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the voices of our hearts

Chapter Text

"Five of them, 'bout a year old," the glaive murmurs. "Four of 'em were dead by the time she got back, though."

"How did she get five babies out of an Imperial stronghold?" His companion takes a solid swig of her drink.

"She strapped them all to her and ran as fast as she could. None of them got hurt. It was just too cold," he says. "Can't believe Besithia stooped so low as to experiment on human babies."

"The Empire's evil. We knew that already." There's a moment of silence. "What happens to the last one?"

"Getting 'em in good shape, and then they're carting 'em off to Insomnia. Dunno after that."

"This is the most fucked up thing I've ever heard."

"I'll drink to that," the glaive says, and he does.

---

"There is nothing further I can do without killing him," the Oracle says. "I have never seen the like."

"What do you mean, your Majesty?" the soldier asks.

"The Starscourge is within him, but it is not as an infection," she says, slow. "It has become an essential part of him, just as lymph and bile are. To remove it would end his life."

"Then what... what will happen to him?"

"It will not spread further. I have ensured it." She sighs. "His body will develop normally. As for his soul, or any type of magic, I cannot say."

"Thank you, Oracle," the soldier says. He bows, and leaves.

---

"Other than the codeprint and the oddity we have reported, your Majesty, he is an ordinary child," the captain said, concluding his report.

The King of Lucis looks down at the picture of a chubby blonde two-year-old. He's quiet for a long moment.

"Then he should live an ordinary life," says the King, and it is made so.

---

"They sing," a royal scientist says. "They sing, and it's magic, like the Reyvateils of Solheim." She glances around, then leans in and speaks softly. "And hey. We have a boy who we pulled out of the facility before they ran the process on him." She pauses again. "He's probably just a normal kid, though. Eight, now, and we haven't heard of anything special happening. Even if he was special, we don't even know where the Eastern Tower was anymore."

"Huh," the other scientist says. They flip through their notes. "Song Magic, back in the world, and it had to be the godsdamned Niffs that did it." They pause for a moment. "A boy. A cis boy? All the Reyvateils were supposed to be women."

"A cis boy," the first scientist says. "So they've either done something to the Western Tower or made a new one altogether."

"Are you sure there's nothing special about the boy? Do we have access to him? Samples?"

"No... but I've been thinking about trying to bribe his pediatrician."

"That's totally illegal, you know," the other scientist says. "And deeply unethical." They smile. "I'll contribute some of my paycheck if you can work it out."

---

"Maybe we should have him dye his hair," the woman says. "He might stand out less if it was dark."

"Maybe," the man replies.

"He's a happy kid," the woman continues. "He's doing all right. We're doing all right."

"Yeah," the man says. "Where's my dress uniform?"

"I already packed it," she tells him. "We'll have to iron it when we get there, but they're charging extra if you take more than one bag of luggage now."

"What a racket," the man complains. He digs through his bag. "Think he's going to be okay for three weeks without us?"

"He's eleven. We already paid the bills and we left plenty of money for food. As long as he keeps his wristband on, he'll be fine." The woman snaps her purse shut. "We'd better hurry. Boarding starts in two hours."

---

"Hey there, Prince Noctis! I'm Prompto! Nice to meet you!"

Chapter Text

Prompto thinks that actually, he's got a pretty good life. He lives in a decent house in a solidly middle-class neighborhood, and his parents keep the bills paid. He works part-time for pocket money at a camera shop and he loves his job. He goes to a good school. He's got a friend that puts up with all his bullshit. He's lucky. Really.

And hey. With his parents out of town? He can turn his speakers way, way up. (He's actually an expert on it. He's experimented with how far he can crank the dial before you can hear music from the sidewalk.)

Prompto loves music. It feels good when he listens to it, settles down somewhere into his bones so the pulse of the beat overwhelms the flutter of anxiety. It's not something that he's passionate about, like photography. He doesn't have the drive to learn a lot about it and put his own spin on it and perfect it. But it's... there, filling up his empty, quiet house, and that's more than he could ask of anything.

And so the knob's turned to two-thirds of the way between the eighth and ninth ticks on the dial and he almost doesn't hear the doorbell.

"I thought you were busy today!" Prompto says, grinning widely.

"I was, but then the ambassador from Accordo bailed on us because something-or-other is going on in Altissia," Noct says. "So screw that."

Prompto laughs. "Sweet! Come in, come in. Let me finish up the dishes, okay?" He turns to the sink, leaving Noct to find his own way to the couch.

He's scrubbing a bit of burnt rice out of the bottom of a pot when he feels eyes on his back, and it's only after that when he realizes he's been singing the whole time. When he turns, he sees Noct, with the strangest look on his face. "Oh, sorry-"

"No," Noct says, slow, brows furrowed. "It was- It was good."

Prompto doesn't know what to make of Noct's expression at all, and here he'd thought he was finally getting the hang of it. "Noct?"

"No, it's- It's nothing." Noct seems to relax, a little. "Hey, you want to play Justice Monsters Gaiden?"

---

Prompto decided a long time ago that he won't be jealous of Noct, and for the most part, he isn't. Because yeah, Noct can warp across space and put magic in bottles and throw things into nowhere only to pull them out again six weeks later. But all of that comes with knowing that the fate of Lucis is going to rest in his hands and growing up watching his dad die. So he doesn't want it. He doesn't.

But Prompto can't help but wonder, every now and then, what that blue glow in Noct's hands feels like to him. Or what it's like to have people look at you when you walk into a room, and listen to you when you talk.

But he doesn't want it. Prompto makes himself imagine watching his dad die the way that the King's dying, and how many people live in Lucis, and he doesn't want it.

What he does want is for this headache to go away, but it set up shop days ago and it's only gotten worse, so he's not too optimistic.

Thinking about it, it's been building for awhile. More than a month, if he's honest, though it hadn't exactly hurt until this week. Something like his pulse pounding after a run, but all the time, spreading through his skull, and-

"-lo? Prompto?"

Prompto looks up to see Noct, eyes wide, staring down at him. He's lying on his back. That's Noct's ceiling. He's in Noct's apartment. He doesn't remember how he got here. The last thing he remembers is lunch at school, nibbling at a peanut butter sandwich more out of a desire to keep his strength up than hunger.

"Prom," Noct says, with obvious relief. "Are you okay?"

"I've kinda got a headache," Prompto says. Even laying still, he feels like the room is spinning around him, and he's so cold. Doesn't Noct usually keep his apartment warmer than everywhere else?

Noct reaches out for his forehead. His hand is so cold that Prompto flinches. "You're burning up," Noct says. "Let's- You rest there, okay? I'll call Ignis and we'll get you home."

Prompto wants to argue, crack a joke, lighten the mood, anything to keep Noct from sending him home to an empty house when he's already so miserable. But before he can remember how to speak, his wrist--not the one with the code on it, either, but his other wrist--it burns like he's pressing it against the stove. He can't help but moan.

"Prom, what do you need?" Noct asks.

Prompto tries to smile, but he doesn't think he manages to pull it off. "S'fine," he says, and then-

---

There is so much light that it hurts. Prompto wonders if he's dead, but it probably wouldn't hurt if he was dead. He squeezes his eyes shut, instead, but it doesn't help as much as he wants it to. He groans.

"Prompto?" someone asks, and the voice is familiar.

"S'bright," Prompto manages.

There's murmuring that Prompto can't manage to put together into words, but then the light fades to something tolerable. "Hey, can you hear me?" the voice says.

Prompto thinks he knows that voice. "Noct?"

"Yeah, it's me," Noct says, slow and gentle. "Listen. It's gonna take another day to get the medicine you need. You just gotta hold on one more day, okay?"

"'Kay," Prompto mumbles, because it's Noct asking and he can't say no to Noct.

"Good," Noct says, and Prompto doesn't have to open his eyes to see the smile. "That's good."

This time, Prompto slips gently into sleep.

Chapter Text

Prompto wakes to a burst of pain at his wrist.

He gasps, yanking his arm toward himself. Nothing stops him. He cradles his wrist to his chest and pants.

It hurts.

But that fades, slow, and in its place comes quiet.

Prompto's muscles untense. His head stops throbbing. The room goes hot, and he starts to sweat.

Prompto finally gains the presense of mind to look around.

The first thing that he takes in is that there are a whole lot of other people in the room with him. One of them is Noct, staring at first--but when Prompto tries to make eye contact, his eyes skitter away. A couple of them are probably doctors or nurses or something, wearing scrubs and gloves. One of the rest looks familiar, but Prompto can't place him. None of the rest have outfits that give them away.

The room is painted white, and he's on a white bed. A hospital, then.

"How are you feeling?" one of the people in scrubs says.

Prompto blinks. "I'm... okay," he says. And it's even true. He feels better than he has in weeks. He looks down at his wrist, where the last hints of pain are receding. That wrist has something like a tattoo on it now, too, some strange sigil written in letters he can't read. And- wait. His other wrist is only covered by a hospital bracelet, and- "What's going on?"

"You've... awakened, as a Song Mage," the doctor, presumably, replies. "It was a serious strain on your body."

Prompto blinks again. "Why are there so many people in here?" he asks.

"This is actually an unprecedented event in Lucis," someone else pipes up. "We haven't had a Song Mage in Lucis since there's-"

"Don't overwhelm him," the doctor says. "He's been through a lot this past week." He turns to Prompto again. "Do you understand me?" he asks.

"Yes?" Prompto responds, and it takes him a moment to realize that the question hadn't been asked in Lucian. And that he hadn't responded in Lucian, either. "Wait. What?"

---

Prompto's hospital stay is... busy.

His doctors take his temperature every hour for the first day. They have him do exercises with his wrists to test strength and range of motion. They're constantly asking if he's in pain, even though he honestly feels fine, other than being tired.

A social worker comes in and asks a series of uncomfortable questions about Prompto's home life. She knows every trick he usually uses to redirect things and won't let him squeeze out of the conversation. He doesn't think he convinces her that things are fine at home.

A royal scientist sneaks in to ask Prompto for DNA samples for use in private testing. Unfortunately for the scientist, a nurse is in the room at the time. The scientist is escorted from the hospital grounds by security immediately.

One of the professors of the linguistics department at the Queen's College shows up one afternoon wanting to know if Prompto could perhaps clarify a few points of Hymmnos grammar, at which point he learns that the language he magically knew when he woke up is called Hymmnos. He's not really sure he can help, but he tries. When he mentions it happened to Noct later, it ends up triggering an investigation to find out how Prompto's private medical information was leaked from the hospital.

And most alarmingly, one afternoon, a member of the Kingsglaive arrives to inform him that the Ministry of Defense was working on getting him "the appropriate security clearance" and leaves without clarifying what exactly that meant or why that would be necessary.

---

"So it turns out that your parents aren't going to be able to get back for another six weeks at best," Noct says. He steals a grape from Prompto's bowl and pops it into his mouth.

"Huh," Prompto replies. He shrugs, because he's good at playing this off, and anyway this doesn't exactly come as a surprise.

Noct frowns just the slightest bit. "Anyway," he says. "That's why you're still stuck here. They're afraid to send you off by yourself after all... that."

It seems reasonable. It's actually kind of reassuring. But, on principle: "Dude, I'm fine," Prompto says.

"Dude, if you hadn't been at my place when you passed out, you'd be dead," Noct says, so casual that it doesn't sound casual at all. "Anyway, what I was going to say was that if you'd rather sit around in my apartment than a hospital bed, Dad'll sign off on it."

"Your... dad? The king," Prompto says, not quite sure he's hearing correctly.

"Uh, yeah, that's who my dad is," Noct says. "He's been serving as your legal guardian for all of this since your parents are useless."

"My parents aren't useless," Prompto says automatically as his brain scrambles to catch up. "But um. Sure. Your apartment would be better than... this."

Noct smiles the way he does only once in a blue moon, completely unguarded and pleased. "That's great," he says. "I'll let Specs know." He digs around in the grapes as if trying to select the best one. "I haven't seen Specs go on a research bender like this in years. He was into really into ancient civ when he was in high school. He's probably going to be all over you with questions."

"He probably knows more than I do," Prompto protests. He stares down at his wristbands, thinking of the sigil on one side and bar code on the other. "I have questions."

Noct gets this look for just a fraction of a second. Last year, when they were just starting to be friends, Prompto wouldn't have caught it. But that way his eyebrows and jaw go tight, just for a second...

"You know something," Prompto says.

Noct shakes his head. "I don't. But I have pretty high security clearance. If you really want, I could..."

Prompto doesn't have to think about it. "No," he murmurs. "Don't. Please."

"Okay," Noct says. There's a few moments of quiet. "So you wanna play King's Knight? I bet you're days behind on this event."

Chapter Text

"I've got this," Prompto says. He means it, even.

In the end, everything he wants to take from his house to Noct's apartment fits in one bag. School uniforms (three for winter and three for summer), a couple sets of casual clothes, toiletries, textbooks, and his camera gear. It's not even particularly heavy.

Noct rolls his eyes and scoops the bag off the bed. "And now I do," he says. This is not the first time that he's insisted on doing physical tasks for Prompto today. This is, in fact, becoming a pattern.

"Noct, I'm fine," Prompto says. "You don't have to..."

Noct purses his lips, eyes roaming the room. "It's not a big deal," he says. "Come on. Specs is waiting with the car."

Prompto thinks maybe if Noct feels like it's this important, it is a big deal, but he doesn't have a clue how to approach the problem. "Sure," he says.

Ignis nods at Prompto as they climb into the car. "Good afternoon," he says. "Is there something you would like to eat for dinner to celebrate your release from the hospital?"

"Anything you cook is great," Prompto says. He realizes that living with Noct means sometimes Ignis will stop by and make dinner. That saves him at least two hours in a week. Of course, he'll need that if he's going to catch up with this mountain of homework...

"Prom?" Noct asks, slinging the duffel bag onto the floorboard.

"Just got distracted," Prompto says. "I have so much to do. I gotta call my boss," he realizes, shuffling into his seat. "I bet he's wondering where I was..."

Noct and Ignis share a look, and Prompto gets a bad feeling.

Ignis sighs. "Ah, you are no longer an employee of Insomnia Point and Shoot," he says. He adjusts his glasses. "His Majesty confirmed your termination three days ago."

Prompto takes a deep breath. "What? He just..."

"As you know, the King has been acting in loco parentis since your parents are... unavailable," Ignis continues. "Legally, even without the matter of being Head of State, he has the right to cancel your employment for you at any time."

Prompto has the strange sensation of sinking into the ground. "Oh," he says. Something in the back of his mind screams that this is not fair, not fair, not after everything he's done for so long but the rest of him feels blank and empty. He hadn't thought through the implications of the social worker, of this new legal guardianship, at all. "Well, let's go," he says, pushing cheer into his voice as if his life depends on it.

Noct and Ignis share another look, but Noct slides into his own seat, and they drive away.

---

"You remember that day I came to visit, and you started singing in the kitchen?" Noct asks.

"Yeah," Prompto says, pushing food around on his plate. Ignis had sensed the mood and left right after dropping Prompto and Noct off, and they were alone in Noct's apartment.

"You started glowing," Noct says.

Prompto looks up. "Really?" he asks.

"Yeah," Noct says. "I thought I had to be seeing things, or it was a trick of the light. But..." He shakes his head. "When you were- when you had that fever. Sometimes I saw it then, too. Gold like sunshine."

Prompto hums. "Cool," he says, trying to imagine it.

Noct looks down at his own plate, dumps a slice of carrot onto Prompto's, and half-smiles. "It'll be way cooler when you're not dying," he says.

---

The first day back at school is awful.

Prompto has no clue what's going on in math class after missing two weeks. There's a quiz in Lucian lit that he blindly guesses his way through. History makes sense, but they're talking about a Lucian king again. He hates watching the way Noct's shoulders sit when that's the topic of a lecture.

Physical education is frustrating; Prompto's body is still all wrong after he boiled his brains out for a week, even though he's had another week to recover from it, and he's clumsy and gets winded far too fast. Lunch is good, but uncomfortable, because Noct keeps hovering after his poor performance in PE.

Their science class has moved on from physics to biology, a massive disappointment. And for some reason, all of his Accordian starts getting confused with the Hymmnos that beamed itself into his head, and he's struggling with things he's sure he knew before.

Going back to Noct's apartment doesn't turn out to be any better, because there's mail sitting on the counter addressed to Prompto. And it's from the Ministry of Defense, stating that he has received security clearance for a non-redacted version of his file, if he would like to go to the Citadel to read it.

Prompto looks at Noct. "That's not good, is it?" he asks.

Noct says, "If they were going to arrest you or something, they would have done it already."

"So it's not good," Prompto says.

"Probably not," Noct agrees.

Chapter Text

"I don't get it," Prompto says, squirming in the back seat.

"Presumably, His Majesty wants to be more available as a guardian than the parents he is substituting for," Ignis replies. He sounds tired. Over the past two days, Prompto's had this same conversation with Noct and Ignis about six times, so it's probably not surprising. But he really doesn't get it.

"I'm going to eat lunch with the king of Lucis," Prompto says. "Privately."

"He's my dad," Noct says. The first time they had this conversation, he'd burst out laughing about here. But this was far from the first time.

"Is he mad at me?" Prompto asks.

"No, Prom," Noct says. "We would know if he was mad at you."

"He's going to-"

"His Majesty is not going to do you any harm," Ignis interrupts sharply.

Prompto swallows. "He's going to hate me," he says, and this one is new.

"Prom," Noct sighs, a little sad. "He's not going to hate you."

Prompto buries his face in his hands. He doesn't get it.

But he only has a few more moments to panic as Ignis parks the car, and then it's time to get himself together. Despite all the reassurance, he still feels like he's walking to his execution. It's even stranger because the guards know his face and wave him through now. Before, even if he was with Noct, they always stopped him, at least to check his ID.

Ignis leaves them to do something official or something, so Noct leads Prompto up to "the place where you're going to eat lunch" (thus named because the phrase "private dining room" was enough to get him shaking all on its own).

"You're going to be fine," Noct says. "Anyway, we're here." He gives Prompto a gentle shove to the back. "Go on."

Prompto glances up at the door and pushes it open.

The King of Lucis is already seated at a table about the size of the one in a normal person's dining room, far too small for the room. He's wearing a button-up shirt and dress slacks and a leg brace that looks like something Prompto's seen in a doctor's office. "Hello, Prompto," says King Regis Lucis Caelum. "Please, take a seat. No need to stand on ceremony."

"Hi," Prompto says, and goes and sits down. There's already food on the plates. Cheeseburgers and curly fries. The presentation was clearly done by someone who knows what they're doing, but he's almost sure that these came from the Kenny Crow's in the public area food court. It's finger food, so there's no silverware. The glass is full of water, but he probably doesn't need caffeine making him even more jittery.

Prompto glances back at the door, where Noct gives him a thumbs up and disappears.

"I must apologize for not meeting with you sooner," the King says. "I was appointed your legal guardian primarily because of your unique position, and have not dedicated as much time as you deserve to your well-being." He picks up a curly fry, dips it in some ketchup, and eats it, like a normal person.

Prompto can feel the blush all the way down to his chest. "It's not a big deal," he says.

The King shakes his head. "It actually is a 'big deal,' Prompto." There's a brief pause. "Are you aware that your parents have been in violation of child protection statutes by leaving you alone in your home for months at a time?"

"They don't-" Prompto shuts his mouth. He doesn't want to have this conversation, but he really, really doesn't want to know what happens if he lies to the king and gets found out. He forces out, "Yeah, I know." He stares down at his plate. "I didn't want them to get in trouble. They're good people. Um. Your Majesty."

"'Regis' is fine, Prompto. There really is no need to be so formal."

Prompto nods and swallows down some water.

"As it turns out, there were quite a few individuals in your vicinity violating child protection laws," King Regis says. "Your pediatrician was selling your medical information and biological samples, for example. She has been taken into custody, if you want to know, but I don't believe your testimony will be required when she comes to trial." He pauses. "And there's the case of your former employer."

And suddenly, Prompto knows exactly why he doesn't have a job anymore.

"It is in violation of labor law to allow a minor to work more than ten hours a week, or on shifts later than midnight during the school week," Regis mentions.

"Yeah," Prompto says.

"He insisted it was by your request," the King continues.

"It was." Prompto swallows. "It's not- please don't-" So many people are in trouble now because of him. He feels sick.

"Would you like to explain why?"

Prompto tries to figure out how to put it. He pushes some fries around on his plate. "It's..." He smiles a fraction. "Maybe you know I- I'm friends with Prince Noctis," he says. And somehow, just bringing up Noct eases the weight in his chest by a tiny fraction.

"Yes," Regis says.

"Well," Prompto says. "He has an unpredictable schedule, but he's always asleep by midnight." He sighs. "And I don't want to- I won't take advantage of his money," he says, and forces himself to look in the King's eye because he really means it. "But Noctis has a large allowance, and I. Don't." And then comes the last part, the one he really doesn't want to say. "And I like to have some savings. Because sometimes Mom and Dad don't-"

"I understand," Regis interrupts, and Prompto is profoundly grateful. "I won't press charges, then. But you must understand that as your legal guardian, I cannot allow the people around you to take advantage of you."

Prompto nods, but he doesn't like it. "Then... what... Um. Sir, what happens to..." He really needs the money, and he really needs the time, and he really doesn't want anyone to get in trouble.

The King frowns. "I've frightened you," he says.

"N- no-"

"It's quite all right," the King says. "In your position, anyone would be frightened." He gestures to the plate in front of Prompto. "Please eat something."

Prompto isn't hungry, and hasn't been hungry this entire time, but he makes himself nibble on a fry.

"Your material needs will be taken care of while you are my ward," Regis says. "An allowance will also be provided. Though I might speak to my son about his expenditures."

Prompto blushes. "Sir-"

Regis shakes his head, smiling kindly. "My discussions with Noctis are none of your concern," he says. "Just as my discussions with you are none of his."

Prompto can't argue with that.

"As for your parents... that is a more complex situation." The King pauses for a moment. "Have you had an opportunity to read your file?"

"No," Prompto says, frowning.

"Perhaps we should postpone that discussion, then," the King says. "I suspect you will want to learn this information in private, rather than hear it from a near-stranger."

Prompto looks down at the table, eyes wide. "All right," he says.

"But I've put you off your lunch for real, haven't I?" Regis sighs. "Well, I suppose this conversation was necessary." He gives Prompto a rueful smile. "Consider yourself free to leave."

"Um. Thank you, sir," Prompto says, and leaves the room at the fastest walk he can.

Chapter Text

They won't let Prompto take his own file out of the Citadel. They won't even let him take it out of the Ministry of Defense office. Once the clerk figures out who he is, though, she gets an intern to leave his cube so Prompto can read in relative privacy.

Prompto understands what all the fuss is about very quickly.

The first thing that he learns about himself is that he is classed as a "spoil of war" and is therefore Crown property.

They found him somewhere in Niflheim, in a lab. There are pictures. A room with five incubators hooked up to extensive equipment. A tank of black liquid. Pages of sheet music. Close-ups of a baby in an incubator, tubes and wires running into its feet and hands.

A member of the Kingsglaive found him, it seems, and his clone brothers. Another picture: five infants on a blanket. One of them is circled in red. A note that all the other clones died in the snow.

Medical assessment. Hypothermia. Dilated pupils and reduced pupillary light reflex. Difficulty swallowing. Tracking chip implanted under bar code (extracted).

Starscourge.

A trip to the Oracle. Incurable Starscourge.

Niflheim's Magitek program. Song Magic in the night. Bodies moving at the wrong angles. Empty suits.

Pictures of Prompto from a distance, growing older.

His friendship with Noct. An investigation into whether he might be a sleeper agent. Starscourge, again.

A Magitek Trooper with helmet ripped off, with a face that could be Prompto's in a few years.

From there, it's familiar. Prompto awoke as a Reyvateil with no known trigger. He nearly died before they synthesized a golden crystal, something inserted into the strange tattoo that grew in at the time. "Further investigation is required."

---

Prompto gives the file back to the clerk. She asks if he's all right. He thinks he says something.

He takes the bus back to his parents' house, remembers that he's living with Noct now, and goes into the house anyway. He curls up on his bed, shoes and all, and clings to his pillow.

Time passes, probably.

The doorbell rings. Prompto thinks about getting up to answer it. He decides that he probably should, but he just can't will his body to move.

There's talking.

"-unlocked."

The front door opens, he thinks.

"Then he's-"

The voices seem familiar.

"-look-"

"Prompto?"

That's Noct, and so Prompto puts all his strength into turning his head.

"Shit," Noct says, having somehow arrived next to his bed. "Did something happen, Prom?"

Prompto doesn't know what to say. He doesn't know if he can talk. Everything feels so heavy. He shrugs one shoulder.

Someone else edges into the room. Ignis. "Are you injured?"

Prompto shakes his head.

"Gladio, if you would?"

And Gladio crowds into the room, too, and sits on the bed next to Prompto. "All right, kid." He pushes Prompto up to sit, too, leaning against his side. "There any reason you need to stay here?"

Prompto draws a deep breath. "No," he says.

"Good," Gladio says. "Then we're leaving." He stands up again, hauling Prompto to his feet in the process.

Prompto wavers a little, then steadies. "Sorry," he says. "I'm- I'm sorry."

"Shh," Noct says. "It's fine."

Nothing is fine. Nothing is fine at all. Nothing has ever been fine. But Prompto doesn't have the strength to argue. He focuses on putting one foot in front of the other as he's steered out of the house.

---

"I really am sorry," Prompto says. He's on Noct's couch, a blanket around his shoulders and a warm mug of tea in his hands. "It was just- it was a long day."

"What happened?" Noct asks, leaning against him.

Prompto sighs. "I read my file," he murmurs.

It's quiet for awhile.

"You wanna talk about it?" Noct asks.

"No," Prompto says. "But you should probably know what's in it. Security, and stuff."

"Not unless you want me to," Noct says.

Prompto wants to hug him. He should argue, though. But he can't focus. "I'm so tired," he whispers.

Noct slides the mug from his hands. "Rest, then. I'll be here when you wake up."

Prompto sighs. All of this is wrong. He shouldn't have this. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay," Noct says.

"It's not," Prompto mumbles, but he's exhausted, and his eyes fall shut.

Chapter Text

Noct keeps his word and doesn't look at the file. He spends even more time hovering near Prompto, which is actually a pretty impressive feat given how much he was hovering right after the hospital. He obviously wants to know. But he doesn't so much as ask. Prompto doesn't deserve a friend like him.

Midway through the week, Noct goes off to some meeting or other, and Ignis stays behind. Something in the look of his eye makes Prompto suspect why.

But Ignis doesn't say anything at first. He sets some groceries out on the counter and sets an onion down on the cutting board. Prompto watches him peel it and dice it, with only a faint moment of alarm when he pulls out his favorite cooking knife. There's no doubt in Prompto's mind that Ignis would kill anyone for Noct, but if it could possibly be avoided, Ignis wouldn't use his cooking knife.

Prompto has almost decided he was imagining things when Ignis finally speaks up.

"You know," Ignis says, using a scraper to transfer the onion into the pan waiting on the stove. "I only gained the clearance to view a non-redacted version of your file this week." The onion sizzles. "I had wondered why your history was so thoroughly classified, but I must admit the actual situation was beyond my imagining."

Prompto tries to laugh. "Yeah," he says. "You could say that."

"And you never knew," Ignis continues.

"No," Prompto says.

"Someone should have told you," Ignis says. He rinses a bell pepper and starts to chop it up as well. "You should not have learned all of this on your own in an office cubicle."

Prompto swallows. "I guess," he says.

"You have been wronged by many people," Ignis says. "The Crown has wronged you by classifying you as property rather than as a person, by not allowing you to know your own history, by many violations of your privacy. Your parents are neglecting you. Your former employer took advantage of you." There's a pause. "And I," Ignis says, and hesitates, "have wronged you as well, in looking at your file when you clearly did not want anyone to see it. You have every right to be angry, Prompto."

Prompto frowns. "It's- I could be dangerous," he says.

Ignis turns to him then. "I am dangerous," he says. "You're aware of this."

"Yeah," Prompto says.

"I could easily murder Noct in his sleep," Ignis continues.

"Yeah," Prompto says. "But you wouldn't."

"Nor would you," Ignis responds. "Am I wrong?"

"I would never," Prompto says, aware that he's shaking.

"Then the matter is settled," Ignis tells him.

"I'm... not even entirely human."

"Arguable, but not relevant to the matter at hand."

"I could be an Imperial sleeper agent," Prompto says, breath coming hard now.

"If it is possible to imprint something so complex on the mind of an infant, then any of us could be," Ignis tells him.

"But-"

Ignis grips Prompto's shoulders. "Prompto. You have not become a different person within the past month. If you meant harm to anyone, you would have had plenty of opportunities to cause it already. You have never so much as shown interest in information that would be of use to an enemy nation. You are a person, whether you are human or not, and you deserve the respect and care that any person deserves."

"Really?" Prompto asks, needing it to be true, needing it, but not sure.

"Absolutely," Ignis says. He turns back to his cooking. "I have no intention of telling anyone what I have discovered, but you might find relief in doing so yourself. I do not believe that others will react as you expect."

"Uh. Yeah," Prompto says, faintly. "I guess."

"Now," Ignis says. "Am I remembering correctly that you prefer green curry to yellow?"

---

Prompto thinks Gladio is a pretty straightforward guy. It's not that he's boring, or that he isn't smart. It's that when he says things, he means them, and he means them the way he says them. So in that way, he's easy to talk to. He could murder Prompto in ten seconds, but these days, anyone Prompto spends time with could kill him in less than a minute, so that's not as much of a deterrent as it used to be.

"Hey," Prompto says. "Gladdy."

Gladio doesn't look surprised, exactly, but certainly interested. "This about the mysterious 'file' everyone's talking about?"

Prompto bites his lip and nods. "Um. I." He tugs off his wristbands, one at a time. "You should probably know." He can't bring himself to continue.

Gladio looks at the codeprint on one wrist and the sigil on the other. He looks for an awfully long time. "You're a weird kid," he finally says.

Prompto blinks. "Huh?"

"You find out you're dying, or something?" Gladio asks.

"Nothing like that," Prompto says.

"Then I don't know what you're so worried about," Gladio says.

Prompto frowns. "What if I hurt Noct?"

Gladio laughs. "What, you think I couldn't take you?"

Prompto finds himself smiling. "Big guy, you could tear me apart in your sleep!"

"Yup," Gladio says. He softens a little. "Look. You wanna tell me about whatever this is, I'll listen. But far as I'm concerned, you're worked up over nothin'."

Prompto thinks it over. "If you want to know, you can ask Ignis," he says. "Or you can read the file. It's okay."

Gladio ruffles his hair. "You're not so bad," he says. "Maybe worry a little less."

Chapter Text

It's not that Prompto doesn't want to talk to Noct about it. He kinda feels bad about it, honestly. But it's harder with Noct.

See, as long as Ignis and Gladio don't actually plan to kill him or separate him from Noct, he can let go of whatever they think of him. If they start hating him, well, they hate him. He wouldn't like it, but it would be all right in the end.

Prompto can't lose Noct. He just can't.

Ignis and Gladio took it well, all things considered, but... Ignis had claimed he'd done something wrong to Prompto, but he never actually said he was sorry, which probably meant that he was doing some of his courtly manipulation thing rather than saying exactly what he thought. And Gladio had gone straight for "if you become a problem I'll just kill you," which, honestly, Prompto found reassuring, but wasn't exactly acceptance.

And Prompto can't lose Noct.

So he tries to let everything go back to... well, it's not normal. But it's something like it.

---

In the end, it's a complete accident.

Over the past few weeks, Prompto's fallen into a morning routine. He wakes up, peels himself off the couch, and goes for his run. He comes back, pesters Noct a bit, showers, pesters Noct again, then turns on the radio at volumes just inaudible outside the apartment and eats a bowl of cereal. Most days, that's when Noct drags himself out of bed.

One morning, it doesn't work out like that.

One morning, Noct's already half-awake before Prompto even goes on his run. He's up and eating breakfast when Prompto stumbles in the door, soaked in sweat.

It's enough to throw Prompto off. Enough that he leaves his wristbands in the bathroom after his shower.

It takes him a moment to realize he's missing that familiar weight. It takes him another moment to realize his sleeves are rolled up. It takes yet another moment for him to realize Noct's looking at him. At his wrists.

"Prom-" Noct starts to say. Then he bites his lip. Prompto's never seen him do that before.

"It's-" Prompto swallows. "I-" He thinks of everything anyone has told him about that codeprint and keeping it covered. "I guess I screwed up," he says.

Noct takes a deep breath. "I said- Unless you want me to know," he says.

Prompto is so, unbearably grateful. The knot in his chest loosens. "No, we should talk about it," he says, and it comes out steady.

In the end, it's not so hard to say it after all.

Afterwards, Noct takes the wrist with the codeprint in both of his hands. Runs his thumb over it, as if it's something precious. "I've known this is here for... probably a year," he says.

"What?" Prompto squawks.

Noct nods. "Your wristbands slip a little, sometimes." He smiles a little. "If I'd known you were that worried about it, I would've said something."

Prompto laughs even though his eyes are stinging. "All this time, huh," he says.

"I'm... kind of glad you're-" Noct swallows. "Look, it's- I don't mean that I'm glad somebody hurt you when you were a baby, but... it's nice that there's someone else who could maybe-" Prompto feels the crackle, smells ozone, sees blue flicker in the air. "I don't always feel human either," he says.

Prompto yanks Noct into a hug. "No," he says. "Noct, no."

Noct's stiff for just a second, like he always is when Prompto gets touchy-feely on him, but then he returns the hug just as fiercely. "Thanks," he says, quiet.

They stay like that until Ignis storms into the apartment to tell them they're going to be late for school.

Chapter Text

"The Reyvateils of Solheim had very distinctive garb," Ignis says, placing a book on Noct's table and flipping through the pages. "They were brightly colored, and we believe they were tailored to each individual. They-"

"Are you sure that's not porn?" Gladio interrupts.

Ignis flushes a little. "Yes, some of them were... revealing," he says.

Prompto slides into a chair to get a better look. "Revealing" is kind of an understatement. Is it really a skirt if there's an open space at both hips? There's a shirt with a massive diamond cut out of the middle and strips cut out of either side--why even bother?

"There was some variance based on region and time period, of course," Ignis continues. He turns some more pages.

The next set is... better. It doesn't look like its wearer would freeze to death on a summer day. It looks theoretically possible to move in those clothes without them falling off. Prompto tries to think of the most neutral thing he can say about them. "Those are really, uh, frilly."

"You're trying to tell us combat units wore these?" Gladio says.

"As far as we know, yes," Ignis says stiffly. "Sometimes they were not made of ordinary fabric, but were protrusions of the same magic-infused material that formed part of the bodies of the Reyvateils themselves-"

"So they were naked?" Noct asks, sliding into a chair.

"No!" Ignis replies, and sighs.

Prompto looks at the book again. "So is there a good reason I should have one of these outfits?"

"It's your heritage," Ignis says.

"You'd look cute," Noct says.

"It would be pretty funny," Gladio says.

Prompto drops his head into his arms. "Guys," he says.

---

A letter with the Royal Seal arrives in the mail for Prompto. "There's no return address," he says, glancing over it.

"It's not like you don't know where it came from," Noct says. "Come on, open it."

So Prompto tears open the envelope and reads:

Dear Prompto,

As your current guardian, part of my role is to ensure you receive the appropriate education. It is necessary for you to receive instruction in your newly-developed Song Magic abilities. However, because you are unique within Lucis and, indeed, perhaps in all Eos, there is no established method of training for Reyvateils.

As such, I have assembled a team at the Royal Institute consisting of historians and scientists to research ancient information of Song Magic and develop a new base of knowledge. As you are likely to participate in significant testing in addition to being educated in your abilities and history, you will be granted a stipend in compensation.

A schedule will be determined once the matters of security and privacy have been dealt with.

King Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII

"What?" Prompto says.

Noct takes the page and scans it. "Dad wants you to have magic class, but there's no one to teach you magic, so people are going to make it up as they go along and you're going to get paid for putting up with it."

That's pretty much what Prompto thought it said, but it seems kind of ridiculous. "Why would they pay me?"

"One, because the team is probably even more excited than Specs about meeting somebody with magic straight out of ancient Solheim, two, because you might accidentally give them useful info for the war, and three, because Dad feels bad about making you quit your job." Noct drops the letter back into Prompto's hands.

"He does?" Prompto asks.

"Probably," Noct says. "When are your parents going to be back, anyway?"

"Two or three weeks, probably."

"Huh," Noct says, and glances at the letter again.

"Hey, what is it?" Prompto asks.

"Just gonna ask Dad something later," Noct tells him. "Come on, which pizza do you want?"

This is almost certainly the most transparent attempt to change the subject that Noct's ever made, but he's put up with so much of it from Prompto recently that it seems rude to call him out on it. "Veggie lovers," he says, just to watch Noct squirm.

Chapter Text

Prompto goes out to take pictures on Friday afternoon because he hasn't dedicated time to photography in ages, with everything going on, and he misses it.

It's different, in Noct's neighborhood. He doesn't quite like it as much, he thinks.

Noct lives in the rich part of the city, because, well, of course. He's rich. That means that there aren't very many cracks in the sidewalk with plants growing through. There are no kids playing in the street, because there are too many cars. Everyone on the sidewalks is going somewhere. The buildings are all clean and new. There are some decorative trees, here and there, but they're all perfectly shaped like they came out of a box. It looks pretty, in its way, but it's harder to make a picture tell a story.

But that just means it's a challenge, right?

And there are stories there. There are stories about the plainclothes Crownsguard in Noct's apartment building, pretending to be regular people (Prompto can always tell who they are). There's a sign being taken down and replaced with a new one. Here's a window with a Li'l Malbuddy poster next to an ad for the Kenny Crow's smartphone app. Little things.

A little girl walks down the street holding her mother's hand on one side and a stuffed chocobo in the other, and Prompto smiles and thinks about it, but he doesn't take a shot. Not without asking, not of a child, not in this nice a neighborhood. Still, under his breath, he sings: "I want to ride my chocobo all day-"

Something tingles in the air around him.

Prompto shivers.

Maybe he should see about the schedule on that training thing.

---

The Royal Institute is huge.

It's the biggest research organization in all of Lucis. Most of its departments are the largest research groups for their particular field in Lucis. It has its own postal code, two fire stations, a research hospital, and a forested area--the last of its kind within the Wall.

Luckily for Prompto, his destination is near the outskirts. It's in a relatively-small (three-story) building labeled "Textum Center for Cross-Discipline Studies." The lobby was clearly set up fifty years ago and it's maybe seen a coat of paint and a couple replaced couches in the intervening time.

Prompto loves it immediately.

There's a single, harried-looking man sitting at a desk behind a window, taking a phone call. Prompto waits patiently for the call to finish, then smiles nervously. "Hey, I was wondering if you could tell me which room the Carmen project is on?"

The receptionist smiles. "The whole East wing on the second floor. It'll be on your left. What is it, anyway? Nothing with that much money's been in the Textum building in twenty years."

"It's complicated," Prompto says, and shrugs. He's been told that the staff will probably figure out what's going on sooner or later, but not to help them along. "Thanks."

A quick trip up the stairs and Prompto realizes the receptionist really meant what he says. The letter board designates the entire left side of the floor as "Carmen Project" before listing some offices, two technology labs, a library, and a conference room.

All this for him?

For a single second, Prompto finds himself frozen in place. His heart beats like a drum. Do they want to take him apart, study the pieces, and make more of him to counter the song soldiers in Niflheim? Are they hoping he can do something truly huge and complicated? What could he do that would merit a seven-person team?

Well, just one way to find out.

"Hello?" Prompto calls.

A plump, smiling woman steps out of the conference room. "Hello," she says. "Mr. Argentum?"

"Prompto. Please." He shifts anxiously.

"I'm Dr. Radix, but you can call me Ancora, if you prefer. I'll be heading the team. I imagine we're going to be seeing quite a bit of each other," she says. "Here, you can meet the rest of the team, and then we'll discuss what we'll be doing."

So Prompto meets the team: two magic scientists, an engineer, two historians, a linguist, and a musician of some kind. There are a few minutes of awkward small talk, but then one of them pipes up, "Can't we just get started?"

So they all crowd into one of the two tech rooms. It probably hasn't seen a fresh coat of paint in fifty years, either. There's a chair placed at the center, with a dome presumably meant to be lowered over someone's head, and a microphone set within arm's reach in front of it. Prompto is relieved to note that the chair has no straps. There are also cameras placed in what he presumes are strategic locations, though he's not sure why cameras would be set up to look at his wrists.

"For right now, we just want to see what happens," Ancora says. "So if you could settle yourself in here. Remember that you can stop anytime you want just by getting out of the chair, all right?"

Prompto nods, and lets them help him into place.

The musician (Secunda, he thinks?) stands next to him. "I'm going to play you a brief recording, and then you're going to try to copy it as best you can, all right?"

"Okay," Prompto says, and listens.

It's just one line, something calm, and he doesn't have to try hard to mimic it. "Was yea ra waath near en hymme Re=nation mea."

His vision, for a moment, is tinged with gold. There's an echo under his words, or maybe music layered under it? A pleasant warmth spreads over him. He thinks there might be tears in his eyes. Something happened, somewhere, far away; he doesn't quite understand what, but he knows it.

"Oh," Prompto says, and passes out.

Chapter Text

"-fuck, we are so fucked, the first damn day, the King is going to execute all of us-"

"Please calm down."

Prompto blinks.

He's on his back, but on a slight incline. There's a fan blowing straight at him. He blinks again, and it comes back to him. Testing. The Song.

"Are you awake?" a harried woman--the engineer, he doesn't remember her name at all--asks. "Who's the current king of Lucis? Can you count down from five backwards? Any blurred vision, any-"

Prompto swallows. "I'm okay," he says. He glances down and realizes they have him on a stretcher, of all things.

"I'm so sorry-"

"We weren't expecting that to actually do anything," Ancora explains, once again cutting off the engineer. "And here, drink this," she says, foisting a juice box on him.

"I don't know what it did," Prompto says, stabbing the straw through the foil.

"We've called your emergency contact," says Secunda. "Mr. Scientia? He's coming to pick you up."

Prompto frowns. "I'm okay," he says.

"If we pushed you any further today, the ethics board would have our heads even if the King didn't," says the elderly historian with salt-and-pepper hair. "Besides, this is enough to last us a week, much less the two days before we see you again." He turns away and scribbles something on a sheet of paper, muttering something about "backing vocals."

So Prompto has to wait for Ignis to show up, and they won't even let him get up until he does.

"I'm fine," Prompto complains as soon as Ignis steps in the door. "I keep telling them."

"He's probably all right," Ancora agrees calmly, as if she hadn't been insisting he stay put only thirty seconds ago. "I wouldn't suggest that he attempt to sing anything in an uncontrolled environment for the time being, but honestly, he probably shouldn't do that anyway."

"Understood," Ignis says. "Prompto?"

Prompto hauls himself off the stretcher, experiences a brief moment of dizziness, then finds his balance again. "Back in two days," he says. He's not sure whether he's excited or terrified.

Ignis is all questions, because of course he is. "Are you really all right?" And when he's finally satisfied with that answer, "So what happened?" and "Are you sure you have no idea what you did?" and "Did they mention any plans to find out?"

Prompto sighs. "I'm sorry they took you away from... whatever you were doing to come get me," he says, hoping to avoid the next question.

"I had thought something of the sort might happen, so I made sure I was working on something that could be interrupted," Ignis says smoothly. "Now, I imagine your blood sugar is still low after all of that excitement. Would you like to get milkshakes before we pick His Highness up from combat training?"

---

The next magic lesson is considerably less exciting. They have Prompto sit in the chair and sing children's songs in Lucian for ten minutes or so. Nothing really interesting happens as far as he can tell. Then they send him into one of the offices, and Secunda teaches him about reading sheet music. At least he gets to ride the bus home afterward.

After that, though, there's another thing to worry about.

"I don't get why things can't just go back to the way they were," Prompto says, tapping at his phone. "It was fine."

"It's illegal for your parents to ditch you like that," Noct says.

Prompto sighs. "But it was fine," he repeats.

Noct slides a finger across the screen of his phone. "Are you saying you liked it?"

"No," Prompto says. "But it was working. They shouldn't get in trouble. And I've been living alone forever. It's not like I can't handle it."

Noct's brows tighten. "You shouldn't have to," he says.

"But I have been," Prompto says. "Since I was eleven. I don't need to be rescued. They're not hurting me."

Noct doesn't look up as he says, "I'm pretty sure they are, dude."

Prompto feels himself tense. "They're not here to hurt me," he says.

Noct is quiet for awhile, playing around with his phone. He still doesn't look up. "Isn't that worse than anything else they could do?"

"Shut up," Prompto bites out before his brain can catch up with his mouth.

Noct mimes zipping his mouth shut with just slightly raised eyebrows.

Prompto immediately feels bad. He sighs. "Sorry," he says.

"Nah," Noct tells him. "No big deal."

---

Prompto really doesn't like that he's still thinking about that conversation on Saturday, as Ignis drives him to the Citadel for a talk with Regis and a lawyer about his parents coming home.

This time, they don't try to feed him, which is for the best. They meet in a tiny office somewhere that Prompto thinks is near the royal quarters. This would be anxiety-inducing, but he's so worked up about everything else that it hardly registers.

They get started immediately.

"Mr. Argentum," the lawyer says, "you are in a very unusual legal position right now."

Prompto makes himself smile. "I'm Crown property," he says.

The lawyer sighs and it is obvious she is not fooled. "Yes," she says. "Under those clauses of the law, and several agreements made in your early childhood, you are a 'spoil of war' released into the care of your adoptive parents." She taps her clipboard. "This means that they are in violation of two sets of laws. First, those regarding child protection, and second, those regarding the care of Crown property."

"Your adoptive parents are going to prison," Regis says, completely calm, as if this isn't completely destroying Prompto's entire world. "They will be taken into custody when they return to Insomnia, spend time in jail until trial, and then be placed in prison. Under even the most minimal sentencing, they will be in prison until after you turn twenty."

Prompto swallows. "What does... that mean?"

"That's what we're here to talk about," the lawyer says. "The most expedient option would be to transfer your guardianship back to His Majesty until you turn eighteen. Once you're eighteen, it would be safe to revoke your status as Crown property without losing guardianship." She pauses a moment. "There is another option, however. Instead, you can file for legal emancipation. It would take longer, but in practice there is no chance you would be denied after living alone for so long. This would eliminate your need for a legal guardian and revoke your status as Crown property, but it would mean you would need to support yourself financially."

Prompto blinks. "Can I... think about this?"

"Of course," Regis and the lawyer say in tandem.

Then Regis says, "When your parents get home, do you want to see them?"

Prompto swallows. "No."

"We'll need some kind of answer about what you want to do as soon as possible," the lawyer says.

"Yeah," Prompto says. "Okay."

Chapter Text

Whichever path Prompto takes, he's not going to live with his parents anymore, so he and Noct go back to his house--to his parents' house--to pack.

"I don't really know what I can take," Prompto says. "Most of this is stuff they bought."

Noct sighs. "They're going to jail. They're not even going to know you took anything."

"I don't want to steal from them," Prompto says.

"It's yours if they got it for you, Prom."

"Yeah, like gifts and stuff, but-"

Noct grabs Prompto's pillow. "Do you want this?"

"It's-"

"Do you want it?" Noct says.

"Yeah," Prompto admits.

"Then we're packing it," Noct informs him, and tosses it into the cardboard box sitting in the middle of the room. He grabs a stuffed chocobo off Prompto's nightstand. "How about this?"

"Noct," Prompto says, but he finds himself smiling. "That's not how this works."

"I'm taking that as a yes," Noct says. He throws the chocobo into the box, too. "You want the nightstand?"

"Noct," Prompto says. "I'm not- they're not- that's furniture."

"You're really not good at answering yes-or-no questions," Noct informs him.

Prompto laughs. "You're such a brat, Noct," he says. "Okay, okay."

In the end, they have to call Gladio and have him get a truck. When Gladio comes into the bedroom, Prompto expects him to say something smart-assed. But instead he looks at Noct and says, "Everything in here?"

"Yup," Noct says.

"Good," Gladio says, and hoists the dresser from the floor without removing any of its contents.

In the end they pile all of it in Noct's front entryway. Prompto wonders where Noct's coat rack went off to.

---

Prompto gets his first stipend check in the mail and laughs. They've made some kind of mistake. Maybe they tacked an extra zero onto the end? He decides to get it ironed out right away.

Forty-five minutes on the phone later, Prompto learns that it was not a mistake at all.

"And this really is for just one week," he says, staring down at the check. "After this it's four times this in a month."

"You're doing dangerous work and the project cannot proceed without you," Ignis informs him. "You could demand more and they would give it to you."

It's a lot. It's enough to pay all the utilities at home--at his parents' house--in winter, when he has to run the heat and everything's more expensive. Prompto continues to stare. "What am I supposed to do with this?" he asks.

"Whatever you want?" Gladio says.

Prompto just can't take his eyes off the number. "What the fuck," he says, absently.

Noct slings an arm around his back cheerfully. "You're buying pizza tonight," he says.

"I- I guess so," Prompto mumbles.

---

"Prom. Prompto. Hey." Something soft hits the side of Prompto's face.

"Ngh," Prompto groans, and blinks. Noct's hovering over him. "What're you doing?" he slurs.

"Waking you up at one in the morning," Noct replies. "Come on, get up. I have a surprise."

"Noct?" Prompto says.

Noct grabs his hands and pulls him up to sit. "Get up. Come on."

Rubbing sleep from his eyes, Prompto groans. "Where are we going?"

"It's a surprise," Noct says patiently. "Come on."

"Shouldn't I put on, like. Real pants?" Prompto asks, fumbling for his glasses.

"Nah," Noct says. He walks off a bit, then throws Prompto's jacket at him. "Let's go."

"Is this a good idea?" Prompto asks, shoving his sleeves into his jacket, still fighting sleep.

"Yes," Noct tells him. He tugs Prompto to his feet, then steps behind him and steers him to the apartment door. "Shoes."

After they get shoes on, they go into the hall, as Prompto would expect. But instead of making for the elevator, Noct guides them to the stairs. "Up," he says.

Obediently, Prompto starts to climb. He thinks he might be dreaming. Since when would Noct send them up the stairs to get somewhere?

The answer, as it turns out, is that there is a window at the top of the stairs that leads out onto the roof. Noct warps through, then turns around and pulls Prompto up.

"Oh," Prompto says, blinking up, because... it's beautiful.

The building is taller than its neighbors, and the rooftop isn't lit. It's darker than anywhere Prompto's ever been, and there are so, so many stars.

"Yeah, I know, right?" Noct tells him. "Come on." He tugs Prompto over a few feet. "Lay down here."

There's a blanket spread out on the concrete that Prompto can just make out as his eyes adjust. They lower themselves onto it, stretch out, look at the sky. It's quiet for awhile.

After awhile, Noct speaks up. "Are you happy living here with me?" he asks.

"Yeah," Prompto says. "I really like it."

"My room's really big," Noct says. "We could move your stuff in there with mine."

"Is that okay?" Prompto asks.

"Yeah," Noct tells him. "Or between your paycheck and my allowance we could get something with another room, if you want your own."

"Do you really want me to keep living with you?"

Noct laughs. "You think I'd drag you up here like this if I didn't?"

"So this was a trap," Prompto says. It's clever. His filter's never been great when he hasn't slept enough.

"If you don't want to stay, you don't have to," Noct says. "You're going to make enough to do whatever you want."

"I never want to live alone again," Prompto murmurs.

"Doesn't have to be me," Noct points out.

"I like it being you," Prompto says. He yawns, and stares up at the stars. "You really are a brat," he adds, but his heart's not in it at all. "Should've brought my camera."

"Next time?" Noct asks.

"Yeah. Next time." Prompto likes the sound of that.

Chapter Text

The next magic lesson feels like someone actually planned it.

"That sigil on your wrist would have been called an 'Installer Port' in Solheim," explains Dr. Corvi, the elderly historian. "They were said to be reactive to emotion, but it's not clear how literally this was meant. It does seem to do something when you sing."

Prompto studies the sigil for a few more moments. "If it was called an Installer Port... what would you install with it?"

"Crystals," his counterpart, a girl who barely looks old enough to have graduated high school, pipes up. "You could use them for a variety of things. Most frequently, they talk about adding new Songs rather than creating them from scratch, or administering what they refer to as the 'Life-Extending Agent.'"

"What did that do?" Prompto asks.

"Some Reyvateils could successfully bear children for human men--there were no male Reyvateils at the time, you understand. Girls in those family lines had some chance of gaining the power of a Reyvateil as well. However, because they had an ordinary human body, it was a great strain on them. Without the administration of the Life-Extending Agent, they died very quickly," Dr. Corvi explains. "Even with it, they tended to die fairly young."

Prompto nods. "So... the Installer Port," he says. "Is there anything else? Could you, like, I don't know... make a power adapter and have me charge up through the wall instead of eating food?"

"I've never seen a record of anything like that," Dr. Corvi says.

"That doesn't mean it's impossible to do now!" the younger historian--and oh, Prompto's frustrated that he can't remember her name--says. "Simply that it was not done historically. But there was... they called it..."

"Diving," Dr. Corvi says. "Allowing a human to access the mind of a Reyvateil, in order to assist her--well, him or her, now--in crafting new Song Magic. It was said that a great deal of trust between the persons involved was required. I believe that Dr. Radix is hoping to construct the proper equipment as part of this project."

Prompto nods. "Okay. And um. Did they really wear those outfits, like-"

"Yes," Dr. Corvi says wearily. "Yes, they did. There are rumors that they did so in order to increase their power or reception with the Server, but I think that's rubbish."

"You should only wear one if you want to!" the girl says.

After that, they set Prompto in the chair again, and he and the linguist have a brief conversation in Hymmnos about which sentences sound right to him and which don't. Then, finally...

"Okay," Ancora says. "We're going to try Song Magic again."

"Sweet!" Prompto says, fidgeting with excitement. "Tell me what to do."

Secunda plays a line of music for him from her phone. It's light and joyful, and Prompto really, really feels it, this time.

The line changes in his head, somewhere, though, and: "Was yea ra melenas melenas nyanyas nyanyas cho-co-chocobo!"

His vision fills with golden light for just a split second. When he can see properly again, there is...

"Is that a live chocobo?" someone asks.

"Kweh," says the chocobo.

"Holy shit," Prompto breathes. "I just summoned a chocobo."

He gets up, slowly, and reaches out. The feathers are fluffy. It's real. It's a real chocobo, standing right there in front of him.

Around him, there's a flurry of activity. Someone asks if the chocobo is tagged. Someone moves some equipment out of the way. At least two people leave the room. Prompto only barely registers it, because holy shit, he just summoned a real, live chocobo.

Everything before now has been theoretical, or fuzzy, or he hadn't really been awake for it. But this is different. He sang, and there's a goddamn chocobo in the room. He's never even seen a chocobo in person before.

Here's one right in front of him, nuzzling against his hand, trying to get him to pet it.

"Sorry, buddy, I spaced out there," he tells the bird, and scratches its chin.

---

"I summoned a live chocobo," Prompto says for the third time. "I just. Holy shit, Noct."

"Please don't do that in my apartment," Noct says.

"Isn't it our apartment now?" Prompto teases.

Noct rolls his eyes, but he's smiling in that way that tries to be a smirk but lands too soft. "Okay, fine. Please don't do that in our apartment."

Hearing it, in Noct's voice, with that intonation, squeezes Prompto's chest for a fraction of a second, but he shoves it down. "Okay, fine, take away all my fun," he replies. "I will not summon a chocobo inside of our apartment." He pauses. "Maybe outside?"

"As in, outside outside, or as in the hallway?"

"The hallway on another floor...?"

"Prompto," Noct laughs.

"That's not a no," Prompto says. He slides into his desk chair. Ignis is going to fuss and make them move all of it, he's sure, but they've crammed his furniture into Noct's room. It feels good to have his desk again, even if Noct's desk is much nicer. "Ugh, so much homework tonight," he complains. It doesn't help that they're giving him homework for his Song Magic lessons, too. He's got a workbook on music theory, even though if he's actually doing Song Magic all of that sort of happens by itself. He's got a full textbook on computer networking, too, and he's supposed to read the first chapter before he does more magic, and that's not even getting into his homework for regular school.

"You're telling me," Noct complains. "And they want me to do some charity thing tomorrow night, too."

"You gonna go?" Prompto asks, deciding to start with his normal schoolwork and move from there.

"Of course I'm gonna go," Noct replies. "The Arcus Foundation need the publicity, and they're mostly good people." He pauses. "You could go."

"What?" Prompto asks, but he's already getting it.

"Dad's your legal guardian. You're his ward. You're already allowed anywhere in the Citadel you want." Noct picks up his pen. "We'd need to get you a suit, and people would be wondering what you were doing there, but really, no one could stop you."

"Dude, that's crazy," Prompto says.

"That's not a no," Noct teases, but they both know Prompto's not going.

"It's not like I'd help," Prompto says.

Noct laughs. "Prom, you've got charisma for days. All you'd have to do is flash that 'golly gee sir' smile of yours and half the nobility would be falling on their asses trying to get you to do it again."

Prompto rolls his eyes. "I don't know what you're talking about," he says, mock-offended. He knows exactly what Noct is talking about because he spent years perfecting it, to avoid questions about his- parents.

Well, anyway.

"You really could be good at it," Noct says, and shrugs. "You got my calculator over there?"

---

Prompto doesn't want to talk to his parents. He doesn't want to try to explain what's happened in the past few months, or why he's chosen the things he's chosen. He doesn't want to find out how much they knew and never told him. But he kind of does want to see them, to know they've made it home in one piece.

So he slips out of school the day they're due home. He goes to the house across the street from his--from his parents' house, it's not his anymore--because the little old lady there, Mrs. Ligo, is very nice and frequently confused and usually forgets he's there if he's quiet. He cleans her kitchen for her and looks out her window.

And there they are. Mom and Dad come home. They carry their bags into the house. They're laughing about something, because they don't know what's coming. Neither of them are hurt. Good.

Prompto finishes cleaning the kitchen. He says goodbye to Mrs. Ligo.

And it's... okay.

He takes the bus back home and wonders if Noct's going to have enough time to chew him out before his charity gala.

Chapter Text

Things fall into a routine, like they usually do.

Prompto goes to magic lessons. They let him summon another chocobo the next session and two the one after that. It turns out he's getting them from the research farm a few blocks down the road. He accidentally resolves a centuries-old argument about how a particular vowel sound was written down in Hymmnos. There is an argument over whether they're technically allowed to use the money from their research grant to buy Prompto a laptop.

Ignis makes Noct and Prompto rearrange the furniture in the bedroom and teaches Prompto what all the weird buttons on Noct's stove are supposed to do. Prompto teaches Ignis how to scrub dried, burnt-on food out of a pan.

Word comes through that his parents accepted a plea bargain for the charges against them. That means there won't be a trial and Prompto won't have to testify. The relief is like sinking into bed after days without sleep--that instant where the body remembers how tired it is after all that abuse, and the warm realization that the exhaustion doesn't need to be shoved back anymore.

Things are going better than he'd hoped.

---

Prompto is completely aware that most of the people around him want him to stay under the king's legal guardianship. It makes a lot of things easier, for sure.

But Prompto doesn't want it. At least not this way.

He doesn't want his paperwork saying he's a thing. He doesn't want to sit on his hands waiting for someone to get wind of the guardianship and wonder why it's a possibility and start nosing into his life. He doesn't want to try to have a new dad for less than two years and then have it all end when he turns eighteen.

And, if he's honest, he really doesn't want to be literally Noct's brother, because that makes the crush he's doing his utmost to pretend isn't happening even more awkward than it already is.

Noct's already said he can stay no matter what, and the lease allows for Prompto paying rent. The stipend from the Song Magic thing is enough to cover his expenses with a little left over, and he doesn't need to be the king's ward for the research to keep getting paid for. If it's not enough, he still has plenty of time in his schedule to take another job.

It's doable. Really, it's going to be easier than what he was doing before all this magic... stuff happened. But Prompto doesn't expect anyone else to like it.

Still, it's like ripping off a band-aid. Prompto sees his moment one day after school, when Gladio's in the car with Ignis when he and Noct get picked up from school. He waits for a lull in the conversation and says, "So I'm going to apply for legal emancipation."

"Oh, good," Gladio says. "Was starting to think you wouldn't."

Prompto blinks.

"All this time and now someone wants to tell you what to do? I sure wouldn't put up with it," Gladio continues.

That's not how it is at all. Except- maybe it is, a little. Either way...

"I imagine that was not exactly how the arrangement was meant to work," Ignis says. "Nevertheless, Prompto, it is a completely reasonable decision. I am glad that soon, you will no longer be regarded as property."

Prompto turns to the one person who hasn't said anything. "We figured you'd go for it," Noct says. "Guess I have to figure out how much I'm charging for rent now, huh?"

Prompto's mind is reeling. No one's upset. No one's yelling at him that he's doing something stupid. This is not what he'd expected. But he can go with the flow. He rolls his eyes. "I thought you were supposed to work that out either way," he says.

"He was," Ignis replies, with a glance at Noct through the rear-view mirror that's almost louder than words. "But I am confident that he will settle the matter in a timely fashion."

Prompto knows he is lucky, and he is so, so grateful.

---

Prompto was expecting the emancipation hearing to be a big deal, but it's not much of a fuss. There's a judge, there's his court-appointed lawyer, there's his paperwork. It's sealed because Prompto's a minor, which is nice, because he really doesn't want the details of his situation leaked out. The judge asks questions, but not anything he wasn't prepared for. An hour in the lobby, half an hour in the courtroom, and Prompto's a free man.

It would probably feel better if he wasn't getting this killer headache.

Chapter Text

"Come on," Noct says. "We've got to do something to celebrate. Whatever you want. My treat."

Normally, Prompto's only argument would be over who was paying. But right now, Astrals, his head hurts, and he just wants to curl up in bed for a few hours and wait for it to go away.

But Prompto knows exactly how Noct would react to knowing he's got a headache. Every time he's so much as massaged his temples since that time he got really sick, Noct's gone tense and still like a spooked rabbit.

So Prompto makes himself smile, and play the part that he's supposed to. "Hey, come on, you know I can pay for myself."

"Yeah, yeah. We're celebrating, Prompto." Noct rolls his eyes. "Come on, we can settle that later. Where do you want to go?"

