hadn't meant to frighten the blond and figured his over-enthusiam at the chance to introduce Prompto to one of his favorite games was alarming, to say the least. “Shit-Sorry!” he apologised, waving his free arm in front of him. He relaxed in Gladio's grip, dropping his head. “I... sorry. Um... I wanted to show you a game,” he said, chewing on his lip. He glanced up at Prompto, seeing him move towards the edge of his bed. “Is that okay?”

Prompto's eyes darted between the three men, landing on Ignis last.

“A video game is a form of entertainment many people use to pass time. Noctis, well, all three of us really, have a video game on our phones that we like to play in our downtime,” Ignis explained.

“Yeah, I can show you how to play it,” Noctis chipped in, taking a step closer to Prompto once Gladio released him. “We can get it on your phone when you get one.”

“Okay. I'd like that,” Prompto smiled, visibly calming when he realised he hadn't said anything wrong. Noctis sat beside him, grinning.

He watched Noctis tap on the screen, opening an app called King's Knight. Music spilled from the speaker as the opening video played, ending on a character screen. “Okay, so this is my character,” he said, pointing to the small person on the screen, “and the plot of the game is to defeat the Dark Dragon. That's the final boss.”

Prompto nodded, watching the character move on screen.

“You have to fight in order to level your character up, and there's sometimes events in the game to get really good items, even though you usually have to complete the event to get the best items. It's really hard to get those,” he said. “Ignis and Gladio can play with me, too.”

There was a short laugh followed by a soft smack across the room. Prompto raised his head from the phone, puzzled by the noises, and saw Gladio's face turned away and the back of Ignis' hand on his bicep, an unamused look on his face as he mumbled something about 'being immature'. He felt a nudge to his arm and looked back to the phone.

The character on screen approached a different sprite and Noctis tapped the screen over the new person. A small red bar appeared over its head while a blue one was over Noctis' head. A few taps and the red one depleted.

“Want to give it a try?” he asked, moving the phone closer to Prompto. “Don't worry if you die. It autosaves.”

“Die?” Prompto didn't like the sound of that. He pulled his hands to his chest, staring at Noctis. “I don't want to die.” Across the small room, he spotted Gladio shaking his head, Ignis beside him, legs crossed at the knee and a small bottle of water in his hand.

“What? No, I mean the character,” he laughed, giving the phone a small shake so Prompto would take it. “It's fine if the character dies.”

Prompto carefully reached out and the phone was placed into his hand, the music still playing cheerfully. He watched the screen as Noctis showed him how to move the character, how to attack and heal, and how to level up.

He played the game, Noctis pressed to his side, for two hours before Ignis drew their attention. “Shall we head to dinner?”

The two boys nodded at the suggestion. Noctis took his phone back, swiped at the screen to close the game, and locked the device, stuffing it in his front pocket. Gladio left the room first, waiting in the hall and leading the way once everyone was with him.

It was still early and the dining car was mostly empty when three of them slid into a booth, Prompto by the window next to Noctis and Gladio across from him. Ignis remained standing, leaning on the table. “Prompto, would you like chicken or a burger today?”

The children's menu wasn't very diverse, or healthy in Ignis' opinion, and left Prompto with few options. They had discovered he had a taste for spicy foods from their short visit to Tenebrae. He had thouroughly enjoyed the heat of the Tenebraen barbeque they ate for lunch that day, stating it was 'the best thing he had ever eaten'.

Noctis had followed up with 'wait until you try Iggy's cooking'.

“A burger, please,” was the quiet reply.

Ignis nodded and turned to the other two men, waiting for their requests.

“Burgers sound good,” Gladio said, grinning up at Ignis. “Right, Noct?”

Noctis nodded, slouching in his seat and stretching. “Yeah, but no vegetables.”

Ignis closed his eyes and let out a breath. “I'll see what I can do,” he retorted.

“You do that,” Noctis mumbled. “Ow! Fuck off!” he growled at Gladio's scowl, rubbing his shin where he had been kicked.

“Just because you're a-” Gladio frowned at Noctis' wide eyes, the slight shake of his head, “we like you doesn't mean we won't make you eat your vegetables.”

Noctis slouched farther down in the booth, arms tight over his chest and pouting. “Don't want to.”

Gladio let out a loud sigh through his nose, rubbing his face.

“I'll eat them,” Prompto said, voice soft. “I like vegetables.” He briefly wondered what Gladio had been about to say, but refrained from asking. It wasn't his place to know.

“Don't cover for Noctis,” Ignis scolded as he sat next to Gladio. “He's twenty years old and more than capable of eating his own vegetables.” He shot a look to the aforementioned man, narrowing his eyes.

Noctis avoided the look. He turned and leaned his face on Prompto's arm. “Wake me when the food's here.”

In the end, Noctis put his lettuce and tomato on Prompto's burger while blatantly ignoring Ignis' scrutinising glare.

Chapter Text

The port was unlike anything Prompto had expected. There were four large concrete docks, each with a sign displaying the location the ship docked would take its passengers.

Tenebrae. Altissia. Galdin Quay.

The last sign had a wide sticker reading 'CLOSED' slapped over the location, Prompto only making out the letters 'INS' before the city name was obscured. A locked gate blocked all entry to the dock. He was curious as to why that one dock was closed and asked as much.

“Because of the war, Insomnia cut off all travel to and from Niflheim,” Gladio said simply. He didn't explain further and Prompto didn't press the matter.

Ignis had returned at that moment, a slip of paper in hand. “We're all ready to board,” he said, pulling three identical sheets of paper from his wallet. “They agreed to let Prompto stay in our room, seeing as it has two double beds.” He turned to Prompto as Noctis and Gladio headed for the dock labeled Galdin Quay. “Would you be alright sharing a bed with one of us?”

Prompto nodded after a few seconds. “That'd be fine.”

Ignis smiled at the reply. “Let's board the ship and get settled in, then.”

There was only one ship docked at the port. Prompto had been expecting a much smaller ship, maybe only large enough for the four of them and it's crew. What he walked up to would hold at least three hundred passengers easily. His data told him of ships called 'cruise liners' and this, he thought, was a small example of one.

As they neared the ramp to board the ship, Prompto's nerves got the better of him. There were a lot of people were milling around, families with small children who ran around the dock while their parents called for or chased after then, large groups of people chatting loudly amongst themselves, single individuals who appeared more bored than anything while they waited for the boarded to begin. He quickly grasped Ignis' hand, squeezing tightly and stepping closer to the man.

Ignis' steps faltered at the action. It was the first time Prompto had held any of their hands, but the obvious emotion radiating off of the blond, something Ignis would describe as near terror, had him gently squeezing Prompto's hand back. “We can wait until most of the crowd has boarded if you'd prefer,” he suggested.

“Please,” was the response.

Ignis led Prompto over to a bench away from the main crowd, glancing up when Gladio and Noctis headed their way. Neither man said anything when they saw Prompto's hand still clutching Ignis'.

Noctis dropped down to the bench on the other side of Prompto, arms resting over the back of the wood and head tilted back. “Can't wait to sleep in a real bed and not a bunk,” he said, voice wistful and tired. “I mean, it won't compare to my own bed,” he said, waving his hand lazily, “but it'll be better than the train.”

“Is your bed nice?” Prompto asked, curious. He had thought the bunks on the train were comfortable but they had also been the first he had ever slept on. The only thing similar to them that he had experienced was the cold, hard metal tables of the facility when the doctors needed to check on his growth progress.

“It's like sleeping on a cloud,” Noctis grinned, eyes closed as he reminisced.

Prompto furrowed his brow, perplexed. Clouds were made of water vapor, they had no tangible form.

Noctis laughed when he saw Prompto's face. “I mean, it's comfy,” he explained. “Its what people say when they're describing something that is, in their mind, the most comfortable in the world. It's an-an...”

“An anology,” Ignis supplied.

“Yeah, that,” Noctis nodded, snapping his fingers. “You compare one thing to another that you'd consider similar. Like I could say Gladio's abs are as hard as a rock or his hair is as soft as silk.”

Prompto nodded, understanding the term once it was explained to him, while Gladio shook his head, amused by the comparisons.

The crowd had grown smaller while they rested, Gladio jerking his head towards the ship. “Crowd's thinned out.”

Ignis glanced over. There were no more than a dozen people left, waiting to have their tickets checked. “Indeed. Let us go line up,” he said, standing from the bench. Prompto went with him, still holding Ignis' hand, only looser now, more relaxed. Noctis stretched and groaned when he stood, rubbing his lower back roughly.

Prompto was still trembling slightly when they joined the line but he didn't squeeze Ignis' hand. He looked away when the older woman at the bottom of the ramp smiled at the group, taking the tickets Ignis held out and wishing them a safe journey. He followed along beside Ignis, eyes on the wooden floor beneth his boots, only raising his head when he heard Ignis say “This is our room.”

The size of the room was the first thing Prompto noticed. It was a lot bigger than the compartment on the train. Two large beds – double beds, Ignis had called them - were along one wall, a nightstand with a lamp atop set in between them. Their sheets were crisp and white, the blanket on top deep red. An extra blanket, the same deep red in color, was folded and lay along the bottom of each bed. A small, white sofa was along the opposite wall, light wood coffee table in front of it and a small end table beside with a lamp that matched the one between the beds. A matching armchair was placed at one end of the table, facing the door. There was a door to his left as he entered, inside a small bathroom with a shower at the back. As he stepped farther inside the room, Noctis slipping around him to flop face down onto the closest bed, he noticed a desk made of the same wood as the table. There was a set of four white mugs on top of it along with an electric kettle and a small square bowl filled with packets in various colors.

Gladio had moved to the back of the room, pulling open a heavy curtain that revealed large glass windows and a door set in the middle. A small patio was just outside the door, looking out to the port and, beyond, the ocean.

He walked past Noctis, who had rolled over to his side, back to the windows, and sat on the second bed. It was far softer than the one he had slept on in the train. Ignis was grabbing the kettle when he looked over for the man. “Do beds always come in different degrees of softness?” he asked, gently pressing his hands into the bed. The cover was fluffy under his fingers, made of a short, raised fabric that shifted under his hand.

“They do. Some people get their mattress in a specific firmness depending on their personal needs,” Ignis told him.

Prompto nodded, glancing over when Gladio relaxed on the couch across from him, feet, still in his heavy boots, coming up to rest on the table.

“Feet off the furniture,” Ignis scolded from the bathroom, the sound of water filling a container following his voice.

Gladio gave the blond a sheepish grin and pulled his feet from the wood, setting them on the floor.

“Noct, that means you, as well,” Ignis said as he exited the bathroom. He placed the kettle back onto its docking station.

There was a low groan and Noctis turned his head into a pillow, holding it to his face.

“Noctis, I will not take your shoes off for you,” Ignis stated, crossing his arms and staring down at the younger man.

“Fine, fine,” Noctis griped. He pushed himself up, bleary eyed, and unlaced his boots, tossing them to the floor by the bed. He dropped his head back into the pillow, rolling over to his stomach.

Ignis let out a sigh and picked up the boots, setting them on the floor at the bottom of the bed, before turning his attention to Prompto. “Who would you prefer to share the bed with? Gladio, Noctis, or myself?”

Prompto bit his lip, weighing up his choices. He knew sharing with Noctis would give him more space in the bed, the two being roughly the same body size. Sharing with Gladio would let him feel more secure and safe. But sharing with Ignis would make him the most comfortable. Whe he finally answered, his voice was soft. “You.”

Prompto groaned, holding his stomach as he slowly, carefully approached Ignis on the patio. “Ignis, I don't feel well.” The ship felt like it lurched violently underfoot and he gripped the railing tightly, knuckles white.

Ignis jumped to his feet, the small deck chair scraping against the wood floor. He placed a hand on Prompto's forehead, the other around his back holding him steady. His hand felt hot on Prompto's skin. “You don't have a fever,” he mused, frowning at Prompto's pale face. “What hurts specifically?”

“My stomach and my head,” Prompto whimpered. “The ship's moving too much,” he added, shutting his eyes tightly. He was led back inside the cabin, Ignis helping him to sit on the bed.

“I believe you're sea sick,” Ignis said softly, touching his head once more. “Do you feel like you need to vomit?”

Prompto shook his head once before nodding quickly and throwing his hand over his mouth. Ignis rushed him into the bathroom where he emptied the contents of his stomach into the toilet, Ignis' hand on his shoulders and back, rubbing soothing circles over his shirt. He heard Ignis talking softly, the words lost on him as he sobbed from the pain in his throat.

“Gladio, would you head down to the shop and purchase these items for me?” he asked, holding out a small sheet of paper with a list to the man standing in the doorway. Ignis dampened a wash cloth in the sink, cleaning Prompto's face with it once he sat back away from the toilet, whimpering softly. “Gladio is going to buy some medicine for you,” he told the blond, watching his lip quiver. “It will hopefully help your stomach so you can sleep. Let's get you in bed while we wait for him to return.”

Prompto let out a loud groan when Ignis raised him to his feet, his arms wrapped tightly around his sore stomach. He shuffled out into the bedroom and slowly sat on the bed.

Ignis sat with him, adjusting the pillows so he could lean against the headboard. He placed Prompto's head on his thigh, carding his fingers through his hair. Prompto curled up and grabbed Ignis' leg above his knee, squeezing lightly. “Just try to relax.”

Noctis cracked his eyes open at the quiet voices, peering over at the second bed. “He okay?”

“Sea sickness, it seems,” Ignis replied, sparing Noctis a glance.

“That sucks.”

Ignis hummed in response.

The door to the room opened softly and Gladio stepped inside, a plastic bag in his hand. “They didn't have soda crackers, so I got saltines instead. Is that okay?” Gladio asked, placing the bag on the coffee table and rooting through the contents. He removed a bottle of water and a small box simply labeled as 'travel sickness medicine'.

“They're the same thing, so it's fine,” Ignis told him, calling him over with his hand. Gladio twisted the cap off the bottle and set it on the nightstand before he popped a single pill from the foil casing. “Prompto, I'm going to need to you take this medicine, alright?”

Prompto whined, squeezing his leg tighter, and turned his face away.

Ignis looked up at Gladio's concerned face. “I know your stomach hurts but this will help you feel better,” he said, rubbing Prompto's arm. “Come on. You only need to sit up for a few seconds.”

That got Prompto to move. He pushed himself up with Ignis' help and squinted at the pill in Gladio's hand. It was small, round, and pale purple in color. He took the pill and placed it in his mouth, taking a few sips from the preoffered water bottle to swallow it down.

“Alright,” Ignis said softly, “you can rest again.”

Prompto nodded and settled back down, head on Ignis' thigh. He closed his eyes when Ignis started to, once again, stroke his hair, the sensation relaxing him.

Gladio gave Ignis a knowing smile which had the man rolling his eyes. He sat on the bed beside Noctis, who made a small groan at the shift in the bed. “You going to sleep the whole way back?” he teased, rubbing Noctis' hair roughly.

“Maybe,” was the answer, muffled by the pillow.

Prompto awoke with a soft whine, head pounding and stomach turning violently. He cracked one eye open, focusing on the pillow under his head. The curtains were drawn and the room was silent. Slowly pushing his head up off the pillow, he squinted around to the other side of the bed.

Ignis was gone.

Prompto's mind went into overdrive, telling him he had been left alone until a voice spoke.

“Iggy and Gladio went to buy us some dinner.” Noctis was watching him from the second bed, phone ignored in his hand. “How are you feeling?”

He opened his mouth to reply only to have his stomach twist tightly and slapped a hand over his mouth.

Noctis was off his bed in a second, tugging Prompto off his own and quickly getting him into the bathroom.

Prompto's throat burned as he vomitted for the second time that day, fingers gripping the bowl tightly, knuckles white and body shaking. He felt a soft pressure on his back, Noctis' hand rubbing small circles. “Am I dying?” he sobbed, turning watery eyes to the other man. He didn't hear the reply, dropping his head as his body continued to betray him.

When he felt like his stomach was finally empty, or at the very least nothing would come back up, Prompto turned back to Noctis. A wet cloth was pressed to his face, wiping gently. His strength wore out before Noctis finished cleaning him, falling into his chest with a groan.

“We need to get you back into bed,” Noctis said, trying to lift their bodies off the ground.

“Can't move. Dying.”

Noctis let out a soft laugh. “You're not dying. You're sick. We're here to take care of you.”

Prompto was dead weight on his lap, arms wrapped loosely around his waist and face pressed into his chest. He whined every time Noctis tried to move them, the latter giving up after a few tries with a deep sigh.

“Where's Gladio when you need him?” He rubbed Prompto's back when the blond shivered, hoping it was comforting him.

Noctis leaned against the wall, one leg strecthed out and the other curled up, Prompto's weight upon it causing it to fall asleep. He looked up when the door to the room opened, Ignis stepping past the open bathroom door without a glance over. Gladio's steps ceased when he turned to close the door, spotting the two younger men on the bathroom floor, Noctis grinning meekly and Prompto's face hidden.

“He got sick again,” Noctis told him, just as Ignis' face appeared in the doorway.

Ignis stepped into the small room and crouched beside the two men, touching Prompto's forehead. “How bad was it?”

Noctis shrugged, making a noise. “Like he was shaking and crying but that's normal, right?”

“He doesn't have much in his stomach after the last time,” Ignis started, carefully extracting Prompto from Noctis' hold. “We need to get him to eat so he's not bringing up stomach acid.”

Noctis remained on the floor a minute longer, rubbing his leg to relieve it of the pins and needles feeling. Once the feeling left him, he stood and exited the room, seeing Prompto now curled up on the far bed, Ignis still checking his temperature. He looked to Gladio who was taking small sandwich packets out of a plastic bag, placing them on the coffee table. “Did they have the plain gighee ham and cheese one I wanted?” he asked, moving to the table to examine all the boxes.

Picking up the closest box, he read 'daggerquill breast and chutney' and immediately set it back down. The second box he grabbed was 'birdbeast egg salad'. As he reached for a third box, Gladio held one in front of his face.

“Yes, they had your boring sandwich,” he said, tossing it into Noctis' hands. “We got two in case Prompto was feeling well enough to eat.”

The thought of food made Prompto groan loudly. “Can't eat. Dying,” he moaned, turning his face into the pillow.

“You need to eat something,” Ignis chided, getting a whimper from the blond. “I had Gladio buy crackers earlier. They will be easier on your stomach, but you must eat. I do not want to have to take you to the on board medical facility.”

Prompto nearly jumped up at the suggestion, eyes wide and tinged with fear. “I'll eat! Please don't take me to the facility,” he practically begged, startling the group.

Ignis held him upright, rubbing his back. “I won't take you to the facility,” he said, keeping his voice soft. He chose his next words carefully, not wanting to scare the blond further. “No one will take you unless you get far too sick for us to take care of. I'm not a doctor, but the ship does have one who can help you to get better then you'll be back with us.”

Prompto shook his head quickly.

“They wouldn't hurt you,” Ignis tried. “I would be there with you the whole time, but that's only if I believe you need their care. Eating something is necessary to your overall health, especially whilst you are ill.”

Prompto was quiet and Ignis cupped his cheek, bringing his face up to look at him. He relaxed at the touch, leaning his face into the warmthness of Ignis' hand. His head still throbbed but he refused to close his eyes.

“Now, what will you try to eat?” he asked. “Crackers may be the best option for the time being. Thank you, Gladio,” he said as the box was placed in his hand. “You don't have to eat more than you think you can. Though I would prefer if you ate at least one of the packets. We have water for you to drink, as well.”

Prompto gave him a small nod, frowning slightly when his hand was taken away from his face. He was handed a small packet with six crackers sealed inside. He watched as the box with the remaining packets was placed on the nightstand, next to a bottle of water.

Ignis stood from the bed and moved to the coffee table, grabbing a box after a moment of thought, and walked back to the bed, sitting next to Prompto. The writing on the box told Prompto is was Lucian tomato, cheese, and pesto. Noctis sat on his own bed, phone in one hand and a half eaten sandwich in the other. Gladio was sat upon the couch already opening his second sandwich, a three meat variety consisting of gighee ham, dual horn steak, and griffon breast. A red sauce tried to fall from the sandwich as he took a bite.

Nodding to himself, Prompto opened his crackers and took a small bite. They were dry and salty but he didn't feel like he would be sick eating them.

It took him longer than he would have liked but he ate the whole pack, drinking down half the bottle of water Ignis offered him. When asked how he felt, he gave a noncommittal shrug and lied on the bed, hugging a pillow to his chest. He didn't feel any worse or better having eaten. Ignis' hand slid into his hair, stroking softly and lulling him back into sleep.

Chapter Text

Prompto awoke to the feeling of fingers on his neck, a thumb brushing over the hairs behind his ear, tickling him lightly. He liked it. He shifted, turning his head into the warm hand, and blinked, bleary eyed up at the owner.

Gladio smiled down at him, closing his book and resting it on his thigh. “How're you feeling?” he asked. His voice was soft and calming.

Prompto thought for a moment, trying to sit himself up on the bed. He had slept very well and he felt better that the previous night. At least, he did until he fully sat up. His head swam. It felt like every drop of blood rushed away from it leaving him lightheaded and dizzy. He slapped his hand over his mouth when the contents of his stomach tried to escape and he was lifted off the bed, carried to the bathroom. There was a warm wetness behind his hand. He was sat down in front of the toilet, Gladio crouching beside him and rubbing his back in slow circles.

He clutched at the bowl, one had covered in sick, and he coughed. His throat burned and his eyes watered.

Gladio watched silently. He knew there wasn't much left in Prompto's stomach, having only eaten a handful of crackers the night before. He was dry heaving by the end, barely getting anything up. “Come on, let's get you cleaned up,” Gladio said softly when he leaned back into his hand. He could feel how hard Prompto's body was shaking. “Think you can stand long enough to take a shower?”

Eyeing up the shower cubicle, Prompto shook his head. He felt woozy even sitting on the floor, the motions of the ship making his head swim violently. He wondered if dropships were the same, if the motions would leave him sick and barely able to move. He never would have passed the requirements for missions if they did.

“Lucis doesn't have dropships and I've never been on one so I wouldn't know,” Gladio said suddenly and Prompto realised he must have spoken out loud.

He couldn't remember speaking or even opening his mouth.

“Oh. There's a seat in the shower, probably for the elderly or disabled,” Gladio pointed out after a moment. “And the shower head is detachable so you can sit while you shower. Would you prefer if I left the door open or stayed in here with you?”

Prompto bit his lip, weighing up his options. He would prefer if Ignis was there. Ignis was his superior, after all, though he never gave Prompto much in the way of orders. Not in the way he heard back at the production facility. Even while he was inactive in his tank, he could hear someone barking out orders to the active units. Always strict and loud. A voice that screamed punishment would come to those who disobey.

Gladio was waiting patiently when Prompto turned to him, hand still rubbing soothing circles over his back. He didn't rush him, only watched, a small, comforting smile on his lips.

“Stay?”

With a nod, Gladio stood. He left Prompto on the floor for a moment, cleaning the edge of the toilet from where the blond had placed his vomit covered hand. Closing the lid and flushing the toilet, he slowly helped Prompto to his feet and had him lean against the counter before turning the shower on. Holding his hand under the spray, Gladio waited for the water to heat up. He wasn't sure what temperature Prompto preferred, so he went with something close to his own preference.

Prompto watched him lower the seat on the side wall of the cubicle. He looked up when the other man turned back around to face him.

“Do you need help undressing?” he asked.

Prompto shook his head slowly so as to not aggravate it and Gladio nodded, turning his back to the blond. Carefully, Prompto started to pull his shirt over his head, the collar getting stuck around his ears and mussing his already distressed hair even further. He held on to the counter when he removed his pants and underwear, letting the clothing pile up on the floor at his feet.

Gladio turned when there was a soft touch to his shoulder, glancing at Prompto. “Did you need help?” he asked, facing him. He was fully naked so he couldn't have needed help undressing. Gladio kept his eyes on Prompto's face, trying to determine what he might possibly need. The blond let his hand fall away, still clutching at the counter with the other, and Gladio understood his request. He stepped forward and grasped Prompto's elbow, helping him into the cubicle and onto the seat. Taking the shower head from its place, he handed it to Prompto. He then grabbed out Prompto's bag of toiletries from the ether and placed it on the small shelf at the back of the shower.

“Thank you.”

“No problem, kid,” Gladio smiled. He turned away when Prompto started to wash himself, closing the shower door to prevent water from coating the tile floor.

The door to the cabin opened and he looked up when Noctis walked past the room. Ignis stopped in the doorway, eyeing the scene.

“Was he sick again?” There was a nod and Ignis sighed. “This is going to be a long trip for him,” he hummed. “I had hoped the worst of the motion sickness would pass after a day, that he would get used to the rocking of the ship.” He glanced around Gladio's shoulder at Prompto, watching him lean forward. Ignis slipped around the larger man and over to the shower just as Prompto dropped to his knees, vomitting into the drain.

Prompto flinched when the door was yanked open but the soft hand on his back had him relaxing almost instantly. He squinted through his tears and threw himself at Ignis, pressing his face into Ignis' shirt, soaking it through.

Ignis tensed for a few seconds, the force behind Prompto's weight knocking him back onto the floor. Prompto was half out of the shower, clinging to his shirt and crying. He could barely make out the words. “I know it hurts. It'll be alright soon,” he soothed. He wanted to take Prompto to the on board doctor, see if they could give him something stronger to fight off the nausea, but he knew the blond was vehemently against the idea. Instead, he ran his hand down Prompto's back, trying to get him to calm down enough so Ignis could help him finish cleaning himself. He clearly wasn't in any shape to do it by himself.

“Should we take him to see the doctor?” Noctis asked quietly.

They had gotten Prompto cleaned, dressed, and back in bed, Ignis convincing him to take more of the travel sickness medicine. He had refused to eat anything.

“I believe that would be unwise,” Ignis replied, voice barely abover a whisper as the blond slept soundly next to him. “He was terrified when I had mentioned it yesterday and forcing him to go would only agitate his nerves further. For now, let's let him rest.” He ran his fingers through Prompto's still damp hair. “At the very least, he seems to be able to stave off the nausea while he's asleep.”

His face was peaceful while he slept, brows relaxed, lips slightly parted. He had a hand on Ignis' shirt, the man having changed to a clean one after getting Prompto under the covers, fingers gripping it gently.

“Have you thought more on how to get Prompto entry into the city?” Ignis asked after a moment of silence.

Noctis leaned back onto the couch, closing his eyes. “I was gonna wait til we're back in Lucis before calling dad.” Ignis opened his mouth to speak when Noctis cut him off. “I know it doesn't give us much time, but I don't want to risk the call being intercepted or overheard.”

“Noctis? Thinking strategically?” Gladio chuckled, nudging the younger man beside him. “Who are you and what have you done with our boyfriend?”

“Ha ha, very funny,” Noctis said dryly. “I was thinking we could have him as a undocumented refugee, unless dad can come up with something better.”

Ignis nodded at the idea. It was a good one, one where they didn't need to do much with Prompto's identification, or lack there of. Perhaps the King could even, dare he think it, forge what they needed.

“What if the border patrol asks questions? Like why an undocumented refugee is with the... with us?” Gladio asked, voice low.

There was a quiet sigh from the bed and the three men turned to the noise. Prompto turned his head into the pillow before curling his body tighter with a yawn. He relaxed after a few seconds and blinked up at Ignis. His voice was hoarse from earlier and he coughed a few times, clearing his throat. “'M hungry,” he mumbled.

“Would you like some crackers?” Ignis asked, helping the younger man sit up. He propped up the pillows so Prompto could rest against them. “Or do you think you could eat a sandwich?”

Prompto thought for a minute. His throat was so dry that crackers would only irritate it, but he wasn't sure if he could stomach a full sandwich. He decided to try his luck. “A sandwich?”

Ignis nodded and looked to the couch.

Noctis was already up and over at the mini fridge, digging through the packets they had left. He grabbed out the spare Gighee ham and cheese, a little put out he couldn't have it later, but handed it over without much resistance.

“Thank you, Noct,” Ignis said, taking the packet. He opened it and handed one half of the sandwich to Prompto. “Now, you don't have to eat it all. And let me know if you start to feel ill again.”

Prompto took the sandwich with a small nod. He stared at it for a few moments, turning it this was and that way. It was just ham and cheese on white bread, no condiments or vegetables. Taking a tiny bite, Prompto chewed slowly, not noticing how the other three were watching him closely, ready to rush him to the bathroom if the need arose.

A bottle of water was held out in front of him when he swallowed the first bite, his stomach turning only slightly. He took a few sips from it and went back to the sandwich.

Ignis was relieved to see he was eating with relative ease. He finished half of the sandwich, staring at the second half like he was weighing up the pros and cons of eating it. “We can save the other half for later, if you wish,” he offered.

Prompto nodded, drinking more water.

Ignis closed the packet and handed it to Noctis who stored it back in the fridge. He then took the water bottle once Prompto held it out. He placed it on the nightstand and felt Prompto sliding back down the bed, curling up against him again. He smiled when Prompto slowly reached out, grasping his shirt once more before closing his eyes.

Once Ignis was sure Prompto was asleep, carding his fingers through the blond's hair, he looked to Noctis and Gladio on the sofa. “I'm aware this may be a tad soon, but what are your thoughts on introducing Prompto into our relationship?” he asked softly. “Not in the sexual sense, of course, but merely to give him a more solid reason for doing such things as holding our hand in public. It would also quash unnecessary questions in... at home if people were aware that he is our boyfriend.”

“I'm fine with it,” Noctis said with a shrug, not even looking up from his phone.

“You've hardly thought on the idea,” Ignis stated, taken aback and a hand going to his chest, while Gladio stared at the younger man.

“I mean,” Noctis started, dropping his hand to his lap, “it's really up to Prompto, anyway, isn't it? We can't just tell him 'hey, you're our boyfriend now' and he'll accept that. Well, he probably would if you said it,” he added, giving a pointed look to Ignis, causing him to shift uncomfortably at the implications. “It'd be better if the choice was his, wouldn't it?”

“Yes, you're right. I just wanted to run the idea by the two of you before I said anything to Prompto,” Ignis told them. He was silent for a moment, taking in Noctis' response. “What about you, Gladio? What are your thoughts on the matter?”

Gladio adjusted himself on the couch, scratching at the back of his neck. “I have no problem with it but...Well, we've only known the kid for a little over a week.” Ignis nodded at the statement. “How do we even know he'd want a relationship with us?”

“How do you mean?” Ignis questioned.

“I mean, what if he'd only be fine dating you?” Gladio reiterated. “You're the one he's the most comfortable with, anyone can see that.”

“He's comfortable with the two of you,” Ignis reassured.

Gladio shook his head. “Not the way he is with you.” He pointed to the sleeping blond at the words and Ignis looked back down.

Prompto had wrapped his arm around Ignis' waist without him noticing and pressed his face against Ignis' side. “I suppose you may have a point,” Ignis hummed softly, stroking Prompto's hair again. “I'll wait a while before bringing up the suggestion with him, in any case.”

It was dark when Prompto opened his eyes. The curtains were drawn, the light turned off, and the room silent. He wasn't sure what woke him and he laid in the bed for a moment, listening. He could hear a soft snoring at the other side of the room, Noctis he was sure. It was just enough to cover the sound of the waves outside. A warm breath tickled the back of his neck and an arm was looped loosely around his waist. Placing his hand over the arm, he found it belonged to Ignis.

Closing his eyes again, he tried to fall back asleep only to have a pain in his abdomen inform him of the reason behind his awakening.

He needed to use the bathroom.

Carefully, he raised Ignis' arm off his waist, sliding over and rolling away before placing it back on the bed. He had to grab the headboard and close his eyes as he stood, his head swimming for a few seconds. When he opened them again, he saw Ignis had not moved. He was thankful as he had not wanted to wake the man.

Quickly walking to the bathroom, and closing the door almost completely, Prompto relieved himself and washed his hands.

He slipped back out of the bathroom into the quiet, clicking the light off, and padded back over to his shared bed. He had to feel his way over, bent down and running his fingers over the first bed before he found the gap and then the second bed. Prompto skirted around the bed and crawled back under the covers.

Ignis stirred at the movement and pushed himself up on one arm. “Prompto? Everything alright?” he asked, voice low and thick with sleep.

Prompto nodded, forgetting Ignis couldn't see him in the dark of the room. “I'm fine,” he whispered, curling up. “Had to use the bathroom.”

He just made out Ignis tipping his head up. “You weren't sick again, were you?”

“No.”

“Alright,” Ignis murmured, resting his head back down.

Prompto watched his silhouette in the faint light, biting his lip lightly. “Can...” He paused and Ignis raised his head a few inches, showing he was listening. He urged Prompto on after a moment of silence. “Can I hug you?” he finally asked, barely above a whisper. He had seen how happy and content Noctis was when he hugged both Ignis and Gladio and wanted to see if it would also make him that happy.

Maybe it would even help him forget about the rocking of the ship.

There was silence and Prompto was regretting even asking. Of course his superior wouldn't hug him. His arm being around Prompto when he had woken up was merely an oversight, he told himself. He was about to take back what he had asked when Ignis spoke, voice soft and filling Prompto's chest with a warmth he wanted to feel again.

“Of course you can hug me.”

Prompto smiled and slid closer, wrapping an arm around Ignis' chest, the other trapped between their bodies. He pressed his face into Ignis' shirt collar, breathing in the lingering scent of coffee. He relaxed quickly and sighed when Ignis wrapped his arms around Prompto's shoulders, one slipping underneath his head and holding him close, petting his hair.

“Better?” he asked, sounding as if he was on the brink of sleep. Prompto nodded and closed his eyes, hearing Ignis let out a slow breath.

It was far better than he even anticipated. Ignis' body was warm and solid. He pulled himself closer to that warmth, gripping the back of Ignis' shirt in his hand and fitting a knee between Ignis' legs. He felt the man tense slightly at the motion and wondered if he had done something wrong, but the feeling passed after only a few seconds. He let out a pleased hum when Ignis stroked his back, his fingers so light it took Prompto a few moments to even realise they were there.

He was out within a few minutes, lulled to sleep by the sounds of Ignis' soft breathing and heartbeat.

Gladio woke early, sitting up in bed and rubbing his eyes with tired yawn. Noctis groaned at the movements and rolled away from him, taking the cover with him. He smiled and rubbed Noctis' head, watching him recede deeper under the cover. He turned his attention to the other bed. The scene had him quickly picking up his phone and snapping a picture.

Ignis was on his back, arms wrapped loosely around Prompto's shoulders while the blond used him as a pillow. He had his face nearly buried in Prompto's hair and Gladio wondered how it wasn't tickling his nose.

With a shake of his head, he gathered up a set of clean clothes and headed into the bathroom.

The three other men were still sound asleep when he emerged, dressed and clean. Noctis seemed to have cocooned himself up further into the blanket but Ignis and Prompto hadn't moved an inch. With a final check over his pockets, making sure he had his wallet and room key, he left to buy breakfast.

He returned thirty minutes later with a large paper bag in one hand and a cardboard cupholder with four coffees, two of them iced, in the other. He could hear the shower running. Peeking around the corner showed Noctis had crawled into bed with Prompto and both appeared to still be fast asleep. The groaning of the mattress told him otherwise as he placed the drinks on the desk.

“Is that bacon?” Noctis asked, rolling over to squint at Gladio.

Gladio nodded. “And iced coffee.”

Noctis turned back to Prompto, giving his shoulder a light shake. “Hey, Prom. Breakfast is here,” he said, leaning in close.

There was a groan and Gladio chuckled, removing the plastic containers from the bag. Each was filled with pancakes, bacon, and scrambled birdbeast eggs, Gladio's having a double portion of pancakes.

Ignis stepped out of the bathroom just as Gladio held up his coffee. He smiled in thanks and grabbed the cup as well as one of the containers, moving to sit at the coffee table. Gladio followed, dropping onto the seat next to him.

Noctis took the remaining two containers and handed them to Prompto, who had sat up against the pillows, before turning back for the iced coffees. Prompto traded one of the containers for a coffee. The room was filled with a comfortable silence while they ate.

Chapter Text

The side of clear plastic cup in Prompto's hand read 'decaf' and he wondered what it meant. Glancing to Noctis' cup, he saw no words written on it, just the light brown color of the coffee inside and a handful of ice cubes. Taking a sip through the straw, Prompto got a strong taste of the coffee, sweetened with something he couldn't place, like sugar but not quite the same, sweeter almost. Definitely too sweet for his still turning stomach.

“Before I forget,” Ignis started, placing his cup on the table in front of him. He stood and walked to the desk, stepping over Gladio's legs in the process, and picked up the small box of medicine he had left there. “Prompto, you should take one of these so you, hopefully, won't be ill after eating.” He popped one of the pills from the foil container and held it out to the blond.

Prompto grabbed the pill, squinting at it. He remembered taking one before, although it hadn't helped much, it did allow him to sleep easier. He placed the small pill in his mouth and took a sip from his drink, swallowing quickly. He reached over, placed the cup on the nightstand, and popped open the container of food. Something in it was overpowering. He guessed it was the bacon Noctis asked about. It had always had a much stronger scent than the other foods he had had for breakfast. Inside the container was two pancakes, a small packet of syrup along the side of them, three strips of bacon resting on top, and scrambled eggs. He looked between the items, trying to figure out which would make his stomach hurt the least.

He decided on the eggs in the end. They were soft, easy on his throat and stomach, and only lightly seasoned. He ate slowly, taking sips of his coffee to wash everything down, and focused on the conversation in the room, trying to drown out the sounds of the waves.

Noctis was, as per usual when the room grew quiet, on his phone, the low sounds of King's Knight filtering through its speaker. The straw in his cup was caught between his teeth, liquid rising up every few seconds. His empty food container was off to the side, a small puddle of the syrup in the bottom, coating the plastic fork.

Ignis and Gladio had also long since finished their meals, the trays sitting on the coffee table along with Gladio's coffee cup. Ignis had his cup still in hand, resting it on his knee.

It was hard to hear what he was saying, Ignis' voice far too low, like he was actively aware Prompto was trying to listen in. Prompto knew the group kept some things secret from him, like whatever Noctis was - maybe a Lucian MT, he thought - but everyone was entitled to their secrets and he never felt the need to pry.

“Is everything alright, Prompto?” Ignis asked when he caught the blond staring. He glanced to the container in front of Prompto, noting only the eggs and a few bites of pancake had been eaten, and frowned. “Was it too much food for you?”

Prompto blinked rapidly at the question, snapping out of his daze and looking down to his food. His stomach churned once more at the smell of the bacon, and he nodded.

“We can save it for later, if you wish,” Ignis said, standing from the couch and placing his cup on the table. He walked to the bed and held his hand out, taking the container when Prompto offered it over and closing it. “I'll leave it in the fridge if you get hungry later.”

Prompto nodded again, watching him move to the desk and opened the small fridge. There were still two unopened sandwiches left, as well as Prompto's bottle of water. A nudge to his side drew his attention to Noctis, who was holding Prompto's cup of coffee, shaking it lightly.

“You gonna finish this?”

He watched the ice slosh around, watering down the drink. It had been too much for his stomach, only drinking one third of the cup. He shook his head, “No.”

“Can I have it?” he asked, giving the cup another shake.

Prompto looked over to Gladio. He was the one who brought them the food and he was unsure if the older man would be bothered if Prompto gave his drink up.

Gladio, himself, arched an eyebrow at the blond's questioning face. He made a motion with his hand, waving it towards him, and Prompto turned back to Noctis, still waiting for an answer.

The second he nodded, Noctis put the straw in his mouth, sucking up the coffee.

“Ugh, decaf? Seriously, Gladio?” he grimaced, smacking his lips. He took another long sip, leaning back against the headboard.

“Thought it'd be easier on Prom's stomach,” Gladio shrugged. “And it doesn't seem to be stopping you from drinking it.”

“What's decaf mean?” Prompto asked curiously. Though it had been written on his cup, he had assumed it was part of the cup's design.

Ignis was the one to answer. “It simply means there is less caffeine than normal or, in some cases, no caffeine at all.” He let out a soft sigh when Prompto's face still showed his confusion. “Caffeine is generally used to keep people awake, to help them feel not as tired,” he explained in as simple terms as he could. “It is the reason people will drink coffee in the morning, to help wake them up.”

Prompto was silent for the moment, nodding thoughtfully. “But you drink coffee all day, not just in the morning,” he pointed out. “Are you always tired?”

“He's got you there, Iggy,” Gladio chuckled, playfully nudging the man with his elbow.

Ignis swatted the larger man on the thigh before answering. “Not typically, no. I merely enjoy the taste of coffee.”

“And he gets headaches if he doesn't have at least two cups a day,” Noctis added in, swirling the watered down coffee with the straw.

Prompto looked over to Noctis, watching him play his phone game, before turning his eyes back to Ignis who was relaxing back on the sofa, right leg crossed over the left at the knee. Gladio was slouching beside him, arm over the back of the couch, his hand hidden behind Ignis' head. He could see his forearm tensing and relaxing in a rhythmic pattern and, every few seconds, his thumb would come into view, rubbing against the side of Ignis' neck, before vanishing again. The touch looked soft and tender and, coupled with the way Gladio was watching Ignis - like he was the sun, the moon, and the stars - Prompto felt like it was far too intimate for him to witness.

He cast his eyes away from the scene and focused on his knees, drawn up to his chest.

Noctis leaned over onto him when he noticed Prompto's unease, head on his shoulder.

He tensed minutely, not expecting the action, but calmed down quickly, letting his feet slide down the bed. He kept his knees raised and watched Noctis play his game.

Prompto wasn't sure how long they had been on the ship for; his days and nights had meshed into one. He thought it may have been the fourth day. Or perhaps the seventh.

Ignis informed him it was the ninth day.