Prompto wants to go to bed, maybe after taking some pain pills, but that's not on the table right now. He tries to think of somewhere quiet. The arcade's out of the question. The pizza place will be crowded and loud this time of day.

Ice cream. It's early for dessert, and he feels like the cold would feel good. If he winces, he can just claim brain freeze from the ice cream. And they can be home in less than an hour if he plays his cards right.

"Let's go out for ice cream," Prompto says. "But I'm paying for my own."

Noct shrugs. "Okay," he says, which means that he's already decided that he's going to pay for everything anyway. "Let's go then."

Prompto rolls his eyes and falls into step. "Sure," he says, their usual signal that the argument is merely being postponed. "Let's go."

The ice cream shop isn't as empty as Prompto had hoped, but it's relatively quiet, and as usual, the air conditioning is blowing hard. The cool air feels amazing on his overheated skin. He orders some fruit flavor, not really paying attention to which, and keeps it simple with just a few chocolate candies on top. He pretends not to notice Noct paying for it until it's too late, because he's actually not up to arguing. Then he sits down and holds his now-cold fingers against the back of his neck until he finally starts to cool off, watching Noct order his favorite, a bizarre creation that starts out as a perfectly good scoop of chocolate ice cream before the onslaught of toppings crush it to death.

When Noct's done paying for his own ice cream, he sits across from Prompto, and his brows knit. "You look kinda pale, dude," he says.

"I always look pale," Prompto reminds him.

It's obvious that Noct doesn't like it, but instead of pushing, he takes a huge bite of his ice cream, and Prompto does the same.

---

In a few specific-but-useful ways, Noct is a pushover. Ignis Scientia has probably never been a pushover in any aspect of his entire life.

"Prompto, you're not feeling well," Ignis says as soon as he catches sight of the two of them. He reaches forward despite all protests and rests a hand on Prompto's forehead. "And I suspect you have a fever."

"Prom," Noct says. "Why didn't you say something?"

"I'm fine," Prompto complains.

"Then you won't mind having your temperature taken, I presume," Ignis says, smoothly, and Prompto's sure he's been caught, except- they were eating ice cream. Maybe that would've cooled him down enough?

"Okay," Prompto says, letting Noct shove him to sit on the couch.

Apparently, though, either the ice cream has worn off, or things were even worse than Prompto thought. Ignis pops the thermometer into his mouth and grimaces before the thing even beeps. Noct glances at it and scowls.

"Why'd you let me take you out if it was this bad?" Noct asks, resting a cool palm on Prompto's forehead.

"You were gonna get all worried. Look, you are all worried," Prompto says, resisting the urge to lean into the touch.

"You've got things kinda backwards, Prom," Noct says, and draws his hand away. "We're going to the doctor."

"But-" Prompto says, and then stops himself as he realizes: He has money. He can pay for a doctor. He doesn't have to sit around hoping it's going to go away. "Okay," he breathes. "Okay."

Noct gives him a hint of a smile. "Good," he says.

"We need to go to the Citadel," Ignis says. "The medical department there has the records from the last time he was ill, in case that is relevant."

"Let's go, then," Noct says. "Come on, Prom, let's get this taken care of."

---

"We worried this would happen," the doctor says. She picks up a red crystal about the size and diameter of a tube of chapstick and shows it to Prompto. "This is a Diquility crystal, synthesized according to a recipe from Solheim. We used one of these to heal you when your magic first manifested."

"So I need another one now?" Prompto asks.

"Yes," the doctor replies. "And you will probably continue to need them periodically for the remainder of your life."

Prompto nods slowly. "How often?"

"It's difficult to know for sure," the doctor says. "Every three months was traditional for the Reyvateils that required them in Solheim, and it's been about three and a half months since your first dose was administered, so three months seems like a reasonable guess." She takes a deep breath. "Even with this, there will still be serious strain on your body. The course is difficult to predict. But if your makeup is similar to the Reyvateils who needed these in the past, your lifespan is not likely to exceed forty years."

Prompto breathes in, breathes out. "Forty years," he says.

"Yes," the doctor repeats.

Forty years. Prompto tries to imagine it. It's beyond him. He'll probably die even younger than Noct will, and watching the king makes it clear Noct's headed for an early grave. But even so, it still feels so far away.

"Okay," Prompto says, and shoves the confused mass of emotions down. He looks at the crystal. "What do I do with it? It looks kinda big to swallow."

"It goes into your Installer Port," the doctor explains.

Prompto's eyes widen. "Isn't it kinda big for that too?"

"Unfortunately, it has to be this large," she says. She places the Diquility crystal in his hand. "You'll want to be able to do this."

So Prompto takes off his wristband, and presses the point of the crystal against the center of the sigil.

It hurts.

It goes in.

It really hurts.

But it slides through until the entire crystal has been swallowed up, even though it feels as if it should be completely impaling his wrist.

Prompto breathes through the pain, panting.

It passes. His headache fades along with it.

He slides his wristband back into place, and breathes.

He schedules another doctor's visit for three months out, then goes to speak to Ignis and Noct.

"I'm really sorry about this," he says. "I'm okay now. They just want me to come back in another three months."

Noct palms his forehead. "Yeah, that's a lot better," he says. "What happened?"

Prompto instinctively draws his wrist close to his chest. "Just... Reyvateil stuff, I guess," he says. "I'll need medicine, sometimes." The rest is... too much. He forces a smile. "I'm hungry," he tells them. "Can we get dinner?"

Chapter Text

Prompto dreams:

He's on hard ground, on his back. The first hint of pink light peeks above the skyline of a ruined city. Black smoke surrounds him. Some of it's rising from his skin.

He wakes up.

---

Prompto can't talk about... it. It's hard to even think about it. The way the doctor said "not likely to exceed forty years" catches on some part of his brain and won't let him pull it out into words.

But there's no forgetting, either. There's no pushing it back.

---

"Prompto, do you suppose you could teach me Hymmnos?" Ignis asks.

"I'm probably not the best teacher," Prompto says. "I just kinda... know stuff."

"Perhaps, but you are also the only fluent speaker in Lucis," Ignis replies. "It seems like a rather unique opportunity."

Prompto mulls this over. "I can try," he says. It'll be a good distraction, at least.

So they sit down at the table with some paper.

"There's this complicated alphabet," Prompto says, "but it works fine in Lucian writing, so we're just gonna write it normally." He pauses to think. "The primary purpose of Hymmnos is communication with the Song Servers. So there's a lot of technical vocabulary. But for whatever reason, the Song Servers respond most powerfully to strong emotion, right? So nearly every sentence starts with explaining your feelings on the topic. But that makes it kinda weird to translate."

Prompto writes down a sentence: Was yea ra chs hymmnos mea.

"The first three words are... they're an explanation of your feelings. So was is 'very,' yea is 'happy,' and ra means you want the feeling to last a long time. You see that opening a lot in Song Magic because it's easy to work with strong happiness. The rest of it's just 'turn myself into a song.' Which is the part that makes sense to translate."

When Prompto looks up, Ignis has a sort of puzzled frown on his face. "I see."

"Uh. Am I- should I start with something else?" Prompto asks.

"No. Please, continue," Ignis tells him.

---

Noct comes home from some kind of dinner completely closed off. It's the kind of sulking that no one really wants to touch. Getting through to him is almost impossible when he's in this kind of mood, and success usually just means he'll lash out. Mostly, it's better to just let him cool off.

The thing is that Noct can't just shut himself up in his room to be alone, now, because he's sharing it with Prompto. So it's sitting in awkward silence while Noct stews, or intervening and risking the possibility of a temper tantrum.

Well, when it comes to Noct, Prompto's never worried about what the smart thing is before. No point in starting now. So he guesses what this is about.

"What's happening to your dad sucks," Prompto says.

"What do you know about it?" Noct asks, picking at one of his socks. He sounds distant, like he doesn't care about what the response is going to be. Prompto knows better.

"I don't," Prompto replies.

Noct punches his pillow in frustration. "Then why are you trying to tell me about it?" he asks, more engaged this time.

"I'm not."

Noct scowls. "Then I don't know what you're doing."

Prompto shrugs. "You could tell me about it."

"What's the point?" Noct asks. "Either way, he'll still be dying."

"Yeah," Prompto says. "I know."

Noct swallows. "And when he dies, then I- I'll-"

"I know," Prompto says.

"I don't want it," Noct says, staring down at the blanket.

"Yeah, buddy. I don't either," Prompto says, and climbs up on Noct's bed to hug him. And if he clings much harder than he might have a week before, it's not like Noct could tell.

---

Prompto can't summon a chocobo at his next magic lesson. He just can't.

He knows why. That happiness and warmth that bubbled out of him before is completely gone.

He can't talk about it, even though the historians would probably know something. It just won't come out of his mouth.

They give him an easy day, talking about computer file structures and showing him the equipment they're working on for later. He can tell that they're disappointed, though.

Prompto hopes he can get himself together soon. This will all fall apart if he can't keep giving them results.

He skips the bus and runs back to the apartment, even though it takes hours and he's still in his school uniform, pushing and pushing until he's finally not thinking of anything but how his feet feel against the pavement.

Chapter Text

Of all people, Gladio is the one that confronts him first. He's there early in the morning on Saturday, which is weird, but not so weird that it puts Prompto on guard. "Wanna go jogging?" he asks.

"Sure," Prompto says, and goes to get his shoes.

After a mile or so, Gladio stops them. He says, "You're not pacing yourself and your form is sloppy. You know better'n this."

Prompto is aware of this. He just can't run hard enough if he cares about things like that. "I dunno what you mean," he says.

"I don't expect you to tell me what's up," Gladio says. "But I'm not gonna let you wreck yourself trying to run away from it."

"I really don't know what you mean," Prompto says, taking a step back.

Gladio sighs. "Look, we all know something's wrong," he says. "And you're a shit liar." He considers. "You wanna tell me what's happening, I'll listen. If you don't, it's none of my business. But I mean it. I'm not gonna let you wreck yourself like this."

Prompto feels exposed, but he's got to try. "Come on-"

"All right, listen," Gladio says. "We're gonna walk back, and I mean walk. You're gonna shower, and then you're gonna have breakfast, because you're not eating near enough to run like this either. And then you're gonna figure out some other way to deal with... whatever this is. Got it?"

Prompto takes a deep breath. Gladio's right: he's going to hurt himself if he keeps this up. He could decide he doesn't care, and just keep going anyway, because he's faster than Gladio if he really pushes himself. But he shouldn't. "Fine," he mumbles.

---

When they get back, Noct's up. He looks at the expressions on their faces and frowns. "Gladio, what did you do?"

"S'not his fault," Prompto mutters, and drifts into the shower.

When he emerges, clean and dressed and more tired than he expected to be, Gladio's nowhere to be seen, but Noct's waiting for him, arms folded over his chest. "Spill," he says.

Prompto grimaces. "Noct-"

"You're upset," Noct says. "Come on. I hate watching you be miserable all the time."

"I can't," Prompto says. He hesitates, then adds, "It just... won't come out."

Noct sighs. "Look, I know I'm not- I'm bad at this, okay? But Gladio said you were gonna really hurt yourself."

"It's just... It's a long way off," Prompto says. "At least twenty years from now. Probably more. I don't know why I'm so worked up about it."

"What's in twenty years?" Noct asks.

"It doesn't matter," Prompto says.

Noct gives him this look, flat and tired. "Prom, this is something they told you at the doctor's, right?"

"Yeah."

"You know what this sounds like, right?"

"Yeah," Prompto mumbles.

Noct sighs. "And?"

"She can't even- she can't even be sure, you know? Because I'm not- So it's not like- and even if it is what's going to happen, it's not even soon, so I don't know why I- It's not a big deal-"

"Prom," Noct says.

"Please," Prompto says. "Please, don't make me say it."

"Prompto," Noct says.

And in the end, Prompto really can't say no to Noct, not really. "The doctor thinks I'm probably going to die before I'm forty," he says. "The magic- human bodies aren't really meant to... channel power like this."

"Oh, Prom," Noct says.

And Prompto finds himself wrapped in warm arms, pulled close, held. "I'm scared," he whispers.

"I understand," Noct says, and Prompto realizes that he probably does.

"I'm being an idiot," Prompto says.

"Nah," Noct tells him. "This sucks."

Prompto laughs, watery and dizzying. "Yeah. Yeah, it really sucks," he says, and then he's crying.

"I know," Noct murmurs, letting Prompto weep all over him. "I know."

---

It's not enough for Prompto to pull together the joy he'd need to summon another chocobo, but in his next magic lesson, he manages to do something else, instead.

The historians mention that the old Reyvateils tended to have the most basic Song Magic imprinted in them, and something clicks. It's someone just had to remind him that he knew.

And they settle him into the machine again, and he reaches down, and he concentrates. He pulls at something.

"Was ki ra khal marfo walasye," he Sings. A dome of golden light thumps into place around the room, covering all of its inhabitants.

This one, Prompto has to hold. With the chocobo, he just brought it there, and that was the only thing magic needed to do. This is different. This is calling out to something, over and over: not yet. Keep this here.

It seems like it's been no time at all before it slips out of his grasp.

Prompto's head spins. He pushes the helmet up out of his way and breathes. "I think I need a juice box?" he says, and someone rushes to put one in his hand.

As soon as he's gulped it down, he glances up at the researchers crowded around him. "Can I give that another try?"

"Not today," Ancora says sternly, but she's smiling. "Would someone be so kind as to contact Mr. Scientia while Prompto explains what he just did?"

"I didn't even pass out this time!" Prompto complains. By the time they'd usually send him home, he'd be fine.

"Yes, and we are very glad," Dr. Corvi says. "Now, explain the effect, if you please."

Prompto sighs. "It's some kind of defensive barrier?" he says, watching Secunda pull out her cell phone. "I don't really know how strong it is or what it keeps out. Couldn't keep it up long enough."

"We're going to have to find somewhere outdoors to work with this one," Ancora says absently. "Can't risk the equipment if things bounce off it." She looks back at Prompto. "Not today," she says.

"I get it, I get it," Prompto says.

---

Ignis is delighted to hear that Prompto made a barrier, even without any further details about it.

"It didn't even last thirty seconds, and- I'm sorry about your work, I told them not to-"

"It was your first attempt," Ignis says. "No one expects perfection." He drums his fingers against the steering wheel. "Even if you can only, for example, block a small projectile for a few seconds, the defensive possibilities are-" He cuts himself off. "At any rate, I am glad you've regained some of your usual energy," he says.

Prompto blushes. "I-"

"We were all quite concerned," Ignis continues. "Perhaps consider that I, at least, would much prefer assisting you rather than watching you struggle."

Prompto feels the blush spread all the way to his ears. "Okay," he mutters. "Yeah."

Chapter Text

Seasons pass, and again and again. Prompto learns a simple set of songs for basic purposes, things based in instinct. He learns about the East and West Towers, sound waves, the mysterious disappearance of the old Reyvateils, computer networking, and the structure of music. Somehow, he and Noct both manage to graduate high school. The researchers Prompto's been working with get moved to the Citadel for more space and privacy concerns.

Noct's busy more and more these days. It's not hard to guess why. The war's coming closer and closer.

"They want me to ask you to be part of my Crownsguard," Noct says one evening.

Prompto isn't surprised. His team's been complaining about being pushed toward "war-applicable" research for months now. "Well, do you want me on your Crownsguard?" he asks.

"Well, yeah," Noct says.

"Okay, then I'll do it," Prompto says.

"You... do understand what that means, right?" Noct asks.

Prompto rolls his eyes. "You think I don't?"

"No, seriously," Noct says.

Prompto rolls his eyes. "I'd throw myself between you and a sword anyway, Noct. Now they're offering to pay me for it."

Noct sighs. "You don't have to, though."

Prompto laughs. "'Course I don't have to," he says.

"Prom," Noct says. "Are you really sure you want this? You're still free right now. You can still choose something else."

Prompto knows he's not really free. He doesn't believe for one second that they'll let him leave Insomnia unless he's with Noct or the military. But at any rate... "Come on, Noct. I chose you forever ago."

"You're such a sap," Noct says. The expression he's wearing is enough to make anything worth it.

---

"We can't know until we test it, of course, but we think this one's going to work," Ancora says, displaying the equipment to Prompto. There's a pair of pods, of some kind, each large enough to hold an entire person, and between them is a mass of cabling and lights.

"A Dive Machine?" Prompto asks.

"Yes," Ancora says. "We'll be able to craft new Song Magic without it taking months on end with this. You just have to find the right person to work with."

The answer's Noct. It's always been Noct. "I'll figure something out."

---

"They'll hook your brain up to mine," Prompto explains. "And then you'll be able to poke around, and, well, honestly, I don't really get it. Something to do with provoking emotion to create new Songs so it doesn't take months."

Noct nods. "What happens if I screw this up?"

Prompto shrugs. "Most likely you'll just get kicked out," he says. "I mean, there are stories about it frying people's brains out, but no one's tried anything like this for a thousand years."

"You know, if Specs even heard you suggesting me as the first test subject for this, he'd probably try to kill you."

"Yup," Prompto tells him.

"I wanna try it," Noct says, and grins.

---

Everyone politely pretends not to recognize Noct when Prompto brings him into the room. Ancora gently explains things to "Nox." Each of them climb into a pod, and then...

It's like falling asleep.

Light wakes Prompto from what feels like the best nap of his life. It's someone removing the cover of the pod. He sits up and rubs his eyes, then looks over at Noct.

Noct's halfway out of the pod already, and he looks... upset.

Noct looks the way that Prompto looks when he's upset. Not that carefully-blank look, or that tightness to his eyebrows, or even that slight crookedness to his lower lip that means he's chewing on it. His eyes are huge and a little glassy. He's breathing hard. He's shaking.

"Noct?" Prompto asks. "Are you-"

Noct seems to come to himself, face dropping into an empty expression but body still tense. "I'm fine," he says. "Just a little surprised." He gives them all the diplomat smile. "I think you know some kind of healing song now," he says. "Something complicated."

Prompto reaches into himself, and finds the beginnings of it: "Wee ki ra murfan near en crushue. Wee ki ra selena sarla sos yor." With that alone, points of light drip through the room like raindrops. Prompto watches Noct stare down at a fading bruise on his hand.

Noct still looks shaken up, though, and Prompto stops singing, moves over toward him. "Hey, did I-"

"No," Noct says. "I- I gotta go, though, I got this meeting, okay?"

Prompto looks at the clock. They blocked out three hours for this and it hasn't even been two yet. "Okay," he says. "Go on. We'll catch up later. Thanks."

"Yeah," Noct says, distracted, and practically bolts out the door.

"Would you mind telling us what that was about?" Ancora asks.

"I genuinely have no idea," Prompto says.

Chapter Text

Prompto knows Noct's going to need time to process whatever it is, so he sends him a quick text ("hey busy this afternoon text if u need anything") and heads off with his camera. There are a couple parks near the Citadel, and it's been awhile since he's really dedicated time to photography. He spends an hour just on little birds, and another on close-ups of flowers. He asks a woman if he can take pictures of her dog and spends a few minutes on that. It's relaxing.

Prompto goes home around dinnertime, trying to remember what's in the fridge to throw together. Noct's waiting for him, though, with takeout on the counter.

"Sorry I kinda flaked out on you," Noct says.

"It's no big deal," Prompto tells him.

"Uh," Noct says. "Uh, it kinda is." There's a swirl of blue light and a six-pack of cheap beer drops onto the table.

"What?" says Prompto.

"Do you know how many fake IDs I have?" Noct asks.

"No, no, that's not- Why did you buy this, Noct?"

"Liquid courage," Noct explains. He slides one of the takeout boxes down the counter toward Prompto, followed by a can of beer. "Come on."

Prompto pops the tab on the beer can and watches Noct open a can and try it. He has just enough time to fumble for his camera when he sees Noct's face twist in disgust.

"People drink this stuff for fun?" Noct asks, unwrapping a spring roll with the kind of speed he usually reserves for dodging projectile weapons. He takes a solid bite out of it, relaxing a little as he chews.

Prompto takes a swig and makes a face himself. "I don't think they do it for the taste," he says, and goes to open his own food as well.

Noct takes another sip with a completely disgusted expression. "Hope not," he says, then downs the rest of the can in one go. "This worse than table wine."

Noct's had a few glasses of watered-down wine at fancy state dinners, legal because his dad gave it to him and was supervising, at least in theory. The nobility do that kind of thing. Prompto's prior drinking experience, on the other hand, consists of a few tastes of liquor his parents left in the cabinet that he sampled when he was thirteen. He decides to take it a little slower than Noct's going.

They eat pretty quietly. Prompto's starting to feel relaxed and warm when Noct finally speaks up.

"So, when you said poking around in your brain, I don't really know what I expected, but it wasn't... that," Noct says.

"I don't remember anything," Prompto says. "I fell asleep, and I woke up, and you were freaking out."

"I figured you didn't. You wouldn't be so..." Noct waves a hand. "I dunno how you'd feel about it."

"You're gonna have to tell me," Prompto informs him.

Noct picks at some of his food. "It was... there was a big empty house, and the hallway seemed to go on forever," he explains. "Before I could do anything, this chocobo plushie showed up and cursed me out for a while. She seemed to know a lot about me. Then she told me to go find you."

"She?" Prompto says, thinking of the toy he'd carried around when he was little. "Cinnamon?"

"Yeah," Noct says. "You remembering something?"

Prompto shakes his head. "Just guessing," he says.

Noct nods. "For awhile all the doors were locked, but finally I could open one, and... It wasn't exactly you, but it was you." He hesitates. "You were taking pictures of yourself in a mirror. Every time the flash went off, you looked more and more like a daemon. You told me they were 'progress pictures.' Said that you wanted to do it now and get it over with while you still had a choice."

Prompto swallows. "And then?"

"I told you to quit that, and gave you a... a pep talk, I guess," Noct says, blushing furiously. "You turned back to normal and... left. I think I could've gone too, but I was... I didn't want to go further without knowing you'd be okay with it." He smiles just a bit. "Then Cinnamon cursed me out again until I woke up. She said some... pretty nasty stuff. I don't think she likes me very much."

"She wouldn't," Prompto murmurs, thinking of late nights curled up with a stuffed chocobo, whispering about the word "heavy" and... other things he doesn't want to think about. He shakes his head. "Is that really all, though? You were really upset."

"Yeah," Noct says. "I just wasn't expecting it." Prompto's not entirely sure he believes that, but he lets Noct keep talking. "Do you really still worry about that? The... Scourge thing?"

"Yeah," Prompto admits. He realizes something as he's speaking, though. "Right now, though, like... right this minute, I'm not so scared about it."

Noct smiles a little. "That's good," he says.

Prompto fidgets with his wristbands. "You want to keep doing it? I can ask Ignis, or Gladio, or somebody, if you don't like it."

"I'd be mad if you asked someone else," Noct says. "If you're okay with it, then I'm okay with it."

"Really?" Prompto asks, looking up. "Then... then that's fine. You already know all the worst things, anyway."

Noct is smiling, and for just a second it seems like the world is perfect. "Okay," he says. Then he looks over at his third, unopened beer can. "Next time we have a heart-to-heart, I'm getting something more expensive," he says.

Prompto bursts out laughing. "Dude. The moment." But it couldn't last, anyway. "We better clean this mess up or Ignis is going to give us the lecture of a lifetime."

"Shit, you're right," Noct says. "I don't want an underage drinking lecture. Where are the trash bags?"

"You've lived here how long and you don't know?" Prompto asks, and laughs again.

---

In their room, in the dark, when they're about to go to sleep, Noct says, "I, um. During the Dive, or whatever. I kissed you." A pause. "Is that okay?"

"Yeah, it's- it's okay," Prompto stutters. "That's okay. You can- I trust you."

"Okay," Noct says.

Neither of them say anything after that.

Chapter Text

Noct tosses Prompto a folder full of paperwork. "This is what you have to fill out for the Crownsguard," Noct says. "If you still want to do it."

"Of course I do," Prompto says, and starts flipping through it. "Are they going to count the Reyvateil thing as a medical condition?" he asks. "I mean, I do have to take medication, even if it's only once every three months."

Noct shrugs. "This is really just a formality. It's not like you're not on file anyway."

"Fair enough." Prompto pulls out a pen and starts scribbling in his answers.

"Gladio's all excited," Noct tells him. "He thinks you've got enough stamina to sing and fight at the same time if we get you on the right weapons."

Prompto thinks about it. "Well, I can jog and sing at the same time, but that's not really the same as fighting," he says, and shrugs. "I guess I'll find out."

"It'll be fun," Noct says.

---

It actually is fun, though there are a few things Prompto has to try not to think about.

He tries not to think about why a gun seems to fit so naturally in his hand or why he's a good shot right off the bat. He tries not to think about how most of the Song Magic he just sort of knows is obviously useful in combat. And most of the time, the vast majority of the time, he doesn't.

No one bothers to try to train him with any other recruits. Prompto just gets thrown in with Gladio, Ignis, and Noct, and they all work together. He knows he's nowhere near their level, and he doesn't really know what he's doing, but popping up a barrier or throwing a fireball tends to get everyone excited anyway. Most of the time, the vast majority of the time, that's a good feeling.

---

Prompto gets "Nox" scheduled for another Dive a few weeks later. The aftermath is less dramatic than the first time, although Noct still doesn't look happy.

"You sure you want to keep doing this?" Prompto asks, drumming his fingers to the strange, unsteady beat of the Song he and Noct must have built together.

"Yes," Noct says, and there's something fierce and almost dark about his tone.

"Did something happen?" Prompto asks.

"You could say that," Noct says. He stares at a wall. "The room was somewhere like our apartment. You--the one that isn't you--you were literally tearing yourself apart and giving those pieces to other people. Like, your hands and feet, arms and legs. Your eyes, and- You were so happy to do it. You offered me your lungs, and when I said no, I didn't need that, you were confused. Because-" Noct stops. "We talked. We went around gathering pieces of you back up for awhile. The chocobo plushie helped with that, but she- Cinnamon really hates me. You wouldn't take back what you said I- but you took most of it, anyway, and when nothing terrible happened, it was... okay, and... there was more music. I just kinda knew."

Prompto plays with his wristbands. "That doesn't sound very fun," he says.

"I told you. If you're okay with it, then I'm okay with it." Noct smiles at him a little. "I'm not scared."

Prompto wonders if Noct should be. He has no way of knowing.

---

Three days later, while Prompto's playing with filters on some pictures of a rock on his laptop, he feels something drop into his lap. He glances down and sees-

"Hey, Noct, you don't want to lose Carbuncle," Prompto says, grabbing the tiny doll.

"I'm not," Noct says. "It's- you wouldn't take all of yourself back from me in the Dive. And I know it's not exactly real, but it feels pretty real. So I wanted to give you something."

"You don't have to," Prompto says, eyes wide.

Noct smiles. "Didn't I just say I wanted to?"

Prompto can't help but smile in return. "All right," he says. "I'll keep him safe." He cradles Carbuncle in both hands. "Hey, little guy. Hope we can be friends."

Noct laughs, and it's soft and fond. "I hope so too," he says.

---

Prompto dreams:

He's on hard ground, on his back. The first hint of pink light peeks above the skyline of a ruined city. Black smoke surrounds him. Some of it's rising from his skin.

He looks to his right, and he can just make out two other bodies through the smoke, on the ground like he is.

He wakes up.

Chapter Text

"And as I have explained to you several times, the money is coming from my own holdings. There are no Crown funds in use. You have seen the books yourself," the King says.

"I simply do not understand why His Majesty has such an interest in the welfare of this young man," the duke replies.

"Given that Crown funds are not involved, it is in fact none of your business."

The duke scowls. "If word leaks that His Majesty is paying a salary to His Highness' best friend-"

"The Niffs are on our doorstep and you're concerned with scandal?" the King asks. "I have heard your counsel. You are dismissed."

"Your Majesty-"

"You are dismissed."

"Of course, Your Majesty."

---

"It's like I'm busting in on a dream he's having," the prince says. "And only part of him knows he's dreaming."

"Is it a pleasant dream?" his advisor asks.

"Both times it's started out as a nightmare," the prince replies. "Once I do things, it gets better."

The advisor nods. "Do you feel you are in any danger?"

"No. He'd die before he let that happen. I've seen enough to be sure," the prince says, sounding tired.

"So it is a very personal experience, then."

"Yeah," the prince says. "Yeah, it definitely is."

"I suppose I should cease asking for details, then," the advisor says.

The prince sighs. "Yeah," he says, and stares out the window of the car. "I hate it."

"You are not obligated to continue. Someone else could do the task."

"You know, I'm not sure that's true," the prince says.

---

"They're trying to make him into a weapon," a scientist complains. "This isn't what I signed on to this project for."

The elderly historian sitting with her nods. "I was specifically hoping to avert something like this," he says. "Trying not to allow the errors of the past to repeat themselves."

"I guess I should've figured," the scientist says. "With the war pushing closer and closer. They'd never let a kid like him slip through their fingers."

"We can only do as we have been doing," the historian says. "Teach him all that we can, and search for anything that will keep him alive."

"I don't know why he's still alive now. As far as I can tell, all the Niffs would have to do is break his connection to the Tower and it'd rip his mind apart. They have access or he wouldn't exist, and there's no way they wouldn't see his Cosmosphere going wild now that someone's Diving in it."

The historian shrugs. "Perhaps someone over there has a heart, too," he says. "Or perhaps trying to tamper with it would disrupt their control over the Tower."

"I wish we knew where the Eastern Tower was," the scientist says, frustrated. "If we could transfer his Cosmosphere to another server-"

"I'm no closer to finding it than you are to building your own from scratch," the historian tells her.

The scientist sighs. "We'll do all we can," she says, and flips through her notes again.

---

"They probably fast-tracked him because he's friends with His Highness," a short Crownsguard mutters. "You know how these things are."

Her companion, a dark-skinned man, shrugs. "There's something weird about the whole thing if you ask me. I can't get into his personnel file, you know. Classified. Why would they classify a personnel file?"

"And he's got that Niff coloring, doesn't he?" she replies. "Think he is a Niff and they're covering it up or something?"

"Wouldn't be the first time," he says. "But usually they wouldn't go this far just for that. Something's weird."

"Well," she sighs, "I doubt they're gonna tell us."

---

"I don't know if pushing them together was the right thing to do," the young oracle says. "I wanted the young prince to have a companion who would understand him, but I didn't consider the happiness of the Reyvateil at all."

"The Reyvateil would surely have died without your intervention," the messenger of the Astrals reminds her charge. "That is worth something."

"Maybe," the oracle says. "And yet, when the Chosen King fulfills his destiny..."

"They are both stronger than you think," the messenger says. "And the power of Eos Herself is within the grasp of a Reyvateil, if only they reach for it."

"I do not understand."

"Perhaps I have said too much," the messenger says. "But I believe that you have done a better thing than you could imagine."

---

"Hey, Iggy. Can I ask you for a favor?"

Chapter Text

"I thought you were satisfied with Noct as your Diving... partner," Ignis says with a puzzled frown.

"See, I really don't think Noct is the right guy for this one," Prompto says. "I want to try to do something specific that... he's not going to like."

"I will need you to explain," Ignis says.

"The old Reyvateils, some of them could turn themselves into pure energy for something really big," Prompto explains.

"That sounds dangerous," Ignis replies. "I am not certain why you think I would approve any more than Noct would."

"But that's just it. Noct." Prompto fiddles with his wristbands. "If something happens to him. If he's captured, if you and Gladdy are... gone and it's just me... I could do something about it. You know my gun's just backup."

"I see," Ignis says, quietly. "And you trust me sufficiently to allow me to do this? My understanding is that you have no control over what parts of your mind others see once the process has begun."

"You're not going to snoop around any more than you have to," Prompto says.

"And no one has coerced you to ask this of me, or of anyone else?" Ignis presses.

"No. It's my idea. Please. Noct would never."

"If it is truly what you wish, then I shall give it my best effort," Ignis says.

---

Prompto trusts Ignis. Not the way that he trusts Noct, no. But he knows Ignis won't hurt him on purpose doing something like this, and that's going to have to be enough.

It takes longer to fall asleep in the pod, and Prompto doesn't feel great when he wakes up, either. He finds out he's got a nosebleed when he gets out, which he takes as a great opportunity to crack jokes.

Ignis emerges from the experience as completely put-together as he's ever been. He looks thoughtful, but not upset. That's a relief, at least.

Afterwards, Ignis invites Prompto to his apartment. "Would you like some coffee?" he asks, pulling a can out from somewhere in his kitchen.

"Uh, could I get some water instead?" Prompto doesn't need the caffeine.

"Certainly," Ignis says. He fills a glass and sets it down at the table. "I believe that you obtained the result you wished for, though for obvious reasons we cannot be certain."

"That's- that's good," Prompto says.

"I assume that you wish to hear what I experienced," Ignis continues.

"Yeah."

Ignis seems to take a few moments to consider what he wants to say. "I found myself in a large, empty house," he says. "It was cold and dusty. I was... intercepted by what appeared to be a stuffed chocobo, who made it extremely clear that I was not welcome. Even more so once I explained what I had arrived to do." He pauses. "In truth, I was relieved that at least some aspect of you is equipped with an instinct for self-preservation," he says.

Prompto makes himself smile. "Hey, that's not fair."

Ignis doesn't relax at all. "I was... escorted to a room where you were a child doing homework," he says. "You had finished already. You were going back and modifying some of the answers so that they were incorrect. You were very upset to be caught."

Prompto swallows. What Noct had seen had sounded like some pretty direct metaphors, but this was something that had actually happened on a near-daily basis when he was younger.

"We spoke for some time," Ignis says. "I empathized with your desire to... remain unnoticed, one might say. I attempted to make it clear that I did not approve of your methods, but you were uninterested in that opinion. I have my guesses as to why--but that's not important. At any rate, you allowed me to 'assist' with your homework, as long as I promised to make it clear I had done so, and stopped sabotaging your own work."

"Ah," Prompto says. "And then, the song."

"Yes," Ignis says.

It's quiet for a few moments.

"I request that you do not ask me to Dive with you in the future," Ignis tells him. "I understand why this was necessary, but I feel I have harmed you in taking this step, and I do not wish to do so again."

Prompto nods. "Yeah, that's... that's probably better." He takes a few sips of his water. "I'm sorry," he says.

"No," Ignis says. "It is admirable that you wish to be able to protect your future king, even if it means exposing your heart to someone you do not fully trust. You have not done something wrong. You have done something brave."

Prompto didn't do it for his "future king." He did it for Noct. But he's already let Ignis see too much right now. "Thanks, then," he murmurs.

Chapter Text

"Someone other than you should know how to... insert those things, or whatever," Noct says, eyeing the diquility crystal in Prompto's hand. "What if something happens to you and you can't do it?"

"I've got, like, a week and a half of wiggle room," Prompto reminds him. "But okay, sure. If you want to." He pulls off his wristband, then places the crystal in Noct's palm.

Noct looks from the crystal to the installer port. "This looks too big to fit," he says.

"It'll fit," Prompto says. "It'll be tight, but it'll go in there."

Noct frowns. "All the way?"

"Yeah. Push it in all the way," Prompto says.

Noct takes Prompto's wrist with his free hand and holds the crystal over the center of the installer port. "Are you ready?"

"I'm ready. Go on, do it."

"Okay. I'm doing it." Noct presses the crystal down, and carefully pushes it in.

It hurts, even worse than when Prompto does it by himself, and he can't help but moan. "Ugh... oww..."

"Do you want me to stop?" Noct asks.

"No," Prompto says. "No, it's fine. Keep going."

"All right," Noct says, and shoves the crystal all the way in with one push.

Prompto gasps as his body absorbs the diquility, then pants his way through the aftermath until his heart finally slows. "Shit," he mumbles.

"Did I hurt you?" Noct asks, openly anxious.

"Nah," Prompto lies. "It's like that every time." He swallows. "I'm glad you did it for me." That, at least, is true.

---

Prompto picks at a thread on one of his wristbands. Since he started actual combat training, they've been trying their hardest to come apart. He's repaired them three times this month, and he's worried they're just going to rip apart on him someday.

"Hey, Prom," Noct says. "Your wristbands."

"Yeah?" Prompto asks, distracted.

"You like those?"

"I don't dislike them," Prompto says.

"Hey, catch," Noct says. He tosses over a plastic shopping bag. Prompto scrambles to pull it out of the air.

It's a bag from that Galahdian takeout place a couple blocks down the road, the one Prompto goes to a lot because it's right on the way back from the Citadel, but what's inside isn't food. It's a pair of black leather wristbands.

"These are nice," Prompto says, sliding his fingers over the soft leather.

"Was tired of watching you try to fix the old ones," Noct says. "These'll hold up awhile."

Prompto smiles. "Thanks," he says, pulling the old knit bands off and replacing them with the black straps.

"They look good," Noct says, sounding pleased.

It takes a few minutes of distracted fidgeting with the straps before it occurs to Prompto. "Wait, you just bought me these? I can afford-"

"Yeah," Noct interrupts, "but you weren't going to." And, well, he's not wrong.

"I just- you don't have to give me stuff," Prompto says, hand slipping toward his right pocket, where Carbuncle's sleeping. "I have money."

Noct grants him that smile, the one that's probably just a little softer than he was aiming for. "Let me do things for you," he says.

Prompto can't really say no to Noct to begin with. He's powerless before that smile. "This once," he says.

Noct leans against the wall. "You can still back out of the Crownsguard thing, you know," he says. "Until you swear in."

"Why would I?" Prompto asks.

"You won't get a normal life if you do it," Noct says, staring out the window. "You'll swear before the Astrals, you know. The oath means I come first. If I need to go somewhere, you'll have to follow, no matter what else is happening. If our lives are in danger and it's you or me, you'll have to choose me. Even if I can't pay you your salary, even if I go crazy and all I do is drink all the time, even if..."

There's nothing Prompto would like more.

"I know," he says. He gets up and slings an arm around Noct. "I'm not scared, Noct."

"I don't want you to get hurt," Noct murmurs. "I want to be able to protect you."

"Dude, if you think I could deal if you got hurt and there was something I could've done, you really haven't been paying attention."

Noct tries to smile. "I guess."

"Here," Prompto says, as something comes to him. "Let me give you something."

"What?" Noct asks, turning to Prompto with a suspicious frown.

Prompto reaches into his left pocket and pulls out a leather pouch. He sets it down in Noct's hands. "There," he says.

Noct opens the pouch and frowns down at its contents. "These are your-"

"Diquility crystals, yeah," Prompto says.

"You'll die if you don't-"

"Exactly," Prompto says, and closes Noct's hand around the pouch. "That's why."

"Prom," Noct says. "You can't."

"Now you have to keep me around," Prompto says, because he can't say the rest of it.

"Prom, you're an idiot," Noct says, and puts the little pouch into his pocket. "I get it."

Prompto hopes so.

Chapter Text

"You want me to do what?" Prompto asks, staring.

"There are already many rumors regarding your abilities and relationship to Noctis," Regis explains, sipping at a cup of coffee as if he was a normal person discussing chess strategy. "We have already had to reassure the council twice that the two of you are not sexually active with each other."

"Dad!" Noct says, blushing. Prompto thinks he should probably be doing the same, but he's too deep in shock.

Regis continues as if he hadn't been interrupted. "If you intend to use Song Magic in your duties as Crownsguard, then the truth will come out eventually," he says. "I think we would all appreciate things being revealed in a controlled fashion."

Prompto runs a thumb over the smooth leather of his wristband. "Okay," he says. "It'd be better to know, anyway."

"Know what?" Noct asks.

"All the magic... stuff in my brain is stored on a computer somewhere in Niflheim," Prompto says. "That computer's the one that makes all of it work. So-"

"If they delete that part of the computer, then they delete the magic?" Noct asks.

Prompto grimaces. "Maybe," he says. "That's... that's if they realize I'm their tech, and if they can delete it without breaking everything. But if they do that's... the best-case scenario. But like I said. They might not even try."

Regis frowns. "You didn't mention this before," he says.

"It wasn't important if no one was gonna know about me," Prompto replies.

"So what else could happen?" Noct's leaning in, now, and there's that darkness to his expression that means he's probably right about to get mad.

Prompto looks down at the table. "Well, it might just kill me outright," he says, and he hears the catch of Noct's breath. "Or it might... because all the magic's wrapped up in feeling and emotion and stuff, then it might kinda... rip out... a lot."

"No," Noct says. "No, absolutely not, and why didn't you say anything, Prom?"

"I told you. It wasn't important if no one was gonna know."

"Fuck," Noct says, and stalks out of the room.

Prompto shrinks in on himself. "Sorry," he says.

"It's not your fault," Regis says. "I would not have made the request if I had a better understanding of the implications."

"I want to do it," Prompto says. "And I mean, it's going to get out eventually anyway. And I want- I want to know." He takes a breath. "I'll talk to Noct. Er. Prince Noctis-"

"Whatever you wish to call him is fine," Regis says calmly. "I will allow you and my son to come to your own decision."

---

Prompto comes home to Noct sulking. And, well... he probably deserves it.

Noct's on the couch, eyes tracking Prompto like a cat about to defend his territory. "When were you going to tell me?" he asks.

Prompto waits.

"Were you going to tell me?" Noct continues. "That they could just flip a switch and you'd be dead?"

Prompto spent the whole way home thinking about how he was going to deal with this. He's not Ignis. He doesn't have an etiquette book programmed into his brain with the Exact Correct Response to every situation right at hand. He doesn't think he can deflect his way out of this one, not with how much time Noct's had to stew. So he just rolls with it. "I try not to think about it," he says.

"That's not an answer," Noct says. "And you were so scared about-"

"Do you think I'm not scared?" Prompto interrupts. "Because dude. I'm terrified." He takes a deep breath. "It's just- it wasn't something anyone thought of right away," he says. "It just came to... to someone on the team. I'm- I'm a clone. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of me- No, shut up- All on that one server, right? Except they'll all have copies of the same information."

Noct's face goes shuttered. "So every time you've learned more magic, it's painted a bigger target on your back," he says.

"And it could happen any time. It could happen now." Prompto sighs.

Noct is very, very still.

"Listen, Noct. Dive with me," Prompto says, and reaches out a hand. "Shit, we can go do it now. You can- you can do what you want. You'll understand."

Noct's still got that wary look to him, but he looks less wound up. "I don't know how that's going to make me feel any better about this," he says, but he takes Prompto's hand anyway. "Show me, then."

---

In the pod, Prompto dreams:

He's a cherry tree, tall and strong, in full bloom. Below him, he hears singing; the songs become wind that makes his branches sway and he lets his petals scatter.

There has been blight in the world, lately. He has struggled, called down to the core of the world, praying for his beloved people, but-- the blight's attacking him, too, and he is not strong enough. All he can do is let his petals drift in the wind.

Then he hears a man's voice rise in song, a voice that has never sung for him before.

It's less wind, more storm, that whips through him. His branches are stripped bare of flowers and the weaker ones snap. The wind even kicks away the soil below him, baring his roots.

He falls on the ground. He feels himself dying.

The storm was enough to blow the blight off him, and he lets out one final, pure cry. Please save my people, he calls.

But the core of the world does not answer. It is the man's voice, dark and low, that he hears: I will.

He wakes up.

---

Disoriented, Prompto pushes the pod open, wondering if it was a bad idea to do this without a team of researchers crowded around them. But he's in one piece, and he doesn't feel like he's missing anything.

Is Noct okay?

Noct is in one piece, already out of the pod, standing next to him. He looks relieved. His eyes are a little red. "Hey," he says. "Was starting to get worried you weren't gonna wake up."

"I'm fine," Prompto says. "Really tired, but fine."

"C'mon," Noct says, and helps Prompto up. "Let's get out of here."

"Are we okay?" Prompto asks.

Noct smiles, but it's an awfully complicated smile. "We always were," he says.

Chapter Text

Noct won't explain what happened to him during the Dive, other than that he doesn't remember anything about a tree. "I don't think I finished whatever I was supposed to do," he explains, and shuts down any further attempts to discuss it. Prompto doesn't push his luck.

It helps that he doesn't really see Noct for awhile. Something political's happening, and it's a big deal, and beyond that Prompto has no idea what's going on other than that Noct hasn't been home in three days.

And then, of course, Prompto just has to go and get sick. He was hoping that wasn't going to happen. He hadn't been normal-person sick since all the magic nonsense happened. But when he wakes up on Sunday, everything hurts, and he's shaking with chills, and his throat feels like someone took sandpaper to it.

At least Noct's not home to get sick.

Prompto decides that he's going to be responsible about this. He hauls himself out of bed. He texts Noct: "sick maybe stay away." Then he throws some clothes on, digs out a dusty surgical mask from the bathroom, and slouches off to take the bus to the Citadel to make absolutely sure this isn't some magic thing he needs to be worried about.

The doctor tuts over him for a few minutes before informing him he just has the flu. She prescribes him some pills and tells him to get plenty of rest and stay hydrated. Then all he has to do is get home...

Outside the medical wing of the Citadel, Noct's waiting for him.

Prompto's initial feeling is bone-deep relief: he can get a ride home. It's followed immediately by the crushing realization that he and Noct really shouldn't be in the same city block right now, and he's going to have to find the energy to convince him to go away.

"M'really sick, Noct," Prompto says, struggling to put words together when he's already so tired. "You shouldn't be here."

Somehow, Noct's already at his side, snaking an arm around Prompto's back. "Worry about yourself right now," he says.

"But-"

"Hush," Noct says. "I've had my shot. I'll be fine."

Prompto tries to worm away. "But you're so busy."

Noct sighs. He looks up and down the hallway. Then, out of nowhere, he gives Prompto a kiss, square on the mouth.

Prompto stares. Even after Noct pulls away, the soft pressure lingers.

"There," Noct says. "Now there's no point in worrying about it anymore. Come on, let's get you home."

Prompto is too tired and confused to keep fighting. He lets Noct steer him down the hall.

---

"Yeah, I know, Specs."

Prompto wakes, aching all over but pleasantly warm.

"Yeah, I know," says Noct's voice, pitched low but not far away. "Anything you can get."

Slowly, Prompto opens his eyes. The curtains are closed, and it's just dim enough not to hurt.

"Specs, I know," Noct says into his phone. He's sitting a few feet away. "It's just- I can't leave him alone like this. I won't." He sighs, and it's quiet for awhile. "Thanks." He hangs up and turns to Prompto. "You're awake."

"Kinda," Prompto murmurs, and coughs. "You shouldn't-"

Noct rolls his eyes. "We already had this argument. I won. Remember?"

Prompto remembers the kiss. He can feel heat in his cheeks, but he can't tell if it's the fever or a blush. His eyes dart away from Noct's, and it's then that he realizes. "I'm in your bed."

Noct shrugs. "Closer to the door," he says. He strokes Prompto's hair just once, gentle. "Warmer. Feel like you can eat something?"

"You really don't have to do all this," Prompto whispers.

"Do you want me to leave you alone?" Noct asks.

And if he wasn't feeling so awful, maybe Prompto could make himself lie. But... "I want you to stay," he says.

"I can't be here all the time, but I'll be here as much as I can," Noct says.

"Thanks," Prompto says, and tries not to cry.

---

Prompto's even worse the next day, roasting in his own skin. Noct calls Ignis to stay with him through the morning and makes Gladio stay in the apartment all evening. Prompto is barely aware of any of it.

Sometime late at night, though, Prompto hears shouting. That means there's someone else in the house, and they're not happy, and he should do something about that. He shoves himself out of bed and stumbles out of the bedroom, leaning against the wall.

Gladio's yelling something at Noct that Prompto's too foggy to piece together. Ignis is standing between the two of them, saying something sharp. The sound pierces through his skull, and the lights are too bright. Prompto tries to say something and starts to cough. All three of them turn around to look at him.

"Aw, shit," Gladio says.

Noct jogs over and slips an arm around Prompto, steering him to the couch. "We're sorry," he says, and rests a cold hand against Prompto's forehead. "I'm sorry."

"W's happening?" Prompto asks weakly.

"Lucis is going to sign a treaty with Niflheim," Ignis says. "One of the terms is that Prince Noctis is to wed the Oracle, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret."

Prompto knew this was going to happen. Not Luna, specifically, and not now, but that Noct would get married and all this was going to end. He's still completely blindsided, hearing it. His vision even starts to blur.

"Shh, no, don't cry," Noct murmurs, and rubs Prompto's back.

Prompto realizes he is crying, and tries to pull away. He's thought a lot about how he was going to react to this news. He was going to smile, and convince Noct it was going to be okay if he was upset about it and be excited if he wasn't. Prompto was not supposed to cry. At least not in front of other people.

The harder Prompto fights it, the worse the sobs get.

"C'mon," Noct says. "Let's get you back in bed, okay?" Without warning, he scoops Prompto up in a princess carry. "Let me take care of this," he tells Ignis and Gladio, "and then we can go back to talking."

"Noct-" Prompto mumbles.

"Shhh," Noct says, gentle, and takes him to the bedroom.

"M'sorry," Prompto manages, as Noct sets him down.

"It's okay," Noct says, arranging the blankets. "Don't worry." He kisses Prompto's forehead, and whispers in his ear. "I'm not letting anyone take you from me."

Prompto doesn't know how Noct knew that was what he needed to hear, but it's enough to send a wave of calm through him, enough to get him to stop shaking.

"We'll talk about it when you're feeling better," Noct says.

Prompto wants to talk about it now. He wants to try to talk his way out of this, shove his feelings back out of sight. (He wants to revel, just a few moments longer, in the protective heat in Noct's eyes.) But he was exhausted even before he dragged himself out of bed, and he's too worn out for anything now except a small nod while his eyes fall closed.

"Don't worry," Noct says, again. He strokes Prompto's hair a few times with his freezing-cold hand. Then he leaves, and closes the door behind him.

Chapter Text

"Sorry I flipped out last night," Prompto says, curled up on the couch with a blanket wrapped around him. His fever's down a little. He can think better than yesterday, but that just means he's more aware of how awful he feels.

"Nah," Noct says. "It's our fault for waking you up like that. Really, I'm the one who flipped out."

Prompto pushes through the haze coating his memories of the night before and remembers Noct and Gladio facing each other, Ignis in between them. Noct wasn't happy about getting married, then. "Ignis said... Luna, didn't he?"

Noct nods. "Yeah, it's her."

"That's probably as good as that's gonna get," Prompto says.

"Yeah," Noct says. "It just... I was just surprised, I guess. I thought Dad would at least talk to me first, or something."

Prompto's not doing a great job of cheering Noct up, but he tries. "You're going to be happy with her," he says. "You're already friends. And you're going to have the cutest babies."

Noct laughs a little, then. "I don't want to think about babies, Prom."

"Come on," Prompto says. "It's all super cute. Childhood sweethearts reuniting-" He starts to cough.

Noct sighs. "You're trying to make me feel better," he says, and rubs Prompto's back. "You happy here for now, or you want me to get you back in bed before I leave?"

"Here's good," Prompto says. "I'm really sorry I'm sick when-"

Noct rolls his eyes. "Quit apologizing," he says. "Specs is gonna check in on you this afternoon, and I'll be back for dinner. If you're up to it, we can start planning the Crownsguard... thing."

Prompto perks up a little. "You're gonna let me do it?"

Noct nods. "After the Dive I... really do get it," he says, a little distant. "Anyway. I'll see you."

---

"This is your heritage, Prompto," Ignis says, smoothing the paper.

"Look, if you wanted to laugh at the dude with the fever, you should've done it yesterday," Prompto says.

"I'm quite serious," Ignis says in a tone that is probably meant to be reassuring but isn't at all. "If you really are going public with your Reyvateil status, it would only be appropriate to reflect that in your Crownsguard uniform."

"If you're joking, I'll sic Noct on you," Prompto grumbles, and rubs at his temples a little. His eyes are too watery for his contacts today, and he thinks the prescription for his glasses is out of date. "You sound like you have something in mind."

"I will admit that I have already perused the collection," Ignis replies. "But you should have the opportunity to investigate your own tastes."

Prompto flips through a few pages. "Crownsguard uniforms are supposed to be mostly black," he says. "Half of these are pink."

"Yes, the coloration would need adjusting," Ignis says.

Prompto considers saying he needs to sleep to get out of the conversation, but he knows Ignis will just drag the book back in front of him in a few days, and this is still better than being alone with nothing to think about but feeling terrible. He flips through a few more pages. "So like... what's your deal with this, anyway?" he asks. He traces his finger over a girl wearing something almost practical, but decides he's not into the puffy shorts. "Is this, like, you wanting to wear these and trying to live vicariously through me?"

Ignis chuckles. "If I want to wear an article of clothing, I obtain it and I wear it," he says.

"Then what is it?" Prompto asks.

"You tend to focus on the... strangeness of your situation. And indeed, in modern society, your circumstances are unique. But the people who wore clothes like these were very much like you. The first Reyvateils were created in laboratories for the purposes of enacting magic through song. They were built to purpose. And yet they had their own wills, and chose their own paths. They developed a culture alongside ordinary humans." Ignis gestures at the book. "You should know what they left to you."

"I understood about half of that," Prompto says, but he's smiling a little. This is some weird affection thing. That makes sense.

"Of course," Ignis says. "You haven't turned the page in awhile. Something you like?"

Prompto glances down at the book. "I think this girl is the first one I've seen in shoes you could run in," he says. But really, his eye is caught by the girl on the facing page. She looks... familiar, somehow.

Ignis hums. "Fair," he says. "We may have to-"

Prompto turns the page again, though, and... "Huh." He taps the outfit he sees there. "If I had to pick one. You'd have to do something about the shoes, and it's still pretty revealing, but it's... got something to it."

Ignis smiles. "That was one I thought you might like," he confesses. "But let me show you..."

---

"I brought take-out," Noct announces, setting a bag on the table. He glances down. "Oh, did Specs really bother you about the frilly costumes again? I told him not to wear you out."

Prompto coughs into his blanket. "It was fine," he says. "If I wasn't gonna be stuck with it, I might go for one of these just to rub it in."

Noct sets a cup of soup in front of Prompto. "You know, if you're serious about that. I think there's something where you're allowed to have a separate dress uniform from your regular one. Nobody actually does it, but no one could stop you."

"Oh man," Prompto says. He opens up his soup. "Tell me which one would piss off the most council members."

Noct unpacks a sandwich and starts munching on it. He flips through the book with his other hand. "I bet if we switched this one to black, we could convince at least half of 'em you're gonna wear that all the time."

Prompto studies the image. "Yeah, but I think it'd lose a lot of the effect if it wasn't pink."

"You're right," Noct says regretfully, and flips a few more times. "I don't know why Specs is so into these," he mumbles. "Oh, man. Prom, look at this," he says, and turns the book so Prompto can see it a little better.

The costume is certainly one of the more elaborate ones. It's already a relatively dark color. It would get caught on everything. Prompto's not sure he could walk more than six steps in those sandals. He finds himself in awe. "It's perfect," he says.

"I'll get Specs to check up on the exact rules, see if we can make it happen," Noct says, delighted. "You'd be spending a lot of quality time with the tailor."

Something about imagining the shock on people's faces when he turned up in that costume makes it feel like it would be worth it.

When Prompto looks up and sees the look on Noct's face... he's completely sure. It would be worth it.

Noct folds the corner of the page down and closes the book. He takes a breath. "I'll still keep you around even if you don't want to be Crownsguard, you know," he says.

Prompto smiles a little. "I know."

"You know if something happened to you, I'd- I don't know what I'd do," Noct says.

Prompto's smile grows a little wider. "Dude. Let me do this one thing for you."

Noct looks over at Prompto for awhile, with the sort of focus that he usually reserves for studying combos for fighting games. "I wasn't going to tell you you couldn't," he says. "Just-" He swallows. "I wish I could just let you dip into my head and let you see."

"Oh," Prompto murmurs, because that almost says enough right there.

Chapter Text

"Don't strain yourself," Ignis says.

"I'm fine," Prompto says hoarsely. "I just want to know this." He takes a sip of tea, clears his throat. Sings. "Was yea ra chs hymmnos mea." It comes out completely normal, as if he hadn't been hacking his guts out for almost a week. He finishes the line, takes a few clear, easy breaths- and suddenly doubles over with coughing.

Noct thumps his back a few times. "Maybe don't do that again," he says, alarmed.

"Yeah," Prompto rasps. "Not unless I have to."

Gladio looks thoughtful. "Useful, though. Crack your ribs, sing that really fancy healing song, keep right on going."

"Wonder if I could use that to get rid of this cough," Prompto says.

"No," Noct and Ignis chorus.

"You were that bad after one line, Prom," Noct adds. "If it doesn't work you're gonna choke to death."

"Yeah, okay," Prompto says. He rubs at his eyes--suddenly he's so tired--and leans forward to look at Ignis' planner. "Anyway..."

"I want to do a Dive again as soon as Prompto's in good enough shape for it," Noct says. "Can we squeeze something in here in three or four days?"

Ignis flips a page. "If I recall correctly, it usually takes two to three hours," he says.

Noct points. "I could do it there, if I skip lunch."

Prompto scowls. "I'm fine. Barely even running a fever anymore," he says. "I could do it today."

"Is Wednesday acceptable?" Ignis asks him.

Prompto sighs and coughs. "Yeah, that's fine. I'm free pretty much that whole day."

"Ah, then we can get you to see the tailor for this... project, as well," Ignis says, switching from pen to pencil and jotting down a few words.

Gladio's gleeful. "Dad's gonna hate it."

"I wonder if the hair things used to do something," Prompto says, before another argument about annoying council members breaks out. "All of them seemed to have some."

Ignis shrugs. "I couldn't say," he remarks, but now he's wearing his thinking frown instead of his lecture frown, so Prompto figures they're safe. "At any rate, we need to have this done before the ceremony proper, and Prompto needs to be completely recovered..."

"We can probably do it in two weeks," Noct says. "Most of the delegation will have left by then."

"I certainly hope so," Ignis says. He flips a few pages and jots a few notes down. "I will confer with the appropriate personnel." He glances up at Noct. "Are you prepared?"

Noct... blushes? "I was going to have Gladio help me out with that," he says.

"Reasonable," Ignis replies. "Just be certain that you get it done."

"Get what done?" Prompto asks.

"None of your business," Gladio says cheerfully. "Finish your tea."

"But-"

"If you want to be fully recovered in time, you should rest your voice," Ignis says, eyes twinkling.

"I'm going back to sleep," Prompto grumbles, and gets up. His head spins, and his legs buckle under him.

Noct grabs him before he hits the floor. "Yeah, you're fine," he says. "C'mon."

Embarrassed, Prompto doesn't say anything as Noct supports him with an arm and half-hauls him to bed.

---

Noct seems a little jittery about the Dive, and that's got Prompto full-on nervous. He doesn't like that Noct won't talk about it. He doesn't like anything about this at all.

Noct's calm, though, when he shows up in their test room right around lunchtime. More than calm: he looks determined.

"You sure you're up for this?" Noct asks.

And, okay, Prompto has that lingering cough and he's still a little tired. But. "Noct, I'm just going to take a nap," he says.

Noct rolls his eyes. "I don't think that's how this works," he says, but he doesn't ask again.

---

Waking up this time is even more of an event than the first Dive.

Prompto wakes up exhausted with tears running down his cheeks. He scrubs at his face and sits up.

Noct takes another minute or so to get out, and when he does, it's with the red eyes and puffy face that come after hard sobbing. But when he looks over at Prompto, he smiles. It's not the relaxed, pleased smile for having fun in public. It's not the smile that lands just a little soft. It's not the openly fond smile reserved for times when they're alone and he thinks Prompto's not looking. It's something radiant and dazzling, something that shines like the stars.

Prompto already knew he was in love, but it's never burned in his chest quite like this before.

It can only last a moment, though, and then Noct's eyes flick to the clock. "I gotta clean myself up before this next meeting," he says. "We'll talk later, okay?"

"Yeah," Prompto says, because he would agree to anything like this.

---

Under any other circumstances, the visit with the tailor would have been an extensive anxiety attack, but Prompto has so much else on his mind that it hardly registers. He follows directions. He doesn't cringe when the tailor reads out numbers. He looks at the sketch the tailor has provided for the outfit--apparently Ignis realized that a project like this would require as much advance warning as possible--and grants his approval. (He does manage to come down to Eos long enough to be amused about how he's going to look.)

Then he goes back to the apartment and sleeps like a rock on the couch for six hours.

---

Prompto wakes up after a soft thump hits his face. A pillow. "Noct," he complains.

"Couch is public space," Noct says. "Anyway, get up. We're going to the roof."

Prompto, still drowsy, stumbles to his feet. "Okay," he says.

By the time he's hauling himself through the window, Prompto's awake enough to really remember everything that's happened. This has to be about the Dive. His heart pounds up into his throat.

"You're shivering," Noct says, once they reach their usual spot. There's a flash of blue light. Noct leans against Prompto and wraps both of them up with the blanket. Noct's shivering, or shaking, himself. He tugs Prompto a little closer. "Maybe up here wasn't a good idea," he says. "Don't want you to get sick again."

Prompto sinks into the pleasant warmth. "I'm mostly fine," he says. "Ignis would tell you that's not how that works, anyway."

Noct laughs. "Yeah, yeah," he says. Then he looks up at the stars like they're going to tell him something. "Prom," he says. "You're-" He hesitates. "You want to know about the Dives, and it's not fair of me not to tell you."

Prompto says, "I do want to know."

Noct's quiet for awhile. "You were alone," he says. "You were alone, and far away, and no matter how far I walked, I couldn't get any closer. So I... I figured that wasn't going to work, and I... I started opening doors. And I found- I found your parents."

Prompto's breath catches. "And?"

"They said a lot of terrible things," Noct says. "Complained about you paying bills late, and calling them and asking for more money, and how you should've been more- And then I turned around to leave them because obviously that wasn't going to help, and you were there, in the doorway. Just staring. And you told me... you told me it was all true. There was a lot of... back and forth, for awhile, and then..."

"Yeah?"

"Another one of you, a knight in armor like out of a kid's book, came through. Told me that it was worthless to fight you like this, that this part of you didn't want to change, that I should just... force you on and go to the next one. I said... not like that, and made myself wake up." Noct leans a little further into Prompto. "You stayed asleep for a good ten minutes after that. I was getting scared."

"Sorry," Prompto mutters.

"Not your fault," Noct says. "Anyway some things... made more sense, then." He sighs. "Then, today... I don't really understand how I did it, but... I turned that you into the knight." He hesitates a moment. "That might've been a mistake. You--the knight you--asked me to run away with you. I said no, and you said you thought that would be how it was. And then you tried to do... something terrible." He swallows. "But you stopped yourself. You wouldn't do it, in the end. And you said... a lot of things."