He'd spent much of his time sleeping as it was the only thing that kept him from noticing how much the ship rocked in the water, and how much his stomach churned from the motions. Ignis had him take the small pill for his sea sickness every day, just before they ate breakfast, and it helped, but not enough. He would still run to the bathroom to vomit more than he, or the others, would like, but he was steadily getting better. He hadn't been physically sick for nearly two days.

While resting, he would sometimes catch snippets of the other men's conversations, all hushed tones which would occasionally cut off when they found he was awake. He wondered if it was more secrets he shouldn't know about.

He also wondered if he should get better at pretending to be asleep.

By the tenth day on the ship, Prompto had noticed an obvious shift in Ignis' demeaner. Or, rather, Gladio had noticed the change and, when he watched the man closer, he too saw it.

Ignis was quiet, more reserved, yet irritable and Prompto didn't know why. He couldn't think of anything he had done to upset him. Unless it was that fact that he was nearly constantly sick and they still had four days left on the ship.

When Prompto had tried to express his concern and apologise over whatever it was he clearly had done, Gladio had brushed him off, shooed both him and Noctis to the cabin door.

“But-” Prompto tried to argue.

Gladio had cupped his chin, gentle yet firm, callouses brushing against the smooth skin of his jaw, effectively shutting him up. “Hey, you didn't upset Iggy. Just let me take care of him for a bit and he'll be good as new,” he smiled. He then looked to Noctis and tilted his head towards the door. “Why don't you show Prompto around the ship since he's feeling better and give us an hour or two?” he said with a wink.

Prompto didn't fully understand the tone of his words, but he watched as Noctis nodded and followed him through the door. He could just make out Gladio speaking behind it as they walked down the hall. “Will Ignis be alright?” he asked, trying to keep in step with Noctis while glancing over his shoulder.

“He'll be fine, Gladio will take good care of him,” Noctis replied, his tone similar to Gladio's when he ushered them from the room. “Anyway, let's go to the lounge. I think they have a game station in there for kids.” He held out his hand, waiting.

Prompto took his hand and asked, “Is that like your phone game?”

“Kind of, but it's on a tv instead of a phone. And there's a lot more options for games, especially if you own a game station yourself,” Noctis told him, leading him down the hall. “I've got a few different kinds at home with a lot of different games. I can teach you how to play some if they have anything decent on board.”

“Do they have King's Knight?” Prompto asked. “I like that game.”

Noctis shook his head. “Nah, that's only for phones.”

Prompto's shoulders slumped at the words and Noctis squeezed his hand briefly.

“But they might have some of the 'Last Nightmare' series, it'd keep us busy for days,” he said. They stopped by the elevator, Noctis pressing the down button, and waited. “I just hope it's not all kids games.”

The door slid open and Noctis tugged Prompto inside the small room, pressing a button with an 'L' on it.

“If there's nothing good,” he started, tapping his leg with his hand, “we can always just get some drinks at the café. Something to pass time.”

Prompto nodded. He thought of Ignis again, hoping he'd be better once they returned to the room. “What is Gladio going to do to help Ignis?” he asked as the door opened. “Is it something only he can do?”

Noctis bit his lip, holding back a smirk, before he spoke. “He's, uh... he's going to help Ignis relax,” he said carefully, avoiding eye contact and walking down the new hallway. “And no, I can do it, too, but Gladio's... better at doing it.”

“Why did we have to leave?” Prompto was confused. If he was only going to help Ignis relax then surely Noctis and he could have stayed in the room. They both knew how to be quiet when it was warranted.

“Oh, look! One of the game stations is free,” he said quickly, pointing to a television cabinet.

The tv was large and rectangular, flat screened and standing on a wooden platform just wider than it was. There was a small dark blue box on a shelf underneath it and a small stack of plastic cases lined resting on their sides beside it.

Prompto was about to ask his question again but Noctis released his hand and walked to the tv, picking up the small plastic cases. He followed him over, nervously glancing around the wide room.

There were multiple televisions along one side of the room, more than half being used by children. Small, cream colored couches were set up in front of the stations, big enough for two adults or three smaller children. There was a small, white square table in front of each couch, most covered with cups and plates.

The opposite side of the room was filled with a bustling coffee shop. People were moving frequently behind the counter, other people were sitting at the tables, talking and laughing and holding hands. A small child let out a yell only to be picked up by an adult man, her father, Prompto assumed. He soothed her until she calmed down enough to be placed back on the floor where she ran after another young girl, laughing.

The center of the room was open, large sofas dotted the area, covered with people reading and talking. A few people even seemed to be sleeping.

“Hey, Prom. Sit down already,” Noctis called, waving a hand in his direction.

Prompto jumped slightly and hurried over to the couch Noctis was sat on. Dropping beside him, a controller was placed in his lap.

“I'm gonna teach you the finer points of the classic first person shooter,” Noctis grinned. “While it's not my favorite type of game, it's easy enough to learn the basics.”

Prompto nodded, looking to the controller in his hand. He saw how Noctis was holding his own and tried to emulate it. It was a comfortable grip and fit snuggly in his palms, thumbs able to reach most of the buttons on its face.

Noctis went over the controls as the game loaded on the screen, Prompto only getting a little confused. It was far easier to understand once they started playing the game. Noctis had said they would play 'co-op' to make it more fair on him.

He wasn't entirely sure what 'co-op' meant at first but Noctis had explained it meant they would work together in the game.

Five games later, and they had only won once. Prompto's character had died multiple times in every match, giving him the lowest score every time.

Noctis had told him to not worry about it. It was his first time playing the game and 'everyone's bad their first time'. “How about we get something to eat?” he asked, trying to cheer the blond up. “I think the café has some nice ham and cheese sandwiches. Better than the packaged ones we've been eating, at least.”

Prompto turned to look at the café. There weren't as many people as earlier and most of them were adults now. The amount of people still unnerved him and he hesitated. He opened his mouth to say he wasn't hungry when his stomach let out an embarrassing noise causing Noctis to laugh, and help him to his feet.

“Come on, let's get some lunch.”

Noctis cracked open the door, trying to peek through into the room. “Is it safe for us to come in?” he asked, unable to hold back a chuckle.

Prompto was behind him, shifting on his feet. He had forgotten the reason behind leaving the room while Noctis and he were in the lounge, playing games and eating. It must have been Noctis' intention to have him forget, to help him relax. He was grateful but the thought of Ignis still being upset had him on edge.

“Yes, it's safe,” Ignis replied as he pulled the door fully open. He sounded tired to Prompto but his voice was soft and his face calm.

When the two had stepped past Ignis and into the room, the door shut behind them, Prompto saw the glass door leading outside was opened wide. Gladio was leaning against the headboard of the bed Prompto shared with Ignis, reading a book. It was one of the ones he's seen him occasionally reading throughout their journey.

“It seems I may have led you to believe you were the cause of my distress,” Ignis said, catching Prompto by the elbow. “I would like to apologise. Nothing you have done has ever upset me and I am truly sorry for allowing you to believe it was your fault.”

Prompto stared at him in apprehension, blinking a few times. “I-”

“Which bed did you guys use?” Noctis asked, interrupting him.

Ignis dropped Prompto's arm at the question, frowning. “I don't see why that matters. Besides we had clean sheets brought up-”

“Which bed?” Noctis demanded.

“Which one do you think?” Gladio replied, sitting up and putting his book aside. He arched an eyebrow and Prompto frowned, confused by Noctis' initial question.

He thought for a few minutes, trying to figure out why a bed had been used to help Ignis relax and why Noctis wanted to know. Ignis had sounded tired when they arrived so it couldn't have been he had taken a nap. And he was sure Noctis would have shared a bed with both men, possibly at the same time, so knowing which bed Ignis had rested on shouldn't have bothered him. They were in a relationship, as Ignis previously told him, and he understood what a relationship was, what it typically entailed.

It was when Noctis took him by the hand and tugged him towards one of the beds that he finally understood the tones both Noctis and Gladio had used earlier that day.

“Come on, Prom. You're in my bed tonight.”

“Noctis, don't be a such a child. It's nothing you haven't done before,” Ignis said, shaking his head.

“I'm not going to expose Prompto such... such adult things,” Noctis stated, earning a barking laugh from Gladio and a sigh from Ignis.

“Changing the subject, have you two eaten yet?” Ignis asked, ignoring the cut off laugh Gladio let out.

Prompto nodded, sitting on the bed closest to the bathroom, the one Noctis had been sleeping in. “We had sandwiches while we were out.” Noctis climbed up onto the bed, pulling out his phone, and falling quiet.

“And how are you feeling?”

Prompto twisted his mouth and placed a hand over his stomach. “Better? Not as sick as I have been,” he said.

“That's good to hear. I do hope you'll be feeling well for the remainder of our journey,” Ignis smiled. “I would hate for you to be like this the whole ride to Insomnia as it is a long drive and we will be mostly staying at the havens along the route.”

“Havens? What's that?”

“They're safe camping grounds,” Gladio said, drawing Prompto's attention to him. “They're covered in runes that protect them from the daemons that roam the night. Supposedly bless by some ancient Oracle, although no one really knows how they work.”

“Wish the runes made the ground softer,” Noctis mumbled. “Pain in the back when all we got is a thin mat to sleep on.”

Prompto turned on the bed so he could see both Gladio and Noctis. “We won't have beds?” he pouted.

Ignis moved into his view, sitting on the bed next to Gladio. “I'm afraid not. We would have brought a an air mattress but someone,” he gave a fast, sharp glare to Gladio, “forgot to pack it.”

“I already told you, I thought Noct was supposed to pack it,” Gladio said, trying to defend himself.

“Hey, I wasn't in charge of anything except myself,” Noctis countered, ignoring his phone for a moment

“And now you're in charge of helping secure a safe entry for Prompto into the city,” Ignis told him.

Noctis waved his hand, going back to his phone. “Yeah, yeah, I know.”

“Why do I need a safe entry?” Prompto asked, curious about the words.

Was it not safe for him to normally enter the city of Insomnia? Was Insomnia a dangerous city? Would they take him to somewhere that's dangerous? Or perhaps it's only dangerous for MTs. Maybe he shouldn't have come along with them to Lucis.

Ignis interrupted his thoughts. “It's merely a precaution. Oh, and you shouldn't mention the fact that you are a Magitek Unit to anyone, especially while we are in Lucis. Unless we say it is safe to reveal this information, it should be kept secret.”

Prompto nodded.

“This goes for the two of you, as well,” Ignis said firmly.

Noctis remained quiet, engrossed in his phone, while Gladio said, “Sure thing, Iggy.”

Chapter Text

Sleeping in the same bed as Noctis was... different. Where as Ignis' body was relaxed for most of the night, holding Prompto so gently it was more like his arm was just resting over his waist, and that was only after Prompto had initiated the contact, Noctis clung to him like he was a security blanket. He fell asleep fast, much faster than Prompto thought was possible, and had his arms wrapped around the blond's waist, body tucked in close and face resting against the back of his neck and breathing softly.

It was comforting and warm, filling Prompto with numerous emotions, and had him wishing they could be that close in his waking hours. Not only with Noctis, but with Gladio and Ignis, as well. He knew he was an outsider to their relationship - he knew that – but in those fleeting moments, where the world was quiet and still, he felt, well, loved, if he had to give the emotion a name. It was almost too easy to imagine that he was part of their group, that they cared for him in the same way they did each other. That they would hold him without having to ask.

It was selfish for him to wish to intrude on their relationship, but he still liked to pretend.

He heard the sound of the covers on the second bed shifting followed by soft noises he had come to associate with kissing, though it was much slower and wetter than he typically heard. Opening his eyes, he curiously peered over to the other bed, just making out Ignis' shadow.

He was on his side, back to him by the look of it. A low hum followed a kiss, deep enough to tell Prompto it had come from Gladio, before he heard Ignis whisper “Go to sleep.”

There was an amused sigh and the room, once again, fell silent.

Prompto closed his eyes, trying to focus solely on the slow rhythm of Noctis' breathing in hopes it would drown out the sea.

Ignis awoke first, carefully prying Gladio's arm off his chest, and slid out of bed. Padding over to the curtain, he peeked through, seeing the sunrise turning the sky shades of pink and white that faded into a soft blue. Letting the heavy material fall back in place, he walked into the bathroom, grabbing a change of clothes and his sundry bag along the way.

He pondered if he would be able to talk his way into the ship's kitchen, make something special for breakfast as an apology for panicking Prompto. As he washed his face, he went through his mental list of recipes, thinking of the types of breakfast both Gladio and Noctis loved and wondered if Prompto would be partial to them as well. It would have to be easy on his stomach. He seemed to like eggs, never having much trouble keeping them down whenever Gladio was the one to pick them up breakfast. Omelettes were probably a safe choice.

After changing his clothes, he stepped back into the room, looking to the beds. Gladio was up and stretching, letting out a low groan and heading past Ignis and into the recently vacated bathroom to shower. The two younger men were still fast asleep, their backs pressed to each other. Noctis was curled up tightly under the covers, hands pulling his pillow into his face, blocking out any trace of light. Prompto was much looser, body turned just slightly to his back.

Ignis sat on his bed and slipped his shoes on. He grabbed his wallet, made sure the room key was tucked inside, and left the room.

“Smells good,” Gladio commented as Ignis shut the door behind himself. He took the cardboard drink tray from the Ignis' hands, setting it on the desk, before he moved to wake Noctis.

“Where's Prompto?” Ignis asked when he noticed the blond was missing from the bed.

“He's taking a shower.”

Ignis turned to the bathroom, seeing the door ajar and finally hearing the sound of the water running. “Alone?”

Gladio nodded, pulling Noctis up. “Said he wanted to try it. Guess he wants some independence.”

The shower switched off as Ignis started removing their breakfast from the paper bag, handing Noctis a special made omelette with cheese, ham, and red peppers. There was a groan as Noctis said, “I should make a decree where you can't serve me vegetables at breakfast.”

“You like peppers,” Ignis retorted, handing a second container to Gladio. “And I made sure they diced them fairly small. Oh.” He turned to see Prompto, hair still damp, gently gabbing his shirt at the waist. “Good morning, Prompto. I ordered omelettes for breakfast, is that okay? I figured they would be easy on your stomach.”

Prompto nodded, smiling brightly. “Yes, that's fine.” He took the plastic container that was handed to him and turned to the bed, moving to sit next to Noctis. He glanced up when Gladio held his hand out, spotting a bottle of orange juice. “Thank you.”

Noctis was sipping on an iced coffee, tray resting on his lap and phone in his hand.

“It should only be another two days before we're in Galdin Quay,” Ignis said to the room, cutting his omelette with a fork. “I'll wager you're more than ready to get back on dry land, right Prompto?”

“Even I can't wait, and I'm not the one who's sea sick,” Noctis cut in. “Can we have dinner at the Mother of Pearl when we arrive?”

“Certainly not,” Ignis said, shaking his head.

Noctis pouted.

“What's the Mother of Pearl?” Prompto asked, looking between the men. He ate slowly, taking small bites of egg. He could taste a bit of cheese, as well. It added a nice flavor to the meal.

“It's a really nice restaurant,” Noctis started.

“And it is out of our price range,” Ignis added, giving Noctis a stern look. “There are plenty of fine dining establishments in Insomnia if you insist on bringing Prompto to one.”

Noctis sighed, sliding down his pillow. “Yeah, but none of them have those great seafood dishes. There's just something about eating fish right on the ocean that makes it taste better.”

“Then I suggest you partake in some fishing while we stay in Galdin for the night and I'll be sure to make a meal that will whet your appetite,” Ignis said, taking a sip from his coffee.

“Fine,” Noctis said, draging out the word and finishing off his breakfast. “I wanted to get some fishing in anyway.”

Galdin Quay was even bigger than Prompto had imagined. Ignis had called it a 'resort town', leading the blond to believe it was small, maybe a handful of buildings, a hotel or two, and a beach, but this was more than he expected.

The town was packed with people of all ages; he could see children running around on the beach that he could see from the port, their parents chasing after, numerous buildings filling what he assumed was the main street, some several stories tall. The port itself was crowded with people, some leaving the ship they themselves had just stepped off of and others waiting to board different ships to new locations.

Prompto had grasped Ignis' hand tightly as the departed, clinging to his arm whenever someone drifted to close to him. It was loud and noisy and he was shaking with nerves. A hand rubbed his back, causing a small jolt in the blond. When he looked up, he saw Gladio to his left, giving him a soft smile and a short nod, letting him know the others would protect him. It helped him relax minutely, though he still held fast to Ignis' arm.

“We'll be staying at the haven just outside of town,” Ignis said, drawing his attention from the crowd. He pointed far off into the distance, towards the cliffs behind the beach. “It'll take about twenty minutes to reach it once we leave the town.”

“Will there be other people there?”

“No, the havens are not typically used by the general population,” Ignis told him. “It's mostly hunters who make use of them.”

“Most people prefer hotels to camping,” Gladio added.

Noctis snorted at that, clearly unimpressed with the idea of camping. “Yeah, because they like to sleep on real beds.”

Ignis turned to look at Noctis for a moment before looking down to Prompto. “We'll be staying at a motel once we reach Longwythe, and Hammerhead has a caravan we can make use of, but everything else will be havens.”

Prompto nodded. He was interested in camping; it sounded fun. Well, except for the 'no beds' part. That didn't sound like much fun.

“We should hit up the market before we head out,” Gladio said. “We've got time to spare.”

Ignis nodded at the suggestion. “Vey well, let us head into town.”

Prompto didn't know how it was possible, but the main street was even noisier and busier than the docks, though there seemed to be fewer small children running around. They mostly stuck to their parents sides, in much the same way Prompto was stuck to Ignis' side.

Ignis didn't appear to mind, he never tried to shift away from the blond, only smiled down at him whenever Prompto tightened his grip.

They had stepped into a small open air market, stalls lining both sides of the street with venders selling their wares. Everything from freshly caught fish to spices to weapons to souviner clothing. The smell of the area was overpowering and Prompto had to cover his face with his hand when they stopped by a particulary fragrant stall full of spices. He flinched when a young woman brushed against him, weaving her way through the crowd.

“Gladio, why don't the three of you head to the haven ahead of me? Start getting the site set up while I finish up the shopping?” Ignis proposed. “Noct, you can get a head start on catching us something for dinner.”

“Yeah, sure,” Noctis replied with a shrug of his shoulders. He, too, had noticed how uncomfortable Prompto had been since they stepped off the ship. He also noticed how Prompto clung tighter to Ignis' arm, face turned to the side and pressed into the fabric of the older man's shirt, at the mere suggestion of leaving him behind. “Hey, I bet Gladio would give you a piggyback ride to the haven,” he said, trying to coerce the blond into relinquishing his hold.

Gladio raised an eyebrow but smiled when Prompto finally turned his face to them. “What's that?”

“It means I'll carry you on my back. You won't have to walk at all to the site,” Gladio told him, holding out a hand. “How 'bout it?”

“It's a once in a lifetime opprotunity,” Noctis grinned, leaning in towards Prompto and holding a hand to the side of his mouth like he was whispering a secret. “The last time he gave me a piggyback ride was when I was seven.”

Prompto glanced from Gladio's extended hand up to Ignis' face. The latter gave him a reassuring nod. He reached out and took Gladio's hand, feeling himself being tugged away from the warmth of Ignis' body.

“Let's get out of the crowd first,” Gladio said. He wrapped his arm around Prompto's shoulders, warm and heavy, and led him away.

Prompto looked over his shoulder, back to Ignis who was leaning forward over a stall, pointing to one of the baskets and talking to the woman behind the table. He caught Prompto's eye and smiled before they turned a corner, walking between two stalls and back onto the main street.

“Iggy won't take too long,” Gladio said, pulling him off to the side, making sure they weren't blocking the path. “We probably won't even have the tent set up before he's walking up to the haven. Now, let's get you on my back.”

A piggyback ride was... different. There was no pig involved, first of all. Noctis had helped him clamber up onto Gladio's back, who was knelt down in front of him. His arms are wrapped firmly around the bigger man's neck and Gladio's slipped his own arms around and underneath Prompto's knees, the lower half of his legs hanging loose.

“You okay up there?” Gladio asked as he stood, turning his head. There was a nod and Gladio grinned. “Alright then, let's get this show on the road.”

“Why is it called a 'piggyback ride'?” Prompto asked as Gladio started walking. He kept his face down, nearly burying it in his arm to keep from seeing the stares people were giving them. The other two didn't seem to notice the looks, or perhaps they just didn't mind, but Prompto did.

A few seconds of silence followed the question and Prompto peeked over his arm.

“I don't know,” Noctis said. “It just is? Gladio, do you know?”

Gladio shrugged and Prompto could feel the way his shoulders raised underneath his arms. “You got me. It's always been called that, as far as I know.”

Prompto nodded, though he was still confused.

He relaxed into Gladio's hold once they left the town behind. He had adjusted himself so he was higher up, leaning heavily on his back, arms loose around his neck, chin resting over his shoulder. Gladio's hands were secure around his thighs, holding him steady. He knew the older man wouldn't drop him, that he was safe in Gladio's arms, and the thought made him smile.

Noctis went off towards a pier a few minutes after they left the main street, saying he'd be at the haven before dinner. He had given Prompto's foot a few light pats and smiled before heading off.

“Guess it's just you and me, kid,” Gladio said. “Hope you don't mind.”

Prompto straightened up and shook his head. “No, I don't mind.” He paused for a moment, looking at the pier Noctis was walking down. “Can I help you set up the haven?”

“Sure thing. It's mostly just getting the tent and grill set up, but help would be welcome,” Gladio replied. “My dad used to take my sister and me camping a lot when we were both kids. Though, to me, she's still a kid, but that's beside the point. We used to head out an hour or two outside the city walls when he had a free weekend. Sleep under the stars if it was a warm night. He'd go fishing for our dinner, like Noct, but I always found the waiting for a bite to be incredibly boring,” he said, chuckling.

Prompto nodded, listening to the story and trying to picture what Gladio's sister looked like. He pictured dark hair and warm eyes. Maybe she was tall like Gladio? But he had said she was still a kid to him, so she was most likely much smaller in stature.

“Camping in the Leide desert is great 'cause you can see every star in the sky,” he continued. “You won't be able to see most of them here. The light from Galdin is too bright, washes out most of them.”

“How many stars are there?” Prompto asked curiously. He remembered seeing the stars when they had left the facility. There had been so many of them; so many that Prompto thought it would be impossible to count them all in a lifetime.

“I don't think anyone really knows,” Gladio said after a moment. “Billions upon billions, probably. The haven is just up ahead.”

Prompto looked around, pushing himself up on Gladio's back. He wasn't sure what a haven would look like, all he had to go on was they were covered in runes to protect them from the daemons. What the runes looked like, though, he had no clue. He could hear a light humming sound as Gladio neared the cliff face. It made his skin crawl, but not in a bad way. He wondered what it was and asked as much.

“Humming? I don't hear anything,” Gladio told him, glancing over his shoulder to the blond. “Does it sound like wings? I don't remember any killer wasps in this area of Lucis.”

“No,” Prompto said and shook his head. “It's like... like the sound a machine in standby makes but softer?” He could make out a flat rock in the distance, its surface marked by softly glowing blue swirls. “It's coming from there,” he said, pointing to the haven.

Gladio paused in his walk, frowning in confusion. “The haven? It's humming?”

Prompto nodded.

“Is it hurting your head or something?”

“No, it's kind of pleasant?” he said softly. “Maybe it's because I have daemon blood in me and that's why I can hear it.” He felt Gladio flinch slightly before he adjusted his grip on Prompto and started walking again. “You said havens are protected, right?”

“That's right. So, do all MTs have daemon blood in them?” Gladio asked.

They were almost at the haven and Prompto could see the runes properly. He noticed their intricate shapes but couldn't understand them. It must have been an ancient writing. “They do,” he finally said, drawing his attention from the soft hum and back to Gladio. “I don't have as much as newer models. Light doesn't affect me in the same way it does them, but they stop looking human well before they reach my age.”

Gladio nodded, storing the information away so he could share it with the other two. He wasn't sure what Ignis had already learned from the files they'd found but he knew the extra information would be helpful.

“Verstael made the newer models age faster,” Prompto told him. “I think some of the current MTs age about four or five times faster than the original models, so he can make more in less time. They also have a lot more daemon blood injected into them at an earlier age, making them strong enough to withstand the process from flesh to armor.”

“So, you're one of the original models?” Gladio asked. He stepped up to the haven, following the sloping path towards the surface.

“Mhmm,” Prompto hummed, nodded lightly He tucked his head down to the back of Gladio's shoulder, resting his forehead against the warm skin left exposed by his tank top. “I'm not even one of the strongest of the originals, or the smartest. It's probably why Verstael never began the process with me. He was never pleased when the scientists would check on my progress. Kept saying I would never survive the process so why waste their time before they stored me back in my tank.”

“Well, if they had of started it,” Gladio said, voice soft and soothing, “then we never would have met you.” He crouched down allowing Prompto to climb off his back before standing and turning to face him. “So, I, for one, am glad they never turned you fully into an MT.”

Prompto was silent for a few minutes, staring up at Gladio. He smiled brightly and hugged the taller man around his waist, taking Gladio by surprise but getting a few gentle pats on the back in return. “I'm glad, too.”

“Now, how about we get camp set up before Iggy gets here?” Gladio asked.

They had managed to get the tent set up, Gladio being the one to hammer the spikes into the ground after Prompto's failed attempts, by the time Ignis stepped up to the haven, paper bag under his arm.

“Get everything?” Gladio asked, drawing Prompto's attention away from the mat he was currently rolling out inside the tent.

“I do believe so, ah, did you miss me that much, Prompto?” Ignis asked when the blond sidled over to him, hugging his waist.

Prompto didn't reply save for his face turning pink. He released Ignis a few seconds later when Gladio mentioned they needed to set up the grill.

Ignis turned to help the older man, pulling a camp table from the ether while Gladio got out the grill. Prompto stood and watched, taking notice of how Gladio hooked up the tank underneath and tested the flame before turning it back off. He then turned to start a fire in the pit in the center. It glowed a bright blue, like the shimmering of the ether when items were pulled from and returned to it.

A folded canvas chair was brought into his view and Prompto started, blinking up at Ignis.

“Be a dear and place these around the other side of the campfire?” he asked, pointing to where he wanted them set.

Prompto nodded and moved around Gladio, unfolding the chairs.

“Back so soon?”

“Got a good haul,” Noctis replied, pulling an orange cooler from the ether. He smiled over to Prompto, opening the lid. “Hope you like fish. We'll probably be having it until we get to Hammerhead.”

Gladio whistled when he peered into the box and Prompto wandered over, looking around him. The fish was huge, its tail curved upwards against the side and it still barely fit in the cooler.

“I'm sure I can come up with a few recipes so we're not having the same meal every night,” Ignis said. “Now, let's get this prepared. Noct, if you'll assist me.”

Chapter Text

“How are we getting to Insomnia? Are we walking?” Prompto asked, taking a bite of his dinner. The flavor was different and even better than the food he had on both the train and the ship combined. Not that he ate much on the ship.

“Gods, no,” Noctis laughed, leaning forward in his seat. “I would rather die than walk.”

“Don't be so dramatic, it's unbecoming,” Ignis sighed, shaking his head at Noctis' display. He turned to Prompto. “We have a car waiting for us in town that we shall pick up tomorrow morning. It's nearly eight hours to the nearest haven from here and we need to get an early start.”

“Couldn't they have placed the havens closer together?” Noctis whined, lounging back into his camp chair. He was picking at his food, tearing the fish to smaller pieces with his fork before eating them. “I'd hate to be a hunter caught out in the wild at night and the closest haven is a ten hour walk.”

Gladio grunted in agreement. “It is pretty shitty.” He took a drink from his beer, replacing it in the chair's cup holder as he leaned forward. “Hey, speaking of. Ignis, do havens hum?”

Ignis and Noctis both turned to look at the older man, a look of confusion plastered on their faces at the question. “Hum? Not that I am aware of,” Ignis replied. “Why do you ask?”

“You can't hear it either?” Prompto was the one to speak, eliciting more confused looks, the other two men's attention on him instantly.

“Do you mean to tell me you can hear the haven humming?” Ignis asked.

Prompto nodded.

“Interesting. I wonder...” Ignis paused, head tilted down and fingers on his chin. “The reports did say Magitek Units have daemon blood injected into them and daemons do shy away from the light of a haven as if it were the sun.” His voice was low as he spoke to himself, piecing the information together. “Is the hum unpleasant?” he asked, glancing back up at the blond.

“No, it's kind of nice.” Prompto twisted his mouth to the side, focusing on the sound. “Kind of like a soft thrumming?.”

“Like white noise?” Noctis asked, placing his empty plate on the ground near his feet. When Prompto frowned, he elaborated. “Like the sound of the ocean in the distance or crickets chirping at night. It's there but you also forget it's there. Background noise.”

Prompto nodded quickly. “Yes, like that,” he said.

Ignis hummed again.

A shrill beeping, one Prompto had come to know as the alarm on Ignis' phone, rang out next to his head, only to be cut off seconds later. He groaned and rolled over, pressing his face into the nearest object, warm and solid. The object yawned loudly, the motion disturbing the blond who tried to curl up closer.

“Time to get up,” Gladio said, a sleepy smile in his voice as he patted Prompto on the shoulder.

He whined and wrapped his arms around Gladio's waist. He heard the sound of the tent's zipper being opened and someone leaving but didn't open his eyes to see who it was.

“C'mon, kid,” he started, trying to pry his arms away.

“Let him sleep until breakfast is ready,” Ignis softly put in.

He heard Gladio let out a soft laugh, though it was more him exhaling through his nose, as he relented, lying back and petting Prompto's hair. The blond was back asleep in seconds, lulled by the soothing sound of Gladio's breathing and his steady heartbeat.

The car was sleek and black and so shiny Prompto could see his face in it, once the dust had been wiped away. It had been parked in a lot just outside the port. Ignis and Gladio had given it a once over before the former unlocked the doors and they all clambered in. Prompto was sat in the front with Ignis, Gladio behind him and Noctis already leaning heavily into the man's side, preparing to rest most of the way to the next haven.

He wondered if Noctis didn't get enough sleep at night. He did tend to take naps often throughout their trip. Prompto himself always slept straight through the night but perhaps Noctis would wake at various hours, leaving himself exhausted the following day.

Before he got the chance to ask, Noctis sat upright, like he had just remembered something important. He dug into his pocket and pulled out his phone, holding it in between the front seats. “Here, you can take pics if you want,” he said, nodding sleepily to Prompto. “So you don't get bored.”

“Just be sure you are not leaning out of the car,” Ignis added, quickly glancing to the blonde as he pulled out of the lot.

Prompto nodded. He had no intention of disobeying Ignis and he didn't want to risk breaking or losing Noctis' phone. He held the phone carefully, grinning brightly. Opening the camera app, he pointed it at Ignis and pressed the screen a number of times. The photos went from Ignis' calm face to a soft smile, eyes just barely on the younger man.

He then turned to take pictures of the two in the backseat, Noctis giving him a lazy smile as Gladio wrapped his arm around him, winking to the camera. The shots were just out of focus but Prompto still thought they were perfect.

Prompto was leant against the side of the door, watching the scenery. It had long since turned to steep cliffs along both sides of the road, rising high into the sky and blocking the late afternoon sun, cooling the air. Noctis' phone was plugged into a charger, the battery having nearly died while Prompto played with it. He had felt awful for letting it get so low but Ignis assured him it was perfectly fine.

There was still an hour before they arrived at the haven, according to Ignis, and Prompto's backside was sore, his legs stiff from being bent all day, and his skin was tight and flushed from the warm sun that had beat down on them before they had reached the valley. Ignis had told him the sunscreen would protect him from sunburn but he still felt his skin twinge when he blinked too hard or when he pulled his arms tight around his belly, stomach starting to ache from hunger. The protein bar he had eaten only satied his appetite for a short while.

“Iggy, I'm starving,” Noctis whined, nudging the back of Ignis' seat with his knees.

“You had a snack not two hours ago,” Ignis said, looking at the young man in the rearview mirror. “And we shall be at the haven within the hour.”

Noctis whined again and draped himself over Gladio's lap. “Gladio, you love me, right?”

“You're not getting another protein bar.”

“You're both mean,” he pouted.

The hum from the new haven was just the same as the first; soft, pleasing, filling Prompto's body with a subtle warmth. He could get used to the feeling of comfort and safety it provided.

Though it wasn't anywhere near as nice as being hugged by the others. He knew he was being bold every time he wrapped his arms around one of them, but they never pushed Prompto away. He liked to imagine they enjoyed the touch just as much as he did, that they welcomed him into their arms.

It was a nice thought, even if it probably wasn't true.

He was sat cross legged in front of the fire, savoring its warmth and rubbing his full stomach. Ignis had made the same fish for dinner but it was a completely different dish, far more robust than the simple grilled fish he had made the night before.

He could hear Ignis and Gladio cleaning up from dinner, the noise just drowning out the music from Noctis' phone as he played his game. Tilting his head back, Prompto took in the sight of the stars.

Gladio had been right, there were so many more stars in the desert. There was a thick strip across the sky, more densely packed with stars than the rest of the sky. It stretched at an angle from one side of the valley to the other, its ends cut off by the cliff face on either side. A pinpoint of light shot across it, burning out almost the same second it had appeared, and Prompto gasped.

He stared, frowning at the sky, waiting for the star to light up again. When it didn't, he wondered if he had imagined it.

Except it did happen again. At a completely different point in the sky. It had looked like a star fell from its place. It scared him and he tensed up, pulling his knees to his chest.

“What's wrong?” Gladio asked, crouching down beside the blond.

“T-the stars!” Prompto yelped, pointing as another star shot across the sky. “They're falling out of the sky!”

Gladio looked up to the sky, spotting what had caused Prompto's distress. “Well, I'll be damned,” he said, whistling softly. He grinned to Prompto, sitting on the ground beside him and throwing an arm around his shoulders. “They're not falling from the sky. It's a meteor shower,” he explained.

“We're passing through a long past comet's trail. The debris left behind enters Eos' atmosphere and burns up, giving the appearance of stars falling from the sky,” Ignis told him.

Prompto glanced up, head tilted farther back, spotting him standing beside Noctis. “Will they hit us?”

“No, it is extremely rare for the debris to be large enough to reach the ground,” Ignis said. “The last time one ever struck the planet was the meteor at the Disc of Cauthess and that was over two millenia ago.”

The news eased Prompto's worries and he let out a breath, leaning into Gladio's hold. He stared back up at the sky, watching as more stars shot through the night sky; some blinking out the second they appeared, other, brighter ones lasting several seconds as they left long trails in their wake. Once the initial fear had passed, it was an extraordinary sight.

Prompto heard a soft scraping across the rock before Gladio nudged his side.

“Hey, let's lay down. Makes it easier to watch,” he said, nodding behind him. When he followed Gladio's line of sight, he saw Ignis had laid out the tent mat, Noctis already resting on it, one hand behind his head and the other on his stomach.

With a quick nod, Prompto crawled over and dropped down next to the other young man, Gladio on his other side and Ignis on the far side of Noctis. Gladio was right, it was a lot easier, especially since he no longer needed to crane his head back.

Prompto was beginning to hate riding in the car and it was only an hour into the second day of their drive.

The sky had been a deep, angry grey, low clouds rolling through slowly and threatening rain when they packed up the camp site. The first loud crack of thunder frightened him as they were walking to the car, making him yelp and cup his hands over his ears. Gladio had chuckled fondly and wrapped a protective arm around his waist, leaving Prompto feeling foolish, even as he not-so-subtly leaned into the touch.

The rain had started not even ten minutes after they climbed into the car. Heavy droplets splattered the windshield for a few moments before it was coming down in sheets, hitting the thick cloth roof with a dull, thudding echo.

Prompto was sat in the back with Noctis, leaning against his side and watching the other man play King's Knight. While the game was fun to play the few times Noctis had lent him his phone, sitting and just watching as Noctis tapped away on his phone in relative silence was by far the more boring thing Prompto had ever done. And he'd spent nearly twenty years inactive in a tank.

He felt claustrophobic with the roof up. The dark clouds let little light into the car causing the space to appear even smaller. The back seat was wide, allowing the two young men to stretch out at their leisure, but Prompto had his knees pulled loosely to his chest, arms wrapped around them. His eyes grew heavy, the noise of the rain and low music from the radio easing his nerves, but only just.

Noctis groaned as he put his phone away and shifted beside him, turning sideways to lounge across the seat.

Prompto sat up, scooting away to the far side of the car until the dark haired man was settled.

“C'mere,” Noctis said, holding a hand out and curling his fingers, beckoning him back. He grabbed Prompto by the wrist when he didn't move, tugging him over.

Gladio glimsped back as he was maneuvered to lay with him. He'd seen Noctis lie across the seat before, but Gladio never joined with him. It was typically Noctis stretched across the older man's lap, head resting on Gladio's thigh as he slept. This was different.

This was Prompto lying inbetween the back of the seat and Noctis, not even a hairs breath of space between them, an arm wrapped securely around his back. He was tense as he rested his head on Noctis' chest, their legs tangled together uncomfortably. He lied still for some minutes, until Noctis shifted once again, turning his body just enough to face Prompto, knee slotted between Prompto's own. It was far more comfortable that their previous position, now that Noctis' hip wasn't jutting sharply into Prompto stomach. He tucked his head under Noctis' chin and closed his eyes, listening to his heartbeat.

It had a much faster beat than either Ignis' or Gladio's, a more uneven rhythm.

Ba-ba-ba-bump ba-bump bump

Prompto tried to find a pattern in it, ignoring everything around him. Just the irregular beating of Noctis' heart.

He was groggy when he awoke, body sore and stiff. A sharp pain shot up his neck when he tried to lift it from Noctis' chest, making him whimper. A hand, warm and soft, pressed to the back of his neck, massaging it gently, and he let out a breath, relishing the feel.

“Where approaching Longwythe now,” Ignis called back.

Prompto opened his eyes, squinting, and spotted short buildings passing by the windows. They appeared to be homes, each roughly thirty feet or so from the next. He pushed himself up slowly and gazed out the window.

The landscape was still warm colored rocks and desert, large grey boulders dotting the ground in the distance. The homes they passed were well lived in, paint chipping off the sides, fences in need of repair, dry vines of what was possibly once green plants clinging to the porch posts. He could see movement inside a house they passed and knew the buildings were still lived in.

The car pulled into a gas station, coming to a rest, and everyone climbed out, stretching their legs and backs, arms over their heads.

“I shall go set up our accommodations,” Ignis said, turning to the other three men. “Gladio, would you fill the tank?”

Gladio nodded and moved towards the pumps.

“You two can either follow me or head to the diner for a early lunch, Gladio and I will follow shortly.”

Before Prompto could say anything, Noctis was grasping his hand and tugging, leading him across the road and away to the diner.

It was called the 'Crow's Nest Diner', according to the large sign on the roof. Outside the front window was a bench with a large, black human-like bird sitting on it. Prompto would be reluctant to call it a crow, though.

“Want to get a pic with Kenny?” Noctis asked when he caught the blond staring at the mascot.

“Kenny?”

Noctis nodded his head towards the bench. “Yeah, Kenny Crow. He's the diner's mascot. Something for the kids, really,” he said, striding over to the front of the building. “C'mon. We can take a selfie with him.”

Prompto moved closer, eyeing up the mascot, as Noctis pulled out his phone, opening the camera.

He sat on the bench and patted the spot next to him, pressing close to give the blond room. Noctis threw his arm around Prompto's shoulder, squishing their cheeks together, and they both grinned as he snapped the picture. “I think all the Crow's Nests have a Kenny outside,” Noctis said, closing the app and locking his phone. “If we ever go on a roadtrip, we need to get a shot with each of them. An extra bit of fun for the adventure.”

He stood and offered his hand to Prompto, the blond taking it and raising to his feet.

“C'mon, kids, let's go eat,” Gladio said, hand thumping heavily on Noctis' back as he passed. The action nearly caused Noctis to fall forward, wobbling, hands moving in circles to keep his balance. Prompto quickly grabbed him by the arms, steadying him before he righted himself and smacked the older man on the arm.

“How is Noctis' father going to help me get into Insomnia?” Prompto asked. Ignis had lead him to the small indoor market in Longwythe after lunch, saying Noctis needed privacy so he could make a phone call to his father. Gladio had went with him, which confused him because how could Noctis have privacy if Gladio was in the motel room with him? It hadn't made any sense.

Ignis thought for a moment and Prompto could tell he was choosing his words carefully. He did that a lot. “His father has a fair amount of authority in Insomnia, particularly when it comes to who may enter the city,” he answered, giving Prompto little information other than what he needed.

The blond hummed and turned to look at the contents of the stall in front of him. It was filled with what looked to be handmade toys in the shape of animals. Wood, clay, stone, glass, even cloth figures covered the table. A particulary bright yellow and orange cloth doll caught his attention. It was vaguely in the shape of a bird, far more bird-like than the mascot Noctis had the two take a picture with, tail 'feathers' sticking up behind it and vibrant blue eyes staring at him. It looked to be soft and, when he reached out to stroke his fingers over the doll's head, he found it was fluffy and smooth.

“Do you like chocobos?” Ignis asked, right beside his ear.

He jumped slightly, shoulders jerking up as he looked back, snatching his hand away. “Chocobos?”

Ignis nodded. “They're large domesticated birds that people used to use for transport but now they are mostly used recreation. There's a ranch in Duscae that allows people to rent the birds for leisure,” he explained.

“How large?” he asked, eyeing up the doll. It was no more than sixteen inches tall, its dangling warm brown colored feet taking up a good eight inches of that height.

“On average, I'd say they're around eight foot tall, though some can grow taller,” Ignis supplied.

Eight feet tall? They must be gigantic and scary!

“Would you like the doll?” he asked, watching Prompto.

Prompto eyed up the doll once more. It was soft and he'd loved to see how squishy it was if he got the chance to hold it in his arms, as well, but... he questioned if something modelled after such a large, and seemingly fearsome creature, was a good choice for a toy.

Sensing his hesitation, Ignis placed a gentle hand on Prompto's lower back. “Chocobos are very docile animals, to the point where they are even gentle around young children,” he told the blond. “They are also very loyal to their owners and would never harm a person unless they or their young were under threat.”

Prompto's fingers twitched as he held them to his chest, biting his lip. He nodded once and Ignis smiled before turning to the stall and attracting the clerk's attention.

“Y'know, chocobos are my favorite animal,” the old man said warmly, as he handed over the toy, taking the gil Ignis held out to him. “I used to go to Wiz's in Duscae as a kid with my family and seeing the birds always put a smile on my face. They can be a bit intimidating, but they warm up to new people real quick.”

The words calmed Prompto down slightly and the bird now hugged to his chest finished the job. He was smiling before he knew it, pressing his face into the soft fabric and squeezing. He murmured a 'thank you' into the toy and saw the old man grin and nod at him.

“Let's get back to the room, I'm sure Noctis is finished with his phone call by now,” Ignis said, leading Prompto to the building's door, hand once again on the small of his back.

Noctis was, in fact, finished with his phone call, if the noises coming from around the corner told Prompto anything. Soft pants and moans, the creak of a bed, Noctis' quiet cursing.

Ignis hastily whisked the both of them back out of the room, closing the door quickly and soundlessly. “Let's give them a few more minutes, shall we?” he said, leading Prompto towards the diner.

Prompto noted the older man's cheeks were pink when they crossed the street. He laughed softly, mouth pinched as he tried to hold back a smile. “They were having sex, weren't they.”

It wasn't a question and Ignis knew it. He faltered before they reached the door to the Crow's Nest, staring at the young man. He finally spoke after a moment, eyes glancing away as he resumed his walk into the building. “Yes, they were. We should give them some privacy for the time being.”

“Is Gladio helping Noctis relax?” he asked, following Ignis and sliding across from him in a booth. “Is it the same way he helped you on the ship? Noctis said he was the best at helping you two relax.”

“That's certainly one way of putting it,” Ignis muttered. “Would you like a plate of fries?” he asked, attempting to change the subject.

“Yes, please,” Prompto grinned. He placed his chocobo next to him in the seat as if it was a person, patting its head lightly. He looked around the diner in silence as Ignis placed their order, a coffee for himself and fries for Prompto.

Once their order had arrived, and Ignis had taken a substantial drink from his mug, he took a breath and placed his hands on the table. “We try to refrain from such... activities while you are with us. It's inappropriate to engage in such things around you since you are not part of our relationship and none of us wish to make you uncomfortable,” he said, voice low. His eyes swept across the room as he took another sip from his mug.

Hearing Ignis say he was not part of their relationship hurt more than it should have. He knew he wasn't part of it. He shouldn't be upset by the words. But he still dropped his head a bit, poking at his fries sullenly.

“Is something the matter?” Ignis asked, instantly picking up on Prompto's mood. “Did I say something to upset you?”

Prompto shook his head silently. He picked up a fry and bit into. He could feel Ignis watching him and he squirmed under his gaze. He grabbed his chocobo and placed it in his lap, holding it close. “I'm fine,” he said, eating another fry and giving the man a smile. “I promise.”

Ignis didn't look convinced but he didn't call Prompto out on his lie, only nodding once before picking up his mug.

Chapter Text

Prompto's fries had long gone cold, half uneaten, by the time Ignis stood from the diner table. He cast his eyes up, watching the older man for a few seconds before he followed, pushing himself up and out of the booth. He grabbed his stuffed chocobo, holding it to his chest.

“I dare say Gladio and Noct are decent by now,” Ignis commented lightly.

It brought a real, albiet small, smile to Prompto's face when he remembered what they had almost walked in on not even half an hour ago.

“I do hope they had the mind to clean the room up once they were sufficiently sated,” Ignis continued, heading for the counter and the man standing behind it.

He watched as Ignis pulled out his wallet, handing over a few notes and getting some more in return. There were a number of different notes in the wallet, Prompto counted at least six different colors of paper, and he wondered what they all were for. He knew they were all forms of currency, but Ignis seemed to keep the more brightly colored notes separated from the faded green ones. He had yet to see him use anything but the green notes since he started travelling with them.

“Ignis, why is your money different colors?” he asked just as the other man replaced his wallet back into his pocket.

“Because Insomnia uses a different currency that the rest of Eos,” he replied, leading the way out of the diner. “The Crown City is a sovereign state and, as such, they have their own form of currency, the crown, whereas the rest of Eos uses gil. Even though King Regis does have majority rule in Lucis, the rest of the country never adapted to using the crown as their sole form of currency, preferring to stick with the gil.”

Prompto nodded, stepping through the door Ignis held open for him. “Why doesn't Insomnia just use the gil too?” he asked curiously.

Ignis let out a short laugh, smiling softly. “Let's just say we have to be different,” he said, though it explained nothing to the blond. “Insomnia is far more advanced that much of Eos, save for perhaps Gralea itself. Some would even say the rest of Eos is as much as fifty years behind in both technology and living standards.”

Prompto was still mildly confused. What did the level of technology the city had have to do with currency? He frowned and followed Ignis back across the street, after looking both ways for traffic – though there were no cars to be seen on the road and hadn't been for a while.

After a sharp knock on the door, Ignis inserted the key and unlocked it, stepping into the dimly lit motel room. Prompto was right behind him, peering around his arm.

Noctis was longing on the closest bed, ankles crossed and his phone in his hand. Gladio was nowhere to be seen but a quick scan of the room told Prompto he was most likely in the bathroom. “Welcome back,” he smiled, tilting his phone down towards his chest. “Is that a chocobo?”

Prompto nodded, hugging the bird tighter for a second before holding it out, walking over to the bed. “Ignis bought him for me,” he said, grinning brightly. He sat on the bed when Noctis called him over with a wave of his hand. “He's very soft.”

“Mmm,” Noctis hummed, rubbing the stuffed animal on the head. His hand switched to rub at Prompto's hair, ruffling it and leaving it sticking up at odd angles. “Not as soft as you though,” he laughed as Prompto squawked and tried to re-flatten his hair.

Ignis shook his head. “I do wish you two would have given me some sort of warning as to your activities while we were out,” he said nonchalantly.

Noctis had the decency to look ashamed, cheeks burning pink as he ducked his head. “Uh... It wasn't, like... um, we were just...”

“Prompto knows what you two were doing,” Ignis told him, sitting in one of the armchairs, legs crossing at the knee.

The bathroom door opened right as Noctis turned to the blond, who only smiled.

“What does Prom know?” Gladio asked, looking between the three men. He pulled his towel down to his shoulders, letting it catch the water that dripped from his freshly washed hair. He took in Ignis' smirk, Prompto's knowing smile, and Noct's reddened cheeks and ears and raised his eyebrows. ”Oh.”

“Noctis called it 'stress relief',” Prompto said, turning to Gladio. “I didn't know it could be used for that purpose.”

Gladio chuckled and sat in the free armchair, folding his hands between his knees as he leaned forward. “What did you think sex was used for then?” he asked. There was little use hiding what Noct and he had done while the other two were out of the room when Prompto was clearly well aware of it. He also counted it as a win that none of them would have to explain the process if Prompto did agree to date them one day.

“Procreation,” Prompto answered quickly. “And pleasure.”

The room was silent for a moment and Prompto frowned. Had he answered incorrectly? Was his data wrong? He knew it didn't go into detail about the action, he never needed to know anything other than the basic information about a human activity, but he was sure his information was correct. It was fairly new data after all.

“Well, he's not wrong,” Gladio replied, letting out a laugh and shaking his head lightly. “Stress relief, as Noct put it, is kinda just another form of pleasure,” he added and Prompto nodded hurriedly, taking the new information in and storing it away.

He realised humans were a lot more complex than his data told him.

Noctis yawned and leaned into Prompto's side. He dropped his phone to his lap and watched as the blond stroked the top of his stuffed chocobo's head, humming under his breath. “Hey, you should name him,” he said suddenly.

Prompto hummed, eyebrows raising in question as he turned his head. “Name who?”

“Your chocobo,” he said, pointing to the bird and sitting back up. “He needs a name, don't you think? Doesn't Iris name her stuffed animals?”

“Yeah, she named all of her toys when she was a kid,” Gladio replied. “Still calls them by their names even now. Her favorite is a purple striped moogle named Artemicion.”

“She still has him?” Noctis asked, attention on the older man. “I remember if she wasn't carrying around her bunny, Fran, she had Artie in her hands.”

Gladio nodded, chuckling fondly. “She still has Fran, as well, though she's been gettin' a little threadbare and sits up on a shelf now.”

“Bobby Corwen,” Prompto said, petting the chocobo's head again with a soft smile on his face.

All three men turned to stare at him, various degrees of confusion on their faces.

“Boco for short,” Prompto added with a nod.

“Well, I do believe that is a fine name for a chocobo, but wherever did you come up with it?” Ignis asked.

“I heard it,” he started, watching as Noctis' hand came into view, poking the stuffed animal on its beak. “Um, in the facility. I think it's a project codename. One of the scientists said it while I was... when they were...” He paused for a moment, biting his lip.

It had been one of his worst memories from his time in the facility. Over half a dozen years had passed since that day, but the pain he had experienced made him flinch when Noctis' arm briefly grazed his own. He could remember everything as clear as if he was there, living through it again. The chill of the steel table underneath his bare body. The hard metal straps holding his wrists and ankles in place, another tight around his throat, pressing into his adam's apple. He felt his breath coming in short, panicked pants when the scalpel touched his skin, just under his collar bone, razor-sharp, gliding through the pale skin. The warmth of blood as it trickled over his shoulder and neck. The severing of the muscle underneath. The-

“-to? Prompto?”

He startled, eyes wide like a baby anak caught in the headlights.

Ignis and Gladio had moved to the bed with him and Noctis, watching him carefully. He saw Ignis had his hand outstretched, just shy of touching his hand where it rested, gripping Boco's head tightly, knuckles white and shaking violently. Taking a shuddering breath, Prompto felt tears slip down over his cheeks before Ignis' hand came in contact, soft and gentle and overly cautious.

When Prompto didn't jerk away from his touch, Ignis said, “You don't have to tell us.” His voice was calm and just as soothing as his thumb where it wiped over his cheeks, swiping away the tears. “Just breathe for me, okay?”

Prompto nodded and took another short breath. His fingers were till clenched into the fabric of his stuff chocobo, though they had loosened slightly, no longer painfully tight. Another breath, deeper this time, and his shoulders relaxed minutely.

“Very good,” Ignis said, sliding closer. “Very good.”

Prompto leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Ignis' waist, Boco trapped between them, and pressed his face into the older man's shirt, letting it soak up the tears he couldn't prevent. Warm hands rubbed over his back and shoulders and hair as his own gripped Ignis' shirt tightly.

If Prompto was told to describe heaven it would be sleeping in a bed after two nights of sleeping on a thin mat that barely padded the hard rock of a haven's ground. He practically sunk into the mattress, face smushed into his pillow, and blanket tugged up right around his shoulders.

Opening his eyes, still slightly sore from crying, he looked to the other bed. Noctis was fast asleep on his stomach, hands underneath his pillow and face turned away from him. Gladio gave him a wink from the other side of Noctis before he, too, settled down under the covers. Ignis slid underneath the covers with him, his glasses folded up and placed on the nightstand. He gave the blond a warm smile before turning and pulling the cord on the lamp, bathing the room in darkness.

Warm arms wrapped around Prompto's shoulders and Ignis pulled him closer. Prompto went willingly, smiling to himself as he cuddled close, head tucked under Ignis' chin, face pressed into the warmthness of his clothed chest. He slid his own arms around Ignis' middle. Even if he wasn't a part of their relationship, as long as he was still allowed to hug Ignis, Noctis, or Gladio he was happy.

Sleep found him easy that night. Crickets lulled him, fading into a white noise of soft breaths and Ignis' heartbeat, steadily pounding in an easy rhythm. He thought he felt a kiss pressed to the crown of his head, into his hair, but the feeling passed by so quickly he was sure it was only his imagination.

“Whoa! What's that!” Prompto gasped in awe, pointing to the mountain in the distance. “It's huge!”

Noctis chuckled at his excitement. “That's Longwythe Peak,” he told him. “The tallest mountain in Leide and possibly Lucis itself. Rumor has it, it's an Adamantoise in disguise.”

“That's a fairy tale,” Gladio cut in when Prompto gasped, eyes wide. “It's just a mountain.”

“If you say so,” Noctis shrugged, smirking. He leaned forward, lowered his voice like he was whispering a secret, and continued, “They say Cor the Immortal once fought it and put it into a deep hibernation. Pretty cool, huh?”

Gladio rolled his eyes, shaking his head as he went back to his book.

“Who's Cor the Immortal? Is he an Astral?” Prompto asked, eyes darting to the mountain and back to Noctis. He was turned near sideways in his seat, seatbelt digging into his shoulder, knee resting on the center console.

“Nah, he's the commander of the Crownsguard, but I wouldn't doubt he is an actual immortal,” Noctis replied. When Prompto frowned in confusion, he explained further. “The Crownsguard protects both the royal family in Insomnia and the citizens of Lucis, along with the Kingsglaive. They all work under the king.”

“Like the Magitek Units work under the Emperor?”

Noctis grimaced, quickly wiping it from his face as he nodded, “Yeah, like that.”

“We'll be camping tonight in the shadow Longwythe Peak,” Ignis said, breaking the tension in the car.

Prompto stilled, sitting back in his seat. “We're... we're not going to get eaten by the Adamantoise, are we?”

“Astrals, no,” Ignis reassured him, patting his knee. “As Gladio said, the legend of the Adamantoise is merely a fairy tale, a story for children. No one has seen an Adamantoise for decades and even then, the stories are unreliable at best.”

The words calmed Prompto down greatly. He let out a soft laugh, though he still gave a wary glance to the mountain.

Even fairy tales had to have come from some sort of truth, right? He hoped he'd never find out if this one was true. A tortoise as large as a mountain was a terrifying thought.

“Hey, Iggy, I've been cravin' steak for dinner,” Noctis said, nonchalant, rocking back and forth on his feet. He shoved his hands into his pockets and stared off into the distance, past the edge of the haven and into the sands of the desert.

When Ignis followed his attention, he spotted a lone dualhorn wandering around, nosing at the bushes some two hundred feet away. Turning his eyes back to Noctis, he shook his head and sighed. “Well, I suppose we have enough time before the sun sets. Gladio?”

“Steak would be nice,” Gladio grinned, also watching the animal. “Though, you know we'd be the ones to prepare it,” he added, throwing a look to Ignis, who nodded in reply.

That was how Prompto found himself with his gun in both of his trembling hands, as he watched in awe as the other three men fought a large, grey, horned beast. Ignis had told him he could hang back, didn't have to fight if he was uncomfortable with the idea, that they wouldn't judge him if he never fired a single shot, but he wanted to show he could be useful.

He had been taken offguard when the other three summoned their weapons, having been the first time he had seen them; Noctis with a sharp, silver sword - that seemed to have a small engine incased in the hilt - the length of his arm, Ignis with a lance, pointed and dangerous in his hands, and Gladio with a massive sword that he somehow managed to handle with only one hand more times than he should be able to. Prompto knew the older man was strong but the weapon looked as if it weighed more than the blond himself.

Noctis darted across the field, a blue blur left in his wake, sword clanging loudly as it hit the beast – dualhorn, Gladio had called it – in the head. It bounced off its horns and only seemed to enrage the animal further. He zipped back, stumbling on the uneven terrain, but caught himself before he fell.

Prompto's eyes widened when he saw Ignis getting closer to the dualhorn's backside, striking at its legs before it turned, much faster than it should have. He dodged the animal's attack with ease and Prompto let out a breath.

Noctis tried to attack it again, his back to Prompto. He rushed up to it and Prompto saw it.

The dualhorn seemed to limp on its left side, a deep gouge in its thick skin that bled heavily. A weak spot. He raised his gun, trying to still his shaking hands, and lined up a shot. Squeezing the trigger, Prompto felt the blast from the gun go through his whole body. He saw the dualhorn's leg crumple underneath it just as Noctis reached it. It cried out when Noctis landed the blow, though it was silenced seconds later when Gladio swung downwards, effectively ending its life.

Prompto's own legs fell out from underneath him and he dropped to the sandy ground, gun clattering and vanishing in blue crystalline shards. Ignis was at his side almost instantly, hands patting down his shoulders and arms to his hands.

“Are you hurt?” he asked, eyes raking over Prompto's body. He could see no external injuries on him, no bruises or cuts. He hadn't even seen the dualhorn near the blond.

“N-no,” Prompto said, voice shaking just as much as his body was. He could still feel the vibrations of the gun shot in his fingertips, a sort of numbing sensation. He looked up into Ignis eyes and shook his head. “I'm fine. It was just... weird?”

“Weird?” Noctis turned up behind Ignis, an eyebrow raised and arms crossed. “What was weird?”

Prompto frowned and looked at his fingers, flexing them to get the feeling back. “The feeling? It made my fingers numb.”

“Maybe the gun's too strong for him without training,” Gladio commented. He leaned down to help Prompto to his feet, keeping a hand on the blond's elbow for support.

“Perhaps,” Ignis mused, fingers on his chin. “We will have to see about training later. Right now, we have a dualhorn to process.”

“C'mon,” Noctis said, taking Prompto by the other arm and tugging. “You definitely don't wanna see this. We'll be at the haven.”

“Take care on your way back,” Ignis called over his shoulder, daggers in his hands. Gladio followed behind him, accepting one of the blades that Ignis held out. “We shan't be too long.”

Noctis tugged again on Prompto's arm, leading the way back to their camp. “What are they going to do?” Prompto asked, staring over his shoulder at the other two men. Ignis had crouched down when his face was turned away.

“They're gonna cut it up so we can eat it. It's not a pretty sight,” Noctis answered, “but the reward is a great dinner.”

Prompto nodded. The idea sounded gruesome and he was quietly relieved Noctis had decided to take him back to camp. Just seeing the dualhorn being injured during their fight had been painful to watch. He knew where meat came from, his data had told him that much, but the act of getting said meat was something he didn't want to experience too often, if he couldn't outright avoid it all together.

“You sure you're alright?” Noctis asked, shaking him from his thoughts.

He nodded quickly. His hands were still tingling slightly but they had stopped shaking. He glanced down to his hands and saw Noctis' swinging idly by his sides. Reaching out, he slowly took the other man's hand in his, ready to pull back if Noctis resisted.

He didn't resist in the slightest. Noctis laced their fingers together and squeezed Prompto's hand gently. “You like holding hands, huh?”

Prompto faltered at the comment, nearly sliding back down the small incline to the haven. It wasn't said in disgust, merely an observation, but it had Prompto tensing nervously. What if Noctis didn't want to hold his hand? What if he was wrong about all their touches and it wasn't because they wanted to hug him or comfort him or-

“Hey, hey.” Noctis cupped his face with his free hand, lifting it up so he could look Prompto in the eyes. “It's okay. I like holding your hand,” he said, trying to reassuring him. He squeezed Prompto's fingers to show his point.

“Y-you do?”

Noctis nodded. “I do.”

Prompto felt his breathing even out, though he couldn't remember it becoming erratic. His shoulders relaxed and he gave Noctis a small smile, receiving a wider one in return. His hand was pulled again and they started walking, reaching the top of the haven. A small shudder went through Prompto's body once he passed by the first of the runes. He was sure he'd never be able to ignore the soft pulsating feeling of the magic but he was slowly getting used to it.

Chapter Text

“Can I help you cook?” Prompto asked, shifting nervously on his feet. He was standing a few feet away from Ignis' work station, eyeing up the ingredients. Thickly sliced rib steaks, a few bright red peppers, some spice jars, and a bottle of oil were laid out on top of the wood.

“Of course,” Ignis smiled, motioning for him to step closer. “If you would season the steaks while I check the grill?”

Prompto nodded and stepped up to the table. He stared down at the food, frowning for a moment as he considered his options on how to go about the task. He decided to lay all the steaks out flat, one right next to the other.

Ignis caught his hand before he reached for the salt grinder. “You'll need to use the mortar and pestle,” he told him, bringing the item over. He then opened the jars on the table. “Grind a pinch of each and then add in two tablespoons of oil.”

“Okay.” Prompto carefully measured out the spices, though he wasn't sure how much 'a pinch' equalled and he hoped he was doing it right. Once he added the appropriate ingredients into the bowl, he took the pestle and started grinding them. He had to grab the bowl when it shifted. Ignis dropped in the finely sliced peppers and watched silently over his shoulder. When he reached for the oil, he looked around for a measuring spoon. Ignis had said two tablespoons and he wanted to be exact.

“Just pour. I'll tell you when to stop,” Ignis said, startling him slightly.

When Prompto didn't tip the bottle over, Ignis' hand closed over his, showing him how much oil to add.

“I'm afraid I left my measuring spoons at home. I'm fairly confident with my cooking skills and wasn't expecting to need them,” he told Prompto, placing the oil bottle back on the counter once he finished pouring it. “Apologies.”

“N-That's okay!” Prompto exclaimed, jumping slightly. He felt as if he had offended Ignis and he stared resolutely down at the bowl. “D-do I put it on the steak now?” he asked quietly.

“Yes. Both sides, please,” Ignis smiled, moving back to the grill.

Prompto ate two of the steaks that evening. He would have had a third if Gladio hadn't of gotten to the plate first. It was even better than the fish Ignis had cooked at the beach and he had thought that was the best meal he had ever eaten.

Noctis had been roped into helping Ignis with washing the dinner dishes and Prompto was sat in a camp chair, watching the fire dance. He glanced over his shoulder at the mountain in the distance.

“It's not really an adamantoise,” Gladio said suddenly, watching the blond over his book as he snapped his eyes back to the fire. “It's something told to little kids to keep them from being lazy. 'If you keep lying around doin' nothin', you'll turn into a mountain like the adamantoise',” he chuckled, raising the pitch of his voice, as if he was imitating someone.

“So... so the adamantoise isn't real?” Prompto asked, nervously glancing once more behind him.

Gladio shook his head fondly. “The last one went extinct some time ago from what I've been told,” he told him. “As Ignis said earlier, the rumors of a live adamantoise are widely varied and unrealistic at best.”

Prompto nodded, relaxing slightly, though he still caught himself looking back throughout the night. He couldn't shake the feeling of eyes watching him.

Gladio awoke just as the sun started to peek over the horizon. He could hear the soft sounds of a coffee pot percolating, the noise filtering through the canvas of the tent. A weight was pressed to his right side and a quick glance over showed a mess of blond hair.

Prompto's face was shoved into his side, head under Gladio's bicep, tilted up just slightly and mouth open as he snored softly.

He chuckled softly and reached for his phone, being careful not to disturb Prompto. After snapping a quick picture, he extracted the younger man from around him, prying his arm from around his waist.

Prompto groaned in annoyance and tried to turn his face further into Gladio's side. He relented when Gladio rolled him over, moving to latch onto Noctis instead. The latter didn't even notice when the blond clung to him, only carried on sleeping peacefully.

Gladio forwent a shirt as he slipped out of the tent, letting the flap close softly behind him. He stretched, yawning loudly, arms above his head then out in front of his chest.

“Good morning,” Ignis called, holding out a mug of steaming coffee towards the man. “I suspect the other two will be out for a while yet?”

Gladio accepted the mug and took a shallow sip, careful to not burn his tongue. Ignis had made the drink just how he liked it, sweet with no milk. “You know Noct won't be getting' up for at least another hour or two.”

Ignis hummed around his mug. “I do hope we can make it to Hammerhead before nightfall.” He moved to sit in a chair, crossing his legs at the knee. Gladio followed after him, dropping into the seat beside him.

“Any idea what happened with Prom in Longwythe? Like, what caused his panic attack?” he asked, breaking the short silence. He kept his voice low so he didn't disturb the two younger men still sleeping. “Or what that 'Bobby Corwen' thing he mentioned was?”

“I fear that may have been my fault,” Ignis sighed, resting his mug on his knee. “I was the one to ask about the name he chose for his stuff chocobo. I thought nothing of it when I had asked, merely believing it was something he had made up, or perhaps he had heard the names either on the train or the ship. I never intended to-”

“Hey,” Gladio cut him off, a hand on his thigh and the other on Ignis' elbow. He hadn't even noticed the man leaving his seat or crouching in front of him but there he was. “It wasn't your fault. You had no idea where he heard the name or was aware of what would happen when he remembered where he had heard it,” he said gently. “Besides, you were there for him. You helped eased him down from his panic, comforted him when he needed it. And I doubt he blames you.”

Ignis was silent for a few moments, head down in thought. He sighed and nodded. “I suppose you're right. Although we'll have to be careful with what we ask him from now on so we don't provoke a repeat preformance,” he said. He took a long drink from his mug, cupping it with both hands. “We should inform His Majesty, Clarus, and Cor of the term 'Bobby Corwen' regardless. If it is a codename for an as of yet unknown project, it could very well be vital information.”

Gladio nodded at that though he made no move to leave his spot, thumb smoothing over the soft fabric of Ignis' trousers.

Prompto was tired of the desert and its shrubbery and its sand and its rocks. And its sun.

His skin stung from the burns forming over his shoulders, cheeks, and nose, even after he liberally applied the sunscreen Ignis had handed him that morning, and all the other mornings since they arrived in Lucis. He hoped Insomnia wasn't more of the same; flat, dusty plains as far as the eye could see only occasionally punctuated with dry trees and grey boulders. With a name like Insomnia, he pictured a city of eternal darkness, one where he'd never be sunburnt again.

He hoped it was true, however unrealistic it sounded.

The day seemed to get hotter and the sun brighter the farther north they drove. He was sat, curled up in the backseat, socked feet resting against Gladio's thigh, boots in the floorboard, while he held Boco loosely in his arms. The older man was reading a thick book, almost finished with it judging by the pages left, leaning against the door. Noctis seemed to be napping in the front seat, head tilted off to the side and phone resting on his thigh. Ignis drove, as he had been doing these last few days. He glanced in the mirror at the blond, eyebrows raised in what Prompto only figured was worry.

“Gladio,” Ignis called, getting a hum in response. “Would you be kind enough to grab the aloe vera and help treat Prompto's sunburn before it ends up worse?” He turned his attention back to Prompto, watching him through the mirror. “I apologise. I was unaware how sensitive your skin would be to the Leiden sun, even with sunscreen.”

Gladio nodded, book snapping shut.

Prompto watched as he slipped the book into the pocket on the side of the door and made a motion with his hand, a small green pot appearing in a flash of blue. He jumped slightly, sitting up straighter when the roof of the car creaked, raising up and shading them from the harsh sun.

“C'mere, blondie,” Gladio said, turning in his seat. “This'll help heal those burns quicker.”

The small jar was opened and Prompto caught the smell of the contents. It smelled clean and fresh and not like a sterile hospital, like he was expecting for some reason. He stared at the jar for a few seconds, Gladio waiting patiently, before he scooted closer, pulling his knees up and crossing his ankles.

“Too bad they don't make an SPF 100, you look like you could use it,” Gladio chuckled, fingers gently swiping the gel over Prompto's sore cheeks.

“Maybe we should get 'im a parasol,” Noctis chipped in, watching them with half open eyes. He yawned, shaking his head slightly and stretching his arms. “Might work better than the sunscreen has.”

“A parasol?” Prompto asked, eyes turned to Noctis. Gladio kept his head straight, a hand on his jaw as he spread the aloe vera over the rest of his face. It cooled his skin almost instantly, like he had a fan blasting on him but with none of the chill of the wind.

“It's like an umbrella but doesn't do much to keep you dry,” Noctis explained and Prompto nodded. “Luna uses them sometimes, or she used to when she was a kid. Though she always used the fancy, lacy ones.”

Prompto tried to picture a lace umbrella. He didn't know how it could protect someone from the sun when he knew lace was full of holes. Maybe there was a trick to it, or it was a finely woven lace with much smaller holes.

“They start selling these old fashioned paper parasols in late spring when the summer festival is around the corner,” Noctis continued, “but they're more of an aesthetic kinda parasol because they never really last past the summer before they fall apart.”

“The first festival is at the beginning of July,” Gladio said, now spreading the aloe over Prompto's shoulders and down his arms, “a little over a month away.”

“You mean it's this hot and it's not even summer?” Prompto asked, shock and disbelief on his face.

Gladio laughed and nodded. “That's Leide for ya. Just be glad we're not headin' to Lestallum. I hear it's unbearable there even in the winter.”

“Where's that?”

“It's in the western part of Lucis, nearly a two week drive from Insomnia, if you only drive during the daylight hours” Ignis said from behind the wheel. “Most of its heat comes from its close proximity to the Disc of Cauthess and the meteor contained within, as well as the meteorshards they use to supply power to most of Lucis.”

Hammerhead was a tiny town, even smaller than Longwythe was. In fact, Prompto would say calling it a town was being generous. There were a few houses, some looked to be empty and rundown. They were all spread out along one side of the road, the same side as a large garage, convinent store, and a diner, which was were most of the cars in the area seeed to be parked.

It was still swealtering, even in the shade of the gas station roof. He could hear the sound of a drill coming from the open garage, the noise grating on his teeth and nerves. He tried to ignore it as he followed Noctis and Gladio towards the building, Ignis staying behind to fill the gas tank. He had also mentioned renting the caravan that Prompto had spotted near the diner, white plastic table and a matching set of chairs just outside the door.

Boco was left in the car and Prompto was nervous without the stuff animal, fingers rubbing against each other in front of his chest as his eyes swept across the area.

The drill sounded again and he jumped, scanning the garage. The sight of the various tools had him tensing, even though he knew they were used for cars. There was even an older man, much older than any of his travelling companions, crouched next to a car, the aforementioned drill in hand as he unscrewed the bolts on a tire.

“Well, hey there, Highness. Wasn't expectin' to see ya around anytime soon.”

Turning towards the new voice, Prompto spotted a blonde woman. She was about his height, in a yellow jumpsuit, the top of which was tied around her waist showing off her reddish-orange tank top, a bright logo reading 'Hammerhead Garage' emblazoned on it. She was smiling cheerily, albeit a little confused, and he wondered why.

“I'm not...” Noctis started, tensing and rubbing his neck with a hand. “That is...” He fell over his words, stopping and starting again while Gladio shook his head, muttering.

“Guess the cat's outta the bag now.”

Prompto was sure his face held the same confusion as the blonde woman. The words clicked with him a few seconds later. The woman had called Noctis 'Highness'. “You're a prince?” he asked, leaning forward to look at Noctis' face, who mostly avoided eye contact as he sighed. “I thought you were an MT like me, only Lucian made.”

The silence that fell around them was deafening. Noctis sucked in a breath, eyes snapping to stare at Prompto. A hand fell upon his shoulder, Ignis speaking with the action. “Prompto, you-”

“Lucis doesn't have MTs, honey,” the woman said, blinking curiously at him. “They're a product of the Empire and robots, last I heard.” She looked him over, a small frown on her face, and Prompto tried to hide away, shifting behind Ignis. “Say, ya said you're an MT, right? Ya got armor? Would ya let me take a look at it? See how it works?” she asked, leaning forward slightly. The frown she once had was gone from her face, replaced by an eager grin and excitement in her eyes.

Prompto didn't hear any other words that were said in repsonse to the question. All he could hear was the sound of his heartbeat in his ears, loud and thunderous, feel how his hands seemed to lock in place around Ignis' wrist, holding it in a near vice like grip.

”Let me take a look at it.” The voice was slimy but smooth. It would have sent a chill up 05953234's spine if he was able to move.

As it was, he was strapped down, just like all the other times he was removed from his tank. A cold metal table underneath him, metal straps digging in sharply, holding him in place. He wondered if they would leave marks. He was face down, cheek pressed firmly to the table.

Fingers smoothed up his back, tracing the knobs of his spine.

“Its progress has been subpar, at best, sir” a second voice said. “I don't know why Verstael even keeps the original clones around. They're slow growing, weak, and can hardly take the injections without their bodies trying to reject it.”

“Maybe he has a fascination with them,” the slimy voiced man said, just as a sharp pain slides down his back, tracing down the bones of his spine, as if they were trying to slice through his vertebrae.

Those fingers, boiling hot like the blood seeping over his chilled skin, came back, stroking his exposed cheek. He wanted to flinch, to move away from them, but his body refused to react.

He lost count of how long the scalpel and fingers were touching him, poking and proding around his spine, digging in between the joints. His mind started to slip away from him. The pain dulled until he could only feel hints of it, just on the edge of his consciousness.

Blinding pain filled him seconds later. His body was on fire. He vaguely wondered if he had finally been disposed of, tossed into the incinerator like yesterday's garbage. He could feel his body stitch itself back together, the muscles and skin fusing, the blood rushing back to his brain.

“Oops. Looks like I got carried away,” the first voice said. It made 05953234's skin crawl. “It's a good thing I always carry a spare Phoenix Down. Never know when I might need one.” There was a pat on his cheek following the words.

He didn't know what a Phoenix Down was but he hoped to never experience one again. Dying would have been less painful.

“Prompto?”

The voice was soft, a far cry from how he remembered the slimy man sounding. Fingers touched his cheek and he jerked away, back hitting something hard. They didn't touch him again.

His head was spinning, like the world was shaking violently, back and forth and back and forth. His heartbeat was still in his ears, loud and overbearing. He could feel the pulsing in the tips of his fingers and his toes, could feel how his hands and feet were taunt, digits splayed out, like they wanted to close but were locked in place.

“Prompto?”

He looked to the voice, vision wavering and dark around the edges. He just made out Ignis, face pale and fearful, scared and concerned, but not for himself. All of his concern was directed at Prompto.

Ignis was crouched in front of him, hands hovering near Prompto's knees but not touching. “I need you to breath as slowly as you can,” he said. “Can you do that?”

Prompto tried to nod but the movement was jerky. He took a shallow breath, letting it out slowly, and looked around the room, trying to focus on his surroundings. It wasn't familiar.

There was a small counter behind Ignis, and a stove. Wood panelling lined the walls and a curtained off area was to his left. Down the right side was a short corridor and another curtain. How did he get here? Had Ignis carried him?

“Can you tell me what happened?” Ignis asked. He dropped his hands down to his own knees when he saw Prompto's hands relaxing. “You don't have to say if it's uncomfortable.”

“She... she...” Prompto started. He paused and took a deep breath, closing his eyes when tears slipped down his cheeks. “She was going to-to cut me open,” he said, voice shaking. “T-to see how I work.”

Ignis' breath caught in his throat, although he covered it quickly. “Why would she do that?” He had explained to Cidney that Prompto has no armor before he led the blond man to the caravan, clearly on the verge of a panic attack, if his breathing had been anything to go by. He had left Gladio and Noctis to explain further, barely hearing as the mechanic sent her sincerest apologies.

It took Prompto some minutes before he replied. His breathing had evened out and his shoulders relaxed, body leaning back against the small couch. “She... that's what the man in the facility always said be-before he had them cut...” He paused, biting his lip hard, tasting blood.

“What man? One of the scientists?”

Prompto shook his head roughly.

“Verstael Besithia?” Ignis tried and again Prompto shook his head.

“They never said his name,” he told him, “only called him 'Sir'.”

Ignis nodded. He didn't press for more information. “Are you alright?” he asked instead. “Is there anything I could do to help you?”

Prompto was silent, glancing between his hands and Ignis' face. “C-can I have a hug?” he asked quietly, shyly. “It... it makes me feel safe,” he said, trying to explain his reasoning behind asking for something so foolish.

“Of course,” Ignis replied. He moved slowly, giving Prompto time to change his mind. Kneeling in front of the blond, Ignis wrapped his arms around Prompto's shoulders and drew him in, rubbing his back in small circles.

Prompto clung to him, fisting Ignis' shirt in his hands, face pressed firmly into his neck. He felt more tears slip out, leaving the other man's neck damp as he sobbed quietly. He wasn't sure how long they stayed like that but Ignis never pulled away, never said a single word, only held him. It was nice, calming even.

He let out a deep breath and finally pulled away, wiping at his eyes with his wrists.

“There's something the others and I wish to talk with you about,” Ignis started, sitting back on his heels, hands resting lightly on Prompto's knees. “It's nothing unpleasant, I assure you,” he said when Prompto tensed again, shoulders nearly reaching his ears. “It's something we've discussed and are all in agreement on, but you have the final say in the matter. Something that may help you to feel more comfortable when seeking comfort from us.”

Prompto waited with bated breath, eyes not once leaving Ignis' green ones.

“How would you feel about joining us? Our relationship, that is,” Ignis asked. “Or, if you would prefer it, you could choose to only be in a relationship with one of us. The other two would hold no hard feelings.” When Prompto only stared at him, eyes wide, he continued. “You do not have to answer right this moment. You are free to think about what you want to do for as long as you need. None of us will rush you to answer.”

Chapter Text

Prompto stared, eyes wide and unblinking, as he processed the words Ignis had said.

They wanted Prompto to join their relationship? He wanted Prompto to join?

He was almost convinced he was dreaming. Maybe he was still stuck in the tank and he had fabricated this entire trip and everyone he'd met. Maybe he had imagined all the hugs and gentle words and the food. Maybe he had actually died on that table the last time the creepy man had come around, poking and proding at Prompto's organs, muscles, and bones.

No. Everything since he had been removed from the tank had felt far too real for him to be simply making it up. He wasn't that creative.

Ignis was still watching him, crouched on the floor, a hand resting lightly on Prompto's knee.

A single question came to his mind.

“Can I kiss you?”

Ignis started, hand flinching against Prompto's leg. He smiled a second later and nodded. “Yes, of course. If we are in a relationship, you can kiss me whenever you wish,” he told him. “The same goes for Noctis and Gladio, if you wish to be with them as well.”

Prompto bit at his lip, hands clenched in his lap. He wished desperately that he had Boco in his arms. Just something to ground him.

“Oh, you mean right now?”

Prompto nodded anxiously.

Ignis smiled softly and stood, moving to sit on the small couch beside Prompto. It was a bit of a tight squeeze, their thighs pressed close, and Prompto looked over to him, following his movements.

He held his breath when Ignis' hand came up to cup his cheek, fingertips soft and warm. He leaned into the touch. Was it normal to be excited and terrified at the same time? He wasn't sure. His stomach felt like a swarm of bees had been stirred up, buzzing angrily.

The kiss was just a simple press of the lips, tender and warm. Ignis' lips were plush, smooth, inviting. It was enough to calm his nerves instantly, his mind telling him it was silly to be scared. His eyes slipped closed. Ignis' hand slowly slid around to the back of his neck, fingers threading through his hair, as he kissed Prompto again and again. And again.

Prompto's hand made its way to Ignis' shirt, resting just under the collar, as he leaned in closer. So this is why people like kissing, he thought to himself.

He let out a soft breath when Ignis pulled back and opened his eyes.

Ignis smiled at him, thumb stroking over Prompto's lip before he let his hands drop. “Shall I take this as a yes?”

Prompto nodded quickly.

“Is it just me you wish to date?” he asked, taking Prompto's hand from his chest. He held it in his own. “As I have said, the three of us have discussed this situation, if it ever came to fruition, and neither of them would be put out if you-”

“All of you,” Prompto said, interrupting. He bit his lip, briefly wondering if he should have let Ignis finish speaking. It had been rude to cut him off.

But Ignis hadn't been upset at the interruption. He smiled again, fondly, and leaned back into, placing another kiss on Prompto's lips.

The door to the caravan clattered open. “How's Prom-oh.”

Prompto turned his face when Ignis pulled back once again and spotted Gladio, Boco in his hand and Noctis peering over his shoulder, trying to push past the bigger man.

“Should we come back later?” Gladio asked, hand still on the door. Prompto wasn't sure if he fully understood the meaning behind the grin on the older man's face.

“No, it's alright,” Ignis replied. He patted Prompto on the knee, releasing his hand, as the other two men stepped inside the caravan.

Gladio crouched down in front of the blond, holding out the stuffed chocobo. “You doin' alright, blondie?”

Prompto took Boco into his arms, hugging it tightly, and nodded. “Better.” He paused for a moment, biting at his lip and pulling the chapped skin off. The sting of pain had him wincing. “She's... she's not going to cut me up, right?”

“Who? Cidney?” Gladio asked, getting a confused look in return. “The blonde girl?” A nod. “No, she doesn't want to cut you up,” he frowned, watching as Ignis' arm wrapped around Prompto's shoulder, pulling him ever so slightly closer.

He let out a deep sigh and stood, leaning against the stove, Noctis sitting on the countertop next to him. “Cidney thought MTs were robots, non-organic. Almost everyone in Lucis thinks that. Even we did until we met you,” he started. “She explained, after Iggy got you away and in the caravan, that after you mentioned you were an MT, her belief changed. 'If they're people inside, then the tech in their armor must be somethin' we've never seen before', she said.”

Prompto nodded slowly.

“There is footage of MTs jumping from dropships. The kind of impact that should be debilitating to a human but they just straighten right back up like they didn't just drop forty feet to the ground and land on their feet,” Gladio went on, waving a hand around. “It'd be the kind of tech that'd be life changing for people who can't walk on their own.”

“It's not,” Prompto said quietly. “They're not... they're not people anymore.” He scrunched his face up at the thought. The... things the clones become when the scientists deem them ready to complete the MT process made Prompto's skin crawl. He was glad they never went through with the process with him. To become something that looks human but wasn't - something that could never feel emotions or sensations or have a will of its own anymore – Prompto wouldn't wish that on anyone, no matter how evil they were.