"Like what?" Prompto asks.

Noct rests his head on Prompto's shoulder. He takes a deep breath and lets it out. "That the real you wanted me to be happy more than anything else, that he'd give anything for it. That there's not a single part of you that-"

"That doesn't love you," Prompto whispers.

The world is quiet. Prompto's feelings scream.

Noct pulls Prompto to face him.

"I- just-" Noct says, and then he leans forward and kisses Prompto. "I love you too," Noct whispers, trembling.

This is going to cause a lot of problems.

Prompto kisses Noct like he means it, because he really, really does.

Chapter Text

"Lady Lunafreya," Prompto says the next morning. The high's worn off entirely, and the problems that were hard to care about last night seem like hulking daemons now.

"Luna isn't the problem," Noct says, sitting up in bed, knees drawn to his chest. "She and I have been writing since we were kids. She's taken a few lovers. She understands. And she's like my big sister, I don't want to- I mean-" He blushes. "I'm still going to have to try for a heir and a spare with her. So that's- if you don't-"

"You're saying Luna doesn't care if you keep me as a mistress," Prompto says, slowly.

"Yeah," Noct mutters. "She said that... that I wouldn't be the first Lucis Caelum to have a Royal Favorite." He smiles weakly. "The problem is basically everyone else. If we want to- we can't be open. There's too much riding on this treaty."

Prompto nods. "You know that's not important to me, right? Being open about a relationship, and stuff. I don't care."

"You deserve better," Noct says. "I'm the godsdamned Crown Prince and I want to give you everything."

"It's enough that you want to," Prompto says softly.

"Prom," Noct says, gentle, and then they kiss again.

---

The wedding is going to be in Altissia, of all places. Accordo is technically part of the Empire, but so is Tenebrae, where Luna actually lives. It's probably some political thing that Prompto doesn't understand. The more important thing about the wedding is that it's going to be soon.

"At least it's after we were going to have you sworn in, so we won't have to do some crazy rescheduling thing," Noct says. And that's true, but it's not long after that.

Prompto worries about moving out, getting both of his uniforms finished on time, what's going to happen to his research team, whether his gun is in good enough shape for the journey. He cleans the house. He trains hard. He spends a whole lot of time making out with Noct, and they don't sleep together sleep together, but they do spend more than a few nights snuggled together in Noct's bed.

Noct asks him again and again if he's sure he wants to reveal that he's a Reyvateil. He knows Noct's worried that he's going to sing his heart out and die 30 seconds later, but for all that he worries about a lot of things, Prompto's not worried about that.

One evening, when Ignis is over cooking, he turns to Prompto. "His Majesty would like to know if you would like your parents to attend your Crownsguard ceremony," he says. "It can be arranged."

Prompto thinks for a moment. He remembers being little and being tucked into bed and feeling warm and safe. He remembers scattered words of praise doled out between trips. He remembers coming inside from playing to have a hot cup of tea placed in his hands. He remembers a hand grasping his arm over and over to check if his wristband was still in place. He remembers a long lecture about a bill being overdue. He remembers a silent, silent house.

"No," he says. "I'm not worried about that."

---

Prompto goes to a second appointment with the tailor for more work on his dress uniform. Pieces of fabric, partially stitched together, held up against him or slipped into position.

"This is going to be amazing," Prompto says.

"You're going to have to glue on the legging," the tailor informs him, lifting his foot for a measurement.

---

"I'm really gonna miss you guys!" Prompto tells the research team, sipping on a juice box and surrounded by chocobos from the Royal Stable.

Ancora gives him a hug. "We are all going to see you sworn in," she reminds him. "And we'll still be working with the data back over at the Institute for awhile if you want to visit after your little adventure."

"Okay," Prompto says, and goes over to give Secunda the next hug. "But I really will miss you guys!"

---

"Are you sure you really want to-"

For the first time, Prompto shuts Noct up with a kiss.

It's really satisfying. Getting Noct to shut up is nice, too.

Chapter Text

"Why is this such a big deal, anyway?" Prompto asks. "I mean, doesn't your dad induct, like, twenty people a year?"

"You're one of the first three I'm getting," Noct replies. "It's different. They're supposed to be special."

"Oh," Prompto says, and blushes. "Well, I don't think anyone's going to be bored, at least."

"Yeah," Noct says, "I don't think we have that to worry about."

Prompto carefully slips his dress uniform from the garment bag, one piece at a time, to hang them up on the door. "I almost feel like I shouldn't let you see this beforehand," he remarks.

Noct laughs. "It's not like we're getting married."

"It's the closest we're going to get." Prompto strokes the smooth fabric of the kimono. "Just think, they're going to think this is the interesting part."

Noct reaches out and runs a finger over the fabric as well. "I think I'm gonna be underdressed."

"The groom shouldn't outshine the bride," Prompto teases.

Noct grins. "So you're the blushing bride tomorrow?"

"It's my day, isn't it?"

They both break into laughter.

---

Prompto dreams:

He's on hard ground, on his back. The first hint of pink light peeks above the skyline of a ruined city. Black smoke surrounds him. Some of it's rising from his skin.

He looks to his right, and he can just make out two other bodies through the smoke, on the ground like he is.

His limbs are heavy. He's exhausted. But he knows he still has more to do.

He wakes up.

---

A new member of the Crownsguard being sworn in is always, at least technically, a public event, but it's not usually much of one in practice. Still, since Prompto is Noct's third, there's a little fuss. A news station sends someone to film. One of the reporters from Insomnia Daily is there taking pictures. The king himself didn't show up, but the entire Council did. Every member of Prompto's research team is present. And of course Ignis and Gladio are up there with Noct. All told there are probably three dozen people. A pretty solid turnout.

Everyone is staring at Prompto.

He can't blame them. He'd be staring at himself, too.

Prompto can move in this outfit. He's practiced. And he's spent a lot of quality time with these shoes. So all he's got to do is walk into position.

He looks at the crowd, faces confused and mostly disapproving. He looks up at Noct, who seems to be biting awfully hard on his lip.

He's gonna give 'em a show.

Noct's standing at the top of one of the landings on the stairs. Prompto walks up toward him, very mindful of his shoes, and stops a few steps down. He kneels.

"Do you swear by the Astrals to defend me and mine, the line of Lucis, now and in perpetuity?" Noct asks, the ritual phrase falling easily from his lips.

"I swear," Prompto replies.

"Do you swear by the Astrals to defend the nation of Lucis from any threat, within or without?"

"I swear."

"Do you swear freely, without obligation or coersion, and without a doubt in your heart?" Noct looks hard into Prompto's eyes.

"I do," Prompto says.

"Then I name you Crownsguard," Noct says. "I place my life in your hands."

Prompto sees the blue light and watches a gun materialize in Noct's hands. He reaches out, careful, to accept it. The gun is brand new. Prompto wasn't expecting something new. It has custom etching: the sigil of his Installer Port, and the word Quicksilver.

"Show the nice people," Noct whispers, after he's stared at it for a few moments.

It doesn't break the spell, not quite, but it's enough to persuade Prompto to get moving. He rises to his feet, turns, and lets his audience see the weapon in his hands.

Normally, at this point, there would be some brief demonstration of skill with the weapon. But it would be dangerous to do that with a gun, and anyway, that's not Prompto's real weapon.

He thinks of the way Noct looks at him, when it's just the two of them and there's no one around to see, and begins to Sing.

At first, almost all of the crowd looks confused. Half the Council looks genuinely insulted. Prompto doesn't let it bother him. They'll see in a moment.

"Was yea erra chs sheak, en sol anw yeal. Was quel erra chs lusye eazas."

As the music swells, orbs of light flood through the crowd. Prompto watches a bemused Ignis catch one in his hands and inspect it, and then suddenly everyone's grabbing them. They pop with enough pressure, but that's fine. The Song keeps producing more.

"Presia firle anw faura, van futare parge iem. Melenas," Prompto Sings.

Noct doesn't know a word of Hymmnos, but Prompto hopes he'll understand.

Chapter Text

In the wake of the ceremony, Insomnia's news outlets lose their minds. Prompto watches from his smartphone in the apartment. He's allowed to go anywhere he wants, but he's really not interested in dealing with the reporters.

The King ends up having to do an entire press conference about Prompto. Yes, Prompto is in fact a Reyvateil. The Crown will not confirm or deny whether there are any further within Lucis. Yes, the individuals planning the ceremony knew what was going to happen. No, Prompto himself is not interested in interviews.

Noct won't leave Prompto alone for more than ten minutes at a time. Days pass and Prompto does not drop dead. He Sings something small and simple every now and then, just to make sure it still works, but nothing's changed.

Niflheim does not issue any kind of statement.

"Dude, I'm pretty sure if they were going to do something, it would've happened already," Prompto says.

Noct sighs. "They could be waiting for you to go out in public again so they can do it in front of a crowd," he says.

"They don't have a tracker on me," Prompto says. "They don't know where I am unless it's on TV, and even then they're on a delay."

Noct scowls. "I know, I know," he says.

"Chill. Play some King's Knight with me." Prompto nudges him. "Or. You know, three days from now, we're never going to have real privacy again..."

---

Prompto goes outside for the first time the next day, when he goes to get the final alterations on his regular Crownsguard uniform and bring it home.

It's actually not bad. The news cycle has moved on, talking about some pop singer from Accordo who canceled her upcoming tour because, according to her, the Astrals had spoken to her and told her to visit as many holy sites as possible. Someone does take his picture, but he doesn't worry too much about it.

The tailor fusses over the elastic in his gloves, recommends a specific brand of sock glue, gives his boots a final polish, hands him a little bag of spare buttons "just in case," and makes him promise he won't let anything grab him by the tails of his jacket.

After all of that, with his uniform tucked under his arm, Prompto walks through the Citadel. He almost goes to the research lab on autopilot, but reminds himself that's not his destination just in time to-

Run into King Regis and his Shield, apparently.

"Ah, Prompto," Regis says, smiling. "Could you spare a moment of your time?"

"Uh, of course," Prompto says, coming to a stop. "What can I do for you, Your Majesty?"

"Are you well after your performance a few days ago?"

"Oh, yeah," Prompto says. "That one's pretty simple. I could've done that four or five times before I got tired."

Regis smiles. "Ah, good," he says. "I'm aware that it is now your career, but please do look after my son on this trip. He will be very much in need of you."

"Of course, Your Majesty," Prompto says, alarmed that the King would think he might not.

The King smiles. "I know you will. Now, unfortunately, I must be on my way. Thank you, Prompto."

"Uh, you're welcome, Your Majesty," Prompto says. He waits for the King and his Shield to pass before darting in the opposite direction.

---

"You'll need to pack your dress uniform, you know," Ignis remarks mildly as he inspects Prompto's luggage for the trip.

Prompto realizes, abruptly, that of course he would be expected to wear his dress uniform to a wedding.

Well, Noct seemed to like him in it anyway.

"You're right," Prompto says, and goes to remove it from the box he'd packed his clothes into.

When he turns around, Ignis looks almost disappointed. Prompto wonders if he was supposed to flail and panic. Too late now, though. Timing would be off.

---

Prompto kinda gets Noct's awkward relationship with his dad, but some days it makes him sad. Watching Noct say goodbye to the King before they leave is that kind of sad. Prompto thinks Noct's not sure if his dad loves him. Prompto knows this is hilariously wrong because he knows what- Anyway, because he knows. It would be nice if they could get along better.

But Prompto is pretty sure this is something he can't help with, and he definitely can't do it right now.

There's something that doesn't seem right about the way that Regis doesn't quite want to let Noct leave. Usually, he's entirely willing to let Noct wander off like they barely know each other. It's like he expects something to happen.

But Prompto's just some peasant. He wasn't raised to this sort of thing. What does he know?

He stretches out, enjoying those last few moments before he's cooped up in a car for hours, and breathes. Time to do his job.

"Hey Noct, c'mon!" he calls, grinning. "We've got places to be!"

And Noct rolls his eyes, but he smiles back.

It's not a bad start.

Chapter Text

Leide is nothing like Insomnia.

It's hot, but the heat is much more dry than inside the Wall. The colors are all different, too, everything powdered with sand, and... the sky. There's so much sky. The horizon stretches out forever, broken up only by the occasional sign or power pole.

It's captivating. (It's distracting.)

---

As it turns out, Prompto doesn't know any Song Magic that can repair a car.

He tries to create a gust of wind to push it along, next, but it's not strong enough. It does make a nice cooling breeze, though, as they shove the car down the road, so there's that.

Prompto has a feeling that this is an omen.

---

The first service station they run into is Hammerhead, and Prompto falls in love with it immediately, too, sand and all. None of it looks sterile, like the rich neighborhoods in Insomnia. Everything looks like it's been used and loved. All these scratches and scuff marks are stories. He wants to take pictures of everything.

It's strange, though, how far Insomnia has grown from the rest of Lucis in just 30 years. They don't even use the same currency anymore. So now they're stuck running errands for one of the King's old friends to pay for repairs.

It could be worse. They could be cleaning or something. But instead they're sent off to kill stuff, which is pretty much what they've been training to do anyway.

---

Noct is always attractive, but in combat he's a wonder. Flickering all over the battlefield, juggling weapons. The cocky smile and light sheen of sweat are a good look on him.

Prompto knew all of that already. But now they're fighting for real, and if anything, Noctis is even more unfairly beautiful than before. Prompto hangs back, Singing and playing around with his camera, and gets the perfect view.

He documents everything they do in exacting detail. He hopes Lady Luna will appreciate this side of Noct, too.

---

They set up camp at a Haven as the sun dies down.

It gets cold faster than Prompto would've thought, even warned about the way deserts work, but Gladio gets a fire going and their campsite is nice enough. Ignis makes some kind of stew that Noct whines about and eats anyway. Everyone fawns over Prompto's pictures.

And then Prompto looks up, straight up, and oh.

There are so many stars.

He'd thought the sky was amazing from Noct's roof, high enough that a lot of the city lights were blocked, but this. This is something else entirely.

"Noct," he says, quietly, and then remembers why he's outside the Wall. "Guys. Check that out."

It's so, so close to perfect. The only other thing Prompto wants is to hold Noct's hand.

Chapter Text

Prompto hauls himself out of his sleeping bag and stretches as much as he can in the crowded space of the tent. He definitely prefers real beds, he decides, but an expensive sleeping bag isn't so bad at all. As he gets dressed, he decides he could live with it for awhile.

Stepping outside the tent, Prompto looks up. He sees the orange of the sunrise smudging into blue as the morning truly begins. He decides he's going to get up earlier next morning. Ignis is digging through their supplies, probably planning to make breakfast. Noct's still asleep in the tent. Gladio's nowhere to be seen.

It's a little cool outside, but that's the kind of weather Prompto prefers for going out for a run. He warms up and stretches a little more. There's a nice sizzle as Ignis drops something onto a pan.

"Planning to go jogging?" Ignis asks without turning around.

"Yeah," Prompto says, rolling his shoulders.

"Mind you don't wear yourself out," Ignis says. "We'll need to do more hunting today to pay for the repairs on the Regalia."

"Gotcha," Prompto says. "Back in a few, then." He checks on his things: Carbuncle and a case of memory cards for his camera in the right pocket, cell phone in the left pocket, camera in his hand with the strap secured around his wrist. Good. He sets off at an easy pace.

Prompto takes more than twenty pictures during the fifteen minutes he spends outside the camp.

---

The day has the warm, golden feel of a happy dream. They hunt things Prompto's only ever seen on TV. He plays around, shooting and Singing at the same time just to show off. He takes at least a hundred pictures. He takes a selfie with an angry Sabertusk and Ignis lectures him for a full ten minutes. (Noct thinks it's a great shot.)

They make double the amount of money they need for the car and eat a celebratory dinner at the diner next to Cid's garage. There are only about six people there and none of them do that thing where they pretend not to stare at Noct while obviously staring at him. It feels good.

"We'll camp again tonight," Ignis says. "In the morning, we shall see if there is any more work, so that we have a buffer in case of another... incident. After we earn more funds, we will continue our journey. Cindy has asked us to deposit a package for her at a motel in Longwythe, and if we have a suitable amount of money, we will stay the night there tomorrow."

Noct sighs. "We really gotta camp tonight?"

"Come on, you can sleep no matter what," Prompto pointed out.

"I was all stiff this morning," Noct says. "Not a fan."

Gladio rolls his eyes. "We'll put the laundry under you to make the ground softer," he says.

"You don't have to do that," Noct says. "It's fine."

Prompto hopes he's not lying. He knows that sometimes Noct's old back injury acts up. He's not sure whether Gladio knows, because Noct really doesn't like to talk about it.

"I'm gonna get up earlier tomorrow morning," Prompto says. "Tail end of this morning's sunrise looked pretty cool. I bet it was even better before I got up."

"Long as you don't make me get up to watch it," Noct grumbles, but he's gone much softer.

Prompto sees movement out of the corner of his eye and glances up to see a strange, considering look on Ignis' face. "Iggy, you okay?" he asks.

Ignis' expression shifts instantly to something more familiar. "Ah, I've just come up with a new recipe," he says, and pulls a notebook from his pocket to jot something down.

---

They're all pretty tired by the time they set up camp, but Prompto knows he's not going to be able to sleep anyway. Not quite yet. So he lets the others crawl into their sleeping bags, and smiles, and sits next to the fire.

Outside the borders of the Haven, Prompto can see a cluster of strange blobs wandering around that must be daemons. Is something like that what he was meant to be? A heap of goo stuffed into a person-shaped suit? Or are they actually person-shaped? There are some humanoid daemons. Some that look like swordsmen in robes, he remembers. There were the ones that look something like a cross between Gladio and a bull, too, and the really creepy ones that look like a human on top but a spider below the waist.

Prompto reminds himself that this line of thought is not going to get him to sleep any faster.

He hums softly, a Song that soothes its listeners. It doesn't do magic if he just hums it, but it's relaxing anyway. He's not what they made him to be, or he wouldn't know this melody. There's no use for it in a weapon.

Still, there's something in him that's the same as those things out there. Prompto wonders what it is.

Chapter Text

Longwythe is even more beat-up than Hammerhead. The pavement around the motel is cracked and there are potholes everywhere. Prompto can't decide what color the motel was originally because the paint's so spotted and faded. It's beautiful. He forgets they were supposed to deliver something and just starts taking pictures.

"Hey, Umbra," Noct says, and Prompto turns.

It's that dog, the one that visits Noct sometimes. And yep, there's that notebook that Noct writes in when the dog shows up.

Noct scribbles something down that Prompto forces himself not to try to read. He does, however, snap a couple pictures as Noct secures the little notebook and pets Umbra.

Prompto takes a step closer, then, but Umbra's trotting off. He's on a mission, as usual. "Aww," he whines. "Never lets me pet him."

Noct laughs. Mission accomplished.

---

After they check into the motel for the night, Gladio pulls out a pack of cards. "You guys wanna play poker?" he asks.

Prompto is terrible at poker. He knows he's terrible at poker. Further, he'd be up against Ignis, who probably counts cards, and Noct, who has a poker face carefully honed from years of acting bored and uninterested at all times. And it's not like Gladio is bad, either. "I'm in," Prompto says, preparing to lose badly.

They play six rounds sitting on a motel bed with creaky springs. He loses all of them badly.

It does not occur to Prompto until they're getting ready to go to sleep that there are only two beds in the room.

"Um," he says. "How are-"

Ignis gives him a considering look. "You and Noct can share one, and I will share the other with Gladio, if everyone finds that satisfactory."

Prompto restrains himself from announcing that this is the best plan anyone's had all day.

"That's fine," Noct says. He immediately flops back onto the nearest bed and spreads out like a starfish.

"Sharing," Prompto reminds him.

Noct moves his arm over a little.

"Noct," Prompto whines, and goes to prod him.

"We need to break you guys up?" Gladio asks, grinning.

"No," Noct says, with more force than maybe is strictly necessary.

Prompto glances at Ignis, and oh, fuck. Prompto's not quite sure what Ignis knows, but he sure knows something.

But Ignis doesn't say anything, so Prompto doesn't, either.

---

Prompto dreams:

He sees a little girl, seven or eight years old, floating in a tank of water. She wears nothing but a thin white dress. She is surrounded by adults, men and women, six of them, staring at her form.

Someone presses a button. The water drains out. When it is gone, the glass of the tank opens. A man catches the girl as she falls forward.

She is a Reyvateil. It's clear enough from the sigil on her chest, just above the collar of her dripping-wet dress.

The adults tell her that they are so sorry she has been born into this. They tell her that there is something that only she can do. They tell her that she is strong, that she can do it, that they will keep her safe.

They press a tiny crystal against her chest.

The man who caught her hasn't put her down, yet.

The little girl is carried out of the room. They take her to another room, one with thousands of Hymmnos words painted on the walls. She is placed on the floor.

They tell her they are so sorry.

They tell her they are going to close the door.

They tell her to sing.

The adults turn away from her and leave the room.

For the first time in her life, the girl speaks. She begs them to stay. She doesn't understand.

The last man out the door smiles at her. It's a sad smile. He tells her they have to keep her safe. He tells her that all of them love her. He tells her that no matter what she hears from outside the room, even if someone comes in, they need her to sing the whole song.

He begs her to sing.

The door clicks shut.

The little girl sings.

At first, there's no sound but her voice. But then there's a sound like a gunshot, and then more of them. There's shouting, and metal clashing against metal.

The little girl sings.

The door opens. A distorted figure, soot-black and shaped almost-but-not-quite like a person, steps into the room.

The little girl sings.

The distorted figure walks up to the little girl. It puts its hands around her neck. It presses down.

The little girl can't sing anymore.

The distorted figure keeps its hands around her neck. It waits.

The little girl struggles for just a few moments before she falls unconscious.

The distorted figure stays still. It watches the little girl's face. Her lips turn blue, and then her skin starts to turn blue as well. Her body is so, so still.

Finally, finally, the distorted figure lets go of her throat. It lays her on the ground. It places fingers against her throat--feeling for a pulse, maybe. It nods.

It carefully closes her eyes. It folds her hands over her chest.

It looks straight at Prompto with glowing yellow eyes.

He wakes up.

Chapter Text

Galdin Quay is a pretty little resort town. Prompto never thought he'd get to go. Of course, he doesn't really get to go now, either. They have a ferry to catch.

Still, they're going to be there, and Prompto's going to get to take pictures, and-

"We're close," Gladio says, smiling. "Smell that?"

Prompto breathes in. The air has a hint of salt.

He knew that the sea has a lot of salt in it, but it hadn't really occurred to him that the sea would smell like salt. It's not even in view, yet.

And then Ignis makes the turn, and... oh.

Prompto's squirming in his seat. He can't stand sitting down, not like this. It's like the pictures, it's like on TV, but it isn't at all. It would be impossible to capture this in an image, the way that the sea touches the sky across a horizon reaching out further than he can see, the unending blue. But he yearns to try.

"Hey, settle down," Noct says, laughing. "We'll be in the parking lot in less than a minute."

Prompto does his best, waiting for Ignis to roll back into the parking space, but as soon as the engine turns off, he opens the car door. He doesn't jump out, not exactly, but he wouldn't be surprised if someone said he did.

He can hear the guys talking behind him, but his camera's in his hands. He doesn't have a lot of time here, so he's got to get in what he can.

---

"I'm afraid you're out of luck," says an elaborately-dressed man.

Prompto's staring. That voice, its tone and its cadence, is familiar. The way he holds himself, his wide gestures, even the way he walks is familiar. He can't place him, but he's sure he's seen this man before. And he knows, the way he knows his own name, that this man is very, very dangerous.

"The boats bring you here," the man says.

"What about 'em?" Prompto asks.

"Well, they'll not take you forth," the man says. Just for a moment, he looks straight at Prompto with strange amber eyes.

The conversation goes on, but Prompto can't even hear it over the pounding of his heart.

"A man of no consequence," the man says, and walks away.

Somewhere, underneath the man's voice, Prompto thinks he hears music.

They decide to investigate the status of the port themselves. As they move toward the harbor proper, Ignis falls into step next to Prompto. "Are you feeling well?" he asks. "You've gone awfully pale."

Prompto doesn't know how to put it into words. "That guy gives me the creeps," he says.

"Do you know him?" Ignis asks.

"I don't know," Prompto says. He shakes himself a little to clear his head. "I'm fine. Let's see what's up with the boats."

---

The boats really aren't going anywhere. Prompto isn't thrilled about being in the same country as that strange guy, but it does mean they get to play around at the resort for a day. He lets himself relax a little. Noct immediately decides he wants to go fishing. Prompto goes to sit with him and take pictures. Ignis and Gladio wander off, talking to each other.

"You put on sunscreen?" Noct asks, hooking bait to his line. "You're gonna burn to a crisp just sitting on the dock."

"You sound like Iggy," Prompto complains, but Noct's right. "We got any?"

There's a flicker of blue, and then Noct tosses him a bottle. "Armiger's got all the essentials," he says. "Specs made sure of it." He grins. "When he was writing up our budget last night, he put cough drops, herbal tea, and honey under the 'weapon maintenence' section."

"No way," Prompto says, twisting the cap off the bottle.

"Ask him," Noct says, grinning.

"You want some of this?" Prompto asks. "We both know that you're gonna be out here until it's dark."

"Only if you do it," Noct says.

Prompto's cheeks go hot. "Noct, we are in public," he says. "There's even that sleazy reporter guy. He will absolutely take pictures if he sees that."

"Let him," Noct says. "I don't care."

It is a rather compelling argument.

"Come on," Noct says. "It's not like I've got exposed skin anywhere compromising."

"You're such a brat," Prompto says, and pours a little of the lotion into his palm. "All right. Gonna do your arms first. Hold still."

It's still ridiculously intimate to be rubbing someone's bare skin like this. Prompto has no idea how those dudes in the resort do this all day without hundreds of inappropriate boners. He's pretty sure he's not going to manage that.

But he does what Noct asked, rubs the lotion on both arms, even gets that tiny bare piece of skin between Noct's pants and boots that exists as some kind of fashion statement, and then goes for the face a little more gently.

Noct's smiling, fond and relaxed, with his eyes shut.

"You're going to kill me like this," Prompto says, but he's not really complaining.

"Don't forget to do your own," Noct replies.

Chapter Text

"Insomnia Falls," the headline reads.

Prompto thinks he's going to throw up.

He sits on the edge of the bed and goes through his phone, trying to make calls. He tries the offices for each member of his research team. He tries Ancora's personal number, because she actually gave it to him just in case. He tries the Institute main line. He tries the Citadel main line, the line for the Crownsguard office, the doctor's office, the Galahdian takeout place, his parents' house, the number that calls a public pay phone next to a park that he and Noct found when they were trying to pull a prank.

"I can't get anyone," he tells everyone, dully, as if any of them expected anything else.

---

They decide to turn back.

---

Noct lashes out every time anyone says something for the whole ride. Ignis and Gladio try to calm him down at first, but Gladio, and then Ignis, give up.

Usually this sort of thing is Prompto's job, he knows. But he can't find it in him. The laughter and the jokes and the cheer have to come from somewhere, and it's like that well's been filled with concrete.

Because he sees it, now. He sees it all too clearly.

Regis knew. He'd known for weeks. Why else would he personally offer to get Prompto's parents out of prison for that Crownsguard ceremony? It was one last chance to see them.

And he'd literally asked Prompto to take care of Noct for him.

He'd sent them away. And he hadn't sent away so many others. Even if, by some miracle or work of magic, the king was still alive, thousands, tens of thousands had to be dead. The prison was in the Citadel, so his parents were definitely dead. If the king was dead, Gladio's dad would be dead, too. Ancora would have picked up her personal line, or called him back.

"He knew," Prompto murmurs. "He knew, and that's why he sent us away."

"Damn it," Noct says.

---

On a hill overlooking the wreckage of Insomnia, in driving rain, Noct gets through to Cor. Prompto can't hear what Cor says, but Noct's expression crumples hearing it. The message is clear enough.

---

Cor tells them to meet him in Hammerhead. Then he's not in Hammerhead, and Cid says they're supposed to meet him at the tombs.

Noct says, "Screw that."

---

They spend three hours throwing themselves at the Imperial blockade, because Noct just won't quit. They blow through all their supplies. The Imperials have several orders of magnitude more firepower than four guys, even if half of them have magic. It's not even a contest.

Prompto always thought fighting MTs, killing them, would hurt, but there's only so much room for hurt in him and all that space is taken up.

What finally, finally ends it isn't Noct coming to his senses. It's an MT managing to hit exactly the wrong spot on his leg. He drops like a board.

Gladio picks Noct up. Noct's in too much pain to fight him on it, now. They flee.

---

It takes awhile to shake off the MTs pursuing them. Once they do, Gladio tries to put Noct down. This turns out to be a mistake. Noct's leg won't bear weight, not even for a second.

"Shit," Gladio says, grabbing him. "Can you even move that?"

Noct closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. "No," he says, softly.

"We are entirely out of curatives," Ignis says. "Prompto, is there something you can do?"

"I think so," Prompto says. "But we should get somewhere we can stay first. If it works, it's going to take a lot out of me."

Ignis nods. "We'll make for the nearest Haven," he says.

"I really fucked up," Noct says, a little distant.

"Not the time for a heart-to-heart," Gladio says. "Let's get a move on." He settles Noct more solidly in his arms.

When they reach the Haven, they lay Noct down on the bare rock. Prompto sits next to him, and takes Noct's hand in his. He breathes.

"Wee ki ra murfan near en crushue. Wee ki ra selena sarla sos yor."

Magic falls down on them in drops mingled with the rain. Prompto knows it's happening, feels aches healing that he only notices as they fade, but his focus is really on the Song itself. Even when he was sworn into the Crownsguard, he's never poured so much of himself into his magic before. It's soothing to let it wash over him.

"Na cause ar yor," Prompto Sings, and he didn't know how much he could mean it until this moment.

When the Song ends, Prompto feels wrung out, but warmer, somehow, and safer.

Noct sits up, and tests the motion in his leg for about two seconds before pulling his arms around Prompto and sobbing into his chest. "I'm sorry," he whispers. "I'm sorry. Thank you."

Prompto manages an exhausted smile. "It's no big deal," he says, even though it is. He doesn't really want to let his weight sag onto Noct, not before someone's made sure Noct is really okay, but he's running on fumes.

What happens next is wrapped in a gentle fog. Noct calms a little, at some point, and pulls away. Prompto starts to fall, but someone catches him, tilts him back to lean against something warm. There's conversation about Noct's injuries, and Ignis asks a lot of questions.

"I believe you have healed, Noct," Ignis says.

That's all Prompto needed to hear. He lets the fog pull him under.

Chapter Text

Prompto wakes to something shaking against his back.

He's in his sleeping bag, and warm, but he has that tired, dizzy feeling he usually has after a nightmare. He wants to go back to sleep.

Whatever it is behind him keeps shaking, though, and there's very soft, jagged breathing. Someone's crying.

Carefully, Prompto pushes himself to roll over. As soon as he starts moving, he hears someone's breath catch, and the weight against his back pulls away.

Prompto doesn't stop moving, though, and sees Noct's face. He's crying, shaking, but trying to hold still. He looks guilty.

That expression is what makes everything else flood back. The fall of Insomnia. Not getting anyone on the phone. Seeing the wreckage of the city. The long, long fight against the forces at the blockade, and running away. The Song.

There are no words, in that moment. There's nothing to say. Prompto just reaches out and pulls Noct against his chest.

Noct sobs, almost-but-not-quite silently. It feels like he's shaking into pieces.

Prompto pulls him closer. He wants to say something, do something, anything to make this better. But there's nothing.

He's so tired.

As soon as Noct stops shaking, Prompto falls asleep, but he doesn't let go.

---

Prompto wakes up with every one of Noct's limbs pulled around him. This time, he remembers what's happening immediately. He closes his eyes and counts to three, willing it to be a nightmare. When he opens them again, though, there's still the stiffened fabric on his shirt where Noct sobbed into it the night before, the mud on everything that no one cared enough to clean up, and the ache in his muscles from overuse.

Suddenly, it's too much to be sharing space with Noct, who's sleeping peacefully, who in this moment doesn't remember what happened. Prompto extracts himself from Noct's grip without waking him and steps out of the tent.

It's not raining anymore, at least. Gladio's sitting in a camp chair, staring off into the distance. Ignis is standing at the cookstation without doing anything. Prompto takes a deep breath, braces himself to be snapped at, and asks, "Is there anything I can do?"

Ignis glances over at him. "Not right now." There's a pause. "Thank you for assisting us last night."

"Just doing my job," Prompto says. "Noct's leg really okay?"

"I believe so," Ignis replies. "It would be better to have confirmation from a professional, but..."

"It's not safe," Prompto finishes. "Yeah." He thinks. "I'm not an expert, but the magic seemed to think it had done its job."

"How are you?" Ignis asks. "You fainted last night."

"I could do a healing like that again now, but it wouldn't be fun," Prompto says. He's struggling with the magnitude of the rest of it.

"Ah," Ignis says, and sets a few slices of bread on a pan.

"Big guy, are you... in one piece?" Prompto ventures, because Gladio's been awfully quiet.

"Yeah," Gladio grunts. He doesn't move.

It's quiet for awhile. Ignis toasts the bread. Gladio stares out into the distance. Prompto stands near the tent, wishing the world could just go back to how it was.

"Prompto," Ignis says, breaking the silence. "Attempt to wake Noct, if you would. It would be best to eat."

Prompto doesn't want to drag Noct back into this. He remembers Noct weeping last night, so quiet. But Ignis is right. He turns around and steps back into the tent.

He kneels, slow and careful, next to Noct. He breathes. "C'mon, Noct," he says. "You gotta get up." His voice shakes. He swallows and tries again. "There's breakfast." Noct shifts a little. Prompto strokes his hair. "C'mon, buddy," he says. "Time to- face the day."

Noct jerks awake. Prompto can see the exact moment when it kicks in. "R-right," he says. "Yeah."

---

Prompto forces down a few bites of toast and can't stomach more. Noct finishes his, though he looks like he's going to choke on it. Ignis takes slow nibbles and drinks his coffee. Gladio eats, and takes Prompto's leftover toast too, but he doesn't look thrilled about it.

"I called Cor and told him there had been a serious injury yesterday and not to expect us today," Ignis says.

"What're we gonna do today, then?" Prompto asks. He can't do nothing.

"If the rest of you are amenable, I would like to take inventory," Ignis says. "Take stock of what we have to work with, and what we will need."

So they spread out a tarp on the ground, and Noct empties out the entire contents of the Armiger onto it and everyone unpacks their bags, and they spend hours checking what they have.

They have a few days of food and their canteens. They have their camping equipment. They have some extra clothes, and Prompto's dress uniform. There's one map of Lucis and one compass. They have their phones and their chargers. There's all the weaponry and weapon maintenence gear (which draws a small smile out of Prompto, because it does include cough drops, tea, and honey). Noct has his fishing gear. Prompto's got his camera equipment. Gladio brought a couple books. There's a first-aid kit in addition to all of their magical healing capacity. (And Noct has three crystals, in his pocket, but he doesn't say anything- and if Prompto thinks about it-)

There's the luggage bags themselves, and the car when they get back to it, and the money they've earned from hunts, and that's mostly it.

It seems like a lot, and it seems like nothing at all.

No one flies into a rage or starts sobbing while they work, which is nice. That might have been the point, now that Prompto thinks about it.

---

They clean up their belongings, again, and eat lunch. Prompto manages to eat the entire sandwich. Then the afternoon spreads out in front of them, and he feels jittery, again, because he can't let himself think about it, he already knew-

"Prompto," Noct says.

Prompto realizes that he's hyperventilating. "Shit," he says. "Shit, sorry." He forces himself to breathe. He's not going to be the one to have a meltdown. He's not.

Noct takes Prompto by the arm and drags him into the tent, then zips it closed, the closest to privacy that they're going to get. A beat passes, and then Noct practically tackles Prompto down onto a sleeping bag.

Prompto tries to smile. "I don't think now's the time for-"

"Let me hold you," Noct says.

Prompto nods, despite himself.

Noct wraps Prompto in his arms, hard, like he thinks Prompto's going to try to get away.

Prompto leans his head against Noct's. "If I- I'll fall apart," he whispers.

"You know Specs and Gladio sparred for three hours last night after you passed out?" Noct says. "And you were there while I threw tantrums all day. I think it's probably your turn."

A watery laugh bubbles up from Prompto's chest. "Dude," he says. "Dude, that's not how this works at all." He's shaking. The abyss howls down in his chest.

"Let go, Prom," Noct says.

Prompto lets go.

It comes in waves: He should have known. He didn't say goodbye to his parents. There are only three diquility crystals left. Everyone is probably dead. He might never even know. They're never going to be safe again. There's nothing he can do. There's nothing he can do.

He's weeping, he's drowning, he's being dragged under, he doesn't even know which way is up-

Noct strokes his hair, and he starts to hum. It's out of tune and a lot of the notes are wrong, but it's close enough for Prompto to recognize it as the Song from the night before. It's not magic, not really, but it's something like it, reaching out.

Prompto holds on to it, tight, and rides out the storm.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Noct's leg isn't in perfect shape--but it wasn't to begin with anyway. There's still that limp, but it's only really noticeable after he's been running for a little while, and that's not new either.

"We can't sit around forever," Noct says. "It's not any worse."

"Shit," Gladio says. "The car."

"Guys, I- I shouldn't have made us fight at the blockade like that," Noct says, looking down at the runes of the Haven. "I'm sorry."

"It's... understandable, given the circumstances," Ignis says. "My initial impulse was similar."

"Just don't do that again," Prompto says.

"Yeah, what they said," Gladio says.

So they go get the car, in relative quiet, but at least the silence doesn't weigh as much as it has been. They stay closer to each other now. It would've felt chafing before, but it feels safer now.

---

When they get to the Tomb of the Wise, Cor aims straight for the heart. Within the first two minutes, he calls Noct the king three times.

Prompto knows Cor's right, and maybe Noct even needs to hear it, but he hates it.

Noct hates it even more.

But this piece, here, was how it was always going to be: Regis dead long earlier than he deserved, and Noct, grief-stricken, taking on the burden of the crown.

The dead king holds his sword, the Sword of the Wise. When Noct reaches for it, Prompto has a strange feeling. It's like he should be shouting out a warning, but he doesn't know what to warn Noct about.

The Sword of the Wise floats into the air and slams straight into Noct's chest.

Noct stumbles like someone shoved him, but he doesn't act like he's hurt. Cor's acting like this was supposed to happen. So it should be fine.

Prompto feels the magic inside him thrashing to be let out.

---

Cor leads them to the next royal tomb and then leaves them, which is honestly a relief... until it turns out that the "Tomb of the Conqueror" is more like a video game dungeon than a place you'd lay a king to rest.

"Wouldn't you want to put a tomb somewhere that people could, like, pay respects?" Prompto asks.

"I believe the idea was to prevent scavengers from making off with the Royal Arms," Ignis replies.

"So instead we're going to put it in a creepy old mine full of daemons," Prompto mutters. "Right."

It's nice in a way, though, fighting down through the tomb. Prompto can fill his mind with Singing, and trying to get good angles on the guys while they fight for all these pictures he's taking, and the occasional gunshot. The way that the walls and ceiling feel like they're pressing down on him drowns out the part of his head that's screaming about the world being torn apart.

And then there are spiders.

Prompto wouldn't say he's scared of spiders, exactly. They creep him out and he doesn't want to encounter them, but he doesn't run away from them. He doesn't have to beg someone to squish bugs for him.

But these aren't little bitty house spiders. These aren't even the ones at the zoo about the size of his hand. Prompto's seen children smaller than these spiders.

His voice wavers as he Sings.

The Arachne is even worse.

---

Noct touches the Axe of the Conqueror. Prompto fights the urge to shove him out of the path of the ghostly blue weapon crashing into his chest. This is how it's supposed to be.

Prompto wishes he knew a Song that would make this stop.

Chapter Text

"We need to get into the Crown City," Noct says, poking at the campfire with a stick.

"Noct," Ignis says, gentle. "We won't find-"

"-my dad. I know," Noct replies. He pokes a log and watches it shoot off sparks. "It's not that. It's Prompto."

"Hey," Prompto says. "Hey, I didn't say you could-"

"Your track record with this kind of thing is not very impressive," Noct replies, and barrels on. "Prompto needs one of these-" He pulls the pouch from his pocket. "-every three months. He had one a couple weeks ago. We have three."

"I didn't say you could tell them," Prompto says. "And anyway, that's nearly a year from now. It's- it's not-"

Gladio sighs. "It's a big deal, Prompto," he says.

"Are there more inside the city?" Ignis asks. "Do we know where the recipe was kept?"

"There are some I left with our stuff in the apartment, because we thought it'd be safer not to have them all in one place," Prompto says, staring into the flames. "Four of them. Beyond that I don't know if there are any more, and I don't know where they kept the recipe." He takes a deep breath. "But hey, we've got a whole year to figure it out, so we might as well not-"

"I'm not going to lose you too!" Noct snaps.

Prompto swallows. "Oh."

They fall silent. The only sound in the camp is the crackle of the campfire for a long, long time.

"We should formulate a plan," Ignis says. "If I may?"

"Yeah," Noct says.

"As we have learned recently, a conventional entry to the city is not currently possible," Ignis says, with a hint of a wry smile. "That situation is likely to change in the future, however. Insomnia will become less... tactically valuable without its population."

"So you wanna wait," Gladio says.

"Not indefinitely," Ignis says. "No more than a month."

"They're gonna go through the apartment," Noct points out.

"They have most likely already done so," Ignis says.

"Wait. Will they even know what they are?" Prompto asks. "It doesn't really seem likely to me that they're giving crystals to thousands of MTs."

"And if they are giving them out to their soldiers," Ignis says, "we'll likely find them in our encounters with Imperials sooner or later."

Prompto takes a deep breath. "Okay," he says, feeling a faint sense of hope for the first time since Insomnia fell. "I'm- I'm sorry I didn't say anything."

"Ehh, wasn't really the moment," Gladio says. "Anyway, what're we going to do in the meantime? More royal tombs?"

"Might as well," Noct says, looking much more at ease. "Dave was talking about something near the Fallgrove, wasn't he?"

---

Prompto dreams:

He's on hard ground, on his back. The first hint of pink light peeks above the skyline of a ruined city. Black smoke surrounds him. Some of it's rising from his skin.

He looks to his right, and he can just make out two other bodies through the smoke, on the ground like he is.

His limbs are heavy. He's exhausted. But he knows he still has more to do. He shifts his legs, pushing broken glass aside, and sits up. Black smoke billows from him like he's burning. He is burning, from the inside out, but somehow it doesn't hurt.

He wakes up.

---

This time, when Prompto's shaken into awareness by trembling against his back, he knows what's going on. He rolls over and squints at Noct's tear-streaked face.

"You could just wake me up," Prompto whispers, and tugs Noct to his chest.

Noct melts with the contact, leaning in, shaking with those almost-silent sobs. He's lost so much, and he's under so much pressure. Prompto wishes there was more he could do. For now, he just rubs Noct's back.

After a few minutes, Noct pulls away a little and whispers, "Can you sing the song for me?"

Prompto smiles. "Yeah, c'mon," he murmurs. He wriggles out of his sleeping bag, then grabs it with one hand and Noct with the other to tug them out of the tent.

When they're outside, Prompto unzips the sleeping bag so there's room for both of them. He's not a huge fan of singing while laying down, but he can do it, and that's not the point, anyway. He waits until Noct's settled snug against his side before he Sings: "Wee ki ra murfan near en crushue..."

Noct starts sobbing again, somewhere in the middle of it, but he probably needs it.

The Song's not nearly so tiring when no one's physically hurt. Prompto's so glad there's something he can do that he Sings it twice before falling asleep, warm from Noct and the dying campfire.

Chapter Text

Ignis and Gladio are sparring again. At least now they've settled for hand-to-hand.

The thing is that both of them are furious no one told them what was happening. And Gladio doesn't really know how to do sad, and Ignis wasn't that close with his uncle, so it's all piled-up anger.

It would be easy to think that they're not being stupid about it like Noct had been that first day, but actually, they were kind of stupid about it. They were sparring with live weapons earlier and Ignis split open Gladio's gut with a dagger. If not for the availability of magical healing, Gladio would probably be dead.

That was an hour ago. They broke for lunch and now they're squaring off again.

"So we just... let them?" Prompto asks, scrubbing the cooking pot clean.

Noct shrugs from his chair, tapping at a game of King's Knight. "You wanna try and break 'em up, be my guest."

"Point," Prompto replies, but he's already trying to decide if he has a good Song for restraining them if things go bad again. Gladio's bigger, stronger, and better trained than Ignis. He's also losing, at least as far as Prompto can tell. It's uncomfortable to watch.

"They'll quit when they get tired," Noct says.

"You sure?" Prompto asks.

Noct shrugs. "Like I said. You wanna try and break 'em up..."

They do quit after another half hour, though, both of them drenched in sweat. Gladio's dripping with it.

Gladio's... crying.

Prompto doesn't think that Gladio would appreciate having people notice that, so he decides it's best not to mention it. He looks around, trying to think of a safe topic of conversation.

His vision rests on two... dogs... walking out of the brush.

One of them is Umbra. The other...

"...Tiny?" Before Prompto can quite process what's going on, he's on the ground with a face full of an excited white dog. "Hey, girl! I haven't seen you in forever!" He scratches the dog's head, laughing. "Your real name's Pryna, right?" he asks, and is rewarded with excited barking.

Another few scratches, and Prompto notices that Pryna has something strapped around her waist. "Huh, girl, are you carrying Noct's book this time?" he asks.

"No, Umbra's got it," Noct says. Prompto glances over. Noct has the notebook and a pen in his hand, and a terribly bright smile on his face. "Whatever Pryna's carrying is for you."

Prompto gives Pryna's head another rub, then opens up the pouch. There's something that looks like a small purple... pendant, maybe, and a piece of paper. The paper reads, "This Hymn Crystal holds a very powerful Song. I pray it will be of use."

"Thanks, Umbra," Noct says. "Go on. You've got work to do."

Pryna licks Prompto's cheek a few times, then goes to join Umbra.

"What was that about?" Gladio asks, looking much more composed than he'd been a few minutes ago.

"Luna's alive," Noct says. "She says... she says she hopes to meet up with us in a few days... in Duscae. And... she says Gladio should make sure he keeps his phone charged."

Gladio blinks and digs his phone out of his pocket. "Huh. No battery," he says.

"That's great news," Prompto says, and looks down at the crystal in his palm. "I wonder where she got this."

"What is it?" Ignis asks.

"The note says it's a 'Hymn Crystal,'" Prompto replies. "I think I just-" And he doesn't even have to push it, just touch it to his Installer Port, and it sinks in nice and easy, and-

All his senses roar inward. He tastes pounding drumbeats; he hears thick incense; his vision sparks with sake.

"Prompto?" someone asks.

Reality cautiously reasserts itself. "Sorry about that," Prompto says, leaning heavily against... whatever it is he's leaning against, which turns out to be a concerned-looking Noct.

"You were gone for a minute there," Noct says.

"Oh," Prompto says. He takes a deep breath and straightens himself up. "Did not know that was going to happen!" He grins. "But hey, Lady Lunafreya's okay!"

"That is indeed welcome news," Ignis says.

After all that, there's no way they're getting anything done--though it isn't as if they were getting much done before. Noct and Ignis have to carefully explain to Gladio why it is not a good idea to attempt to use lightning magic to charge a cell phone. At the same time, Noct's hovering around Prompto like he thinks Prompto will pass out on the spot. This is actually not an unfair thing for him to think, given the dizziness is fading very slowly.

"Guys," Noct says, and rolls his eyes. "Let's just clean up and go to the motel in Longwythe."

---

Everyone's in a good mood. Nobody snipes at anybody packing up camp, or in the car, or while they're booking the room. Everyone takes a real shower. They play four rounds of Spake the Six and Prompto only comes last once. Noct actually laughs a few times.

Gladio's phone rings. He reaches for it and smiles. "Iris," he tells them, and answers.

Luna is fine. Iris is fine, but mad that Gladio forgot to charge his phone because she was terrified he was dead. Noct smiles and means it. Ignis lays off the caffeine before dinner. Gladio doesn't try to pick a single pointless fight.

Prompto feels warm and safe and absolutely terrified that something's going to happen to shatter this moment of peace.

But... it doesn't.

---

When they go to bed, Noct says, "Dibs on Prompto," and yanks Prompto onto one of the beds with him.

Gladio rolls his eyes. Ignis raises his eyebrows.

Noct sits up enough to grab the blanket and tug it over both of them. He curls around Prompto and tosses an arm over him.

"Disgusting," Gladio mutters, clearly suppressing a smile, and rolls his eyes again.

Ignis sighs. "Do we really need to talk about this?" he asks.

Prompto looks at Ignis nervously. "I-"

"No, not you, Prompto," Ignis says, not unkindly. "Noct. We know. There is no need to police your claim like a feral tomcat."

"Meow," Noct says.

Prompto feels himself flushing from his ears all the way down to his chest.

"Please behave yourself when we are in public," Ignis says, and sighs, and turns out the light.

Chapter Text

The next morning, while they're debating the necessity of taking their car through the Leide-Duscae border, Noct gets a call from Cor.

"He wants us to take out the blockade," Noct explains. "The one near Alstor Slough."

Ignis spreads the map out on one of the beds and examines it closely. "That would make it easier to cross into Duscae for everyone, not just us," he says. "And it would disrupt Niflheim's ground supply line, though I don't know if that's particularly meaningful given their sheer quantity of airships."

"I want to do it," Gladio says, firm. This isn't a surprise. He really wants to go see Iris and he really likes Cor.

"Noct?" Prompto asks, because that's the only opinion that actually matters.

"Sure," Noct says. "Let's knock this out and go see everyone." His expression is somewhere between confident and cocky, and Prompto would follow him anywhere on the off-chance he got to see it again.

"That settles it," Gladio says, and they prepare to check out.

---

Cor wants them to split up, and Prompto doesn't balk, he doesn't, but he wants to.

So Prompto, Ignis, and Gladio get sent off to cause a distraction while Cor and Noct deal with the actual barricade. It's fine. It's even sensible.

Prompto can do all kinds of weird flashy stuff. If somebody needs a distraction, he's the natural choice.

So they walk up to the blockade. Prompto stretches. "All right," he says to Ignis and Gladio. "You guys ready?"

"Of course," Ignis says.

"Then it's showtime," Prompto says, with more enthusiasm than he feels. He takes a deep breath in and out. He thinks of Noct, curled around him, laying claim. He smiles, and Sings. "Hierle faura murfan anw yeeel ciel..."

The magic has the desired effect. The space in front of the blockade floods with bright orbs of light, drifting in all directions. There's shouting almost immediately, and MTs start flooding out at them.

Prompto senses something. His Singing falters. The glow fades.

A pure, bright tone like a bell sounds, and the MTs begin to Sing.

Prompto stops despite himself. He knew they could do this. He knows he can do this because they can do this. But this is all wrong.

And... Astrals, some of them sound like children.

It takes a hard hit to his arm to bring him back to his senses. He needs to do something. They're still pouring out of the building, still shooting, still Singing. It's time to do his godsdamned job.

So Prompto reaches deeper, down into his core, because he learned something just yesterday that he is suddenly sure is going to settle this issue. He's also suddenly sure he's not going to like the next hour or so. But...

Prompto calls out to Ignis and Gladio: "Keep them off me!" He doesn't wait to see if they do.

"Rrha ki ra exec hymmnos PAJA en yehar nha near yor..."

In that instant, the world shrinks. There is the Song, its driving drumbeat, vocals that tremble off his tongue. There is the presence of the network, something Prompto has never been so aware of before. And, above all else, there is sharp, stabbing pain in every cell of his body.

But Prompto doesn't scream. He Sings.

Somewhere, as far away as the stars, there are MTs collapsing to the pavement. Somewhere there is the clash of weapons. Somewhere, so far away that Prompto can't dream of touching it, a battle draws to a close.

The Song draws to a close, too, in its time. The pain stays. If it fades at all, he can't tell.

"Holy shit, Prompto. How did you do that?"

Prompto knows that voice. Gladio. He's got to pull himself together. Gladio asked him a question.

"It's the Song that Lady Lunafreya sent me," Prompto says. The borders of his vision are pure white.

Ignis asks something that sounds more like mush than words for a moment, then resolves itself into "Are you injured?"

"I don't think so," Prompto replies.

Ignis says something else. Gladio says something. They're talking too fast for Prompto to understand. Then there's a noise, and another, and more people--

Oh. That's Noct and Cor. They did it, whatever it was they had gone to do.

An Imperial dropship arrives, and deposits a mech in front of them. It happens slowly enough that Prompto can even tell though it feels like his entire body is on fire. He manages to Sing one of the small Songs, the one that makes people stronger, but he's pretty sure he's not doing a good job at it.

Suddenly, Noct's next to him. Noct touches a hand to his forehead, and even though everything already hurt, being touched is worse and Prompto chokes back most of a scream.

There's a lot of talking, again, and someone cracks a potion open for him. It doesn't make him stop hurting. It just makes him feel dizzy, so dizzy, and then he-

---

When Prompto wakes up, he's stiff and thirsty, but the pain is mostly gone.

He's laying down. He's laying down in the back seat of the Regalia. His head is in Noct's lap.

"You're kind of an idiot," Noct says.

"I didn't know that was going to happen," Prompto says.

"Feeling better?" Noct asks.

"Yeah," Prompto tells him.

Noct immediately sinks his fingers into Prompto's hair, stroking gently. "We're almost to Lestallum," he says. "Wanted to get you in a real bed."

"Lady Lunafreya wanted to see us," Prompto murmurs.

"She can wait another day," Noct says. "Besides, Gladio's gonna get his grand reunion with Iris."

Prompto smiles a little. "Yeah," he says. "That's right."

"Don't do that again," Noct says.

Prompto shakes his head. "I really don't want to," he says.

Chapter Text

"They're not dead," the hunter says, and finger-combs her damp hair. "They're the ones that took down the blockade by the slough. I saw it. The prince and his songbird, and the other ones too."

"No you didn't," her lover replies.

"I did so," the hunter says. "Heard it, too. Never heard a big force of MTs like that and never wanna hear it again. Then the songbird kid drowned it out, and..."

"And?"

"The MTs quit moving, one at a time. Just stood there and let themselves be cut down. Should've been beautiful but it felt like a nightmare." The hunter tucks her hair back behind her head and separates it into three strands, then begins to braid. "Glad he's on our side."

"You're really sure it was them, though?" the hunter's lover presses.

"Not a lot of songbirds in Eos these days," the hunter points out.

---

"If possible, I would like the Reyvateil captured alive," the research chief says.

"Don't you have ten thousand of those already?" the mercenary asks.

"I would like to see the state of Lucian research," the research chief replies. "They've pulled off a clever trick with him. I'd love to know how they did it."

"Huh," the mercenary says. She looks at the picture again. "Looks like a regular kid to me."

"That's the strangest part of all," the research chief says.

---

The shield shrugs. "He'd shut it down if you asked him to."

"I have no intention to do so," the advisor replies. "He is not doing anything wrong. Besides that, though, are you truly certain that he could? You've seen them together."

"Point." The shield nurses his drink. "So what'd'ya wanna do then? Ask His Highness to tone it down in public?"

The advisor sighs. "Do you believe that would do any good?"

"If you just wanted to bitch, you could've said."

"I just want to do my job," the advisor mutters. "But I don't even know what my job entails in this context."

"Hey, c'mon. You're overthinking it." The shield gives the advisor a gruff pat on the back. "Way I see it, none of that's changed. I keep His Highness from getting himself killed, you keep him moving where he needs to go, and blondie keeps him getting up in the morning."

"You read too many romance novels," the advisor says, but he's smiling now. "We'll see, then."

---

The goddess in pink sighs. "We're running out of time," she says.

The goddess in purple stirs her tea. "He's not strong enough," she replies. "If we grant him that power now, the strain on his body will kill him."

"We can't wait forever," the goddess in pink says.

"If he dies, there's no second chance."

"What about the girl?"

The goddess in purple shakes her head. "She holds too much of the Astrals' power in her. She may not even be capable of receiving our blessing," she reminds her counterpart. "And we only have the strength to grant it once."

"So much life has already been lost." The goddess in pink sighs. "I'm fading. If we wait too long, I won't be able to help you."

"I know," says the goddess in purple. "But right now, we have to wait. There's no choice."

---

"I'm so excited to meet both of them," the oracle says. "I had never imagined- will I be able to Sing with him?"

"Most likely," the messenger replies. "I am not highly educated on that type of magic."

"Do you think he'll-" The oracle stops herself. "I'm acting like a little girl."

"I am glad to see you so happy," the messenger says. "There is no harm in being excited."

The oracle smiles. "You are still my dear friend," she says. "I hope you are not jealous."

"I am not," the messenger says. "I truly am glad to see you happy."

The oracle smiles even more broadly. "Do you- do you think they'll like me?" she asks.

Chapter Text

Prompto never really spent a lot of time around Iris. He's sure that she could beat him to a bloody pulp anytime she felt like it, but Gladio's still really protective of her, and one does not so much as risk accidentally looking funny at something Gladio wants kept safe. Prompto can understand it, anyway. She's eight years younger than Gladio, just fifteen, and she always comes off as even younger than her age.

Iris bursts into tears when she lays eyes on Gladio and starts crying into his chest right in the middle of the road in Lestallum. Gladio scoops her up like she's nothing long enough to move her over onto the sidewalk, and then it's definitely time to let the Amicitia siblings have some privacy for their reunion.

It feels better than Prompto had thought, though, to see her safe and alive.

"Smells like a spice rack," Noct says.

"Cuisine in Cleigne tends to be heavily spiced, yes," Ignis replies. "Once, its exports of herbs and spices made it nearly as wealthy as... the Crown City." He sighs. "At any rate, even now there are plants worth more than their weight in gold."

"Anything we could forage for?" Prompto asks, desperate to bring the mood back up.

Ignis hums. "Perhaps. I would need a guidebook to be certain. But all manner of things grow in the slough."

Noct looks out into the distance. "And there's the Disc of Cauthess," he says, an odd expression on his face.

"Indeed," Ignis says.

"Is Titan really there?" Prompto asks.

"Yeah," Noct says. "I can- he's there."

"You can tell? Cool," Prompto says.

"I guess," Noct replies. "He's asleep."

"Hello Prince Noctis!"

Prompto turns to see Iris, eyes a little red but otherwise her usual bright self. He smiles. Her crush on Noct was as obvious as ever.

"Hey, Iris," Noct says. "Good to see you."

"C'mon," Iris says. "Let's get you guys checked in, and then I can show you the market!"

---

"Do you need to stay in the room?" Noct murmurs after they check in. "I can make something up so Iris leaves you alone. You know she just wants to fawn over me anyway."

Prompto laughs. "I'm fine. You know I'm fine." He's still a little tired, but by now he's excellent at doing things tired.

"Take my key," Noct says, and presses it into Prompto's hand. "If you need to go back-"

"Got it," Prompto says. "But I'm fine, seriously."

Noct hovers around Prompto as they drift through the side streets, until Iris turns a corner and the market falls into view.

It smells amazing. It looks like half the stalls are selling some kind of produce or spice, and Prompto can see Ignis' fingers twitch as he surveys the area. There's a booth covered in obviously-handmade toys, and one with stacks of quilts, and jewelry...

Prompto reminds himself that they don't have a lot of money, and that it's window-shopping only, but oh is he tempted. He slips a hand into his pocket and rubs Carbuncle. He's found himself doing that a lot since they left Insomnia.

Ignis turns to them. "Here," he says, and pulls a few bills from his coat pocket. "We can afford it, given that Iris is paying for our room tonight."

"You just want to buy spices," Gladio says, but he takes the cash anyway and disappears after his sister.

Prompto accepts what Ignis is holding out, too, and waits for Noct. "You think we should get something for Lady Lunafreya?" he asks, voice pitched low.

"Get something for you," Noct says. "Who knows when we'll be able to play around like this again."

Prompto nods, but decides to try to keep an eye out anyway.

Noct doesn't stray far from Prompto as they comb through the stalls. He buys a bunch of weird fishing lures, though, and some kind of souvenir bumper sticker for the Regalia.

Prompto considers his options. He buys a carved wooden chocobo keychain, and he thinks. "Does she like sweets?" he asks Noct.

"She likes fruit," Noct says, after a moment's thought.

So Prompto buys a bag of what must be the prettiest plums there ever were. He has to remind himself they're for Lady Luna three times on the way back to the hotel.

---

Sometime in the midst of a conversation with Iris and her retainers, Prompto finds himself nodding off. He tries to stay awake. He bites his lip. He pinches his arm. He feels his eyelids fall closed, and he-

He wakes up in bed with Noct curled around him and the sun peering through the curtains. He shifts to detach himself from Noct's grip.

"Good morning," Ignis says.

Prompto blinks. "Morning?"

"You fell asleep last night, an hour prior to dinner," Ignis replies.

Gladio laughs. "We figured you must really need the sleep if you could conk out with Iris still chattering away. Just dumped you in the bed and went out."

"Aww, man," Prompto says. "I bet you guys got kebabs without me, too."

"We may have," Ignis admits.

"You're all jerks," Prompto complains. "You owe me breakfast."

"Breakfast?" Noct mutters, eyes half-open.

"Yes, breakfast is a good idea," Ignis says. "Then we shall make for Duscae." He pauses, and smiles just a fraction. "The Lady Lunafreya will meet us for lunch near Wiz's Chocobo Post."

"Lady Lunafreya and chocobos?" Prompto says. "Let's roll!"

Chapter Text

They meet Lady Lunafreya at Killiam Haven.

Prompto's only seen Lady Lunafreya in pictures or on TV. Somehow, she's even prettier than she looks on paper or a screen, when she sees them and smiles, Umbra and Pryna on either side of her. She's wearing a muddied white dress, a brown scarf around her neck, and heels.

"You've been on foot for days in heels?" Noct asks, instead of actually greeting her.

"It's good to see you, too," she says, grinning, and Prompto gets a look at the "Luna" under the "Lady Lunafreya." She steps forward and hugs Noct firmly.

Prompto feels a surge of jealousy and hurries to crush it by petting Pryna.

As Noct pulls away from Luna, though, the scarf must come loose. It falls into the mud of the slough.

At the base of Luna's throat, under her necklace, there's something that looks like a tattoo in the shape of a butterfly.