Ignis squeezed his shoulder lightly, leaning in close and pressing a kiss to his temple. “You don't have to talk about it,” he said. “Not right now.”

Prompto nodded and clung to Boco, turning his head down and burying his face in the top of its head.

“So,” Noctis said, clearing his throat after a few moments of silence, “I'm guessin' Prom said yes?”

When Prompto looked back up, confused by the vague statement, it was to see Noctis' watching Ignis and him.

Ignis, who was still pressed close to his side, hand still resting on Prompto's shoulder, the other on the inside of his elbow, gave a nod in reply.

“So?”

Ignis let out a short sigh and pushed his glasses up his nose. “All of us.” It was then that Prompto knew what Noctis had been asking. “The same rules are still in place,” Ignis continued. “If there is something Prompto doesn't wish to do, it will not be done.”

Noctis nodded, “I know the rules. I might be a prince but I'm not gonna force him into anything.”

Ignis and Gladio tensed at the words, though they knew Cidney had already let the secret slip earlier that afternoon.

“If you're a prince, does that make your dad the king?” Prompto asked, leaning forward slightly.

“Yeah. He's the one who helped me get you into the city,” Noctis replied. “Got the papers on my phone. But... we're gonna have to take you to see him when we arrive. It was his one stipulation.”

Ignis feared what King Regis would say to, or rather about, Prompto. Noctis had filled him in on how the phone call had went and it did not bode well for a meeting.

“I've never met a king before,” Prompto said. “What's he like?”

“King Regis?” Noctis scratched his head, thinking. “He's generally well liked. In Lucis, at least. I mean, the Empire doesn't like him at all. I don't know, really? He's just my dad,” he said lamely.

“King Regis is a fair and just king,” Ignis added in and Prompto looked to him. “He is willing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt. Although, as with most of the population in Lucis, he has a general distrust of the Empire.”

Prompto nodded, taking the information in. He wasn't sure why Lucis was wary of the Empire, having never even known of the country until his companions told him of it, but he wondered if it had to do with the Magitek Project. He figured cloning people could be seen as a bad thing.

“Are you truly unaware of who King Regis Lucis Caelum is?” Ignis asked.

“He's not in my data,” Prompto said after a moment of thought, shaking his head in confusion. “Should he be?”

Noctis jumped off the counter, earning a sharp glare at the noise from Ignis. “Hey, let's go pick up some dinner. I'm starving and I hear Takka's has some great chili con carne,” he suggested, holding a hand out to Prompto. When the blond didn't move, only hugging his chocobo, he dropped his hand. “If you're worried about Cidney, she went back to the garage on the other side of the lot,” he said, hands shoved into his pockets.

Prompto's eyes shifted between Noctis and Gladio before landing on Ignis still beside him. He got a reassuring nod and a smile from the latter. “Is that a cold food?” he asked, pushing himself to his feet. He moved Boco underneath his arm and followed Noctis from the caravan.

“Nah, it's a spicy food,” Noctis replied, hopping off down from the steps. “Figured since you liked the steaks from last night so much, you might like other spicy foods.”

“They were delicious,” he grinned. “Do you think Ignis would make them again?”

Noctis hummed, taking Prompto's hand as they walked to the diner. “I don't know. Dualhorn meat isn't very common in Insomnia but I'm sure he could get some just for you.”

“Do you believe him?” Gladio asked once the two younger men were out of the caravan and earshot. “About not knowin' about King Regis?”

“I do not believe he is capable of lying so effectively,” Ignis replied, touching his chin. “You remember when we had mentioned him coming to Lucis with us? He didn't even know of the country. It's not that unlikely that he knows nothing of the king or even of the war between our two countries. He speaks of his 'data', whatever that may be, and it seems he only knows select information about humans but not so much of the world we live in.”

Gladio nodded, crossing his arms. “Why did Prom think Cidney was gonna cut him up? Did he say?”

There was a long sigh and Ignis closed his eyes, nodding. “It had happened to him in the facility. I'm unsure as to how many times, but it would explain his fear of doctors if he thinks they are all like the ones in Niflheim.”

Gladio growled deep in his throat, fist clenching tightly.

“It also seems there is a phrase, if you will, that we should avoid speaking around Prompto,” Ignis carried on.

“A phrase?”

Ignis hummed, crossing his legs at the knee. “Miss Aurum had asked to 'take a look at Prompto's armor', if you'll recall.”

Gladio nodded, tense.

“The moment she spoke the words, Prompto immediately went rigid and into a panic. I fear it may have been something he heard quite often in the facility, leading to him associating the words with pain.”

“Wait...” Gladio frowned deeply, piecing the information together. “Do you mean Prom was awake in the facility?”

“Awake may not be the correct term. He was most likely aware of his surroundings but unable to communicate such or indeed react in any way,” Ignis explained.

“So, what? Those 'doctors' just cut him open without caring that he could feel everythin' bein' done to him?!” he spat. “Like he was some mindless, unfeeling doll?!”

Ignis let out a tired sigh, eyes downcast. “That is how it appears to me.”

Both men were silent for a time, Gladio fuming, almost wishing he could meet the people who had hurt Prompto so he could show them the pain the blond went through at their hands, and Ignis pensive, wondering if there was some way the three of them could help Prompto heal from his traumas.

“You said Prompto reacted specifically when Cidney asked to look at his armor?” Gladio asked, breaking the tension in the room. When Ignis nodded in reply, he spoke again. “It's not the first time that's happened.”

“What do you mean?” Ignis asked, confused. “The first time he had a panic attack was in Longwythe and that was because I asked him about his chocobo's name.”

Gladio shook his head. “The first time was on the train. Noct had asked to look at the photos Prompto had taken with his phone. I saw him tense up at the words for a second,” he told Ignis. “Didn't think much of it only 'cause I thought Noct had startled him by snatchin' the phone back.”

“In any case, we should be careful of what we say around him. And we should inform Noct when Prompto is not around,” Ignis hummed. “I do not wish to inadvertently set him off again.”

05953234 was alone. The room silent as the grave, save for the soft humming of the life support machines, the quiet bubbling of the tank filters. He focused on the noises only to have them interrupted by the sound of heavy footfalls. Several people were coming into the room.

“This one?” a voice asked, high yet soft. He knew it instantly. The woman scientist. She was cruel and uncaring with her amused 'oohs' and 'ahs' as she sliced through 05953234's skin and muscles.

“Number 05953234,” a different voice, deep and gravelly, responded. “Yep. This is the one.”

There was a soft click, the press of a button, and his tank gave a loud whirring, the water draining rapidly, leaving his skin chilled and damp. His shoulders strained from the hooks holding him up, all his body weight resting on them without the water. The door creaked open and hands grabbed him, roughly lifting him from the hooks. A second pair of hands grasped his ankles as he was carried to the table, lied flat on his back. It was just as cold and hard as always.

Next came the metallic click of the restraints, loud and echoing throughout the room. It made his teeth hurt. He wanted to flinch, to jump away from them, but his body refused to respond to his brain, leaving him immobile and at the scientists mercy.

He wondered if it was just his imagination or if the one around his throat was tighter than normal. It cut sharply just below his jaw, the metal unforgiving, painful. Would it constrict his airway enough to choke him? Or just leave him gasping for breath? Have his consciousness wavering, just barely aware of the blade cutting into the skin of his thigh, deep, deep, so deep.

A piercing pain shot through his leg as the scalpel scrapped against the bone. His knee locked up, muscles tightened as he tried hopelessly to kick out.

“-om?”

Fingers pulled taunt, holding the muscle open wide.

“Prompto? C'mon, blon-”

He kicked again, knee jerking violently. The restraint cut into his ankle. His breath came in short, painful pants. He wasn't getting enough oxygen for his brain. Not enough. Nowhere near enough.

“Prompto.” The voice that called out was strong, terrified, caring.

He jolted, eyes snapping open, darting around the dim, golden lit room. Kicking his legs again, he found them tangled up in a thin blanket, soft and patchwork, homemade. He gripped at it, knuckles going white from strain.

“Hey, hey,” the voice said, soft, soothing. “It's okay. We're here. You're safe.”

Safe.

His eyes fell upon the owner of the voice. Gladio, his mind reminded him. A quick look around revealed Noctis and Ignis behind him, both sitting up, giving him space, but watching him closely.

“Wha...” Prompto licked his dry lips. His heart was still hammering in his chest, sweat cooling rapidly on his skin. Every muscle in his body was drawn tight, painfully so. “What happened?”

“You had a nightmare,” Gladio said. His voice was still soft, so gentle and calm.

“I-” He swallowed thickly, wincing. A glass was held out in front of him, filled halfway with water. He grasped it it both hands and greedily drank it, spilling it down his chin. It helped. “I was...” He stopped again, touching his right leg, feather light. Smooth skin and fine hairs met his fingertips. There was no open wound, no scar, no nothing.

A large hand came down on his, hesitant. When he didn't jerk away, Gladio took Prompto's hand in his, moving it from his leg. His other hand came up to cup his cheek. “You don't have to talk about it, but we're here if you need us,” he told the blond.

A second hand touched his shoulder, smaller than Gladio's, and Prompto felt tears pricking at his eyes. They burned, staining his hot cheeks.

“Hey, hey,” Gladio cooed, swiping his thumbs over Prompto's cheeks, sweeping away the tears only to have fresh ones take their place.

Prompto let out a sob at the action. He lunged forward, wrapping his arms around Gladio's waist and buried his face into the man's chest.

Gladio didn't have time to brace for the impact, huffing out a breath and leaning back on one hand, as the other two men watched on, concern clear on their faces in the dim light of the caravan's sole bedroom. Pushing himself back up, he held Prompto close, hand rubbing up and down his back.

The sobs and hiccups were slowly replaced by shaky breaths then, finally, soft ones as Prompto fell back to sleep, exhausting hitting him hard.

Carefully, Gladio moved the blond until he was back under the covers, one hand still clinging loosely to his shirt. He leaned up on his elbow, watching as Noctis curled up behind Prompto, draping an arm over his waist.

“Do you think it was about the facility?” Gladio whispered, glancing up to where Ignis was hovering behind Noctis.

“I wouldn't doubt it. He must have remembered... something that happened while he was in there, no doubt triggered by the panic attack from this afternoon,” was the reply, just as quiet at his own voice.

Gladio hummed, fingers smoothing over Prompto's tear stained cheek.

To say Prompto was nervous would be an understatement. He stood behind Ignis and clung tightly to Boco, face just barely visible behind the bright yellow head of the stuffed chocobo. His free hand had Ignis' in a near death grip, white knuckled but ready to flee at a moments notice.

He wouldn't though.

Ignis had assured him the mechanic meant him no harm. ”She works on cars and only cars, he had said.

Cidney shifted on her feet, trying to refrain from peering around Ignis to see the other blond. After a moment of uneasy silence, she spoke. “We got off on the wrong foot, so to speak,” she said. “An' I wanna apologise for what I said. I truly am sorry for sending' ya into a panic. It was never my intention an' I will do my damndest to make sure it won't happen again.”

Prompto peeked around Ignis, biting his lip. She sounded sincere and the others had told him she was a kind person.

She gave him a wide smile when he lowered Boco enough to reveal his face. “Cidney Aurum,” she introduced herself, holding a hand out for him to shake. “I help my Paw Paw run the garage here at Hammerhead.”

He reached out cautiously, glancing to Ignis before grabbing her gloved hand, giving it a quick shake. He retracted his hand and grasped Ignis' again.

“I hear you're headin' to Insomnia for the first time,” she continued, hands on her hips. “It's an amazin' city, full of skyscrapers an' the like. Got none of this desert and drivin' for half a day to reach your destination that Leide has.”

“Skyscrapers?”

She hummed brightly. “Huge buildings that look like they could touch the sky,” she explained, raising an arm high over her head like she was measuring an invisible item. “I hear sometimes they do reach past the clouds. I've only been once, when I was still a kid, but it sure was an amazin' sight.”

Prompto gasped, eyes wide at the idea. He tilted his head back, taking in the bright blue sky overhead. He couldn't even begin to imagine a building that could touch the clouds.

Chapter Text

“Is what Miss Cidney said true?” Prompto asked as he settled into the front seat of the car, Boco between his steadily bouncing knees. “About the buildings in Insomnia that can touch the sky?” He rubbed at his thigh absentmindedly, last night's dream still lingering in the back of his mind.

“In a sense, she was telling the truth,” Ignis replied. He started the car's engine and read the time on the radio, calclating the distance and wondering if they could make it to the relative safety of the bridge before nightfall. Unlikely. They would have to rest at the haven closest to the city's first checkpoint. “The Citadel is the tallest building in Insomnia, towering above even the most recent skyscrapers at an impressive seventy seven stories. And, on particulary overcast days, the top floors have been known to dip into the clouds.”

Prompto's mouth dropped open in shock, eyes wide. He had mildly assumed the woman had been exaggerating on the size of the buildings; thinking that surely no building could ever be built tall enough to reach the clouds. “And the rest of the buildings?”

“There's a lot of skyscrapers in Insomnia,” Gladio answered, causing Prompto to turn in his seat, peering over the headrest and earning a quiet noise of disapproval from Ignis. “Next to the Citadel, the tallest is about fifty stories or so. Most of them are around the center of the city and a lot are office buildings and apartment complexes.”

“We'll be arriving in the city early tomorrow evening, if there are no delays,” Ignis said, turning onto the highway and placing a hand on Prompto's knee. “Sit forward, please.”

Prompto twisted and bounced back down in his seat, hugging Boco to his chest. “I can't wait to see them.” After a pause, where Prompto stared at the dusty desert through the open window, he turned back to Ignis. “What is the Citadel?”

“It's where the royal family lives,” Ignis explained. “As well as most members to both the Crownsguard and Kingsglaive and some members of the Lucian Council. Others reside outside the premises at their leisure.”

“Do you live there?” he asked, turning his head to look at Noctis slouching in the back seat. “You're the prince, so you must, right?”

Noctis opened his mouth only to be cut off when Ignis replied in his stead.

“Noctis has a suite at the Citadel. As do Gladio and I.”

Prompto nodded, head bobbing lightly.

Resting his chin on his arms on the open window, he started to wonder what the Citadel would look like. A place where a king lived must be lavish and Noctis was a prince. His room must be just as grand. Would Ignis and Gladio's rooms be as nice? They weren't royalty. Or, he didn't think they were.

He started to ponder things, eyes half closed as he watched the scenery flash by. Why did the prince of Lucis go to Niflheim? Was that just how Lucis was run? That even royalty would and could be sent on, what he assumed was, dangerous missions into enemy territory? Did Niflheim also send their royalty on missions? Prompto wasn't even entirely sure Niflheim had a royal family. There wasn't much in his data other than a brief mention of an Emperor.

He stared at a billboard that crept closer, reading Galdin Quay. He wondered if they could go back there one day. He'd like to see more of the town and, maybe, if they had time, go to the beach. The water had looked really nice and warm, crystal clear and bright blue.

Letting out a soft hum, Prompto closed his eyes. The sun dipped behind a cloud. He focused on the noises around him; the soft purr of the engine, the crinkling of the leather seats as their occupants shifted into a more comfortable position, the music coming from Noctis' phone, the sound of Gladio turning the page in his book. It was a comfortable, easy-going silence that filled the car.

He peeked an eye open when a hand rested on his knee. Ignis gave him a gentle smile, head tilted just enough for Prompto to see it.

“Iggy,” Noctis whined, pouting in his seat. “Why are we stopping? We're not even an hour from the first checkpoint.”

“We're stopping,” Ignis started, letting out a tired sigh, “because one: it is fifteen minutes until sundown, at best, and two: I have been driving for nearly nine hours.” He pulled the car off to the side of the road, cutting the engine.

Prompto could make out the faint, blue glow of a haven just up the hill, its soft, reverberating hum already making its way into his body.

“Then I'll drive,” Noctis countered, following after Ignis as he stepped out of the car.

Ignis pinned him with a look that Prompto hoped would never be used on him. “Noctis, it's a three hour drive before we'd even reach the bridge to Insomnia.” When Noctis opened his mouth to argue, Ignis continued, hand held up to silence the younger man. “That's three hours of driving through the daemon infested night. We are not equipped to battle daemons.”

Noctis' shoulders dropped in defeat. “Fine.”

Prompto snickered softly at Noctis' pout.

“C'mon,” Gladio called, slinging an arm heavily over Prompto's shoulders. “Let's leave them to their lovers quarrel and get camp set up.”

“It's not a lovers quarrel,” Noctis whined. Prompto swore he was about to start stomping his foot in protest but Ignis' soft hand turning his face as he whispered something the blond couldn't hear, had him sighing, shoulders dropping, and nodding in response.

Prompto turned his head up to look at Gladio before snuggling in close to his warm side, hand resting lightly on the larger man's chest. He grinned brightly when he felt Gladio place a kiss in his hair.

Prompto jerked in his sleep, eyes snapping open and darting around the darkness. His chest was tight, lungs held in an invisible vise, heart hammering in his chest. His body felt as if it wasn't listening to his brain, refusing to move even a fraction of an inch, no matter how much he tried.

Something soft touched his face and he flinched. After a few seconds of silence, his eyes finally focused enough to make out the dim blue of the haven's glow, throwing Ignis' face into shadow as the other man watched him, propped up on his elbow.

A light flickered on from somewhere above his head and he shut his eyes tightly, whimpering. The touch came back; fingers smoothing over his cheek and a thumb brushing underneath his eye.

“Another nightmare?” Ignis whispered, leaning in close.

Prompto blinked, confused. Had he had a nightmare? He couldn't even remember dreaming. “I... I don't know?”

A weight shifted at his back, Noctis pressing close and letting out a hot breath against the back of Prompto's neck. He became aware of the arm wrapped around his waist, loose enough for him to escape if need be, but tight enough to ground him.

“Do you not remember your dream?” Ignis asked, lying back on his pillow. His hand remained on Prompto's cheek, thumb just barely moving over the skin. When the blond shook his head, he nodded softly. “What can I do to help?”

Prompto bit his lip, dropping his eyes down to Ignis' clothed chest, spotting his own hand gripping the fabric. When had he grabbed his shirt? He didn't even remember moving his hands in the first place. He sucked in a quick breath through his nose and shyly looked back up. “Can I have another kiss?”

Ignis smiled and nodded. He shifted closer to the blond and tilted his head up, placing a soft kiss on his lips. “Better?”

“Um... one more?” Prompto asked, a tiny, cheeky smile on his face.

“You're going to end up spoilt,” Ignis chuckled softly. He leaned in again and gave Prompto a further three kisses. “Now, let's try to get some sleep. We must get up early if we are to make it to the Citadel by dinner.”

Prompto nodded and saw Ignis reached above them to flick off the lantern. Noctis let out a soft groan behind him, rolling over to presumably latch onto Gladio. The tent was bathed in darkness for a few brief seconds before the glow filtered through once more. Ignis caught ahold of Prompto's hand in the dark, giving it a soft squeeze, silently telling the blond he wasn't going anywhere.

It warmed his heart as he quickly slipped back into sleep.

The car slowed to a stop. Prompto watched as a man dressed in a uniform walked to Ignis' open window, leaning down to peer in. Ignis handed him a small sheet of paper which he quickly looked over before scanning the car's occupants. His face changed subtly when his eyes landed on Prompto, causing the blond to squirm in his seat, pulling Boco up just enough to hide behind its head.

“Your permit states three people,” he started. “I count four.”

“Oh, here,” he heard Noctis say quickly. A peek over the bird's head showed Noctis holding out his phone, the man outside the car reading it carefully.

After a few, agonizing moments of silence, where Prompto thought for sure he wasn't going to be allowed in the city, the man nodded and stood up right, patting has hand on the roof of the car. “Everything's in order,” he said, stepping back and waving a hand.

“Thank you, Glaive,” Ignis said with a nod of his own.

The ground dropped off not even twenty feet from the edge of the bridge. Straight down to the ocean. It was all sharp rocks and jagged angles and dark, roiling, churning waves below.

The wind had picked up shortly before they reached the bridge and, for once, Prompto was cold again. It was nothing like the weather they had experienced in Niflheim, on their trek to the train station, but it had been a drastic difference from the humid, stale heat of Leide. The windows had been rolled up the second Prompto's body shuddered and he was grateful.

Way out on the horizon, he spotted a low, even wall with a hint of a faintly shimmering dome over top it. It must have been Insomnia, though he couldn't think of a reason for why the city would be in cased in a glass dome. Surely that would make it far too hot to live in. Wouldn't it?

Or, perhaps it wasn't the city at all and just a domed structure they'd completely bypass?

In any case, he felt as if it was much too foolish of a question to ask and remained quiet.

The wall was huge. Taller than anything Prompto had ever seen. And, according to Ignis, it wrapped around the entire city.

“The physical wall was built only two hundred years ago,” he explained as they drew closer to the city of Insomnia. “When the city truly started to thrive as a metropolis. The magical wall, however, has protected the city since the Lucis Caelum line was first gifted the crystal by the Astrals, two millenia ago. Granted, it protects a much smaller location than it did in those times.”

“How does it work?” Prompto asked, the glow of the wall reflecting back in his eyes. He had been sitting on the edge of his seat once he realised the dome was not, in fact, glass at all.

Ignis adjusted himself in his seat before he answered. “The King uses the crystal to power the barrier,” he said simply. “As for the how, I'm afraid I'm not privy to the particulars.”

If Prompto was put off by the lack of details, he didn't show it with anything more than a slight pout and raised eyebrows before turning back to face the looming wall.

The wall's checkpoint was a simple affair, the guard merely waving the car through with a quick nod in recognition.

Prompto closed his eyes tightly, hugging Boco to his chest, as they drove through the sparkling, iridescent barrier of the magic wall.

“Prompto? Are you alright?” Ignis asked, worry lacing his voice as he reached over and touched the blond's knee. “Are you hurt?”

When Prompto cracked an eye open, he frowned deeply. Opening both eyes wide and turning to look behind them, he saw the wall behind them, the magic still glimmering in its place, not even registering the car or its inhabitants that had just passed through it.

“What's up?” Noctis asked, eyebrows disappearing under his bangs.

“I... I thought I would feel it?” Prompto replied, confused.

“What? The magic wall?”

Prompto nodded, watching the wall slip farther away from their car.

“I think only daemons can feel the wall,” Noctis said, leaning back. “Like, it burns them in the same way sunlight does.”

“You are only half correct, Noct,” Ignis nodded. He gave Prompto's knee a gentle nudge and the younger man turned, sitting correctly in his seat. “The wall has a much harsher effect on a daemon than the sun does. While the sun slowly injures a daemon, forcing them to sink back from whence they came, the effect of the wall is instantaneous.”

Gladio chuckled and shoved at Noctis' shoulder, getting a weak groan. “You're next in line to power the wall, you should know this.”

“Must have fallen asleep in that class,” Noctis hummed sarcastically before he gave the rearview mirror a cheeky grin. “Maybe Iggy can give me a refresher course.”

Ignis rolled his eyes at the suggestion, huffing out a breath.

“Are there classes to learn magic?” Prompto asked, curiousity and excitement coursing through him at the thought of possibly being able to control magic. He wondered if Ignis would let him take any of the classes.

“Unfortunately, magic cannot be taught. A person must be connected to the crystal via the king's magic in order to have access to its reserves,” Ignis answered, a small frown on his face when he saw Prompto's own face fall. “Even in the Crown City, magic isn't exceptionally common. Only the royal family as well as members of both the Kingsglaive and Crownsguard have access to it.”

“You have my access to my personal ether,” Noctis said. “That's about as much as you can get without my dad's permission.”

“Oh,” was all Prompto said before he fell silent, watching the buildings pass by through the window.

Most of the buildings appeared to be warehouses and storage units, all muted steel greys and concrete whites with the occasional bright flash of oranges, reds, and yellows. Street lights flickered on as they drove, the sky deepening through the haze of the magic dome, bathing the streets and buildings in a warm glow.

Prompto gasped loudly when he turned his face forward, intending to check out the buildings on the opposite side of the street. “What's that?” He pointed straight ahead, finger tilted just slightly upwards, over the tops of the distant skyscrapers. A bright beam, colors shifting between blue and purple and white, was reaching towards the heavens, disappearing just as it seemed to reach the peak of the magic dome. He'd never seen anything so mysterious and amazing and, if Prompto focused on it hard enough, he could feel a soft pulsing coming from its direction.

“That's the magic of the crystal,” Noctis said, pulling himself forward, elbow resting on the back of Promptos seat. “It's coming from the Citadel. Dad channels it, sending it up to create the wall around the city, and that's what it looks like in its raw form.”

“Wow.” Prompto stared, wide eyed and mouth open, at the column of light.

“He's pretty lucky he only has to send the wall to the outskirts of the city,” Noctis continued. “His grandma used to have the wall protecting all of Lucis. I heard it was a heavy strain on both her and the crystal and her son, my granddad, is the one who reduced it to just the city.” There was a short pause. “Though, I guess that's pretty shitty for everyone who lives outside the city walls.”

“While the citizens outside Insomnia do have daemon repelling lights and hunters protecting their towns, it's but a small measure of safety compared to what the wall brings,” Ignis added in.

Prompto nodded thoughtfully.

“Welcome home, Your Highness.”

Noctis let out a quiet groan. He plastered on a soft smile as he opened the car door and climbed out, nodding politely to the woman who had stepped up to the car.

Ignis gave her a quick bow as Prompto skirted around the front of the car to him, hovering just behind the taller man. “Miss Elshett, good evening.”

“Scientia,” she nodded, eyes moving to Prompto before landing on Gladio. “Amicitia. The King is waiting your arrival in the throne room. If you would follow me.” She turned on her heel and strode across the parking garage.

Noctis let out another groan, louder this time, as he shuffled after her. “Man, I was hopin' to have dinner then hit the hay,” he sighed.

Gladio followed after him and Ignis took Prompto's right hand, leading him to the elevator. “I apologise,” he started, keeping his voice low in the hope that it wouldn't carry. “I had hoped to arrange a meeting with King Regis tomorrow morning, after we all had rested.”

Prompto didn't reply. He gripped Ignis' hand tight, Boco in his free arm, squeezed to his chest. He kept his eyes trained on his feet, watching his black boots thud against the concrete.

“Should probably put Boco in the ether,” Gladio suggested, falling back. His voice was gentle when he spoke but Prompto still shook his head, refusing to release his hold on the stuffed animal. “It wouldn't make a good impression for you to be hiding your face in front of the king.”

“He's right, Prompto,” Ignis concurred. “I can give him back to you once the meeting is over.”

Prompto felt his lip quiver as he loosened his hold, eyes burning.

Ignis carefully took the chocobo and, with a quick flick of his wrist, it vanished into nothingness. Another pull from the ether had him grabbing out a set of folders. The same ones Prompto had seen him making notes with on the train.

Prompto was barely aware of the elevator ride or the long hallways they travelled through. All five people were silent the whole time, just the soft thumping of their boots hitting the dark granite floors. It had Prompto's nerves steadily increasing.

A door closed too loudly behind him and he jumped, head whipping around to try and find the source of the noise.

“Prompto?” Ignis called to him, stopping in the hallway. Gladio turned to watch the scene, Noctis and the Glaive pausing ahead of him. “Apologies. Just one minute, please.”

Monica nodded her head, turning her back to them to give Ignis some semblance of privacy.

“Prompto, it's going to be alright. I promise,” he said as the other two men stepped closer. “None of us will leave you alone.”

Noctis chipped in, rubbing a hand on the blond's shaking arm. “My dad isn't a scary guy. He just likes to put on an intimidating aura,” he promised. “Once he sees you're just a normal guy, he'll drop the act pretty quick.”

“He... he will?” Prompto asked, voice wavering.

“He will,” Noctis said, smiling. “C'mon. Once we get this out of the way, we can get Iggy to make us something really nice for dinner.”

Prompto gulped down a breath and nodded a few times. “Okay.” Gladio took his free and he looked up at the taller man, giving him a weak smile as they started to follow the Glaive once more.

A few more hallways had them standing in front of a massive set of double doors, deep grey and black in color with intricate gold squares turned on their points.

Blinking quickly, Prompto opened his mouth in awe at the sight of them. He snapped his mouth shut the second they creaked, opening wide for them.

Monica bowed as they moved past her and into the open room. Their footsteps echoed on the high walls. They came to a stop after ascending the first of the staircases, Prompto stood between Ignis and Gladio, who had released his hand once they passed the threshold. Noctis stood a few feet in front of them.

A fast peek up the stairs revealed three men staring down at them, harsh and scrutinizing, eyes narrowed and bodies stiff.

The man in the large chair leaned forward, head angled and hands gripping the arm rests. The one to his left, an older man who seemed to nearly rival Gladio in both height and body mass, scowled. The one to the right of the chair, who appeared considerably younger than the other two, seemed confused, though it wasn't as obvious as the king.

Noctis shifted on his feet, clearing his throat. He stepped aside just enough to show off the blond, hand extended towards him. “Uh... this is Prompto Argentum,” he started, licking his lips nervously. “The MT I mentioned.”

Chapter Text

Clarus' scowl deepened at the words, shoulders set in a rigid line. “Do you think this is a game?” he barked.

Prompto flinched at the tone, dropping his head to stare at his boots, hand tightening in Ignis'. He heard Noctis shift in front of him, saw his boots coming just into view, effectively blocking him from the older man's sight.

“Clarus,” a different voice called out in warning.

Peering up, he noticed the man in the chair, the king, had held his hand up, out towards the man who had first spoke. 'Clarus', he had called him. His face was soft, calm, but studying the blond closely. It had him fidgeting in his spot.

The third man had yet to move or speak. He merely watched the group silently, eyes sharp, calculating.

“When you had mentioned this MT was unlike any other we've seen before, I must admit,” the king started, “I had merely expected his armor coloring to be different. I did not expect to see you bring a young man before me. Tell me, does every Magitek Unit look like you underneath its armor?”

Prompto's eyes darted around between the three men on the dias, unsure if he was meant to answer or if the question was rhetorical. He sucked in a breath, unsure what to say.

“They do not.” Ignis was the one to reply. “Or, rather, once they are deemed ready to don their armor, they no longer appear human.”

“No longer appear...,” Clarus frowned. “Explain.”

Ignis motioned to the folders he held securely under his arm. “While the facility we searched did not have as much information about the Magitek Project as we would have hoped, we did manage to collect some data that may help us in the long run. And Prompto here,” he looked over to the blond, giving his hand a gentle squeeze, “has given us a few other bits and pieces of data that were missing from the files, as well as the location of the bulk of the Magitek Project files. Unfortunately, they are in Gralea, in Zegnautus Keep.”

“Even our top spies can't get into Zegnautus,” the silent man said. His voice was far deeper than Prompto had pictured, though his tone was not unkind.

“Yes, I am aware,” Ignis nodded. “One thing we did learn from both the files and Prompto is the MT units are all clones. I am unsure if they are all clones of one person or multiple people. There were several at the facility and only a handful were the same in appearance to Prompto.”

Regis nodded as Clarus started down the steps, heavy footfalls thudding on the stone. “While it is a small reprieve that the Empire is not turning their own citizens into, forgive me, soulless machines,” he started, hand on his chest and distaste for the phrase in the tone, “it is still incredibly worrying that they have the technology to create clones at such a terrifying rate.”

Prompto bit his lip at the words, staying his tongue. He wasn't a 'soulless machine'. He dropped his gaze back to the floor, eyes averted, when he noticed Clarus walk closer, stopping just a few feet away. Only when the man left, the folders now in his hands, did Prompto realise he was shaking, knees threatening to give away underneath him. The back of Gladio's hand rubbed over his bare arm and he flinched, elbows hitting his hips with the movement. He glanced up at the taller man, eyes wide.

“Don't let my dad scare you,” Gladio whispered, leaning in close so only Prompto could hear the words. “Just like King Regis, he's not a bad guy.”

He sucked in a quiet breath at the words, watching Gladio straighten back up, hands folded in behind his back.

Clarus was his dad? He braved a quick glance at the older man walking up the staircase. He could only see the side of his face for the moment but, now that he was looking, there was a similarity. The same nose, same jaw. Their eyes, though, were different. Gladio's were much softer, warmer, golden brown in color. He had caught a brief glimpse of a bright blue when Clarus had been near.

Regis took the folders from Clarus, opening the top one. He stroked thoughtfully at his chin.

The room was silent for what felt like the longest minutes of Prompto's short life.

Clarus leaned in to speak into Regis' ear, though his voice carried across the room, clear as a bell, and Prompto felt his blood turn to ice in his veins. “We should have the MT checked for potential thre-”

“Hell no!” Gladio spat. He took a step forward, blocking Prompto from further view. He glared hard at his father, earning an equally intimidating stare back.

“That won't be necessary, Clarus,” Regis said, keeping his voice steady and firm.

An arm slipped around Promptos waist, palm smoothing over the side of his shirt.

“Sire?” Clarus questioned.

Regis said nothing in response, tapping on a small note Ignis had made in the files. Clarus' frown morphed into concern before settling on a more neutral façade. While his Shield read, the king looked back down at the four young men, giving Noctis a short nod. “The four of you must be exhausted after such a long journey back to Insomnia. I do not doubt you are also anticipating having a fulfilling meal.”

Noctis knew a dismissal when he heard it and relief flooded though him. He gave a bow and readied to turn.

“One more thing, if I may,” Regis said, halting them before they took more than a few steps. He focused on Prompto, taking note of the way the blond forced himself to keep eye contact. “For young Argentum's own safety, see to it that he is accompanied at all times in the Citadel, either by Gladiolus or Ignis.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” All three voices melded together, displeasure creeping into them at the implication. Regis as good as openly stated he did not trust Noctis to be alone with the blond.

Prompto didn't catch the unsaid words. He was happy to always be with one of the three men, even more so in such a enormous building with such terrifying people in it.

Ignis led him from the throne room, Gladio by his other side and Noctis taking up the rear before he, too, stepped in line with them.

“Even for a clone, he looked human enough that anyone would be fooled,” Clarus mused, still scanning over the notes in the folder. “If the Empire wanted, they could flood Lucis with them and the citizens would be none the wiser.”

Extensive medical trauma. Panic attacks. Recurring nightmares.

“I would hazard a guess the only difference between the young man and a human is the method of creation,” Cor said.

Regis hummed, turning the page.

“To think, the Empire has no qualms against physical torture on their own creations. Makes one wonder if they see no difference between friend and foe,” Clarus straightened up, looking to the door to the throne room.

“Cor,” Regis said, looking up to the man. He got a nod in response. “I want you to keep an eye on young Argentum, see how he interacts with my son and his retainers. And see to it that any rumors of him being a Magetik Soldier are quashed immediately.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” Cor bowed shortly and stepped down the stairs, leaving the room in silence.

“The bedroom is through this door, bathroom to the right,” Ignis said, opening the door.

Prompto peeked into the room, taking note of the large, comfortable looking bed along the back wall, flanked by two nightstands, matching lamps sitting on top. There was a black dresser to the left, small potted plants spaced out on top of it, and a door beside it. On the opposite side was another door.

“We can go out to buy you some more clothes tomorrow, if you wish,” Ignis told him. “I have plenty of extra space in both the dresser and closet for you.”

Prompto nodded and followed him back into the living room, sitting on the couch. Noctis placed his bare feet on his lap and Gladio was digging through the fridge, grumbling about the lack of food.

“Relax,” Gladio said, one hand on Prompto's back, the other resting lightly on his elbow. “Don't tense up your arms so much. Line up your target and squeeze the trigger.”

Prompto nodded and took in a slow breath. He focused on the warmth of Gladio's hands before turning his attention to the paper target on the other side of the room. The three shots he'd already fired left holes well outside the rings that taunted him. Covering his ears and raising the gun, he squinted and let another round off. It was just inside the first ring.

“Much better,” Gladio grinned. “We'll make an expert out of you yet. You're a natural.”

“You really think so?” Prompto asked, setting the gun down on the shelf in front of him. He slid the earmuffs around his neck.

Gladio nodded. He paused, eyes looking over Prompto's head, and tensed. “Marshal.”

Prompto turned, spotting the man Gladio spoke to. He had learned the man's name was Cor Leonis and he'd seen him around the Citadel a few times in the week he had been living there.

Cor stepped farther into the room, giving the two a short nod and casting his gaze to the gun on the shelf then the paper target. “Learning some self defense?” he asked, eyes back on the two young men.

“Trainin',” Gladio said simply.

Cor hummed in response, frowning minutely when he noticed Prompto shift to partially hide behind Gladio. “You may want to practise with a smaller gun first,” he said as he turned, heading back for the open door. “Give him time to get used to the recoil before moving onto the quicksilver. And see about getting him an eye exam. Wouldn't want Prompto to damage his eyes because he's squinting all the time.”

Gladio blinked, stunned by the words. Cor had been watching Prompto, they all knew it was under Regis' orders, but today had been the first time he had approached them. And he had offered genuine advice. Gladio himself hadn't even noticed the blond squinting to see the targets.

“Can you see the targets clearly?” he asked after the tension in the room faded.

“Um... kinda? I mean, if I narrow my eyes, they're pretty clear,” Prompto admitted. As he said the words, he looked to the targets, eyes crinkled and narrowed. “Is that a problem?”

“A bit, yeah. We should still see about gettin' the eye doctor to check your eyes out.”

Prompto tensed, eyes going wide and scared, as soon as the words left Gladio's mouth.

“Ah, shit,” Gladio mumbled, rubbing a hand down his face. “An eye doctor... how do I explain. They use, like, microscopes or somethin' to check your eyes to make sure you can see clearly,” he tried to explain, pointing to his own eyes. “I get mine checked every few years as a precaution, same with Iggy and Noct. They're not scary, I promise.”

“They... they won't touch my eyes, will they? The doctors?” Prompto asked, voice quiet and scared. Flashes of memories started to replay in his mind; his eyes being forced and held open with cold metal, fingers poking at them, turning them this way and that way...

“No,” Gladio assured him, carefully grabbing Prompto's hand and squeezing it lightly.

It shook him from his thoughts, concentrating on how hot Gladio's hand had become. Or had his own hands grown cold, clammy with sweat? “Will one of you come with me?”

Gladio nodded, smiling to himself at the thought of Prompto in glasses. He would be even cuter in them.

“He is very wary of doctors,” Ignis explained, voice low as he spoke to the optician.

She was someone he was used to. Her company was approved by the crown and, while neither she nor any of her employees worked within the Citadel, many from within the building, Ignis among them, had been using their services for years.

Prompto fidgeted in a plush armchair, eyes scanning the room, taking in all the different type of frames lining the walls. His leg was constantly bouncing, a pamplet crinkling between his fingers.

“Do be sure you make everything very clear to him as to what you are doing and, if he seems reluctant, do not proceed until he says. I will do what I can to keep him calm and collected.”

The older woman nodded, giving him a quiet promise before she turned to the blond. She stepped over and crouched down, smiling openly to him. “Hello, Prompto. My name is Cheryl,” she said, introducing herself. “Would you like to try on some of the glasses before we check your eyesight? I do believe we have some that even match the ones Ignis wears.”

Prompto drew his knees in tight, eyes darting between the woman and Ignis. The latter gave him a soft smile and a nod. “O... okay,” he murmured.

She held a hand out towards a wall and waited for him to stand. “Now, while the half frame would look rather dashing on you,” she started, hand hovering over the frames, “I think a more classic style would be much better. But the choice, ultimately, is yours.”

“Mine?” he asked, watching her pluck a set of frames from their perch, shiny black plastic surrounding the lenses. “I can choose?”

“Of course,” she replied.

Noctis groaned, rubbing his face into Prompto's neck, when Ignis tried to rouse him from a nap. He had been spending all of his free time in Ignis' apartment, silently fuming about his father's orders. Neither Ignis nor Gladio had tried to force him back to his own apartment.

“Noct, it's already past five in the evening,” Ignis stated, letting out a sigh. “You only said you'd take a short nap. It's been three hours.”

Another groan. “But Prom's warm,” he mumbled, arms slipping up the blond's back. “And he doesn't mind, do ya, Prom?”

“I don't mind,” Prompto parroted back. He giggled when Noctis kissed his neck, squirming. “Stop! That tickles!”

Ignis refrained from rolling his eyes and Noctis peeking out at him, smirking. “Prompto?”

“Yeah?”

“Would you like to help me make dinner? I was thinking... dual horn steaks?” Ignis asked, turning his face to the door.

“Oh! Yes! Can I, please?” Prompto exclaimed, sitting up almost instantly and crawling to the foot of the bed.

Noctis whined, pushing himself up with a glare, “That's cheatin'!”

Ignis plastered a look of innocence on his face, patting Prompto on the back when he hugged him. “I have no idea what you're talking about. Don't forget your glasses, dear.”

Prompto nodded and rushed to the nightstand, carefully placing his glasses on his face. He blinked a few times, adjusting to the new clarity they provided him. He was still getting used to wearing them, could still make out the green of the frames that surrounded the lenses, and more often than not he had to be reminded to put them on. Ignis had told him it'd get to a point where it becomes as natural as breathing, even if he didn't quite understand the meaning.

Skipping back over to the door, he saw Noctis begrudgingly getting out of bed, scratching at the back of his head and mussing up his already disheveled hair.

Ignis led the way to the kitchen, Prompto following on his heels and Noctis moving to settle on the sofa, tugging a throw cover around his shoulders. “There has been talk of a possible peace treaty between Lucis and Niflheim,” Ignis started casually. He pulled a pack of dual horn steaks from the fridge, placing them on the counter while the blond searched through the seasonings, picking out the ones he knew he needed.

Noctis hummed, listening. He had heard mention of the treaty from Luna. In the Oracle's opinion, it was a farce and they should be cautious of the Empire's true motives and Noctis couldn't agree more.

After handing Prompto the mortar and pestle and filling a large pot with water, Ignis continued, “Apparently, the Emperor himself, as well as the Chancellor, will be in attendance in Insomnia if His Majesty approves of the treaty.”

That had Noctis turning around on the couch, leaning over the back, knees digging into the cushions. “Chancellor? Niflheim has a Chancellor?”

“So it would seem,” Ignis nodded. He pulled out a handful of potatoes and started peeling them. “I have not heard much about the man other than he is called 'Chancellor Izunia'. Even King Regis was taken aback at the mention of the man, albeit he hid his bewilderment quite expertly.”

Noctis dropped back down to the couch. “That sounds like dad.” He fell silent, wondering what kind of person this Chancellor was. He was probably a terrible one if he associated so closely with the Empire. He bet the dude was old, too, and had a bad fashion sense. He snickered to himself at the image.

Prompto stared, eyes wide and mouth open, at the paper target. Four near center holes stared back at him, clear as day.

“Way to go, Prom!” Gladio said, smacking him lightly on the back in congratulations. “I told ya you were a natural.”

Prompto grinned back at him, shucking off his earmuffs and laying them next to the empty quicksilver. He leapt into Gladio's arms, catching him off guard. “I did it!”

It had been almost a month of training, his arms were on fire from the recoil, but he had finally managed a string of bulleyes.

A cough sounded by the doorway and Prompto yelped, dropping to the ground and hiding behind Gladio's bulk.

“Marshal?” Gladio called and Prompto relaxed just enough to step out of hiding. “What can I help you with?”

“His Majesty wishes to see you,” Cor said, tilting his head towards the door. “Both of you.”

Prompto's eyes went wide again, jaw clenching with fear of seeing the king again.

“Ignis and His Highness are already on their way down to his office,” Cor added.

“His office?” Gladio asked. “Not the throne room?”

Cor shook his head. “His Majesty wishes this to be an... informal meeting.”

Gladio frowned at the words, unsure of their meaning or the look he had seen on Cor's face. Conflicted, hesitant, secretive. It didn't bode well. “Give us a minute?”

With a short nod, Cor left the room, walking down the hallway.

“He's not going to tell me to leave, is he?” Prompto asked. He had clung to Gladio's arm, face pressed into the back of his shirt.

“Where'd you get that idea?”

Prompto shrugged, making a soft noise.

“Hey,” Gladio said, turning to face the blond. He cupped Prompto's jaw and tilted his face up. “He'll have to go through Ignis, Noct, and me if that's what this is all about.” He pressed a quick kiss to Prompto's forehead. “But I get the feelin' this is somethin' different. Somethin' serious, judgin' by Cor's expression.”

“Leave?” Noctis asked, incredously. His hands were on Regis' desk, leaning forward in disbelief. “You want us to leave Insomnia?”

Regis nodded as he leaned back in his seat. “You are to meet with the Oracle, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, in Altissia to preform a ceremony-”

“Ceremony?” Noctis dropped onto the sofa beside Prompto, who had yet to raise his head. “What kind of ceremony?”

There was a pause where Regis glanced to Clarus. “A ceremony to bond your powers with that of the Oracle's. To gain the power of the Astrals.”

Noctis sat up straighter, frowning deeply. “Bond our powers?”

“This peace treaty is a ruse,” Regis went on. “We all know the Empire has ulterior motives and they will act upon them once they are within the city's walls.”

“Then don't let them in!” Noctis shouted.

“You would have me give them reason for declaring war against Lucis?” Regis asked. When Noctis backed down, he continued. “Any slight we would make towards the Empire can and will give them grounds for war. I do not know what their intentions are once they enter the city but I do know I want you to be safe. I have already arranged for a few members of the Kingsglaive to escort the Oracle to Altissia. She should be arriving there in a matter of days.”

Noctis made a noise, a soft, resigned sigh, as he leaned back into the cushions. He didn't like the idea of leaving his father when the Empire was on their doorstep. As to Luna - it had been days since he last sent Umbra along with the notebook with no word back from her and he feared for her safety, even with members of the Glaive protecting her on her journey.

“You leave in the morning. Be sure you've packed the essentials,” Clarus said, interrupting his thoughts. “Let us pray the Astrals are on our side in the coming days.”

Chapter Text

Noctis whined for what felt like the hundreth time that morning as they packed up the Regalia, graciously leant to the group by the king himself.

Gladio and Ignis rolled their eyes at the sound, the latter letting out a quiet sigh.

“Who decided three in the morning was 'first thing',” Noctis complained, rubbing at his hazy and heavy eyes. “Prom, you're with me on this, right? Prom?”

“Wha'?” Prompto jerked upright in his seat, knee nearly smacking into the underside of the dashboard.

“Are you falling back asleep?”

Prompto hummed lightly, eyes slipping closed again. His head drooped forward seconds later, nose pressing into the top of his stuffed chocobo.

Noctis smiled at the sight, before a loud yawn escaped him. He stretched his arms high over his head, feeling the muscles in his shoulders pop lightly.

“Looks like your bad habits are rubbin' off on Prom,” Gladio chuckled, closing the trunk with a sharp click.

Noctis shot him a glare although the effect was ruined when he yawned again, jaw clicking. “Iggy,” he whined again, finally dropping into his seat in the back, slouching down so far that his knees were pressed firmly to the back of the driver's seat, “why are we leaving so early again?”

“Because His Majesty wishes for us to reach Galdin Quay as quickly as possible,” Ignis replied, sliding in behind the wheel. He patted Prompto on the knee, getting no response from the blond.

“And because the Niffs are getting here in the afternoon,” Gladio added softly. He slid in beside Noctis and pulled the door shut. “Let's get this show on the road.”

“Indeed,” Ignis nodded, turning the key in the ignition. The engine roared to life before falling into a soft rumble. “Let's just hope the Regalia is still as reliable as she was in His Majesty's time.”

Cidney whistled, eyebrows raised. She wiped the sweat from her forehead, bangs sticking to the slick skin. “Now that is one nice car,” she said in awe as she walked around the Regalia, the flood lights glinting off the black paint. “Is she yours?” she asked, looking over to Noctis.

“It's dad's,” Noctis mumbled, hiding a yawn behind his hand. “He lent it to us for our trip.”

They had managed to make it to Hammerhead by the early evening, just beating the setting sun and the ominious groans of waking daemons as they pulled themselves up from their viscous pools on the ground. Even from the safety of the flood lights around the little pitstop, Noctis could still hear the terrifying creaking and clanging of an Iron Giant in the distance. If he stared for long enough, he could just make out the bright white pinpricks of holy bombs out towards Longwythe Peak. It sent a chill through his spine.

“So this beauty is even older than me,” she chuckled, smoothing a hand over the hood. “Ya want me to give her a once over? I'd imagine it's been a while since she was driven for so long, or at all, if she's His Majesty's car.”

“That would probably be for the best,” Ignis replied, stepping over. “Thank you.”

Prompto was holding his hand, eyes darting around into the night whenever a daemon roared. He was regretting leaving Boco in the front seat and squeezed Ignis' hand. He looked up when Cidney gasped.

“Is that Prompto?” she asked, bending forward and to the side, to look around Ignis, and grinning wide at the blond. “How was the big city? Were the skyscrapers even bigger than ya imagined? Oh, are those new glasses? They sure are cute on ya.”

Prompto nodded quickly and stepped around Ignis, keeping a hold on his hand. “They were so tall!” he exclaimed, eyes bright and lifting his free arm above his head. “Noctis even took me to the top floor of the Citadel. There's an aquarium on top with all these colorful fishes! And you can almost see the wall all the way from there!”

“Wow,” she smiled. “Sounds like you had a great time. I hope these boys have been treatin' ya well,”she said before dropping her voice a few notches. “If not, you just let your big sis Cidney know and she'll set 'em straight for ya.”

Noctis scoffed at the accusation, grabbing Prompto's free hand. “I'll have you know, we're nothin' but nice to Prom.”

“Uh huh,” Cidney teased, a smirk sliding across her face and her arms folding over her chest. “Well, why don't y'all skedattle while I get the old girl in the garage and looked over.”

“You have our thanks, Miss Aurum,” Ignis said, handing her the keys to the car. Noctis had started to drag Prompto away to the diner, the latter waving to Cidney.

“Let's go see if Takka's has anything new to eat,” Noctis said, leading the way into the diner. The air conditioner was instantly cooling and refreshing on their overheated skin and they both let out a soft hum in appreciation.

“You mean anythin' without beans or veggies,” Gladio teased, coming up behind the two younger men. “Here ya go, Prom.” He held out Boco, patting the stuffed animal on the head when Prompto took it into his arm. “Don't want Boco gettin' all greasy while Cidney checks out the car.”

“Thank you,” Prompto said. He stretched up, standing on his tiptoes, and tried to kiss Gladio on his cheek. He only managed to reach his jaw, stubble scratching at his lips, tickling them. He pulled his bottom lip between his teeth.

“Why don't the two of you grab a booth? I'll grab us some grub,” Gladio suggested, motioning over to the side of the diner where a few empty booths lined the curved wall. “I know. No beans,” he said when Noctis opened his mouth.

With a nod, Noctis led the blond over to the closest table, letting him slid in first.

Prompto placed Boco beside him, next to the wall, and leaned onto Noctis's shoulder, resting his head there. He perked up when he saw Ignis step inside the diner.

The older man spotted the two and made his way to their booth, sitting opposite them and placing his phone on the table. “Miss Aurum said the car will be ready by morning, providing nothing is damaged or in need of replacement.”

“You should count yourself lucky the old girl didn't break down on the highway,” Cidney told them, a clipboard in her hand as she wrote down notes for herself. “The engine was on its last leg. Flat out died the second I tried to start her up.”

“So...” Noctis started, waving a hand around. “What does that mean? Can you fix it?”

Cidney scratched the back of her neck, glancing over to the car, its hood propped up and a small, dirty cloth resting over the edge. “I'll have to give it a more thorough check, but at the moment you're lookin' at needin' a whole new engine.”

“How long will that take?”

Prompto snickered at the whine that filled Noctis' voice.

“I ain't changing the oil here. Could be a day, could be a week,” Cidney hummed, ignoring the long groan that Noctis let out. “All depends on how long it'd take for me to get an engine in from the city.”

“You don't have one here?”

Cidney laughed, dropping the clipboard to her hip. “This is a garage, not an auto parts shop. I don't just have a whole engine lyin' around. I'll put in a call first thing in the mornin'. I'll have a price for ya then, as well.”

“You have our thanks, Miss Aurum,” Ignis said.

“Six, it feels like were right up on the meteor,” Noctis groaned as he wiped the sweat from his forehead. He readily accepted the water Gladio held out to him and took a few large gulps. “How much further to the hunt? What was it again? Reapertails?”

“Sabertusks,” Ignis corrected. He was studying his phone, using its GPS to keep the group on track. “We should be getting close to where they were last spotted.” He glanced over when he felt a tug on his shirt sleeve.

“Is that them?” Prompto asked, pointing off into the hazy distance.

Ignis narrowed his eyes to focus on the sight. “Indeed it is,” he replied.

“Finally,” came a loud groan from Noctis. He was already pulling his sword from the ether, arm stretching back before he flung the weapon towards the creatures, disappearing in a flash of blue light.

“Stick close to Gladio,” Ignis said quickly before hurrying after the prince.

Prompto nodded and ran over to the taller man, pulling his gun from the ether. The crystalline shards were cool on his hands before they vanished into nothingness.

Gladio clapped him on the shoulder, grinning wide. “Let's see that trainin' in action. Show me what you can do.”

“Yeah!” Prompto grinned back, equal parts excitement and trepidation coursing through him.

He had only practised with moving targets a few times, just briefly before they left the city, but even Mr. Leonis had praised him on his aim. He had been incredibly flustered at the time, not expecting the man to compliment him. Even now, thinking back on the day, his cheeks still turned pink.

Shaking his head, Prompto turned back to the fight. There were seven – well, six now that Noctis had already finished one off – sabertusks by his count. He watched the ones on the outer ring, the ones trying to cricle around Ignis and Noctis, and took aim.

His arm jumped minutely from the recoil and the sabertusk yelped, skidding over the dusty ground. Ignis jumped in and finished it off, Prompto turning his face away as he brought the lance down swiftily.

A heavy shield was slammed down in front of his face, a solid thud startling him as something collided with it.

“Eyes open, Prom,” Gladio said, shoving the shield forward and knocking the sabertusk backwards. He switched the shield for a broadsword, bringing it around in a wide arch, killing the closest sabertusk and clipping two others, who limped away quickly, bleeding profusely.

Prompto froze at the sight, muscles tensing and seizing up. His shaking hands gripped his gun tightly, knuckles going white.

He made a mistake. He couldn't do this. Paper targets and clay discs were one thing but this? There was just too much blood, too much noise, too much everything.

He stepped back, gun disintergrating as he pulled his arms around himself.

“Prom?”

White noise filled Prompto's ears, deafening and drowning out the cries of the sabertusks as Noct and Ignis sliced clean through one; Gladio's voice as he called out to them, warning them of a stalking sabertusk. A chill crept up his body, from his toes to the crown of his head, leaving him numb in its wake. The area around him grew dark, his vision closing off.

“Prom!” Gladio yelled. He rushed over to the blond's side, just missing his wrist as Prompto legs gave away underneath him. He insantly dropped to his knees and pressed his fingers to Prompto's neck, letting out a breath when he felt a strong pulse.

Lifting the younger man's head up and getting a soft groan from the movement, he turned back to the fight. “Let's get this wrapped up,” he called out.

There was a cut off yelp from a sabertusk just before Noctis warped over to Gladio. “What happened?! Did he get hit? Is he hurt?” he asked, eyes frantically searching Prompto's body for some sort of wound.

“He passed out, probably from the heat,” Gladio said simply. “Stay with him while Iggy and I finish off the rest of the sabertusks.”

Noctis nodded and moved to cradle Prompto's head.

Prompto groaned and rubbed at his face just as Gladio left. He squinted at the sunlight, moving a hand up to shield his eyes.

“Hey,” Noctis said softly, thumb brushing over his cheek. “You alright?”

Blinking, Prompto shook his head. He winced when he heard the final sabertusk whine, a pathetic cry that was abruptly cut off, leaving only the soft wind and the thudding of shoes as Ignis and Gladio made their way back over.

“Prompto? Are you hurt?” Ignis asked, crouching down to his level. He slid an arm behind the blond's back and helped him to sit up straight, Noctis keeping his hand between his shoulders for support. “Did you hit your head?”

Prompto frowned. He touched the back of his head, feeling dirt underneath his fingertips. “I don't think so.” He dropped his hand back to his lap and looked between the three men. “It... it was...” He paused, taking a breath. “It was too much,” he admitted, eyes downcast.

“Too much?” Gladio asked.

Prompto nodded. “I thought I could handle the-” He faltered, words cutting off.

“The live targets?” Ignis asked, looking over to the creatures. Their bodies were fading as he watched, the phenomenon still a mystery to humanity.

Daemons, most people knew, were reconsituted upon death or sunrise into the starscourge that filled the world, eventually being reformed on a new night, in a new location, but the rest of Eos' creatures? Not even the top Lucian scientists knew presicely where they went upon death.

Turning back to the younger man, he saw Prompto nod softly, eyes averted away from the dissapating bodies.

“At least you didn't puke,” Gladio said, helping Prompto to stand. There was humor in his voice as he spoke, attempting to ease Prompto's nerves. “First time Noct ever did a hunt, he puked up his lunch all over his shoes. He was forced to throw them away before Cor would even let him get close to the truck.”

“Hey! I thought we agreed to never mention that again!” Noctis whined, shoving at Gladio's bicep.

“You agreed,” Gladio teased, grinning at the prince.

Noctis shoved him once more before pulling Prompto away from Gladio, arm slipping around his waist, leading him away and back towards Hammerhead. “Let's leave him in the desert,” he stage whispered, leaning in close. “It's what he deserves for bringing up traumatic memories.”

Prompto opened his mouth to argue, to say he didn't want to leave Gladio behind, when Gladio spoke.

“Y'know we're only twenty minutes from town, right? And I have the most survival training of the four of us.” He had his arms crossed over his chest and a look of faux annoyance on his face. “In fact, I'd probably beat the three of you back to Hammerhead with time to spare.”

“Is that a bet?” Noctis goaded.

Prompto shook his head even though he knew the question wasn't for him. He didn't want them to split up. He wasn't even sure how they could split up if they were all going to the same place and in the same direction. He was saved from having to think too much about it by Ignis, who quickly put an end to the argument.

“We're not spliting up,” he told them firmly. “We're heading back to Hammerhead together where we shall clean ourselves up and check if Miss Aurum has made any progress on the Regalia.”

Noctis huffed out a breath, lip pouting out. “Yes, Iggy.”

“Sarcasm is not an attractive trait for a prince to have,” was the reply as Ignis turned to lead the way back to the little town.

“I like your sarcasm,” Prompto said, voice soft as he leaned into Noctis' touch. His head still mildly felt as if it was stuffed full of cotton fluff, thick but light and airy. He pulled his glasses from his face and wiped at his eyes, placing them back and pushing them up to the bridge of his nose.

Noctis squeezed his side as they picked up their pace, keeping in step just behind Ignis.

Gladio placed the small bag filled with sabertusk claws on the counter along side the hunt flyer. He grinned at the man in front of him as he counted out the gil for the successful hunt.

“A pleasure doing business with ya,” Gladio said. Hand held out, he took the notes and hi-elixir from the clerk. He turned and walked out of the shop, back over to Ignis, who took the gil and slipped it into his wallet.

“I believe one more hunt should cover the repair costs,” Ignis commented. “Not to mention, keep us occupied until the job is finished.”

Prompto made a small noise in the back of his throat at the thought of doing another hunt. He shifted on his feet, tensing briefly when Noctis took his hand.

“Hey. You don't have to take part in the hunt,” he said softly, thumb brushing over Prompto's knuckles. “If you don't think you can handle it.” He left the rest unsaid, allowing Prompto to decide.

Prompto gave him a weak smile. He saw Ignis and Gladio walking over, a new flyer in the latter's hand. “I... I want to try again,” he said, nodding to himself.

Ignis touched his shoulder, squeezing lightly. “If you feel like you're not up to the task, do not be afraid to let one of us know,” he told him.

Prompto nodded. “I will.”

They took the second hunt the following day.

Mesmenir, Noctis had told him.

The hunt was farther away than the sabertusks, almost a two hour walk, listening to both Noctis and Gladio complain about the lack of chocobos.

“Can chocobos even be 'out of order'?” Noctis asked. “They're animals, not machines.”

“It would seem the ranch may be having difficulties sending the birds out to the farther reaches of Lucis,” Ignis said.

It was, in Prompto's opinion, the most logical explanation.

Although, he did wonder how a ranch in Duscae, which he had seen on the map Ignis carried was a great distance away from Hammerhead, could even get the chocobos to them. Perhaps they had small stables dotted around Lucis for ease of access. But shouldn't he have seen one if that was the case?

He grunted when he walked into Ignis' back, rubbing at his cheeks where his glasses hit. Peering around the taller man, he stared wide eyed at the creatures in the distance.

They seemed to be horses, but at the same time, not. It was as if someone had been vaguely told what a horse looked like and then was forced to draw one, only taller and far more terrifying. There were five of them in the clearing, bone white and skeletal with a humongous horn jutting out of its forehead and curving right over its back. They were almost daemon like in their features and Prompto took a quick step back.

“You okay?” Gladio asked, cupping his elbow.

Looking up to Gladio, he swallowed thickly, nodding once. If he just thought of them as daemons, he should be fine. He turned his eyes back to the mesmenirs.

“We ready to do this?” Noctis called out, sword already in hand.

Taking one last steadying breath, Prompto nodded again and summoned his gun.

Just think of them as daemons, he told himself again, repeating it like a mantra in his head. Daemons. Daemons. Daemons.

He took aim and fired.

The closest mesmenir was knocked off balance just before Noctis' sword collided with its side, slicing a thick line through the flank. The other four scattered, only to be caught off guard by Gladio and Ignis, both working together to corral them into position.

Prompto lined up his next shot.

Daemons.

Chapter Text

Gladio clapped him on the back, voice a deep, happy rumble. “You did good, Blondie.”

Prompto glanced up to him, gun finally vanishing from his hands, and smiled back, weak and tired.

“Let's get back and claim the reward,” Noctis said, jogging over. He stumbled to a stop and bent over, hands on his knees and sweat coating his face and neck. “Just... just let me catch my breath first.”

“Thought you said you had 'stamina for days',” Gladio teased. He folded his arms over his chest and leaned forward, grinning down at the prince.

An arm slid around Prompto's waist, startling him as he came to realise his knees had started to shake. “Are you alright?” Ignis asked, fingers lightly gripping his shirt. “You look a tad faint.”

“'M fine,” he mumbled.

And he was. He didn't feel faint, just a little numb all over, and his feet felt like lead, heavy and stuck to the dirt. His fingertips had a loud static filtering through them, leaving them tingly and twitchy. His head was sluggish, weighted down on his shoulders and dropping lower and lower and – oh.

He blinked his eyes open, staring up unfocused into Ignis' eyes, the white-blue sky beyond, soft, thin clouds slowly drifting along.

“Back with us?” Ignis asked, helping him to sit. “Gladio, would you carry him until he's well enough to walk?”

Gladio, he saw, nodded and crouched down in front of him, his back to Prompto, hands held out. “Let's go, short stuff.”

“Piggy back ride?” Prompto asked, remembering how he made the same motions back in Galdin Quay.

“You got it,” Gladio replied, winking over his shoulder.

With Ignis' help, Prompto clambered onto Gladio's back, the older man's hands under his thighs, hefting him further up. Prompto wrapped his arms loosely around Gladio's neck and leaned heavily against his back, pressing his ear to his warm neck.

He could hear Gladio's heartbeat, strong and steady, and he closed his eyes, smiling.

Skeletal horses and their equally skeletal riders haunted Prompto's dreams. Their bony faces and deep, dark eyes sneering at him, sharp fingers jabbing at his sides, cutting into his skin. The sound of hooves on hard rock echoed through his ears, fast and loud.

They were coming closer and closer, the noise drowning out his heavy breathing.

Ropes snaked around his waist and shoulders and Prompto jumped, eyes snapping open, an icy cold sweat washing over him.

The room was still bathed in darkness; the weak light of the half moon barely making its way through the yellow patterened curtains over the bed. The ropes, he learned, were Noctis' arms wrapping around him and holding him close, Prompto's face nearly buried in the other man's chest. He could feel Noct's thumb brushing lightly, absentmindely, over his shoulderblade, but the man's breathing was remained steady and even.

Another hand landed on his hip, heavy and warm; Gladio turning towards him, not quite pressing close, but he could still feel his breath as it softly blew into his hair.

Closing his eyes again, Prompto snuggled closer, sliding his right arm over Noctis' waist, hand moving up the back of his shirt, clinging and bunching the soft fabric up.

He could still sense the skeletal creatures as he drifted back off to sleep, but they kept their distance, watching from the shadows of his mind.

The Regalia stopped just outside the garage, engine cutting off. Cidney stepped out of the vehicle, smushing her curls back down with her hat. “She's all set. Shouldn't have anymore problems but you're welcome to give us a call if anything happens,” she told Ignis, squinting slightly in the low sunlight. “So, cash or will the Crown be payin' for the job?”

“Cash, if you please. We aim to keep a low profile whilst outside the city,” Ignis anwered.

“Say no more,” she nodded. Leading the way over to a small room at the back of the garage; Ignis followed, Prompto in tow with Boco tucked safely under his arm.

The blond looked around the room, noting the organised desk that was half covered with metal trays full of paper, filing cabinets along the back wall, and a couple of photos lined up neatly next to them. He wasn't close enough to make out the details in the photos even with his glasses and ended up squinting, leaning forward.

Ignis touched his arm, gaining his attention, and Prompto straightened back up, looking away from the wall.

“Thank you again, Miss Aurum,” Ignis said, the keys to the car and folded up receipt in his hand.

Cidney hummed, leaning back against the desk, arms loose over her chest. “It's no problem. Give us a holler if ya have any more car trouble,” she smiled. “And take care of yourselves.”

Ignis gave her a polite nod while Prompto waved, grinning brightly as he followed the older man from the room.

The early morning sun was bright and already bordering on too hot as they stepped back out of the garage. Noctis was already leaning against the car, hat pulled low and rubbing at his eyes, Gladio on the far side, arms resting on the roof.

“Hey, Specs. Can I drive today?”

“And not arrive in Galdin Quay before the week's out?” Ignis quipped, opening the driver's side door.

“There's no fishin' spots between here and the quay, y'know,” Gladio chuckled, already climbing into the back seat.

Noctis huffed, shoulders hiking up to his ears in annoyance. “Shut up.”

Humming along to the music playing softly on the radio, Prompto sleepily rocked his head from side to side. He flapped Boco's wings to the beat, foot tapping lightly. Noctis was napping in the back seat, head pressed firmly into Gladio's side, wrapped up under his arm. Ignis was sipping on a cooled can of coffee, late afternoon sunlight making his skin glow golden and orange.

Prompto thought it was a good look. He wished he could capture it to always remember.

At the thought, the blond sat up and reached into his back pocket, producing a phone. Noctis had got him one, the same model as the other three men's, only a week after they had arrived in Insomnia. The prince had even loaded a few games he thought Prompto would like onto.

He quickly booted up the camera and turned to face Ignis again, ready to take a picture or three. “Aww, you moved,” he frowned, looking down to the phone in his hand, the screen now showing off the center console.

“My apologies,” Ignis said softly. “I was merely curious as to what you were doing.” He looked back to the road, placing the can in the drink holder, and smiled when he notice Prompto, once again, lifting the phone. “Do make sure you get my good side.”

“You don't have a bad side,” Prompto told him, tapping the screen. The colors weren't as vibrant as real life but he was still pleased with the result.

Twisting in his seat, seatbelt digging into his neck, Prompto took a picture of Noctis and Gladio in the back seat, the older man smiling softly over his book.

“Hey, check that out,” Gladio said suddenly, pointing past Prompto's head.

The car slowed, eventually coming to a stop, as the blond turned back, facing the front. A small herd of sabertusks was crossing the tarmac, paying the vehicle no mind. Prompto tensed, drawing his knees up when one glanced towards the car.

He jumped when Ignis' hand rubbed at his knee. “They won't bother us,” he said, trying to ease the blond's discomfort.

Prompto nodded slowly, still watching as the creatures continued on their way, disappearing into the hazy heat of the desert. He let out a breath, slouching heavily in his seat.

“Must have been lookin' for new huntin' grounds,” Gladio commented.

The car started forward again, quickly gaining speed. “Indeed.”

“People?” Prompto asked, looking between the two men. He heard Noctis groan in his sleep, saw him rubbing at his nose.

“No, other animals. Mostly small ones such as hares, fowl, and reptiles. Although, if they're feeling particulary brave, they've been known to go after anaks,” Ignis answered.

Prompto's eyes went wide. He knew how large anaks were from his data. Granted his data mostly informed him to be wary of their powerful kick as it can easily dent a soldier's chestplate, leaving them incapacitated or worse. He figured sabertusks only had a chance at taking one down because they were low enough to the ground to avoid most of the damage.

“Does it hurt?”

Prompto was crouched low, sitting on his heels, as he watched Noctis siphon out the bright lightning magic from the deposit at the base of the haven.

Noctis gave him a light shrug, fingers twitching around the sparks. “Not really. Just kinda feels like...” He paused, drawing his hand back to his chest and rubbing his palm. “Like static that got stuck to a sweater. A short, soft popping, almost. At least, that's what the lightning deposit feels like.”

“And the others?” Prompto asked. He stood and followed Noctis around the small hill. The fire deposit was tucked up close to the rock, glowing a soft red-orange.

Noctis hummed and held his hand out, as if to summon his sword but pulling the fire into his hand instead. “Fire is warm and makes my hand sweaty. Like, really sweaty,” he laughed. “And the ice one feels like I dunked my hand into the cooler and fished around the bottom for a soda.”

“Are there other elements? Earth or wind or something?” The fire ran out and Noctis shook his hand out, leading the way to the final deposit.

“I've never heard of them so probably not,” Noctis answered. A chill ran through his body as he started to take the ice magic in.

Prompto watched, enraptured, as Noctis' fingertips turned white, frost covering his nails, before he pulled his hand back, the magic no longer flowing, and blew on his hands. He hopped up quickly and bounded over, wrapping his hands around Noct's, rubbing the chilled fingers to warm them.

“Thanks,” Noctis said and curled his fingers, getting the feeling back into them. “Wish I could just store the magic like dad does, but I never did get the hang of that.”

“Isn't that what you were doing?” Prompto asked, folding his fingers closed over Noctis'.

Noctis shook his head. “Nah. I was storing it, but I still gotta use flasks so I can actually use the magic. Otherwise it just kinda sits inside me, doin' nothin'.”

Prompto released his hand once it started to sweat and the two moved back up to the haven floor, sitting at the edge, feet stretched out in front of them.

Noctis knocked his sneaker against Prompto's boot as he pulled a small crystal orb from the ether.

Watching closely as he transferred some of the stored magic into it, Prompto's mouth fell open, eyes wide. It glowed and lit up their faces from below, casting soft shadows, little flames wafting from the glass and licking at Noctis' fingers. He reached out slowly, fingers coming to a stop just inches away from the glass.

“It's not hot,” Noctis told him, moving his hand closer, letting the orb touch Prompto's fingertips. “All the heat is stored inside and the glass keeps it there.”

Prompto nodded, eyes still on the flask. He smoothed his fingers out and cupped it, Noct letting him hold it. It was cool to the touch, the same way a drinking glass would be. The outside of the flask was embossed with little swirls, covering the entire surface. “Are these runes? Like the ones on a haven?” he asked, finally looking back up to Noctis. He traced over the lines absentmindely.

“Kinda? They're not imbued with the power of the Oracle, though,” he asnwered, preparing another flask with the lightning magic he had collected. “Dad's the one who made these, but it's something all the Lucis Caelum kings and queens could do, from what he told me. Still haven't figured it out myself but I got time.” He went silent for a moment, a look a concentration on his face. Once the spell was finished, he flicked his wrist and the flask vanished back into the ether. “I mean, I only really just got the hang of warping a few months ago so I'm sure making a flask can't be that hard.”

“Wish I could warp,” Prompto said softly, handing the fire flask back to the other man. “It looks so cool.”

“It's not as fun as you're probably thinkin',” Noctis said, preparing the final flask.

Prompto frowned. What wasn't fun about throwing a weapon and appearing where it landed?

“The first time I tried warping, I barely moved two feet before throwin' up and passin' out,” Noctis explained. “Gladio has yet to let me live it down.”

“Two feet is stretching the truth a bit, don't ya think?” Gladio laughed, stepping up behind the two men.

Noctis scowled at him, vanishing the ice flask to the ether with practised ease.

The older man crouched between the and leaned in towards the blond, arm wrapping around his shoulder and putting on a stage whisper as he spoke. “He didn't even move from his starting point, just flickered blue for a second before-”

“What do you want, Gladio?” Noctis interrupted.

Gladio gave him a wide grin, eyes crinkling at the corner. “Dinner's ready.”

Ignis stared down at the shopping basket, mentally counting the number of potion bottles Noctis had tossed in. Twelve, thirteen, fourteen. “Do we really need so many?” he asked, eyes flicked back to the browsing prince.

Noctis only shrugged, placing the fishing magazine back in its spot on the shelf. He walked a few steps farther into the small shop, bending down to examine the rest of their healing items. “Better safe than sorry. Isn't that what you always say?”

He frowned at that, shaking his head in resignation. “Is there anything else we need?”

“How 'bout a phoenix down? Could come in handy,” he suggested, picking up one of the orange and yellow feathers.

“That is an expense we cannot afford,” Ignis told him as he weaved through the small aisles and up to the counter. “Let's purchase what we have already and be on our way. I'd like to get to Galdin Quay by tomorrow evening.”

Noctis groaned, standing back up and rubbing at his back. “Fine. C'mon, Prom,” he said, looping his arm through Prompto's. “Let's go wait in the car.”

Prompto went along easily, stepping back out into the soft early morning sunlight of Longwythe. “Hey, Noct?” he asked, looking over to his as they made their way over to the car, Gladio leaning against the side. He got a hum in response and continued speaking. “What were those drinks? The bottles looked weird.”

“Oh, they're potions,” Noctis said simply. He reached out and opened the car door.

Prompto was silent for a moment, eyes darting back to the shop. “Potions?”

Noctis nodded. “Yeah. They're a type of energy drink that I can use my magic to turn into a healing drink,” Noctis explained. “They work kinda like the healing herbs in King's Knight but inste...”

”Oh dear,” the sickeningly sweet voice cooed. Fingers trailed lightly over Prompto's thigh, smearing the still freely flowing blood over his skin. “Looks like we'll have to use a potion again.”

There was the sound of glass clinking, a bottle being unstoppered. Prompto's mind screamed, every memory of the man using one of his so-called potions on him rushing into his brain. He braced himself as best his immobile body would allow.

“Good thing I made one just in case,” the man said in a sing-song voice.

The prickly tingling came first, washing over his waist and legs. Then came the burning, fire licking at his skin as the open wound knit itself back together. He wanted to twist away from the pain, wanted to run, to hide, to-

“Prom? C'mon, Prom, wake up.”

Groaning, Prompto blearily opened his eyes. His vision was filled with four concerned faces. Why were there two Noctis' and two Gladio's. That wasn't right. The ground was hot under his hands, rough and scratchy.

“Good to have you back,” Gladio said.

He was raised up, warm hand a stark contrast to the cold sweat coating his back. His head swam and dropped forward, thudding back and forth.

“Did I say something wrong?” Noctis asked.

Prompto saw Noctis' hand hovering over his knee, wavering and almost afraid to touch. He shook his head once, clenching his eyes shut. He heard Noctis let out a sigh, hand finally settling on his knee. “Don't wanna,” he mumbled.

“Don't wanna what?” Gladio asked.

Shoes crunched over the asphalt and Prompto licked his lips. He took a breath, mouth open, before shaking his head again. He could still remember the feeling of when the smooth voiced man used what he called 'potions' on him. That burning sensation still prickling at his skin.

Pulling his knees and arms to his chest, Prompto shuddered and shook his head again as a wave of nausea came over him. His mouth watered and he swallowed, desperately trying to hold the feeling back.

Gladio's hand rubbed over his back, between his shoulderblades and down his spine. The heat and gentle pressure was nice and helped to soothe his stomach. He took in another deep, shaky, breath and looked back up. Ignis had joined them, crouched down on one knee beside Noctis.

“Feeling better?” he asked softly.

Prompto nodded.

“Think you can stand?”

He thought for a minute, concentrating on his toes, his fingers. They no longer tingled. He wiggled his toes in his boots, tensed the muscles in his thighs, raised his arms up, and nodded. Gladio shifted behind him, gripping him under the arms, and slowly got him to his feet.

Ignis reached out and placed a hand on his forehead then his cheek, glove held in the opposite hand. “You still feel quite cool.” He pulled his hand away and tugged the glove back on, looking over to the small motel. “We could possibly spare a day and stay in Longwythe if you're not feeling up to heading out.”

Prompto shook his head quickly. He leaned heavily into Gladio when the motion had his dizzy again. “'M fine. We can leave.”

Ignis watched him for a few seconds, head tilting just slightly. “If you are sure. Remember, it is a fairly long ride to the next haven but we can stop if you start to feel unwell again.”

“I'm sure,” he said, nodding resolutely.

The crackling of the fire filled the silence. Ignis turned in his chair, looking back into the open tent.

Prompto was fast asleep, loosely curled up on his side, Noctis lightly stroking his hair as he played on his phone, keeping the blond company. The pale blue light lit up the inside of the tent, casting soft shadows on the deep green canvas walls.

He turned back to the fire, leaning forward, elbows on his knees. “What happened today?” he asked, voice quiet.

Gladio shrugged, “Dunno really. Noct was talkin' about how he makes potions work when they were comin' over to the car. He just kinda froze up.” He, too, glanced back at the younger men. “It was like when Cidney talked about his armor.”

“Another flashback?”

Gladio nodded.

Ignis frowned, staring into the fire. “Do you think someone had used a potion on him in the facility? If it was the talk of potions that set him off...”

“Only Noct's family can make potions work like they do, though,” Gladio said. “Right? It's by usin' the crystal's magic, isn't it?”

“That's what I've been told, yes,” Ignis nodded.

The two fell into silence, both at a loss for who, other than a Lucis Caelum, could possibly make potions. If that was indeed what Prompto had reacted to.

Taking a short breath, Ignis spoke again. “For the time being, we should take care that Prompto does not have the need for one. If he were to become injured and in need, a panic attack is the last thing we'd want for him to have because we tried to administer a potion for his wounds.”

Gladio agreed, nodding once.

Chapter Text

Galdin Quay was as bright and stunning and warm as Prompto remembered. The salt of the ocean hit him full force as they pulled into the parking lot for the impressive Mother of Pearl hotel and restaurant, a light breeze ruffling his hair. He inhaled deeply, eyes closed, basking in the warmth.

He had had to restrain himself from standing up in the car when the ocean had first come into view, knowing Ignis would chastise him, as he was always doing to Noctis when the prince sat on the back of the car. And to Gladio when the man removed his seatbelt to stretch out, thinking Ignis wouldn't see it.

“We'll be taking the ferry first thing in the morning,” Ignis said, pocketing the keys and opening his door. “It's a long trip and we should all be well rested before leaving Lucis.”

“How long?” Prompto asked, stepping out of the car. Gladio followed after, closing both the doors behind him and stretching his arms over his head.

“If we can get a seat on one of the newer ferries, which typically run early in the morning, it should be just under a day. If not, then it will be almost two days,” Ignis explained.

“That means you gotta be up and awake by seven, Noct,” Gladio pointed out, getting a groan in response.

The man in question shuffled over to the steps leading to the boardwalk and Prompto hurried over, his legs slightly protesting the quick movement after having been sat for so long. “Is this the restaurant you mentioned before? The one with really good food?” he asked, linking arms with Noctis.

Noctis hummed softly, nodding. “And really expensive. At least, to most of the population.”

“Can we afford it?” he asked, glancing to the end of the boardwalk.

The hotel was sat out on the water, late afternoon sun reflecting and shining brightly. There was an island in the distant water, cutting into the horizon; jagged, sharp fingers of rock curving up towards the sky.

“As it so happens, we can,” Ignis answered, coming up beside the two men. “I made sure to set enough of our expenses aside when we left the city, and from the subsequent hunts at Hammerhead, to ensure we could stay one night before we leave.”

Noctis let out a loud yawn, rubbing at his eye. “Can't wait to finally get to Altissia,” he said, yawning again.

“I'm afraid you'll find passage to Altissia to be... lacking.”

The four men turned at the new voice, Prompto flinching when he saw the man standing on the boardwalk before them. His voice was unnerving, lilting and overly sweet. It made him think of pain, of burning, of false apologies.

The man was smiling, eyes narrowed and passing over them, analyzing them. He paused on the blond for the quickest of seconds before speaking again.

Prompto saw the man's lips moving but his ears were filled with a loud buzzing. His limbs tingled and shook. He only just felt a hand take hold of his arm and tug him along, away from the man, from Noctis and Gladio. Glancing up, he saw Ignis mouth something, eyes forward as he led the younger man into the hotel and across the lobby.

“...the night?”

Ignis' voice came back in focus, soft and soothing as he spoke to the man at the counter.

“There is a double room available,” the man said, typing on a computer. “For four, you said?”

Ignis nodded, “Yes, four adults.”

“Very well.” There was a click followed by a series of typing as Ignis gave his name, wallet already in hand.

Prompto glanced around the lobby as the older man paid, taking in the palm plants and lush flowering bushes in wide pots along the windows. The floors were a high shine and polished wood, warm brown in color. Large wicker fans hung from the ceiling, swirling slowly. He spotted a sign off to the right, by a wide set of double doors, that read 'Mother of Pearl Restaurant'. Through the door he could see tables filled with chatting people eating dinner, the soft glow of candles on the tables and warm lights above their heads.

“Shall we head to the room?” Ignis asked suddenly, taking the blond out of his musings of the surroundings.

“What about Noct and Gladio?” Prompto frowned, turning back towards the front doors. He couldn't see the other two men or the stranger from where he stood.

“I've given them the room number. They'll be along shortly.” Ignis took hold of Prompto's hand and gave him the smallest of tugs towards the left side of the lobby, away from the restaurant.

With one final look through the front doors, Prompto relented and followed after Ignis.

The walk to their room was short and Prompto noticed there were only a handful of doors in the hallway. He tried to picture what the hotel looked like from afar and remembered it was only a single story building. Noctis had said the restaurant itself was expensive but Prompto was wondering exactly how expensive. He knew businesses needed money to survive but how much business could a hotel with what appeared to be only eight rooms get?

A small beep sounded and Ignis opened he door they were stood in front of, revealing an open living space.

Prompto stepped into the room first, eyes focusing on the plush beds, and making his way over, dropping down and bouncing lightly.

“Are you feeling better?” Ignis asked, closing the door softly. “Would you like to talk about what happened outside?”

Prompto nodded and slid to the end of the bed. “I-” He closed his mouth and frowned, thinking back.

What had happened? He remembered the buzzing in his ears when the stranger looked at him, the glint in the man's eyes that scared him. No, scared wasn't the right word. Distressed. Something about the man had had Prompto feeling distressed, like he wanted to get away but was rooted to the floor, chained down, unable to escape his cold stare. But why?

“I don't know what happened?” he finally admitted, looking up at Ignis only to note the man had crouched on the floor in front of him. He took Ignis' hands in his, gnawing on his lip, trying to come up with some reason why the man had his feeling so off.