It's an Installer Port.

"What?" Prompto says, before he can get his mouth in order.

Luna blushes. "I was hoping to wait to address that," she says. She turns to Noct. "Will you introduce me, first?"

---

"I was... not enamored of some aspects of our fates," Luna says, and takes a small bite of her plum. "And Gentiana told me about the first Oracle, and about a Song, and..." She gestures at the Installer Port.

"How are you feeling? Like, physically?" Prompto asks. "Mine, uh. Kind of sucked, growing in."

Luna shakes her head. "I am not at my best, but I have been well, for the most part."

"No headaches? Or fevers?" Noct asks.

"No," Luna replies.

Prompto turns to Noct. "Give her one anyway," he says.

Noct frowns. "You only have three."

"May I ask what this is about?" Luna interrupts.

"Prompto became deathly ill when his Installer Port appeared," Ignis says. "Scientists synthesized a treatment based on a recipe from Solheim, and managed to save his life. But the illness recurs, so the treatment has to be administered approximately every three months."

Luna pales. "I cannot accept," she says.

"We're planning to go back into Insomnia to get more," Prompto says. "You don't have any."

"We don't know that she needs any," Gladio points out. "But we don't have to settle this right now, do we?"

Prompto sighs. "Fine."

"Do you want fresh clothes, Luna?" Noct asks, clearly attempting to divert the conversation. He pauses a moment. "Hey, Prompto, you're about her size."

"No way," Prompto says.

"I think so, actually," Luna says.

They end up standing back to back against each other.

"Prompto's shorter," Noct says.

"Luna's wearing heels!" Prompto says.

"Just see if you've got something she can wear," Gladio says, and ruffles Prompto's hair.

Prompto rolls his eyes and summons his bag from the Armiger. He starts to dig through it. He briefly considers taking out his dress uniform, just as a joke, but decides against it and grabs some black slacks and a t-shirt instead. "Wait, how are you going to change?" he realizes.

---

They make the brief hike from the haven to Wiz Chocobo Post to find somewhere for Luna to change clothes. The Chocobo Post is everything that Prompto had imagined and he decides he could die happy here. There are real chocochicks.

Prompto sets out to take as many pictures as he can.

Noct comes to get him after awhile. "Come on," he says, with a soft smile. "They want to talk magic."

It turns out it's been two hours since they arrived. Prompto checks the memory card on his camera and finds he's definitely taken enough pictures for that amount of time.

"We probably shouldn't do this here if we don't want a lot of attention," Gladio says.

"What's going on?" Prompto asks.

"I have not actually used Song Magic since I was... gifted," Luna says. "I would appreciate a teacher."

"Yeah, that'd attract attention," Noct says. "Back to the Haven?"

"Not the Haven," Prompto says automatically.

"No?" Ignis asks, frowning.

"They're not... the same kind of thing," Prompto says. "Sometimes they don't like each other. So definitely not for a first try."

They walk far enough away from Wiz's that they don't think any weird glowing is going to show through the trees, unfold a few camp chairs, and begin.

"It's already in there," Prompto says. "Or at least some of it is. I think there's a standard set that... comes built-in. But tracking it down can be tricky." He hums, then Sings softly. "Was ki ra selena sos yor ware fandel nuih."

Luna frowns. "I don't... understand."

Prompto frowns in turn. "You should... unless..." He thinks a moment. "Okay, then does this sound like something to you?" He draws a breath, fights a sense of unease, and Sings again. "jYEzEtYA. lAnEcEaA wAwYAjEnYEc syec sphilar."

"Yes," Luna says, relief in her eyes.

"Try and copy it," Prompto says. "It'll come more easily than you think."

Luna nods. A brief look of determination spreads over her face. "jYEzEtYA. lAnEcEaA wAwYAjEnYEc syec sphilar." she Sings, and a soft green glow settles over her.

Prompto feels something like a tug at his chest, for just the briefest second.

"Oh," Luna says, distant. "Is that how it is?" One of her hands reaches out for something Prompto can't see.

"Shit, she's gonna-"

Noct grabs Luna as she passes out.

Chapter Text

Luna doesn't come to right away. They're worried about the attention they would attract being a bunch of men carrying an unconscious woman to the caravan, so they set up a sleeping bag on the Haven and deposit her on top of it. Umbra and Pryna sit on either side of her feet like bodyguards.

Anxiety twists in Prompto's gut. He starts to really get why Noct worries about him so much.

Finally, though, Luna makes a sound, and starts to sit up.

"Luna!" Noct says, and kneels next to her in an instant. Prompto fights down another surge of jealousy--reminds himself of Noct saying Luna is like his sister--and kneels on Luna's other side.

Luna looks around. She reaches out and traces a hand over one of the blue swirls of the Haven. "How long?" she asks, slow.

"An hour or so," Noct tells her.

Luna nods.

"Can you drink something?" Ignis asks.

Luna nods, again. "Please," she says.

Ignis hands her a carton of juice, and they let her drink.

"I'm sorry," Luna tells them, once she's sipped the juice down. "I-" She smiles ruefully. "This is not how I imagined this meeting."

"It's not your fault," Prompto says. "The first time is probably always a mess."

Luna sighs. "I suppose." She glances at Noct. "Help me up?"

---

They return to Wiz Chocobo Post as the sun fades from the sky. Ignis doesn't even have enough time to wash vegetables before Noct's walking to the little picnic table with a tray of greasy sandwiches and fries.

"I would think the Lady Lunafreya would appreciate something a touch more refined," Ignis complains.

"Please call me Luna," says the woman in question. "And I truly don't mind."

They chat quietly over dinner, mostly small talk, until Gladio stretches and says, "How long are you gonna stay with us, Luna?"

Luna hesitates. "I cannot stay indefinitely," she says. "I still have... my duties as Oracle. But I wish to stay a few more days."

"Of course!" Noct says. "As long as you want." He pauses. "Hey, where's Umbra and Pryna?"

Now that Prompto thinks about it, he doesn't remember seeing them after they arrived at the Chocobo Post.

"Well, we certainly wouldn't want you to leave alone," Ignis says.

Luna smiles. "I'm glad," she says.

---

"Dibs on Prompto," Noct says as they crowd into the caravan for the night, before Prompto can open his mouth to ask about sleeping arrangements.

Luna smiles. "You don't want to sleep with your bride-to-be?" she asks.

"You have no concern for your maidenhead?" Noct counters, dropping into the royal court voice that he avoids using as often as possible.

Luna giggles. She actually giggles. "Noctis, I missed you," she says. "Take your boy."

Prompto is torn between deep embarrassment and relief.

---

Late that night, Prompto feels the bed shift, hears Noct climb out of bed. He manages to force his eyes open quickly enough to see Noct and Luna step through the doors of the caravan. He resists the urge to follow them.

Noct returns to the bed after just a few minutes. He sits on the edge. He's shaking, making the springs squeak. Prompto reaches out to rest a hand on Noct's back.

Noct lays down, then, and wraps his arms tight around Prompto, buries his face into Prompto's shoulder. He doesn't cry. He shakes, though, and just once he lets out the smallest whimper.

---

In the morning, Prompto notices Noct's wearing some kind of necklace. The pendant is tucked under Noct's shirt, but Prompto can see the chain wrapped around his neck.

There's not a lot of time to consider the topic, though, because Luna and Ignis have a map spread out on the counter. Luna circles a location with a finger. "Here," she says.

"Noct will make the final decision, of course," Ignis replies, "but I see no reason he wouldn't want to honor your request."

"What's going on?" Prompto asks.

"There is somewhere I would like to go, while I have... an armed escort," Luna says. "There's a ruin in the Fallgrove that dates back to Solheim. I found the Hymn Crystal I sent you in the entryway, but I dared not venture further. But I sensed... something there," she says. "Something..." She gestures at the base of her throat, where the top of her Installer Port peeks out of the collar of Prompto's shirt.

"Huh," Prompto says, and wonders.

Chapter Text

"Not in heels," Noct says.

Prompto would not have pegged this as the sticking point. He might have thought entering the ruin at night would be, or maybe Luna's inability to explain exactly what's out there.

Instead, it's footwear.

"You need something you can run in," Noct insists, arms crossed.

"I can run in these," Luna says.

"Perhaps they sell alternative footwear at the gift shop?" Ignis asks.

And so they end up crowding the Wiz Chocobo Post gift shop, of all places.

The guy working the counter is thrilled to have customers. Prompto remembers something from yesterday about a behemoth wandering the area, so they're not renting out the birds. That would tank business for the whole outpost.

Ignis and Gladio retreat into a corner to murmur about the bounty on the behemoth, leaving Noct, Luna, and Prompto combing the shop.

"Well, there's sandals," Prompto says. "These hook around the back, so they probably won't just slip off."

Noct picks up the sandal and runs a hand under the bottom. "Not a lot of traction," he says.

"Better than the heels," Prompto replies. "Luna?"

Luna looks at both of them. "Noctis, there is no need for this."

Noct scowls. "I'm not having you fall," he says.

Luna's expression changes. "All right, I understand," she says. "However, I must admit that I don't know my shoe size."

As it turns out, Luna doesn't know her anything size. She's never bought her own clothes before. "I was only allowed in public in order to do my duties as Oracle," she says, and Prompto knows better than to push any further.

"Come on," Prompto says. "Let's get you a whole outfit, then!"

Half an hour later, Luna is the proud owner of a chocobo t-shirt, a pair of pants with a chocobo feather emblazoned upon the rear end, a pack of chocochick underwear, and the pair of sandals. It would look ridiculous on anyone. It looks particularly ridiculous on Luna. "It's amazing," Luna says, turning in front of the mirror to see herself from more angles.

"Do you want pajamas, too, while we're here?" Noct asks.

---

The ruin in the Fallgrove is called Costlemark Tower. Prompto can tell that they're approaching it long before it's within view. It has a weight to it, somehow, some kind of pressure that hums through the air, vibrates in his chest.

"Entry to the lower levels was impossible until less than a decade ago," Ignis says as they approach. "Then some of the walls began to glow. Blue during the day, red at night, and at night it is possible to-"

"Hundlegs," Gladio interrupts in a low voice. "Seven, I think."

Prompto creeps forward until he can see, too. Bugs. Of course it's bugs.

"Prompto, keep Luna behind you," Ignis says. "Noct, keep in mind that they're not fond of ice."

"Gotcha," Noct says. "Let's get this over with."

The battle is not quite a disaster, but close. Gladio gets poisoned, uses an antidote, and gets poisoned again almost immediately--three times. Noct takes a nasty hit that's quite within his capacity to dodge because he looks back at Prompto and Luna instead of paying attention to what's happening in front of him. Then Ignis actually goes down, not because he's done something obviously wrong but because the hundlegs can deal out that much damage. Prompto Sings healing here and buffs there, shoots what he can, and tries not to get distracted by Luna's faltering attempts at Song behind him.

When the battle winds to a close, Luna rushes forward and uses the magic of the Oracle to heal Ignis. "I'm sorry," she says, shaking. "I am so sorry. They weren't here last time, or I would have-"

"It's not your fault," Noct says. "C'mon." He reaches a hand out to her. "They're gone now."

So they continue down the path until the ruin comes into view.

Prompto stops dead in his tracks. Something here calls to him. There's something here, or maybe someone, and whatever it is knows he's here and is Singing to him, soft like the blue glow on some of the walls-

"Luna, what is that?" Prompto asks Luna, not turning away.

"I do not know," Luna says.

Prompto feels eyes on him as he approaches the tower. "This is..." He shakes his head, trying to clear it.

"Whatever it is, I'm not seeing it, or whatever, so it'd be real nice if you'd let us know what's going on," Gladio says.

"I don't really understand," Prompto says. "There's something here, something powerful."

"Is it dangerous?" Ignis presses.

"I don't know," Prompto says. "Depends on whether it wants to be."

"Well," Noct says. "We can't get in until nightfall, right?"

"There are a few places we can reach now," Luna says. "Here."

"Be on your guard," Ignis cautions.

There are a few side corridors in either direction, ones that don't descend underground, and Luna leads them down one of them. "This is where I found the Hymn Crystal," Luna says, as they reach a dead end. There's a tiny niche in the wall, once Prompto looks for it. When he reaches toward it, it gives off a faint glow. "It was... covered, before," Luna explains.

They find another little niche on the opposite side of the ruin, and Prompto pulls out another Hymn Crystal. This one is light green, shaped more like a cylinder than a crystal and wrapped in what looks like silver wire. Prompto's fingers automatically go for his wristband, because he knows he can-

"Maybe wait on that," Noct says, "since the last one nearly killed you."

"What?" Luna asks, alarmed.

"He's exaggerating," Prompto says. "It wasn't fun, but I wasn't gonna die." He thinks of something, then, and offers it to Luna. "Can you use this?"

Luna tugs the hem of her shirt down a few inches and touches the point of the Hymn Crystal to her Installer Port. Nothing happens. "I can't," she says, and reaches out to hand it back to Prompto.

Noct snatches it up before Prompto can get to it, which is only kind of a surprise.

"Let's eat something and wait for nightfall," Noct says. "Then we can poke around downstairs."

---

Prompto knows they can fight off some of the less-threatening daemons, but they've spent enough time on the road that he feels anxious being outside after dark. Especially on purpose. But as the darkness truly falls, blue glow turns to red, and there's a soft rumble as stone shifts and a passage opens.

Prompto feels like a tuning fork, energy vibrating through his chest. He makes himself move toward the back of the group as they descend, knowing he's hopelessly distracted.

This turns out to be a good call, as they are almost immediately met by daemons.

They've fought daemons that look more-or-less like these before, piles of goop with eerie expressions, but these are stronger. One of them attacks Gladio and he tumbles down like a stone with that single hit. Prompto throws up his most powerful shield and holds: "Wee paks ra chs hymme, en exec HYMME_LUMINOUS_DEFENCE, sos yor."

"I fear we will need to retreat," Ignis says, as a daemon pounds against Prompto's shield.

Luna bends over Gladio, healing once more. Noct is clearly frustrated. Prompto is frustrated, because he can still hear something, and it's even closer now, even closer-

"Luna, can you do something about these guys?" Noct asks.

Luna straightens up and looks around her. She summons her Trident into her hand. She twirls it, and says something that Prompto can't hear over the combination of the music of the ruin and his own voice.

The daemons fizzle, but they don't die.

"We're getting out of here," Gladio says, on his feet now. He grabs Prompto by the shoulders and turns him around. "Everybody up the stairs. Keep doing your thing, kid."

Noct swears, takes Luna's free hand, and pulls her up the stairs.

They retreat.

---

"Didn't you feel it, too?" Luna asks Noct. "The gifts of the Astrals are weaker here." She's shivering, even after Noct pulled a blanket from the Armiger to wrap around her shoulders.

Noct sighs, and nods. "I did," he admits. "Even with the hundlegs."

Gladio sets another log on the little campfire they've built in a corner of the ruin. "This is really weird and I don't like it," he says.

Prompto still feels it, calling out to him. He scowls down at the stone. "We'll have to come back," he says softly. "I have to get down there."

"Why?" Ignis asks.

"I don't know," Prompto replies.

Chapter Text

"Are you sure you guys can handle it without me?" Prompto asks. "I mean, I know I'm just support, but-"

"We've got this," Noct says. "Right, Umbra?" He reaches down and pats Umbra's back.

"Teach Luna some cool tricks while we're out," Gladio says, grinning.

"Take at least one picture," Prompto pleads as his friends retreat.

Sometime during the night, Umbra and Pryna had returned from whatever business they'd been on. With the extra support from the dogs, they felt confident enough to split the group. So Prompto, Luna, and Pryna were deposited at a relatively sheltered thicket to practice magic while Noct, Ignis, Gladio, and Umbra went to see if they could get rid of that behemoth.

Prompto thinks this is more about having a good excuse to keep Luna away from the behemoth than about actually practicing magic, but he'll give it a try anyway.

When Prompto and Luna move to sit down and get started, Pryna carefully tucks herself between them. Prompto smiles. "You trying to play chaperone, girl?" he asks, rubbing her fur a little.

"I think she just struggled to decide who she wanted to sit next to," Luna says. "She remembers you."

Prompto smiles. "Look out for Luna," he tells Pryna. "She might have a hard time." He hums a little, trying to think.

"Why can't I understand your Songs?" Luna asks.

"I mean, I don't know," Prompto says. "But it's not too weird. The books record several different... I guess you might call them dialects, they're not completely separate languages, but... Different ways of talking to the servers. And different servers could accept different ones. Most Reyvateils could only use one. I'm kinda weird."

"Why don't you use... the one that I do, then?"

Prompto frowns. "I... don't like it," he says. "It feels... wrong, to me. Not that there's something wrong with it! It just... I just don't like it." He swallows.

"Okay," Luna says, looking a little puzzled.

"Anyway, the way you use it's the same," Prompto says, rushing to get out of uncomfortable territory. "It's just how it's put together. It does all the same stuff." He takes a deep breath. "So... there's a standard bank of... simple stuff on the server, somewhere, that you should be able to tap into. Shields, fireballs, cages, gusts of wind... Were you trying to do that yesterday?"

"Yes," Luna says. "But the results were... unimpressive."

"You have to really feel it," Prompto says. "I don't use a lot of offensive magic because it doesn't work well unless you're angry, and I'm not really... mad, a lot."

Luna seems to consider this for a while, running her hands through Pryna's fur. "Feeling," she says softly. "The Astrals never seem concerned about that."

"Well, we're not talking about the Astrals," Prompto says. "We're talking about a computer that turns your emotions into power when you sing at it, because that makes much more sense."

Luna laughs. "Of course," she says. "I cannot imagine how I failed to see it before."

"So... what do you feel?" Prompto asks.

Luna hesitates.

"I- you don't have to tell me, unless you want to," Prompto says.

"No," Luna says. "It is just very rare for someone to ask me that question."

It's quiet for a few moments. Luna rubs one of Pryna's ears between her fingers. Prompto picks at a loose thread on his shirt.

"I'm angry," Luna murmurs. She takes a deep breath. "I'm angry," she says, louder this time. "I- the Astrals- I- I'm angry," she says, and gasps for breath.

Prompto smiles at her, knowing how hard it can be to look at a feeling straight on. "Well," he says, "that's just fine. We can work with that." He casts around in his mind for just the right thing, then Sings carefully, more like he's reading from a page than like he's trying to do magic: "xO rre mLYOtOyOyO giz wOsLYI du giz..." A little ball of flame rests in his palm.

"xO rre mLYOtOyOyO giz wOsLYI du giz," Luna Sings, and she clearly means it.

A bird made of pure flame materializes over Luna's head, giving off sparks as it flaps its wings.

Luna stares up at it until, just a few moments later, it vanishes.

Prompto gets up and stomps on a leaf that caught on fire. "That was great!" he says.

Luna's face is all awe. "I did that," she says.

"Yeah, you did," Prompto says, and looks around to make sure nothing else is burning.

---

"Come on, show me!" Prompto whines, peering over Noct's shoulder. "Come on!"

"Okay, okay," Noct says, flicking through his phone. "Here it is."

From a fallen log somewhere, Gladio, Noct, and Ignis had taken a selfie with the behemoth.

"Deadeye," Gladio says, a giant horn tucked under his arm. "Blind on one side. The picture was pretty safe, or Iggy never would've gone for it."

"You guys are awesome! I wish I'd been there," Prompto says, and swipes Noct's camera to give it a good look.

"How about the two of you?" Noct asks. "Make any progress?"

Luna grins. "We did," she says.

Prompto finds himself laughing. "Maybe this isn't the best place for a demonstration," he says.

"You were practicing right here," Noct says. "Why would this be a bad place?"

Ignis picks up a scorched tree branch. "I would assume this is why," he says.

"What did you do?" Noct asks.

---

They go out to the Haven, on the premise that the bare stone isn't likely to catch on fire. Luna Sings.

The firebird crashes into the stone of the Haven, this time.

The blue lights on the Haven go out. There's just carved swirls and a giant scorch mark on the stone.

Luna sits down hard on the bare stone. "I didn't-" she says, and then she bursts into manic laughter.

Chapter Text

Luna laughs until she cries. Not just watering eyes from the exertion of it, but full sobs, body shaking. Noct sits down next to her on the rock and rubs her back. Prompto is afraid to go too far away, but he looks in the opposite direction, trying to give them some semblance of privacy. Eventually, Noct calls, "Hey, everybody out of the pool. Gotta do some repairs."

So Noct, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladio stand a short distance away and watch Luna do her work.

Luna's expression is completely blank. She kneels on the stone and summons her trident, holding it parallel to the ground. The golden glow of the Oracle's magic spreads from the trident through the intricate patterns of the Haven, leaving blue in its wake. Luna banishes the weapon and stares down into the stone for a long time. Finally, finally, she rises to her feet. "It's done," she says, voice thick.

"Are you all right?" Ignis asks, climbing onto the Haven. "You look... unwell."

Luna smiles in a way that reminds Prompto of Noct's Public Relations Smile. "I will need to rest," she says. "And think."

---

They give Luna about as much space as possible on the Haven. As the sun starts to set, though, Noct goes over to her. "Hey," he says. "You wanna spend the night here, or you want to go back and stay in a caravan?"

Luna's quiet for a few moments. "This is acceptable," she says. "We should all talk. There is much you do not know."

So Gladio lights a campfire and they crowd around it. Prompto considers starting a conversation about who's sharing chairs to lighten the mood, but Ignis preempts the idea by telling Luna to take his chair while he makes dinner.

"Noctis," Luna says. "I told you when we were children that you are to be the True King chosen by the Crystal. That you will banish the Starscourge from Eos. Do you remember?"

Noct nods. "I remember," he says distantly.

"The Astrals determined our fates two thousand years before we were born," Luna says. "Both of us. And those fates are... crueler than I wish to say. And yet, if we do not complete the duties ordained for us, the world will fall even further into darkness. No one else can fulfill these roles."

The fire crackles. Smoke rises to the sky.

"Neither of us deserve what we have been born into," Luna says. "I have prayed for all my life for there to be another way, but those prayers have never been answered. But now, here, at the end of an age, a long-destroyed power wakes from the dead." She gestures toward Prompto, and then toward herself. "But it is not a power born of the Astrals. I do not know its source. I do not know its strength. I do not know if it could possibly be enough to counter the darkness. Do I dare hope, when the Astrals do not?"

"Of course you do," Noct says. "Why wouldn't you?"

"I cannot do my duty while raging against it," Luna says. "If I must- If the future must be as I have seen, I must walk forward with peace in my heart. And so I must believe I have no other choice."

Prompto picks at his shoe. "Who told you that? I've done tons of things hating them the whole time."

Luna doesn't answer.

"You know," Gladio says. "Since you can talk to the Astrals, and all. Maybe you could ask them about it."

Luna smiles, then. It's not a completely straight smile. Prompto thinks it sits better on her face than most of the other expressions he's seen on her so far. "Perhaps you are right," she says. "Perhaps I really could just... ask."

"We could accompany you," Ignis says.

"No," Luna says. "No. I... I think it's best that I go alone." She sighs. "I would request that while I do so, the rest of you seek more information about the Reyvateils. I will send Umbra with word when I can."

"Will you at least wait until morning?" Noct asks.

Luna laughs a little. "All right," she says. "Until morning."

---

Noct and Prompto share a sleeping bag so that Luna can have one. It's a tight fit.

It seems like it should be awkward, or uncomfortable. That's how Prompto always imagined it would be to share a sleeping bag with someone else. Either he'd enjoy it too much, or there wouldn't be enough room to breathe.

But Noct snuggles up against him, and there's just enough space. It's too warm, but Prompto finds it hard to care. Somehow, the pressure from all sides makes him feel safer than he can remember feeling since everything went to shit.

---

Luna wakes them in the middle of the night screaming. She doesn't want to talk about it.

---

"Are you sure you wanna leave us?" Prompto asks.

"I'm sure," Luna says, as Noct fusses over the strap of her backpack. (It was Gladio's fifteen minutes ago, but with the Armiger, it wasn't like he really needed it.) "I suspect the Astrals will be more receptive to me on my own."

"Provisions, canteen, spare clothing... Would you like anything else?" Ignis asks.

"I'll be fine," Luna says. "I thank you deeply for your aid."

Noct gives her a quick, awkward hug. "Send Umbra if you need us. If anything tries to hurt you, light it on fire."

Luna grins. "I will," she promises. "Be well. All of you."

They watch her retreat from the Haven, Umbra on one side of her and Pryna on the other.

"She's going to be fine," Gladio says. "C'mon, we've got packing to do too."

Prompto busies himself pulling up the tent stakes.

When he glances up, he sees Luna, looking over her shoulder. He smiles at her.

Luna smiles back, and gives him a shy wave, and turns away again.

Chapter Text

"Let me use the Hymn Crystal," Prompto says. "I wanna know what it is."

Noct rolls his eyes. "And give you something else you can kill yourself with?"

"Noct, I have a gun," Prompto says. "I can commit suicide by stupid at any moment."

"Buddy, that's not even a little reassuring," Noct says, but he's digging into his pocket anyway, and produces the item in question. "Fine."

Prompto slips off his wristband and gently taps the crystal against the skin. Once again, it just slides in, the way that he really wishes a Diquility crystal would. And then-

A bittersweet medicine. A burnt offering of flowers. A candle. A prayer chanted without cease. A twirling, tottering dance. A voice, a pure voice, singing a clear note.

Prompto takes a deep breath. It replaces the heady perfume of flowers with the scent of damp earth that permeates the slough. Even with a better idea of what's happening, it's just as overwhelming as before.

"They're a matched pair," Prompto says, slowly. "The one from before forces a server to disconnect users. This one forces a connection between a server and... somewhere else."

"Where?" Gladio asks.

Prompto frowns. "You're gonna laugh."

"C'mon," Noct says.

Prompto sighs. "The core of the planet," he says.

"Not so strange as you might think," Ignis says. "The Reyvateils had stories about goddesses that lived there. The Wills of Eos. That would imply this Song was used for worship."

"So it's probably not going to really do anything," Prompto says, disappointed.

"It still has significant cultural significance," Ignis points out. "And if we wish to fulfill the Lady Lunafreya's request, we are lacking in other leads."

"She wants you to call her Luna," Noct says. "So you're saying we should just... try it?"

"Well, you got a better idea?" Gladio asks.

"Prompto, is it going to do anything to you?" Noct asks.

"I have no idea," Prompto replies.

Noct scowls. "Magic sucks," he complains. "Where do you wanna do this?"

"Could be anywhere," Prompto says. "Probably shouldn't be on top of a Haven, though."

Ignis says, "If I may..."

---

"Do try not to be too loud," Ignis says.

"I make no promises," Prompto says. "You're the one who thought it was a good idea to do this in a hotel."

"The ambient sound and light of Lestallum will provide adequate cover for most potential results, and-"

"We're near doctors, yeah, yeah," Noct says. "Just do it, Prom."

"You're all gonna be so disappointed when nothing happens," Prompto says. He sits up a little straighter in the chair. He takes a deep breath. Even if his body knows how to Sing without much input on his part, this Song is a technical challenge. Air in, air out, foot tapping out the rhythm, and-

"Rrha ki ga gran wael wassa. Rrha ki ra chs hymmnos mea. Rrha ki ra enne sos yor. Was yea ra chs hymmnos, la glasden yehah."

Prompto becomes-

---

Was yea ra lhasya yor. Was ki ra synk yos syec. Kiafa hynne mea? Was yea ra chs hymmnos mean.

"Wee paks wa kiafa hynne yor."

Was yea ra yart yor. But you would be more comfortable in your native tongue, would you not?

"Uh, yeah. Thanks."

Allow me to introduce myself. I've been given many names, but what legends survive would call me Suzunomiya.

"Um, I'm Prompto Argentum."

You, too, have been given many names. Did you know that the commonfolk call you a songbird?

"Uh, no... Uh. The Starscourge. We were hoping we could, uh. Do something about that. Would you know something about that, or..."

Oh yes, little songbird. I would be hard-pressed not to know of Bahamut's mistake. It will take a power greater than the Astrals to cleanse the filth he allowed to spread over all Eos. Yet it will be cleansed. The question is one of cost.

"I don't understand."

One day, you and your friends will be strong enough to reach the heart of the Tower you call Costlemark, and on that day, I--and my companion, if she is able--will grant you a great blessing. Until then: learn your names. Sing with all your heart. Take your young king's hand and grow together, and aid him in his quest.

"I- I will."

I am proud of you, Prompto. Return to your friends. They're worried about you.

"Wait-"

Chapter Text

"-less than ten minutes. I am not a fan of these fainting episodes either, but given previous events, this is far from cause for panic. We're in a safe place, " It's Ignis.

"Years of first aid and 'any loss of consciousness is serious, Noct,' and now I'm supposed to not worry when my- when Prompto passes out?" Noct bites back.

Prompto opens his eyes. "Hey, Noct. What were you going to say?"

"H-hey," Noct says. "Didn't realize you were awake. You okay?"

Gladio chuckles. "You didn't answer his question," he says.

"I was gonna- I don't know, that's why I- Hey, haven't we got more important things to talk about?" Noct splutters. He's seriously blushing. He's never this flustered, and Prompto is going to treasure the memory of this moment for as long as he lives.

Despite the obvious amusement in his expression, Ignis seems to agree with Noct, though. "Prompto," he says. "Could you explain what you experienced?"

And Prompto has to work to switch gears, here, because this actually is an important conversation to have. "Uhh, so I think I talked to one of the Wills of Eos."

"Well, shit," Gladio says. "Maybe should've led with that."

---

"'Learn your names,'" Ignis says. "That seems like an odd thing to say."

"I have no idea what that's supposed to mean, though," Prompto says. "And everything else is just... what I was gonna do anyway."

"Something with computers and names," Gladio suggests. "All of this is weird computer stuff, isn't it?"

"Prompto, shouldn't you have some sort of username or authentication on the server?" Ignis asks. "If it is possible to forcibly disconnect users, there must be some capacity to identify them."

"I think I do," Prompto says. "But it's like it's corrupted, or I'm not supposed to know it, or something. If I- ask for it, I guess, it's like people talking over each other. I can't make it out."

"Maybe that's what she meant, then," Noct says. "Not sure how it'd help anything, though."

"At least she thinks the Starscourge thing's gonna be okay," Gladio says. "Though that was some weird talk, too."

"I imagine it has something to do with what Luna didn't want to tell us," Ignis says darkly.

Noct's hand drifts to the spot on his chest where the bottom of the necklace he's wearing would fall, if it was outside his shirt. "Yeah," he says. "Probably."

---

Noct declares that Prompto is to stay in the hotel room for the entire day, fussing about "loss of consciousness is serious" this and "you were on the phone with a goddess maybe treat this as a big deal" that. They send Ignis and Gladio out to find hunts or jobs for them to do, since they probably won't hear from Luna for awhile.

Noct and Prompto play a couple rounds of King's Knight, and then Noct gets out of his chair to pick up a soda.

The earth shakes.

Noct immediately drops to the floor.

"Dude, you okay?" Prompto asks, getting up himself.

Noct whimpers.

He's curled into a ball, there on the carpet, clutching at his head. For a moment Prompto thinks he must've hit it, but that would've been audible, right?

"Noct?" Prompto asks, a little more gently. His phone buzzes. He ignores it and kneels down next to Noct.

"My head," Noct mumbles.

"You wanna lay down?"

"Might be sick," Noct says.

Prompto gets Noct into the bathroom, then grabs his phone. The missed call from Ignis is not a surprise. He slips as far away from the hotel bathroom as he can get and calls back.

"Noct just kinda... fell, when the tremors started," Prompto explains, keeping his voice soft. "He says his head hurts and he feels like he's going to be sick."

"In the same moment as the earthquake?" Ignis asks.

"Yeah," Prompto says. "Exactly the same time. I'm pretty sure he didn't hit anything, too."

"That's very strange," Ignis says, as if that's not really, really obvious.

---

Noct's mostly okay within an hour or so. Then there's another tremor and he's a mess again. They settle him in bed with the trash can next to his head. There's another tremor, and Noct groans, and Prompto can't remember ever hearing him sound so miserable before.

Prompto sits at the foot of the bed and rubs Noct's feet and wonders what the fuck this is about.

It goes on for hours.

Finally, when Prompto's trying to decide if he can ask about dinner without making Noct throw up, there's a scratching sound at the door to their room.

More scratching, and a bark.

"Umbra?" Noct mumbles.

Gladio peers through the peephole. "Umbra," he sighs, as if he's offended. "Let 'im in?"

"Yeah," Noct says.

So Gladio opens the door. Umbra hops onto the bed--Ignis scowls--and sniffs at Noct.

The little notebook's there as usual. Noct reaches out and takes it, flipping through to the most recent page. Then he sighs. "I can't read," he admits, and shoves the notebook at Prompto.

There's a scorch mark on the paper. On top of it is precise handwriting that could only belong to Luna. Prompto reads it aloud: "The Archaean wants to speak with you."

Chapter Text

Prompto writes a message for Luna in the little notebook: "It might be awhile. The earthquakes have your fiancé 'Noct' flat." He isn't much of a traditional artist, but he doodles Noct laying on the bed, too, in case the message isn't clear enough. Then he adds something else as an afterthought: "Take care of yourself."

He gives Umbra a single pat on the head. "Tell Pryna hello for me," Prompto says, and tucks the notebook back into place to be sent away. He watches Umbra's retreating form and wonders if they could get Luna a cell phone.

Moving Noct is a small problem, in the grand scheme of things. He wouldn't enjoy it, but it'd be perfectly possible to stick him in the back of the Regalia with a barf bag and drive out to the Disc. The big problem is that there's an Imperial blockade at the Disc.

"I could just Sing at them like last time," Prompto points out.

"No," Noct groans.

"If you push yourself too hard and pass out again, we're stuck with two we gotta drag around," Gladio says. "Just not viable."

"Besides," Ignis says, "if their forces are more diverse than just MTs, the tactic simply won't work."

"I'd like a better idea of what we're dealing with," Gladio says.

"Agreed," Ignis says.

"We could try one of those- those viewing things, on the observation deck," Prompto reminds them.

"Well, it's a start," Gladio says.

---

There's still a few hours of daylight left when Ignis and Prompto reach the observation deck. Prompto is informed he was chosen because he has an eye for detail, while Ignis will know what he's looking at. Gladio's back with Noct because no one wanted Noct to be alone.

Prompto's still a little intimidated when it's just him and Ignis, but he'll deal.

"Have you been doing well?" Ignis asks as they make their walk.

"Yeah," Prompto replies. It's true, for the most part. "Have you been okay?"

"More or less," Ignis says. "It has become considerably easier now that we are presented with tasks to accomplish."

"I guess so," Prompto says. He looks out of the alley toward the parking lot, and the observation deck beyond it. The sense of anxiety hits hard, and he's not sure why at first. He's seen this scene thousands of times before in Insomnia, and even a bunch of times here in Lestallum: clusters of people laughing and talking, fanning themselves in the heat, crowded around a food stall selling cold drinks... Then his conscious mind catches up with his eyes. "Ignis," he hisses, and comes to a stop. "Wait."

Ignis stops as well. "What is it?" he asks.

"On the observation deck, watching the crowd," Prompto says. "The creep from Galdin."

Ignis looks at Prompto, and whatever he sees inspires him to say, "Back around the corner. Out of his line of sight."

They backtrack through the alley again and step behind the building. Prompto feels his shoulders relax as he does it. However creepy this guy is, he can't see through walls. (Can he see through walls? Prompto really hopes not.)

"What's he doing here?" Prompto asks.

Ignis shakes his head. "We do not have enough information even to speculate." He pauses. "Prompto, why are you so frightened by this individual?"

Prompto blinks. "Isn't he just... really disturbing?" he asks.

"We have only met him once before," Ignis points out. "I admit that he gives the impression of power, but we have seen no objective evidence of it. He's unsettling, true, but you are not reacting as if you are simply unnerved."

Prompto feels as if he's been tasked with explaining that water is wet. "That dude's all wrong," he says. "He moves wrong--don't you see it? And the way he talks. The sound, the rhythm. He's- I think- He's using some kind of magic. His whole body is-"

"Magic?"

"I think so," Prompto says. "Disguising his appearance, somehow. But he still moves wrong. And I could hear- I thought I heard music under his voice."

"I should have questioned you more thoroughly at the time," Ignis says. "Still... we have the means to defend ourselves, and he is unlikely to attempt anything too obvious in public. I daresay an approach is safe enough."

And Prompto doesn't like it. He really, really doesn't like it. But Ignis is completely right, as usual. "Yeah," he says. "Okay."

---

"What a coincidence!" the man says.

"Indeed," Ignis says, all courtly calm.

"Aren't nursery rhymes curious things?" the man continues. Prompto hears it for sure, now; a low harmony under the man's voice, as if every word he speaks is its own Song. "Like this one: 'The little gods wake as the sky grows dark. They shiver, cold in their tiny ark. The Astrals abhor the goddesses' mark.'"

"Is that true?" Prompto asks, thinking of Luna, and how she would know what Titan wanted.

"I would imagine you would know better than anyone," the man says.

Prompto shivers.

"But perhaps you should ask the Archaean," the man says. "I can take you. Would your friends wish to come as well? The more, the merrier, they say."

Ignis and Prompto look at each other. "If you would give us time to discuss the matter with our comrades, we would appreciate it," Ignis says.

"But of course!" the man says with a predator's smile. "Please. I'll wait."

---

"Do you think he can really get us there?" Noct asks hoarsely.

"I don't think he was lying," Ignis says.

"I think he could go anywhere he wanted," Prompto agrees.

"Then we don't have much choice," Noct says. "We need to get to Luna, if she's down there and Titan's pissed at her, and she wanted us to go anyway."

"You're in bad shape, buddy," Prompto says. "You think you can make it?"

"I'm gonna have to," Noct says.

"In the morning," Ignis says. "We'll speak to him in the morning. I'll not make the drive in the dark."

"Yeah," Gladio says, clearly not liking the situation at all. "Try and get some sleep, okay?"

"Okay," Noct says.

Prompto doesn't like it. He really, really doesn't like it. But he can't think of anything else.

Chapter Text

Prompto dreams:

He sees a scientist in a bright white coat. He stands in a room with a murky-white pool of liquid. Inside the liquid is a man heavily infected with the Starscourge. Its characteristic black swirls litter his skin.

The scientist is holding the rune-inscribed handle of a metal brand. It's steaming.

The man in the pool smiles, but it's a pained smile.

The scientist kneels next to the pool. He takes the other man's arm in a firm grip, and looks at him carefully.

The man in the pool nods.

The scientist presses the brand to the Scourge-stained arm of the man in the pool.

The man in the pool screams and thrashes, splashing the milky liquid everywhere. The scientist flinches, but does not move, does not loosen his grip, for several long seconds. Finally, though, he lets go, and plunges the arm into the liquid before stepping away with the brand.

The man in the pool calms. He slowly pulls his arm from the water and examines it.

The mark left behind is a simple O-shape, no ornamentation or lettering. It hasn't blistered at all--the skin has simply gone jet black.

The scientist returns to the side of the pool carrying a crystal.

He presses it, gently, at the center of the circle.

The crystal slides into the man in the pool's skin.

The man in the pool laughs, and laughs, and laughs.

---

The tremors die back, and by the time dawn breaks, the ground hasn't shaken in hours. Noct looks a little weak and it's obvious from the way that he moves that the pain isn't completely gone, but it's much better than yesterday. Prompto prays that the ground stays still for awhile because they really don't need any more problems when they already have the creepy guy and an Astral with a reason not to like them.

They meet the creepy guy out at the parking lot right after breakfast. "I'll drive my car, and you'll follow. A convoy, of sorts."

"If we're traveling together, might we know your name?" Ignis asks.

"Ah, of course!" the man says. "You may call me Ardyn."

The name bounces through Prompto's mind, and he's sure he should know it, but he can't place it.

---

The trip is uncomfortable. There's another tremor, a really bad one, and Noct's a whimpering mess in the back seat again. It rains all afternoon. Having to watch Ardyn drive ahead of them and make sure they're keeping track of where he is means being aware at all times that he exists, and Prompto would normally fidget or chatter to deal with that but he needs to be quiet for Noct.

It is not a relief at all when Ardyn pulls into a gas station, because the sun is setting and that means he intends to stay in the caravan.

---

"We're the two smallest," Noct says. His arm is around Prompto, clutching the back of Prompto's vest like he'll fall if he lets go, and his fist is shaking. "We'll bunk together, and you can have your own bed."

"Ah, how thoughtful," Ardyn says. "I appreciate it! And you look like you'll be quite comfortable together, won't you?"

Prompto thinks back to when he was living with his parents and tells himself to smile like he means it. "He and I go way back," he says, as if Ardyn doesn't radiate more danger than anything Prompto's ever felt, as if he's not quietly praying Noct won't collapse on the pavement.

Noct makes some excuse about feeling carsick and files into the caravan. Prompto lets Ignis and Gladio convince Ardyn to go get dinner with them while he follows Noct.

"C'mon, sit down," Prompto says, gentle. "You did amazing out there."

Noct sits down on one of the beds and sighs. "I did it," he says, "and I didn't puke on you."

"Gross, dude," Prompto says. "Gross." Despite that, he sits next to Noct and rubs his back. "You wanna try to sleep? Iggy slipped me the pills on the way out."

"Mmm," Noct says. "Ardyn's a creep. Don't wanna sleep with him around."

"He's not here," Prompto reminds Noct. "I'm here, and if he so much as tries to lay a hand on you, I will Sing him into five thousand tiny bits."

Noct smiles a little. "Gimme the meds," he says, and Prompto doses him up.

---

Noct falls asleep, and Prompto stays with him. "We're worn out from the ride," he texts Ignis. "Taking an early night."

But Prompto doesn't sleep. Not at all. Not while Ignis, Gladio, and Ardyn are out at dinner. Not when they're out chatting at the plastic table in front of the caravan. And certainly not when they all come inside.

Prompto lays awake. He counts his breathing to keep it deep and even, and keeps his eyes closed, but he doesn't sleep at all.

He doesn't know why he thinks so, exactly, but he doesn't think Ardyn sleeps either.

---

In the morning, they depart almost immediately, which is a relief. Prompto eats a protein bar and chokes down some of Ignis' gross too-black coffee to keep himself alert.

When they reach the Imperial blockade, Ardyn pulls up and just waves at the men manning it. "It's me!" he calls. "Open the door!"

Prompto doesn't have it in him to be surprised when this works.

"Well, time to go," Noct says, carefully removing himself from the seat. "We've got an Astral to talk to." He's shaking. Prompto can see it. Hopefully, from that distance, Ardyn can't.

"Thanks for the help," Prompto says, and smiles at Ardyn.

"Ah, it was my pleasure," Ardyn says. He looks Prompto straight in the eye, and winks.

Chapter Text

"You feeling up to the hike?" Gladio asks Noct, looking down the path.

"I'll make it," Noct says. "We gotta find Luna."

"At least take some medication first," Ignis says, pulling some pills from his pocket.

Noct swallows the pills dry. He stretches. "Right," he says. "Let's go."

"Right," Gladio says, and they move down the trail.

For some reason, there's some dead guy from the line of Lucis laying in his tomb at the end of the path. "I guess he wanted a nice view?" Prompto says, glancing out over the edge with his camera. "Because it is a nice view." He turns out to look at it. He knows what happens with Royal Arms, now, and he knows he doesn't want to watch.

Noct gasps, and breathes hard for a moment, and only after that does Prompto start to turn around. And that's when the platform they're standing on sees fit to reveal that it was hanging over air and was not meant to support the weight of a heavy Royal Tomb and four adult men.

When he hits ground, it's hot. Prompto is not sure if he is actually literally on fire, but for a few seconds, he's nearly sure of it. He rolls over a few times before opening his eyes and-

"Luna?"

Luna reaches out for Prompto's hand. "It's good to see you," she says. She's back in the clothes that she borrowed from Prompto. Her shirt is ripped. She has soot smudged on one cheek. The hand she's reaching for him with is bruised. Her smile is radiant.

"You look good!" Prompto says, accepting her help to get to his feet. "Hey, guys!"

"Prompto?" Gladio's voice calls out from a distance.

"Hey!" Prompto calls. "Guess who I found!"

Gladio, Ignis, and Noct appear at the edge of a cliff overhead. "Luna!" Noct says, relief masking the lingering pain in his expression. "You okay?"

"I am well enough," Luna says. "I would like to explain the situation, but-"

A rumble echoes through the air as a giant fucking hand looms into view.

"Oh, Astrals," Ignis says.

"That is an Astral," Luna says, as if she's apologizing.

"We'll try to get down there," Noct says.

"Keep out of trouble!" Gladio adds.

Prompto bursts into laughter. "Right," he says, and then Luna tugs him out of the way of a piece of falling rubble.

---

"So uhh, what's Titan so worked up about?" Prompto asks, carefully avoiding stepping into what appears to actually be lava.

Luna hops over the puddle a little more daintily. "He's a little displeased with me about becoming a Reyvateil," she says. "But he and I have been discussing the topic for a few days now-"

"You've been down here for days?" Prompto interrupts before she can keep talking.

"I couldn't get out," Luna says. "Besides, I've done healings for five days without sleeping before. This isn't so bad."

Prompto has no idea what to say to that. He yanks out his canteen, though, and glances around for loose stones before passing it over to her. "Drink something," he says.

Luna takes a solid swig from the canteen. "Oh," she says, sounding nearly dizzy.

"Drain it if you need to," Prompto says.

Luna drinks the rest of the water while Prompto watches their surroundings. "Thank you," she says, passing back the canteen.

"We'll get you more when we meet up with the others," Prompto says. "And I think Iggy's got a couple protein bars on him. Now... where were we?"

"I think the Archaean will come around," Luna says. "He asked for a demonstration of resolve." She steps around another patch of hot ground. "I'm giving it to him. And surely he will lend Noctis his power, too."

In the distance, there's familiar shouting--the others are fighting something. "We need to get to them," Prompto says. "Can you run without kicking up lava and rocks on your feet?"

"No, but I can heal myself afterward," Luna replies.

Prompto sighs. "I think I'm starting to get Noct's obsession with your shoes," he says. "Let's go."

---

They find the guys trying to fight Titan's arm, because doing battle with gods is apparently something they do now.

"Hey, how's it going?" Prompto calls.

"How does it- look?" Gladio gasps between attempts to block Titan's arm. Prompto wonders if this is some bizarre fever dream.

"Luna, stay back," Noct shouts. "Prom, we need ice!"

"Got it!" Prompto replies. He pulls out his gun, but he's really just stalling. He knows what he's going to have to do. He has a Song for elemental magic. He just has to be careful. "Rrha ki ra echcrra jouee. Rrha ki ra chs hymmnos mea." Prompto doesn't get angry easily, so Songs relying on that feeling don't work well for him. Instead, he drops into a trance, concentrating on the desired result. "Rrha ki ra echcrra li 0. Rrha ki ra chs maxim." The danger is in losing track of why he's seeking a result. "Fayra en kapa, weak en sheak..."

And oh, there's ice, all right. Spears of it form in the air, one after another, and launch into Titan's face. Ice, sucking the water straight from the air, making breaths sharp. Ice, hanging from Titan's fingers. Ice, and-

There's a loud sound, loud enough that it knocks Prompto out of his concentration. He wobbles on his feet, confused, for a few seconds.

It sounds kind of like... laughter?

It's Titan laughing. He's stopped attacking. He looks... amused.

Prompto glances at Luna, who's grinning as well. "I told you!" she shouts at Titan.

Golden light starts to stream from Titan, brighter and brighter, until Prompto can't see anything anymore. Prompto feels heat soak into him.

The ground shakes to a low thrum. Prompto feels raw power hum around him, and he thinks maybe it should hurt, but it feels good, instead.

As his vision returns, Prompto sees that Noct's glowing. Luna's glowing. And just a little, not as bright but still clearly present, Prompto is glowing, too.

"Holy shit," Noct breathes. He turns and bows to Titan, a little awkward, the way that he would bow to his father when they were stuck at court. "Thank you," he says.

Titan laughs, again.

Chapter Text

"I don't suppose that he could get us out of this pit," Ignis says, as the ground heaves around them and a flare of lava shoots into the air.

"He almost certainly could," Luna says, "but I don't- I don't think I can ask him right now."

"Luna?" Noct asks, and they all turn to her.

Luna's swaying on her feet, struggling to keep her balance. "I'm just very tired," she says, and manages to smile.

Noct jogs to her side and grabs her before she can fall. "Come on, stay with us," he pleads.

"I will be fine," Luna assures him.

There's a familiar hum in the air, and Prompto looks up to see an Imperial airship hovering not far from the ground, mouth open. Instead of a bunch of MTs crowded around the opening, though, there's Ardyn.

Prompto feels fear creep up on him again, but it's blunted by the adrenaline of heavy combat and the strange itch of foreign magic under his skin.

"Fancy meeting you here!" Ardyn calls down to them. "It occurs to me I never formally introduced myself. Izunia. Ardyn Izunia."

"Imperial Chancellor Izunia?" Ignis asks.

"At your service. And more importantly, to your aid. I guarantee your safe passage. Though you're always welcome to take your chances down there."

There's really no choice. Luna obviously can't climb her way out of here. Prompto's not sure if Noct can climb out, either, after being so sick and then doing battle with the actual fucking Archaean. And it's not like they can rest up here.

"We'll come with you," Noct says.

Luna's turned to Prompto, though, and her face is white as a sheet. "What is he?" she mouths, panic in her expression.

Prompto shakes his head. At least someone else senses it, though.

---

The atmosphere on the airship is thick with tension, until apparently Ignis can't stand it and rises to his feet. "Chancellor, if you truly wish to aid us in our efforts, then I request you release us this instant," he says.

"This instant? It's a long way down. Perhaps the army could break your fall," Ardyn says. "Or perhaps you could simply sit back and enjoy the ride. You needn't worry. You're in good hands with me."

Ignis takes a deep breath and doesn't respond.

"Ah, perhaps you would like some entertainment during this long flight," Ardyn says. "Perhaps I could tell you a fairy tale."

"Sure," Gladio says, eyebrows raised.

"Have you heard of the Cycle of Rhaplanca and Maoh?" Ardyn asks. "Tales from old Solheim. Lovers bound to each other through a hundred lives, and a story for every one of them. Most of them were lost when Solheim fell, of course, but a few were compelling enough to survive. The one I have in mind was called Salavec Rhaplanca--Rhaplanca the Sacrifice."

Prompto's heard of the Cycle of Rhaplanca. It'd come up more than once when discussing historical Reyvateils, because many Songs written in the past featured their stories. But he's never heard of this one before. He raises his head a little to listen.

"Once upon a time," Ardyn says, "there was a city-state by the name of Lelentas. Its citizens went to war with a neighboring city, and Lelentas was very nearly destroyed. But as the enemy army closed in on them... A savior arrived! A God descended from the heavens and offered the people His protection. The only cost was the occasional sacrifice of one of the populace. Such a small thing. Lelentas agreed."

Prompto catches Luna looking at Noct.

"Cowardly," Gladio mutters.

"They wished to live," Ignis replies.

"Indeed," Ardyn says. "And live they did. Their enemies were defeated so thoroughly that history does not even remember the name of their city. And Lelentas prospered! At the mere cost of a single life each year.

"It came to pass that a princess, Rhaplanca, and a young knight sworn to her service, Maoh, lived together in that city. They were deeply in love, as young people so often are." Ardyn's eyes sweep from Noct to Prompto. Prompto wonders just what he knows. "They wanted to be together forever... but it was not to be. Rhaplanca was promised as a sacrifice to the God.

"The time came when Rhaplanca was to be sacrificed. Rhaplanca had accepted her fate, and allowed the people to take her from their home. But Maoh found that despite knowing, despite everything he had told himself, he could not bear it. And the foolish boy took up his sword.

"Maoh fought his way through the crowds of Lelentas. He was a talented swordsman, and sympathy held back some of his competitors, while Maoh did not hesitate to kill for the sake of his love. And thus he made it to the shrine of the God, who was preparing to devour the princess Rhaplanca.

"No mere mortal can defeat a God," Ardyn says, and pauses, locking eyes with... Luna? "It is beyond hope. But Maoh wrestled Rhaplanca away, and fled with her into the forest, and no one knows what happened to them after.

"Of course, with the sacrifice gone, the bargain between Lelentas and the God was void. The God withdrew his protection and his gifts. A plague ran through the city, killing half its population. Crops in the surrounding areas failed. And finally, its neighbors, jealous of the riches Lelentas had accumulated under the God, attacked the city again after so many years. This time, with no God to protect it, the city was reduced to ash and rubble."

"Well, that's a downer ending," Noct says, after a few moments.

"Indeed it is," Ardyn says. "But it is simply the logical result of Maoh's actions."

Prompto looks at the others. Luna's face is shuttered tight, an expression that he's seen on Noct before but never on her. Gladio has one hand in a fist and a stony glower. Ignis looks pensive--the story was obviously a message, and he's probably trying to work out what the message was and who it was for and why it was delivered like this and all those other steps back that he's so good at. Noct's hand is raised to his shirt, to the tiny lump in the fabric where some sort of pendant rests against his skin, and his expression is almost entirely empty.

The airship rumbles and shudders. Prompto feels it begin to descend.

"Ah, this must be your stop!" Ardyn says. "It was wonderful traveling with you!"

Prompto takes a deep breath in, and out, and in again.

"Thank you for your hospitality," Ignis says in a formal tone.

"But of course!" Ardyn says. "I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors!"

Prompto reminds himself that they are getting away and forces a smile onto his face. "Thanks for the ride," he says, and waits for the ship to come to a stop.

Chapter Text

After getting off the airship, they all retreat to the Haven. Luna's pale and shaking by the time they arrive, and Prompto's first order of business is unfolding his camp chair so she can sit down while they prep everything else.

"You gonna be okay?" Noct asks, resting the back of a hand against her cheek as if he expects her to have a fever.

"I just need to rest," Luna says. "I'll be fine. I already feel stronger just sitting on the Haven."

Ignis busies himself with rummaging through their food supplies. "Do you feel well enough to explain what happened?" he asks. "None of us can speak the language of the Astrals, and I find myself a touch puzzled as to why the Archaean simply stopped attacking us."

"His aim was never to do serious damage to you," Luna says. "It was a test of strength and determination. He told me that if we could find another way, then he would support us. The Astrals must protect Eos, even from each other."

"You keep mentioning a 'different plan' or 'another way,' but you haven't clarified what the original plan was," Ignis says. He's pretending to dig through some cooking utensils, but his eyes are definitely on Luna.

Luna hesitates. "Do you really want to know?" she asks. "I thought I did, but I didn't."

"We'd have to know eventually, if we were gonna do it," Gladio says.

Luna nods. She folds her hands in her lap and closes her eyes. "A power greater than even that of the Six, purifying all by the light of the Crystal and the glaives of rulers past," she says, as if reading from a textbook. "Only at the throne can the Chosen receive it, and only at the cost of a life: his own. The King of Kings shall be granted the power to banish the darkness, but the blood price must be paid. To cast out the usurper and usher in dawn's light will cost the life of the Chosen. Many sacrificed all for the King, so must the King sacrifice himself for all."

Noct's face goes tight. "That's the Astrals' plan?"

"Yes," Luna replies. She sighs. "I'm not supposed to tell you, because it might dissuade you from your task." Bitterness creeps into her tone.

"Could we do it now? Just go to Insomnia, and make the sacrifice?" Noct asks, as if he's talking about something that he doesn't care about at all.

"No," Luna says. "Even if we were following Bahamut's plan, no. You need to forge covenants with those of the Astrals that... remain capable, and the Crystal is somewhere in Imperial territory."

Noct gets to his feet. His hand reaches toward the collar of his shirt, then drops to his pocket. "I need to think," he says, and stalks off.

Prompto watches him, sees the slant of his shoulders, and starts to go after him when Gladio grabs him by the shoulder.

"Let him," Gladio says. "Let him think."

Prompto lets Noct go.

---

"I'm an awful person," Luna says. Someone gave her a cup of water--Prompto's not sure who, anymore--and she's staring down into it. "If it was just going to be Noctis, I could do it. Or if it was just the two of us, like I imagined when I was younger."

"It doesn't make you awful to do your duty," Gladio says.

Luna shakes her head. "But it wouldn't be like that," she says. "Helping Noctis form pacts with the Astrals is... likely to end in my death. But I have no successors. The line of the Oracles ends with me. When I die, there will be nothing to keep the world from plunging into true darkness, until the Scourge is purged for good. Daemons without dawn to stop them. Crops failing due to lack of sun, and the famine that would result. People dying of the Starscourge with no one to heal them."

There's nothing to say to that, so it's quiet for awhile.

"My hope is that the Song Towers of the Reyvateils can provide enough additional strength to prevent that future," Luna says. "But I must admit that I do not know how it could be."

"Well, I could ask," Prompto says.

Luna turns to stare at him.

"Prompto has... been in touch with one of the goddesses of the Reyvateils' faith," Ignis explains.

"So you're an Oracle too, in your way," Luna says, and manages a small smile. "If that is so, perhaps there is hope yet." She starts to get to her feet, but wavers. Ignis slides from the cookstation to grab her before she topples to the ground.

"You okay?" Gladio asks.

"I'm very tired," Luna admits.

"Let's get you in the tent until food's ready," Prompto says, springing to his feet himself to get things set up.

---

Noct returns an hour later. His eyes are red and puffy, and there are tear tracks on his face.

Prompto can't leave him like that. Not any longer. He rushes forward and grabs Noct, pulls close and doesn't care who sees or what anyone thinks.

"I'm not letting anyone take you from me," Prompto whispers.

Noct laughs, fragile and watery. "I don't know if it's up to you," he says.

"If it's not, I'll just make it that way anyway," Prompto says.

Noct rests his head on Prompto's shoulder. "I'm the- I'm the king," he says weakly. "I'll hold you to it."

"I swore by the Astrals to defend you and the nation of Lucis," Prompto whispers. "And I swear by the Wills of Eos that I will find a way to save this world without losing you."

As he says it, Prompto feels the weight of it settle on his shoulders. He feels magic spreading through his skin. Someone out there's heard him.

Good.

Chapter Text

Noct sighs. "You're not wrong," he says, as if it's physically painful to say it.

"I know, I know, you don't like it," Prompto says, sitting cross-legged on a sleeping bag. "But we need to speak to her. Especially now."

"Do you think I could... join you?" Luna asks. She has some of her color back now that she's had a nap and something to eat, but she still doesn't look well. "I would like to meet this... Suzunomiya. And perhaps it would spread the burden."

"I don't think it works like that," Prompto says. Even if it did, he wouldn't want to risk Luna like that. He knows he'll come through just fine, but he doesn't know what it would do to her and he doesn't want to find out.

"Will it be okay on the Haven?" Gladio asks.

"It'll be fine," Prompto says. "I know what it's supposed to feel like, now."

"We could wait awhile," Noct says. It's almost a plea.

"I believe it is best to attempt communication as soon as possible in order to ascertain what resources we have," Ignis says.

Noct sighs, and nods.

"I'm going to be all right," Prompto says. He suspects Noct really doesn't want to have to share him with anyone else right now, or watch him lay out unconscious, as frequently happens. But he will keep his vow, and this is the first step, and he's eager to get to it. "Anything else?" he asks.

"Try to get the most concrete information you can," Ignis says.

Noct looks into Prompto's eyes. He doesn't say anything at all.

"C'mere," Prompto says, and stretches out a hand. "Nobody says you have to be all the way over there."

Noct smiles a fraction. He climbs out of his camp chair to the sleeping bag. Prompto thinks he's going to sit down next to him, but instead, Noct slips behind him, stretching out a leg on either side and wrapping his arms loosely around Prompto's waist. "This should work," Noct says, and there's a hint of that familiar brattiness to his tone that lets Prompto relax a little.

"Yeah, it's fine," Prompto says, smiling just a little. He relaxes, just a little, into Noct's hold. Then he makes himself focus. It's time. "Rrha ki ga gran wael wassa..."

---

Hello, Prompto.

"Hello, uh, ma'am."

You've sworn an oath by my name.

"Should I... not have done that?"

On the contrary. I am honored. It has been a long time. But you have invoked the oldest magic of this planet. You should know that you will die if you fail to fulfill your vow.

"I don't mind. But, uh, I'm here for a reason."

Yes. The Starscourge, and Bahamut's plan. We are not enamored of it either.

"Who's with you?"

You may know her as Sakiyarumei. She is too weak to speak with you this way. It is only the two of us left, and the responsibilities of sixteen individuals are placed upon us.

"What happened?"

Has that truly passed out of myth? Of course it has. In the age of Astral worship, such tales would not be permitted to spread.

"Can you tell me?"

Listen well.

~~~

Worlds are born, and they live and die. All of us--those who would be the Wills of Eos--our world was dying, and we wished to survive. So we built our Ark, and sailed to a newborn world.

We took the energy of the infant world, and we Sang: "ahih=mak-yan-a noh-iar-du N woo ah W shin ah rei ii-zu-uii..." And a planet formed around our Ark in that world, the way a pearl forms around a grain of sand inside an oyster.

We Sang the stars into the sky. We Sang your sun and moon, and the stars. We Sang oceans, and rivers, and mountains. We Sang life, trees and grasses, and animals, and one day, humanity. Our young world thrived.

The Astrals came suddenly. Their world had dissolved, and we were too foolish to ask why. They were flung through the myriad realms until they arrived here. We granted them asylum on the grounds that they swore to protect our planet from any threat. We did not know that their presence heralded the very threat we feared.

Chunks of their world fell into ours over the next few centuries. You might know one of them as the Meteor of the Six. The Astral Titan caught it, but it still broke. Inside, amongst the beautiful crystals... was the Starscourge.

The sky began to darken, ever so gradually. At first, we did not understand why. Ramuh, who loved the skies of his new home dearly, was the one to explain it to us.

The world the Astrals fled was being devoured by the Starscourge, just as Eos is being devoured by it now. Bahamut sought to cleanse their world with a great, purifying light. The things the light touched were cleansed of the Starscourge, but also broke into pieces, destroying their world.

Shelanoir... ah, Saranoyomei was the first one of us to be infected. We tried everything we could, used all the knowledge that we had. We made a Song, something to Sing it from her body.

It killed her. A mere century later, Soumanomiya was infected as well.

Four of us descended to take refuge in our Ark. We sealed ourselves away to ensure that not all of us could be lost. Koudeinomikoto, the strongest combatant of all of us. Ar Ru, because among our kind she was still a child. Sakiyarumei, our most imaginative creator. And I, the most skilled in Song of all of us.

And yet... Humanity grew. Civilization arose. They formed villages, then cities. They made art and music. They learned about the world around them. Humanity built the Reyvateils in our image, though they were originally made for war. They built Towers to harness the power of Song. They united into the single nation of Solheim, and prospered. They named our planet Eos. Dawn.

It seemed as if everything was going well, despite the many problems. Soumanomiya was ill, but held strong. Bahamut found a non-destructive way to cleanse the Scourge on a small scale: having a human wield his magic by proxy. Things of this world were not harmed when the magic was wielded by a being of this world. The humans chosen to wield his power could not heal Soumanomiya, but they healed many humans and animals, and greatly slowed the spread of the disease.

The Astrals were worshipped as Gods by some segments of humanity even then. We allowed it. We should not have allowed it. One day, Ifrit felt spurned by those who had once loved him, and waged war on humanity. That was when everything fell apart.

Bahamut stopped his efforts to cleanse the Starscourge while he fought Ifrit, and the movements of humans during war allowed pestilence to spread far more quickly than before. Rokkan and Ciela tried to intervene and were struck down by Ifrit. Soumanomiya died of the Starscourge, and in her dying moments, the miasma she exuded infected her lovers Kokura and Gurentei. Sashanomiya took her own life. Deiji tried to reason with Ifrit, and was struck down... One by one, the Wills on the surface passed, and the war continued.

Little Ar Ru mourned the loss of her family on the surface. She blamed the Astrals for all of it. While we struggled to maintain the Songs holding the world together, she wrote her own Song. She Sang it in secret, and by the time we discovered her efforts, it was too late. The effort killed her. Her Song was meant to erase the Astrals from existence, but it only succeeded in putting five of them to sleep. Bahamut remained untouched because Ar Ru passed before her Song could reach him. He took advantage of Ifrit's sleep to kill him, ending the war at great cost.

The Starscourge ran rampant. The kingdom of Solheim fell. The number of humans fell to one-tenth the number it had been a century before. The Astrals hated us, because one of our number tried to slaughter them. Perhaps they hate us even now.

Bahamut chose a strong human to wield his power, to go about the people and heal them of the Starscourge. That man was so eager to complete his task that instead of moving slowly, one by one and with care, he simply soaked the affliction into his own body.

It is not clear to me what happened next. The man went mad, for certain. He turned his tainted blood into Song, and made himself a Reyvateil. He seized control of one of the Towers and nearly destroyed the other. Most of the Reyvateils died as a result of those actions, and he hunted and killed nearly all those who didn't. He became the only human capable of utilizing the magic of Song on this planet in addition to being the only human that could wield the Astrals' magic.

As a last, desperate measure, we sent Koudeinomikoto to the surface to try to stop him. But the man is no longer capable of death by ordinary means. Koudeinomikoto was slaughtered like cattle.

Bahamut concocted his plan, then. I believe that Lunafreya has explained much of it to you. The Crystal, the Oracles, the Line of Lucis, the King of Kings. All of that strength will be required, and it must be placed in the hands of a mortal to purge the entire planet. This is inevitable. Your young king, your love, must wield the power of the Astrals against the Starscourge.

But it will not be soon enough. Forming the covenants will drain the life from your Oracle, and she will die, and the world will darken. Sakiyarumei will maintain life as long as she can, with her Songs, but she is already fading, and the effort will eventually kill her as well. A few may survive until your Noctis is capable of banishing the Starscourge, but in the long term, that delay will destroy life as we know it.

~~~

"Then what can we do?"

Become strong, so that I can channel power through you without causing your body to disintegrate. Aid your young king in his quest to gain the blessings of the Astrals, and reclaim the Crystal. Learn your names and retake the Towers, if you can. When the time comes, your young king will wield the magic of the Astrals, and you will wield the magic of Song, and hopefully, it will be enough.

"What do you mean about learning my names?"

Perhaps you might ask the young Oracle. She gained a new name, recently.

"That's not-"

Chapter Text

"And then she said something about Luna getting a new name and cut me off," Prompto explains.

Prompto's resting comfortably against Noct. This time, apparently he kept singing through the entire conversation instead of actually passing out, which has everyone looking considerably more pleased than the last time he tried this. Even if he was singing the same song for more than fifteen minutes. He explained the history that he was told, the stakes, and the revision to Bahamut's plan. (He carefully left out the part about what happens if his body isn't ready to accept the magic, because there are enough things to worry about without it.)

Luna ponders for a moment. "A new name?" she says. "I can't think of anything, unless she means my hymn code."

"You know yours?" Prompto asks.

"Yes," Luna tells him. "It's something like Lunafreya-fehu-Ardyn-" She stops, eyes big.

Prompto knows he's not moving, but his body feels like it's plummeting through the ground. "That's- that's- Ardyn is administrating your server," he stutters. "It's got to be the same Ardyn, there's no way it isn't."

"Can you explain what that entails?" Ignis asks.

Prompto feels Noct tug at him a little and settles back into his grip. "It means- it means a lot of things," Prompto says. "It means that Ardyn is definitely a Reyvateil, because only Reyvateils have the... architecture to do that. It means that Ardyn has a gateway into Luna's mind, though his access has limitations. And if he shuts it down then-"

"Is it like with you?" Noct asks.

"Yeah," Prompto says. "It could just strip her of the ability to use Song magic, or it could kill her, or cause serious damage to her mind."

"Would he know that she's on there?" Gladio asks.

"He'd have to," Prompto says. "From what I know, anyway. He'd be able to see any new connection." He shudders. "And I've gotta be on there too, right?"

"Then he could hurt you and Luna anytime he wants?" Noct asks.

"Yeah," Prompto says. "I don't know why he hasn't."

"He's toying with us," Ignis says.

"We need to be careful, then," Gladio says. "Keep him from thinking that they're a threat for as long as we can."

Luna sighs. "But we need to move quickly, too. If the Fulgurian hasn't noticed us yet, he will soon, and he'll want to speak." She's still so pale. Prompto wonders if she would survive communing with another Astral so soon.

Then Prompto thinks of something. "Noct," he says. "Give one of the diquility crystals to Luna."

"You-" Noct looks at Luna and cuts himself off. "Are you sure?" He glances at Ignis and Gladio, probably hoping they'll intervene.

"I'm sure," Prompto says.

"Luna?" Noct asks.

"You can't get more," Luna protests.

"We were gonna search Insomnia anyway," Prompto says. "And we need you alive. Everything falls apart real quick if you die."

Luna sighs. "I- not today," she says.

Ignis clears his throat. "It may be prudent to make a trip to Insomnia sooner rather than later," he says. "We would have considerably fewer arguments if we could find more diquility, or, better, the formula. It would be prudent to know where the Towers are located, if we are to retake them. Ardyn is affiliated with the Empire, and he knows that we are alive. They will almost certainly tighten security, but that will take time. It would be best to go now if we wish to go in stealth."

"We're still gonna need to go back at... the end," Noct says.

"I don't think we'll have a lot of time to play around then," Gladio says. "I imagine the Niffs will be right on our tail."

"That's an ethnic slur," Ignis says absently. "At any rate, it's Noct's decision."

Noct looks over everyone consideringly and sighs. "How are we gonna do this?"

---

They're on a time limit, but that doesn't mean they can just make for Insomnia without doing any prep work. Apparently, in this case, much of the required prep work is being done at the drugstore at Galdin Quay.

"Hold that up to your face," Luna says, handing Prompto a concealer stick.

"This seems right," Prompto says, following directions. He used to cover his freckles, once, and used something that was this brand, but the packaging's changed since he quit and he can't grab it by memory anymore.

"Yeah, that's good," Luna says. "Now this one," she says, handing over a two-toned makeup compact.

Prompto glances at it. Neither of those colors look like his skin tone, and... "What's contouring?" he asks, lifting the compact.

Luna smiles. "I'm going to have to let you men in on some of womens' deepest secrets," she says, as Noct returns with two boxes of black hair dye, one box of brown, and a some bleach. "Great, Noct, now it's your turn."

Noct sighs. "I hate makeup," he sighs.

---

The sink in the caravan is not really the best place for an imprompto "salon," but their funds would struggle if they got a room at the hotel after buying all this makeup, so they make it work. They spend the evening applying bleach and dye, one after the other.

"Wouldn't it be bad if someone saw us sitting here at the table with plastic-wrapped hair?" Noct asks, tapping at his phone.

"Would you rather deal with the smell in the caravan?" Ignis asks.

Noct sighs and doesn't answer.

---

The next morning is an ordeal, too.

"I'm rearranging the bones in your face," Luna tells Noct, grinning. "Sit still. It's strange enough doing this to someone else. Turn your head this way," she says, and taps his head.

"You really do look different," Gladio says in wonder.

"You're next, you know," Luna says, brushing powder onto Noct's nose.

---

Gladio's scar is merely a faint line on his face and his hair's been slicked back and set in a ponytail. Ignis' hair is a soft brown and lays down instead of being spiked up, using a gentle dye that will wash out in a few days, and he's not wearing his glasses. Luna and Prompto have black, Lucian hair, and Noct's hair is brassy bleach-blond. Luna spent an hour on "contouring" all of their faces, and it really does look like their bone structure has been altered.

Noct shifts close to Prompto and murmurs, "You look all wrong." He's kind of pouting.

"Yeah, that's the point, buddy," Prompto says. "Sorry we gotta do all this."

Noct sighs. "Prom, it's not just for you, it's for Luna, too, and for information, and-" His voice drops even lower. "And please get it through your head that I couldn't take it anymore without you, okay?"

"Okay," Prompto says, and runs a hand through his newly-darkened hair. "Okay."

"Noct, would you be willing to drive?" Ignis calls. "I would prefer not to do so when not wearing my glasses."

"Your vision's not even really bad and you could wear them until we have to park anyway," Noct replies, but he's already pulling out the keys. "Where exactly are we stashing the car?"

Ignis unfolds the map as they walk to the car. "Here," he says, and taps a spot. "Don't get distracted by your, ah, navigator," he adds.

"Hey," Noct complains, and Prompto bursts out laughing.

Chapter Text

As it turns out, Insomnia wasn't entirely razed to the ground during the invasion. It would have been a waste of resources to burn out everything just for the sake of it. The Empire went for the most strategically valuable parts of town and just took potshots at the rest.

A lot of people in the poorest neighborhoods had waited out the chaos and decided to stay. The Empire wasn't likely to bomb the city again. The daemons were a problem at night, but crime had been an issue at night before, so that wasn't as strange as it could have been. The people had slapped together some "repairs" to the power network and were trading loot they found within the city for food from outside.

So Ignis had come up with a plan, and Gladio of all people had called in a few favors, and Prompto's first experience in a boat is huddling in its hold with all the others, mostly-hidden behind crates of potatoes.

There are faint voices just outside the door to the hold, muffled by the rain that started that morning. "...the usual... potatoes, mostly... know how it..."

"...a glance..."

The door opens. Prompto holds his breath and grabs Noct's hand. They can fight their way out if they need to, but the longer they can go without attracting attention, the better.

"Everything looks in order down here," someone says, and the door shuts.

"...usual fee..."

"...great to see you."

Prompto relaxes. They'll need to be still and quiet until they get the all-clear, of course, but they've passed this part of the test.

---

As it turns out, the hard part is not waiting out the inspection-and-bribe process. It's the waiting afterward, having to remain still and quiet for two hours while Gladio's tattoo artist's aunt watches the dock to find them an opening. As it turns out, there are only so many times one can play rock-paper-scissors before it stops being interesting. (In Prompto's case, this takes about five minutes.)

Still, they eventually climb out into the driving rain.

"Of course," Luna mutters, drawing Prompto's worn sweatshirt closer around her arms. A low rumble of thunder rumbles in the distance, as if in affirmation.

The dock is old, clearly in disrepair even before the Wall fell, and Prompto carefully avoids standing too close to Gladio on the weathered wood. From the shore, the wreckage of the Wall obstructs the view of the city, but the Citadel's towers peek over the top. They're scorched and burnt, but still standing.

Noct looks up at it, then looks back down and sighs.

There's a path along the shore that they follow until they reach a point where the rubble's a little clearer and a plywood ramp ushers them into the city. "Ready?" Prompto asks in a low voice.

"Yeah," Noct says.

Prompto looks at Gladio. "Big guy?"

"Of course," Gladio says, though looking at the set of his shoulders, what he's ready for is punching something.

Crossing through, they're greeted with the hum of generators and the smell of propane. The street, empty of cars, is lined with folding tables: a street market, not unlike the one in Lestallum, but obviously a more makeshift venture. It's fairly quiet. The rain's probably driven most of the potential customers off.

The goods on sale are also a little different from what you'd see in Lestallum. The produce is in rough shape. There are a couple tables covered in slightly-abused canned goods. There's a table lined with lightbulbs, one of them in a lantern for display purposes, with that particular glow that drives off daemons. And then a table laden with little plastic bags full of plants, powders, and pills. Drugs, right out in the open. That was new.

Prompto sees Ignis twitch and yanks on his arm. "Hey, we're gonna be late," he says, because "we're gawking like tourists" is true but not a good thing to say. "Don't tell me you wanna go shopping now."

Ignis seems to shake himself. "You're right," he says. "Let's hurry." He ushers the group away from the market.

Once they've made it a few blocks away, Noct sighs. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do about that," he says.

"Right now? Nothing," Gladio replies. "We're being regular people."

"We're headed to the Citadel, then?" Luna asks.

"Indeed," Ignis replies. "Although I imagine we'll need to stop for the night before then."

"They" might not need to, but Luna would. She's still pale and slow, and it seems like it's only gotten worse since yesterday.

"Let's move, then," Noct says, and pushes forward.

---

The closer they get to the city center, the worse everything is destroyed. One intersection is blocked by sparking power lines. They argue over whether it's safe to walk past a particular high-rise with some of its supports clearly wrecked for a full five minutes until Luna points out that they're spending more time arguing than they would just going over a few more blocks. A few MTs roam the streets, seemingly at random, but they're not difficult to avoid. The rain drives down on them.

"This would be a good place to stop for the evening," Ignis says, gesturing toward a set of smaller buildings. The rest of them could go on for hours, but Luna's slowing down more and more and her footing is getting pretty shaky.

"Can we get into any of these?" Noct asks.

"You can," Gladio says. "Break that storefront, warp through, unlock it from the inside."

"Fair," Noct says, and does it.

They end up building a fire on the marble floor of a department store. "I don't think it will spread," Ignis says, shedding his damp jacket.

"Prompto," Noct says. "Can we talk, while it's still light out?" He's stiff, and Prompto thinks he can sense something like fear in his expression.

"Sure," Prompto says. "It gonna be okay with you guys?"

"Please stay indoors," Ignis says.

Noct nods. "Won't be too long," he says. "C'mon, Prom."

They walk up the broken escalator to the second floor, out of earshot of the rest. Noct sighs and sits down on a display bed.

Prompto settles next to him. "So what is it?"

Noct hesitates. "I-" He pauses. "First. If you still want to give Luna one of your diquility crystals-"

"Yeah," Prompto says. "If it can help her. She's..."

"Fading," Noct says. He sighs. "But that's not really what..." He reaches for his shirt- no, the length of chain around his neck. For the first time, he fishes it out from under his shirt to show it to Prompto. "She gave me this."

It takes Prompto a moment to recognize what he's looking at. "Your dad's ring," he says.

"The Ring of the Lucii," Noct replies. "It's... It holds the powers of my ancestors. The souls of my ancestors, Dad said. It could command the Wall, though I think the Wall's too broken for that anymore."

"Do you want to try?" Prompto asks.

"Those are- those are my people," Noct says. "It's so bad they're selling drugs openly on the street, and I'm-"

"You're scared," Prompto says.

Noct nods. "But we're... we're running out of time, aren't we?"

"Yeah," Prompto murmurs.

"So I don't... I don't get to be scared anymore."

Prompto shakes his head. "You can be scared. You just... you gotta move forward."

"Is that how you're doing it?" Noct asks.

"More or less," Prompto replies, and smiles gently. "It's your choice. Not anybody else's."

Noct nods, and slips the chain back under his shirt. He leans in, whispers in Prompto's ear. "I love you," he says.

"Love you too," Prompto says, and pulls Noct into his arms. "I've got you."

Noct sighs, and settles into the embrace.

Chapter Text

"I couldn't," Luna says. "We're so near the Citadel. I don't wish to risk it without knowing if I am taking time from Prompto's life."

Ignis draws a deep breath, moves his hands to his face, seems to realize he's not wearing his glasses, and sighs. "Luna, may I be frank with you?" he asks.

Prompto finds himself shrinking back a little, even though none of this is directed at him.

"I should hope so," Luna replies.

"In your current condition, you are simply not going to be able to travel to the Citadel," Ignis says. "You had trouble with the state of the roadways today. As we draw closer, there will be more enemy forces, more rubble, and more hazards in general. If there is nothing that we can do to improve your health, we will need to leave you with one of us here in the morning before the rest of us set off."

Prompto gives Noct a wide-eyed glance.

Luna's hands are balled into fists. "I am not so delicate that I need a guard on my person," she says. "Have you forgotten I wield the powers of the Astrals and of Song? I am capable of defending against any threat-"

Ignis holds up a hand. "I am not concerned about your combat capacity," he says evenly. "We are all aware of your abilities. I am concerned that your body will fail you, even if you are not attempting the journey."

Saying that Luna doesn't like what he's saying is probably an understatement. She scowls. Her fists shake. But then, in what is clearly a deliberate effort, her expression fades to calm, and her body relaxes. "You are not wrong," she says. She sighs. "Ramuh is waking. I have been attempting to... prevent him from doing so."

The fact's still sinking in for Prompto when Gladio speaks up. "You can do that?"

"Honestly, I don't know," Luna says.

"You should've told us earlier," Noct says. "Let him."

"He'd come here," Luna says.

Ignis tilts his head. "That may not be a bad thing," he says. "The chaos could mask our search."

"He will not be so kind as Titan," Luna says.

"Then we'll need you at your full strength, won't we?" Noct asks, and presses the diquility crystal into her palm.

Luna looks to Prompto, something lost in her expression, but this is something Prompto absolutely will not help her with. "Right at the center of the tattoo," he says, as if he thinks she doesn't know what to do with the thing.

"If I let go, he'll be here in the morning," Luna says, pulling the sweatshirt over her shoulders.

Ignis nods. "We will plan accordingly."

Luna's face twists when she presses the crystal to the center of her Installer Port, but it slides in just fine. The color comes back to her skin so fast that it's visible. She presses her palm against her Installer Port, and Prompto knows exactly how much it hurts right now, but she starts to laugh. "Oh," Luna says. "Oh. I didn't know."

"Better, then?" Noct asks.

"Yes," Luna says. "Better than I've felt since... before all of this began." She sighs.

"Get her something to eat," Prompto says. "She'll be really hungry in a minute."

---

Dinner is much more relaxed than it has good reason to be. Luna just looks so much more healthy, and she's got four times as much energy, and it would be difficult not to be in a good mood if there was some reason to resist.

There's no reason to resist, though. There's just a huge pot of chili and Luna taking thirds, the hum of the driving rain outside, and the gentle warmth of their campfire. They'd even hauled some couch cushions down from upstairs so that the floor wasn't painfully hard to sit on. A few daemon-repelling lanterns from the home decor department and they're set for the night.

At Noct's insistence, they climb upstairs to the display beds to sleep. It is nice to have a real mattress, and there's enough that no one has to share with anyone else... but Noct still crawls onto the mattress with Prompto. It feels like a happy dream.

Just when he's starting to doze off, though, his mind sees fit to remind him: This is a department store in Insomnia. The city's so wrecked they broke into a store for the night. In the morning, they're going to go to the place where his parents died, and Noct's dad, and Gladio's dad, and probably Ignis' uncle too.

Prompto sighs, rolls over, and pulls Noct into his arms, because that's the piece of home he can keep.

---

Prompto dreams:

He's on hard ground, on his back. The first hint of pink light peeks above the skyline of a ruined city. Black smoke surrounds him. Some of it's rising from his skin.

He looks to his right, and he can just make out two other bodies through the smoke, on the ground like he is.

His limbs are heavy. He's exhausted. But he knows he still has more to do. He shifts his legs, pushing broken glass aside, and sits up. Black smoke billows from him like he's burning. He is burning, from the inside out, but somehow it doesn't hurt.

He shoves himself to his feet and turns, and the Citadel looms in front of him.

He wakes up.

---

Prompto feels shaking that's all-too-familiar now and forces his eyes open to look at Noct. It's early morning, with a hint of light showing through the department store windows, and between that and the lanterns, Noct's expression is clearly visible. Noct is biting his lip, just a little, and he seems to sigh just a bit when he realizes Prompto's awake. He lifts one of his hands toward Prompto. Light glimmers off-

Oh. Noct's wearing the Ring.

"Good morning," Prompto murmurs, and decides it's absolutely not the time to make a big deal out of it, and smiles.

"What's good about it?" Noct grumbles.

"Well, there's you," Prompto says.

Noct presses his lips together hard in an attempt to keep from laughing. "That was terrible," he says. But all Prompto really cares about is that Noct's stopped shaking.

---

It's halfway through a breakfast of leftover chili when someone does make a big deal out of it.

"Hey, did you sneak off to the jewelry section while we were-" Gladio starts, and then cuts himself off. "Hey," he says, again. In one motion, he's up from his cushion and then next to Noct, grabbing onto the hand Noct's using to hold his spoon. "That's the Ring of the Lucii," he says. "Where the fuck did you get that?"

"None of your business," Noct says, yanking his hand away.

"When did you get that?" Gladio presses.

"None of your business," Noct repeats.

Gladio starts to say something else, and Prompto finds himself speaking up. "Hey," he says. "Maybe you should worry about the hailstorm?"

Ignis and Gladio both turn to look through the glass door of the building, and see that in fact, Prompto is right: a white layer is starting to collect just outside the awning. It's much too warm and wet for it to be snow.

"That's... a complication," Ignis says.

"Yeah, sure, but Noct-"

"Do leave him alone about it," Luna says, and takes a bite of her chili. Prompto has never seen someone convey spite through eating food before, and it's kind of impressive.

"Fine," Gladio mutters.

Point to Luna.

Chapter Text

The hailstorm just won't let up.

"It's very rare for hailstorms to last more than fifteen minutes," Ignis says, brow furrowed.

"Yeah, well, this isn't a natural storm, right?" Gladio asks, turning to Luna.

"The Fulgurian is... present," Luna confirms. "He isn't precisely here, but I suspect that he will be soon."

"Guess we'll just be working through it," Noct says, looking out through the storefront.

"If we are very fortunate, this will keep some of the Imperial forces inside," Ignis muses.

"I should be able to shield us," Prompto says. "But not forever. Especially if we're gonna have to fight Ramuh."

"I bet Noct's got the firepower to deal with that," Gladio says, glancing at Noct's hand. "But we should go before it gets any worse."

Luna nods. "Let us move forward," she says, and she looks like she might even be able to do it.

"Which way?" Noct asks. "I didn't know this part of town even before it was... this."

Ignis begins to explain directions. Prompto tries not to tune it out, but he does almost immediately. It isn't like he'll be left behind. He stretches, checks on his canteen, and prepares for a long stretch of singing.

---

Prompto has sustained Song for hours before, but only in the lab as a test of his limits. This is different. This is a shield big enough to cover all five of them, while standing up and moving, climbing over rubble, and holding off constant hailstones. He can't drop the shield or they could be seriously hurt; a few of the hailstones have been the size of baseballs.

It's impossible to follow the conversation around him like this, but Prompto catches bits and pieces. Ramuh is nearby, and he's furious with Luna in particular, but she can't really speak with him through the shielding. Noct and Ignis have a conversation about where in the Citadel they need to go, and how likely it is to be full of soldiers. Gladio ends up slinging an arm under Prompto's, taking some of his weight and keeping him steady over obstacles, and he can't find it in him to be embarrassed. Every so often, Luna brushes a hand against Prompto's back and murmurs something. It feels like magic, but Prompto's too tired to be sure.

Prompto doesn't know how long it takes before they're a couple blocks away from the Citadel and- he's steered under cover. Gladio shakes him, gently. "Drop it," he says.

Prompto drops the shield and coughs. He does not collapse to the ground, but he does slump against Gladio.

"You okay?" Noct asks.

Prompto gives him a thumbs-up with one hand while he fiddles for his canteen with the other, but he's pretty sure he's actually not okay right now.

Gladio lowers Prompto to sit on the concrete. They're at that fancy bank with the recessed door a quarter of the way into the building. One of the other kids in his class, someone who wanted to be an architect, had attempted to explain the engineering involved to Prompto once. Right now he can't remember the details. He's just thankful that he can rest awhile.

Prompto sags against what appears to be a conveniently-placed wall, sucking down his water, trying to fight off the dizzy feeling that's surging into his awareness now that he's not concentrating on other things. His vision grays at the edges.

"Let's try again," Noct says. "You okay?"

Prompto sighs. "Not great," he admits in a hoarse whisper. He carefully looks at the others.

Gladio's winded, but he looks like he'll be good to go in ten minutes or so. Ignis has his head tipped back against the wall and his eyes shut. Noct's sweating and tense. And Luna...

Luna doesn't look as bad as Prompto feels--she doesn't even look as bad as the night before--but she doesn't look great. She's shaking, clumsily lowering herself to sit.

Prompto does not like the looks of this.

"We're down two," Gladio says.

Prompto lifts his head to argue out of sheer principle. All his vision goes gray for a few moments, and he decides maybe he's not going to insist he can get right back up after all. "If we-" Prompto starts, and then starts to cough. He swallows it down the best that he can. "If you can give me half an hour and a meal bar," he rasps, "I can get us those last couple blocks and into the building."

"Specs?" Noct asks.

"We could certainly use thirty minutes and some food," Ignis replies. "We can re-evaluate our condition afterward."

Prompto just knows he's not going to like what Ignis has to say in half an hour, but his throat is burning and he's really not up for that kind of fight. He chokes down the meal bar when Noct offers it, takes the cough syrup that is suddenly in a tiny cup in Ignis' hands, and settles back to try to nap.

He drifts for awhile, not fully asleep, until he hears Ignis' voice.

"I had hoped that we would be able to infiltrate the Citadel before the situation with the Fulgurian came to a head, but it appears I was incorrect."

Prompto rubs at his eyes, focusing.

"Inside's gonna be bad," Gladio says. "The streets are pretty empty because nobody's crazy enough to be out in this weather, but that just means they're all going to be in the building."

"They probably don't know about the safety tunnel," Noct points out. Now he doesn't look like he's doing so good, either. He's rubbing at his temples, and Prompto wonders if it's Ramuh's presence.

"That's on the complete opposite side of the building," Ignis says, and sighs.

"Wait," Prompto says, looking out from under the building. "That's not hail. That's just rain."

"Then-" Ignis starts.

Luna's shifted to her hands and knees, now, and she retches. She groans softly, and gags again. "He's here," she chokes out, before her body rejects the meal bar she'd eaten for lunch.

Prompto can't watch. His gaze shifts out from under the building into the road beyond them. The first thing he realizes is that it's not hailing anymore. Then he notices it's much darker than before his half-nap. Thunder booms as if it's an announcement. The wind picks up.

"Fuck," Gladio says, and moves to put himself between the open street and the rest of the group.

Lightning strikes, and the wind starts to roar.

Titan was just testing them, Prompto remembers. Ramuh is angry.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

Prompto knows this is bad, maybe worse than things have ever been before, but that means he can't afford to panic. He's got to think. He tries to think the way Ignis must be thinking.

He's got about ten minutes of juice left in him, assuming he stays more or less in one place or people carry him somewhere, because Luna was absolutely feeding him magic to keep him going somehow. (This is something he should ask her about later.) If it's okay if he passes out at the end, he can probably go for fifteen minutes. Luna's not going to be able to help, maybe not even move, and she's going to need someone on her because they can't let her die. Ignis and Gladio seem okay. They're probably only at 80 percent right now, but training and smarts can make up for the rest of it. And Noct...

Noct's on his feet, though he doesn't look so good. Noct...

Noct has a strange expression on his face.

Prompto's instinct is to get to Noct's side, but his training says stay back. He moves in front of Luna, instead. Is there any point in shooting a gun at an angry god? Ignis has a few flasks of magic in his hands, though, and Gladio's got a heavy shield out, and-

Noct's standing still. The wind's blowing hard, but it's not pushing him around. Prompto sees something he doesn't like in the set of his shoulders, though.

"Hey, Ramuh," Noct says. "Be a lot easier if we just talked through this." His voice is so even it's almost a monotone.

Lightning strikes the ground in the middle of the road, despite the scores of tall buildings around them that really ought to have taken one for the team. There's a low rumble in the air, something that might be thunder or might be the speech of an Astral.

"He wants me to come out," Luna says, voice strained.

"Stay there," Noct tells her. He takes another few steps forward. "Look," he says, and holds a hand out. "I don't even really know what this thing does."

Prompto feels something twist in his gut. No, no, no.

"I'm not letting you hurt Luna," Noct says. "I'm not letting you hurt any of them."

Lightning strikes closer to the edge of the building, blooming into sparks. Thunder rumbles after them-- except no, those are definitely words, now that Prompto knows what they're supposed to sound like.

Prompto hears Luna gasp behind him. She's struggling to her feet, and he banishes the probably-useless gun from his hands to help her. She bats his hands away. "No," she says, and Prompto can tell she's not speaking to him. "No, you don't get to say that. You don't get to say that when we were born just to die-"

The thunder booms around them.

"He wants all of us to come out," Luna says, more subdued.

Noct scowls for a moment. He forces his shoulders to relax and he steps out into the street. "Ramuh," he says. "This thing gives me the powers of all my ancestors, and it's got Bahamut behind it. You think that's enough to kill an Astral?"

"Noct," Prompto says. "Noct, no-"

The thunder-rumble of speech sounds again. "'My quarrel is not with you,'" Luna translates dully. "'Give me the girl.'"

Prompto sees the set of Noct's shoulders, the fear in his expression, and runs out just in time to see the massive staff held over them. His eyes follow it up, up, up to the face of an Astral, staring down at them.

Ramuh looks more human than Titan, but he's just as huge. His long, long beard is at least three stories, not even getting into the rest of him. Some part of Prompto's mind supplies the information that he looks like a wizard from a movie. Another part of his mind suggests that this entity he's staring down could scoop all five of them up in one hand and crush them with his fist.

A dark rumble spreads over the road. Ramuh crouches a little. Reaches down. Prompto braces himself to do something to get Noct out of the way, but it turns out he didn't need to bother. He finds himself in Ramuh's grip, being raised high above the ground. He can hear shouting below him, far away, but he can't make out what it says.

Ramuh looks at Prompto for a moment. Studies his face. Looks down at the ground, and speaks again. Looks back at Prompto.

"I can't understand what you're saying," Prompto squeaks.

Ramuh banishes his staff in a fluid movement. With his newly-freed hand, he touches a fingertip to Prompto's forehead, and speaks without speaking.

Your kind has been dead for thousands of years. What are you doing here?

"Trying to keep my king safe," Prompto says.

I can hear the oath on you. It will be your doom.

"Well, if something else doesn't kill me first."

Do you wish to take my life?

"Only if you're going to hurt Noct."

You were born for murder.

"Does that mean I have to like it?"

Show me.

There's a pressure in Prompto's mind like a knock on a door. He doesn't wait for someone to force it open. He closes his eyes, soaks in the rain, and lets go.

Crackling heat arcs through his consciousness, stinging it here and there, just shy of burning. Instinct says to fight it off, but Prompto forces himself to let it go, tells himself that this is for Noct, tries not to scream.

Your intentions are pure. I will bargain with your king.

The heat in his mind withdraws. Ramuh starts to lower Prompto to the ground.

Prompto tries, but he can't stay conscious for it.

Chapter Text

"'He merely sleeps,'" the Oracle translates. "'The strain on his body was higher than I had anticipated.'"

The young king relaxes minutely. "This really isn't the way to convince me to go along with your plan, you know," he says.

---

Prompto's lying on his back on something hard. It's really uncomfortable. He opens his eyes and stares up into a cloudy sky, framed by skyscrapers on his left and right.

Wait, wasn't he just...

Prompto sits up carefully and looks around. He doesn't see anyone. He doesn't know where he is. These kinds of buildings look like downtown Insomnia, but they're entirely intact.

What's going on? Did they leave him here? Where is he?

Something nudges at Prompto's lap. A little white creature, something like a fox with a horn, hops up onto it insistently.

Prompto's phone buzzes. He yanks it from his pocket, hoping to get some piece of information, but there's just a text from an unknown number.

"Hey! It's me!" the text reads.

The phone buzzes again. "On your lap!"

Prompto looks down at the furry animal down on his lap, and realizes who he's seeing. Carbuncle. He digs in his pockets for the tiny figurine, but comes up empty.

Another text comes through: "Of course I'm not in your pocket! I'm right here!"

Prompto reminds himself that this sort of bizarre encounter is just his life now. "Uhh... can you tell me what's happening?"

The next few texts read: "Ramuh messed with your files, and you passed out while the servers were resyncing your memories! It's really rude of him to play around like that! I'm gonna give him a piece of my mind!" This is followed by an explosion emoji. "It's a good thing Noct left me with you! We'll clean this up in no time!"

---

"What would they be doing in Insomnia, of all places?" asks the Emperor.

The Imperial Chancellor scowls. "I haven't the faintest idea," he replies. "But if the Fulgurian is there, they must be."

"It's probably got something to do with Besithia's wayward son," says the High Commander.

"And not your estranged sister, of course," the Emperor says. "My orders regarding her have not changed."

"Understood," the High Commander replies, glancing out the window at the driving rain.

---

Prompto jogs after Carbuncle, phone in hand. "So you're saying Ramuh... corrupted parts of my mind?"

"Well, it wasn't ALL Ramuh's fault... Some of it was messed up before!" A pause, then: "On your left!"

Prompto turns and sees a pair of flans. No one to watch his back, so much voice work earlier today--he's better off just shooting them. He shakes his wrist out, summons his gun into his hand, and gets to work.

It's less than a minute before he has them clear. Below the place they were standing, something like a golden hoop sits in the road. Cold air rushes out of it.

"This the way out?" Prompto asks.

"Not quite!" comes the reply. "But it's this way!"

They jump through the hoop into a thick layer of snow.

---

"For all that they love to kick up a fuss everywhere they go, these guys sure are a pain in the ass to find," the Commodore complains. "Think we'll make it into Insomnia before they're gone?"

"Nah," one of her subordinates says. "We're still two days out. Either the ground troops'll nab 'em or they'll vanish again."

"Well, long as they keep payin' us, I don't mind, but this seems like a waste o' resources," says her other officer.

"Got that right," the Commodore says. "This sure isn't what I signed up for."

---

"What's that?" Prompto asks, glancing up at the giant pillar rising out of the snow.

"It's your dream!" Carbuncle replies. "You'd know better than I would!"

"I dunno, you sure seem to know a lot," Prompto says. He shoots another daemon, then looks back down at the phone in his other hand.

"I worked with a bunch of Reyvateils once! I learned a lot! The big guys don't care about the same things we do." Carbuncle adds a raincloud emoji. "But Titan's nice! And Shiva tries really hard!" A party popper emoji concludes the statement.

Prompto scans his surroundings. "What was corrupting stuff before Ramuh did it?"

"The way you were made isn't very good, and some of the tests you did as a teenager did some really weird stuff! But none of that was enough to actually hurt you!" Carbuncle nips at Prompto's heel. "Straight ahead!"

Another golden hoop rests on the snow. Prompto can just smell slough water, this time. "Well, here goes."

He's not surprised when he lands in a puddle. At least it's not cold.

---

"It would be much easier just to tell him." the goddess in pink asks. "I don't understand why you're being so coy about it."

"If he did something with it now, it could do irreparable damage," the goddess in purple replies. "The corruption now is nothing compared to what would happen if he made an intentional attempt."

"Yes, but right now, he doesn't even know to be careful. You could warn him. Are you acting mysterious because you missed being worshipped?"

"Humans always do exactly what you tell them not to do, you know. But I suppose you have a point."

---

"I really don't remember this being there," Prompto says, looking up at the tower in the distance. It stretches from somewhere below the treeline to reach past the clouds. "Are you sure this is my dream?"

"Hmm... it's possible you're pulling some of this from the servers!" Carbuncle replies. "But it's definitely your dream!"

"Huh," Prompto says. He shakes his head. "Are we almost done here?"

"I hope so!" Carbuncle replies. "I think we should go this way!"

They set off at a brisk pace. Prompto readily takes out a few goblins, scattered here and there, as they splash through the mud. Carbuncle's white fur doesn't get a speck of dirt on it. Probably comes with being...

"Hey, what are you, anyway?" Prompto asks, before he thinks about it. "Uhh. Sorry if that was rude."

Carbuncle squeaks out what is clearly a laugh. It takes a few moments for the phone to buzz. "I'm Carbuncle!" he replies.

Prompto stares down at his phone and sighs. "I deserved that, I guess." Breaking through the treeline, he sees something familiar: Wiz Chocobo Post. It's entirely empty, which is sad given its usual population of chocobos, but he feels good being here.

"This is probably your stop!" Carbuncle says.

Prompto sees something shimmer at the pen gate, and nods.

"Say hi to Noctis for me!" Carbuncle adds.

"Sure," Prompto says, and opens the gate to blinding light.

---

"What'd I miss?"

Chapter Text

"He wants to do something more traditional," Luna says. "As an apology for harming you."

"What's he mean by 'traditional?'" Prompto asks, pulling himself to his feet.

"Riddles," Ignis says. "He will pose three for us, and if we answer, he will grant Noct his blessing."

"That sounds right up your alley," Prompto tells Ignis.

"You flatter me," Ignis replies, with a hint of a smile. "We should get started, now that everyone is... capable of listening."

There's a low rumble, and Luna translates. "'What is lost when you say its name?'"

Prompto gets hung up on the "name" part, and he's still turning it over in his head when Ignis speaks up. "Silence."

It seems almost too easy, but Prompto can see Titan's beard bobbing in what he presumes is a nod.

"'What can be broken, but cannot be touched?'"

"An oath," Gladio says, immediately.

Prompto worries that these were too easy. He feels a little uncertain, somehow, like something's wrong.

"'What has a bed but never sleeps, has a bank but no money, and can run but never walks?'"

Prompto's even heard this one before, in almost the same words. "A river," he says.

A gentle glow settles over Noct's shoulders, just for a moment. Then, before any of them can move, there's another deep rumble.

Luna's eyes go wide. "He says... we should run."

Ramuh's there one second, and gone the next, just like that. And now that he's gone, Prompto can see further down the road...

The hail had stopped, and it'd just been raining. Who knew how long he'd been out. And it's not like Ramuh was being quiet.

"Damn it," Gladio says, staring at the mass of Imperial troops.

---

They run, at first. They'd struggle with these numbers at the best of times, and it's absolutely not the best of times. They've had a little while to rest, but not enough to be at full strength.

But the troops keep after them. There's nowhere to hide for long.

They're taking a few moments to catch their breath in the entrance of what seems like a toy store when Prompto realizes. "They're mostly MTs, right?" he asks.

"Yeah," Noct says. "What're you- you're worn out."

Prompto makes himself smile. "Yeah, and what've you got in your pocket?"

"No," Noct says. "No. You can't, you-"

"If we can get in there, it's not gonna matter," Prompto points out. "If we die out here, it's not gonna matter either."

Noct squares his shoulders and closes off his expression. "Fine," he says, and places a diquility crystal in Prompto's palm. "Don't make me regret this."

Prompto presses the tip of the crystal to his installer port. "Carbuncle said hello," he says, and grits his teeth, and pushes.

Noct's eyes go wide. "What-"

Prompto feels energy surge through him. It's like it's leaking out of his pores. For a moment, he thinks he's going to burn, some kind of payment for doing this too early, but then he grabs hold and pulls the power back into his body. "This isn't gonna last forever," Prompto bites out.

Noct bites his lip for just a second before he lets his body relax, just a little. "Specs, we need a plan," he says.

Prompto concentrates on holding steady while they talk. Luna puts her hand in his--it feels frigid. Is he burning, or is she just chilly from all this rain?

"Prompto," Ignis says, in a tone that suggests that this is not the first time his name has been called.

"Yeah?" Prompto asks.

"We're going straight into the Citadel," Ignis says. "We need you to keep as much of the army suppressed as you can. Gladio will guide you forward like before. We're going to run. Do you think the infirmary is the best place to search?"

"Yeah," Prompto replies. "Put me in, coach," he says, making himself smile.

"You're an idiot," Gladio says, and slings an arm around Prompto again. "Let's move."

Prompto imagines his power settling into a rope, something he can slowly spool out. He breathes in and out, in and out. He Sings. "Rrha ki ra exec hymmnos PAJA... En yehar nha near yor..."

He knew it would hurt, of course. He remembers that it hurt last time. But the idea of pain is nothing like the sensation of it.

This time, the feeling is more familiar--he knows exactly what the network feels like brushing up against his mind. This time, he knows enough to understand the kind of pain he's in--like he's being torn in two, like he's being pulled to two separate parts of the network, like half his soul was dipped into a vat of acid.

Luna whimpers, beside him.

Prompto realizes: he's yanking MTs off the network. But they're not the only ones. He just pulled Luna off the network.

"Keep going," Luna says, pain in her voice.

Prompto can just make out her expression, though the white spreading through his vision. It's determined, set. He doesn't have the focus to try to talk her out of it, and he's not sure he could keep himself from shoving out power right now.

He keeps going.

---

Prompto is aware of things, for moments at a time:

He's pulled to a stop at the main entrance of the Citadel, where there are two human guards. Ignis and Gladio take them on while Noct and Luna stay with Prompto. Luna has a white-knuckled grip on her trident. Noct has both of them at his back. Prompto thinks maybe he hears Noct growl, once, when the fighting comes too near.

The inside of the Citadel is in shambles. Gladio and Noct hoist Prompto straight over a fallen pillar, lift Luna over as well, and then they all move again.

The infirmary has been ransacked, and the file cabinets seem to have been completely removed. But in one of the examination rooms, there's a locked cabinet that Gladio kicks open, and Noct's shoulders slump with relief, and Prompto thinks they've found what they're here for.

The elevator's working, somehow.

They run into Noct's old rooms and Gladio shoves Prompto through a small opening under the fireplace, leading to a dark corridor.

---

Finally, finally, Noct shakes Prompto's shoulders. "You gonna pass out if you stop?" he asks.

Prompto shakes his head.

"Then stop," Noct says.

Prompto lets the Song fade from his lips.

Without something to focus on, the pain feels like it's going to tear him to pieces. Luna seems to be doing okay, though, just gasping for breath a little.

"We can take the tunnels out," Ignis says. "Stealth will be our ally, here. We should get out of Insomnia as quickly as we can."

"Did we do it?" Prompto whispers, because he can't speak any louder.

"Yeah," Noct says. He gives Prompto a crooked smile. "We did."

Prompto breathes through the pain. "Water?" he whispers.

Gladio hands him a bottle and looks him up and down. "He needs a couple minutes," he says. "And we should get some food in, if we can."

Prompto sips at the water. He looks at Noct, and taps at his wrist.

Noct pulls out his cell phone and blinks. "It's not even three in the afternoon," he says, and laughs.

Chapter Text

They can't afford to spend a lot of time in the emergency tunnels. It doesn't seem as if the Imperials know about it, but tracing the path of MTs on the fritz that Prompto left behind would give them a pretty good idea once someone came to look into it. So as soon as they've shoved down a little food, they're back on their feet.

Prompto still hurts, but it's faded back enough that he can shove it out of his mind. There's a lot to worry about. Everyone's tired. Luna is distracted, and her reaction times are worryingly long. Noct looks... off, in a way that Prompto can't pin down.

They do it, though. They reach a door at the end of the tunnel, and draw to a stop.

"Quiet a moment," Ignis murmurs. He leans his head against the door, and frowns. "At least six of them."

Prompto takes a deep breath, and tries not to choke on it. He still has the excess power from the crystal running through him. It'll hurt, but-

"Let me handle this," Noct says, and pulls to the front of the group.

"Noct?" Prompto rasps.

"Quit hogging the spotlight," Noct replies, and puts on a public-relations smile so bad that Ignis would scold him for it, under other circumstances. Before anyone can argue, he pushes the door open.

On his hand, the Ring of the Lucii glows.

"No," Prompto tries to say, but-

Noct's magic is like lightning, like fire, with force behind it but without weight. It leaves flickers of blue in the air, and the scent of ozone after a storm.

The Ring of the Lucii is not like that.

The Ring's magic is ancient, slow, heavy. It hits an MT in front of them, but it feels like the energy seeps everywhere, weighing them down.

The MT collapses, and the air smells of rot.

Noct's hand points toward the next.

---

Prompto never, ever wants Noct to do this again.

---

It's only a few moments, for all that it seems like forever. Probably less than a minute, and then the way is clear.

Noct's shaking. He slips his hand into Prompto's.

"We should keep moving," Ignis says, like an apology.

"Yeah," Noct says, and takes a deep breath, and keeps moving.

---

They pick through the city. There's really no choice but to go back to the ruined dock, even though it's likely to be the first place anyone looks for them. They'd talked about crossing out of the city into the outskirts of Cavaugh and entering the northern reaches of Lucis, but they had no idea of what they would find. As far as they could tell, the region had been entirely annexed after the fall of Insomnia.

They have to circle all the way around the Citadel, but then they're in more familiar ground, and can remember which roads were safe to use. It shouldn't be so bad. There's no doubling back, like there was getting up there, and it seems as if the Empire doesn't expect them to be this far out, yet. Really, it shouldn't be so bad.

But the feeling of the Ring's magic is like miasma cloaking their shoulders. No one speaks unless it's entirely necessary. They got everything they came for and then some, but the mood is grim.

Prompto tries to crack a joke, once or twice, but his throat's too strained and he just ends up coughing.

But they make it back to the little market, to the hum of generators and the smell of propane. They find Gladio's tattoo artist's aunt, and pay her off, and board her boat again.

It's like walking into another life.

Prompto imagines what it would be like to grind the Ring of the Lucii into a fine powder. Or what would happen if Luna Sang that firebird Song at it, and unleashed all that resentment piled on her shoulders.

Just imagining it isn't satisfying, but Prompto shoves the feeling down. He's tired enough that the gentle rocking of the boat lulls him to sleep.

---

Prompto dreams:

A man (he knows this man, now) sits on the lip of a Haven in the middle of the night. His bare hands grip the ledge tightly--the only sign of tension in his body. He watches daemons approach, and sizzle under the Haven's light.

Every now and then, the man lifts his hands to look at them. They're covered in blisters. He sighs and stares at them until the blisters fade to ordinary skin, then settles them back to grip the stone.

He repeats this process over and over, without flinching, until finally, once, he looks at his palms to see only the ordinary swirls and lines.

He smiles a little and presses his hands back into place.

Chapter Text

After the boat ride comes a dash to the nearest Haven that Prompto barely registers. Someone who isn't Prompto manages to summon enough strength to pitch the tent while he leans against Noct next to the fire and dozes, and then they pack in like a tin of sardines and sleep like stones.

Prompto wakes to find himself at the bottom of a pile of limbs. Most of them belong to Noct, but the small, unblemished hand resting lightly on his shoulder must belong to Luna.

It's strange that she trusts him. It's strange that she's not repulsed by him. He'd think that the Starscourge in him would be irritating for her, something she'd just want to fix like a tilted painting and get frustrated that she couldn't.

Maybe he's projecting a little.

Still, as nice as this is, Prompto's awake and he's hungry. So he very carefully presses a kiss to Noct's temple and wriggles out of the sleeping bag.

It's pretty close to noon--the sun's almost directly above the Haven. Gladio and Ignis are already up, and they glance over at him as he emerges. Something spicy sits on the cooktop. Prompto stretches a little and yawns. "What's cooking?" he asks.

"Daggerquill soup," Ignis replies. "It's ready, if you wish to eat."

Prompto nearly groans. "That's great. Thanks." He grabs the nearest bowl without even worrying if it's clean and goes to get a good helping.

"How're you feeling?" Gladio asks. "You pushed yourself pretty hard yesterday."

Prompto takes stock. "Just tired," he decides. Tired and still aching from that Song, but nothing worse. He shovels food into his mouth.

"Unless Noct disagrees, we will rest here for a few days," Ignis says.

Prompto nods and swallows the bite of food in his mouth. "Don't see why he wouldn't." He hesitates. "Did we know the Ring was... like that?" he asks.

"No," Gladio replies curtly.

"No," Ignis agrees, and sighs.

Prompto says, "He's never going to have to do that again if I have anything to say about it," and goes back to eating.

Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Gladio and Ignis look at each other, but neither of them say anything.

---

Luna wakes up next, looking distinctly uncomfortable. Prompto assumes it's because she's been through a lot more physical exertion in the past couple days than she's used to, and the Song didn't seem to be good for her, either. She's hesitant to eat.

"Do you dislike spicy food?" Ignis asks, as she takes a small spoonful consisting almost entirely of broth.

"That's not it," Luna says. "I-" She turns to Prompto, then. "Have you been having strange dreams?"

"For a long time," Prompto answers, something in his head screaming at him to be careful despite not being able to think of any particular risk. "Since I... grew into my powers. Have you?"

Luna nods. "Have you... dreamt something that seemed... true?"

"What happened?" Prompto asks.

Luna stirs her soup. "I... saw Ardyn Izunia, tainted by the Starscourge," she says. "I saw him murder a little girl. A little- A Reyvateil."

Prompto swallows hard, because he has had this dream, only- "How did you recognize him?"

"The sound," Luna replies. "You hear it, too, don't you, when you see him?"

"Yeah," Prompto says, starting to feel sick. "Did he- In your dream... the little girl was in a room with Hymmnos written on the walls, right?" he asks, knowing the answer and wishing he didn't. "And he choked her, so that she couldn't Sing."

"Did you-"

"In Galdin Quay. I thought it was just a nightmare, and I didn't realize it was Ardyn," Prompto says. "And then in the morning..."

"There were bigger things to worry about," Noct says, crawling out of the tent. "Morning," he grumbles, when he sees everyone's eyes on him.

"It's well past noon," Ignis says absently. "How much did you hear?"

As they're filling Noct in, he pauses. "Do we have any reason to believe that Niflheim has been experimenting with female Reyvateils, or that there was a well-funded scientific effort in opposition to their Chancellor? And presumably the rest of their government?"

"If there was, I was never informed," Ignis says.

"Then if this happened... it was probably around the fall of Solheim," Noct says.

"Then Ardyn would be-" Luna grimaces. "Oh, Astrals."

Prompto can't say he was really expecting Ardyn to be Bahamut's original chosen and over two thousand years old, but he can't say he's surprised, either. "Well, that's a problem," he says, because he can't think of anything else to say.

---

They spend quite some time trying to decide what this means, how it fits in with Ardyn's prior actions, and what it means they should do.

"He has no way of knowing what we know about him," Ignis points out. "It might be best if we proceed as if we were still unaware."

"Couldn't he poke around in Prompto or Luna's heads to see what's going on?" Gladio asks.

"Then he'd be doing it already," Noct says, and sighs. "Look. I've got a huge increase in firepower. We can go back to Costlemark and-"

"No." Prompto scrambles for a reason Noct will accept. "It's..."

Ignis cuts in. "It could be dangerous to rely heavily on power granted by the Astrals in a place so heavily aligned with other magic," he says. His eyes flick to Prompto for a fraction of a second.

Prompto is so grateful he could almost cry.

"Maybe," Noct says. "Then what do we do now?"

"Take some hunts and bulk up a little," Gladio says. "Wouldn't hurt our wallet, either."

Luna hums. "I would like to find Shiva," she says. "She's... in motion. Sometimes nearby, sometimes not. I keep thinking I feel her." She pauses, then blushes a shade. "I would also like to see about bleaching my hair. I thought I could cope with it, but I don't feel like myself with this Lucian black."

"It might be better to maintain our disguise," says Ignis, running a few fingers through his own hair.

"Your dye washes out, Specs. We all know what you want," Noct teases. "We'll take a couple days off, take some hunts and make some cash, then see what we can do."

Prompto smiles, and takes another bowl of soup.

---

Prompto dozes through a lot of the afternoon, too, and rouses himself only for dinner. He leans into Noct while he eats, and asks, "Hey, Noct, what do you think of my hair like this?"

Noct hums, and runs his fingers ever-so-gently through Prompto's hair. "The color change is weird, but it's okay," he replies. "Don't like the texture now, though."

Prompto laughs softly. "I'll keep that in mind," he says.

Chapter Text

"You're limping again," Ignis tells Noct.

Noct picks up Gladio's boots from their spot next to the tent. "Yeah," he admits. "Pushed pretty hard getting out of the Crown City."

"It might be better for you to rest that knee for a few days," Ignis continues, voice mild, as he slides the edge of one of his knives against a whetstone.

Noct sits down in his camp chair and pokes at his knee with a finger. "It doesn't hurt any more than anything else," he says.

"Nonetheless," Ignis replies.

"Should've tried to pick up an extra brace while we were there," Gladio grumbles, scrubbing mud off someone's pants in their stew pot. (Ignis wasn't thrilled about that, but it's the only water vessel large enough to hold water, an article of clothing, and Gladio's arms.)

"We were a little busy," Noct says. He picks up a stick and starts picking debris out of the sole of the boot. "Wouldn't have had time to check the fit or anything."

"Fair enough," Gladio replies, and tosses a pebble off the Haven.

Everyone's gear is in rough shape. They hadn't devoted a lot of time to maintenence when everything started, and the trip into Insomnia had been tough on everything. This morning, Luna had picked up one of her shoes to put it on and the sole had fallen off entirely, and that was the last straw for Ignis. So now it's Maintenence Day.

Prompto scowls down at his own project. He would have thought that Luna would have been taught to sew as some kind of woman-in-nobility thing, but it turns out she wasn't, and he's the only one with any actual skill with a needle and thread. Gladio's jacket snagged on something while they were out and tore, and now Prompto's trying to close it up. He was hoping that he wouldn't have to find a patch, but it seems like the jacket is a bit small for that.

"Can I help you?" Luna asks. She doesn't really know how to do any of this stuff, so Ignis set her to replacing batteries and collecting trash in what was clearly a bid to keep her from feeling useless. But she finished fifteen minutes ago while everyone else is still working, and she's left hovering and uncomfortable.

Prompto thinks. He remembers right when he started training to fight, when everyone else seemed to know exactly where they were supposed to be and exactly what they needed to do, and how frustrating it was not to know. He thinks of how it's becoming more and more obvious that people went out of their way to keep Luna helpless on her own. "Let me show you what I'm doing," he says. "I think there's at least one other needle in the sewing kit."

Luna smiles, and starts picking through the little plastic box.

Prompto feels eyes on him, though, and glances up to see that Noct's stopped working to watch them. Prompto flashes him a smile. It has the intended effect: Noct's lips turn upward, just for a second, and he goes back to what he was doing.

Maybe Noct worries too much, too.

---

"Usually, it's powered by your own energy," Prompto explains. "The historians told me that under special circumstances the server could provide some or all of the power, or at least people wrote that you could, but I don't know how. Something with requesting elevated access rights, or something-" He cuts himself off. "None of that's important right now. The point is that improving your own physical condition can boost how much you can do."

Luna looks down. "So you think I should get more exercise," she says.

"Without... whatever healing thing you do with Astral magic when you push yourself too far," Prompto says.

Luna blushes. "I didn't realize you could tell."

"I can kinda sense it, sometimes, and you keep coming out of situations mysteriously unscathed," Prompto replies. "It's not a terrible strategy, but it's splitting your-"

Before Prompto can finish, he hears Noct sigh in a very frustrated, very melodramatic way. "Fine," Noct says. "If they agree to it."

"Agree to what?" Prompto asks, turning to face the rest of the group.

"Noct should rest his knee for another day," Ignis explains. "So he should stay at the Haven. But we would prefer not to leave him by himself."

Noct sighs. "Yeah, that's not the worst part," he complains. "They want to leave you with me and take Luna."

Luna frowns. "Why?"

"You would be well-served by additional combat experience," Ignis says.

"And Noct here is overprotective, and keeps you outta the way of everything when he's around," Gladio adds.

"She doesn't have any experience!" Noct says. Prompto knows this is exactly the wrong thing for Noct to say.

"I'm not going to learn by hiding behind people all the time," Luna says.

"We will stick to easy jobs and bring most of our stock of potions," Ignis says, placating. "And she is capable of healing."

"I said it was fine if you wanted to do it," Noct says, staring down at the runes on the Haven.

"I do want to," Luna says. "I'll be fine." She brushes off her jeans. "Where are we going?"

Prompto makes eye contact with Ignis, and mouths, "You owe me." The hardest job out of all of them is going to be getting Noct to quit sulking.

Ignis grins.

---

Noct is sulking exactly as much as Prompto knew he would and hoped he wouldn't.

Prompto gives him space for a few minutes as he considers his approach. Pushing at this directly might not be the best course. But he can't leave this be--if only because he has the sense that Luna is not going to appreciate Noct's attitude much longer.

"Hey," Prompto asks, after some thought. "Assuming everything... works out. Are you still going to marry Luna, after... all this?"

Noct looks up from where he was staring at the ground. "I guess," he replies. "I mean, the treaty was a lie, but if I still have to marry into nobility, then there's no one else I'd rather have."

"What does she think?" Prompto asks.

"Don't know," Noct replies. "Not sure I wanna ask her about it right now."

"Is she mad at me?" Prompto continues, because he keeps wondering.

Noct rolls his eyes. "No, she's not mad at you," he replies. "She probably likes you better than she likes me right now. She's... got a lot to think about, you know?"

Prompto doesn't know exactly how it is for Luna, but he remembers what it was like when his world completely upended itself around him in the course of a few weeks. "Yeah," he says. He takes a breath, and keeps going: "She's going to be just fine out there."

"Yeah," Noct agrees, distant. "She's gonna be pretty pissed at me when they get back. I probably deserve it."

Prompto frowns. "Then why..."

Noct shakes his head. "Dunno, exactly," he says. "Just... why can't everyone just be safe?"

Prompto laughs. "You know why, dude," he says.

"Yeah, I do," Noct replies, and laughs as well. "Thanks," he adds, with half a smile at Prompto.

"I get it, but you should probably apologize when she gets back," Prompto says.

Noct nods. "Probably," he agrees. "Wanna play some King's Knight?"

---

Luna comes back filthy, bruised, and grinning. "I didn't use healing magic at all!" she tells Prompto.

"That's great," Prompto says, meaning it.

"The Trident of the Oracle is a perfectly serviceable polearm, as it turns out," Ignis says.

"We'll be working on your stance," Gladio informs Luna.

Noct bites his lip, just that little bit. "Um. We should clean it, so it'll be ready for next time. I'll- I'll show you," he says. "Unless you want someone else to show you."

Luna's expression goes stern for just long enough that Prompto thinks she's going to chew Noct out- but then he sees the glimmer of amusement in her eyes. "If you'd like," she says.

And Noct blushes, just slightly. "I'm sorry," he mumbles.

"I accept your apology," Luna says, and summons the Trident into her hands. The way she holds it is different, now, grip meant for combat rather than ceremony. She looks powerful holding it for ceremony, too, but it's not hte same. Prompto likes it.

Noct scrambles over to her, awkward enough that Prompto almost laughs.

Chapter Text

A few days later, they're packing up camp, and Prompto feels something strange prickle at the back of his neck, something like not alone or someone's here.

It's particularly strange because he can't remember the last time he was alone for more than ten minutes. It's probably happened at least a couple times since they left Insomnia, sure, but it's not coming to mind. He's not alone and he doesn't expect to be, and that's all wrong.

It doesn't even feel hostile. It's just... a presence.

Prompto finds himself scanning the horizon for motion, but if something's out there, he can't see it.

---

Back at the little camper in Galdin Quay, they have another impromptu hair salon. Luna bleaches her hair back to its original blonde. Ignis washes his hair four times until the color looks more-or-less the way it used to. Noct fiddles with his hair, sighs, and requests his brassy hair get some color back to it, too, only to scowl the entire time the dye sits in it.

Prompto feels a little safer with the Lucian black hair, and so he keeps it. He spends his share of the cosmetic money on an expensive conditioning treatment instead.

---

Luna jolts awake hard enough that it wakes Prompto, too.

That's not unusual, unfortunately. All of them have nightmares, but Luna's are the worst. (She won't talk about them. Noct says not to push with that hard set to his shoulders that makes Prompto think he knows.)

Luna gets up slowly but with no hesitation. She slips toward the door to the camper.

When she opens it, a blast of cold shoots through the camper.

Noct makes a noise in his sleep and shifts toward Prompto, but he doesn't wake up--of course. But Prompto's fully awake now, and Galdin should never be this cold, and...

Prompto pulls himself out of bed. He thinks he hears Gladio or Ignis moving behind him, but he doesn't stop to check. Something's not right, and...

Prompto peers out the window of the camper into a white mist. Luna's standing in front of something--someone--but Prompto can't make out the details. The sand is covered in a thin layer of frost.

Prompto opens the door and steps out, paying no heed to the fact that he's wearing socks and no shoes.

"You have always had my blessing, daughter," says a voice. It's otherworldly, strange, like bells ringing.

Luna says something in response, but Prompto can't understand it. He steps forward.

Prompto sees a woman, hovering just far enough above the ground that it's clear she's not touching it. Her skin is white-blue, and she's not wearing much. She radiates deep cold. And he knows.

The Glacian.

Prompto, half-awake and mind spinning, remembers that brief phase in their senior year of high school when he and Noct thought "Shiva's tits" a cool way to swear, and laughs nervously. This is not what he was expecting.

"I'm sorry," Luna murmurs. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I-"

"Do not fear me, after all this time," Shiva says. She can talk like a normal person, Prompto's brain supplies helpfully. That's convenient.

"I- You were-" Luna stammers. "Please-"

Shiva places a finger to Luna's lips. "You have nothing to apologize for, my daughter," she says. For the first time, she looks up at Prompto. "I would like to speak with your gods."

Chapter Text

It is approximately four in the morning. Prompto is in his pajamas. Noct isn't even awake. And he is being asked by a god to do something he has no idea how to do.

Prompto isn't entirely sure he's not dreaming, but then, he doesn't think he's smart enough to come up with something this surreal.

"I don't know how to... get someone else in touch with them," Prompto says. "Just me."