“Did you recognise the man?” Ignis asked, thumbs smoothing over the soft skin on Prompto's hands. “Or, rather, his voice? I know you said you had never seen anyone until you met us but you did hear the people working at the facility, correct? Was he among them?”

Prompto frowned deeper, eyes crinkling at the side and lips twisting. He looked up at Ignis, shoulders dropping. “I don't know? I don't think so?”

Ignis nodded and cupped Prompto's cheek, smiling softly. “Perhaps it was just the man's general vibe that set you off,” he suggested. “Even I noticed there was something off about him the second he spoke.”

A knock at the door had Ignis standing back up and stepping over, opening the door.

“Remind me to never talk to strangers again,” Noctis groaned as he walked into the room, Gladio behind him. He flopped down to the bed next to Prompto, pulling the blond down with him. “Especially ones as creepy as that dude.”

Prompto went willingly, pressing close to Noctis' chest and letting out a quiet hum.

“What happened after we left?” Ignis asked, looking between the two men. He flinched slightly when Gladio flipped a coin in his direction, but caught it with ease. A look of incredulous passed over his face. “An Oracle Ascention coin? This one is very old, from the time of the Mystic King, by the look of it. I wasn't aware these even still existed. Where did you get it?”

“Creepy dude tried to toss it at Noct,” Gladio replied.

Prompto peeked over Noctis' arm at the conversation.

“Did 'Creepy Dude' give a name?” Ignis asked, turning the coin in his fingers.

“Said he was 'a man of no consequence', whatever that means,” Noctis said. “Hopefully it means no repeat run-ins.”

“What's an Oracle Ascention coin?” Prompto asked curiously. He squirmed to try to sit up and Noctis released him, rolling to his stomach instead and hugging a pillow.

Ignis moved to sit on the bed beside him, holding out the coin. “It's a commerative coin that gets released every time a new Oracle is coronated,” he expained as Prompto took the coin, looking it over. On one side was the profile of a woman, hair an elegant updo and eyes closed. A pointed crown sat atop her head and Prompto thought it looked like icicles. “Generally, only a few dozen are made and members of the royal families of Lucis and Tenebrae are granted them but for both Lady Lunafreya and her mother, Queen Sylva, more were minted and sold to the public.”

Prompto nodded. “Who's the Mystic King?”

“One of Noctis' ancestors, and supposedly the first king of Lucis,” Ignis told him. When Prompto's face still showed confusion, Ignis went on. “He was a king from nearly two millenia ago, making this coin,” he pointed to the item in Prompto's hand, “very old indeed.”

“I don't even think my granddad ever saw a coin from that long ago,” Noctis added as he slotted in beside Prompto. He looked the coin over and continued. “Pretty sure the oldest in the vault is from around the time of the Clever Queen.”

Prompto handed the coin back to Ignis who stood and walked out to the patio, Gladio joining him. “Did your granddad have a special king name?” he asked, lying back on the bed with Noctis. “Or your dad?”

“I don't think so,” was the reply, Noctis closing his eyes and letting out a yawn.

“What about you? You'll be a king one day, will you have a special name?”

Noctis grunted, pulling Prompto into a hug. “Dad said I was chosen by the crystal when I was five so maybe I'd be the Chosen King?” he mused. “That sounds so narcissistic,” he laughed, shaking his head. “I don't really know what I was chosen for. I already knew I'd be a king, that comes with the whole royal lineage thing.”

“Maybe it's to end the war?” Prompto suggested.

“Could be.” He nuzzled closer, lips pressing to Prompto's neck. “Though I'd rather kiss you than talk about princely duties,” he mumbled.

Prompto hummed at the first kiss, angling his head back and giving Noctis more room to work. He squirmed and giggled when Noctis's lips reached the top of his throat, just under his ear.

Their bodies shifted on the bed and Noctis slid a leg in between Prompto's, thigh against thigh, hip against hip, as he leaned down for a proper kiss. Prompto wrapped his arms around Noctis' neck, pulling him in closer, his free leg rising up, foot on the bed. A hand trailed up his side, over his hip and under the hem of his shirt, warm fingers brushing over his skin.

Noctis pulled back enough to speak, nose still touching Prompto's. “This okay?”

Prompto nodded and lifted his head up, pecking him on the lips.

A grin followed and Noctis pressed back down, Prompto's mouth falling open and welcoming the far more intense kiss.

The first few times he had received a kiss with tongue had been jarring, not expecting the unfamiliar sensations of another's tongue touching his own. It had left his mouth feeling itchy, which Noctis had later stated he had felt the same way when he first experienced an Altissian kiss. Prompto was used to the feeling now and, although it still left his tongue feeling tingly, he liked the way it made his body heat up, the way it made him feel all the more closer to his boyfriends.

Noctis' hand travelled higher up, bunching his shirt up, fingers smoothing over his stomach and up to his chest.

Prompto let out a soft moan, flushing brightly.

“While I am glad to see you're feeling better,” Ignis started, catching the two off guard. They broke away and watched as Ignis moved towards the room's phone. He picked up a leather bound book from the desk, thumbing through it. “Shall we leave such acts until after dinner?”

“It's called 'working up an appetite',” Noctis joked. He leaned back down and placed another kiss on Prompto's jaw.

“You mean 'working up a sweat',” Gladio tossed back. He knocked his fist against Noctis' boots. “Boots off the bed.”

Noctis grumbled and pulled away, Prompto sitting up with him. He flushed again, this time in embarrassment over having left his shoes on.

“Now, as for dinner,” Ignis said, perusing the menu. “How does the white fish sound?”

Prompto nodded eagerly, excited to finally try the food the restaurant had to offer. He held his boots in his hand only for Gladio to take them, placing them by the wardrobe next to the door. Noctis' boots were dropped next to them.

“Sounds good to me,” Noctis agreed.

“There's been an... incident.”

Prompto woke to those words, Ignis speaking in hushed tones as if he feared being heard.

“Incident?” Gladio's voice was nearly drowned out by the crinkling of paper.

He heard a gasp, more paper crinkling, Noctis groaning softly in his sleep beside Prompto. He tried to focus on the soothing beat of Noctis' heart and not the pained tone in the other two men's voices.

“When?” Gladio asked, and Prompto could hear a crack in his voice. Something bad must have happened.

Ignis took a breath and Prompto pictured him looking at Gladio, calm and collected. “Last night.” His voice was anything but calm or collected.

Prompto shifted his legs, one having fallen asleep from pressure, and the two men fell silent.

“Prompto, are you awake?”

He let out a small breath and pushed himself up in bed. Noctis groaned again and grabbed the cover, pulling it over his shoulder. There was a newspaper in Gladio's hand. Prompto couldn't read it from where he stood by the patio door.

Grabbing his glasses, Prompto rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and put them on, finally taking in his boyfriends' faces. Something bad definitely happened.

“Wake up Noct,” Ignis said. “You both need to hear the news.”

Prompto nodded slowly and turned. He shook Noctis by the shoulder, getting a grunt and sleepy eyes staring at him.

“Wha? Too early,” Noctis complained, trying to roll over, taking the cover with him.

“Noctis, you need to get up.”

The prince stopped at the strange tone in Ignis' voice. He sat up and stared, forehead creasing with worry. Sitting up straighter, he asked, “What? What's happened?”

Ignis gave Gladio a nod and the man walked over, newspaper in hand. The temperature of the room felt like it plummeted, dropping from the stifling summer heat to a cold, harsh chill when the headline came into view.

INSOMNIA FALLS.

The room was silent save. Prompto could only hear the thudding of heart in his chest. He was surprised it hadn't stopped as he read on.

The King and his council were reported dead. The Empire had used the treaty as a ruse to get into the Crown City. The article went on about how the wall surrounding the city, the one held up with the magic of the crystal, was nowhere to be seen. The city was in ruins, having been overrun with daemons when night fell. The number of dead and injured was unknown.

“He knew,” Noctis whispered. The paper dropped to the bed between his legs. “He knew and he chose to save us instead of himself. Instead of the citizens.”

“That's not entirely correct,” Ignis cut in, sitting at the foot of the bed. He ignored Noct's glare. “King Regis had evacuation plans for the city.” Grabbing it from the coffee table, he pulled a second, smaller newspaper over. It was dropped on top of the first, Ignis pointing out the article. “Most of the citizens were able to evacuate the city before the treaty. It was kept quiet lest the Empire found out his plans.”

Noctis frowned down at the paper before turning to look at Ignis. “But you knew about it?”

Ignis nodded.

“We need to go back,” Noctis said, jumping up out of bed. The movement startled Prompto, the blond gripping the cover and watching.

“There's nothing in the city for us, Noct,” Ignis stated.

“Going back will only put you in danger of being caught by the Empire,” Gladio added. “And we need to get you to Altissia.”

“I don't care.” Noctis stalked over to the wardrobe and tugged his boots on.

“Noctis, stop,” Ignis insisted, grabbing him by the wrist. Noctis tried to pull away only for Ignis to strengthen his hold. “Your father put this plan into motion. He knew the risks, the potential outcomes. He got you out of the city to keep you safe. Don't put yourself in unnecessary danger by going back.”

Prompto watched as Noctis' shoulders dropped, as the fight went out of his body. The prince was pulled into a tight hug by Ignis, hands gripping the taller man's shirt tightly. A hand on his own shoulder had him jumping, heart racing, only to let out a breath of relief when he saw it was Gladio coming to sit beside him.

Gladio's thumb stroked his cheek, coming back wet and shiny from tears. He didn't remember when he had started crying. “C'mere,” he said, voice soft and gentle.

Arms wrapped around Prompto's body, holding him close. Gladio rubbed at his back as silent tears fell. He didn't know King Regis well, only having met him a few times, each time less scary that the last, but he knew Noctis cared for his father. He also knew he had no idea how hard Noctis was taking the news.

After a few minutes of relative silence in the room, he pulled back, staring up at Gladio. “What about you?” he asked, getting a raised eyebrow in return. “Y-your dad was there too, wasn't he?”

Gladio let out a quiet breath and shook his head, eyes downcast. “I'll be okay, promise,” he said. “It's a shield's duty to protect their King or Queen or die trying.”

When Prompto returned the favor and pulled him in for a hug, Gladio chuckled faintly, carding his fingers through his blond hair and pressing a kiss to the top of his head.

“We'll all be okay,” the older man whispered.

Noctis slept right up until it was time to check out of the hotel. His eyes were red and rimmed with dark circles when they exited the building and made their way to the port.

A temperary sign was posted just in front of a chain that cut right through their path.

“All ferries suspended until further notice,” Ignis read out, annoyance in his voice. “This will make things more difficult.”

“Any chance you can get in touch with Lady Luna and tell her were gonna be a little late?” Gladio asked.

Noctis shook his head, glaring angrily at the sign. “Not unless Umbra shows up again.”

Prompto looked around, seeing the annoyed and exhasperated faces of the numerous people at the port. A small girl was crying, being coddled by her mother. A young boy was complaining loudly, stamping his foot on the ground while his parents tried to calm him down.

A small grey dog bounded through the travellers. A small black bandana was wrapped around his front leg and there was a satchel fitted to his body. It looked familiar as it wandered over to them, barking happily.

Noctis glanced over at the bark, eyes scanning the crown before they fell upon the dog and a smile graced his face.

“That dog has some super sonic hearing,” Gladio laughed, following after Noctis as he was led away from the bulk of the crowd. “Or he's a telepath.”

“In any case, he really knows where to find us,” Ignis said, taking Prompto's hand.

“That was terrible, Iggy,” Gladio said, laughing again.

Prompto frowned at the statement, wondering why it was terrible. It took him a minute - the group having stopped while Noctis wrote something down in the little notebook, placing a sticker below the words - until he understood. Dogs use their noses to find things. It had been a joke. “I don't think it was terrible,” he said.

Ignis smiled at him. “Thank you, Prompto. At least someone appreciates my puns.”

“Iggy's making puns again?” Noctis asked, coming back over to the group. He had his hands in his pockets, looking between the three men. “I told Luna we can't take the ferry so we'll have to find another route. I also said I'd keep her updated if I can.”

“Let's hope we don't keep her waiting too long,” Ignis said.

Chapter Text

Prompto flicked through the photos on his phone, zooming in and out, deleting the ones that were too out of focus, the ones that had too much motion blur, and the ones that were just of the ground or sky. He hummed softly when Noctis shifted against him, head resting heavily on his shoulder, quietly commenting on his favorite pictures.

The car was mostly silent as they slowly made their way back north, upon Noctis' request to confirm the reports in the newspapers and radio. He had said he needed to see the city with his own two eyes and, after a long discussion, Ignis finally gave in to him. Gladio had been the one who mentioned a cliff across the way from Insomnia, one with a clear view of the city, and that was were they were headed.

It had been a long drive before they reached the spot, turning onto a small dirt road a mile or so before the city checkpoint. The sun far into the western sky but no less blistering hot when they stepped out of the car.

“I didn't know there used to be a town this close to the city,” Noctis commented. He stared up at the ruins of buildings; red brick walls shattered and broken, windows completely blown out, and any visible wood burnt black. “Always thought Hammerhead was the closest.”

“Just another casuality in this war,” Ignis said softly. “Let's hurry. I'd rather the Empire not learn of our location.”

Noctis nodded and turned back to the path that led through the small town, up the hillside. Gladio grabbed his arm roughly, tugging him behind a wall and to his chest.

“MTs,” the shield whispered, peering out quickly. “Looks like they expected us to take this path once we found out the bridge wasn't an option.” His broadsword shimmered into his hand.

“We gotta take 'em out if we wanna-” Noctis cut himself off when he spotted Prompto, standing just to Ignis' side, gun in hand and looking not so ready to fight. “Shit. Prom.”

“I can fight,” Prompto insisted, hands tightening around the gun. “They're... they're not human anymore.” He knew that, knew that once the clones were turned into the units they ceased to be human, ceased to truly be alive any longer. Destroying them would be for the best. It's what he would want. A hand on his shoulder drew him out of his thoughts and he blinked, focussing on the person in front of him. On Noctis.

“You don't have to fight them if you don't want to,” Noctis told him.

Gladio nodded behind him, looking back around the wall at the patrolling units. “We'll make it quick.”

The fight was anything but 'quick' in Prompto's opinion.

He hung back, stayed under cover, and watched as the other three men fought. Gladio cleaved an MT in half, pink sparks and an inhuman wail leaving the unit before it evaporated in a puff of black smoke. The ease that Gladio had performed the feat had Prompto's stomach churning.

He had gotten so caught up in watching the fight, watching Noctis zip around in a blue blur, Ignis slash and hack and dodge attacks thrown at him, Gladio destroy unit after unit, that he missed the lone Magitek Soldier ambling over to his hiding spot.

The unit's sword slammed into the wall, cracking the bricks on the edge of the building and striking Prompto on the side. He yelped in pain, stumbling backwards and onto his side, falling to the dusty ground. The MT turned its face to him, red eyes glowing softly in the sunlight, and yanked its sword from the wall. Bits of brick thunked to the ground and Prompto quickly resummoned his gun. He fired six times, emptying the barrel as the unit raised its arm, preparing for another attack. It jerked back as each bullet connected with its torso, sparks flying out and a sharp metallic scent filling the air.

Prompto stared, wide eyed, at the unit. A shout sounded, followed closely by the sound of glass shattering, and he yelled in horror when a sword erupted from the unit's chest.

The MT crumpled to the ground, metal clanging and scraping off itself, until it dissolved into nothingness. Noctis stood in its wake. His sword vanished and he dropped to his knees in front of the blond.

He was saying something but Prompto's ears were only filled with the loud thudding of his own heart and the searing ache in his side.

“Shit, shit, shit!”

He heard Noctis curse, voice barely filtering through the throbbing in his head. The cut on Prompto's side was touched and he hissed in pain, teeth clacking together.

“It's okay, you'll be okay,” Noctis told him. His voice was a pitch higher than usual. “It's not deep, just a scratch. You'll be fine.”

He was pulled up, Noctis helping him to lean against the wall. He could no longer hear the sounds of battle happening and, pushing his glasses back into place, looked around. Gladio and Ignis hurried over, weapons nowhere to be seen.

“How it is?” Ignis asked, crouching down on Prompto's other side. His voice was calm and soothing. It helped Prompto's nerves tremendously.

The cut on his side still stung, Noctis holding his shirt out of the way as he carefully touched it. “Should be fine if we just clean and bandage it,” he said, eyes turning to the older man.

Prompto wondered what the look he gave Ignis meant, a small crease of his brow and frown. A short shake of Ignis' head was the only response. “What about the units?” he asked, eyes moving over to Gladio stood a short distance away, keeping an eye on their surroundings.

“They're gone. We got them all,” Ignis told him. He pulled a small white box from the ether, a red plus sign on the lid. “Are you alright, Prompto? Were you struck anywhere else?”

Prompto shook his head. He couldn't remember being hit anywhere except his side and told Ignis as much.

“Good. That's good,” he said, letting out a small breath and smiling. “Let's get you patched up. It's not that much farther to the cliff, according to Gladio.”

The trek up to the cliff was filled with more Magitek Soldiers.

Prompto stayed in the back, near Gladio who kept bringing out a shield to block bullets. Prompto would peer out from behind it and fire off a few shots himself. He could hear when he hit his target, the loud shriek sending a full body shiver through him every time.

“You're doin' great, Prom,” Gladio said, giving him a pat on the shoulder. “We're almost there.”

Prompto nodded and fought down a shudder as another MT fell to Ignis' lance. He squinted and turned his head away, hiding behind the shield to breathe. The cut on his side twinged.

“That's the last of 'em,” Noctis called, warping back down from the ledge. “I can see the edge of the cliff from here.”

The shield vanished back to the ether, along with his gun, and Gladio pulled Prompto to his side. “You okay, Prom?”

He nodded and finally looked around the small valley. It was clear of any bodies, all having disintergrated upon death. Gladio started to walk forward, following after Ignis and Noctis further up the valley. He led Prompto, arm loose around his waist and pace slow, easy for the blond to keep up with. He winced as the cut on his side twisted and pulled from the movements.

They reached the precipice shortly after Noct and Ignis and Prompto saw how stiff the former's body was. Across the water was the city, dark and quiet, smoke drifting up from behind the solid wall. The magic wall was gone, its tell tale shimmering blue a distant memory. A fleet of airships loomed on the horizon, drifting around the once bright city.

Prompto stared in horror, mouth open and eyes wide. Ignis had once told him millions of people lived in Insomnia – “Eight point three million, give or take a few thousand,” he remembered Ignis telling him. “From every background and country, including refugees from Niflheim itself.”

When he found his voice to speak, to ask what happened to any citizens who couldn't escape, a phone rang, Noctis quickly pulling the device from his pocket. He swiped at the screen and put the phone on speaker.

“Cor? What happened?” he demanded, turning away from the ruined city. “Is dad-” he cut himself off, holding a hand to his mouth.

”I have not been able to contact him or Clarus,” Cor said, voice crackly with static. ”His Majesty sent me from the city before the attack to search out the locations of the tombs of your ancestors.”

Noctis frowned, “My ancestors tombs? Why would he have you look for them?”

The line was silent.

“Cor?”

”We need to talk in person,” Cor finally said. ”I'll be at the Prairie Outpost west of Hammerhead. Meet me there as soon as you can.” The line clicked and Noctis was left staring at it, dumbfounded.

Noctis shoved the phone back into his pocket and crossed his arms, brow creased and mouth in a thin line. Ignis stepped over to him and rubbed the back of the prince's neck.

“What's the Prairie Outpost?” Prompto asked Gladio quietly. He could tell Noctis needed a moment to think and tried to keep his voice as soft as possible.

“It's a small town for hunters. Somewhere they can rest and get a meal while they're out on a hunt,” Gladio explained.

“A hunt? Like the ones we did in Hammerhead?”

Gladio nodded. He turned to Ignis and Noctis, raising his voice to be heard. “If we can make it to Hammerhead tonight, we should be able to reach the outpost by tomorrow evening,” he said.

Ignis looked towards the slowly setting sun and frowned. “I'm afraid we may only manage to make it to a haven tonight. The MTs took far longer than I would have liked.” He hummed to himself, fingers on his chin. “Noct?”

“I'm not waiting.” Noctis started back for the valley. “We're gettin' to Hammerhead tonight, even if we have to fight through the daemons.”

“Noct, Prompto is injured, in case you forgot,” Gladio snapped, pulling the blond closer to his side. “He can't run and carryin' him will only aggravate the wound.”

Prompto shook his head at the words and turned towards Gladio, touching his chest. “I'm fine. I can keep up,” he insisted.

Noctis turned back around, facing the three men. He looked between Prompto and Ignis, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides.

Ignis shook his head at the unasked question and Noctis' shoulders slumped.

“If he uses one then we don't have to worry,” he said, one hand raised as if to pull something from the ether.

“We agreed that we would only use one in the case of an emergency,” Ignis countered.

Prompto frowned at the two of them, puzzled by their argument. He guessed it had to do with him and his injury but in what context, he didn't know. When he looked back to Noctis, the other man held a small bottle in his hand. A bottle he remembered seeing Noctis buy when they had gone through Longwythe on their way south to Galdin Quay.

He shook his head rapidly, trying to squirm out of Gladio's grip. His side burned with the motions but he ignored the pain.

“Prom, calm down,” Gladio said, releasing him from his hold. “Put it away, Noct.”

The bottle vanished back into the ether and Noctis dropped his arm back to his side. He kept his distance from the blond, a worried look on his face at the reaction.

Prompto stopped a few feet back from Gladio, eyes darting between them. “Don't,” he whimpered, pulling his arms around his body. He could feel the panic easing off inside him once the bottle was gone. “Hurts.”

“A potion is meant to heal, not hurt,” Ignis said softly and Prompto's eyes snapped over to him. He had yet to move from his spot. “Noctis uses the power of the crystal to change the composition of the drink into a type of magic that is meant to soothe and mend wounds.”

Prompto shook his head, refusing to believe the words. “No, it hurts.”

“Whatever was used on you before wasn't a potion,” Noctis said, a scowl on his face. “Only my family, my dad and I, can even create them.”

“But... he called it a potion, and it hurt.”

“The man at the facility?” Ignis asked. “The one they called 'Sir'?”

Prompto nodded. He clutched at his stomach, panic welling back up at the thought of the man and his 'potions' that were made of fire and torment.

“Noctis, hand me a potion, please,” Ignis said.

Prompto flinched at the request and took another step back once the bottle returned to Noctis' hand.

Ignis took the bottle and held it firmly in his hand, looking towards the blond. “I can assure you Noct's potions are not painful, having used them a fair few times myself after sparing matches that left me with far too many bruises than I would have liked,” he said carefully. “They have a certain... minty and refreshing aftertaste, so to speak. Unlike King Regis', which were always more of a sweet vanilla.”

Noctis shrugged at the words, rubbing his neck. “I prefer mint to vanilla,” he muttered.

“Albeit, the feeling of a wound being stitched up can be unpleasant the first few times, it has never once been painful,” Ignis continued.

“It's more of a tickling, featherlight sensation,” Gladio added, arms crossed loosely over his chest.

Ignis nodded. “While I will not force you to use one, I would advise it at the very least to prevent your injury from tearing open and causing you more pain. The choice is yours.”

“We'll camp at a haven tonight if you really don't wanna use one,” Noctis told him. “Cor'll understand.”

Prompto bit his lip, eyeing the bottle in Ignis' hand. The low sunlight glinted off the glass, showing off the pale green liquid inside. He had never seen the so-called potions the man from the facility had used and wondered if they came in similar bottles,; if they, too, were green in color. He glanced over his shoulder to the dark city beyond the water. “It... it really doesn't hurt?” he asked, voice only a whisper.

“I promise,” Ignis replied, giving him a small nod and a kind smile.

He shifted on his feet for a few more seconds. He knew he'd need to make a decision fast if they were to make it back to Hammerhead, over three hours away, before the daemons sprung up from the ground. Taking a slow, deep breath and letting it out in a rush of air, he held his hand out for the bottle. It was placed in his hand. A soft tingle came over his fingers, the glass warm beneath them.

“Squeeze your hand and the bottle will shatter,” Gladio explained. “It won't hurt you, the glass is connected to the crystal and will disentergrate instantly.”

Prompto stared in awe of the explanation, looking down at the bottle in his hand. The liquid swished around gently and he braced himself. Closing his eyes and squeezing his hand tightly, he felt the glass crack underneath his fingers until it completely broke and the potion ran down over his fingers for a few seconds.

He could feel the cut on his side tingle, a similar feeling to when one of his boyfriends would brush their fingers over his skin. Pleasant and warm and comforting. The taste of peppermint filled his senses, just as Ignis said it would, and left his mouth cold.

He opened his eyes once the chill had passed and saw all of his boyfriends' eyes were on him, waiting for his verdict on the potion. He twisted his shoulders a few times and scrunched his mouth up. “It felt weird,” he said, looking down to his hands. They were both clean, like the potion never spilled over them. “But a good weird?”

“I'll take good weird over bad any day,” Noctis smiled and stepped over. “How does your side feel?”

Prompto touched his side, poking gently. He could still feel the bandage under his shirt but the pain was gone. “It's better.”

“Good, good,” Noctis sighed. “Let's get outta here and back to Hammerhead.”

“Hey, Iggy. Have you been able to get in touch with your parents or uncle?” Noctis asked. He rubbed at Prompto's ankles, resting over his lap as the two lounged on the bed in the back of the car.

Gladio perked up at the question, head tilting towards the man as he drove down the deserted road to the outpost.

“I have not, unfortunately,” Ignis told him. Prompto could see the frown on his face from his spot, the worried crease on his forehead and the way his hands tightened on the wheel. “I have tried their cells a few times since leaving Galdin Quay but they have yet to answer.”

“But it goes through?” Gladio asked.

Ignis nodded silently.

“That's got to be a good sign,” Noctis said.

Ignis didn't speak for a few seconds and only the sound of the car's engine filling the silence. “I sincerely hope so,” he said softly.

Prompto wondered what kind of people Ignis' parents and uncle were. They were probably kind and gentle like Ignis himself. He hoped they made it out of the city.

A dozen ramshackle houses formed a semi-circle around the outpost, a large open shed in the center filled with massive machines lining the walls. Across the way was a small shack that doubled as a produce stand, a truck with dozens of weapons inside beside it. Just outside the circle was a tall metal tower. Two people sat atop the platform on the tower, ever watchful eyes on the horizon.

The four men entered the open shed and Prompto could hear the loud hum from the machines as they powered the strong, bright lights that protected the little outpost.

“Monica? I thought we were meeting the Marshal here,” Gladio said, stepping over to a woman.

It took a moment, but Prompto remembered her from when he first arrived at the Citadel. The woman who had met them as they exited the car, letting them know the King had been waiting for them.

“He's scoping out the tomb up the hill,” Monica said, nodding her head in the direction of a chain-link fence.

“This late at night?” Ignis gasped. “Isn't that dangerous, even for the Marshal?”

“Do you doubt my ability to take care of myself?” The voice came from just outside the shed, preceeding Cor as he entered the building.

Ignis shook his head. “Not in the slightest, but we all know the daemons have been growing stronger as of late.”

“Any word from dad?” Noctis interrupted, stepping in front of Ignis and over to Cor.

A small shake of the head was his answer and Noctis deflated, shrinking back to Prompto's side. The blond wrapped his arm around Noctis' waist, giving him a light squeeze.

“It's good to see you're all doing well,” Cor said. He moved to sit at a small table, Gladio and Ignis following suit. Prompto and Noctis stayed standing and the former fidgeted under the Marshal's gaze. “You have a long journey ahead of yourselves, one that starts tomorrow. While King Regis did not let me in on his whole plan, he did inform me that the powers of your ancestors will be needed in this fight. That starts with you collecting their weapons and, in turn, their powers. Two are here, near this outpost. One in a tomb a mile up the hill behind us and another in an abandoned mine called Keycatrich Trench.”

Ignis and Gladio nodded at the information. “How many tombs are there?” Gladio asked. “And how long of a journey are we talkin' about here?”

Cor looked to the man, a slight frown on his face. “Through Monica's research, we've found there are thirteen tombs that should still be accessible. Where they all are is still shrouded in some mystery.”

“Which is why we're investing in the help of hunters to find the rest,” Monica added. “They can cover more ground while they're out and, if they happen to locate any tombs, they are able to mark their locations and bring that information back to us.”

“Which will then be relayed to us?” Ignis asked. He had brought out his small notebook, pen writing furiously.

Cor gave him a nod. “We need to start early tomorrow-”

“Not three in the morning again, please,” Noctis whined.

Cor ignored the prince and stood from his chair. “Meet me here at dawn. We have a long day ahead of us.”

Chapter Text

“What kind of weapons did your ancestors use?” Prompto asked curiously. He swung his feet back and forth, heels knocking lightly off the wooden crate he was sat on. His phone was in his hand, camera opened and displaying his knees.

Noctis shrugged at the question, closing one eye and lining up the dartboard. “All kinds really, dammit,” he cursed softly when the dart hit the edge of the board. “I think most used swords, like Gladio and I do, but dad once told me of a king who used a crossbow and a queen who used this gigantic shuriken. Bet that would have been awesome to see. Yes!” He clenched his fist when the dart found its target: the bullseye.

Prompto quickly snapped a picture of his achievment, smiling softly. “Does that mean you'll get a crossbow and a shuriken?”

“Probably,” Noctis nodded. He walked over to the blond and leaned against the crate beside him. “If their tombs are among the ones that can be found.”

“Why aren't the tombs in Insomnia?” Prompto asked after a moment. “Isn't that where all the kings and queens ruled from?”

Noctis frowned at that, head tilting to the side and leaning against the other man's side. “I don't know,” he replied. “Maybe they just wanted the seclusion?”

“Or maybe they didn't want tomb raiders robbing their graves,” Gladio put in, startling the younger men as he stepped up behind them.

“Tomb raiders?” Prompto twisted in his spot to look over at the man, following him as Gladio walked around the crate to face them. “Like in that video game?”

“Somethin' like that,” Gladio chuckled. He reached out and ruffled Prompto's hair, getting his hand batted away as the blond quickly brushed it back down. “Just less flashy moves and nefarious deads by secret organizations and more just people lookin' to score some quick cash sellin' old relics. C'mon, kids. Iggy says its time for dinner then bed.”

Prompto hopped off the crate, taking Noctis' hand in his. “What about guns? Did any of the old kings and queens use them?” he asked. Gravel crunched underneath their boots as they walked over to the caravan.

“Guns are more of a recent thing in Lucis. I think we only started using them in my granddad's time, maybe sixty or seventy years ago,” Noctis said. “And Niflheim was the first country to even use them. I think they invented them so Lucis didn't really have access to the weapon.”

“But you do now? Why's that?”

“It was part of a trade agreement with Accordo,” Gladio answered in place of Noctis. “Even now, they're still a neutral country in the war so they have trade agreements with Lucis, Niflheim, and even Galahd before the empire attacked and destroyed the country almost thirty years ago. Because of their neutrality, they were able to get access to the blueprints for a lot of Niff tech and guns were one of those blueprints. Then we traded with Accordo for the information and now we can also manufacture and use firearms.”

Prompto nodded, fascinated by the information. He climbed up the steps into the caravan just as Ignis was plating up their dinner, the warm yellow of the overhead light giving the small kitchenette a soft feeling. He wondered about the country of Galahd and if he could ever visit one day. He had briefly learned of it while in Insomnia, but his knowledge only extended to knowing it was a large island chain to the northeast of the city and it was known to have the most lush and beautiful rainforests in the whole of Lucis.

“These look good, Iggy,” Gladio grinned, picking up a skewer of meat.

Looking down at his own plate, Prompto saw three skewers of the same meat with a shiny, dark glaze dripping off the sides. They did look really delicious and a quick taste proved that fact.

“Thank you, Gladio. A local hunter gave me the recipe,” he explained, sitting across from Noctis. “He even provided the anak meat for a small fee.”

Six in the morning rolled around faster than Noctis liked, followed by the sounds of the shower running and Ignis puttering around the kitchenette. He heard the soft metallic clang of a pan being placed on the stove, the clicking of the gas burner being switched on, and rolled over towards the center of the bed.

Light blue eyes stared sleepily at him when he dared to crack his own eyes open. He shifted closer to Prompto, wrapping his arm over his waist. “Sleep okay?” he asked.

A nod was the answer. Prompto curled in on himself and yawned wide. “Yeah, no bad dreams or anything.”

“Good. That's good,” Noctis smiled. “How long you been awake?”

“Gladio woke me when he got out of bed, so about five minutes,” Prompto replied.

Noctis smirked and moved closer, pressing his face into Prompto's neck, lips brushing agasinst the skin as he spoke. “Were you watching me sleep the whole time?” he teased.

He felt the blond tense, a nervous energy coursing through him. “N-no! I wasn't!” he exclaimed, flustered and squirming in Noct's hold. “I-oh! Rude,” he huffed when Noct started snickering, shoving lightly at his shoulders.

Noctis raised his head when his laughter subsided and placed a kiss on Prompto's lips.

“You look so peaceful when you sleep,” Prompto hummed when he pulled back.

“So you were watching me,” Noctis laughed again, rolling over when the blond once again shoved him away.

“Breakfast will be ready in a few moments,” Ignis said, poking his head into the room. “We'll be meeting up with the Marshal in roughly thirty minutes so if either of you would like a shower before then, you'd best get out of bed now.”

It took over an hour to hike up the path to the tomb. There was a quick fight with a handful of daggerquills – two of which Ignis stored away in the ether for later - when it finally came into view and the tomb was nothing like Prompto expected. It was more of a mausoleum, a pure white domed building, accenting black stone lining the edges, with a few still vertical columns lining the walkway. A heavy black door blocked their path into the building and Cor strode over to it, producing a key from his jacket pocket.

Noctis followed closely after him, stepping inside the small building. Prompto was last in.

He shivered at the temperature - an unnatural cold hitting his skin the second he crossed the threshold - and wrapped his arms around himself.

Inside the mausoleum was a single stone sarcophagus set in the middle of the floor, the carving of a man lying atop it, weapon clutched in its hands. The weapon was a simple sword from what Prompto could see, standing back near the side wall, out of the way.

“Did King Regis ever tell you how to collect the arms?” Cor asked. He had walked around the sarcophagus to stand on the opposite side, hands clasped behind his back.

Noctis shook his head. He was studying the stone statue in silence, hands resting just on the edge of the stone. “He just told me that I'd know when the time came,” he muttered.

Prompto saw Noct's hands clench into fist, knuckles white from the strain. The air in the room was still and stifling for a few brief moments.

Ignis reached out and touched Noctis on the shoulder and the prince let out a long, slow breath. His head fell forward and hands limp to his sides.

“I just-” he started, cutting himself off to take another deep breath. “I can't believe he's really gone. Why? If he knew what the Niffs were plannin', then why didn't he refuse the treaty?” He took a breath, hands back in fist, shaking by his side. “It didn't even matter in the end! They still attacked, the war is still going on, and dad is dead! It's not fair!”

Cor was silent, watching the prince as he yelled. He sighed and turned his face away when Noctis started tearing up, allowing the young man to collect himself.

Prompto took a step closer only to have Gladio stop him in his tracks, a gentle hand on his arm.

“Give him a minute,” he said softly.

He could see the tension in Gladio's jaw as he fought with himself. Prompto's hands flexed and he pulled them around his body again, hugging himself.

Noctis calmed down a moment later, Ignis by his side, a quiet but comforting presence. When the younger man nodded shortly and dried his eyes, Ignis stepped back.

“I'm aware this is no comfort, but King Regis knew what he was doing,” Cor said. “Even if it was a reckless decision, he still knew it was the only choice he had to keep his people, and you, safe from harm.”

There was a sigh from Noctis as he nodded dejectedly at the words. “Let's just get this over with,” he mumbled.

The soft hum of magic filled the tiny room, bouncing off the curved walls. A light, bright and blue, emanated from the statue, throwing sharp shadows across the room. Prompto watch in quiet awe as the light floated into the air, taking the shape of a sword. It angled itself, blade first, directly at Noctis, who had his arm held out, towards the light.

His eyes went wide as the light sword shot through the air, stabbing Noctis in the chest. “Noct!” he yelped, rushing around Gladio, who let out a quiet curse at the sight.

Noctis was crouched over, one knee on the ground and his hands on his chest. “I'm okay,” he said when Prompto fell to his knees. “I'm okay. It didn't hurt,” he told Prompto, helping the blond back to his feet. “I just wasn't expecting it is all.”

“You're not hurt?” Prompto asked, touching Noct's chest, searching for any sort of wound the light sword would have left behind. A hand touched his back and he looked over his shoulder, spotting Gladio.

“No, I'm not hurt,” Noctis assured him. He grasped Prompto's hand, squeezing it and giving him a smile.

Cor cleared his throat and walked back around the sarcophagus. “That was... unexpected,” he said. “Regis never did give me a warning for what collecting royal arm would look like. At any rate, there is another tomb in a nearby mine, further up the path. It's an hours walk from here.”

The four younger men nodded, although Noctis groaned under his breath. He kept a hold on Prompto's hand as they stood. Leaving the tomb had them back out into the bright morning light and hands went up to shield eyes from the rapid change.

“Looks like those daggerquills called for reinforcements while we were inside,” Gladio commented, frowning up at the small group of birds.

The daggerquills watched the group closely from the tops of the columns, cawing loudly and angrily.

Cor's hand went to his side, sword materialising in his grasp.

“If we must,” Ignis said as both he and Noctis summoned daggers into their hands. Prompto's gun came to him and he looked it over, ensuring it was loaded and ready. Gladio stepped back, close to the blond, and summoned up a shield.

“Stay by me,” he told Prompto. “I've got you covered, just focus and line up your shots.”

“Okay.”

The birds scattered with a squawk as Noctis warped up to them, clipping one on the wing. It fell, Noctis warping after it, before it took flight again, narrowly avoiding a second swipe from the dagger.

Prompto had lined up a shot, firing just as the bird lifted off. The bullet hit its injured wing and Noctis warped back up to the bird, finishing it off.

“You're getting better. I'm impressed,” Cor said, complimenting Prompto with a quick pat on the back. “Keep up the good work.”

Prompto flushed at the praise, grinning brightly as he hurried to respond. “T-thank you, sir!”

Gladio chuckled behind him when Cor blinked, taken off guard by Prompto's enthusiastic reaction.

“You're welcome,” he finally said, a barely there smile gracing his face.

The path through the valley stretched on before them, late morning sunlight only just shining down on the valley floor, slowly creeping its way from one side to the other. The walk to the mine, called Kaycatrich Trench according to Cor, was peaceful. Only a handful of wildlife was seen and most ignored the group, choosing to keep to themselves.

Twice the group had to summon their weapons; once for another group of daggerquills and the second time was for a pack of sabertusks who thought they would make for an easy meal.

The valley opened up into a small quarry, the ruined shells of buildings dotting the landscape. At the far end was an Imperial dropship.

The group ducked behind a boulder to avoid detection from the roving MTs.

“What's the empire doin' here?” Gladio growled.

“The same as us, I'd wager,” Ignis replied, watching the units in the distance. “Although, what they hope to gain by obtaining one of the royal arms is a mystery.”

Noctis frowned, leaning against the wall and crossing his arms. “Can they even use a royal arm? Isn't it just the Lucis Caelum line that can use their power?”

“Their magic is tied to your family line,” Cor grunted. “The most they could do is restrict your access to the weapons.” He leaned out from the boulder, scanning the quarry. “They don't seem to be near the mine. We should be able to make our way around without being spotted. Keep low and follow my lead.”

“What do you mean you're not comin' in?” Noctis demanded, hand on the smooth stone archway that lead into the mine.

“Someone has to keep watch,” Cor replied easily. “There are still MTs in the area, in case you had forgotten. Here, this key will allow you to unlock the door to the tomb.” He held out the key, heavy black iron with a worn, indecipherable detail on the top. “Keep it safe. I'll be here when you get out.”

Noctis huffed but finally turned around and strode into the mine.

Prompto took his hand once he was close enough and clip-on lights were switched on, illuminating the dark hallway. “How far do you think the tomb is?”

“I'm gonna guess it's at the back of the mine,” Gladio said. He pulled open a rusted metal door, the hinges groaning in protest.

Noctis groaned right along with the door, head dropping back in annoyance. “Fuckin' great. And who knows how big this place even is.”

“Perhaps this map will help us,” Ignis called, pointing to the rough drawn map framed on the wall. The glass was covered in dust and dirt, wiped away by the man's hand.

Prompto noticed it looked old, worn on the edges and browned with age. The ink was smugded in numerous places but the map as a whole was still readable. There was no mention of a tomb on the paper, just a lot of winding paths, most of which led to deadends.

“What about that part there?” Galdio asked, pointing to an unfinished section of the map. It was near the back, far away from their current position.

“It's as good a place as any for the tomb to be,” Ignis nodded. He pulled out his phone, opening up the camera and pointing it at the map. “Shine some more light on the map, please. Ah, thank you, Noct.” He snapped a photo.

Gladio led the way down a set of creaky metal stairs. He paused at a junction, a hand on his hip as he stared up to the ceiling. “Hey. Those cables,” he started, pointing up, finger following the path of the cables to where they connected to a darkened floodlight. “They must lead to a generator. Maybe we can get some light in this place.”

“Let us hope so,” Ignis agreed. “Pocket lights can only do so much.”

Following the line of cables proved to be very fruitful. In a small deadend sat a large generator. Rust graced the corners and cobwebs filled the gaps but a quick once over from Gladio told them it still had some gas. The man flipped a few switches on the machine and it rumbled to life, along with the overhead light.

“Let there be light,” Noctis grinned, looking up to the bare bulb.