"Why do you wish to speak with them?" Ignis asks, and Prompto looks back at his expression, serious and stern and above all cautious.

"I have not communicated with my counterparts since prior to the fall of Solheim," Shiva says. "I do not mean them harm."

Ignis nods. "And the rest of us?" Prompto wonders what it takes to stand firm before an Astral like this. He feels like his spine is melting.

"I am not one you should fear," Shiva says. "I have not been at my full power for some time. But if it will reassure you... I submit to yours."

Warm, salt air from the beach floods toward them. Shiva's feet touch the ground, and something like mist surrounds her form. When it fades, a woman that could pass as ordinary stands before them, and carefully kneels on the sand. Her expression is still something from another world, but deeper than that, it looks endlessly sad.

"Please don't do that," Luna says, strained. "Please get up. Gentiana- Shiva. Please." She turns to Ignis and Prompto, looking devastated. "Please wake Noctis."

Ignis nods to them, and goes inside.

Shiva allows Luna to help her to her feet, as if she needs the assistance. "If you could simply contact them for me and give them a message, that may be enough," she tells Prompto.

"Y-yeah," Prompto says. "What do you want to tell them?"

Shiva steps up to Prompto and whispers in his ear. "Ask them if they feel the time of gods must end."

Prompto's eyes go wide. "Are you- are you sure that's what you want to say?"

"Yes," Shiva replies. "Will you not go?"

And Prompto's being asked politely by an Astral to do something he does know how to do, and that he knows won't hurt him. He's not about to say no. "I'll go. Of course," he says, and sits down right on the sand.

He begins to Sing.

---

Greetings, child.

"Hey. I, um. The Glacian asked me to tell you something."

Yes. But please wait. There is something you should know.

"Yeah?"

Your mind. Your Soulspace. It is split in two.

"What?"

You woke the Eastern Tower. The Tower of Origin, the First Tower. It was the first magic you ever did. But the Tower was empty. Everyone who had once touched it is dead, save for us. So it acted as if you were to be its master.

"...what?"

You must take care. This has made you strong--will make you stronger yet, if you harness it--but this split, this being-in-two-places, could tear your mind apart.

"Then... what do I do?"

Do not allow others to access your Soulspace, in either part. Do not attempt to channel the energies of one tower through the other. Learn the names the Towers give you. And perhaps keep the little Astral by your side. He seems fond of you.

"Okay... I do have to deliver a message, though."

From the Glacian. Yes.

"She asked... if you felt the time of gods must end."

She guesses at our plans, then. Tell her to go to the place where the Promise was made, and we will speak to her there.

"I will."

We are proud of you. You are doing well.

---

Prompto opens his eyes. It's still dark. Noct is holding one of his hands and muttering. Ignis is seated on his other side, fingers on his wrist, presumably feeling his pulse. He backs away as Prompto breathes in.

Shiva is still there, in her "mortal" form. She's sitting in the plastic chair at the picnic table. Luna is seated across from her, and has clearly been crying. Gladio leans against the camper, looking awkward and uncomfortable. None of them except Shiva are fully dressed.

"Do you have a message for me?" Shiva asks, without looking.

Prompto swallows. "Suzunomiya said to go to the place where the Promise was made, and they'll speak to you there."

Shiva rises to her feet immediately. "I must go," she says. She looks down at Luna. "I apologize."

Luna shakes her head and doesn't answer.

And then Shiva is gone.

"Can someone tell me what the fuck just happened?" Noct asks.

Chapter Text

Ignis herds everyone back into the camper. When the lights flick on, Prompto can see the hands of the clock, set to 3:47.

Prompto haltingly attempts to fill everyone in, with Ignis giving the occasional comment while making a pot of coffee. He's still going back and forth about whether he should mention the actual contents of Shiva's message--was it supposed to be a secret?--when Noct helpfully decides to start chewing him out.

"-and you looked like you were dead," Noct says.

"Oh," Prompto says. He's not really sorry because he would do the exact same thing again, knowing, but it would have been nice not to scare the shit out of Noct.

"And-" Noct turns to Luna. "The whole time, ever since you were little, that was- Shiva?"

"The High Messenger was an Astral, all along," Luna says. "Of course. She arrived the very day of your birth, Noctis, did you know?" Her voice is firm, her posture is straight, but everything about her demeanor screams brittle.

Prompto's struggling to catch up. He knows a little about the more formal aspects of Astral worship--it's hard not to when it's the state religion and you live with the Crown Prince--but "High Messenger" doesn't mean much to him. Still, an Astral in disguise, living at Luna's side her whole life, telling her things about prophecies and her role in them...

"That's fucked up," Gladio says, which is more or less what Prompto's thinking.

Luna looks at him. "I betrayed her," she says, too steadily. "I betrayed the Astrals--I asked one of the Gods about a way to avoid the fate ordained by the Gods." She starts to laugh. "Except- she told me, didn't she?"

Noct frowns. "Luna," he says.

"She always told me to follow the Astrals," Luna says. "And the first time I was truly tested, I-" And then she starts to laugh, and there are tears in her eyes again. "She told me death would be an honor, she told me- she raised me to die-"

"Luna," Noct says, and takes her by the shoulders, and gently pushes her to sit down. "Luna, we're all here."

"I'm... upset," Luna says, deflating.

"Yeah," Noct replies. "Well, I mean. This is kind of bullshit." He pauses. "But this doesn't change anything, you know. We're still not just rolling over and giving up. Or at least I'm not."

Luna gives him a shaky smile. "All right," she says.

---

After a little while and a warm drink, Luna settles down, and Prompto settles down, too. He thinks that Shiva is going to be back--hopefully not soon--and he's not looking forward to it, but for now, things are quiet.

Prompto gets a little... antsy, when people talk about how they were manipulated as children by the adults around them.

But dwelling on it? That never helps.

He needs something to do.

"Uhh... want any help?" Prompto asks Ignis, who stands in the "kitchen" of the camper, methodically chopping vegetables.

Ignis gives him a considering look. "I wouldn't mind assistance," he replies.

"Cool!" Prompto says, shoving good humor into his voice. "Lemme just wash my hands real quick." He slides into place, and Ignis hands him a cooking knife. It's not the best one, but Prompto feels amused by that rather than slighted.

"I am making omelettes," Ignis informs him. "Noct is unlikely to eat his if the pieces of vegetable are too large, so please take care to dice these finely, especially the peppers."

"Got it!" Prompto says. He sets to work peeling the onion. "We haven't had a breakfast this big in awhile."

"I find that after a stressful experience, a substantial meal tends to be grounding," Ignis replies. "Beyond that, we were woken abruptly late at night. We will need extra fuel to keep us alert."

"Not complaining!" Prompto says. "Do we have any cheese?"

"I'm afraid not," Ignis says mildly. "I would have preferred it, too." He pushes the sausage around the pan with his spatula. Prompto wonders if it's strictly necessary or Ignis is just fidgeting in his own way.

Prompto continues at his task and scrambles for something safe to talk about. "How do you think Iris is doing? Has Gladio called her lately?"

"I couldn't say," Ignis replies. "Gladio tends to keep tales of his sister to himself. But while there is nowhere truly safe for Lucian nobility now, Lestallum is as close as it gets."

"I hope so," Prompto says. He didn't feel safe there, though, not once they found Ardyn there. Thinking of Ardyn makes him feel unsafe no matter where he is--and now he knows he's right. His skin crawls. He pushes his focus onto his task.

"Is there anything you would like to talk about?" Ignis asks.

Prompto considers. "Not now," he says. His heart is too raw for that, and besides, there's someone else who needs looking after a lot more than he does. "Wonder if Luna would like a magic lesson."

---

Breakfast is a little strained. Luna's calmer, but it still has that brittle feeling to it. Noct makes a show of being displeased with the number of vegetables in the omelettes, which Prompto realizes is an attempt to pull attention off Luna when Noct's the first to finish eating. It can be hard to say what Gladio's thinking, but he's definitely in a funk--he had a pretty normal childhood, all things considered, so he probably doesn't get it. Ignis is his usual self, a rock in what threatens to be another storm. And Prompto...

Prompto doesn't know what to make of any of this, but if the time of gods ends... he thinks it might not be so bad. But now, with Luna in earshot, is not the time to talk about what Shiva said.

Speaking of Luna...

"You wanna spar?" Prompto asks her.

"Now?" Luna asks.

"Really, if you wanna do Song Magic, it's the best time," Prompto replies.

Noct gives Prompto a wary look. "You've been doing this for ages and she's just a few weeks in," he says.

Prompto thinks, but does not say, that he's pretty sure that Luna's upset enough that she could hold her own with just brute force. Instead, he replies, "I'm not going to hurt her."

Noct shoves himself up from the chair. "I'm coming with," he says.

Prompto glances at Luna. "What do ya say? We could have the first Song Magic fight in centuries!"

"All right," Luna replies, with a hint of a smile. She stretches a little. "I'll try."

---

The sun's risen just enough to ward off daemons when they find a suitable, quiet stretch of beach. Noct plops down on a rock near the water, out of the way.

"For our purposes, it's just Song Magic," Prompto says. "No weapons, no touching. Okay?"

"You can shut my magic off," Luna says. "That hardly seems fair."

Prompto rolls his eyes. "And how would you learn anything if I did that? Only if things get out of control," he says.

Luna nods her head. "When?"

"Count of three. One... two... three-"

Before Prompto can switch from speaking to Singing, Luna's voice has already risen into the air. He sees flame taking shape, and throws up a shield.

Luna's firebird is vicious. Prompto has to switch to a stronger shield to keep its attacks off him. It gives him space to think. What would do Luna the most good right now? Let her keep throwing things at him until she exhausts herself? Go on the offensive and make her think?

And then Prompto thinks of what it would help her most to learn right now, and swallows. It is a bad idea in almost every aspect and Noct will be furious.

What Luna's lacking, though--it's not strength. It's control.

Prompto goes carefully, because he doesn't know how well Luna can read the situation. He lets his shield flicker, once, after a hard hit. He lets her pound it one more time, and then he waits.

Just before Luna's firebird can bounce off his shield, he drops it.

Prompto watches the ball of flame roar towards him for an endless second--his body screams for him to dodge but he makes himself stay still--he's sure it's going to make impact--and then before it can hit his chest, it swerves and crashes into the sand.

Luna shrieks, a sound Prompto never expected to hear out of that mouth. "What are you doing?" she asks. She runs toward him, and he can hear the scuff that means Noct's hopped down from his rock, too.

Prompto grins. "Wanted to know if she could," he says. He glances over at the impact site. It wasn't hot enough to make glass. That would've been cool, but that probably would've hurt if it hit him.

"You said-" Noct scowls. "You said you wouldn't hurt her," he says. "Were you planning this the whole time?"

"No," Prompto says. "I came up with it about a minute ago."

"You're in so much trouble," Noct grumbles. "We're going back," he informs Luna.

Prompto lets Noct haul him off, but he turns to tell Luna, "Hey, next time try stopping the fireball!"

"There will not be a next time!" Noct says, sternly, and jerks him by the arm.

Prompto stumbles, and catches a look at Luna's face. She's clearly holding back laughter.

Well, could've gone better, but mission accomplished.

Chapter Text

After a thorough lecture, Gladio hauls Prompto off to check on local hunts. They haven't been all the way out to the resort since everything... went wrong, after all, and Coctura's the one with the information.

It turns out to be a sort of punishment, though Gladio probably doesn't think of it that way. When they walk past the newsstands, Prompto finds that he still remembers what they looked like on a particular rainy, gray morning.

But it's no more than a moment's hurt, and he's brushed off worse than that. They come back to the group with a pile of monsters to consider killing.

While everyone's crowding over the map, Prompto hears something padding through the sand. He glances up to see a pair of awfully familiar dogs.

Luna makes it to them first. "Where have you been?" she asks.

Pryna wags her tail and shoves her head up against Luna's hand for petting. Umbra nudges Luna's other hand, then trots over to Noct. Both of them are wearing carrying straps, and whatever Umbra's got is awfully big. Suddenly, Prompto feels uneasy.

Luna notices the pouch Pryna's wearing and bites her lip. She reaches into it, and removes a neatly folded piece of paper. She reads it, closes her eyes, and sighs.

Meanwhile, Noct's stopped stroking Umbra's head in favor of checking what he's carrying. It's something large and lengthy, wrapped in cloth. Noct pulls at the cloth to see what it is, and Prompto swears he stops breathing for a second.

"Where did you get this?" Noct asks Umbra, as if he expects an answer.

Umbra whines.

Noct unwraps the item slowly. The flash of metal- it's a sword. It's one that Prompto thinks he recognizes. It's-

"Dad's sword," Noct says. "How did you get this?"

Umbra whines, again, and presses his side against Noct's hand. It takes a minute to figure out what he means. "There's gotta be something else," Prompto says.

Noct finds it: a scrap of paper tied neatly to the strap around Umbra. With hands shaking enough that Prompto can see it even from a distance, he unties the knot and lifts it. "'Keep her safe, or your life is forfeit,'" he reads. "'Ravus Nox Fleuret.'"

"How'd he get that?" Gladio asks.

"He was present in Insomnia, for... the treaty," Luna says. "I'm sure you can imagine." She pauses. "I am glad he is alive, and that he has decided to... ensure you obtained your inheritance. Though I do not appreciate his tone."

"It's just how men talk," Gladio tells her. "Don't think too much about it."

"You received a missive, as well," Ignis says to Luna, quickly changing the topic. "Was it also from your brother?"

"No," Luna says. "It's from... the Glacian. She says... well, many things, but among them that we must go to Altissia."

"Why?" Noct asks. "Does she want us to get married anyway, or something?"

Luna shakes her head. "She wants us to persuade the Hydraean to our aid. 'Old magic may not be undone, but it may be bent, if its parties are in accord.' I am not certain of what that means."

"I don't see why she couldn't come here," Ignis says. "There's plenty of coastline."

"She has not yet awoken," Luna says. "I will have to."

"How're we gonna get to Altissia?" Noct asks. "The ferries still aren't running."

"There's a boat at Cape Caem, remember?" Gladio says. "The one our fathers used. Probably a wreck, but could be fixed."

Ignis ponders. "I don't know of anyone with a boat that we could trust to take us all the way to Accordo," he says. "It may be best to ask Cid about repair work, yes."

Prompto doesn't know what he can do about any of this, so he kneels down next to Pryna. "How're you doing, girl? I bet an ice goddess is too cold to give good pets." He rubs Pryna's head. "But you and Umbra aren't regular dogs, either, hmm? Should I stop?" he teases.

Pryna shoves her entire face into Prompto's hand.

Prompto grins. "Yeah, okay," he says.

There's some chit-chat that Prompto tunes out for awhile, until they get to the point.

"We'll go see Iris," Noct says. "Talk to her about getting to Cape Caem. She'll know more than we do about what the Empire's up to, and it'll be good to see her."

"I will attract considerable attention in Lestallum," Luna says. "Perhaps I should stay out of the city."

"You'd be surprised," Prompto interjects. "Most people didn't recognize Noct, and he actually lives in Lucis." He rises to his feet. "You could wear a veil or something, if that'd make you feel better."

Noct smiles. "Yeah, come on," he says. "We can get you some real supplies. A sleeping bag of your own so you don't have to share, some clothes that can take a beating, a decent pair of boots."

"We'll need more funds for that," Ignis says.

"Show me the budget," Noct replies. "I know you have one, come on."

Prompto grins at Luna. "You can be a tourist, for once," he says.

Luna swallows. "I suppose," she says, shy.

Umbra and Pryna bark for attention, then slip up to Luna's side.

"Going already?" Luna asks.

Pryna barks in confirmation.

Luna sighs. "Be well," she says.

---

Iris is excited to hear that they're all going to be coming in a few days, and even more excited to hear that Luna will be coming along. "I can splurge and we can have two rooms for a day, and Luna and I can have a girls' night!" she says, more cheerful than ever through Gladio's phone set to speaker. "Is she there now? Lady Lunafreya?"

Luna's blushing, clearly thrilled. "I am," she says. "Hello, Lady Iris. It will be wonderful to meet you in person."

---

They'll need more money to make all the numbers work out, so they go fight a bunch of giant crabs. Luna mostly makes use of her trident, and Ignis makes crab cakes for dinner. After it's fully dark, they go on another hunt: imps, this time.

Prompto's just about gotten used to fighting daemons, but he still feels unsettled every time. There's something wrong about them, like they're just not supposed to exist in this world. With what he's learned about the Starscourge... well, they kind of aren't, are they?

(What does that mean about him?)

It's a late night after a painfully early morning. Luna's practically swaying on her feet when they get back to the caravan, and Prompto can sympathize. They give Luna the first shower, and she's asleep before Noct finishes the second.

It's probably on purpose, Prompto thinks. Sometimes it's better to have a little time before you think about... stuff.

But by the time he's out of the shower, he's too tired to really think about it, too, and he snuggles up to Noct and then he's out.

---

Prompto dreams:

He's a baby bird in a tiny nest.

He loves his parents, and he wants to thank them--for bringing him to life in this beautiful place, for their kindness, for the way that they carefully teach him. He doesn't know how to fly, not yet, but he knows how to sing. So he comes up with the most beautiful song that he can. He hopes it's enough.

He sings his heart out.

His parents scream at him until he shuts up.

They bite off the tips of his wings so he can't fly away. They teach him their songs, dark and angry and stern. They do terrible things until he cooperates.

It's too much. He can't take this anymore. He won't.

If he must know these dark songs, if there is nothing else he is allowed to be-

Chapter Text

"Some people in Lestallum are sensitive to the dust from the mines," Ignis explains, handing Luna a dust mask. "This won't be particularly out of place."

Luna accepts the mask and carefully secures the straps around her ears. She's left her hair down, too. The blonde would stand out, but Prompto doesn't think anyone out of the loop would know just who they were looking at.

"Perfect," Noct says. "Now come on, out of the car, we've gotta meet Iris."

Luna scoots over from the middle seat and lets Noct help her out of the car, top up in a bid for privacy. She looks around the parking lot with wide eyes.

"What do you think?" Gladio asks her.

"It looks... friendly," Luna says, voice slightly muffled from the mask.

"Iris will be waiting for us at the Leville," Ignis says. "Lestallum's streets can be a little disorienting, so try not to wander off alone until you have a sense for them."

"All right," Luna says, and straightens. "Let's go."

Iris stands in front of the hotel this time, and grins at them as they come into view. "L- Hey everyone!" she shouts, and promptly launches herself into Gladio's arms.

Luna laughs softly. When Iris and Gladio separate, she says, "Hello. I'm glad to finally meet you."

Iris shakes Luna's hand. "Come on inside! I got lunch ready so you guys wouldn't have to worry about it. We can eat it up on the balcony!"

"Certainly," Luna says, and lets an extremely enthusiastic Iris take the lead.

Lunch is curry--not the thin green or red soup that Ignis makes. It's thick and served over rice, and there's flatbread and some kind of yogurt to go along with it. The balcony is high enough up and isolated enough that it's safe for Luna to take her mask off to eat, letting her look out at the city.

"-and let me buy you something from the market," Iris says. She's been chattering the whole time. "It's been forever since I had a girl over. Jared and Talcott are really nice, but they're boys. You know."

"Is it safe to let them go out without us?" Noct asks in a very low voice.

"As long as Iris can keep her mouth shut about who she's with, they're fine," Gladio says. "Even if she does, Iris can take care of things."

"Take care of what?" Iris asks.

Gladio grins easily. "The boat at Cape Caem," he says. "Have we told you about that?"

"Not a lot," Iris replies.

"Despite the change in circumstances, we still need to go to Altissia," Ignis says.

"For the wedding?" Iris asks.

Prompto realizes with a start that Iris doesn't know anything. She doesn't know that Noct's supposed to die. She doesn't know Prompto's been talking to gods. She doesn't know that he and Noct are... whatever they are, boyfriends, probably? She doesn't know why Luna's with them instead of waiting at the altar, or even dead like the first news reports claimed. It's more than likely that she knows they encountered Titan, but she might not know anything about Ramuh, and she certainly doesn't know about Shiva.

Noct glances at Ignis, and says, "Not exactly."

Iris sighs, and turns to Gladio. "Is this a 'state secret, Iris, I'm really sorry' like where Prince Noctis used to work and how many floors the Citadel has?"

Prompto can't help but laugh, because he knows the answers to both of those questions.

"It's a state secret like Dad's schedule was a state secret," Gladio replies. "Except I'll tell you everything, when it's all over."

"Okay," Iris says, clearly annoyed, but accepting what she hears. She puts on a more mature expression. "So where in Cape Caem is the boat, anyway? No one ever told me."

They work out a plan: Iris and her retainers will make for Cape Caem as soon as possible to examine the condition of the boat and prepare it for use. Ignis gives her an allowance for repairs, with the promise that if more money is necessary, they will supply it.

Noct quietly asks Luna if she would prefer to go to Cape Caem with Iris. Luna would not like to go with Iris.

Finally, after an hour of talk, they decide to go shopping.

---

"Stick your big toe up," Noct says. "Yeah. That looks like enough room."

They're in Lestallum's military surplus store, which Prompto would not have realized existed before twenty minutes ago when Iris suggested it. You can't get the main pieces of the uniforms because those are tailor-made, but there are boots, underclothing, and gloves in abundance--not to mention the survival gear section, which Gladio vanished into immediately.

Unsurprisingly, Noct's first order of business is to get Luna a pair of boots. Iris is following along because she's even more enamored of Luna than she is of Noct, and Prompto's following along because he thinks this is hilarious. Ignis isn't with them; maybe he's trying to keep Gladio from buying gadgets.

"They have this size in brown, too, if you want," Iris says.

"These are fine," Luna says.

"Get up and walk around in them a little," Noct says.

After being entirely assured that Luna's boots will fit, Noct settles them neatly in the box, and calms down enough that they can keep browsing. Luna ends up with a new pair of gloves, six pairs of socks, and a belt. Iris is trying to convince her that she should get a new coat when Ignis and Gladio stroll into view.

"I am merely saying that we do not need tactical goggles," Ignis says.

"Noct," Gladio says, holding up a pair of goggles. "Couldn't these come in handy one day?"

Noct sighs. "Put them back, Gladio," he says.

"All right, all right," he says. "How about these, though?"

Noct ends up letting Gladio buy Luna a fancy multitool because it's lightweight and on sale, and because it gets Gladio to shut up. They buy her a sleeping bag of her own, too, after Iris finds out she's been using Prompto's. "It probably smells like boy," Iris says.

---

"Let me show you around," Iris says, smiling at Luna with all the charm a fifteen-year-old can possibly possess.

Prompto presses his lips together to keep from laughing.

"Certainly," Luna says.

"I'll have her back by dinner!" Iris says, and pulls Luna out of the hotel room.

Gladio is the first one to laugh, but they all do.

"Didn't think she could shoot even further out of her league," Gladio says, leaning against the wall and clutching his stomach with one hand.

Noct sighs.

---

Ignis flips through a newspaper as they wait for Iris and Luna to return. "The Imperials claim that the 'event' in Insomnia a few days was merely a severe summer storm," he remarks.

"Well, that's not entirely wrong," Prompto says.

"They've admitted they still have a presence in Insomnia," Ignis says. "A little bold of them."

"Well, they won," Noct says.

Gladio shakes his head. "They know we're still out here, and whatever they're saying to the public, they know that we have Titan and Ramuh on our side. They'd be calling for our heads if they thought they could."

Ignis turns the page of the newspaper. "High Commander Ravus Nox Fleuret is missing," he says, eyebrows raised. "The rumor is that he deserted."

"Huh," Noct says. "Anything else interesting?"

"Dozens of rumors about something happening in Gralea," Ignis says. "Food shortages, disappearances, riots, power outages. Hard to say what's credible."

"Maybe that'll take some of the heat off us," Gladio says.

"Or they're using up everything to track us down," Prompto says.

"Either could be correct, or it could be something else," Ignis says. "We would need to know more."

Breaking them from thought, there's a knock on the door. Noct opens it up to Iris and Luna. Iris is holding a mesh bag of oranges in front of her with both hands, even though Prompto knows full well that she could lift them over her head one-handed without any effort. Luna has a bag in her hand, too.

"What've you got?" Noct asks her.

Iris pushes him back into the room. "Girl stuff," she says, stern. "We won't share the oranges with you if you're pushy, right?" she adds, looking over at Luna.

Luna closes the door with her foot and pulls off the dust mask. Her smile is radiant. "Of course not, Lady Iris," she says.

Iris glows.

Prompto bites his cheek and doesn't laugh.

Chapter Text

Lestallum is a nice break. Luna and Iris take the room next door for the night. Gladio reads one of the books he brought for the trip. Ignis pulls a book of crossword puzzles out of nowhere and starts to work through that. Prompto and Noct play King's Knight until Noct falls asleep leaning against Prompto's shoulder right in the middle of a boss battle.

The next morning, Luna arrives for breakfast late, so late that Noct's already woken up and finished eating. All of her fingernails are painted in different colors, none of which are red or pink and some of which have glitter, and she looks more well-rested than she has any time Prompto's seen her up close.

They drive out of Lestallum with Iris waving to them from the parking lot. Prompto feels a little melancholy.

---

"Cor says there's supposed to be a Royal Tomb at the Balouve Mines," Gladio says, glancing at a text on his phone. "A little outside of Galdin Quay. We should check it out."

Prompto's mind says no, but his mouth says, "That's a good idea."

Noct glances over at Luna. "What do you think?" he asks.

"It's your decision," Luna says.

"Well, we've got a lot of time to kill while the boat gets dealt with," Noct says. "May as well."

Ignis shifts lanes, and Prompto keeps his mouth shut.

---

They don't go into the mines that day. They don't know what they're getting into, and no one's at their best after long hours of travel. They camp at a Haven, so Luna can use all her new toys.

Prompto realizes, abruptly, that this means that he and Noct will not be sharing a sleeping bag anymore.

That's good. It was really cramped. That's good.

After dinner, they play a few rounds of cards. Prompto hasn't won a round of poker yet and he's probably not going to. He minds less now that Luna's joined them, because when she feels like it, she can pull out a better poker face than any of them. Before she'd joined them, Ignis was the undisputed poker champion of their group, and watching Luna trounce him never gets old.

Noct gets sleepy and crawls into the tent, but Prompto stays. He and Gladio aren't even playing anymore--they just let Ignis and Luna duke it out. Luna wins three games to Ignis' one before everyone decides they really should call it a night.

Prompto slips into the tent himself. For a moment, eyes still adjusting after the lantern went out, he's just confused about how Noct suddenly has a much larger sleeping bag than last time they camped. Then he sees it: Noct managed to zip their two sleeping bags together, somehow, to make a bigger one.

Prompto smiles, and doesn't hesitate to join him.

---

The Balouve Mines are full of goblins, but they're really nothing. Luna does a few battles singing, a few battles with her trident, a few just sitting back and watching everyone work. Prompto yanks out his camera to take pictures of everyone in action. It's easy, and everyone's relaxed.

"We should've just done this last night," Noct says, laughing, after taking out three goblins in a single warp-strike.

"It would still behoove you to be careful," Ignis says.

Ignis is right. Ignis is almost always right. But the goblins are such easy prey that it's hard to take them seriously.

They goof off all the way down to the bottom of the mine, where there's finally something different waiting for them. Prompto's seen something like this in a book, once, a swordsman in robes.

At first, no one's taking this daemon all that seriously, either. They're barely even winded after all the rest of the place. But...

"Is it just me-" Noct gasps, "-or are we barely even- scratching this thing?"

"Not just you," Gladio says, blocking a hard strike.

Luna's banished her trident by now, and Prompto can tell she's about to shift into Song. But she hasn't been trained, she's too close up-

"Luna, get back!" Prompto shouts.

Luna steps back a little and turns to look at him. Prompto has just enough time to register she's really screwed up as the daemon's sword points toward her chest.

Prompto doesn't think. All the Crownsguard training he's had kicks in, and he's just there, shoving Luna out of the way. The world slows down around him.

The sword pierces through his chest, and he feels it, but he doesn't. There's a scream. Prompto looks down at his chest as the sword slides out of it, followed by rushing blood.

There's shouting all around him, echoing from every direction.

Prompto hurts, but the hurt is somewhere far, far away. He knows it's there, but it's not touching him.

Someone kneels down next to him, and the room fills with light and goes so, so cold, and there's shouting and a sound like bells, and then Prompto slides into the brightest black.

Chapter Text

Prompto drifts back into awareness laying on his side on something hard and cold.

He opens his eyes, slowly. He's on top of a blanket of snow. It's stained with blood. Given how his chest aches, it's probably his own blood.

Memory trickles back, slowly. A battle against a difficult daemon. Luna taking her eyes off an enemy coming her way. The sword, piercing his chest.

Prompto looks up, slowly. He's not alone. Luna is next to him, hands giving off a faint glow. "I'm sorry," she murmurs.

He's too foggy to answer her properly. He shakes his head, and looks past her.

Ignis and Gladio stand just beyond them, backs to Prompto, facing the rest of the room. He doesn't see the daemon at all. Instead, in the center of the room, Shiva gleams like a beacon. Noct stares at her, eyes glowing pink and expression strange.

"Noct?" Prompto croaks.

Noct's eyes--wrong, all wrong--whirl to Prompto's face. "Prompto," he says breathlessly.

Prompto nods.

Noct sighs, and turns back to Shiva. "I guess I should thank you."

Shiva remains silent for a long time, then shakes her head. "This is merely what you are owed," she says. She turns to Luna, then. "Your brother lives," she says. "He awaits you in Altissia. As does the Hydraean, whom I have woken in your stead."

With that, Shiva vanishes, as if she were never there.

Luna closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, then leans over Prompto. "I have done what I can," she says. "I apologize."

Prompto shakes his head. He hurts, and he's cold, and between his own blood and the gradually-melting snow, he's soaking wet. But a glance down at his gut, between shreds of fabric, reveals the gentle pink of freshly-healed skin. "S'not your fault," he manages, voice rough.

"We need to get outta here," Gladio says.

Prompto struggles to sit up, but it's really not working out for him. His arms feel heavy, and his chest seizes up in pain as soon as he tries to engage the muscle.

"Stay still," Ignis scolds. "Don't injure yourself further."

"Wait a minute," Noct says distantly. The eerie glow in his eyes has started to fade. "There." He points at the wall, where there's a tiny gap, one that could just admit someone with a slender build through. "That's where it is. The Royal Arm." He looks at the scene next to him, everyone crowded around Prompto.

"Go get it, then," Gladio says. "At least this won't've been pointless."

Prompto longs to say no, but he knows it's pointless. He watches Noct vanish through the gap. He sees flash of light. His chest aches in a way that has nothing to do with his injury at all.

---

Prompto ends up being carried out of the mine.

He's capable of healing himself, and he argued about it. But Luna insisted that he rest awhile before he try it, because she would have used most of his energy getting him this far.

And when Prompto reaches down into himself, he realizes that she's right, and submits.

He dozes in the car. When he wakes up, they haven't gone to a Haven. They've rented a caravan, instead. The one near Galdin, probably.

"I'm so sorry," Luna says, for about the fourth time since he's woken, while they get Prompto settled in the bed.

"It's really not your fault," Prompto replies. "We've all been working on this for years. We should've looked out for you better."

"And you shouldn't have- what were you thinking?" Noct butts in, clear frustration on his face. "You got yourself godsdamned skewered!"

"I was thinking that it would be really bad if Luna died," Prompto says.

"And it wouldn't be bad if you died?" Noct asks.

Prompto looks away, but then he makes himself look at Noct, because this is important. "There's a difference," he says. "You and Luna have to live. If either of you die, the whole world goes. I'm expendable."

Noct stares. "You're not- you're not expendable, Prompto, what the fuck?"

Prompto swallows. "I'm not more important than the entire planet, Noct," he says.

Noct keeps staring for a moment, then turns on his heel and leaves the room. The door slams behind him.

Instinctively, Prompto tries to get up to go after him, but he doesn't manage to move and has to bite back a groan.

"Rest," Luna says, even more guilt-stricken than before.

Prompto doesn't know how he's supposed to sleep after making everyone this upset, but he sinks into the mattress and closes his eyes.

He's so exhausted he's still out within minutes.

---

Prompto wakes up only briefly, as everyone else goes to bed. Noct doesn't climb in with him.

---

The next morning is an experience.

Noct doesn't talk to Prompto. It's not even that he ignores him. When Prompto asks for a glass of water, Noct pours it from the sink, hands it to him, and makes sure Prompto has a good grip on it before stalking off.

Luna clears him to try to heal himself after breakfast.

Starting off is bad. Singing properly requires engaging the diaphragm, which makes his entire gut scream for a few awful moments. But as he starts to heal, the pain edges back.

It's really only then that Prompto gets a solid idea of how bad the damage was to begin with. He can sense the healed edges--and more importantly, the sheer number of them. Something like that should have killed him. It's only because Luna's powers are so strong that he's here to do this.

No wonder everyone's so unsettled. Prompto's a little unsettled, too.

Prompto finishes up and turns his concentration outward again.

Noct's watching him. When Prompto makes eye contact, he bites his lip and slips out of the room again.

Chapter Text

Prompto thinks of going out on a jog, and dismisses the idea immediately because he's still worn out. He considers going out to take pictures, but decides not to for the same reason.

He thinks of trying to talk to Noct. He glances out the window of the camper to see Noct and Gladio arguing about something while Luna, leaning over a book, does a bad job of pretending she's not eavesdropping. He closes the curtain and sighs.

"Coin for your thoughts," Ignis says.

Prompto startles, then turns. "Oh. Hey." He tries to decide what to say. "A lot's happened in the last day or so."

"Indeed," Ignis says. "Are you in any remaining pain?"

"Nah," Prompto replies. "It's all fine. Tired, mostly."

Ignis hums. "We were all quite concerned. Noct in particular, of course."

Prompto blushes. He's not used to people talking about him and Noct. "Worried enough his eyes started glowing," he says.

"Worried enough he summoned a god," Ignis says.

"And now he's mad at me," Prompto mutters.

Ignis shakes his head. "You know better than that."

Prompto picks up the idea, turns it over a few times, holds it against Noct's behavior. The picture seems a little different. But he's not going to assume he knows what Ignis means. "What do you think, then?"

Ignis chuckles. "I think when he's finished with his... discussion with Gladio, he'll probably want to speak with you."

Prompto's shoulders slump a little with relief.

Ignis seems to consider for a few moments. "However," he begins.

Prompto freezes.

Ignis speaks carefully, every word measured. "When the four of us were training as Noct's Crownsguard, of course keeping him in one piece was our first priority. But for Gladio and I, our second priority was you."

"What?" Prompto squeaks.

"You have skills nearly unique on Eos, Prompto. There are thousands of men who can wield a dagger or a sword. Your gift of Song is far more rare, and some of those Songs are solely yours. You are a treasure and a strong asset. This is without considering that you alone have the capacity to draw Noct to safety regardless of circumstance, or the fact that you can directly speak with gods." Ignis sighs. "I do not fault your understanding of priorities, but you are hardly expendable."

"Oh," says Prompto, reeling. "Uh." He doesn't know what to say.

Ignis gives him a kind smile. "Ah, well," he says. "At any rate. Shiva has been quite insistent on sending us to Altissia, has she not?"

Prompto finds himself immensely grateful for the change in subject. "Yeah," he says. "I don't know exactly why."

"Do you know anything that we might not?" Ignis asks.

And Prompto thinks of just what Shiva said--if the time of gods must end--and that Suzunomiya had just said that Shiva was guessing her plan. "I'm... not sure if I'm supposed to talk about it," he says.

"Did anyone tell you not to?" Ignis asks.

"No, but..." Prompto hesitates. "It's... it's complicated."

Ignis nods, clearly filing the interaction away somewhere in his head.

Prompto gives him half a smile. "If I think maybe I can, I'd tell you first," he says, and means it.

"Thank you," Ignis says. He adjusts his glasses. "You still look a touch pale," he says. "If you're still tired, you should rest. I'll be making lunch."

"Yeah, okay," Prompto says. "Call me when it's done."

Ignis nods at him. "Of course."

Prompto doesn't feel like sleeping, but he lays down on the camper bed. He stares at the wall, and he thinks.

---

"Hey," Noct says, voice low. "You awake?"

Prompto actually hadn't been--he thinks he drifted off, somewhere--but he rolls over and sits up, heart pounding. "Yeah," he says. "What's up?"

Noct grimaces. "I've... kinda been an ass," he says, and scratches at the back of his head.

"Kinda," Prompto replies.

"I just- look. I'm not-" Noct runs a hand through his hair, frustrated. "It's not supposed to be like this," he says, finally.

"Like what?" Prompto asks.

Noct sighs. "I mean, I know you signed up to take hits for me and- but it was never supposed to actually happen," he says. "You weren't meant- you weren't supposed to be meat on a skewer, you weren't- You would've been dead. We were- I knew, but I always thought we would just- we'd be so good we'd never have to worry about that part. It wasn't supposed to matter who was a prince and who swore an oath. And you think you don't matter."

"It's not a big deal," Prompto mumbles.

"Prompto," Noct says, and his voice cracks. "Of course it's a big deal. I- how did I fuck up so bad you thought you were expendable?"

Prompto stares for a few moments, then comes back to himself and gets up to pull Noct into his arms. "I didn't mean it like that," he says.

Noct clings on tight. "I know you better than that," he says. He takes a shuddering breath that Prompto can feel through his chest. "I can't do this without you," he whispers.

Prompto smiles a fraction. "And here I thought you were mad at me."

Noct huffs a laugh. "I'm mad at me," he murmurs. "I'm mad at me, and the gods, and a little bit at Luna even though she didn't know any better. But not you."

"Okay," Prompto says. He draws back just enough to kiss Noct's cheek. "It's okay."

Noct pulls back all the way and gives Prompto a smile with suspiciously glistening eyes. "Lunch is ready," he says. "Wanna eat?"

Chapter Text

Prompto... isn't dreaming?:

The Frostbearer is an idiot.

Prompto finds himself standing on a balcony overlooking a grove of cherry trees. He turns toward the unfamiliar voice and sees a frail-looking young woman reclining in a plush chair. She has pale skin, ashen blonde hair, and soft pink eyes. Her dress, also pink, is somehow familiar.

I'm Saki. And you're Prompto, right?

"Uh, yeah," Prompto says timidly.

You and your friends need to get out of Lucis. The Bladekeeper has heard of what's happened.

"What?" Prompto asks.

Entering Accordo won't be safe either. The Tidemother knows what's going on, too, and she's furious. But Bahamut can damage your friends more... directly, and he'll hesitate to cross into her territory. Hopefully, that will buy us enough time to talk him down.

Prompto tries not to panic. "We don't have a boat, we don't have a way-"

There is a way. In the morning, a former officer of Niflheim will land an airship near your campsite. She is looking for you, and has been for months. She is going to offer to take you to Altissia. You need to go with her.

Prompto swallows. "How do I know I can trust you?" he asks, knowing that someone will ask him. "I didn't contact you, and I've been dreaming of..."

Ardyn, right?

There's a brief lull. Prompto looks back out over the cherry trees, watching petals flutter in the breeze.

Here.

Prompto feels something in his hand. He lifts it to see a mostly-transparent crystal. It looks rough, like it was just dug from the ground and rinsed off.

Ardyn wouldn't give you this. He couldn't, anyway.

The voice sounds weaker, now. Prompto looks back, and sees Saki slumped further into the cushions.

You can decide if you want to use it. Either way, you'll have it when you wake up. The best evidence I can give you.

"Are you all right?"

Saki laughs faintly.

No. But that's nothing new.

Prompto hesitates, but he needs to know. "The... the end of the time of gods, and all of that. What does it mean?"

It's our job to protect the planet we created, and the Astrals swore an oath to do the same. Whatever the cost. Suzunomiya and I expect things to be very expensive for those of us who've spent millenia playing god.

"You... you're planning to die," Prompto says. "You're planning for... all of you to die."

You can see why some individuals might be opposed to the idea.

Prompto finds himself laughing despite himself. "Yeah."

But everything that lives will die one day. It's a question of why. And Eos is worth dying for.

"I guess so," Prompto says.

I can't hold this together much longer. It's too bad. I'm glad I got to meet you, Prompto. I hope I get to talk to you again.

Prompto wakes up.

---

Prompto wakes up, and there's a crystal, a clear crystal like quartz, a crystal that a goddess gave him in a dream, clutched in his fist. Awake, he senses a faint hum of magic in it.

He wraps himself around Noct and thinks for a moment about how everyone is going to react to his news. He even lets himself have a few seconds thinking about how he absolutely did not ask for this.

Then he sits up and tries to get his bearings.

It's morning. Ignis is already awake, and the faint smell of coffee wafts through the room.

Prompto doesn't get to put this off. This is urgent.

It doesn't make it any easier.

He pulls himself out of bed and shambles toward the kitchen. "Is the coffee ready?" he asks.

"Yes. Help yourself," Ignis says.

"Thanks," Prompto says, with maybe a little more relief than usual.

Ignis turns to him, and frowns. "Are you feeling all right?" he asks.

Prompto picks up a cup and fills it. "I got a message," he replies. With a little faked cheer, he adds, "But I met a new goddess, so that's cool, I guess."

"I take it the news isn't good."

"I don't think anyone's going to be happy with this."

Ignis sighs. "I'll just wake the others, then."

Prompto lets out a breath. "I guess that's the best thing to do."

---

They crowd around the little table outside the camper for breakfast. Prompto's too wired to eat, though, fidgeting and staring at everyone's hands.

"Come on," Noct says, and rolls his eyes in a sort of fond way. "We know something happened. Just tell us."

Prompto starts out with the easy part: that he met the other surviving Will of Eos, and the crystal that formed proof.

"What is she like?" Luna asks.

Prompto considers. "She looked mostly like a human," he says. "Kinda delicate, though." He decides it might be better not to mention that she looked like she was dying. "She was much more... casual, with me. It was kinda nice."

Of course, Ignis is the one who asks. "Why did she contact you?"

Prompto squares his shoulders. "She's, uh, found us a ride to Altissia," he says. "Today. With a former Niff officer. And she says it's really urgent that we go, because, uhh, Bahamut's apparently really pissed off at us."

"That you and Luna are Reyvateils?" Noct asks.

"No," Prompto says. "No, it's- it's um. Their plan for dealing with the Starscourge will, uhh, probably kill him. And the rest of the Astrals. And Suzunomiya and Saki, too."

Luna goes still. "Has this always been the plan?" she asks.

"I don't know," Prompto replies.

Luna's voice wavers. "All this time, have we been-"

"Luna," Noct says warningly.

Prompto waits a few moments. "Remember, we needed to go out there anyway," he says, when it seems like Luna's a little less tense.

"You're right," Luna says.

It's quiet- no.

It's not quiet.

There's a hum like an engine.

It is an engine.

Prompto turns to see an Imperial dropship lowering itself right next to them.

"Sorry to interrupt," a woman who is not at all sorry calls down to them. Her armor, silvery hair, and drawl would be enough to identify her as native to the Empire even without the ship. "But Luna's big brother says it's time to leave."

"Is this the 'ride' you were talkin' about?" Gladio asks.

"Probably," Prompto replies.

Ignis sighs. "I don't suppose you could tell us your name?"

"Aranea Highwind," the woman replies. "Look, we don't have all day, so- right. Hey, you!" she yells back somewhere behind her.

Umbra trots to the entrance of the ship, tail wagging, and barks cheerfully at them.

"Well, damn," Noct says, staring.

Chapter Text

Gladio's muttering something on his phone. He'd called Iris right away. "Yeah, I know, I'm sorry. I swear when it's all over I'll tell you everything," Gladio says just loud enough for Prompto to make it out. "Love-you-bye," he adds, as just one word.

"I have to admit, this isn't the reception I expected," Aranea says.

"We had some advance notice," Ignis says.

Noct and Luna emerge from the camper, Luna wearing her backpack. "Not far in advance," Noct says. "About ten minutes."

"How'd you find out?" Aranea asks. "Ravus has been throwing tantrums for weeks about how we couldn't track you down."

"You wouldn't believe us if we told you," Prompto says.

"How did you get Umbra?" Noct asks, as he crouches to pet the dog.

"He just showed up last night carrying a note that said he'd help convince you to board," Aranea replies. "I wasn't about to leave a dog to the daemons."

"We're ready to go," Luna says.

"It's about two hours to Altissia," Aranea informs them as they board the airship. "Be ready for some turbulence on the way. Reports say the weather in Accordo's awful."

"I suspect it will get worse as we approach," Ignis mutters.

"Brace yourselves," Aranea warns. The ship lurches as it lifts off. "Anyway, what's with the ink, Lunafreya? Ravus is probably going to lose it as soon as he sees it."

"I'd forgotten about that," Luna says, blushing a little. "What are you doing running errands for my brother?"

"Well, for one, he's paying me," Aranea says. Her expression goes a little darker. "For the rest... You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"We've had conversations with Astrals," Gladio says. "Try us."

Aranea sighs. "So you know how creepy the Magitek Infantry is?" she asks. "I found out why they're so creepy. They're people injected with daemon blood."

Prompto claps his hand over his mouth, but not quite fast enough to keep down the laugh.

Aranea scowls. "I knew you wouldn't believe me," she mutters.

"No, no, it's-" Prompto takes a breath. "We've known that for ages," he says.

Aranea pauses. "What?"

"The program started over twenty years ago," Ignis says. "Lucian Intelligence found out about it before I learned to read."

"Shit," Aranea says. She sighs. "So I've shown you mine. Are you gonna show me yours?"

Prompto glances over at Ignis, then at Noct.

It's Luna that speaks up, though. "A goddess told us."

Aranea sighs again. "Okay," she says. "I knew this was Astral business going in." She stretches for a moment. "So are we finally going to have that dream wedding?"

This time, Prompto is expecting the question, and doesn't start laughing.

"Well, the treaty's a wash," Noct says. "And the world's a mess. So it might be better to wait and see."

"Huh," Aranea says. "Well, I better radio Ravus that you're finally on the way. It'll be two hours, give or take. Hope you like air travel."

"Thank you," Ignis and Luna chorus.

"Jinx," Aranea murmurs as she steps out of the room.

---

The journey is not a pleasant one.

The closer they get to Altissia, the more the airship wavers. One of Aranea's crew comes out to tell them that they're in Altissian airspace, but wind and flooding are making it unsafe to land. Ten minutes later, Gladio is violently sick, and Prompto feels like he's not far behind.

Finally, finally, the ship descends.

It's pouring rain, and the air smells like salt. As they walk out of the ship onto the concrete, Prompto almost slips into a puddle. The famous Altissian canals are flooding, and as the waves crash, water surges onto pavement. Within moments, all of them are soaked down to the bone.

"Ravus is waiting for you," Aranea calls. "This way."

On a better day, Prompto would have his camera in his hands, snapping pictures in every direction. But right now, he can barely look away from where he's going. At least it's like that for everyone else, so they don't attract attention.

Leviathan has to know they're here. He wonders idly if they're going to actually get to Ravus before everything goes south.

But they do make it to their destination eventually: the Leville, a fancy hotel. Prompto feels a little bad going inside completely drenched, and even worse when it turns out they're going to the "Royal Suite."

But it's all worth it to see the light in Luna's eyes when the door opens and her brother is standing there.

"Lunafreya," Ravus says, and grasps her hand. "I am beyond glad to see you again."

"You too," Luna says, and lets him guide her into the room.

"Here. Take a hot shower. It wouldn't do for you to catch cold," Ravus says. His eyes flick to her installer port, but he doesn't actually say anything about it.

Luna glances at the rest of them. "Is it all right if I go first?"

"Please don't take too long," Noct says.

Luna giggles, and makes for the bathroom.

When the sound of the shower joins the sound of pounding rain, Ravus draws a breath. He stares at Noct. "Your Majesty," he says with a face like he just bit a lemon.

Noct's posture goes straighter and his eyes go dead. "Lord Ravus," he replies.

An awkward silence grows through the room.

Ravus sighs, and looks at Prompto. "Mr. Argentum, I assume?"

"That's... that's my dad," Prompto says, feeling a little like he just bit a lemon. "Please. Call me Prompto."

"Prompto, then." Ravus swallows. "Tell me... what my sister has become."

"How did you find out?" Gladio asks.

"I obtained video from Insomnia, and saw her Sing," Ravus says. "And the mark on her is clear enough evidence, if you know what to look for."

Prompto nods. He thinks for a moment, trying to decide what to tell this person he's never met before. "It doesn't change your body much," he says. "She might- she might need a... medication, sometimes, but she might not, it's- there are a lot of types, and we don't know which exactly she is." He considers awhile longer. "I didn't know her before, so I couldn't say if her personality's changed. But I can tell you that being a Reyvateil and using those powers means being honest with yourself about what your feelings are and being willing to show them."

"Thank you," Ravus says, looking pensive. "I've been a poor host. Would you all like some hot tea?"

"Yes, thank you," Ignis says.

Prompto has the feeling that he's passed some sort of test.

Chapter Text

By the time everyone's gone through the shower, it's almost dinnertime. Gladio's still a little green and not interested in eating, but Ravus has the rest of them order from the room service menu.

"Isn't that expensive?" Prompto asks without quite meaning to. He's spent too much time counting every last cent to be unaware of what things cost, and they've spent so much time on the run that spending thousands of gil on food is an unimaginable luxury.

"I can afford it," Ravus says, and there's something cold enough in his expression that Prompto knows not to ask why.

They eat to booming thunder and driving rain. It's hard to say, but it might be getting worse.

Ravus clears his throat. "Your Majesty," he says. "As a fellow fugitive head of state, I welcome you to the Embassy of Tenebrae."

"Does that imply that Tenebrae has seceded from the Empire?" Ignis asks.

"Officially, no," Ravus says. "That would simply bring chaos. Unofficially, the government of Accordo knows that I am here and recognizes me as Tenebrae's Prince-Regent."

Luna draws a breath. "So you've been waiting for me."

"Of course I have, sister," Ravus says. "I knew you were alive, and I knew His Majesty would see you to safety."

"I can't stay here," Luna says. "My job isn't done."

Ravus looks at her for a few moments. "Then why are you here?"

"The Hydraean," Luna replies.

Prompto senses, rather than sees, a battle of wills play out in the silence.

"I see," Ravus says after a long moment, having apparently lost. "Do you and the King of Lucis still intend to wed?"

"Certainly not now," Noct says. "With the treaty a failure and my kingdom all but lost, I'd be a poor match for her, anyway." He's dropped into his diplomacy voice, which Prompto has never liked.

"Confronting the Tidemother will be very public," Ravus says. "You won't be able to keep hidden the way that you have thus far."

"She knows we're here," Gladio says. "That's why the weather is so bad."

"So she's angry with you," Ravus says.

"Yeah," Prompto confirms.

Ravus scowls. "Tell me everything," he says.

---

They don't tell him everything, of course, but they do tell him things. Luna's plea for another way, and claiming a long-hidden piece of her birthright. Gaining the blessing of Titan, and then Ramuh, and the true identity of Gentiana. A message from a god that someone would come to pick them up that day, with no particular mention of which god it was.

Somewhere in the midst of it, room service comes by with their food. By the end of it, their plates and drinks are long empty, and Ravus looks about ready to punch all of them.

But he doesn't. He says, "Take the remainder of the day to rest and gain strength. Consider this room your own. I will tell the First Secretary to order an evacuation and procure what resources I can." He yanks a cell phone from his pocket and storms out of the room.

"Did we, uh, do okay?" Prompto asks.

"That's just Ravus," Luna says. "He's not wrong. We should rest while we can."

Gladio and Luna lay down to take a nap. Noct looks like he could use one, but he's staring out the window, looking out into the storm. Ignis appears to have taken "consider this room your own" as an invitation to stress clean. He found a sponge somewhere and he's scrubbing at the sink. If the sink is dirty, Prompto certainly can't tell.

Prompto should take a nap--wants to take a nap--but he's far too wired. There's something all wrong in the air, and he knows exactly what it is but has no idea what he can do about it.

All too soon, Ravus returns, banging the door open. "The evacuation has begun," he says. "I brought medical supplies, radio earpieces, and a map of Altissia. You will need to go to the Altar of the Tidemother. I hope you know what you are doing."

Prompto, at least, has no idea what he's doing.

---

They hover over the map, tracing elevation lines, trying to get a sense of a city whose streets none of them have walked. They turn on the radio and listen as the evacuation proceeds. They fiddle with the earpieces, trying to get them situated comfortably.

Someone knocks on the door, and Ravus opens it to a boy, somewhere around sixteen, with a harried expression. "There's, um, an evacuation order for the city. If you would please go downstairs we can direct you to safety-"

"Go ahead," Noct says. "We'll make it." The confidence in his voice is all fake. Prompto can tell by the flat line Noct's lips form after speaking.

But the boy doesn't know. He nods and skitters off like a spooked rabbit.

It's for the best. Prompto hopes he makes it out.

Only a few minutes later, Luna rises to her feet. "It's time," she says. "I'm going to go ahead of you."

"No-" Noct says, and then stops himself. Takes a breath. "Why?"

"I am the Oracle," Luna says. "It is my duty."

"Let me accompany you," Ravus says.

Luna shakes her head. "You are the Prince-Regent of Tenebrae," she says. "Our people need you. You ought to evacuate, but we both know you will not. You must stay out of the worst of it, at least."

Ravus sags a little, the way someone does when they lift a heavy weight onto their back. "I will aid with the evacuation," he says, and shifts his earpiece a little. "Lunafreya. If you hear the call, then follow. Do not allow us to regret it."

Luna rises to her feet. "I hope to see you soon," she says.

And she... leaves, just like that.

Noct grips the arms of his chair and says, "Can't we go after her?"

"No," Ravus says. "You will respect her will."

Prompto rests a hand over one of Noct's. "She's gonna be fine," he says.

"How will we know when to go after her?" Noct asks.

"I suspect there will be no question," Ignis says.

"I am taking my leave," Ravus says. Prompto hears a tiny clinking, and realizes that Ravus' hands are shaking under the armor. "Succeed." And he, too, disappears out into the hallway.

---

Prompto's not sure how long they've been waiting. Maybe it's been ten minutes, maybe half an hour. But finally, the sign they've been waiting for arrives:

A roar, one that shakes the building, sends the chair no one's using toppling.

Noct is clearly in pain, but he gets to his feet, and says, "We're going now."

"No arguments here," Gladio says. "Let's move."

They crowd through the door, and without any discussion break into a run down the hall. Luna needs them.

Chapter Text

"Luna?" Noct asks over the earpiece for the third time since they started running.

The radio crackles, or picks up on the sounds of the storm. But this time, a warped version of Luna's voice shouts, "I'm all right!" It's enough to spur them onward.

Prompto isn't having the best time at finding his way, but what's worse is all the water. In places the water passes his boots even before waves surge across. He considers going barefoot for that little bit more grip.

But he doesn't, because finally, finally, they turn a corner and Luna's in view.

And beyond her, Leviathan.

Titan looked pretty human, just gigantic and made of rock. Ramuh could have passed as human if he shrunk himself down to a human-like height. Shiva chose a human form as Gentiana, and looked like a fairy out of a children's book the rest of the time.

Leviathan does not look like a human at all. Leviathan is something more like a dragon, a sea serpent, a beast.

And Luna stands firm before the Tidemother, trident poised to attack.

"Luna!" Noct calls.

"I'm fine," Luna says without turning around. She's looking into the monster's eyes, standing firm without trembling.

Leviathan roars, and Prompto's bones rattle.

"She says we are fortunate that she will speak with us at all," Luna tells them, voice wavering in the earpiece. "She says that she will only grant her power to our cause with her dying breath. She gives us the favor of having the first move, despite my- status."

"Well, guess we'd better get started," Gladio says, as a shield materializes into his hands. "Noct?"

Noct pulls out the Ring--no, no--and the weight of its magic floods the air as it stretches toward Leviathan.

Prompto thinks it probably hits, but he doesn't have a lot of time to think about it as a huge wave slams into him.

---

Don't panic.

Time seems to slow.

The water will be calmer toward the bottom.

They'd taught him how to not drown in the short span of time before the trip started, though Prompto isn't sure he'd call it swimming, exactly. Gladio had argued it was a waste of time.

If there's a strong current, don't try to fight it; swim away from it at an angle.

Prompto turns to his left, and paddles a few feet before hitting... it's the support for a walkway, he thinks. It's reaching up out of the water.

He pulls himself up and gasps for breath.

Prompto has no idea where in the city he is. His earpiece, miraculously, is still there, so he calls out. "Guys? Luna? It's Prompto. Can anyone hear me?"

He gets a reply, and he's pretty sure it's human speech--he thinks maybe it's Gladio or Noct--but it's too distorted to make out any words.

"I can't understand you," Prompto says. Then he reminds himself that his enemy has control over water, which he is immersed in, and hauls himself onto the walkway. He tries to get his bearings, but he doesn't know this city at all.

He can't see Leviathan, which is not great news, but he can hear her screams. It seems to be coming from everywhere. What's happening?

He decides to move toward higher ground. A better vantage point, and less water.

As he makes for the nearest stairs, he feels something practically wriggling in his pocket. He reaches in and pulls out Carbuncle, and the crystal from this morning.

What a long time ago.

Prompto considers, and decides to risk it. He sits on a stair, moves his glove, and shoves the hymn crystal into place.

It's the blood that flows through the veins of Eos. It's a cursed blessing; a blessed curse. It's an echo of the love and rage and grief of a young girl whose childhood fell apart, amplified and raw.

Prompto blinks away someone else's angry tears. No time for that.

"Thanks Carbuncle," he murmurs, and puts the little figure back in his pocket. Then he gets moving.

---

At almost the same time, Prompto sees two things:

There's an elderly woman in the wreckage of a house. She's laying prostrate on the floor, hands clasped in prayer, sobbing.

And there's a snake made of water coming towards both of them.

"She has nothing to do with this!" Prompto yells, forgetting he's got a radio in his ear. He hears answering sounds--a little clearer, this time, definitely a person--but he doesn't bother trying to make out what he's hearing.

Quicksilver materializes in his hand. He has no idea if bullets are going to work against this thing, but if he can help it, he should save his voice for the real deal.

Ridiculously, enough shots drive it away.

"Hey," Prompto says, trying to be gentle but at the same time well aware of the urgency of the situation. "Hey, ma'am." Isn't he glad he learned Accordian in school? "You need to run," he says, in her language.

She shakes her head. "I wouldn't make it," she replies. "I am old and slow, so I pray for Her forgiveness."

Prompto looks between her and the stairs. He could carry her up. He could do it, and then escort her to safety, or at least find her somewhere-

"You're the little bird, aren't you?" says the old woman. "Go save your boy king."

"But you'll die," Prompto says, forgetting to even speak her language in his distress.

"That is up to Tidemother," she says haltingly. "Go."

Prompto looks up. He thinks he can see the altar, and there's someone there, and there's crackling in his ear that sounds like a voice, and he feels like he's committing a murder when he says, "I'll go."

He turns his back on her and climbs.

Chapter Text

Prompto runs into Luna, very nearly literally, as he reaches the cathedral level. She gives him a weak smile, which he tries to return.

"The microphone on my earpiece doesn't work anymore," she says. "But yours does, in case you didn't know."

Prompto laughs and tugs out his. "Here. Now you can have one that works."

"Won't you need it?" Luna asks.

"I just realized," he says. "I'd be Singing into everyone's ears."

Luna laughs, something shrill and a little too fast. "Then I shouldn't either," she says.

"Okay, okay," Prompto says. "I'll just-" He shoves it in his pocket next to Carbuncle. "Now it won't be so loud." He steadies himself. "What's going on out there?"

"Leviathan hasn't shown herself since that first attack," Luna says. "It's all these water... creations." She hesitates. "I can't- Sing up the firebird. I- I'm the Oracle, it would be unthinkable, it-" Her voice is pitching higher and higher. Panic.

"Then don't," Prompto says. "You can't make yourself feel something you don't. Just- there are people that need help, Luna, there's a woman down a few flights of stairs who almost got killed, if you can just tell Leviathan to stop then we don't have to do anything else."

Luna stares at him. "Oh," she says, and breathes more steadily for a moment. "Noctis is still at the Altar. He will need you."

"I'll figure something out," Prompto says. If nothing else, he can just... learn to paddle a boat while a water monster is attacking. "You coming?"

"Everything I need is right here," Luna says, features finally calm. "Do you need my assistance?"

Prompto smiles at her. "I got this," he replies.

"Be well," Luna says.

Prompto laughs. "Stairs are great cardio," he says, and starts to move toward them.

Luna sucks in a deep breath, and Prompto thinks she's going to say something to him and turns around. But when she opens her mouth, it's Song that pours out. "Yeeee... sAsAwLYA/. reta lAnYAcLYAaLYE..."

Prompto grins as the Song rumbles deep in his bones. He's suddenly so proud of her. She's doing something only she can do.

But he's not going to be outdone.

Going down, he takes the stairs two at a time.

---

One flight down, Leviathan rises from the water, with that deep animal's roar. Luna's voice swells to match.

Noct's swapped from using the Ring to a sword. Unless Prompto is hallucinating, he's trying to warp onto Leviathan. It's a terrible idea, but there's really no better one.

Noct needs him. Noct needs him, he's got to get-

Leviathan snarls, and leans in towards him-

No. It's not him at all. It's Luna. Leviathan probably doesn't even realize he's there.

It was stupid, stupid, stupid to leave Luna alone!

Her voice doesn't falter. She's brave, she's so brave, and right to the monster's face- "sAlLYA woth daf gral quals targue balduo,
naave, jAztLYE...!
" --right in Leviathan's face, she's defiant.

And Leviathan hesitates. Prompto can see it.

Then, with a nudge of her jaw, Leviathan knocks Luna straight off her feet, flings her into the air. She screams, and then goes quiet. He doesn't even see where she lands.

Something in Prompto snaps.

---

This is no test of worth. This is just spite. This is petty spite.

Titan made them fight as a demonstration of determination, but this? That's not what this is.

Leviathan is destroying an entire city full of people who have worshipped her since before the Astrals' war because she's mad at them. Mad at Luna.

Even if they didn't need Leviathan's power, it would be worth ending her.

If Leviathan wants a fight to the death?

She'll get it.

---

Prompto begins to Sing.

"Afezeria..."

Everything goes slow, and Prompto finds himself rising from the ground.

This Song is decayed, corrupted. He thinks the feelings from the crystal are leaking into his own. But it doesn't matter. It's working.