“The fuck is that thing?” Noctis whispered. He was crouched, hidden behind a barrel, Gladio next to him and Ignis and Prompto on the other side of the room.

“An arachne, I think,” Gladio told him, frowning at the daemon blocking off the room's exit.

“Great,” Noctis whined. “First we get spiders the size of dogs, now we get a spider the size of a house.”

“We should be careful,” Ignis called over. “They are known to be extremely quick despite their large size. You made a few fire flasks, correct?”

Noctis nodded, pulling one of the flask from the ether.

“Good. Keep one at the ready, I've read they're weak to the flames,” Ignis said. “Gladio, you try to keep its attention. Noct, go for the legs and use the flask when you get a clear shot.”

The two nodded at the instructions, weapons coming to their hands.

“Prompto, why don't you try out that new piece of machinery we found? The bioblaster?” Ignis suggested.

The blond smiled and nodded quickly.

“Let's go!” Gladio shouted, running out from his hiding spot.

There was an ear piercing shriek from the daemon as it reared up on his hind legs, hissing at Gladio as he swung his greatsword for its underbelly.

Prompto managed to worm his way around the side while it was focused on Gladio, Ignis close behind him. He slipped around the back just as Ignis jabbed his lance into the daemon's side. Summoning the heavy machinery into his hands, Prompto took a deep breath and fired off a shot. The effect was not what he expected.

A shockwave erupted from the muzzle, throwing the distracted archane off balance before a burst of poisonous gas dispersed around the daemon.

Noctis warped away from the blast, coughing and regaining his bearings before launching a new attack in tandem with Gladio.

Prompto switched the bioblaster for his gun and rolled out of the way of one of the daemon's legs. He succeeded in getting a few well placed shots on its back before it turned on him, fangs and claws bared, hissing and spitting in rage.

Ignis and Nocti slid underneath the daemon while its attention was on the blond, crippling its legs and dropping it to the ground. The former darted away when Noctis pulled out the flask, lobbing it at the stricken daemon. Gladio finished it off just as the flames started dying out with a powerful downward swing of his sword.

As the daemon pooled back into the thick black vicor, Noctis wiped the sweat from his forehead. He hurried over to the others, one hand resting low on his back for a few seconds. “Great plan, Iggy. We'll have to keep it in mind if we ever meet another one of those guys.”

The outside of the tomb was merely a wall, white stone and the trademark heavy black door. Noctis slotted the key into the lock, twisting and hearing the gratifying click as it unlocked. A rush of chilled air escaped when the door was pushed open.

“Is every tomb gonna be this cold?” the prince complained, shuddering and stepping inside. “I mean, it's not like they're preserving the bodies or anything.”

“Maybe they are,” Gladio joked. “Maybe gettin' these weapons means the kings and queens of old will literally rise from the grave to fight for you.”

Noctis made a face in disgust, leaning away from the man.

“Can they do that?” Prompto asked quietly. His shoulders were raised up around his ears as he stared warily at the stone sarcophagus.

“I can assure you, they cannot,” Ignis told him, giving Gladio a warning glare and getting a laugh in response. “Let's collect this weapon and be on our way.”

Noctis nodded in agreement. He walked over to the sarcophagus, hand held over the statue and its weapon.

Prompto could see it was a heavy double bladed axe, as tall as Noctis himself. He held his breath as the weapon became light, readying himself for the moment it would strike the prince. He yelped and, once again, rushed over to check on Noctis when the weapon collided with his chest, vanishing inside him, connecting with his magic.

Gladio helped the two men to stand, hand rubbing down Prompto's back, easing his nerves. “C'mon. Cor's waitin' for us outside the mine.”

“Not yet,” Noctis said. He sunk back down to the ground, leaning heavily against the stone wall near the door. “Give me a few minutes to rest.”

“Are you alright, Noct?” Ignis asked, crouching down. He stripped off a glove and pressed the back of his hand to Noctis' forehead. “You do feel rather warm.”

Noctis waved him off, Prompto hovering near his knees. He pulled the blond down to sit beside him. “I'll live. Just need to take a break. Think that last fight aggravated my back.”

“The arachne? Did it hit you?” Gladio asked.

Prompto snuggled up close to Noctis' side, slipping his arm around the other man's back while Noctis shook his head.

“I mean, yeah, it did but I think it was just the strain from all the fights today,” he explained, sighing. “Give me ten minutes and I'll be right as rain.”

Chapter Text

“Here,” Ignis said, holding out a potion.

Prompto shied away, still wary of the drink, horrofic memories still attached to the word. Noctis grabbed the bottle beside him and crushed it in his hand, only then did the blond relax, knowing it wasn't intended for him.

“Y'know I don't like using them for something like a back ache. It just feels like a waste,” Noctis sighed. His hand dropped back down to his lap, the green shimmer quickly dissipating as the potion sank into his skin. He shifted his shoulders carefully, rolling them.

Prompto sat up at the movement. He watched as a fresh bruise along Noctis' jaw, still pink and forming, faded and left his skin clear again.

Ignis hummed in response. “I'm aware, yes. Shall we make for the exit?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Noctis reached out and took Gladio's preoffered hand, pulling himself to his feet.

Prompto followed after, pushing himself off the cold stone floor. He rubbed his hands together, ridding them of the chill. “Will the daemons be back?” he asked, casting an eye to the open door. A hand came down on his shoulder and he looked up at Gladio.

“Not likely,” he reassured the blond. “But we should stay on our guard, just in case we missed any on our way here.”

Ignis nodded at the suggestion and pulled out his phone. “It should be easier to get back to the entrance now that we know where we are.”

The sun was high overhead when the four men stepped out of the small tunnel that lead into the mine. Cor stood in the bright light, surveying the area, hands clasped behind his back. He turned his head to watch as the younger men walked closer.

“Is it just me or are there less MTs out here?” Gladio asked, looking over to the Marshal. “Like a hundred percent less?”

Cor turned back to face the quarry. “They may have wandered closer than necessary and needed to be dealt with.”

“And the mech?” Noctis asked as he pointed to the destroyed and dismantled mech in the distance. “Doesn't look like it got too close.”

Cor ignored the question in favor of walking back out into the quarry. “We should make our way back to the outpost before it gets too late,” he said over his shoulder.

“Good timing! We may have learned of another tomb location,” Monica informed the group as soon they entered the small shack. She had her hand resting on the small table and a confident look in her eye. An older man was standing next to her at the table, map spread out and pen in hand as he circled a section.

“Already?” Noctis asked. He hurried over to the table, Ignis right behind him, and looked over the map. “The balouve mines?”

The older man, a hunter, gave him a nod. “Me and two other hunters had to take care of a daemon roamin' around in there. Didn't want it to get out and run a muck that close to Longwythe,” he explained. “Down at the bottom of the mine, where our hunt was, we found this black door. Old and fancy lookin'. Thinkin' it could be one of the tombs you were lookin' for.”

Prompto peered over Ignis' arm to look at the map. It showed Leide in simple detail, with lines criss-crossing across the paper and towns labeled in black ink. He noticed Hammerhead, Longwythe, and Galdin Quay. The map made them look far closer than he knew they were. There was a circle on the map, just southeast of Longwythe. The map called it 'Balouve Mines'.

“Might be difficult gettin' to the door though,” the man went on, scratching at his arm. “Once we cleared the place of the daemon, a new one showed up. Big one with a long sword, kinda like a ronin, but it looked a hell of a lot stronger than any ronin I've ever seen.”

“Stronger than a ronin?” Gladio asked. He had come up around the opposite side of the table, hand on his chin as he frowned in thought.

“It would be ill advised to take on even a ronin at this stage,” Ignis said.

Gladio hummed in agreement while Noctis scoffed.

“We could totally take on a ronin or whatever this new daemon is,” he huffed.

“Noct.” Ignis' tone had a slight warning to it and the prince sighed.

“Okay, fine. Maybe we're not ready for something that strong,” he said.

Prompto looked up from the map and at the two men. “How can we get strong enough?”

Gladio was the one to answer and Prompto turned to him. “We'll have to bide our time, train, maybe even see if we can scrounge up some new weapons.”

“And try to find out more information about the mine and the daemons within,” Ignis added. He had his small notebook out, scribbling down something that Prompto couldn't see. “At any rate, we'll leave the mine for another day.”

“Now that that's settled,” Cor started, coming up to stand next to Gladio. “I managed to gather some information on what the Empire is doing here in Leide. Other than securing the Crown City.”

Noctis clenched his jaw and gripped the edge of the table at the words, knuckles going white.

Cor didn't comment on the action. “They're attempting to block all roads out of the region. The Norduscaen Blockade is the closest, about two hours south of us. It's most likely heavily manned with MTs but we should be able to get the jump on them.”

“How?” Ignis asked. “Surely they would see us coming from a mile away if we attacked them head on.”

“That's why we'll do a joint attack. You three,” he started, pointing to Ignis, Gladio, and Prompto, “will go in from the front with Monica, draw their attention to you, distract them. While Noctis comes with me. There's an abandoned village near the new blockade we should be able to slip in through.”

“Will Noct be okay?” Prompto asked. He had his back pressed to the cement wall, just out of range of the Magitek Snipers along the top of the blockade's gate. His gun was in hand, hot under his fingers in the stifling desert heat.

“He's with Cor,” Gladio said, giving him a quick pat on the shoulder. “He'll be fine.”

“Indeed. Cor didn't become the Marshal of the Crownsguard for no reason,” Ignis put in. He ducked out from their cover and flung a dagger towards one of the MTs, watching as it hit its mark and the sniper went down.

Prompto nodded.

“Cor and Prince Noctis are in position,” Monica told them, slipping her phone back into her pants pocket. “It's time.”

Weapons were summoned, Gladio pulling his shield from the ether and Ignis grabbed his lance. Prompto's grip on his gun tightened and he took a breath. With another nod, the four left the safety of the wall and rushed out.

Prompto knew what he had to do, even if he didn't like the idea of killing MTs. He knew it was better than the so-called life they were living where all their thoughts and feelings were disabled, no chance of free will or disobedience or even saving. He took aim and fired, forcing himself to keep his eyes open, watching as the units on top of the gate fell one by one.

The thick steel gate slid open, scraping against the pavement. A small wave of half a dozen MTs filed through, armor and swords glinting in the late morning sun.

Gladio cleaved straight through the closest unit. The sound of metal on metal was harsh to Prompto's ears and he turned his head away for a few seconds.

“Eyes forward!” Monica ordered.

“Y-yes, ma'am!” Prompto yelped, gun nearly fumbling from his hands. He shook his head and turned back to the fight, firing at an MT already damaged by Ignis, his dagger still embedded in its chest. Its body jerked and crumpled to the ground, the dagger vanishing into crystals only to rematerialise in Ignis' hand.

Three units remained when the group rushed towards the gate. Gladio slammed the middle unit to the ground with a bash from his shield, knocking the other two off balance and giving Monica and Ignis the opportunity to attack, finishing them off.

Inside the blockade was a second set of MT, nearly two dozen strong. Six were lined up on top of heavy metal crates, rifles trained on Noctis and Cor as they battled along the ground.

Pulling the bioblaster from the ether, Prompto crouched behind a short wall and charged it for an attack. Standing back up, he scanned the area for the largest concentration of units.

Monica was fighting off two units, a sharp gladius in her hand. Gladio had moved over to Cor, the two of them taking down a unit each with ease. He glanced up to the tops of the containers, spotting three of the MTs clustered together near the far edge, and took aim. Firing off the powered up shot had Prompto loosing his footing from the recoil. The machinery vanished from his hands as he caught himself, palms scraping off the road.

The MTs grinded to a halt, guns clattering to their feet, as the shockwave hit them. The acid gas that dispersed from the blast erroded their armor. A well placed blizzard spell from Noctis had them dissolving into nothingness.

The prince landed on the ground next to Prompto and held his hand out. “Woah, you alright? Was it too strong for ya?” he asked, laughing lightly.

“A little.” Prompto gripped his hand and Noctis tugged him back up to his feet. “I'm fine,” he smiled back as he wiped his sweaty hands off on his thighs. Traces of red were left in their wake and he wiped his palms over the stains again, smearing them into the dark brown of his pants.

He watched Noctis zip away in a blue shimmer after giving him a pat on the back and a grin.

Prompto counted the number of MTs left standing. Only three: one on the container and two on the ground. He pulled out the auto crossbow, another piece of heavy machinery the group had discovered in Keycatrich Trench, and squeezed the trigger, realeasing a barrage of heavy bolts at the unit above them. It fell quickly, staggering backwards and off the container in a mess of twitchy limbs and pink sparks.

“Ignis!” Noctis called out. He had a spear of his own in hand and tossed it into the air, warping after it, leaving a faint after image in his wake.

Ignis nodded and threw his lance up after him.

Noctis caught it in hand and came down hard on the last two MTs, a lance in each of their backs as they dissolved in a puff of dark smoke, sparks, and wails. He handed Ignis back his lance and banished his own back into the ether.

The others followed suit, weapons vanishing from their hands and deep, relieved breaths being let out.

“Heads up!” Cor yelled, sword still in his hand and at the ready. He was glowering up into the sky and Prompto glanced up to see what the older man was staring at.

A small, low flying dropship quickly came into range, the hatch open and a maroon colored mech on idling in the opening. A man in shining black armor, with a red cape over his right shoulder, was standing next to the cockpit of the mech, leaning forward and scowling deeply at the group.

“Who's that?” Gladio mumbled, stepping closer to Cor and angling his head towards the Imperial.

“Brigadier General Loqi Tummelt,” Cor grunted. “I've had the pleasure of meeting him on the battlefield once before.”

“A Brigadier General?” Ignis asked, watching closely as the man climbed inside the mech and closed its hatch. “He seems far too young for such a position.”

Cor turned his body, gripping the hilt of his sword. “The Empire trains them young.”

Prompto moved behind Gladio, gun back in hand and muzzle pointed to the ground. He jumped when the mech hit the ground, feeling the tremor running up his legs. He clenched his jaw.

He didn't think he would have to fight a human. He didn't even know there were any humans in the Niflheim Army, not with the sheer volume of Magitek Soldiers filling their ranks. Prompto didn't want to fight a human, didn't want to injure or... or kill one.

An arm wrapped around his waist, yanking him behind a container as bullets pelted the steel.

“Prompto,” a soft voice said, the arm loosening around his waist. “Are you alright? Can you hear me?”

He blinked, shaking his head and straightening his back against Ignis' chest. When had the man in the mech started firing at them?

Another few rounds plinked off the steel, loud in his ears, drowning out the words Ignis spoke.

“Talk to me.”

“'M fine,” he said finally. Looking back down to his feet, he saw his gun had vanished from his hand.

Ignis released him and shifted over, closer to the edge of the container where he peered out, ducking back instantly to dodge a new barrage of bullets. “We need to disable its legs!” he shouted over to the others across the road.

Prompto saw Cor nod in response and turn to his group when Ignis faced him. He swallowed and resummoned his gun, holding it with both hands.

“What happened?” Ignis asked.

The mech stomped its way forward, metal scraping, grating on their eardrums. A series of explosions came shortly after and Prompto jumped, pressing his back closer to the metal. “He's human,” he muttered during a lull in the blasts. Looking up at Ignis, he gritted his teeth for a second and spoke again. “Do... are we going to kill him?”

Ignis pinched his lips together and glanced over his shoulder. Prompto followed his line of sight, watching Cor and Gladio dart out of their cover, Noctis dissappearing in a flash of blue with a greatsword in hand. “If it comes to it,” Ignis reluctantly told him. “Do you think you can fight knowing that?”

Prompto looked down and grimaced, thinking the words over. He wondered how many people from the Empire they would have to fight, how many they would ultimately have to kill, not counting the seemingly infinite number of units.

Niflheim had attacked Insomnia, their home - even Prompto had taken to thinking of the city as his new home. They had killed numerous citizens of Lucis, leaving devasation and carnage in their wake with, what Prompto only imagined, no remorse for their actions. As he thought, he came to realise he could still fight if it meant keeping those he cared about safe from those people.

He could fight, but he didn't know if he could kill.

“It's alright if y-”

“I can fight,” he said quickly, interrupting Ignis. His grip tightened on his gun and he nodded once. “I want to help keep Lucis, and you guys, safe.”

“Okay,” Ignis replied softly. “I'll need you to stay behind cover and try to find the mech's weak points. We're taking out its legs, immobilising it. The crossbow might be a good weapon to use on the joints.”

Prompto nodded and changed his weapon, feeling the heavy weight of the crossbow drop into his hands. He swiveled around to face the side of the container, watching Ignis run out and into the fight.

There was a voice shouting, one he didn't recognise. It was echoing and metallic, booming and enraged. It must have been the man in the mech.

With the man's focus on the other group, Prompto peeked out and sized the machine up. Its joints groaned with every movement, slowly turning to face Noctis and Monica on the far side of the road. Squeezing the trigger of the crossbow, Prompto fired upon the mech. The large heavy bolts pierced the back of the left leg, from bottom to top thanks to the intense recoil. The joint whined, bending on just the one side and causing the mech to lean heavily.

Gladio and Cor snatched the opportunity that Prompto had given them, swords slicing through the joint and severing the leg.

Prompto saw Noctis just as he launched himself into the air, sharp point of his lance aimed downwards. It pierced the hull of the mech clean through before he warped away.

A series of firey explosion came next and Prompto dropped his hold on his crossbow, letting it slip back into the ether as he stared in horror. He didn't register Gladio stepping in front of his until the older man pulled him to his chest, holding him close and whispering, “Don't watch.”

He gripped Gladio's tank top tightly, twisting it between his fingers.

Prompto lost track of time standing there, surrounded by the smell of sweat and oil and gasoline that drifted on the hot wind. It left him near claustrophobic but the comforting pressure of Gladio's hands on his back kept the feeling at bay.

There was a rumble in Gladio's chest and Prompto focused on it, realising the man was speaking.

“Hey, look,” Gladio said, nudging Prompto's head up and turning although Prompto kept his eyes firmly shut. “Don't worry, he's alive.”

When Prompto cracked an eye open, he spotted the other blond man. He was on his knees on the tarmac, hands behind his back with both Cor and Monica surrounding him. He had a look of pure disgust and anger on his face, directly at the Marshal. Prompto could see small traces of blood smeared over his forehead and staining his hair.

Gladio stepped back, keeping one hand on Prompto's shoulder, as Cor forced Loqi to stand.

“We'll take him to the outpost until we can figure out what to do with him,” Monica told the group. “Don't want him getting back to the Empire and telling them the prince is still alive.”

“You're not comin' with us?” Noctis asked, frowning up at Cor.

Prompto noticed a shallow cut on Noctis arm, blood already dried and flaking on his skin. He carefully reached out and touched the area just beside the cut, trying to get Noctis' attention, to get him to heal it before it scarred. He saw his own palms were red and dirty, covered with scrapes and scratches.

Noctis swiped at his arm, flaking more of the blood off when Cor shook his head.

“We have work to do at the outpost,” the Marshal said. “We'll keep in touch.”

“You should head for Lestallum,” Monica suggested, her eyes on Gladio as she spoke. “I believe someone is waiting for you there.”

“Who?” Prompto asked, voice quiet and covered by Gladio's own asking, “Iris?”

Monica gave him a nod and Prompto felt Gladio's grip on his shoulder tighten.

He had only met Gladio's sister a few times during his month in Insomnia. She was a happy girl, bright and cheerful and eager to teach Prompto about the city when she could. She was also strong according to Gladio, able to keep up with her brother in the training room when they sparred together.

“We'll make haste to the city,” Ignis said, drawing Prompto from his reprieve. “I'm sure Iris is just as excited to see us safe and sound as we are for her.”

“Then what are we waitin' for?” Noctis grinned. “It's, what, about a week to Lestallum?”

“Just about,” Ignis nodded.

Prompto's stared, wide eyed and open mouthed at the scenery that stretched out before them. Mountains in the distance casting long shadows on the green fields and lakes. There was a mountian even made out of glass that Ignis said was the called 'meteor'.

“The Astral Titan has held up the meteor since time immemorial, protecting Eos from the devasation it would have caused,” he explained, flipping on the turn signal and pulling into a gas station. “It's said if the meteor had of hit the planet, all life as we know it would have ceased to exist, but the Archaean, like Shiva, has a soft spot for humanity and stopped the meteor in its path.”

“Do the Astrals not like humans?” Prompto asked, following the group out of the car.

“Not from what I've been told,” Noctis said, throwing an arm around Prompto's shoulders. “We know Shiva has always liked humans and Titan grew to like them, but the rest are mostly indifferent. Oh, except Ifrit.”

“Ifrit?”

Noctis nodded, arm sliding off Prompto's shoulders as he climbed the steps into the caravan. “Yeah. Apparently he gifted fire to humans in the early years of humanity and they kinda fucked him over. It's complicated and most of what we know has probably been skewed over the ages. It ended with a whole war of the Astrals or something.”

Prompto gasped at that. He couldn't even begin to imagine a war involving the Astrals and he wondered how the planet even survived something like that. He was about to ask when Ignis piped up.

“Showers then dinner. We need to get an early start to make the most out of the daylight,” he said as Gladio slipped past him, heading for the small bathroom.

Noctis groaned and rolled his eyes, dropping into the booth. “Are we ever gonna have one day to lie in? These early morning starts are gonna mess with my royal sleep pattern.”

Chapter Text

“Iris?! Iris, are you okay? Are you safe?” Gladio rushed out, phone clenched tightly in his hand. “Where are you?”

”I'm safe.” Iris's voice was staticky out of the speaker on the phone for a few seconds before the signal cleared. ”We just made it to Lestallum, Jared and I. Dad had him take me from the city the same day you guys left. Said it wasn't safe.”

“Dad, is he-” Gladio started, voice breaking off abruptly.

The four men could hear Iris sniffle through the phone before she spoke. ”I-I don't know, Gladdy. He-he won't answer his phone. The calls- they just go straight to voicemail. I can't get in touch with anyone, not even my friends.” She sucked in a breath, sniffling again, louder this time. ”Gladdy, what happened? The radio said the Empire attacked the city. Is that true? Why would they do that?”

Gladio shook his head. “I don't know, Iris, but the radio report was right. They did attack the city,” he told her. “They have guards posted at the city checkpoint.” He paused when she gasped. “Unless there's some secret tunnels under the Citadel we don't know about, it doesnt look like anyone is gettin' in or out.”

“Iris, please do not worry,” Ignis said, taking the phone from Gladio's hand. “Yes, there was a attack on the city but King Regis had most of the population evacute before the Empire arrived.”

”He-he did?”

Ignis hummed in response. “I imagine a lot of the citizens may make their way to Lestallum in the coming days if they cannot make it to further destinations. The four of us are currently enroute to Lestallum at this very moment.”

”When are you guys getting here?” she asked, hiccupping softly.

“Should be in a week,” Noctis told her.

The sun was high overhead when they finally caught sight of the city after almost a week of driving. The drive itself had Prompto twisting and turning in his seat, watching as the green fields and vast lakes made way for the massive crater and shining glass meteor.

They had driven over a deep ravine early that morning, one that seemed to go on forever to the north and south and far down into the depths of Eos. Gladio had told him it was a remnant of the War of the Astrals when the Astrals fought against Ifrit who was bent on destroying humanity and Eos with it and nearly torn the planet asunder.

“Why did he want to do that?” Prompto asked, turning back from the gorge and towards Gladio beside him.

The older man shrugged, setting his book on his thigh. “It was so long ago that most people aren't really sure what set him off. The most widely accepted answer is he just didn't like humans and how they were pogressing through the years but others say humans were the ones to start the fight.”

“What do you believe?” he asked.

Gladio scratched his cheek. “I believe the Astrals made one huge mess of the world and us humans were left to clean up after them,” he replied. “But that doesn't mean I don't think the Astrals don't care about humanity. Or some of them, anyways.”

“Are we going to see an Astral?”

“If all goes according to plan,” Noctis said from the driver's seat. “Titan should be our first stop since he's the closest to us.” He tapped his finger on the window, pointing back towards the crater. “That is, if Luna managed to awaken him before getting to Atlissia. It'd be a pain to have to come all the way back here from Altissia just for one Astral.”

“Two,” Ignis corrected. He pressed a button on the console, turning the air conditioner up and keeping the car cool. “Rumor has it Ramuh is dormant in Lucis as well.”

“What, really?” Noctis asked, looking over at Ignis quickly before turning his attention back to the road. “I thought he was at Angelgard?”

“As I said, it's a rumor,” Ignis said. “Lady Lunafreya would know for certain.”

Noctis hummed thoughtfully to himself.

They passed through a long tunnel as they entered the city, numerous sweeping arches lining one side, showing off the view of Duscae to the west. Once they cleared the tunnel, Noctis switched on the blinker and turned the car down into a public parking section, taking the first available spot.

Lestallum was beautiful, in Prompto's not-so-humble opinion. It was bright and colorful and full of people bustling about. He could see the colors of the buildings long before they reached the city, standing out vibrantly in shades of pinks and blues and greens and yellows against the deep blue-black of jagged shards of crystal and the tall industrial building near the base of the mountain.

He wondered what the shards were. Another meteorite, perhaps? He'd have to ask Ignis later, when they weren't all worn out from driving nearly non-stop during daylight hours.

It only took seconds before the unwavering heat of the city hit the blond when the four men stepped out of the blissfully cool car. He gripped the car door to steady himself and shook his head, willing the black spots away.

“Don't think I'll ever get used to this heat,” Gladio grunted. He was tugging on the neck line of his tank top when Prompto looked over the top of the car. Even Ignis was wiping the rapidly appearing sweat off the sides of his nose, glasses in hand.

“Let's get to the Leville before we all get heatstroke or somethin',” Noctis said, closing the car door. It locked with a press of a button on the key fob.

There was a quiet murmur of agreement from the other three men, the heat too sweltering for much more than a simple nod.

Ignis led the way over towards the steps that lead back up to the main road and Prompto hurried over to him, not wanting to get left behind and lost in the new and unfamiliar city. He took Ignis' hand in his and received a small squeeze in response.

“Gladdy!” Iris cried out, rushing down the steps of the hotel. She collided full force with her brother with fresh tears in her eyes and nearly topple the two of them to the ground in her haste. “I was so worried!” She pulled back and wiped at her eyes, looking between the four men. “You're all okay?”

“We are,” Gladio told her, patting her on the shoulder. “Let's get inside and out of this heat.”

Prompto nodded at the words, pulling at the collar of his uncomfortably sweat soaked shirt. He followed after Gladio and Iris but paused, flinching sharply at the heavy thud behind him.

“Noct!”

Turning quickly to Ignis' voice, he saw Noctis lying on the ground, the older man already crouching down to help him to sit up.

“Noct, what happened?” Ignis asked as Prompto hurried to the prince's other side, placing a firm hand on his back. “Are you alright? Did you hit your head?” He rubbed a hand over the back of Noctis' head, searching for any bumps or cuts and frowning.

“Heatstroke?” Gladio frowned as he took a step over, looking down at the three men.

Noctis groaned and shook his head, lifting his hand to rub slowly at his temples. “No. Ow.” He swallowed thickly, squinting up at Ignis, before dropping his head back down, wincing. Shaking his head again, Noctis gripped both Ignis and Prompto's arms, giving them a small tug.

The two pulled him slowly back to his feet and Ignis slipped an arm around his back, steadying him.

“What happened?” Prompto asked.

Noctis opened his mouth and looked around the courtyard, eyes darting between the people in the distance.

Prompto looked too, seeing a few people wacthing the group, poised to walk over.

“I'll tell you inside,” Noctis whispered.

Ignis nodded and looked to Iris. “Iris, is there a room available for us in the hotel?”

“Oh, yeah!” Iris jumped at being addressed, seeming to remember where she was. “Jared made sure one was free. It's up the stairs, at the front of the hotel. Follow me.” With that, she turned and led the way up the steps and into the building.

The difference in temperature was an immediate and a welcome relief, one that had Prompto's shoulders dropping and eyes slipping closed for a few precious seconds, relishing the cool air that circulated throughout the lobby.

He could hear the sounds of the ceiling fans whirring gently, the soft yet quick tapping on a computer, a newspaper being shaken out.

Opening his eyes, he took in the full sight of the spacious lobby. A large, marble topped wooden counter occupied the entire left side of the room, two clerks sitting behind it, both typing away on their respective computers. In the center of the room, the group passed by a low pedastal made of black tiles, a young couple sat on it with their backs to the counter, resting their feet. The blue of the walls reminded Prompto of the way the magic wall would deepen a clear day back in Insomnia. The sky had always been so much deeper and vibrant in the city compared to Leide where the pale blue of the sky would fade into a near white as it touched the horizon.

Along the far wall, opposite the counter, was a row of tall double doors made entirely out of stained wooded slats and arched windows atop them. Rows of dark metal pipes ran along the ceiling as they made their way up the stairs.

The room Iris led them too was much the same as the lobby in terms of design. Rich blue walls, tall slat doors leading out to the balcony, and pipework along the wall behind the beds, making a unique design that reminded Prompto of wings.

Two freshly made beds sat across from a handful of black leather armchairs and a shiny black coffee table. A set of fans were already turned on, cooling the room down.

“Here's the key,” Iris said, holding out a small steel key for Gladio to take. “My room is just down the hall, back near the staircase.”

“Thank you, Iris,” Ignis smiled as he set Noctis down on the closest bed.

Prompto sat next to him and Gladio shut the door behind them.

“So, what happened outside?” Gladio finally asked, taking a seat in the armchair across from them. Ignis and Iris took the remaining two chairs, the latter leaning forward, elbows on her knees.

“Titan,” Noctis said simply. He winced and shook his head, face pinched in pain. “I-I don't know if it was a vision or him actually talkin' to me or what, but I know I saw Luna talkin' to Titan, down at the crater.”

“Lady Lunafreya is alive?” Iris asked quickly, interrupting Noctis.

Gladio answered her with a nod. “Yeah, she sent Noct a letter, sayin' she's in Altissia,” he explained. “King Regis had some glaives escort her there.”

“Back to Titan, what did he say?” Ignis asked, turning everyone's attention back on Noctis.

“I, uh,” Noctis started, scratching at the back of his head, ruffling his hair. “I don't actually know. I couldn't understand him, but I'm assuming he was tellin' me he's ready for the covenant? I don't know what else it could be.”

The room fell silent. Prompto rubbed Noctis' back, getting a soft smile.

Ignis shifted in his seat, crossing his legs and resting his hands there. “It seems we will have to come up with a plan on how to get to the Archaean. I highly doubt we would be able to drive right up to him. The Empire is bound to have a contingency plan in place.”

“You think they know about the plan to get Noct the power of the Astrals?” Gladio asked.

“It's likely. The prophecy about the King of Light isn't a well guarded secret. It may very well be why the Empire attacked and felled Shiva as an attempt to prevent the prophecy from coming to fruition,” Ignis went on.

The statement left Prompto confused and worried. He was unaware the Astrals could even be killed, what with them being literal gods or, at the very least, immortal beings. He started to ponder exactly how powerful Niflheim truly was, if they had the means to kill an Astral. Or if they only had a weapon that did the job for them. Maybe it was the near endless supply of Magitek Units they could produce that held turn the tide of battle in a fight with the Astral. He knew they could make them at an alarming rate since his generation had been created, from cells in a test tube to full grown in a few short years. Or perhaps it was even less time now.

His thoughts wandered as everyone talked, the words not registering in his mind.

“How 'bout I show you guys around the city tomorrow?”

The question took Prompto out of his thoughts by the sudden change in topic.

“That would be lovely, Iris,” Ignis replied. “I read Lestallum has a wonderful open air market.”

Iris hummed and clapped her hands together. “Yeah! And I can show you guys the view from the overlook. It's really something.”

Prompto felt Noctis' back twitch under his hand, saw his eyebrows draw in, forehead creasing. Ignis must have noticed the movements too, as he uncrossed his legs and placed his hands on the arms of the chair.

“Noct? Do you need a potion?” he asked, ready to pull one from the ether.

Noctis shook his head, waving the suggestion away with his hand.

“A hot water bottle then?”

When he got a nod in response, Ignis stood and made his way to the small kitchenette, blue shimmering around his hand before the hot water bottle appeared.

“Your back?”

Prompto turned to Iris then to Noctis, hand still rubbing gentle circles over his shirt.

“Was it from the fall outside?” she asked.

“Nah, just from sitting in the car for so long.” Noctis' hand joined Prompto's on his back, rubbing hard at the base of his spine. “This trip is gonna be the death of me,” he joked, laughing softly. “I'll never want to ride in a car again.”

“I think we've all earned a good rest for a few days,” Gladio said.

Iris hopped to her feet. “I'll get out of your hair then. If you need me, you know where to find me,” she told them. “And remember, I'm gonna show you the city tomorrow, bright and early!”

Noctis groaned and she laughed.

“I'm kidding! I'll meet you guys for lunch then we'll head out,” she smiled. She took a step closer to the door and Gladio stood up.

“I'll come with you. We've got a lot to catch up on,” he said.

With a quick wave, the two siblings were out the door, shutting it softly behind them.

Prompto stared at the closed door. He was happy Iris had made it out of the city, even more so that they had found her so quickly. He could see how the worry and stress had left Gladio when she had first contacted them, when she had let them know she was safe and unharmed.

He focussed on the room again when Noctis shifted on the bed.

Ignis had returned with the bottle, encased in its fuzzy white cover. “We'll start thinking of a plan to get into the Disc of Cauthess tomorrow before we meet up with Iris. We'll need to be ready if the Empire has cordoned off the area,” he said.

Noctis nodded. He moved farther back on the bed, Prompto going with him, and rolled over, laying on his stomach. The bottle was placed on his back, resting in the curve of his spine.

Prompto lied down on his side, facing the prince.

“I'm going to see about finding the market and pick up something for dinner.” Ignis was looking at his phone as he spoke. “I should be back within the hour. If you need anything, call either Gladio or myself.”

Noctis waved a hand in his direction and the door opened and shut, leaving the two in relative silence.

Prompto reached out, stroking Noctis' cheek. “How're you feeling?”

“Peachy,” Noctis grunted. He opened his eyes and smiled, taking Prompto's hand in his and kissing his fingers. “I'll be okay.”

The camera was older, black and grey plastic, settled amongst the array of more colorful and newer models. There were a couple of scuffs along the edges and part of the 'K' in Lokton was scractched off, but the tag claimed the camera was in working condition.

He pressed his fingers to the glass cabinet that housed the collection of cameras, both still and video.

“Ya like that one?” Gladio asked, startling the blond. He pointed to the large black and grey camera that Prompto had been admiring. “It's only a hundred and fifty gil. I think we can spare that.”

“What? Really?”

Gladio nodded and starightened back up. He turned to call over the sales assistant; a short, dark skinned woman.

She approached the two men with a friendly smile on her face. “Hello, how can I help you today?”

“I'd like to buy this camera, please.”

“The Lokton? Good choice,” the woman said. She pulled out a set of keys from her pocket and unlocked the cabinet. “It's an older model but easy enough for beginners to use. I had one myself a few years ago.” Grabbing the camera, she turned it over in her hands, reading the sticker stuck to the bottom. “Alright, I'll take this over to the register and get you guys rung up.”

Prompto was sat on a bench near the top of the overlook, staring out into the distance at the Disc of Cauthess, the bright blue of the meteor glowing and casting strong shadows over the steadily darkening landscape. He had his new camera resting on his lap, thumb brushing idly over a corner. He blinked slowly, the scenery blurring and blending into one big mass of dark colors as he watched.

A hand came down on his shoulder just as a deep voice spoke his name, startling him into almost dropping his camera. He grabbed it quickly, holding tight.

“Whoa there.”

His grip relaxed at the sound of Gladio's voice.

“Sorry. Didn't mean to scare you,” Gladio said softly, sitting on the bench next to him. “You've been out here a while. Did you get some good pictures?”

Did he? He looked down to the camera in his hands. It was off, the screen black. He was sure he had taken a few pictures but couldn't remember what they looked like.

“Can I see them? If you don't mind.”

Prompto nodded and turned the camera back on. The screen flashed for a second before the display popped up, showing thumbnails of his most recent pictures. He felt Gladio resting his arm over his shoulders, scooting in closer. His body was warm, especially in the heat of the city, but Prompto didn't move away.

Selecting the newest photo, Prompto enlarged it and heard a whistle in his ear.

“Damn, that's a nice one,” Gladio complimented. “The meteor really gives off an almost ethereal glow.”

“It looks like Noct's magic,” Prompto said, zooming in closer on the bright blue of the rock. “The same shade of blue.”

Gladio was quiet for a few seconds, studying the photo. “You're right,” he chuckled. “I've seen him use his magic so often, I don't know how I didn't notice that. Must be desensitized to it or somethin'.”

Prompto moved onto the next photo of the meteor, zooming in and out on different sections. “Noct gets his power from his crystal, right?” he asked, looking up at Gladio.

“That's right,” Gladio nodded

“And the power plant here uses shards from the meteor? To power the city?”

Iris had told them that when she had showed the group around the citythe day before, stopping outside the front gate of the power plant. She had excitedly told them it powered not only the city of Lestallum, but much of Lucis outside Insomnia. Only a handful of isolated locations had their own power sources, mostly wind or hydroelectric.

Another nod.

“Do you think Noct's crystal came from the meteor as well?”

Gladio shook his head at the question. “Nah. It was a gift from Bahamut, or so the legends say,” Gladio told him. He paused, turning to look out at the meteor in the distance. “But, who really knows? Maybe the Astral broke off a chunk of the meteor and gave it to the Lucis Caelum family or maybe he fashioned it himself out of his own power.”

Chapter Text

“A little birdie told me of your desire to meet with the Archaean,” a voice called out.

Prompto came to a halt, colliding lightly with Ignis' arm as the man threw it in front of him. He looked past Gladio's shoulder, spotting a man in the shadow of the early morning light. His back was to the group and he was bent forward, peering through the viewfinder on the outlook.

“I would like to offer my... assistance,” he continued, finally turning to face the four young men, revealing himself to be the man they had met in Galdin Quay, the day before Insomnia was assaulted.

There was a shifting of bodies, Noctis stepping just behind Gladio when the man bowed deeply. Ignis' hand found Prompto's just as the blond started to tense.

“And what kind of 'assistance' could you possibly offer us?” Ignis frowned.

Prompto's gaze drifted off towards Duscae, focussing on the sun low over the western mountains, glinting off the meteor and shadowing the arches over the landscape. He tried to listen to the din of chatter of the locals and tourists in the city, the cars driving by along the main road, his own heatbeat. Anything to drown out the man's voice.

“Why, I could easily get you past the blockade the Imperials have set up along the road,” the man replied airily, lilting tone creeping in and making Prompto's skin crawl. “Dare I say, it seems like they have been planning this for a while?”

“What's that supposed to mean?” Noctis growled, taking a quick step forward.

The man waved his hand, chuckling softly. “Oh, don't mind the ramblings of an old man. May I ask the purpose of your visit to the Archaean? It hardly seems like the type of place for a bachelor party.”

“Our business is our own,” Ignis told him coldly, hand squeezing Prompto's lightly. “If you have a problem with that, then we'll find our own way to the Archaean.”

Another laugh spilled from the man's lips. He placed his hand on his chest, as if wounded by Ignis' words. “Astrals no!” he crowed. “You are right to be cautious around a person with whom you barely know. Ardyn, is my name. A pleasure.” He swept down into another bow, deeper this time, insultingly so.

Even Prompto could see Ardyn wasn't sincere as his eyes skimmed over the four men, as if he was studying them, trying to learn their strengths and weaknesses. Prompto wouldn't put it past the man to be able to do just that. He shuddered at the thought, earning a brief glance from Ignis.

“How are you so sure you can get us past the blockade?” Noctis questioned.

“Am I not allowed to have my secrets?” Ardyn grinned. He took a few steps towards them, coat swishing in the Lestallum heat. “Come now. It's a long drive to the Disc of Cauthess and we're losing sunlight.”

Ignis tugged Prompto out of Ardyn's way when he kept moving, heading for the parking lot behind them.

“Oh-” he stopped and raised one finger, looking back to Noctis, “-and why don't you give your chauffeur a rest. I'm sure he's exhauted from driving all the way here from Galdin Quay.” With that said, Ardyn pressed on, only stopping once he had reached an older convertible.

Ignis narrowed his eyes at the man, crossing his arms.

“You have done all the drivin' so far, Iggy,” Gladio said, stepping close. He gave Prompto a pat on the shoulder, prompting him to look away from the man. “But how he's knows that is the real question.”

“You think he's been stalking us?” Noctis whispered.

“I wouldn't put it past him,” Ignis replied, voice just as quiet. “Let us be on our guard. If there is indeed a blockade at the the Disc, we may just be able to use this man to get past it.”

The world flew by outside the car. Boco was tucked in safely between Prompto's knees, one hand on top of the stuffed animal's head, the other cradling his face as he stared out the window.

Noctis was driving too fast for Ignis' liking, but the man hadn't complained in a few hours. Ardyn, in his car ahead of them, leading them towards the crater, was the one setting the speed of their trip.

“Where's he going?” Noctis muttered, frowning deeply as the car ahead of them drove past the exit. He followed after, shifting uneasily in his seat. “That was the only exit to reach the Disc, right?”

Ignis hummed. He tapped his fingers on his chin.

“I'm starting to get some real horror movie vibes from this guy,” Noctis stated. “Like he's leading us down a dark alley so he can stab us in the back.”

“He's... he's not, is he?” Prompto asked, joining the conversation. He had gripped Boco tight when Noctis suggested the idea, eyes wide and knees drawn up. “He's creepy, but he wouldn't do that. Right?”

“Not if he knows what's good for him,” Gladio said.

Prompto nodded, his body still tense, and glanced out the front window at the car ahead of them.