He keeps Singing. "Rrha ki ra ruinie. Rrha ki ra waath, hyear!"

Finally, Leviathan's attention falls on him. She moves back to do- something. Prompto doesn't know, doesn't care.

Somehow, he's got Quicksilver in his hand. So, naturally, he fires.

It's like he threw a bomb. Leviathan draws back- flinches.

He fires again.

Leviathan's attempt at a counterattack feels so slow that it might as well not be happening. Prompto's out of the way long before anything can connect.

This feels good. Too good. But it's not the time to worry about that.

It's time to fire another shot.

Chapter Text

Prompto has just enough rationality left to be glad when Noct rejoins the fight.

They haven't practiced... this, exactly, this strange situation where Prompto's the one with impressive aerial maneuvers, but they know how to play off each other. Prompto could probably win this on his own, given long enough, but it would be a painfully long process. This way is more sure, and will be less of an exertion. The aftermath of this Song is probably going to be bad.

It would feel good to win by himself. To be the man who killed an Astral. But this is a better idea.

Noct keeps shooting Prompto strange looks, though. Prompto thinks it's about the new power, for awhile, but... maybe it isn't.

Prompto wishes Noct understood Hymmnos, even though half the things he's Singing are barely even words. He wishes he could Sing and talk at the same time. Tell him what happened to Luna, tell him everything he's realized.

He wonders if Leviathan knows how thoroughly she's being mocked.

He wonders if Leviathan knows that she's going to lose.

---

Noct warp-strikes straight into Leviathan's mouth, which is the most audacious thing Prompto has ever seen him do. He does a lot of damage, though--Prompto can see black blood trailing along Leviathan's mouth as he lines up a shot.

(Prompto thinks that maybe, normally, he'd wait a little longer after Noct got out of the way before he shot right where Noct had been.)

But this is going to end soon, and all of them know it.

Noct warps onto the ruins of a building and looks up at Leviathan. "This can end here if you stop!" he shouts. "Otherwise you're going to die!"

Prompto wouldn't let it. Not now. But he stops attacking, just to see.

Leviathan looks at the both of them for a long, still moment. Then the water level plunges around then and soars around Leviathan--a tidal wave in the making.

She's going to take out this entire city, a city where they've worshipped her for thousands of years.

Prompto doesn't wait to see what Noct does. He draws into his own core and pulls. All of that anger, all of that power, he funnels it down the barrel of his gun.

He snarls out one last word of Song--"afezeria," a blessing--and fires.

He starts to fall as soon as the bullet hits Leviathan.

The water, and Prompto, sink down to the ground in what feels like slow-motion. Maybe it is. Prompto has a lot of time to think on the way down. He wonders if Luna's okay. He wonders whether he's going to hit pavement or water, and if he's high up enough that it doesn't matter, and if he's going to die. He wonders if Noct's all right, if he can see him. He wonders if the guys could hear him leave that woman to die.

That makes him think of Carbuncle, and he even has enough time to pull the little figure out of his pocket and wrap his body around it, to protect it from the fall.

He closes his eyes and braces himself for impact.

It comes.

---

"Fancy seeing you here!"

That voice. Prompto doesn't like that voice.

He forces his eyes open.

"Sleeping in public is dangerous, you know!" says Ardyn, incarnation of the Starscourge. "I'm so glad that I found you before something awful could happen."

Chapter Text

Prompto hurts. Everything hurts. He doesn't have much left in him, after taking out an Astral. If Ardyn wants to hurt him or something, he's going to have to play smart if he wants to have any hope of getting away.

"Did you know your mother was a terrorist?" Ardyn asks. "Not the dull woman who raised you, of course. Your real mother, the one we made you from."

Prompto senses that Ardyn's trying to get under his skin, but he's never known anyone who might be in a position to know about how he came to be. And he's not ready to get up and try to run. So he stays quiet, and he listens.

"She was born into slavery, just like you," Ardyn continues. "But luck was not as kind to her. She was treated with cruelty, until she made her own escape." He walks a few steps closer. "Here, let me help you sit up."

Prompto is too exhausted to panic. Ardyn kneels down, and with more care than Prompto feels comfortable with, draws him up to sit.

"There we are," Ardyn says. "You are in remarkably good condition given how far you fell. Of course, you were manufactured to be durable."

"Get your hands off me," Prompto rasps, voice rough from overuse.

Ardyn laughs. He sounds genuinely delighted. "Oh, my apologies," he says, and rises to his feet. "What were we discussing? Ahh, yes. Your mother." He hums a few bars of a half-familiar tune. "She was ultimately responsible for the deaths of two thousand people."

Prompto tells himself that this shouldn't surprise him, that they would have made MTs from someone excellent at killing.

"You've surpassed her," Ardyn says. "It's estimated that three thousand people have already perished today."

"That's Leviathan, not me," Prompto says.

"But it was you who chose to come here, was it not?" Ardyn asks. "Without that, Leviathan would have remained peaceful in the sea."

Prompto knows he's being prodded at, knows Ardyn is pushing to hurt, but it's working despite it.

"At any rate, none of that is particularly important," Ardyn says. "What's truly important is that you're in one piece."

Prompto tries to think. They practiced things like this: how fast it takes to get to your feet from laying down in several positions, sitting in several positions. His gun could buy him time--though how well would it work against Ardyn?

Was Ardyn even planning to detain him? What did he even want?

"I need to go find the others," Prompto croaks, testing the waters.

"Ah, I'm afraid I need a favor from you first," Ardyn replies.

Prompto gets up. It hurts. Everything hurts. He's not sure his body is going to let him run. "What kind of favor?"

"I will explain when we arrive," Ardyn says.

And there, listening closely, Prompto can hear the sound of an Imperial dropship.

There's no more time for conversation.

Prompto summons his gun and shoots Ardyn, straight in the chest, and he starts to run.

"I really must insist."

And then Ardyn begins to Sing.

"Ma num ra teyys ween syec oz wase en noglle guatrz, ee, Ween colgen fayra, Race mea wis gigeadeth zeeth tie yor."

Prompto's body goes still.

Then it turns him around to face Ardyn.

No.

Prompto tries to lift a hand. He tries to open his mouth. It doesn't happen.

His legs move him toward Ardyn, who just keeps Singing. Ardyn's chest wound is already gone, with only torn clothing to hint it was ever there.

And now, in flickers, Prompto can see below Ardyn's disguise. Maybe it's because he's not using all of his magic on it anymore. Or maybe he's never been close enough. Or maybe Ardyn's forcing him to see-

Ardyn is not a human man. Ardyn is shadow; writhing, formless shadow. Skittering over it is a circle that is darker still- an Installer Port, pulsing with darkness as Ardyn Sings.

No.

Prompto wants to close his eyes. He wants to run.

He can't.

Ardyn Sings, and Prompto's body stands only an arm's length away.

They board the ship.

"Rrha yea ra haf yor, forgandal, knawa Manac yor, Manac."

And Prompto stands still while he is gagged, and kneels so his wrists and ankles are bound.

Finally, Ardyn releases the Song.

Prompto starts to sob. He doesn't want to, but he can't help it. He can't stop.

"There, there," Ardyn says, and wipes at Prompto's tears. "Only a few hours, and we'll be home. Won't that be nice?"

Prompto sobs harder.

Ardyn leaves him to it.

Chapter Text

The street preacher opens his arms. "Altissia, too, has fallen!" he screams. "Eos falls to the wrath of the Astrals!"

A crowd is forming around him.

"You must repent!" he shouts, looking random members of his audience straight in the eye. "We all know the fates of Insomnia and Gralea! We know they were subject to the Gods' justice! The Kingdom of Lucis sinned, and was punished by Titan! The Kingdom of Niflheim sinned, and was punished by Shiva! And now Accordo is punished by Leviathan, and even the power of the Old Gods could not stop it!"

A murmur runs through the crowd.

"We must repent!" the street preacher screams. "We must repent, for I tell you: Bahamut has judged the world, and it all has been found wanting! And hear you me! Tenebrae will be next!"

The crowd grows even larger, and its chatter grows louder.

"Repent! For the Astrals are watching!"

---

"I believe he was referring to the place that Prompto was... made," the advisor says. "The airship was clearly not bound for Insomnia, and I cannot imagine what else he could mean."

"We need to go," the young king says.

"You still can't walk, and Luna's still not conscious," says the king's Shield.

"She'll be safe here with her brother. And I can warp just fine; I can fight. And you said it's a week if we don't have air transport, I'll heal some on the way." The young king balls his fingers into a fist. "He could be dead."

The advisor hesitates before he speaks. "Ardyn implied he had a... use for him," he says. "I believe that Prompto will be alive, for the time being."

"That's almost worse!"

"I know."

It's quiet for a few moments.

"Look, I know this really sucks, but you can't walk," the Shield says. "They say Luna's doing a lot better today. Maybe she'll wake up and she can do something for you."

"Yeah." The young king stares into space. "Yeah, maybe so."

---

"We should leave," the technician says. "We should get out of here, while we still can."

"You're being paranoid," the engineer replies.

"Ever since they brought that kid in, this place has been getting more and more empty," the technician says. "We're the only ones on the team that I've seen in a week."

"It's a huge facility." The engineer presses a few keys on the computer. "There's a lot to do, and the Empire only hired a few of us to do it. Besides, do you really want to risk your chances on the outside?"

"At least out there it's safe during the day," the technician says.

---

"He's still alive," the goddess says. "He's still alive, and he's still holding on to his sanity, even after all this."

"We need to get him out," her counterpart replies. "He's our last hope."

"I know."

"I'm dying."

"Do you think I'm not?" She runs a hand through her hair, and a clump falls out.

"I- I didn't realize. You've been so strong, you've been-"

"I don't want to talk about it. Look, the little Astral--what's his name--Carbangle? Anyway, I gave him administrative access. It's the best idea I have."

"You're dying-"

"I said I don't want to talk about that! You were the one going on about our last hope, so help me figure out how to save him!"

---

The train practically shudders on the track, wavering left and right, and the Oracle shudders with it.

"What're you after, following me around this whole time? It's all your fault!" the King of Lucis growls.

"Do you really mean that?" the Oracle asks.

Hours later, watching the Oracle fall, the King discovers that he did not.

---

"No. No, please, not again..."

Chapter Text

Prompto wakes up numb. A minute or so later, it shifts to full-body pins-and-needles sting like after a limb fell asleep and a trickle of wetness he's sure is blood from his nose.

His emotions take longer to come back, and when they do, it's just a sort of pale exhaustion.

"This isn't working," Ardyn says.

Oh. There's some fear there, too.

"You stay right there," Ardyn continues, as if Prompto wasn't bound to the chair. "I'll be right back."

Prompto takes the deepest breath he can with the gag in his mouth. He can't afford to panic. Every moment when Ardyn's not here is a moment he could escape, right?

He goes over all of it again as he checks the straps to see how much give he's got. The sheer amount of magic in the air makes him think he's really close to a Song Tower, and Ardyn's insistence that this is Prompto's home says that it's somewhere in Niflheim where they make MTs... but that only helps so much. Still.

From the airship dock, they'd gone through the double doors, made two lefts, and then gone straight until they hit an airlock. He's still in that room, just beyond the airlock. He hasn't seen anyone--anyone, in this huge building with all of this stuff--except Ardyn and one fidgety little scientist, and the scientist vanished after the first day. Or at least, he thinks it was the first day.

There are two chairs in the room, both the same, back to back. After strapping Prompto firmly into one of them--legs-arms-chest, bowl over head, like an electric chair, don't think about that--Ardyn had healed all of Prompto's wounds from the fight against Leviathan, grumbling under his breath about "shoddy Oracle work."

After that, Prompto's memory goes blank, but it's a familiar sort of blankness that reminds Prompto of his time in the Dive Machine. From there, it's time in the chair, brief breaks to eat and drink and use the bathroom with the ever-looming threat of mind control if he tried to escape, with the occasional blank.

Every time he wakes up from that, it takes longer to get himself back.

But he can't give up. He can't. If he's still alive, then Noct is still alive--that's the nature of the vow. And he's still breathing.

Prompto's got a little give on his left wrist this time. He's trying to tug his hand loose without dislocating his wrist when-

No. No no no no.

How?

Ardyn's Singing, but it has nothing to do with Prompto. He's leading Luna into the room, holding her hand like she's a child.

Ardyn settles Luna into the chair, Prompto thinks, and then he- he doesn't stop Singing.

Prompto struggles, strains, tries to do all that he can to stay awake but-

It's not enough.

---

Prompto wakes up numb. His body is screaming in pain, and he's crying, but he doesn't feel it. He doesn't feel anything at all.

The tears start to dry up, and his eyes settle somewhere close to focus, and then he finally sees what's in front of him.

Ardyn and Luna. Luna's eyes are closed, and she's gagged and slumped against him, but... Prompto squints. She's breathing.

"Ah, good, you're back with us," Ardyn says.

Prompto nods slowly. This... this isn't good. Everything is too distant to quite feel real, but he knows that it must be, and it will be very bad if Luna dies.

"I want you to Sing for me," Ardyn continues. "If I take the gag out, will you Sing what you just learned?"

Of course this is what it was. Ardyn would never need Prompto for anything else.

Prompto doesn't even know what this is going to do. It might be some strange way to get Prompto to kill himself, or kill Luna, or maybe even Noct somehow. He can't tell.

"Will you?" Ardyn asks patiently. "If not... Ma num ra gyusya yorr, dewee won clamour yor and all that."

Prompto's chest aches with a despair he doesn't quite feel. Of course Ardyn would have him do it. He nods.

"Excellent," Ardyn says. "There's no time like the present." Without touching any of Prompto's other bindings, he gingerly unties the gag.

Instinctively, Prompto draws a few deep breaths. He swallows, and reaches down into himself, down, down...

Oh. It's like this, then.

"Was yea ra enne ar ciel..."

Chapter Text

The Cycle of Rhaplanca and Maoh. A tale of lovers bound by fate through a hundred lives, told by the Reyvateils of Solheim. Zodal Rhaplanca: Rhaplanca of Death.

"Was yea ra crushue anw yehah dornpica, rhaplanca."

In one of her lives, Rhaplanca lived in a village in a desert's oasis. But the oasis would soon be unable to support the community surrounding it. So blessed Rhaplanca prayed, and became able to craft magical seeds that would grant the people's wishes. If they all worked together, she knew that they could make their paradise grow.

"Was yea ra crushue diasee rhaplanca dornpica, fulual 1 dornpica art 1 walasye enne."

So she went into seclusion to craft a thousand magical seeds.

"Was yea ra vit bautifal faura anw dornpica, en 1 dyyal nuih bexm."

And her people watched them form.

---

The first part of this Song is establishing a privileged connection between the two Song Towers. Prompto is the only Reyvateil on Eos with the credentials to do it.

Prompto learns immediately: the Towers have a hierarchy. The Eastern Tower, somewhere in Lucis, can order the Western Tower, somewhere around him, to carry out certain functions. He wonders why no one told him.

---

It took an entire day for Rhaplanca to sing just one seed into being. She had to channel all of her hope for the future, her love for the people, everything she had into each seed. She wanted to make enough of them to heal the land quickly, so she only made time to eat a simple meal and sleep a little before she rose the next day to make the next seed.

"Was paks ra neia bautifal faura tes dornpica, en 4 dyyal nuih bexm."

She had no way of knowing what her people were doing, but she believed in them. She loved them.

---

Now that Prompto's established the connection, his Song will execute commands on everyone connected to the Western Tower. Himself, partially. Luna. All the MTs. Even Ardyn.

Ardyn clearly wants this, but Prompto doesn't know why.

---

But Rhaplanca's people were not as good and kind as she believed.

"Was paks ra eta bautifal faura tes dornpica, en 5 dyyal nuih bexm."

Instead of waiting to use the seeds together to revitalize their home, on the fifth night, people began to steal them.

---

Prompto doesn't know how Ardyn got his filthy hands on Luna, but it was a smart move. He's pretty sure that Ardyn had been trying to Dive into his mind--he wishes he could see it, wishes he could remember--but that it hadn't been working. So somehow, he picked up Luna, and forced Luna to Dive instead. Controlling someone that Prompto would trust, Ardyn could brute force his way through. And then he's got her as a hostage, too.

Prompto's first task is to save and close all the Soulspaces on the Tower. He starts with the MTs and their entirely identical little boxes. (He feels sorry for them, a little. They're like children, and they're always hungry.)

---

Rhaplanca didn't know that her hopes were being betrayed just as quickly as she brought them into being. She continued to pour her entire soul into her task.

Meanwhile, her people became even bolder. They used the wishes, choosing selfish things like wine and gold instead of trying to build a better home for everyone.

"Rrha wol ra stel naja gettra faura anw dornpica, en 10 dyyal nuih bexm."

They fought openly over who would get to take the next seed.

"Rrha wol ra stelled gettra faura anw dornpica, en 100 dyyal nuih bexm."

But Rhaplanca, deep in seclusion, did not know.

---

Prompto comes across his own Soulspace. He feels the magic struggle to save the file, and then-

A wave of numbness washes over him again.

This will hurt Ardyn, but Prompto knows better than to think it would kill him. This will hurt Luna, and it might kill her, but if Prompto stops, then Ardyn will definitely kill her, so it's not a hard choice to make. Not really.

Everything is cold and still and silent.

---

Still, after nearly three years, Rhaplanca reached her goal. A thousand seeds. Overcome with joy, she cradled the final seed in her hands and threw open the door.

She thought she must be having a nightmare. She couldn't imagine that what she was seeing was real. Streets of golden palaces, with drunkards in the gutters. And the oasis she had loved was entirely dry.

Before she could take it in, someone noticed that she was standing there with a seed. They screamed at her and fought to take it from her hands.

Rhaplanca gripped it tight and fled.

---

Luna's Soulspace closes neatly. Ardyn's struggles to save even more than Prompto's did, but eventually the operation is a success and Prompto closes that, too.

Then end any other processes the Tower happens to be running. Nothing, right now...

---

Rhaplanca hid herself away. She wept and could not stop. She couldn't understand what had happened. She couldn't understand why they'd betrayed her--why they'd betrayed themselves like this. Why?

She wept, and she thought, and she decided: it was because people fear death. They fear death, so they value transient pleasures.

"Ma num ra slep faura, etealune na dauan, en 1000 dyyal nuih bexm."

So Rhaplanca wished upon that final seed. She wished that her beloved people could live in a paradise beyond life and death.

"Rrha num ra slepir etealune, na near na morto ciel."

---

And Prompto shuts down the Tower.

---

Rhaplanca's wish was granted.

Chapter Text

Prompto finishes his Song.

The world, gray and sharp, flickers in and out of being.

He sees Luna, crumpled on the floor. He sees-

He sees a thing, a red-black-red shadow of a man, on its knees, crawling.

This is his chance, if there ever was one. Prompto draws in on himself, trying to find what it would take for another Song, something to kill this thing crawling on the floor-

Prompto sucks in a breath, and manages a single note before black crashes down on him.

---

Hold on. We've got you.

Prompto can't quite open his eyes.

Have we got him?

"Defragmenting," says a robotic voice.

Something soft and gentle smooths over his mind, and the voices start to fade.

The break is relatively clean. If we can...

"Rebuilding cache."

...going to live, it's function I'm...

Silence.

---

There's shouting in every direction. Prompto can't make out words, can't recognize voices. He wishes they would stop because his head is pounding worse than he's ever experienced in his life, but he can't speak.

Finally, finally, the pressure around his wrists goes away. Then around his ankles. Then around his chest, and he falls forward.

He manages to open his eyes, and sees a person. He's not sure if he recognizes them. Pain makes his vision pulse at the edges.

He closes his eyes again. Thankfully, blessedly, the world goes away again.

---

Something warm and damp rubs against Prompto's chin. There's a brief pause, then another dab at the same spot.

Prompto realizes a person is doing that--it must be Ardyn, right? His eyes fly open.

Noct looks down into his eyes, startled.

Prompto stares.

"Prompto," Noct says. "Are you- are you with us?"

Prompto wants this to be real. He really wants this to be real. "I think so," he says. "How did you get here?" He looks around carefully. They're in a room with bunk beds. Gladio is sitting on the floor, leaning against the door. Ignis is kneeling on the floor with a bunch of cans of food in front of him--probably trying to figure out how to make a meal. Luna lays on a bunk on her side, dead asleep. "Is Luna okay?"

"Are you okay?" Noct asks. "You had two nosebleeds and you threw up and you didn't wake up for any of it."

"I'm sorry," Prompto mumbles reflexively.

"No, no," Noct says. "Just-"

Suddenly Ignis is next to them. "How are you feeling now?" he asks.

"Like I got hit by a truck," Prompto says.

"Are you feeling nauseated right now?" Ignis asks. "Does your head ache?"

"Yeah, both of those, but not so bad," Prompto says. "But- wait. You're not telling me about Luna."

Ignis and Noct look at each other for a few moments before Gladio speaks up. "She's not doing great," he says. "She's had two seizures since we found the two of you. Hasn't been awake enough to talk to us yet."

Prompto sighs, because without question, it's his fault.

"He's got himself to worry about right now," Noct says.

"He's lucid enough to ask, he's lucid enough to know," Gladio replies.

"How did you find me?" Prompto asks. He tries to push himself up to sit, but his arms are weak and heavy.

"You still had a working radio on you when Ardyn found you in Altissia," Noct replies, and slings an arm around Prompto to bring him up to sit properly. "It cut out eventually, but it gave us something to work with. Beyond that we just... guessed." He sighs. "I'm sorry it took so long."

"You should drink some water," Ignis says. He starts to hand a canteen to Prompto, but then seems to think better of it and gives it to Noct instead. "You're dehydrated."

Noct looks at Prompto. "Uhh," Noct says.

"Just do it," Prompto mutters.

Very carefully, Noct lifts the canteen to Prompto's lips and tilts it. Prompto shifts very quickly from being embarrassed that he can't do this for himself to gulping down water his body was screaming for. Far faster than usual, he drains the canteen.

"I-" Prompto begins, then stops. "It's my fault Luna's like this."

"What?" Noct asks.

"It just- Ardyn-"

"Take your time," Gladio says. "We're not in a hurry."

So Prompto explains. Tells them everything that happened: Ardyn's Song of control. The chair. Luna. The Song that shut down the server, and watching Ardyn--it must have been Ardyn--leave and not being able to do anything.

By the end of it, Noct's holding Prompto tight enough it almost hurts. "It's not your fault," he says. "It's not your fault, Prom, it's Ardyn's fault and it's my fault..."

"It isn't your fault either," Ignis says. "We-"

Suddenly, Prompto's stomach starts churning. "Gonna throw up," Prompto interrupts, and Ignis only just gets a wastebin under his face before it happens.

Noct runs his fingers through Prompto's hair. "Don't let us push you too hard," he says.

Prompto sighs. "M'sorry," he mumbles. Being touched like this, gentle and with affection, feels good. Maybe better than he deserves.

Noct rolls his eyes. "Not your fault," he says. "None of this is your fault."

"But-"

"It's not," Gladio says. "Now relax before you work yourself up and start puking again."

And that... is a very real possibility, so Prompto does try to relax. Noct keeps petting his hair, and Luna is at least still breathing. That's something.

In the quiet that follows, Prompto lets himself drift off.

Chapter Text

Prompto sleeps. He wakes up long enough to eat--only partially on his own power--and falls asleep again. He wakes up again when a murmured conversation is going on around him, but Noct ruffles his hair in that way that would be annoying if he was awake but feels nice and reassuring half-asleep, and Prompto falls asleep again.

Finally, finally, Prompto wakes up and doesn't feel just as tired as when he went to sleep. He sits up slowly, but he does it, and looks around the room.

Gladio's asleep. Noct, sitting on a bunk, is next to the door instead. Ignis is scribbling on a sheet of paper--it's not the recipe book, then, but Prompto can't make out what it is.

Luna's sitting up, hands folded neatly in her lap. Her expression is completely neutral. It's like no one's in there.

Maybe there's not anyone in there anymore.

Prompto doesn't want to think about that right now.

"There's something magical here," Noct says softly, and Prompto turns to look at him.

"The Tower, right?" Prompto asks.

"I think I can feel that, but... there's Astral magic here too. I think maybe..." Noct looks down at his hand, at the Ring. "I think maybe it's the Crystal."

Prompto is immediately swamped with unease. "You think they brought it all the way out here?"

"If they wished to experiment upon it, this would be a logical place," Ignis says.

"We can't leave it here," Noct says.

And he's right, but Prompto doesn't like it. He really, really doesn't like it.

"We should wait for everyone to recover before we explore the facility further," Ignis says.

Noct sighs. "My leg isn't gonna get better just by hoping, and Luna... we don't know what's going to happen." He glances over at Prompto.

"Your leg?" Prompto asks.

"Got smacked around and passed out when Leviathan was dying," Noct explains. "All our magical healing was... unavailable."

"I can try," Prompto replies, but he suspects it's not going to do much good.

Noct shakes his head. "If potions didn't work, that's not gonna work, either." He pauses, takes a deep breath. "Luna... she still hasn't spoken yet. She's- like a doll. Is there anything you can do for her?"

"I don't know," Prompto says. "I- I'll try to think."

"It isn't your fault," Ignis says.

"Yeah," Prompto replies, not believing it at all.

"There's a shower connected to the bathroom," Noct says, almost like it's an apology. "I'm sure you wanna clean up after all this, right? You-"

"Yeah," Prompto interrupts. "That sounds good."

---

Prompto really wants to be alone right now, but that's not really a viable option given the very real possibility that he could fall in the shower and crack his head open. Right now, as a compromise, Ignis is directly outside the stall in case of an accident.

Prompto tries to run the water as hot as it will go, which turns out to be just "warm" instead of "hot." Frustrated, he turns the hot water off entirely and lets himself shiver.

Some of the dye runs out of his hair, which hasn't been cut nearly recently enough. Prompto pulls a chunk in front of his eyes to see that now it's old man gray. He huffs out a single laugh.

A little soap, next, and then the water goes from an ink-like color to rust--dried blood. Most of it probably from the fight against Leviathan. He hasn't been clean since before that.

Finally, Prompto climbs out of the shower to a waiting towel from Ignis. He has to sit down on the toilet while he dries off. Just this much has worn him down. How are they going to get out of here when he's like this.

"Hey," Noct calls, and opens the door. "I brought clothes."

Prompto understands now that he's seeing Noct walk. The hint of a limp from before, something only noticeable if you know what to look for, is gone. In its place is something much more obvious and worryingly unsteady.

"You were worried about me being on my feet," Prompto says, struggling to make it a joke.

"It's better when I'm less tired," Noct says.

Prompto glances over at Ignis.

"It is more pronounced right now than it was earlier," Ignis confirms, but his careful tone makes it clear that the gap isn't as wide as he'd like.

Prompto looks away. "I'm gonna change."

"Yeah, okay," Noct says, and hobbles away.

---

Prompto goes to sleep again, and wakes to an argument.

"I need to go to it," Noct says. "I have to."

"You still haven't said why," Gladio replies.

"I have to," Noct replies. "I just do."

Prompto sits up carefully.

"Is this some dumb magic thing?" Gladio asks.

"I guess," Noct says. "I don't know. I just have to go."

"Go where?" Prompto asks, rubbing sleep from his eyes.

"The Crystal," Ignis replies. "Noct believes that he knows where it is. Apparently, it's compelling him to go to it."

Prompto comes to attention immediately. "Noct, can you even run on that leg?"

Noct flushes red enough that Prompto knows he can't. "Why does that matter? I can warp."

Gladio sighs. "I can't tell if you're being a brat because there's magic on you or you're just being a brat," he complains, and rakes his hand through his hair. "What about Luna, then?"

"I'll go myself-"

"No," Gladio and Prompto interrupt in unison.

"That isn't a wise plan," Ignis says. He takes a deep breath. "Given that apparently the matter will not wait, perhaps you and Gladio can search together, and Prompto and I can stay with Lunafreya."

"I'm going with them," Prompto says immediately, and climbs out of bed.

Gladio frowns. "I can't carry both of you," he says. This, Prompto knows, means "If you're both incapacitated I'm leaving you behind."

"Not a problem," Prompto says.

"Call me or something if things with Luna change," Noct says to Ignis.

"Understood," Ignis replies.

"Then let's go," Noct says, and hobbles toward the door.

Prompto looks at Gladio. They both take a deep breath and set off after their King.

Chapter Text

Noct is slow, but he seems to know where he's going. Prompto, on the other hand, is deeply lost. He wasn't conscious for the trip from the experimentation room to whatever little dormitory they found him, and none of the hallways they find themselves in are familiar.

Noct's stuttering footsteps echo in too-empty halls.

After a few minutes of walking, they find a cluster of MTs standing around a door. The placement seems like they ought to be guarding it, but it doesn't seem like that's what's happening. One of them is on the floor, kicking the air. One of them is waving its axe wildly and hits the wall.

"It's past them," Noct says.

Of course it is.

Prompto's instinct is to sing the Song that disabled them--but no, that won't work now that they're not getting orders from the Tower. The way they're acting is proof enough of that. Instead, he summons his gun into his hand. Noct usually favors his sword and magic flasks, sometimes a spear or a greatsword like Gladio if he's in the mood, but this time he pulls out a gun himself. Gladio pulls out his greatsword and charges in.

The ensuing battle is awkward. Noct is clearly not used to hanging so far back from the front line. He doesn't shoot Gladio mostly because he doesn't shoot much at all. The MTs' movements are even more erratic than usual, although they seem to have lost the ability to counterattack or work as a unit.

It's over quickly enough, at least.

"Let's go," Noct says, with an impatience that might be him being bratty and might be some sort of magic compulsion.

"Let me go first," Gladio says, and opens the door.

Foreign magic crashes into Prompto like a hard wind, and he staggers. It's only afterwards that he looks up and sees it: it's the Crystal, for sure.

Noct is moving more steadily than he has been this entire time. His limp is more subtle, and he's faster. "It's fine," he says, brushing past Gladio.

Gladio pushes back past Noct. "Stay behind me," he says. "Who knows what else is in here?"

Prompto follows them both in. He knows something's wrong, but he doesn't know what, only that he doesn't trust any of the Astrals any further than he can throw them and Shiva is the only one he might be able to lift.

But Gladio stops at a respectful distance, and Noct walks past him.

Noct stands before the Crystal for a moment. Then he reaches forward to touch it, and screams.

"Noct!" Prompto calls, and runs forward.

The Crystal is- Noct's hand is-

Prompto grabs Noct by the waist and pulls, but Noct only screams harder-

Gladio grabs hold too, but even with both of their strength it's not enough-

Noct screams, and screams, and more of him pulls away from them, and-

And then Prompto's arms are empty, and Noct's gone.

"Oh, it seems I'm late."

Prompto feels sick. Slowly, he turns around.

Ardyn is- Ardyn is shaped like a human, but not quite right, not anymore. His skin is the telltale ink-black hue that heralds the Starscourge. It seems to boil in the light. His arm bends in a place that might not be his elbow as he tips his hat to them.

"I had hoped to help send Noctis off," Ardyn says. It sounds distorted, somehow, but at least it lacks that underlying musical hum. "I had even planned a speech."

Prompto knows he'll be ashamed later, but he shifts so that Gladio is between him and Ardyn.

"Fuck off," Gladio says, and readies his sword.

"You have the wrong idea," Ardyn says. "I'm not here for violence. Far from it. I owe Prompto here a deep debt of gratitude. Why, I have no idea how I would have managed without him!"

Prompto wants to say something, but words don't come.

"I said fuck off," Gladio says.

"If you insist," Ardyn says. He turns with a flourish and exits the room. Thin smoke seems to drift behind him.

Prompto doesn't crumble. That same deep numb feeling is creeping through his mind.

Luna.

Noct.

They can't go on without Noct. And this is all Prompto's fault. Prompto, and the black thread that ties him back to this place after all.

It's okay. There's one last thing that Prompto can do. He even thinks he can do it.

Prompto faces the Crystal. Places his palms on its jagged mouth and presses down.

"Gladio, is he gone?" he asks.

"Yeah, but- what are you doing?" Gladio asks.

"I'm gonna get him out," Prompto says. The last resort, the secret between him and Ignis. It'll work. Prompto knows.

Prompto sinks and sinks.

Ignis likes organization and efficiency. He likes everything to be crystal clear. He likes to have a plan for everything. Those are the pieces that make up this Song. One that Prompto never could have made with Noct.

"Ma zweie ra hymme. Ma ki wa ini."

Prompto is beyond caring whether he's ready to die.

"Was quel wa exec sarrifis, an corpu deu spiritum oz mea."

Everything has its price, and that's all right.

"Exec sarrifis, rre lusye crushue sos ee dauan."

Prompto hears Gladio saying something, but it doesn't matter. He glances down at his hands as they flicker in and out of being.

Everything is floating away, but Prompto can sense-

Then, suddenly, Prompto feels hands on his shoulders. They shake him until he closes his mouth.

Gladio spins Prompto around to face him. "I am not going to go back to Ignis telling him I've lost both of you."

Prompto shivers. "He's still alive," he says. "He's still alive, he was right there and if you just let me-"

"I'm not going to let you kill yourself," Gladio says. "Come on. If Ardyn's poking around, we need to make sure that Ignis and Luna are safe."

"Okay," Prompto says in a small voice.

---

Gladio is the one to tell Ignis what's happened. Prompto lays down on a bunk and curls into a ball and hugs the pillow tight.

"It is not your fault," Ignis tells him.

Prompto sobs himself to sleep.

---

Prompto.

Suzunomiya's voice is faint and crackling.

Prompto, you've forgotten the second part of Zodal Rhaplanca, haven't you?

"I failed."

No. The Oracle and the King are both still alive. You have done well in a terrible situation.

"I guess."

I know. We've asked more from you than anyone has any right to ask. And still we must ask more.

"What do you want?"

You must craft a Song for Lunafreya, and you must bring the Crystal to us.

"I don't know how."

You do. You can. You have all that you need.

The voice crackles again, and fades, but Prompto can just hear one last statement:

We are always with you.

Chapter Text

"Will we be able to lead her out?" Gladio asks, glancing at Luna. "Maybe if someone holds her hand? It'd be real bad if we had to carry her and the Crystal."

Prompto thinks. He really thinks. Suzunomiya said that he had all that he needed.

If she meant the thing-that-was-probably-a-Dive-Machine, then he can't. He can't sit in that chair again. He trusts Ignis and Gladio just fine, but he can't bear the idea of going under like that. And unless he really doesn't understand what he did, it wouldn't do anything to put Luna there now.

But he might not have to do any of that, if...

Prompto's come up with Songs without a Dive Machine before. Plenty of them. It'd taken weeks, sometimes, to find the right way to filter his feelings into magic, and they were all much shorter and less complex than what he would need to do, but... it's possible.

He closed all those Soulspaces when he shut the server down. He can delete everything except Luna, and then open that file up again, and Ardyn doesn't get Song Magic back.

Suzunomiya gave him a clue, of sorts, or at least somewhere to start. The second half of Zodal Rhaplanca. A song of regrowth and redemption. And he should probably talk to the Tower in its native format, even if he doesn't like it.

"Give me a day," Prompto says, interrupting something. "Give me a day, and I think I can get Luna back, I just need..." It would be nice to have some scratch paper. "I just need time," he tells them.

Ignis glances at him. "We have enough food to make it another day," he says.

"We need something to help carry the Crystal, anyway," Gladio decides. "We'll work on that, you work on... whatever it is you're gonna do."

---

Prompto is going to have to do most of this on the fly. It's going to have to work on strength of feeling alone. The preparations for the Song aren't so hard when he has a story to work with. What needs work is his heart.

Because oh, Prompto's not ready for a Song about renewal, about forgiveness. Prompto's world is desolate.

But that's where he left off in the story, right?

Rhaplanca destroys her village, leaving it in ruins. The streets and buildings are full of corpses: a body cannot live long without its soul. (Luna.) And then... then fate finally sees fit to intervene, and Maoh arrives.

Thinking about Rhaplanca and Maoh makes Prompto think of himself and Noct. That's probably the point: lovers seeing themselves in lovers, or something.

Noct can always bring Prompto back, though. No matter how far into the dark Prompto's thoughts take him, Noct can always bring him back.

Maybe he can use that memory. Maybe he can pull himself together enough to feel that.

---

While Prompto's been scribbling on a sheet of paper Ignis tore from his recipe notebook, Ignis and Gladio have been busy. They went through the facility for a few hours and managed to find a forklift.

"But no people," Gladio says. "We found a forklift with the keys left in it, a bunch of stupid MTs, flans of every color in the rainbow, but not one single human being."

"That's weird," Prompto says.

"I agree," Ignis says. "I do not like it at all." He glances down at Prompto's paper. "Do you anticipate being able to... help Lunafreya soon?"

"Yeah," Prompto says. "Not long. This is mostly just a reminder."

"Good," Ignis says. "Shall I prepare a meal?"

Prompto nods. "That's fine," he says, and goes back to scribbling on the page.

"We got anything with meat in it left?" Gladio asks as he locks the door to the dorm they've been staying in.

"Potted garula," Ignis replies.

"Forget I asked."

Prompto manages to smile, just a little, and then tries to focus.

---

After dinner, there's really no more stalling. The hallway is clear and the door's locked. Luna's laying down on a bunk, breathing in and out deep like she's sleeping.

Prompto misses Noct with every inch of his soul.

He closes his eyes and prays that fate will be kind and intervene now, even if it is a little late. Then it's time.

"xA rre exali sarr wLYErm anw sphaela/."

In the second half of Zodal Rhaplanca, Maoh comes back from a journey that had lasted many years only to find his home entirely destroyed, and Rhaplanca standing among the carnage. He's careful with her, seeing the madness in her eyes. But he gets her to tell the story of what happened there. He listens.

Noct doesn't know how sad and empty Prompto's life had been before they were friends. He knows part of it, probably, filtered through the dreams that Dives produce, but he doesn't really.

Maoh takes Rhaplanca's hand, and tells her that he wants to show her that people are not simply cruel, malicious beings. He takes her by the hand and shows her the world.

Prompto deletes Ardyn's Soulspace, and some part of him wishes it was murder. For a second, his Song falters; this is about renewal and not revenge. He casts those thoughts aside, and drifts back into focus.

When Rhaplanca has seen all of it, Maoh takes her back to their hometown. She realizes that all she did was end lives, that death is not the way to paradise. It ends as she decides to craft the thousand-and-first seed.

Prompto doesn't delete the MTs' Soulspaces. It might be better to do that, but the Song wouldn't feel right if he did. He just reopens Luna's Soulspace and fiddles with some user rights. LUNAFREYA_ANSUL_PULSE./ Another layer of security: if Ardyn tries to get Song Magic back, someone will be able to stop him.

Prompto prays this will be enough.

Chapter Text

As the Song ends, Prompto reopens the half of his Soulspace still on that server, and... oh. He hadn't realized so much was here, out of his hands. The sense of helplessness, that there's nothing he can do, breaks like a wave against a cliff. He feels himself rush into himself.

And so as the last sound falls from his lips, as he opens his eyes, Prompto feels hope.

Luna's sitting up. She's- she's crying, is that good or bad or-

"Ardyn," she murmurs.

"He's- I don't think he's here anymore," Prompto tells her.

"I'm sorry," Luna tells him weakly. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I-"

"It wasn't your fault," Prompto says.

And this is where Noct should come and hug her, but he can't because he got eaten by a giant rock, and won't that be fun to explain. So Prompto gets up, muscles aching, and wraps an arm around her instead.

"What do you remember?" Ignis asks.

Luna startles and looks up at him. "When did you get here? Where's- where's Noctis?"

Prompto sighs. "So you don't remember anything after Ardyn made you Dive?" he asks.

"No," Luna says, miserable. "I swear, I didn't want to-"

"I know," Prompto tells her, wondering what happened but not sure he wants to know. He glances up at Ignis and Gladio, hoping his expression conveys "please don't make me tell her." Ignis has a closed-off face that Prompto would associate more with Noct than with Ignis, but Gladio nods and takes a deep breath and begins to talk.

By the end of it, Luna's gone from crying to that hard-but-brittle expression. "I understand," she says.

"We should sleep and then prepare to leave," Ignis says. He looks almost relaxed, but he's the kind of person who finds going over known facts to be soothing.

"Yeah," Prompto says. "Try to rest for awhile."

Luna nods. "I will," she says.

Prompto doesn't think any of them are particularly convinced by her statement, but he's exhausted. Not just his body, but his mind, all of him is tired. He steps away onto a bunk in a corner, so that the rest of them can talk if they need to, and lays down.

He's asleep almost as soon as his head hits the pillow.

---

"Are we sure we can't just put the Crystal in the Armiger?" Gladio asks, hanging off the back of the forklift.

"I don't think it's a wise idea," Ignis says. He's been granted the honor of driving, with Luna and Prompto on either side of the one seat.

"Yeah, like, what if he gets out of the Crystal while he's in the Armiger?" Prompto asks. "Is that like dividing by zero or something?"

"It would not work," Luna says, sounding sure of herself. "The Armiger is only truly meant to contain weaponry. It cannot hold an object of that size."

"True," Gladio says. "It couldn't hold the Regalia. I tried."

"What?" Ignis asks. His foot comes off the gas and he turns around to look at Gladio. "You tried to do what?"

"It didn't work," Gladio says. "Back at the start of the trip. You were up in the driver's seat."

Ignis sighs and puts his foot back on the gas. "Honestly," he mutters.

Luna giggles like a child.

---

"Okay, pull up as close as you can," Gladio says. "Right up to it."

"Just a little to your left," Prompto calls.

The nice thing about this complex, bizarre process is that it's easy to let go of the knowledge that Noct is in the Crystal and focus on the task at hand.

"Yeah, just like that," Gladio says. "Perfect."

"Now up," Luna says.

They'd all been a little wary of letting Luna anywhere near the Crystal given Noct's strange compulsion to go to it, but thus far it doesn't seem as if she's being affected by it. At any rate, it's not like they can keep her away from it when she's going to ride with them out of the building.

"Yeah, that's the fork supporting its weight," Gladio says. "Now, all these chains..."

Luna is banned from actually touching the Crystal, so she stands back a little, watching. "I think you've got it."

"Is it too heavy?" Prompto asks.

"No," Ignis says. "I just hope it doesn't roll away."

Gladio hooks another chain to the lift. "Well," he says. "It's attached to that grill as much as I can get it. Back up a little."

Ignis backs up a little. The Crystal lurches, but doesn't topple over.

"All right!" Prompto says. "Now we just gotta get out of here."

"All aboard," Ignis calls, and everyone clambers back into place. "We'll have to back out. Gladio, be my eyes."

"Got it," Gladio says, facing behind them.

Slowly, to a chorus of beeps from the forklift, they back away with the Crystal.

---

"So, when we get the forklift out of the building," Luna says. "What will we do then? We cannot simply drive the Crystal through the capital of the Empire."

"Actually, we can," Gladio says. "Only things alive in Gralea are the daemons, assuming they're actually alive. It's completely overrun."

"Some allies await us at the train station," Ignis says. "As long as we can keep the forklift supplied with fuel, we should be all right."

"The Crystal will keep the daemons off us, right?" Prompto asks.

"Yes," Luna says. "It will. But we only have to worry about that at night."

"That is less true than one might hope," Ignis says. "The cloud cover is thick and dark, or at least it was when we crossed in to Gralea."

No one seems to know what to say to that.

The forklift hums down the hallway, slow enough that Prompto could keep pace if he ran.

It's going to be a long trip.

Chapter Text

The facility--Zegnautus Keep, according to Ignis--is huge, but the forklift keeps its steady pace down its hallways until finally, finally, it reaches what seems to be an exit. Gladio hops off and opens something like a garage door.

"You said it was day," Prompto says faintly. They were warned about this, but he just can't imagine that this blackness is daytime in Gralea.

"It's around eleven in the morning," Gladio tells them, climbing back onto the back of the forklift.

"The Scourge is thick here," Luna murmurs. "We should make haste."

"I agree," Ignis says, and they journey out into the dark.

It's an uncomfortable journey. Sometimes Prompto is struck with just how absurd it is that they're driving a forklift with the Crystal through the heart of the Empire, and it's all he can do not to laugh. Then he'll hear the roars and growls and chattering around them, Daemons during daytime, and fear swells in his chest instead. The Crystal's light holds them back, but it feels so small in comparison to an entire city. And Prompto misses Noct. Without Noct, he doesn't have enough light in him to crack the right jokes to shake this ugly mood.

After an hour or so, rumbling through the streets, Prompto looks ahead and sees lights. They're so bright against the dark that he can't really tell what they're illuminating. As they approach, though, the light hits more of their surroundings, and he can see some kind of transportation depot? A train station. And there's a train in the station. And there are people, too.

"We've got a welcoming party," Prompto points out.

"Hopefully, it's our ride out of Gralea," Gladio replies.

The forklift rumbles up closer and closer. A small crowd, at least a dozen people, are standing just within the safe range of the lights, watching them come in. Prompto can just start to make them out as individuals, and... he's got to be confused here. "Is that Iris?" he blurts out. "And- the kid that was with her." And there's the woman who got them to Altissia--Aranea--and a couple guys from Aranea's crew, he thinks. He doesn't recognize anyone else.

"Iris?" Gladio asks. He swings around a little so that he can see in front of the forklift.

It's definitely Iris. The crowd makes a space for them to pull into the lights, and Iris hops onto the vehicle. "I'm never letting you go anywhere without me again!" she shouts at Gladio.

"You were supposed to stay in Cape Caem with Jared and Talcott," Gladio says.

"Jared's dead," Iris says, immediately subdued. She takes in the group on the forklift, and asks, "Where's Prince- His Majesty, I mean?"

Prompto cringes.

Ignis shakes his head. "This is not the place to discuss his whereabouts," he says. "Perhaps in a more private setting?"

Iris hops off the forklift and brushes off her skirt. "Okay," she says, obviously unsettled. "I'll- Aranea said Talcott and I could have a car to ourselves on the train, I'll go and get- oh!"

Apparently, Gladio got down faster than Prompto even noticed, and he wraps Iris into a crushing hug. "I'm so glad to see you," he says. "Not that it gets you out of trouble."

Ignis comes to a stop, and Prompto and Luna slip down to the ground. Aranea approaches the three of them, leaving Gladio and Iris to their moment. "Is that actually the Crystal? Like, the one the line of Lucis is supposed to guard and the one that the Empire stole?"

"Yes," Luna says without hesitation. "We are not leaving it here."

"I wouldn't suggest it," Aranea says. She frowns. "But this crowd's gonna talk about it. People are gonna know you have it."

"Who are they?" Prompto asks.

"Refugees. There's about sixty of 'em total, but most of them are already on the train." Aranea sighs. "We've got as many living people as we could find, but, well." She turns to her subordinates. "Biggs. Wedge. We gotta load this huge rock on the train."

"Understood," one of them says, and they both duck through the crowd, presumably to find somewhere to put the Crystal.

"Anyway. This your whole party, or somebody missing?" she asks.

"We don't expect anyone else," Ignis says delicately.

Aranea raises her eyebrows. "Well then," she says. "Gotcha. No objections to hanging out with the big guy's sister? Space is at a premium, especially if we've got to get that on board."

"Of course," Luna says. "We should be grateful to get that private a space."

"Yeah, yeah," Aranea says. "I'm gonna make one last sweep, make sure nobody's lost a baby or something." She turns away, high heels clicking against the pavement.

---

Prompto can only assume it's a chore getting the Crystal onto the train, but he intentionally avoids helping with it. He knows he'd end up blurting out something weird. It's bad enough that they're missing Noct without people knowing he's in the Crystal.

Instead, he lets Ignis handle it, and he and Luna follow Gladio and Iris onto the train.

"It was in Cape Caem," Iris explains, hands wringing each other. "After you called to tell us it was off. Cid and Cindy came in because it was closer than going all the way home, and then an hour later everything was crawling with Imperials. Someone probably followed them."

"Then what happened?" Gladio pushes gently.

Iris nods. "We all went to hide, but we didn't have a lot of food, so we sent Jared and Talcott out to buy groceries. We thought it would be okay. They went out, and then only Talcott came back."

Talcott speaks up softly. "The soldiers stopped us, and he told me to run. And while I was running they talked to him and they- they shot him."

Iris nods. "Another couple hours later, the Imperials cleared out, and the radio was going on about something happening in Altissia, and..." She shakes her head. "I know you want me to be safe, Gladdy, but there's nowhere safe anymore. I just want to know that you're all still alive. And so I kinda have to ask..."

"Noct," Prompto says. "Right now, he's been absorbed into the Crystal. We know he's still alive because we can still use his power."

Iris looks at the rest of them. "You're not kidding," she says slowly.

"We are not," Luna confirms.

"That's... really weird," Iris says. "But he's... with us, then. Mostly."

"Kind of," Gladio confirms.

"Where are you taking him?" she asks.

"Haven't got that far yet," Gladio says, at the same time that Prompto says, "Costlemark."

They look at each other.

"You had not mentioned a destination earlier," Luna says.

Prompto gives them the best smile he can pull out, which probably isn't a great one. "There are a few things that I haven't had a good chance to explain," he says.

"Some Reyvateil thing?" Gladio asks.

"Yeah," Prompto replies, despite it being only mostly, kind of true. "Now's maybe not the time."

Iris looks over at Talcott, who's huddled in a seat as far from the rest of them as possible, knees drawn to his chest. "Yeah, maybe later," she says, and goes over to him.

"She's growing up," Gladio murmurs.

"Guess so," Prompto says.

Gladio shakes his head and looks out the window into the deep black that's what's left of Gralea.

No one tries to pick up the conversation. Luna slips away from them and goes to speak to Iris and Talcott. Prompto decides it's better to try not to listen in on someone's raw grief, and lets himself drift.

---

Ignis appears in the train compartment a little later. He's barely taken his seat when the train lurches into motion.

"The Crystal has been situated appropriately," Ignis reports.

"We told Iris a little bit about... that," Prompto says.

"It would have been difficult to avoid," Ignis replies. "What exactly did you say?"

Prompto gives a brief report, and settles into silence. He half-dozes for awhile. Iris and Gladio talk, and Ignis joins in on their conversation eventually. Luna sits with Talcott for a long time. The train finally gets out of Gralea, and as it does, the sky lightens, and the tension in Luna's shoulders relaxes.

Once they're in the sun again, Prompto wakes up and stretches. It's easier to believe that he's safe under the light. He's not completely safe, of course, but he tries not to think about that. Ardyn was stripped of a large part of his power. Prompto and Luna can't be controlled in that way again.

It's good to know that. But it's even better to remember that he doesn't have to think about it at all.

"We'll have to find other transportation for the Crystal once we reach Accordo," Ignis says. "And you said it needs to be taken to Costlemark, of all places?"

Prompto nods. He glances at Iris and Talcott, who are talking with each other again, and says, "Suzunomiya told me to bring it there in a dream."

"You really ought to be more proactive about telling us about these dreams," Ignis says. "Still, there would be difficulties no matter where we brought it."

"Maybe we can convince Aranea to take us there by airship," Prompto says. "I don't think we could fit it and all of us in the car."

Gladio and Iris must be talking about something similar, because out of the blue Iris says, "You're not leaving me!"

Prompto swings his head to look at her. She's standing with her hands on her hips, and though the train is bumping on the tracks, she's entirely steady on her feet.

"I've been training since I was three, just like you," Iris says. "I'm not gonna keep running away when it doesn't even work, Gladdy!"

Gladio's eyes seek out the rest of theirs in turn, like he's hoping someone else will say something. "You don't understand what you're asking."

"Then tell me," Iris pleads.

"Iris," Gladio says. "Iris, Talcott is your responsibility now."

"But-"

"But nothing. I swore an oath, Iris, and I go where Noctis goes. That means you're all that he has left."

"I won't be any trouble," Talcott says. "I won't get in the way."

Prompto remembers seven, and "so mature for his age." He remembers the ache of being left behind. But he also knows that the path they walk is not one for a child. Iris might be able to handle it. Talcott is definitely too young.

"If I may," Luna says. "Would it be useful to explain the situation?"

"You understand, of course, that until all of our task is done, you must not speak a word of it to any living soul," Ignis says to Iris and Talcott.

"Of course," Iris says, entirely composed.

"Of- of course," Talcott echoes.

"Where do we even start?" Gladio asks.

Prompto sighs, because he's the one best qualified to give the explanations everyone wants. "When Eos was made..."

Chapter Text

The next days blur together into an exhausted haze. Two days on the train to get through Niflheim to the sea. Halfway through the second, Luna has another seizure. They can't find anything wrong with her, and she seems fine within a few hours. Ignis thinks it's the aftereffects of what happened to her, and Prompto doesn't know whether to hope that's it or that it's something else. After the train, there's half a day transporting the Crystal and several dozen people onto an airship, and then a flight to Altissia to pick up as many refugees as possible. Luna wears a scarf around her face. They pack at least a hundred people on board, and at least one baby or small child is weeping at any given moment. The airship lands near Lestallum, the only place left that could possibly support that many people. No one asks whether Lestallum will want them.

After ushering the refugees out of the ship, Prompto goes and sits next to the Crystal. He always thought that when people talked about heartache, it was a metaphor.

Now he knows better.

"You need to eat."

Prompto startles and blinks up at Gladio. "Uhh- what?"

"You need to eat," Gladio repeats patiently. He leans down to hand Prompto a bowl of something spicy poured over rice. "We both know I'm no good at this stuff, but I'm not going to let you wreck yourself."

Prompto blinks down at the food. "Right," he says, and tries to smile. "I'm okay."

"You have to take care of yourself," Gladio replies. "Eat."

"All right, all right." Prompto takes a spoonful. The flavor hits him instantly: there's no meat and all the vegetables have clearly been dried and resoaked, but someone--Ignis, almost certainly--added green curry paste to his bowl. The heat of the spice brings tears to his eyes. Probably.

"There we go," Gladio says. "See if you can get through the entire bowl without moping."

Prompto snorts and takes another bite, while Gladio wanders back to the rest of their group.

By the time Prompto's finished eating, he feels almost like a person again. He checks his own pulse; it's still there, so he's still alive, so Noct's still alive. He counts out ten steady beats, then goes to join his friends.

"Aranea will take us to Hammerhead," Ignis is explaining. "We will probably arrive in an hour. I have been able to get in touch with Cid, who says that he will have a pickup truck ready for us tomorrow by daylight."

Prompto quashes the voice in his mind telling him that he needs to be at the Tower now. "And what happens to Talcott?" he asks. "And, uh, Iris too."

"Cid will let Talcott and Iris stay in the camper for free for a few days," Ignis says.

"I can-" Iris starts.

"We've talked about this," Gladio interrupts. "Besides, Cid's old, Cindy's untrained, and the days are getting shorter pretty quick. They could use you."

"Fine," Iris mumbles.

"We need to prepare," Ignis continues. "We've seen a little of the Tower, but not enough that we know what to expect."

"How are we going to get the Crystal down?" Luna asks.

"We'll have to carry it," Gladio says. "Not much choice."

Iris, still sulking, mutters, "I can lift twice my own body weight."

---

Aranea watches as Gladio, Ignis, Prompto, and Luna lift the Crystal. "Got that?" she asks.

"We've got it," Gladio replies, and shifts the weight more toward himself.

"I don't know what on Eos you're planning, but I guess I hope it works out," Aranea says.

"Thank you," Luna replies.

Iris slides into place between Prompto and Luna and takes some of the weight of the Crystal from them, too. "Let me at least help now," she says.

Talcott hovers an arm's length away from her, watching the procedure with huge eyes. He clearly wants to help, but he's been raised to be sensible. He knows better.

"C'mon, boy," Cid calls from the bottom of the ramp. "Talcott Hester, aren't you? Help Cindy and me get supper ready."

"Okay," Talcott says, and runs around past them to the garage.

The rest of them move in step down the ramp.

Prompto wonders if they're really going to be able to get the Crystal down into the Tower like this.

---

The last time that Prompto ate a meal that was entirely fresh food was in Altissia, a lifetime ago. It's just diner food, really, but the vegetables have a satisfying crunch, the chickatrice is plump and moist, and there's even a prepared cactus fruit for dessert. Noct would have-

Prompto shuts down that thought as hard as he can.

Anyway, soon enough, Noct's going to be with them. Prompto will let him complain about peppers for a week just to hear his voice.

Aranea and her crew don't stay to eat with them. They accept a bunch of supplies as a gift from the diner and take off as soon as they've got everything loaded. Aranea told them that she was going back to Gralea to make sure she'd got everyone out. Prompto hopes she finds more people than that few that were on the train.

Iris makes one last bid for a spot on the team, and Gladio reminds her of Talcott one last time. Talcott pretends he's not listening. Ignis scribbles down a recipe. Luna chats with Cid and Cindy. And Prompto... Prompto tells himself that he's ready. He tells himself that he's going to sleep well tonight, deep and dreamless, and when the sun rises he'll be full of energy and eager to meet his goddesses.

---

Prompto dreams:

He's on hard ground, on his back. The first hint of pink light peeks above the skyline of a ruined city. Black smoke surrounds him. Some of it's rising from his skin.

He looks to his right, and he can just make out two other bodies through the smoke, on the ground like he is.

His limbs are heavy. He's exhausted. But he knows he still has more to do. He shifts his legs, pushing broken glass aside, and sits up. Black smoke billows from him like he's burning. He is burning, from the inside out, but somehow it doesn't hurt.

He shoves himself to his feet and turns, and the Citadel looms in front of him.

His chest is tight, but he sucks in a breath of cold, cold air. He holds that breath in his lungs, and then it's time-

He wakes up.

Chapter Text

Hammerhead has daemon-repelling lights strung up around it. Prompto gets up early enough to see them in action. An Iron Giant rumbles around a short distance away from the perimeter. It sees him, and takes a quick step closer, and then... stops, and stares.

It's a predator seeing prey that it can't get to, right? Or... does it sense something of itself in Prompto and doesn't know how he made it past the lights?

"Tough luck, buddy," Prompto murmurs.

The truck's ready to go, Crystal strapped into place. They could leave now if they wanted to. The Crystal would drive everything away from the road-

They can't actually get in until nightfall. They'd just have to sit around waiting.

Prompto sighs.

---

They each get a shower--and wow, it's been awhile since Prompto's had a shower--and then they eat a light breakfast. After that it's time to leave. Prompto doesn't think he's ever been so eager in his life.

Iris doesn't ask to go with them this time. She holds Talcott's hand, and they wave goodbye while Ignis pulls out of the station. Prompto hopes they're going to be okay. He wonders if there'll be something worth bringing as a souvenir for them.

Prompto and Gladio sit in the open back of the truck along with the Crystal, and they bounce along on a suspension that's not even a quarter as good as the Regalia. The Crystal is attached well enough that it doesn't just bang into either of them, but on sharp turns, it tests its bindings enough to make Prompto nervous his legs will get crushed.

Nothing terrible happens, though. Prompto hangs on tight with one arm and tries to get pictures of the wildlife with his free hand. Gladio wedges himself into a corner well enough that he can read without his book getting jostled too much (which Prompto honestly finds impressive given his bulk). Every now and then, Luna cracks open the rear window and asks if they're okay.

Prompto has not been okay in awhile, actually, but since the question is about the ride and not his emotional state, he says he is.

The foliage shifts green, and there's more of it, as they cross into Duscae. Halfway there, Prompto tells himself. The scent of peat moss and the cooler air feels reassuring.

Maybe he's imagining the feeling, the call in his heart that's drawing him toward the Tower, since he knows he has to go there. But maybe he's not. Maybe Suzunomiya is calling him. Or even Saki, if she's still...

That's something else he doesn't want to think about.

Prompto rests a hand on the Crystal. Whatever happens, he's going to make sure that Noct is okay. He swore an oath--two of them, even. He's going to keep them.

He hopes Noct knows. He hopes that Noct's not scared in there, whatever's happening to him.

They take a break for lunch and to stretch. It's a light lunch, too--nothing heavy would survive the rattling of this truck. Prompto ignores the instinct that says to go faster. They can't even get in until nightfall.

---

"Hundlegs'll probably be back," Gladio remarks. "We should scout ahead before we go in with our hands full."

Prompto can fight with his hands full. And so can Luna. But no. They should be careful. Take their time.

"I will go look," Ignis says. "I will report back with news on what we're facing."

Ignis is easily the most stealthy of the group, so it's a good idea. Prompto finds himself nearly holding his breath waiting on the return, though.

"Four," Ignis reports.

"One for each of us," Prompto jokes.

But really, after everything, it doesn't take that much. They step up to the hundlegs. Prompto Sings, and Luna matches him, and thirty seconds later the beasts are dead and the path ahead is clear.

"We have grown since last we came," Luna says.

"Yeah," Gladio says. He grips the Crystal. "'Specially you."

Luna blushes, and then they all get in place and lift.

The Crystal is a heavy weight, and moving it is awkward. But they manage, even through the rough terrain, and through to the ruins.

"We're right on time," Ignis remarks. It's the truth: there are blue lines on the ruins, but as they approach, the lines turn to red.

"Down we go," Prompto says. He thinks he's lifting more of the Crystal than he could fifteen minutes ago. He feels anxious to go through with this, and this literal weight is less and less of an impediment.

The daemons are also less of an impediment than expected. After fighting an Astral, none of these feel threatening. Flans, an Iron Giant, a Red Giant. They take the Crystal to an empty room, scour the next, and move the Crystal forward again. There's a rhythm to it, and Prompto finds that he's not getting tired. There are branching paths and long hallways, but he can always feel which way is the right way to go.

Ardyn joked about Zegnautus Keep being his home, and Prompto supposes that was where he was born--but he feels more whole here in Costlemark Tower than he's ever felt before.

Finally, they reach a round elevator, and Prompto knows. "We're just above it," he says. "But there's... there's something in the way."

"Then we should take a break," Ignis says, "so that we can be at our fullest strength when we encounter it."

Prompto doesn't want to. He probably doesn't need to. But everyone else looks tired, so Prompto nods. They let the Crystal rest on the floor, and sit for... five minutes...

Ten minutes...

Fifteen, and Prompto's about to buzz out of his skin.

"Are we ready to move forward?" Luna asks, looking almost as intense as Prompto feels.

Gladio and Ignis look at each other. "Yeah," Gladio says after a moment. He cracks his fingers, rolls his shoulders, and stands. "Let's do this."

---

Once Gladio steps onto the elevator, it begins to drop. It's a quick scurry to get everyone on board as it lowers.

Luna turns to look behind her and stiffens. "I suppose that is 'something.'"