”I think number 05953234 for today.” The man with the cloyingly sweet voice was back, along with the hands tugging Prompto's body off the hooks. He felt one catch, scraping underneath his left arm, then he was pulled free of the tank.

The cold metal table came next, his legs being dropped, heels stinging from the impact.

“Gentle now,” the voice sung. “We mustn't damage the merchandise.”

A low grumble came from Prompto's right side.

“I beg your pardon?” the man asked sweetly. Prompto felt fingers grazing over his forehead, a quick touch then it was gone.

“Nothing, sir,” the scientist said. Prompto could hear a tremor in the woman's voice.

The man hummed softly. “I thought so. Shall we begin?”

A noise Prompto had become accustomed to came next, the sharp squeal of wheels and metal, the clinking of tools.

“Oh dear! That just won't do!”

“Prom.”

Prompto jumped, knee knocking into the car door with a loud thud. His eyes were blurry when he turned his head around towards the voice, hearing the tone get softer.

“Hey, it's just me,” the voice said. Noctis said.

A hand rubbed at his arm, right below his elbow, and he blinked, rubbing at his eyes. Noctis came into view first, then a small rest stop, gas station lit up on the far side. Closer to the car was a small picnic area and a caravan. “Where are we?” he yawned. Everything was dark outside the car and he wondered how long he had slept for.

“We're at the Cauthess rest stop,” Ignis informed him. “About two hours south of the exit that leads to the Disc of Cauthess. Ardyn led us here instead of to the crater.”

Prompto could see the displeasure in Ignis' face just as clearly as he could hear it in his voice, even in the low lighting of the car.

“Come now, boys. I've rented the caravan for our stay,” Ardyn called out as he walked past the car, towards the caravan.

“He's not sayin' what I think he's sayin', is he?” Gladio asked, watching the strange man.

Prompto could hear him whistling to himself as he popped open the caravan door, golden light flooding out of the windows once the lights were turned on.

Noctis leaned forward to stare out the passenger window and glowered, hand still on Prompto's arm. “I think he is.”

“But, there's only one bed in the caravan,” Prompto pointed out as he examined it. It was the same size as all the other caravans they had slept in and he presumed that meant there was just the one large bed at the back of the RV. Ardyn poked his head out while he was looking and he flinched, quickly turning his face away, shoulders up around his ears.

“Boys,” he sung. “I do hope you're not planning to sleep in your car. That would be terribly uncomfortable.”

“If it kept us away from him, I'd one thousand percent sleep in the car,” Noctis muttered. “Back injury be damned.” His hand left Prompto's arm as he finally opened the car door.

The rest of the group followed after him, Gladio heading to the trunk. Prompto caught a flash of blue light before the man pulled two backpacks from the trunk, slamming it closed. When he caught sight of the blond's confused face, he leaned in, whispering, “Best to not give him an idea of who we really are so we're keepin' the magic to a bare minimum.”

Prompto nodded quietly. It was a good idea but he wondered how Noctis would fare with the rule. The man had a tendency to use magic for the most mundane things, including vanishing empty food bags into the ether instead of walking four feet to properly throw them away.

Gladio wrapped his arm around Prompto's shoulder, giving his bicep a quick, reassuring squeeze, and headed for the caravan.

Ardyn could be heard puttering around inside, the clanking of metal on metal alerting the group to his intentions of cooking dinner.

Ignis rushed ahead and up the steps. “There's no need to cook for us, as well,” he started. “You rented the caravan.”

“I insist,” Ardyn said, voice grating on Prompto's nerves as he stepped into the caravan.

He saw Ignis with his hand out, reaching for the pot on the stove, before Ardyn shooed him away.

“I'm sure you're cooking all the time. Let this old man have this one indulgence,” Ardyn went on, waving one hand lightly.

Ignis yanked his hand back, twitching ever so slightly at the words.

Prompto would have thought he had been shocked if he had not seen that Ignis hadn't been touched by the man. He stayed by Gladio's side, shifting towards the small couch far from the stove top. He sat on the hard surface, Noctis dropping down with a grunt next to him. Gladio stayed standing, blocking the two from view as the two older men kept an eye on Ardyn.

An elbow nudged his side and Prompto flinched, eyes darting over, away from the red haired man and over to Noctis.

“King's Knight?” Noct asked quietly, angling his phone to the blond. He had already opened the app, the 'Play' button waiting to be tapped.

Nodding, Prompto wiggled his phone out of his pocket and settled against his boyfriend.

“My, for someone so fair, you do have a lot of freckles,” Ardyn cooed.

Prompto froze in his seat, body stiff when the man's fingers brushed against his chin. The man's next words were drowned out by the sound of blood rushing in Prompto's ears. He saw him draw his hands back, holding them up, palms out in surrender before Prompto's vision blurred.

He wasn't sure how muh time passed before he realised a warm hand was on his shoulder, gentle and light.

“... offence meant,” Ardyn was saying, tone just on the polite side of condescending.

Blinking, Prompto noticed Ignis had stepped in front of him, arms crossed tightly over his chest and jaw tense. A glance down showed a large, tanned hand on his shoulder, one he knew belonged to Gladio. Noctis was still in his seat, but his hands had gripped the arms tight, fingers white from the strain of keeping himself calm but his eyes were blazing, ire directed at Ardyn.

Ardyn took a step or two back from Ignis. “I can see I've distressed your young friend so I shall retire for the evening,” he said, taking one more step away. With a bow, sweeping his hat from his head, Ardyn spoke again, “We'll be leaving bright and early, gentlemen. Mustn't leave the Archaean waiting.”

Prompto blanched when the man's eyes passed over him again, skin crawling and heart racing in his chest and then the man left, walking towards the small convenient store on the other side of the rest stop.

He let out a long breath when Ardyn vanished from sight.

“Prompto, are you alright?” Noctis asked, finally standing from his chair, the plastic scrapping loudly over the pavement. He dropped in front of the blond and took his hands with one hand, the other reaching up to touch his jaw lightly. “He didn't hurt you, did he?”

Shaking his head slowly, Prompto took another breath. He looked down to his hands clutched in Noct's for a moment before speaking. “No, I just... just wasn't expecting it.”

“It was out of the blue,” Ignis agreed. He was still staring off towards the store, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“Think if we lock the caravan door he'll get the point and sleep in his car?” Noctis thought aloud.

Gladio snorted, hand leaving Prompto's shoulder as he sat back in his chair. “It's worth a shot.”

“One less weapon to search for.”

The weapon, a long sword with a half wing on the hilt, shimmered in the heat of the crater before it collided with Noct's sternum, shattering and vanishing into the man's body.

“Now we just gotta find Titan. Shouldn't be too hard to find a god large enough to hold up a meteor,” Gladio joked.

The ground shook underneath their feet, white marble columns cracking, threatening to collapse completely. Noctis clutched at the sarcophagus, watching as a crack split the rock's carved face. Prompto lost his footing, dropping to his knees with a yelp.

“I don't think the Archaean was amused,” Ignis frowned, steadying himself and helping Prompto back to his feet.

Gladio gave them a sheepish shrug, righting himself with a push off the stone sarcophagus. A slow, deep rumble had the group freezing in place, eyes darting around for the source of the noise.

Noctis yelled when the noise grew in intensity, echoing around the crater. He clapped his hands over his ears and fell to his knees, forehead just missing hitting off the stone.

Another crack and rumble, louder, more violent, sounded and the ground gave way under the sarcophagus.

“Noct!” Ignis shouted, rushing forward. “Gladio!”

Prompto watched in horror as the two men dropped from view. He saw Gladio running for Noctis, saw him grasp the prince by the wrist, then nothing. Just screaming and Ignis staring down into the crater, shaking and yelling.

“We're-we're okay,” Gladio shouted back, coughing right after. “That's one way to get down.”

“Can you get back up?” Ignis asked.

Prompto walked over to the newly created ledge, knees wobbly and ready to give out.

“I don't think so,” Gladio replied.

Noctis interrupted him, “Titan's here. Try to find your way down, we're going on ahead.”

“No! Stay there!” Ignis ordered. He stood quickly, throwing a glance back to Prompto. “We'll be down as quick as we can.”

“No can do,” Noctis told them.

Prompto peeked over the edge and saw the other two, a hundred feet down on a thin cliffside. Noctis was pointing down a path, barely big enough for the two of them to walk on.

“We'll meet you at Titan,” Noctis said, looking up at them.

Ignis groaned, rubbing at his face. “I guess we have no choice but to find our own way down,” he said, frowning as he watched Noctis and Gladio slip out of view.

Skidding to a stop, Prompto's jaw fell at the sight of the Astral. He knew they would be big, but to see one in person was completely different to just picturing it.

Titan was massive, if Prompto had to describe him. Dark bronze skin with off white streaks marking his body. The meteor was resting on his back, jagged rocks of shining black and blue, radiating heat like it was the sun. The Astral in question was currently throwing his free fist at Noctis, the prince barely managing to deflect the punches with his sword.

Ignis ran past him, startling him into action.

He pulled out his gun from the ether, taking aim. His finger faltered on the trigger. That was an Astral he was aiming at. That couldn't be right.

“I have an idea,” Ignis shouted, stepping back and pulling Noctis with him. A flash came to his hand, leaving a magic flask, swirling with ice magic, in its wake. He nodded to both Gladio and Prompto, the former pulling another flask from the ether.

Prompto banished his gun and did the same.

“Get ready, Noct,” Ignis said, getting a knowing grin in response.

Noctis had his sword in hand and waited for the single. He rushed the Astral once the three flasks were tossed, freezing the god's arm solid.

It shattered and Titan roared, head thrown back. The crater quaked with the sound, Prompto barely managing to keep his footing.

He glanced around when the rumbling continued even after Titan had still, speaking in some unknown language to Noctis. Imperial dropships loomed in the distance, closing in fast.

“Guys?” he breathed out, waving a hand behind him, failing to get their attention.

Hatches on four of the closest ships opened, MTs spilling out. They carried large weapons he had never seen before, metal cylinders that glowed red and shot out harpoons.

“Guys!”

“What the fuck?!” Gladio growled, broadsword back in his hand as the MTs fired upon the Astral.

Titan roared when the harpoons connected with him. He swung his arms - the shattered one having been restored while he spoke with the prince – and the MTs were yanked off the ground, crumpling when they were thrown into the rocks. The dropships came next, Titan pulling back a fist to slam into them.

The ground split open under their feet as Titan fought off the MTs, heat blasting up from the fissures.

A bright flash had the four men wincing, trying to find the source of the light. A shower of golden light fell off Titan and the dropships stalled in place before crashing into the crater walls. When the lights cleared, Titan was gone, leaving behind the bright blue sky above them, molten lava seeping up through the cracks at their feet, and a lone dropship.

The ship descended, hovering some fifty feet above their heads before the hatch opened. A familiar person waved down at them and Prompto felt like vomitting.

“Hello again! I don't believe I properly introduced myself earlier,” Ardyn grinned, malicious and conniving. “Ardyn Izunia, at your service!” He did his usual sweeping bow and Noctis bristled, fingers tightening around the hilt of his sword, knuckles turning white.

“The Chancellor of Niflheim,” Ignis spat.

“The one and only!” Ardyn sung. “Now, from what I can see,” he started, shielding his eyes as he pretended to survey the scene, “you have two choices. You can accept my assistance and live, or you can deny it and try your luck with the lava floes. You have, oh I'd say about ten minutes to decide.”

Chapter Text

“...no choice.”

Hand on his shoulder, fingers curling around protectively, warm and solid.

“Why's he...”

The thrumming of an engine, vibrating deep in his chest.

“We... close eye on...”

A body pressed close, the smell of sweat and dirt. His ears popped as the pressure dropped.

“I must say, for... unusual company.”

Prompto tensed, the sickly sweet voice worming its way into his mind. It was familiar. He wished it wasn't.

“...failed MT no less!”

His stomach roiled, trying desperately to escape through his throat.

“...away from...”

That voice was deeper, gruff, angry.

The taste of blood slipped over his tongue and he wondered if he had been struck. Or perhaps he simply bit his tongue. He couldn't feel his own body, his mind having gone to static hours ago. Or maybe it was seconds. He wasn't even sure where he was anymore, the world melting around him, leaving him hollow.

“...even are...”

The ground beneath his feet was solid, unmoving; the hand on his back warm, gentle as it urged his body forward. He felt a flinch but didn't register it was his own body. A low ringing mixed with the static, creating a strange sort of ambience to his ears.

“...few miles... ranch.”

There was a shift in Prompto's center of gravity, leaving him weightless and heavy all at once. Hands, strong ones, gripped his arms. His body was cold, a chill taking over his senses, crawling up his spine, freezing him whole.

Another shift. His cheek was pressed up against something warm and damp. A weight was draped over his back, leaving his already lumbering body feeling tired.

Prompto jolted to the sound of a door snapping shut. A tremor snaked its way up his body just as fingers brushed over his forehead, smoothing his hair back. He jerked away from the touch, the skin of his temple on fire, crawling just under the surface.

“Jus' Gladio,” a voice, soft and thick with sleep, whispered. “You're safe.”

His eyes cleared from the fog his brain was still sloshing through. A face - Noctis, his brain supplied, finally coming out of its stupor – came into view, blurry around the edges, but no less a welcome sight.

“Where?” he tried to ask, the word coming out as a harsh cough. His throat was dry and he smacked his lips a few times, swallowing. A bottle was held out, Noctis moving to help him sit up. He grasped the bottle, taking a hefty gulp, water spilling over his chin, down his neck in his haste.

“Easy, easy,” Noctis cautioned, keeping one hand on the bottle, the other on Prompto's back, holding him in place.

Prompto gasped, wiping his shaky lips with an equally shaky hand. “Where are-” He coughed again, wincing. The room looked like one he knew, one he's been in before. A curtain at the end of the bed, yellowed with age and patterned with thin brown stripes. The blue cover over his legs was worn soft from years of use, material pilling in places.

“We're at the chocobo ranch,” Noctis explained, voice barely above a whisper. “You've been out of it for almost a whole day. Are you okay?”

Prompto thought about the question, laying back down on the bed. His body ached. He was exhausted. His hands reached out, gripping Noctis' shirt tightly, as a slew of emotions came over him, all of them viciously fighting for center stage. Tears filled his eyes, warping his already blurry vision, and a painful sob was ripped from his throat.

“Hey, hey. Shh, I'm here,” Noctis soothed, pulling him in close, letting Prompto stain his shirt with his tears. “We're here. Gladio and Ignis are here.”

The bed dipped near their feet causing Prompto to cling tighter to Noctis, drawing his knees up as much as he could. They knocked sharply into Noct's own.

“'E was there,” he mumbled against Noct's chest. “H-he was... was there.”

“Who was there?” Ignis asked, voice coming from the end of the bed.

Prompto shook his head, a choked sob being lost in the fabric of Noct's shirt.

“Ardyn?”

He whimpered at the name, fists tightening their hold.

The room fell silent for a moment, or an hour. Prompto wasn't sure how long it lasted until Gladio spoke, voice careful. “Was Ardyn one of the scientists at the facility?”

The blond shook is head, prompting Ignis to speak up.

“He was the one you mentioned before? The one the scientists called 'Sir'?”

There was a shifting of bodies and Prompto nodded, turning his face further into Noctis' chest. His nose pressed into the bed.

“What was the Chancellor of Niflheim doin' in an MT production facility?” Gladio wondered aloud.

Prompto didn't hear a response.

“Kweh.” The large, pale pink bird tilted her head and Prompto mimicked her, blinking owlishly. Her eyes flicked downwards, following Prompto's movements as he dug a gysahl chip out of the bag in his hand. She snapped her beak, pleading with soft trills when he ate the chip.

“I'm sorry, but mister Wiz told me these aren't good for you,” Prompto told her.

She snapped her beak again and turned her head away, watching her pen mate sleep.

Prompto's eyes drifted towards the sight too. The firey orange chocobo was curled up in a nest of hay, two plump yellow chicks tucked up under his wing. As he looked to the next pen, he paused, squinting slightly.

A woman was stood in the distance, just inside the tree line. She gave the blond a slow, serene nod and stepped away, further into the woods, disappearing from his line of sight.

His mouth fell open, drawn to the mysterious woman. He wondered who she was. Taking a few steps around the chocobo pens, he started making his way for the trees.

“-om? Prom?”

His hand was grabbed, tugged back slightly, and Prompto snapped back, blinking around the area.

“Hey, you okay?” Noctis asked.

When the blond turned to look at him, Noctis was frowning, brows furrowed as he surveyed the area with him.

“Where were you going?”

“I... I saw...” Prompto's eyes darted back to the woods. Nothing stood out to him and the woman was gone. As if she had never existed. “I saw someone,” he said, pointing in between the trees. “There.”

Noctis stepped forward, closer to the trees. “Someone? Who?” he asked, frown turning deeper as he eyed up the woods.

“A woman.” He had only seen her for a few seconds and tried to picture her. “Dark hair. Long, dark hair, um...” He frowned as the image of the woman slipped from his mind like water through his fingers. “I-I don't know?”

“Long, dark hair? Doesn't sound like... wait,” Noctis paused, scrunching up his face as he thought. “Maybe.”

A short series of barks had both men jumping, Prompto ducking behind Noctis in fright.

“Umbra! So that must mean-”

“Greetings, Oh King of Light.”

“Gentiana,” Noctis nodded in response.

The same woman he had seen a few moments ago was back, standing in front of them just as if she had always been there. Her eyes were closed and a soft smile graced her lips. She remained silent as Prompto watched her, hands clasped loosely in front of her.

A black and grey dog sat at her feet, panting, tail wagging happily. Prompto relaxed, recognising the dog instantly.

“Oh, uh,” Noctis started. He twisted his body, turning to face Prompto. “Sorry, I need to talk to her alone.”

Prompto nodded slowly, still watching the woman. She gave off an unusual aura, not quite warm and open, but in no way malicious.

“I'll only be a few minutes,” Noctis told him, leaning in and kissing him softly on the cheek.

He glanced back to Noctis, nodding once more, before taking a step back. The caravan was only a short distance away and Prompto made his way to it, taking one last look at the woman and Noctis before the RV blocked his view.

“How were the chocobos?” Ignis asked when he entered the caravan. “Prompto? Is everything alright, love?”

“Who's Gentiana?”

The tense line in Ignis' shoulders visibly loosened at the question. He placed the wooden spoon in his hand down on a small plate. “Gentiana is... I believe adviser could be an accurate term. She is also the High Messenger of the Astrals, working with the Oracle, Lady Lunafreya.”

“Oh.” Prompto sat at the small table, peeking out the window. He could see neither Noctis nor the woman.

Noctis groaned loudly, falling back to lay on the haven ground. He threw an arm over his eyes, ignoring Gladio when the older man kicked at his boot. “This would be so much easier if we still had the car,” he whined, rolling over. “My whole body hurts from riding a chocobo for the last four days.”

“Get over it, Noct,” Gladio grunted, dropping the canvas bag holding the tent to the rock. “We all ache, you're not special.”

Noctis didn't respond and Prompto crouched beside him. He reached out to poke Noctis in the elbow when Gladio spoke again.

“Hey, Prom. Wanna give me a hand setting up the tent?”

“Okay!” Prompto grinned, jumping to his feet.

The tree was lit up from within, blinding and bright, purple and pink and white. Prompto turned his face away, one eye shut behind his glasses, when Noctis placed a hand on the tree.

The light intensified a hundred fold. The ground shook. The air surrounding them thrummed with magic, thick and overbearing.

Prompto whimpered and clung to Gladio's side, the older man holding him close with one protective and warm arm. His face pressed into the wet leather of Gladio's shirt, the collar poking him in the cheek.

“Fuck,” Gladio whispered, shock drawing out the word.

“Noct, are you hurt?”

Prompto opened his eyes, looking back towards the tree, towards Noctis. The crevice was dark, the tree no longer emitting its strange light, and Noctis' eyes were glowing. Even through the raindrops on his glasses, Prompto could make out the vibrant pink in the prince's once deep blue eyes.

The glow faded after a few blinks. Noctis was staring at his hands, turning them over in front of him as he stepped down from the rocks. “That was... weird,” he said. “Not like getting Titan's power at all. And definitely not like getting the royal arms.” His eyes passed over the three men, stopping on Prompto tucked into Gladio's side.

“We should make for camp.” Ignis took a step towards the entrance to the crevice, back to their chocobos. “It's not wise to leave the birds alone for too long when the Empire is patrolling in the area.”

Noctis nodded in agreement, letting Ignis wrap an arm around his shoulder.

The Imperial troops had yet to return and a collective sigh of relief was drowned out by the heavy rainfall. Their birds were milling around under the cover of the trees, feathers glistening with rain, even as they continuously shook, puffing themselves up.

Gladio reached the birds first, smoothing down the deep green feathers around her neck. “So, any idea where the other two runestones are?” he asked, looking back over his shoulder.

Prompto hugged his bird around the neck, the chocobo leaning down to accommodate his height. She nuzzled against his hair, letting out a soft trill.

“I think I may have an idea,” Noctis said, hopping up to mount his bird. “Or, at least where one of them might be.” He turned his bird, the golden chocobo bouncing lightly on his feet, and pointed into the distance.

“North?” Gladio asked, already on his bird. Prompto quickly clambered up, petting Fizz's pale pink feathers apologetically when they caught under his fingers.

Noctis nodded, frowning deeply. “On the far northern side of Duscae.”

“Looks like we have a long road ahead of us. Even taking the speed of the chocobos into account, getting to the northern side of Duscae is still a week's trip and I don't believe there are many havens between us and Alstor Slough,” Ignis stated plainly. “Once we reach the shores of the lake, we will have much less to worry about seeing as the daemons seem to steer clear of water.”

Prompto turned to Ignis at the statement, Fizz wandering over to the man's firey orange bird. “Why?” he asked curiously.

Gladio was the one to answer first. “No one knows. It's pretty weird, though. Why would daemons be so scared of water that they won't come within half a mile of it?”

“It's more so around a hundred feet,” Ignis corrected him. He clicked his tongue and the group started moving, heading north through the forest. “But Gladio is correct. No one in Insomnia has been able to determine a reason behind the phenomenon but, none the less, we shall use it to our advantage.”

The wood of the pier was hard and itchy against Prompto's back. He shifted, rubbing his shoulders against the grain, scratching them through his tank top. The water was warm to his toes, rippling softly. Millions of stars, bright and shining, were overhead, showing through the clouds during a brief moment of reprieve from the seemingly unending rain. Prompto tried to count them.

He gave up quickly, losing his place once he reached fifty eight.

Noctis was warm, solid, next to him, their hips and thighs touching. The only sound that broke the natural ambiance was the fishing rod in Noct's hand, whirring when he spun the reel, tempting any lurking fish with the lure.

Nothing had been caught since they first sat down an hour ago and Prompto was sure Noctis only continued because he was stubborn. It was something he had learned about the prince from his short time in the city.

Noctis would try and try and try again, until whatever he had set his mind to was completed. Not quite perfected, but still finished.

Prompto knew they wouldn't leave the pier until he had pulled in at least one fish. And he found he didn't mind.

The haven was only a few hundred feet away, close enough so the two men could make it before the daemons could attack, but far enough that they couldn't make out what Ignis and Gladio were talking about around the fire.

He rolled over to his side, the edge of the pier digging into his thigh, and curled around Noct's body like a cat. Noctis chuckled over him, bringing an arm around to rub at his side.

The rubbing quickly turned into tickling and Prompto squirmed, laughing as he tried to escape. “N-noct!” Water splashed around his toes when he kicked his feet out, rolling this way and that way.

Noctis pulled him close, pressing a kiss to Prompto's cheek as the blond's giggle tapered off. When he had sent his fishing rod back into the ether, Prompto didn't know, but the prince was now laying beside him, curling up with him on the wood. Their legs tangled together, water dripping off their toes back into the lake.

Their lips connected, soft and warm, and Prompto hummed. His hands slid up to Noct's neck while the other man's hands wrapped around his waist, pulling him even closer. He parted his lips when Noctis' tongue swiped at them, letting his boyfriend explore while his own tongue did the same. The kiss was slow, languid.

A content sigh passed Noctis' lips when they parted. He placed another kiss on Prompto's lips. “C'mon. I can practically feel Iggy getting antsy about us staying out here so late,” he chuckled. “Something about needing to get an early start. As if we don't get enough of those.”

The griffon swooped, low and fast, wings leaving a gust in their wake. It ruffled water drenched clothes and soaked hair, knocking twigs and small branches from the trees above.

Prompto rolled away from the beast, gun flashing back into his hand when he righted himself. He let off a small volley of shots, aiming for the griffon's wings.

Only one bullet hit its mark, a couple of feathers flying off the tip of its left wing. It didn't phase the beast but it did distracted its attention enough for Gladio to use his broadsword to vault Noctis into the air behind the beast.

He rolled again, dodging a blast of wind.

The beast shrieked when Noctis' polearm landed a heavy blow on its back. It shook violently, dislodging him.

Noctis warped over to a tree, sword planted deep in the wood. Another warp and he was on the ground, by Ignis' side.

Prompto saw them speaking to each other and Noctis nodded. A flask was in his hand, crystalline sparks flickering.

The griffon swooped, Ignis leaping out of the way just as Noctis tossed the flask, hard. A firestorm swirled, so hot Prompto swore his soaking wet clothes briefly dried, covering the cries as the beast collapsed to the ground.

“Way to go, Noct!” Gladio cheered.

The rain was near deafening as it pelted against the tent's roof and, not for the first time since they left the ranch, Prompto prayed the material would hold fast and keep them dry throughout the night.

He rolled to his side, snuggling up to the warmth that Gladio always seemed to radiate. A sigh left him as he rubbed his face against the man's back.

“Prompto?” Ignis whispered, just barely heard over the rain. His hand brushed over Prompto's bare shoulder and the blond turned his head to him. “Having trouble sleeping?”

A nod and Ignis shifted closer, getting him to roll and face him.

“Bad dreams?”

Prompto shook his head. “The rain's too loud,” he admitted. It sounded silly, even to his own ears, but Ignis merely smiled softly.

“Come here, love,” he said, holding an arm out.

He moved quietly, scooting closer and resting his head on Ignis' bicep. His head was repositioned over the other man's chest, ear over the sternum. He could hear Ignis' heartbeat clearly as it replaced the steady sound of the rainfall. It was soothing, even if the firm and unforgiving bone underneath his head wasn't the most comfortable.

Prompto eventually drifted off to sleep, long after Ignis did, counting the man's heartbeats until his brain could no longer think of the next number.

Chapter Text

The cavern was cold, the air inside drafty and stagnant all at once. Their voices, soft and barely above a whisper, bounced off the walls, leaving Prompto to turn quickly towards the noises, lips already stinging from constantly biting them.

He did not like this cave. Not one single bit.

But Noctis had felt something in here, something to do with the Astral, Ramuh. He had lead the way into what appeared to be a newly opened cave, past the jagged and shattered boulders that once blocked it from the forest. The rain had become torrential by the time they had reached the entrance, soaking the four men to the bone.

A low, sorrowful wail had Prompto jerking around, eyes darting between every shadow in the vicinity. His jaw clenched, shoulders jumping to around his ear. Gladio's warm had caught his, giving it a slight squeeze. When Prompto glanced up at him, he saw the older man was staring into the dark passage, listening closely to the noises of the cavern, brow furrowed.

He looked down and gave the blond a soft smile, meant to reassure him no doubt, but Prompto remained on high alert.

They walked further into the darkness, flashlights throwing sharp, stalking shadows along the walls.

Another wail pierced the silence. Boots skidded to a halt, pebbles skipping across the ground and ricocheting off the walls. Prompto's free hand snapped over to Gladio's, gripping tightly, short nails biting into the soft leather of his glove. It groaned quietly underneath his fingers.

“What the hell was that?” Noctis breathed, wide, dark eyes staring into a deep, jagged crevise along the wall.

Prompto watched as the prince's eyes darted back towards the cave entrance before he turned. His sword glittered in his hand as it formed, briefly bathing the large area in a soft blue.

For a moment, only their breathing was heard. A voice rang out, shrill and high pitched and angry. The words it screamed were garbled, unrecognisable.

They sent a chill through Prompto's body and he took a step back in panic. Gladio curled a protective arm around his waist, his shield shimmering into the other.

The unknown creature screamed again, the noise seeming to come from all sides at once. It was quieter, more mournful than the last, but no less terrifying to their ears.

Noctis took a step back, the heel of his boot knocking against Prompto's. “Do you think it was a daemon?” he asked, glancing over to Ignis before looking deeper into the cave. “It... it sounded like it was trying to speak. Didn't it?”

“I think it's... searching for something,” Ignis replied, voice barely above a whisper. He had his daggers clutched in his hands, fingers tight around the hilts.

Prompto could hear a slight tremor in the man's voice. His breath hitched at the sound.

“For what?” Noctis murmured, not expecting an answer.

Prompto hoped they'd never find out.

“Get back!”

Prompto felt his arm being yanked, his feet stumbling over the uneven floor as Gladio tugged both Noctis and him out of the way of the daemon's attack. He watched, goosebumps prickling at the back of his neck, as the naga reared its head back and released a foul green spray from its mouth.

It sizzled and steamed when it hit the ground, leaving sickly looking puddles behind.

“Poison?” Noctis asked, already pulling his arm free of the hold. He had a spear in hand, the sharp tip pointing to the ground behind him.

Ignis dodged a swipe of the daemon's snake-like tail, rolling a few feet away before resummoning his own lance. “Quite possibly.” He swung his lance around, leaving a deep cut in the naga's belly and grimacing when it howled. “We should do our best to avoid getting hit by it, in any case.”

“Thanks for the tip, Iggy,” Noctis snarked.

Prompto watched him lunge, spear embedding itself deep into the naga's side before it shimmered and vanished, reappearing in the prince's hand once more. He lined up his own shot, waiting for Gladio to take a wide swing at the naga before squeezing the trigger, letting off three shots in quick succession.

Two hit their mark.

The naga reared back its head again in a wail, tail coiling close to its body. It reminded Prompto of a tightly wound spring or a snake readying an attack.

The attack came in the blink of an eye. A blur of its tail as it struck out, sweeping Ignis from his feet. He crashed to the ground, hard, as Prompto watched the tail swing around towards him. The breath was knocked from his as he collided with the ground, rolling a few feet away. His gun had shimmered back into the ether when he lost his grip.

Prompto blinked, eyes unfocused for a few moments. Flashes of blue light lit up the wide cavern and muffled sounds reached his ears. He could just make out his own name from underneath the deep ringing that filled his head.

Another flash of blue, much closer than the last, had him wincing, curling in on himself. The motion had the blond hissing as his body decided then to let him know of all the newly acquired bruises the fall had given him.

“-ey, I got ya.”

The voice had Prompto opening his eyes. Gladio had crouched in front of him, blocking his view of the naga. He held out a small vial, a potion, hand rocking slightly to get Prompto's attention.

“Take this,” he said.

With a wince, Prompto reached out, grasping the vial. It shattered in his hand when he squeezed and the warm magic filled him with a renewed energy. Gladio helped him to his feet after the magic wore off, Prompto wavering slightly on his unsteady legs, still unused to the power of the healing magic.

After giving Gladio a quick nod, he reached into the ether, finding his gun and pulling it free, the sounds of the fight still echoing across the chamber.

”So, I think I may have found your car,” Cidney started, hesitation in her voice coming through loud and clear even through the speakerphone. ”But you're not gonna like where she is.”

“You haven't even said where and I'm already dreading it,” Noctis groaned, eyes closed in apprehension.

A sigh before Cidney continued. ”It's in Aracheole Stronghold.”

“That's all the way on the other side of the Disc of Cauthess!” Gladio exclaimed, arms dropping heavily to his side. One of the chocobos squawked at him from their huddle under a clump of trees, a failed attempt at staying dry.

”I told ya you weren't gonna like it,” Cidney said. ”Anyhow, I got customers waitin'. Don't be a stranger!” There was a click and two short beeps to signify that the mechanic had hung up.

Noctis let out another, longer groan, staring up at the still dreary sky.

The rain had lessened since their trip into the cave, but it had by no means stopped. Night was creeping closer and the chocobos would only travel so far before they refused, the threat of daemon attacks leaving them far too scared to continue on through the night. The group mounted the birds shortly after the phone call, Ignis taking the lead and steering them for the closest haven.

They had a long road ahead of them to get to the stronghold with only chocobos as their sole means of transportation.

Chapter Text

“I count roughly twenty MTs,” Ignis hummed, a frown pulling at his lips. “Unless more are stationed in the warehouses, it hardly seems like enough to properly defend the stronghold.”

“You think they got tired of waitin' and sent out a group to try and find us?” Gladio asked, taking the binoculars that Ignis held out. He peered through them, noting where the Regalia sat and where the units were standing.

Prompto didn't think sending out a group was a smart idea. Noctis seemed to think the same.

“They knew we'd be coming,” he scoffed. “They're probably trying to get us to lower our guard, get us to just run in and grab the car, before they ambush us.”

Ignis nodded in agreement, eyes still studying the stronghold.

--

His chin stung, a small throb that had Prompto wiping at the spot. The palm of his glove came back with a streak of blood, wet and shining in the sunrise. He wiped at the cut again, glancing back to the generator.

Sparks, pink and gold, were still shooting out of the large, jagged cuts in the black metal, but the red glow inside the machine and the haze it had filtered through in the air were gone. The stench of ozone still lingered, burning Prompto's nose. A terrifying reminder of the power of the Astrals; one that had him immensely relieved he was on Noctis' side.

The prince himself groaned softly, stretching and rubbing at his hip. He held up his hand when Ignis took a step in his direction, waving it lightly. “Let's get the car and get out of here,” he said, voice raspy, tired.

Prompto saw a bruise reddening on Noctis' cheek, a tiny sliver of a cut in the center of it, when he walked past. A hand on his shoulder had him looking to his left, spotting Ignis, who gave him a small nod.

Hurrying to catch up with Noctis, Prompto fell in step with him as they crossed the courtyard. The Regalia was parked on the far side, the rising sun glinting off the windows. It had Prompto's eyes watering and he turned his head down and away to avoid the glare.

Heavy footfalls caught his attention. He thought for a moment they were Gladio's but these were sharper and nowhere near as relaxed.

He slowed his steps, coming to a stop as he turned. “Uh, g-guys?”

A man dressed in a long white coat, black accents and the cross of the empire emblazoned on the material, strode towards the group.

Prompto took a few hurried steps backwards at the sight of his sword drawn, almost ducking behind Ignis.

“Long has it been, Noctis,” the man said as he came close. His eyes swept over the other three before focusing on Noctis solely. “You receive the Storm's blessing. And yet, you know nothing of the consequences..”

Noctis seemed to straighten himself up, shoulders pulled back in agitation at the words. He faltered when the tip of the blade was pointed at this throat, head tilting back to avoid drawing blood. Prompto heard the quick scuffing of shoes on the cement but no one seemed for move for what felt like a year.

The man advanced on Noctis, slowly backing him towards the car, tip of his sword never once wavering from Noctis' neck.

Another shuffling of boots and Prompto watched, eyes wide, as Gladio stepped forward, intending to cut in front of Noctis. The blade was shifted before Gladio could move more than a single step, resting dangerously against his throat.

Prompto could tell instantly this man didn't perceive Gladio as a threat. His body language was calm but his eyes remained sharp.

“Be still, all of you,” he drawled, holding his free hand up towards Ignis. It was clad in heavy metal, dark purple and dirty gold in color, nails as sharp as claws.

Ignis let out a slow breath through his nose, hands tensing as if he was preparing to summon his daggers, regardless of what the man said. After a few seconds, he shifted back, hands moving to his sides.

Biting his lip, Prompto remained in his spot, waiting for the man to make his move, whatever it would be.

The man drew his hand back, curling it into a fist, as he spoke to Noctis. “Heir to a crown befitting no other,” he started, as if he was reciting a script. “Witness his splendor and glory. All hail the Chosen King.” He dropped his hand to his side, head tilting towards the prince.

Noctis sneered, lip curling and hands clenching tightly by his side. “Awful high and mighty for an imperial rat, serving the enemy to hunt down Luna,” he spat.

The words had the man's face twitching, brows creasing in anger as Noctis' voice rose. He surged forward, grabbing Noctis by the throat with his armored hand, cutting off his next words with a squeeze. “I do not serve. I command!” he growled. He shoved Noctis backwards, watching as he stumbled.

“Noct!” Prompto rushed over, grasping the other man by the arm. He watched as Gladio stepped in front of the two of them once there was space, glaring down the other man. He seemed to be just as tall as the shield from Prompto's perspective.

“Ah, the king's sworn shield,” the man said with disdain.

“You'd better believe it,” Gladio replied, a challenge in his voice.

Prompto watched as the man slowly raised his sword, drawing it in front of his body as he spoke. “A weak shield protect naught.” The sword came down quickly and Prompto flinched, turning his body away with a cower.

The crystalline shattering of a weapon being summoned filled the courtyard followed by the harsh scraping of metal on metal. He looked up just in time to see Gladio shoving the man's sword away.

Or so it had seemed.

The man had let his sword slid over the length of Gladio's broadsword before he moved in close, smashing his elbow into Gladio's torso.

Prompto gasped as Noctis' shouted Gladio's name, watching in shock as the man was sent flying backwards, crashing with a heavy thud into the side of the car. The blond ran to his side, helping him to sit up as Gladio winced, coughing wetly.

“You wanna go?” Noctis growled as the royal arms he had collected shimmered and flashed into existence, circling around the prince protectively. “Let's do it.”

The man shifted casually on his feet, gaze going back to Noctis at the threat. “Should the Chosen fall, that too is fate,” he said, though he made no move to attack. After a few seconds, he turned to look over his shoulder, annoyance flitting over his features.

It didn't take Prompto long to figure out why he had paused.

Coming up from their right was a man none of the four men wished to see again.

Ardyn Izunia.

He waltzed in with a causal gait, an artificial smile on his lips. “I'd say that's far enough,” he said.

Ignis took a step forward only to be halted with a single hand, Ardyn's eyes never once straying from Noctis and the man with the sword.

“Not from you,” Noctis muttered, taking half a step back.

The other man had turned away from Ardyn, as if he meant to ignore his presence. Prompto, too, wished he could also pretend the chancellor wasn't there.

“Oh,” Ardyn grinned cheerfully, “but I'm here to help.”

“And how is that?” Ignis asked doubtfully.

Ardyn finally turned to Ignis, face still showing that all-to-fake cheeriness. “By taking the army away.”

Prompto slipped closer to the car when the man's eyes passed over him and Gladio. His fingers squeaked against the metal as he gripped the door behind him.

“You expect us to believe that?” Gladio demanded. He had stepped in front of Prompto, not so subtly blocking him from view. He held himself up as straight as he possibly could with his arm still clutching his injured stomach.

Ardyn ignored the question. He turned away, coat swishing noisily as he walked. “The next time we meet, it 'll be across the seas,” he mused. Pausing, he looked back to Noctis, grin ever present. “Just so happens we have business of our own with the tutelary deity. Don't we?”

The man with the sword, who had seemed to be completely ignoring the chancellor, glanced over with a frown.

The slight didn't seem to even faze Ardyn, who merely strode closer to Noctis again, hand gliding into the air. “Fare thee well, Your Majesty, and safe travels.” He shook his hand twice as he said the words and the other man let out an annoyed breath, but he turned and walked away, Ardyn trailing along after him.

Prompto watched them go, holding his breath until they were well out of earshot. “Do-” he started, licking his lips and turning towards the others as they stepped over to the car. “Do you guys know him? The man with the sword?”

Noctis' face darkened at the question. He pulled the car door open and slid inside.

“He is Ravus Nox Fleuret,” Ignis explained. “First and only son of Tenebrae... and the elder brother to Lady Lunafreya.” He placed a light hand on Prompto's shoulder and nodded his head towards the car.

--

“A boat?”

”That's what I said. Last I heard, she was docked down at Cape Caem.” Cid's voice was rough through the phone's speaker.

“And when was that, if I may?” Ignis asked, leaning in closer to Noct's phone.

There was a hum, then a cough, before Cid replied. ”Must be nearly thirty years ago. Let's hope she hasn't sunk,” he chuckled. ”I'll be headin' down that way early tomorrow morn', see what needs to be done.”

“We'll meet you there as soon as we can,” Ignis said. “Safe travels.”

A grunt was the reply before the call ended. Noctis shoved the phone back into his pocket and slouched down in his chair, knees pressed into the edge of the table.

Prompto looked between the three men -Noctis across the small table from him, Ignis making his way to the kitchenette, Gladio digging through his duffle bag- before he spoke. “Does this mean we have to ride on another ship?” He still remembered the way his stomach seemed to rock with the ship and didn't wish to go through that again any time soon.

Ignis clicked the switch on the kettle and stood in the doorway. “I don't think His Majesty had an actual ship at his disposal. It is far more likely to be a much smaller boat as Cid said.”

Noctis rolled his head back to stare at Ignis, eyebrows raised. “I didn't even know dad had boat.”

“Nor did I,” Ignis said. “Curious how he didn't have it docked at Insomnia's port. And this 'Cape Caem' is a bit of a mystery as well. As far as I know, it's only a lighthouse on the southern tip of Lucis. Seems a rather odd place for the king to visit.”

“Maybe the king and queen used to use it as a 'weekend getaway' kinda place,” Gladio suggested. He had a book on his knee, thumb acting as a bookmark.

Noctis shrugged, “Don't ask me. I didn't even know the place existed. Where did you say it was? Near Galdin?”

“Unfortunately no.” The kettle switch popped back up and Ignis turned back to the kitchenette, gathering up four mugs, dropping a tea bag in each. “Gladio, would you grab out the map. We have a long trip ahead of us and not much time to plan.”