Prompto has to lean a little to look past her, but then he sees... it. It's definitely daemonic, a little reptilian, and the height of a house.

"Put this thing down," Gladio says, leading by example.

"Weapons at the ready," Ignis concurs.

The Crystal probably wasn't meant to stand up on its own, but a little fiddling gets it more or less steady, just in time for-

That's sure a noise it makes.

Gladio blocks with his shield. The creature's teeth squeal over the metal and then clang shut. Prompto-

Prompto's had enough delays.

This is the kind of situation where Prompto should be providing support and shielding, like they've practiced for years, but this is somewhere that power settles on his shoulders like a mantle and he's going to finish this now.

"Ssis siss siss siss siss! Nn i ga jastil!"

The daemon growls in a way that should be scary but is no longer very threatening, because he can just...

Prompto slams light straight into the daemon. And again, and again, pulsing and pressing down.

The daemon stumbles into an attempt at a counterattack, but Prompto is too strong, here. He shoves, putting his arms into it. "Nel sol mea, en celle iem. Ne messe mea, en galado wase, iem."

Cracks of light splinter through the daemon, and-

It shatters into nothing.

Prompto drops his magic and takes a few deep breaths.

"Remind me never to piss you off," Gladio attempts to joke, but it falls flat.

"We're almost there," Prompto says, and points ahead, toward a door coated in Hymmnos runes. "That's- that's where they are." And then the impatience fades, and he's not ready. Will they like him once they see him in person? Is opening that door going to kill them? Or maybe the Scourge in his blood will do it--do they know about that? Will they like Ignis and Gladio and Luna? Is he strong enough-

"Let's go," Ignis says.

"Yes," Luna says. She looks as excited as Prompto should feel.

Prompto walks up to the door. He doesn't know what he's going to do when he gets there. Knock, maybe?

But when he's just a few steps away from it, the door slides open. A thin, familiar voice says, "Come in."

Chapter Text

Prompto recognizes Saki from the time she visited him in a dream. She's even paler than before, though, and it seems as if her hair is awfully thin. She's sitting on a cushioned chair that looks... strangely out of place in what seems to be an entryway. Then she nudges a pedal and the chair glides forward: a wheelchair.

"Prompto, I'm so, so glad I got to see you," Saki says. "And you have Ignis, Gladiolus, and Lunafreya with you. And Bahamut's Crystal, so King Noctis is with us too." She smiles.

Prompto nods. "This is Saki, everyone," he says, glancing back at his friends.

"It is an honor to meet you," Luna says. She curtsies neatly. Ignis and Gladio follow with a bow.

"Thank you," Saki says. "But it's all right. If we're all formal, things will take days." She backs up her wheelchair a little. "I'm sorry you had to drag the Crystal down here and fight all those daemons. We're... less than we once were."

"Speaking of the Crystal," Prompto says. "Where exactly do you want us to put it?"

"Oh!" Saki says. "I'll get something with wheels for that. But first, I'll show you where it needs to go."

From the front entry, Saki leads them down a short hallway and turns into a room where monitors, each numbered, line the walls. At the center of the room is a podium, but other than that, there's no furniture to speak of.

"We'll need it in front of the podium," Saki says. Then she closes her eyes and Sings softly, something Prompto can't catch and doesn't recognize, and a hand cart shimmers into being near Gladio. "This should make it easier to move."

"Thank you," Gladio says. He looks at everyone else--is he scared?--and asks, "Do you want to stay while I get it?"

"If that's what you would prefer," Ignis replies.

"Yes," Luna says. She's probably pretty tired. They're all tired, of course, but this kind of physical labor wouldn't be something that she was accustomed to.

"All right," Saki says. "Thank you for bringing it all the way here."

Gladio makes what's clearly an escape. He's uncomfortable, at the very least.

Prompto seems to be the only one who feels safe talking to goddesses, so he pushes on. "Where is Suzunomiya?"

"She's preparing for guests," Saki says. "We haven't had anyone here in a very long time."

A couple thousand years, they've been there all alone. Prompto can't even imagine it.

Ignis ventures, "Do you eat? I could prepare a meal."

"We eat for pleasure," Saki explains. "Most of our actual sustenance comes from plain water, but we can eat. Would you enjoy cooking? Are you hungry? All of you seem too intimidated to ask for things."

"You created our world," Luna points out. "I would think that ought to be intimidating."

Saki shakes her head. "We're not so special. You could do what we did, if all of you pooled your resources together and dedicated your lives to it." She tilts her head to one side. "I'm being a poor hostess. When your friend returns, I'll show you to your room, even if Suzunomiya isn't quite ready. Humans are diurnal creatures."

There's an awkward silence until Gladio returns, pushing the Crystal along. Then Prompto has to ask. "What exactly are you going to do with that?"

Saki smiles. "One way or another, we're going to get King Noctis out. Hopefully, we'll do it with Bahamut's cooperation." She shakes her head. "Your room is this way."

She leads them out of the conference room down a hallway. Doors split off on both sides, and it reminds Prompto a little of the structure of Zegnautus Keep. But every room is carefully labeled in a script he can't read and doesn't recognize.

One of the doors is open. Prompto can hear the soft sound of crying from the hallway.

Saki can hear it too. She stops short of the door. "I'll be just a moment," she says, and glides into the room.

There's a brief murmured conversation, and then Saki emerges. The woman next to her, pale with teal eyes, must be Suzunomiya. Prompto's never seen her when he's spoken with her, but there wouldn't be anyone else here. Her clothing is more elaborate than what Saki is wearing--it reminds Prompto of a kimono. On her head is a turban-style hat that covers all of her hair.

"Hello," Suzunomiya says. "It's nice to meet you. Make yourselves at home." Her voice has the sort of nasal undertone that makes it clear she really was crying, but Prompto isn't about to call her out on it.

A little unsettled, Prompto and the others walk into the room. It has three beds, one considerably larger than the other two, and a full stove and oven similar to the setup in a camper. A scented candle is lit, wafting the smell of honey. There are no windows and the walls are bare, with the exception of what's clearly a child's drawing in one corner.

"If there's anything that you need, please call for us," Saki says from the hallway. "Otherwise, it's probably best to sleep for the night. We have a lot to do."

Prompto bites down frustration--he wants Noct out of the Crystal right now--and nods, then remembers they're in the hall and can't see him. "We will. Thank you."

The whir of a motor and a pair of footsteps signal that Saki and Suzunomiya are really leaving. Gladio sits down hard on the largest bed. Luna starts to take her hair down. Ignis steps over to the cooking equipment, examining it.

"They were like ordinary people," Luna says, slipping a pin from her hair. "I rather like that. But- did we offend them in some way?"

"I believe we are staying in a dead person's room," Ignis says. "Or rather, several dead persons, given the number of beds."

"You're probably right," Prompto realizes with a sinking feeling.

"Not our fault, then," Gladio says.

Ignis prods at the stovetop. "We'll take our cues from them. For now, let's have dinner and then get some rest."

---

Prompto just can't sleep. It's not that he's sharing the giant bed with Gladio, although that's the kind of thing that would have something to do with it most of the time. It's just... there's so much. This place Sings to him, calls to his heart in a way that's beyond his understanding. And he's so close to having Noct back, but he's afraid of what it's going to take. And his goddesses are dying, and their plan asks the remaining Astrals to die, too, and he doesn't know how the world is even going to keep existing without them. Things are only going to get harder from here.

So Prompto gets out of bed. For awhile, he just sits and thinks. Then he checks the time on his phone. 2:40 AM. No one will be up for hours.

Prompto steps out into the hallway, closing the door softly behind him. He counts the doors, since he can't read the script written on their room. Then he explores a little.

On the other end of what Prompto thinks of as a conference room, there's something like a den or rec room. It's even bigger than Noct's living room was, but that makes sense if it was designed for over a dozen people. The walls are decorated here: pages of Hymmnos script, drawings by a child and by someone or someones more grown up, a calendar. On a table tucked away in a corner is a pair of tea cups on pretty little saucers. In another corner, there's a low table with a hologram of people Prompto doesn't recognize flickering above it and a wide, shallow bowl of water placed in front of it.

"Those are the ones who went before us."

Prompto turns around to see Suzunomiya watching him.

"In our culture, it is the custom to worship the dead. We leave an offering of fresh water every day."

"I'm sorry," Prompto says. It seems deeply inadequate.

"No," Suzunomiya says. "This Tower is your inheritance. It knows you. It's yours. That does not mean you have to stay here, but it's yours, PROMPTO_TEIWAZ_ETRO."

Prompto shivers. "Is that- is that my name?"

"One of them. It's also your inheritance." Suzunomiya steps over to the tea tray and sits down. "Your DNA was spliced from three people. One of those was a Reyvateil, and the strongest weapon ever created in Solsheim. She was born to be just as kind as you. Her first Song was one of gratitude. What was done to her was unforgivable, and she turned against her creators, but I will never forget the weapon who Sang of peace. 'Teiwaz' was the server designation she took for herself, and so it is only fitting that it is granted to you."

"Ardyn said she killed a lot of people," Prompto says.

"She did," Suzunomiya replies. "But after the suffering she experienced, those who created her should not have been surprised. At any rate, she found a way of atonement, eventually." She takes a sip from the tea cup. "I apologize for frightening your friends."

"I think they were gonna be scared anyway."

"Perhaps," Suzunomiya says. "I apologize for scaring you. Things might have been easier for you if I had been more forthcoming."

"I'm not mad," Prompto says.

"Everything is going to change tomorrow," Suzunomiya says. "I imagine we won't speak freely with each other again. So... let me request something from you. As an old woman to a young man, not as a goddess to her creation."

"What is it?" Prompto asks.

"Leave out a bowl of water for my family, when you can," Suzunomiya says softly. "I know you never met them, but please remember them."

"Of course." Prompto checks the time. "You know... none of my friends will be awake for hours. You could- you could tell me about them."

Suzunomiya smiles a little. "I could," she says, and then she does.

Chapter Text

Prompto realizes that it's morning and he's probably got Ignis terrified when the scent of bacon wafts down the hall.

"Uhh, I'd better go," he says. They're at a good stopping point anyway: Suzunomiya was talking about the festivals on her homeworld and not any person in particular.

Suzunomiya nods. "Yes," she agrees. "You should prepare your body the best that you can for today, and I have my own preparations to make."

"Thank you," Prompto says.

"Thank you," Suzunomiya replies. "The world is unimaginably fortunate that you exist."

Prompto blushes and scurries back to their room. Well, theirs now. Sometime in the past few hours, he learned that Soumanomiya, Kokura, and Gurentei shared that room once, and that one of Gurentei's hobbies was "human-style" cooking. He knows he's realistically never going to remember all of it, but he tries to keep as much of it as he can.

He opens the door to bacon, though, so he thinks he can be forgiven for his thoughts suddenly being dominated by food.

"Ah, good," Ignis says. "I was hoping the smell would entice you to return."

"Sorry," Prompto says. "We were talking, and I kinda lost track of the time."

"What were you talking about?" Gladio asks.

Prompto's mood sinks, a little. "Just... her homeworld, and the other Wills. Nothing that really... affects us right now."

Luna, rubbing sleep from her eyes, gives him an interested look. "I would still like to hear it, when time allows."

"Sure," Prompto says. He thinks that Suzunomiya would like that.

---

After breakfast, they leave the room to find Saki in her wheelchair waiting more-or-less patiently for them at the door. "This way," she says. She has a tall glass of water in her hands and sips at it while she leads them all to the room Prompto thinks of as the conference room.

"I bet you're all eager to get started," Saki says. "Suzie?"

Suzunomiya rolls her eyes when she walks in. "I told you not to call me that in front of them," she says.

Saki smiles. "I forgot," she says innocently. Prompto doesn't believe her for a second. "Are we ready?"

"We're ready," Suzunomiya says.

Prompto swallows. "Wait, umm-" He slips his camera out of the Armiger. "Could I- could I take a picture of the two of you? I just- figured we might not have another chance."

The two goddesses look at each other. "All right," Saki says.

"Sure," Suzunomiya says.

They pose for him--Suzunomiya bends down so Saki doesn't have to get out of her chair--and Prompto gets the shot he wants. "Thanks," he says.

When he turns around, Luna has a wild, wide-eyed look on her face, which Prompto considers photographing as well before deciding it might be a poor choice.

"Now that we have that out of the way," Suzunomiya says, "I'm going to open a discussion with the Astrals." She walks to the podium, rolls her shoulders back, and Sings: Lyuma. Was granme ga nha yora sos yos dius skit.

This pressure, this chill down to his core: this is what it's like when a goddess speaks as a goddess.

Nothing happens for a moment.

Perhaps two or three minutes pass in utter silence.

Then there's a quivering in the air. The pressure grows even stronger.

A man in golden armor appears in the room.

Then there's Shiva, in the form of Gentiana.

A young man, muscular and entirely nude.

A robed elderly man with a long, long beard.

The remaining living Astrals, standing in a line directly across from Suzunomiya. They bow to her--just slightly, but they do.

Prompto can hardly breathe.

"We will conduct this conversation in the Low Speech for the benefit of the mortals witnessing," Suzunomiya says. "I open this discussion of the Fate of Eos."

Bahamut--who else could it be?--is the next one to speak. "I see that you have taken possession of the Crystal," he says. The armor makes it difficult to read his facial expression.

"Yes," Saki says. "By the end of this conversation, King Noctis Lucis Caelum will no longer be held captive within it." She's sitting up straight, body shaking subtly.

"He requires a period of reflection before he is prepared for his fate." Bahamut crosses his arms. "This fate has been known to you for more than a thousand years. Why do we hold council now?"

"In this generation, providence has dealt us a boon," Suzunomiya says. "In this room stands a Reyvateil, child of no line, with the power of the Towers in his hands." She nods in Prompto's direction. "Your plan would save the soil and stone of Eos. We choose this young man as our champion to save its life."

"Our magic is built on sacrifice," says the robed man who is probably Ramuh. "The cost must be paid, or the Starscourge will continue to ravage Eos."

"The sacrifice of the Oracle and the King of Lucis, yes," Saki says. "I assume that Shiva has already informed you of the alternative option we have been able to devise."

"The sacrifice of the Kingship, and of the Gods of Eos," Shiva says. "The end of the Age of Gods."

Luna gasps, then claps her hands over her mouth. Gladio shoots Prompto a stern look, which he probably deserves.

"The Age of Gods must end," Suzunomiya says. "Already it is ending. Sakiyarumei and I are the last remaining Wills of Eos, and even now we are fading. And your influence has not been enough to stem the encroaching tides of darkness. Do not think we have not noticed that the days grow ever shorter."

Titan--it must be Titan--says, "The Children of Eos have grown strong. They are ready to inherit their world."

Bahamut crosses his arms. "If your champion falls, Eos will follow."

"That is true for your plan as well," Ramuh says.

The room falls silent for awhile. Bahamut looks furious, but it doesn't seem like he can come up with an argument.

"The only one who can defeat the Incarnation of the Starscourge is the King of Lucis, Noctis Lucis Caelum." Ramuh says. "This must be done, and it is already set in motion. After this, Prompto Argentum will use the power of the Gods to banish the Starscourge from Eos. Is this your proposal?"

"Prompto Argentum will destroy the Starscourge," Saki says. "It will not be banished, to become a problem for some other world. It will be destroyed."

"We should ask our champions if they are willing to complete our tasks," Suzunomiya says.

"You are attempting to create an excuse to remove the King from the Crystal," Bahamut says. He waves a hand. "So be it."

And in the blink of an eye, Noct is just suddenly there.

Prompto is standing in the company of gods, and people he respects, and he doesn't care Noct needs to be in his arms now.

Noct seems to have a similar idea. They crash into each other. Prompto's forehead smacks into Noct's jaw. It's fine, it's good, even, because it's real.

Prompto almost starts crying, but he doesn't. He plants a soft kiss on Noct's mouth and then takes a step back. He really should compose himself.

"Noctis Lucis Caelum," Bahamut says. "King of Kings. Do you swear to use the power granted to you by the Astrals and the past Kings of Lucis to destroy Ardyn Lucis Caelum, Incarnation of the Starscourge?"

"Yes," Noct says, obviously a little confused.

"And would you allow your title and country to be stripped from you, in serving that end?" Bahamut rumbles, as if he thinks this might be a sticking point.

"Yes," Noct says. Prompto thinks that's not some kind of punishment: it's everything Noct ever wanted. Perhaps a god can't understand.

"Prompto Argentum," Bahamut says. "Do you swear to use the power granted to you by the Wills of Eos to eradicate the Starscourge from all existence, when the prior task is completed?"

"Yes," Prompto says. "I swear."

"And Lunafreya Nox Fleuret," Bahamut continues. "Are you willing to lose the title of Oracle in the service of Eos?"

"Of course," Luna says. She curtsies slightly.

"Then it is agreed," Shiva says.

It is agreed. Saki says.

Bahamut and the Crystal vanish from the room immediately. Ramuh and Titan are quick to follow suit.

Shiva smiles at them. "I wish you luck," she says, and disappears as well.

Noct leans into Prompto, hard, and says, "Someone tell me what just happened."

Chapter Text

They drift into the sitting room to explain everything to Noct. Prompto, although he would be the best choice to explain a lot of it, is no help and knows it. He sits as close to Noct as their bodies will allow, tries to follow the conversation but gives up, and finds that he recognizes Noct's scent and that it is deeply comforting. Eventually, with an arm around Noct and Noct's arm around him, he does manage to settle down.

"So..." Noct says, slowly. "I have to beat Ardyn. And then after that, Prompto has to..."

"Sing," Prompto says. "And not die."

An edge of fear creeps into Noct's voice. He doesn't seem as good at pushing his emotions down right now as he usually is. "How likely is it that you're going to die?"

"It's hard to say," Suzunomiya tells him. "All of it hinges on the depth of his feelings."

"It's going to be fine," Prompto says.

Noct swallows. "I guess," he says.

"How much time do we have?" Ignis asks. "Are we on some kind of limit?"

Suzunomiya glances at Saki. "We need to grant our power to Prompto, and to the world," she says. "That will need to be done today. After that, it will probably be best to stay a few days as everything adjusts. You can do as you see fit from there, but Ardyn will probably be waiting for you as soon as we're gone."

"I'm ready," Prompto says, even though he's pretty sure he's not.

Saki smiles at him, a look that sees right through him. "Perhaps a meal first," she says.

"Oh," Noct says, eyes going huge. "Yeah, let's eat first." Has he eaten since being put in the Crystal? Probably not.

"What would you like?" Ignis asks, eyes flicking toward the two goddesses in the room before landing squarely back on Noct.

"Steak?" Noct asks, hopefully.

"I'll see what I can do," Ignis promises.

---

Ignis finds enough dualhorn steak for everyone, including the goddesses present, stashed away in their supplies. Prompto suspects he's rationing it: Gladio gets a piece much smaller than he normally would, and Prompto thinks Ignis would usually take a larger portion himself. But the sides pad it out nicely: baked potatoes, sweet peppers, and an orange each. And the spices warm Prompto up from the scent alone.

If this had to be Prompto's last meal, that wouldn't be so bad. He assumes that's what Ignis is thinking when he presents two steaming plates to the goddesses with a careful dip of the head.

Prompto's nerves get in the way of truly enjoying the food, though. He makes himself eat, and it's not that the food tastes bad or anything, but his mind is elsewhere. He doesn't really know what they're going to do to him. A steady current of fear hums in his veins, and he finds himself wishing they'd just got it over with instead. But that's selfish. Prompto shoves that feeling down. He can have a breakdown when all of this is over.

Prompto isn't the only one on edge. Noct's as nervous as Prompto has ever seen him. He's eating well, but between bites, he's picking at his hands under the little table they're eating off. Gladio seems uncomfortable too, but he's seemed a little unsettled this entire time, so it's hard to say if it's new. Ignis and Luna are the only ones entirely composed. Prompto wonders if they're hiding nerves too.

---

Lunch ends eventually, though, and they all file back into the conference room. Saki wheels straight up to the monitors and starts muttering. Suzunomiya lifts the podium and moves it into the hallway.

"Kneel there," she tells Prompto. "Right where that was. Facing me, there you go."

Prompto closes his eyes. So much depends on him. No pressure.

"Someone help me up," Saki says.

Suzunomiya frowns. "Aren't you-"

"I want to go out standing," Saki insists.

Someone helps her, presumably. Prompto doesn't open his eyes, but he feels a hand rest on each of his shoulders. One of them is trembling. The other is a solid, steady weight.

Eos is honored by your presense.

Thank you.

Prompto makes himself look up. "Thank you," he whispers.

"Shhh," Saki says. "Listen."

Suzunomiya takes Saki's free hand, tight, and then she begins to Sing.

"iuz rei-fao hyen ahih=koh-ne hyu-me lis-ea?"

Prompto doesn't know the language he's hearing. He can't understand the words. But he feels the Song call out, and he feels an answer ebb into his skin, filling his body with light. Twice, he thinks he can't possibly hold any more, and then more pours into him and he doesn't come apart.

The Song calls out, and Prompto reaches out to try to answer it somehow, but Suzunomiya shakes her head. She lifts her hand from his shoulder to rest it on his head, and he feels his soul shine like a beacon.

Suzunomiya finally falls silent. She smiles at Prompto. Saki does, too. They're... shimmering.

The two Goddesses dissolve into light, and that, too, seeps into Prompto's body.

All that's left is that light filling him and two piles of clothes on the floor.

Prompto slumps forward and screams.

---

The light Prompto felt turns out to have been more or less literal. Prompto's clothes are too burnt to be salvaged and he's boiling hot. Ignis has him lay down in a fresh pair of boxers on a couch, while Noct sponges him with cool water.

Prompto knows all of this is happening, but he's so overwhelmed that it feels like it's happening to someone else.

Once he's cooled down a little, they try to get him to drink some water. He just can't remember to do it, even with the glass sitting in his hands. Luna has to hold the glass for him and give him a few sips at a time.

He looks down at his arms. Something's- something's not right.

Maybe it's just that his wrists are bare, he always feels weird when-

The codeprint is gone.

He scratches the skin where that tattoo had been as if he was trying to dig it out of the dirt. Nothing. It's gone.

Noct gently takes both Prompto's hands in his. "It's okay," he says. "It's okay."

Prompto doesn't wrench his hands away, but he does twist his arm until he can tell the Installer Port is still there.

It's there, probably, but it's changed: the symbol is a sunflower, now. A black circle for a center, with a ring of runes wrapped around it, and a further ring of long petals. It's hard to say for sure, but Prompto thinks the petals might even be tinted yellow.

Prompto whimpers and leans into Noct's shoulder.

"It's okay," Noct says, and lets go of Prompto's hand to gently stroke his hair.

Prompto presses in even closer, breathes in Noct, and lets himself be soothed.

Chapter Text

It's not just the codeprint missing, as Prompto comes to realize. It's the last of the dye in his hair, and that scar on his forearm from the time he burnt himself getting a tray out of the oven, and- a toenail had been broken before, and now it isn't.

Prompto looks at all of that, and thinks of the responsibility on his shoulders and the strange grief for his goddesses, and then he turns away.

First, he empties the bowl of water in the living room and refills it. He takes a picture of the little shrine. He fiddles with the camera settings until he can get a good shot of the hologram, too.

There's no way of knowing if they're going to be able to get back here. Prompto thinks of the team from his magic lessons what seems like a thousand years ago and dives in to document it. Every scrap of text that he sees, along with as much of its context as possible. Saki's wheelchair, and how different it is from something they might design in Lucis. The fibers of the clothes, though maybe it would be better to take them with him, and give them to-

Someone, somewhere. When all this is over, someone will preserve this. Someone will be excited to have this piece of history placed in their hands.

It's probably been hours when Noct comes and taps Prompto on the shoulder. "Hey," Noct says. "You're going to come eat something."

"Okay," Prompto says. He reaches into himself, tries to find a part of him that wants to eat. He feels selfish. He's already spent so much of the day crumbling, and Noct spent ages trapped in a rock and that had to have been traumatizing. Prompto hasn't even asked.

But there's just nothing left. Prompto forces some food into his mouth and then shoves the rest of it around the plate until Ignis gently coaxes it from his hands. "I've made up the room across the way, if you and Noct would like some private time," he says.

Part of Prompto screams, because Ignis just went and rearranged things in another dead person's bedroom. But they're dead, and even Suzunomiya had understood. And Prompto has never wanted to spend time in Noct's arms like right now. "Thanks," Prompto says, with a glance over at Noct.

Noct's in the middle of talking to Luna, something in low voices, but as soon as he sees Prompto looking in his direction he stops short. Prompto tries to smile at him, which seems to trigger Noct getting up to his feet.

"Are you okay?" Noct asks.

"Yeah," Prompto says. "Just... just tired."

"I have a room ready for the two of you," Ignis repeats. "Would you like me to show you?"

"You're a lifesaver, Specs," Noct says, slinging an arm around Prompto. "Yeah, show us."

Prompto doesn't have time to think--suddenly he's in the hall, and before he's got that figured out, he's in another bedroom.

"I'll wake you with breakfast," Ignis says, and vanishes.

"Is he mad?" Prompto asks, a little fuzzy.

"He's worried," Noct says. "C'mon. You wanna lay down?"

"Yes," Prompto manages. "But-"

"Here." Noct doesn't exactly shove Prompto onto the neatly-made bed, but it's more strong suggestion than friendly nudge.

"Noct-"

"Come on," Noct says. "You want to. Just lay down."

"Don't leave?" Prompto murmurs, climbing up.

"Course not," Noct says, and hops on next to him. "Like I wanna be somewhere else."

Prompto sighs. "I'm tired," he admits.

Noct answers by wrapping an arm around him, warm and tight.

"You just got back, though," Prompto says. "After being trapped like that."

"It was mostly like sleeping," Noct tells him. "You just almost blew up."

"It wasn't like that," Prompto says.

Noct strokes Prompto's hair. "Yeah, I'm sure," he says. "It's okay. I'm still going to be here when you wake up."

"Oh," Prompto whispers. The tension seeps out of him and he droops against the pillow.

"Get some sleep," Noct says. "It's what I plan on doing."

"Napping again after you just spent almost a week asleep?" Prompto asks, closing his eyes.

"Yup," Noct says, and runs his fingers through Prompto's hair.

Prompto thinks he says something to keep up the conversation after that, or at least he tries, but he's too drowsy to tell if Noct responds.

---

Prompto wakes late at night to find that he's curled himself around Noct.

The thought runs through his mind, something that he would never let himself think in the light of day: Noct is his. Someone he won't give up to a god, or to Ardyn, or to anything else.

Prompto plants a kiss in Noct's hair and shifts into a closer hold, and prepares to go back to sleep, when Noct stirs.

"D'n stop," Noct mumbles, rolling over.

"Stop what?" Prompto whispers.

In a half-awake answer, Noct kisses Prompto's shoulder. It's more than a little clumsy, and even more endearing than that, so Prompto tightens his hold on Noct.

"You're still asleep," Prompto murmurs fondly.

"Nuh-uh," Noct slurs, and kisses Prompto's shoulder again. "M'wake. Kiss me."

Prompto laughs softly. He presses a kiss to Noct's forehead, and then trails down to plant a gentle kiss against Noct's lips. "Better?"

"Mhm," Noct says. Then, to Prompto's deep amusement, he rolls over and settles into Prompto's arms again.

Damn, but it's good to have him back.

---

When Ignis comes to get them for breakfast, Prompto actually feels refreshed for the first time in weeks. He can't actually remember the last time he woke up feeling this good. He's still scared, somewhere below it all, but that's so normal that it's easy to ignore.

While they're eating, though, Gladio cuts straight to the chase. "We have to leave," he says. "Gotta go fill our end of the bargain."

"Do we know what it's like out there?" Prompto asks.

"A little," Luna says. "One of the monitors shows the land surrounding Costlemark, and it appears as it did when we arrived."

"And there's nothing nasty waiting for us out the door," Gladio says. "Dunno about the upper floors, but we're not going to fight one of those weird lizard things right out of the gate. Not that it was much of an issue."

"I believe it was a Jabberwock," Ignis says.

Prompto lets himself think, for just a second, about what would happen if they just... didn't go. If they stayed down here forever like Saki and Suzunomiya had.

No.

"What're we gonna do?" Noct asks, unaware of Prompto's line of thought. "Just go straight to Insomnia?"

"I thought we might want to cross through Hammerhead first," Ignis says. "Make a final check of our supplies, and perhaps gather Iris."

Gladio frowns. "What do you want Iris for?"

"More trained combatants would only be a benefit," Ignis says. "We cannot know what we will encounter."

"Iris is only fifteen," Luna says. "Is it appropriate to bring her into battle?"

"You've only had, like, a week of training," Noct says. "Two weeks tops. Should we be bringing you?"

"I am more than capable of defending myself," Luna says, sitting up straighter.

Waking up had been so nice, Prompto remembers. "I mean, no one really needs to go except Noct and maybe me," he says.

"Indeed," Ignis says.

"Then why are you bringing Iris into this?" Gladio asks.

"I strongly doubt that Ardyn will simply allow Noct to battle him," Ignis says.

"Then- we should bring everybody," Prompto says. "Not just Iris. We should call up the Hunters, see if we can talk to Aranea. Anyone we can get. We should go with an army."

"He will know we are coming," Luna points out.

"The Wills implied that we are unlikely to have the element of surprise," Ignis says.

Noct's staring at the wall like it's hiding a secret. "We'll go to Hammerhead," he says. "And- we'll see."

Chapter Text

They leave the Crystal down in the Ark. No one wants to haul it out of the Tower, and besides, it's about as safe there as anywhere else they could stash it. Prompto, for one, is glad to be rid of it.

Not having the Crystal makes the trip back a lot easier. Prompto gets to ride shotgun, like in the Regalia. It's an easy ride. They have to wait for a herd of garula to cross the road, and they pull over to help somebody with a broken-down car.

They pull into Hammerhead in the early evening. Iris is sitting on the stoop of Takka's Diner, fiddling around with her phone. When she sees them, she puts it in her pocket and jumps to her feet. "You're back! You're all back!"

Gladio hops down from the truck bed, because an open vehicle can't stop him from jumping out while it's in motion. "Yeah, we're all back," he says. He hugs his sister. "What did you do while we were gone?"

Iris grins. "Cindy gave me driving lessons!" she says.

Gladio looks a little like he's going to faint.

---

Noct is tucked away in a corner, running his fingers over the Ring of the Lucii. Prompto watches him for a little while, then approaches. "Hey, what's up?"

Noct gives him a smile that Prompto doesn't quite buy, and says, "I gotta be King."

"Yeah?" Prompto asks, because there are so many directions they could go from there.

"You had a good idea," Noct says. "We should bring everyone we can." He points in the direction of Insomnia. "I think Ardyn's waiting on us."

It takes Prompto a moment to understand what Noct's saying. It's evening, and dark is settling down in every direction.

But the darkness above Insomnia is... different, isn't it? It seems to swirl and twist like a storm, and there are no stars visible in that black void.

Prompto stares at it for a moment, then turns away. "Yeah, that seems bad."

"I'm gonna have to make the call," Noct says. "It has to be me. Whatever magic happens after we get there, right now, I'm the King of Lucis, and I have to convince people to risk dying for me."

Prompto thinks it over for a little while. "Not exactly," he says.

"What do you mean?" Noct asks.

"It's not for you," Prompto says. "It's not about you. It's about freeing the world of the Starscourge, and taking back Insomnia from evil, and all that. You've got something special to do, so you've got priority if things go wrong. But they don't have to do it for you."

"They don't," Noct says. "But some of them will."

Prompto nods, because this isn't the kind of thing that you lie about.

Noct takes a deep breath. "I'm going to do it," he says. "I don't know what I'll be able to get, but I'll send out the call."

Prompto smiles. "Now you sound like a king," he says.

Noct laughs grimly. "I'll be glad to be rid of it," he replies. "I'll need to make a radio broadcast, right? Let's see where we can get broadcast supplies."

---

Sitting in Takka's Diner and tracing over a map of Insomnia, they form some kind of war council.

"Closest place you could get on the radio's prob'ly Galdin Quay," Cid says. "I can call in a favor with the girl at the restaurant if I gotta."

"We'll go there for a day, Noct'll make some kind of speech, and then..." Gladio frowns.

"We should contact some important individuals first," Ignis says. "Cor Leonis, for example. Perhaps the leader of the Hunters, if we can sway him... David Auburnbrie, wasn't it?"

"He hates it when you call him 'David,'" Cindy contributes. "You'll wanna call him 'Hunter Dave' if you want his help."

"How many people do you think we'll get?" Iris asks, sipping on a milkshake.

"Impossible to say," Ignis replies. "We should get at least what's left of the Crownsguard and Kingsglaive, but I cannot say how many of them yet live."

"Kinda makes it hard to plan, doesn't it?" Noct complains. "We don't know what we're gonna have and we don't know what we're gonna face."

"Do we need to evacuate the people that are already there?" Prompto asks. "I mean, there were those people at that dock..."

"They've evacuated themselves, mostly," Cid tells them. "Whatever y'all did at Costlemark sent 'em scurrying."

"One less thing to worry about," Gladio says.

"I guess we'll send the call, tell everyone to gather in Hammerhead, and set out in three days with whatever we have," Noct says.

"I don't have enough food to feed the kind of crowd you're hoping for," Takka says, placing a basket of fries on the table right next to their map. "Armies march on their stomachs, and all that."

Noct looks to Ignis. "We can't just assume they'll pack food."

"We could ask Coctura for aid," Ignis says, "and some of us could remain here and gather sustenance while you rally the people."

"You've been quiet," Prompto says, turning to Luna.

"I need to contact my brother," Luna says. "He could, perhaps, aid us. But I do not know how."

"Ask for him on the radio," Iris suggests. "Someone will get in touch with him, right?"

The conversation goes on and on, and Prompto is less and less able to contribute. Noct was literally raised to be a king, and Gladio was always expected to command people at least to some extent, and Ignis has amazing strategic instincts, and Luna is, well, Luna. Prompto's just got a special Voice and some kind of blessing on his shoulders that he doesn't understand.

Talcott is sitting in a booth in the corner, alone, fiddling with a cactuar toy. On a whim, Prompto grabs the entire basket of fries and goes to sit with him.

Talcott blinks at the fries. "Is it okay if we eat them?" he asks.

"Of course it's okay," Prompto says. "Somebody's got to."

"Okay," Talcott says, and takes a fry. "Is Iris going to go with you next time?"

"Probably," Prompto says.

Talcott considers this. "I think Cindy might go," he says. "But Mr. Sophiar probably won't."

"Yeah," Prompto says. "Cid's..." He glances around to see if the man's listening to them. "He's pretty old to go fighting daemons."

"And I'm too young," Talcott says.

This poor kid.

"It's gonna be pretty scary for awhile," Prompto says. "And I don't know what's going to happen when we leave. But in a week or so, this is all gonna be over, for better or worse."

"A week," Talcott says. "That's a long time."

It really is a long time when you're a kid. "I know. But you're gonna be okay."

"I wanna go home," Talcott admits in a small voice.

"I do too, buddy," Prompto says. "Maybe when all of this is over, we can."

Chapter Text

The next morning, Noct, Luna, and Gladio go out to Galdin Quay so they can talk to all Eos. Prompto stays behind with Ignis and Iris to peel potatoes.

"It's all I've got in bulk," Takka apologizes.

Prompto isn't the worst at cooking, for all that he's unaccustomed to it. He's not like Iris, who nicked her fingers so many times she was sent off to take inventory of the kitchen stock instead. But after three hours of peeling potatoes, Prompto really has had enough. "I thought most of the nutrients in potatoes are in the peel," he complains.

"Would you want to eat stew with potato peels in it?" Ignis replies mildly.

Prompto tries to imagine it. "I have no idea," he says. "Not gonna be much of a stew with just potatoes, is it?"

"Hopefully, Coctura will be able to help us," Ignis says. "But we should prepare as much as we can in advance."

Prompto sets down his most recent potato and picks up a new one. "Sure," he says.

Iris runs in from the storeroom, radio in hand. "They're starting, they're starting!" she yells.

Everyone drops what they're doing and crowds around the radio.

"Hello," Noct's voice comes through the static. "I am the King of Lucis, Noctis Lucis Caelum."

"And I am the Oracle-Queen of Tenebrae, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret."

Ignis raises his eyebrows. Prompto's a little surprised too: that's a blunt political statement. But then, Gralea's a wasteland. The Empire is presumably dead.

"Eos has been ravaged by recent events," Noct continues. "The Starscourge overtook the city of Gralea. Leviathan's attack decimated Altissia, and surrounding areas saw destructive flooding. Insomnia was hit both by the Empire and by the greatest storm it had ever seen. More of us have lost our homes than not."

"So what we are about to ask of you, all of you, may be hard to hear," Luna picks up. "Please hear what we have to say, and then make your own choice." She takes a deep breath, audible even through the static of the radio. "We have found a way to destroy the Starscourge. To eliminate it from all Eos, now and forever."

There's a pause, probably for effect.

"We will need your help," Noct says. "We will need to reclaim Insomnia. Within its heart lies the key to the Scourge's defeat."

"This is not a mandate," Luna continues, "nor is it a king's attempt to regain his seat of power. This is a prayer, from us to you, to aid us in defeating the Starscourge."

"The moment will be soon," Noct says. "In three days' time, no matter what our number, we will march on Insomnia."

"We realize this gives little time for preparation," Luna says. "We realize that many of you have children, or other family that needs care. We realize that so, so many are injured or disabled and cannot aid us. We realize that many of you have lived peaceful lives and have no skill with a weapon. I tell you again: this is not a mandate."

"But for those who are able-bodied and capable with weaponry, those willing to risk their lives to eliminate the Scourge, this is your call. Come to Hammerhead, the settlement closest to the bridge to Insomnia, within these three days. Join us."

"The Army of the Dawn awaits," Luna says.

It seems like that's the end of the broadcast. It's quiet for awhile, as all of that settles.

Back when they were in high school, Noct was awful at public speaking. Prompto knows how much must have gone into this. Cue cards, or the whole speech written down while they were on the way. Rehearsing phrases, coming up with lines. Luna's choice to call herself Oracle-Queen. The idea of an Army of the Dawn.

"I really hope Coctura sends food," Takka says, breaking the silence. "We're gonna have a lot of mouths to feed."

---

The first volunteers show up while Prompto and Cindy are rigging the lights to reach further: two men in Galahdian gear and their dog.

"You sure you wanna bring your dog in there?" Cid asks. "Not sure if an animal would make it."

"She's tougher than the two of us combined," one of the men replies.

"Fair 'nough," Cid says, and the army gains its first recruits.

---

Noct, Luna, and Gladio get back to Hammerhead just skirting nightfall. Noct's driving that pickup truck, and thankfully, the bed is full of supplies. By now, there are already ten people Prompto's never seen before, ready to risk their lives during this trip to defeat Ardyn. Iris and Gladio unload the truck bed, squabbling over whether Iris gets to come into Insomnia with them, while Noct and Luna greet each person individually and thank them for coming.

There's not really enough places for people to sleep, which becomes apparent after serving this huge group potato soup. Ignis curses for failing to think of it. Their tent and sleeping bags get distributed to the crowd while Gladio buys the caravan for all of them.

"Of course you should get special treatment," Iris says sternly. "They literally can't do this without you."

"I guess you're right," Prompto says, and lays down on the bare camper mattress next to Noct.

---

People arrive in a trickle the next day. Prompto decides that he doesn't want to go greet all of them, given that he has a choice, and disappears into Takka's kitchen again.

The new supplies mean even more work, but at least it's a little more varied than yesterday's endless potatoes. There are mountains of peppers and onions that need processing, and Prompto will be surprised if the smell of fish comes out of his clothes anytime soon. But he's contributing. It's good.

And if he focuses on his work, he doesn't have to think about anything else. Like how, as if in answer to their declaration, the sky over Insomnia grows ever darker. How it's stretching out toward them. How very, very likely it is that Ardyn is waiting for them.

---

"I hope all these people know how to fight," Gladio says at dusk on the second day. Tomorrow, they're going to try to take Insomnia. Tomorrow, they're going to eliminate the Starscourge or they're going to die.

"Most of them probably do," Noct replies. He glances out the window of the camper. "You can see some of them practicing."

Ignis considers. "There are twenty-three Crownsguard and Kingsglaive, excluding ourselves. There are thirty-one that identified as Hunters. Then there's an additional sixty-six who come with no credentials. But I do agree that generally, they seem able-bodied."

"I'm going," Iris announces.

"I know," Gladio says. "Catch." He tosses Iris a box.

Iris grabs it out of the air. "It's heavy." She opens up the box. Nestled inside is a pair of brass knuckles. "Wow..." she murmurs.

"Was saving them for later, but now's the time," Gladio says. "Go practice with them. They weigh a little and they'll slow you down a pinch."

"Thanks Gladdy!" Iris says. She hugs her brother and darts outside.

"She's gonna be fine," Prompto says.

"She's just as much at risk as any of us," Gladio says. "Don't take that from her."

This seems more and more like something not worth prodding at, so Prompto changes the subject quickly. "Do you think we're going to get more before we set out?"

"Absolutely," Ignis says. "Some of the people here have told us they expect friends. Dave expects another dozen Hunters, at least."

Luna traces a finger along the window. "Do you want me to stay?" she asks.

"Your healing abilities will be invaluable," Ignis says. "You should avoid the front lines whenever possible, but your presense would be a benefit."

Noct sighs. "You don't need our permission, Luna," he says.

Luna smiles at him, one of her gentle Oracle smiles, but doesn't say anything.

Prompto slips his hand into Noct's. "It's going to be fine," he says, and hopes he's not lying.

Chapter Text

Prompto dreams:

He's on hard ground, on his back. The first hint of pink light peeks above the skyline of a ruined city. Black smoke surrounds him. Some of it's rising from his skin.

He looks to his right, and he can just make out two other bodies through the smoke, on the ground like he is.

His limbs are heavy. He's exhausted. But he knows he still has more to do. He shifts his legs, pushing broken glass aside, and sits up. Black smoke billows from him like he's burning. He is burning, from the inside out, but somehow it doesn't hurt.

He shoves himself to his feet and turns, and the Citadel looms in front of him.

His chest is tight, but he sucks in a breath of cold, cold air. He holds that breath in his lungs, and then it's time-

He sees something, then. Something his eyes don't understand, never mind the rest of his mind. He sees something no one was ever meant to see, that was never meant for sight.

He wakes up.

---

The sun doesn't rise over Hammerhead that morning, while Cor and Dave and Gladio hash out who will be commanding who. It doesn't show up at noon, when Takka's feeding all one hundred and fifty-seven of them lunch. It's dark, the strange and wrong kind of dark that's been gnawing at Insomnia for days. It's not going to let up until they finish this.

Prompto takes a long shower in the caravan, because no one can stop him, and accepts that they're going to go to war in the dark.

"We're going to form a special unit for the VIPs," Gladio says. "We want to avoid as much risk to them as we can while acknowledging that they're some of the top powerhouses here. Libertus Ostium--a great guy--he's going to lead the Kingsglaive and Crownsguard, freeing up Cor, right? So then we'll have Cor, Ignis, and I assigned to Noctis, and Lunafreya and Iris assigned to Prompto. We'll stay together as far as we can, but we're not taking Prompto's group into the Citadel."

Prompto kills the knee-jerk reaction that says he should be with Noct, because this makes a lot of sense. If they lose Noct, Prompto and Luna together are likely to be able to do something to keep the Scourge from immediately overtaking the planet, so they shouldn't go. And Iris is pretty good, but she would have Gladio distracted in a serious fight. This is a strategically sound plan. He hates it.

Noct swallows. "This is- this is a good plan," he says. "I just- if things go sour, I want you all to know. You guys... are the best," he says, blushing. "And-" He whispers in Prompto's ear: "I love you so much."

Prompto thinks he's probably blushing, too, when he whispers back. "I love you too." As if it had ever been in question, as if it needed to be spoken, as if it wasn't the core of everything he's done for years.

---

The next few hours are more plans guaranteed to fall apart as soon as they get to the bridge, more whispering between people about who will miss who if something happens, everyone checking on their gear. The daemons are close, now, just outside the lights. A few of the Hunters are heckling them to pass the time. A few stragglers, one of which is armed with a rocket launcher, show up as everyone's organizing to leave.

It's messy, but Prompto's mind is leaping ahead. With binoculars and good eyesight, you can see as far as the bridge, where a bunch of screwed-up MTs are bumbling around. Past that is anyone's guess. What could Ardyn have waiting for them?

"Try to avoid pushing yourself," Ignis says. "Save your strength for the endgame."

What's that even going to look like?

---

The Crownsguard and Kingsglaive move out first, taking down an Iron Giant in less than a minute as they work their way forward. Next is their group, what Gladio is calling the "VIP unit." They target some of what's left, then chase the Crown units ahead while the Hunters and ordinary people swarm in to mop up.

This works so well that by the time they get to the bridge, Prompto's feeling almost safe. That's a mistake.

"Take cover!" someone screams, and Iris tackles Prompto to the ground just in time for something boiling hot to pass just over the pair of them. Ignoring his skinned knees and palms, he looks up.

By now Prompto's not shocked when he sees an Astral. But this... this is something more. Something worse. This thing wreathed in flames must be Ifrit, but half its body is gray and corpselike, and the other half is riddled with Scourge. Even its some of its horns have that blackness worked into them.

Ardyn brought a dead Astral to fight them.

There's at least one more dead Astral-

"Move!" Gladio shouts.

Iris--when did she get up?--takes Prompto's hand and pulls him to his feet again. They make a run for it, feet slamming across the pavement until they reach a gatehouse. Iris shoves Prompto inside, gasping for air, as the world lights up around them.

But the gatehouse isn't made of wood, at least, so they don't burn.

"Well, so much for that," Prompto says.

"If we get separated, we look for magic," Iris says, like she's reading from a book.

Prompto nods. "I think I can shield us against the fire," he says, and looks out through the window.

There's blue everywhere--the Kingsglaive are busy. So Prompto looks for gold, Luna's healing magic. Is that it? It's so hard to tell. What if something happened to her?

Prompto looks back to tell Iris that he isn't sure if he can see anyone. Iris is staring down at her shaking hands.

This is terrifying enough without it being the first real battle he's ever been in.

"We're going to make it through this," Prompto says.

"Yeah," Iris says. "Yeah, we are." She fiddles with her brass knuckles and forces a smile onto her face. "We can't stay here forever, right? So you've got to put up that magic shield, and then..."

"We'll run across the bridge," Prompto says. "There'll be much more cover in the city itself."

"Yeah," Iris says. "Okay. We can do this!"

"Yup," Prompto says. He takes a deep breath and starts to Sing.

Chapter Text

Prompto is a little relieved that his shield repels Ifrit's fire, because the guy is definitely interested in him as they run down the length of the bridge. He also thanks his past self profusely for doing enough cardio to keep up a decent pace and Sing at the same time. He's definitely not as fast as he could be, but he'd have to slow down for Iris anyway, so it works out.

They pass most of the magical blue light on the bridge, which is sort of iffy. Prompto is pretty sure he's not supposed to be up front. But he doesn't want to be around a fire-breathing thing with no cover when he can't talk.

There's a gas station and a convenience store across from each other at the intersection. The gas station is obviously a no, so they duck into the convenience store to catch their breath.

Both of them drop down to sit. Iris laughs. "Plans don't survive first contact with the enemy," she says, leaning her head against the wall.

"I dunno, I don't think we're doing too bad," Prompto says. "We lost Luna, but the two of us are still together, and neither of us are dead."

"That's really morbid," Iris says, but she's smiling.

Prompto takes a moment to think. "Okay," he says, "we need to fight that thing, but we need to do it somewhere with cover. Most people are probably still trying to deal with it on the other side of the bridge. But it would be better to lure it here where there's more cover."

"Can we do that?" Iris asks.

Prompto thinks for a moment. "Well, I can at least signal we're around." He glances out the window to see what Ifrit is up to. Whatever it is, it's on the other side of the bridge. Showtime, then.

Making the mental shift from a rigid defense to a public declaration of love is not an easy feat, but Prompto's been saving up thoughts of Noct for days, just in case that was what he needed for... well, not this, but for a Song, certainly. So he goes through it: that smile Noct saves for just the two of them. The warmth when they hold each other. The sparkling light of a kiss. Light.

There it goes: the Song, and the following orbs of light swamping the air. Music that soars and dives. Easy peasy.

Except- maybe they should have planned a little further ahead. Prompto's voice falters as Ifrit turns.

What on Eos are they going to do with this thing's attention?

For lack of a better idea, Prompto turns back from the door, eyes wide. "Back up back up back up!" he tells Iris.

"I don't know how to fight that..." Iris says, crouching in the snack aisle.

Ifrit's coming closer. Prompto wonders how many people have realized what they're attacking. "I think maybe you would punch him."

Iris giggles nervously. "I guess so," she says.

There's a bang from--behind them? Prompto's eyes are on the dead Astral, but he turns.

"You should be keeping an eye on your six," Gladio says. "And we're trying not to engage tougher enemies, so what are you doing?"

"There's no cover on the bridge," Prompto says. "That thing needed to move. And the signal helped."

Gladio sighs. "Fair," he says. "But you should still be watching your backs."

"You alone?" Prompto asks.

"Yeah, but I think-"

Before Gladio can finish, Noct busts through the front door. "You were supposed to stay out of the way," he says, and slams the door shut moments before bright fire nearly blinds Prompto through the window.

"We should move forward," Gladio says. "If that thing's not smart enough to target us, he's not worth our time."

"Where are Ignis and Luna?" Prompto asks.

"Haven't seen them since we got split up," Noct says. "But with that signal, they'll know to come this way. We're waiting another couple minutes." He's speaking more firmly than Prompto's used to, and there's something unsettling about it.

Gladio starts to say something, then stops himself. Prompto wonders what it was.

---

Luna and Ignis show up together just as Prompto's starting to think they won't show up at all. Luna's breathless and her hair's fallen out of its ponytail. Ignis has his sleeves rolled up.

"Cor sends his regards," Ignis says. "He and the Crownsguard are going to attempt to hold the monster in this position so that the rest of us can pass forward."

"Not the Glaive?" Noct asks.

"We are concerned a greater threat may lie ahead," Ignis says. He glances at Luna.

"I feel no trace of the Astrals here," Luna says. "Not from that beast nor anything else."

"They'd better be paying attention," Noct says.

Iris asks, in a very careful voice, "That thing is Ifrit, isn't it?"

"His corpse, yes," Luna says. "Not the Astral himself."

"Oh," Iris says. She takes a deep breath and squares her shoulders. "Understood."

---

Five more minutes and Ignis deems it a good time to make their move. They all dash out the back door of the building and dart out into the back street. Ifrit is huge and could still see them in theory, but he seems fully distracted by the Crownsguard that are staying behind.

"They don't have to win," Gladio reminds them. "They just have to stay alive until we're done here."

Prompto knows this is the plan, knows this is a good plan, but he doesn't like it.

Going straight from the bridge to the Citadel is a considerably shorter route than coming in from that makeshift dock they'd used so long ago. The Glaive and some of the Hunters meet them, and the whole group moves forward at a run. The roads are clear. Maybe suspiciously clear.

This second easy run lasts about a mile, and then a terrible, awful, familiar roar booms through the air.

Prompto was afraid of this. He thinks he wasn't the only one.

There's not even a real body of water in the city, but Leviathan swims through the air. She, too, is obviously riddled with the Starscourge, blue-black patches of it spotting her long, dark body.

"You shouldn't stop," says a member of the Glaive, someone that Prompto doesn't know. "You should all keep moving. We're only six blocks from the Citadel."

Prompto likes this even less than leaving all those strangers to fight Ifrit. He knows exactly what Leviathan can do. But...

"You're right," Noct says. "Engage, and then we'll pass you."

They don't have to win, Prompto reminds himself. It's like Gladio said. They just have to survive.

What else does Ardyn have to throw at them, if he can just casually toss out two dead Astrals?

The glaive jumps, warps, and strikes Leviathan in the face.

Maybe it'll be okay.

Chapter Text

It's just the six of them, now.

Iris is struggling a little. Prompto thinks maybe the panic is wearing her down faster than she usually would, and her little legs are much shorter than the rest of theirs. Still, it's not like the rest of them aren't showing signs of fatigue.

Prompto's sure that there's going to be something else. He just knows. But until then, they're going to keep moving-

There. On the steps of the Citadel. There's... a person, there, and there's only one person that could be.

Before he knows it, he's put himself in front of Iris.

"Ahh, you're right on time!" Ardyn calls. "But what's this? Did I not bring enough Astrals for everyone?"

Prompto feels his pulse throb through his entire body.

"One, two... Oh, yes! I brought a spare, just in case."

It's not hard to identify what he's looking at, in the end. The chill that floods the air is telling enough, but Prompto thinks he knows that icy face pockmarked with black. Gentiana. Shiva.

"They did... kill her, in Niflheim," Luna murmurs. "I thought it was propaganda. Gentiana told me not to concern myself with it..."

This is bad. Iris is tired, Luna's shaken up about Gentiana again, and Prompto wants to crumple just seeing Ardyn. They've all got to get past that, though, because it's time to do their godsdamned jobs.

"I truly hope you have a wonderful time," Ardyn calls, and vanishes into the Citadel.

Prompto swallows. "Noct," he says. There's a tremor in his voice, so he tries again. "Noct. You've got to go."

"Prompto-" Noct starts.

Prompto cuts him off. "You have to go." Before he loses his resolve. Before Noct loses his resolve. "You're fighting the only battle that matters. Go."

Noct nods, and his expression goes completely blank. "Understood," he says. "Gladio. Ignis. With me."

Shiva's ugly, Scourge-coated corpse looms over them. Prompto takes out his gun. He killed Leviathan for real. This is just the Starscourge wearing a mask.

It's a piece of Ardyn.

Prompto takes aim. Luna takes a breath in. Iris stretches her fingers. And Noct and Ignis and Gladio sprint up the steps of the Citadel.

---

Singing an entirely different Song from someone right next to you isn't easy. But Prompto's not crackling with fury, so he's stuck on the ground shielding and reflecting attacks. Luna's firebird is a strong asset here, given their opponent is partially made of ice. Iris... is doing her best. They should have asked Noct for some magic flasks for her.

It's an ugly fight, but they don't have to win it.

They can win it, though, if they have to. Prompto's beginning to see it. The firebird is driving Shiva's corpse toward the ground, where Iris can get hits in. And if he can get a good angle...

Shiva's corpse looks down at them, flicking a sharp shard of ice with her finger down at the shield. Prompto holds the shield hard and steps inches forward, just so, instinct fueling his movements based on calculations on a server far away.

The ice bounces back, bounces up, and hits the dead Astral's eye.

There's an immediate reaction: a scream of pain. Prompto hadn't thought that a dead body could feel, but maybe with the Scourge it's something different. The air grows thick with cold.

Prompto has just enough time to wonder if he's made a mistake before he hears a sound--something like warning bells in a tower--and ice encircles the three of them.

This probably isn't good, but there's no time to think about it. His job is more important than ever.

Prompto levels his gun. He's not sure if this little guy is powerful enough to get the other eye, but it's sure worth a try. Then, after that-

For less than a second, just an instant, Prompto falters. His chest hurts, and he's swamped with dizziness. His shield flickers, and for a moment they're pelted with hail.

The feeling passes. Prompto takes aim again and fires.

The bullet hits its mark. It's not as dramatic as the reflected shard of ice, but Shiva's corpse flinches, rears back away from them.

Now it can't see them-

Another scream rends the air. Ice like shards of glass rings like bells around them. Prompto can keep Singing, but it's getting harder to hold firm.

Luna is driven to the ground, hands clapped over her ears. Iris is trying her best to get Luna back up, but it's not working.

Prompto can't get angry at this soulless thing in front of them, no matter how he tries. But all of this is on him, now. So he shifts, straightens his shoulders.

There's no rational reason this should work on a dead Astral. But Prompto has the power of gods with him.

Prompto lets himself fall silent. His throat protests, a little, when he shouts at Luna and Iris: "Stay low!" The shards are mostly on the wind, not on the ground.

He feels needles of ice pierce him. He braces himself, and Sings.

"Yasra dius manaf, yasra dius manaf..."

This Song was meant for the Tower, though Prompto's not entirely sure what it would do and doesn't want to test it to find out. He's stretching it, hoping, using what's in his heart. This is the body of a dead Astral. The dead should sleep. So he's Singing a lullaby.

That strange dizzy feeling slides over him again, but it drips away. In front of him, staring down at him, ice melts from Shiva's body.

Wind sweeps through, but the hard ice in it is gone. Instead, it's just cold. Prompto watches the breeze run through Luna's hair like a hand, sweep over the broken glass and shards of ice that mark the entrance to the Citadel, until it presses against his shoulders. The breeze whispers in his ear: "Thank you."

Shiva's body turns to snow, and the wind blows most of it away. What's left melts to water.

Prompto's body is shaking. He's pushed himself pretty hard, and he's going to have to push again soon. His chest hurts again. He sits down right there on the pavement and stares up into the black.

"Hey, hey, don't pass out!" Iris calls, abandoning a slowly rising Luna to run toward him.

And then a boom like a hundred thunderclaps sounding together slams into all of them. Luna falls, then Iris falls. Prompto drops onto his back. Black smoke drifts up from the pavement.

Chapter Text

Prompto feels, for a moment, like he's dreaming.

He's on hard ground, on his back. The first hint of pink light peeks above the skyline of a ruined city. Black smoke surrounds him. Some of it's rising from his skin.

He looks to his right, and he can just make out two other bodies through the smoke, on the ground like he is.

His limbs are heavy. He's exhausted. But he knows he still has more to do. He shifts his legs, pushing broken glass aside, and sits up. Black smoke billows from him like he's burning. He is burning, from the inside out, but somehow it doesn't hurt.

He shoves himself to his feet and turns, and the Citadel looms in front of him.

His chest is tight, but he sucks in a breath of cold, cold air. He holds that breath in his lungs, and then it's time-

He sees something, then. Something his eyes don't understand, never mind the rest of his mind. He sees something no one was ever meant to see, that was never meant for sight.

What Prompto sees does not have a shape or a form. It's impossible to say where the thing ends and the air around it begins. It's moving, but not in a direction, or maybe in every direction. The smoke around them is drawn toward it. It's black--devoid of light--and to look into it is to look into the void. This is the true form of the Starscourge. There's nothing else it could be.

But somehow, he's seen this before, and that allows him to stand firm in the face of what should not be.

Prompto looks straight at the Starscourge, unafraid, and begins to Sing.

"sawul fffam tecasa sssy..."

Prompto doesn't quite know how he knows these words. He doesn't speak this language, and some of the sounds feel awkward and unfamiliar in his mouth. For the first few moments, he's not even really sure if there's magic behind what's coming out of his mouth. But there's something there, stirring awake.

Light.

Prompto thinks of Noct, because Noct is always first in his thoughts. He thinks of Ignis and Gladio, and Luna. He thinks of his parents, and King Regis, and his magic lesson team. He thinks of Iris and Talcott and Jared. He thinks of the gods, of the Wills of Eos and the Astrals. He thinks of the Kingsglaive and the Crownsguard and the Hunters and the ordinary people who came out here just to risk their lives. He thinks of the ordinary people who didn't come, and the ones who don't even know anything is happening.

If he can, he'll protect all of them. Even the ones who only exist in memory.

"SAax tIirs fawEE LAas tIi raYEE."

Please.

And Eos answers. Not a god--the soul of the planet itself answers Prompto's call. It puts the power of its creation into his hands.

Light.

"Was yea ra chs rre corle fhauri."

Prompto's heart Sings in response, full of joy and love. It seems like it would be impossible to feel anything else.

And in response, the Starscourge shivers.

Prompto feels a strange sense of pity for it. It's something that can only take what others have made, something hungry but never sated. And he thinks it knows it's going to die.

"SAax tIirs fawEE rAE StIyn raYEE!"

Prompto knows what this language is now: it's the language of Eos itself, and only someone native to this place could speak it. That's why the Astrals and the Wills never found a way to harness it. This is something that could never belong to them.

But this, too, is Prompto's birthright.

"Was yea ra rre syana konla tou ciel."

Prompto Sings, and holds every drop of power in his hands, and he feels. His heart is filled with the brightest of lights.

"Rrha yea ra arl ter sonwe an marfo ciel."

Prompto Sings, and Eos Sings with him.

YIx tIirs fawEE LAas tIi raYEE

And in the face of this overwhelming light, this hope, this joy, the Starscourge cannot continue to exist, and so it does not.

---

Prompto

dissolves.

He's something other

something not quite

human not quite

reyvateil not quite

real.

He is

l i g h t

and-

He remembers. Noct.

Prompto remembers Noct

would want him to come back.

And for Noct, he'll do anything.

---

So Prompto comes back to himself, piece by piece.

The first thing to come back is smell: the strong scent of cinnamon, with something sweeter underneath it.

Touch comes in, then: he's laying down on something soft.

Hearing sorts itself out next. There's a radio playing music, volume turned low. More faintly, there's the sound of someone swallowing.

Prompto slowly, cautiously opens his eyes.

He recognizes this place, though not from this angle. That's the fountain in front of the Citadel. It's not working right now, no jets of water spraying up, and sitting on its rim is Noct.

Noct, sitting there in a pair of Prompto's sweatpants and Gladio's jacket, eating a pastry.

Prompto tries to call to him, but only makes a sort of muzzy, confused noise. It has Noct turning to him in a hurry, though. "Hey," Noct says. "So- you made it."

"Yeah," Prompto says. "So did you." He sits up carefully, but he doesn't feel like there's anything really wrong with his body.

"It's over," Noct tells him. "I don't know what you did, but the whole world lit up. Like- like turning on the bathroom light when you've been in the dark, only it was real and everywhere. We heard it on the radio. It went at least as far as Accordo."

"How long's it been?" Prompto asks.

"Two or three hours," Noct says.

"Why are you wearing other people's clothes?"

Noct blushes. "The magic meant that everything that was mine because I was King went away," he says. "Which... included my clothes, apparently."

"Oh man," Prompto breathes. "I would've loved to see that."

Noct flushes even further. "Yeah, well. You were unconscious."

"I saved the world," Prompto says. "Doesn't that come with perks?"

"I saved the world too," Noct complains, "and I basically got mugged for it." He smiles a little, but it doesn't quite meet his eyes. "Lost everything down to my name. I don't get to be a Caelum anymore, and the magic's gone. It dumped most of the Armiger out on the floor, though."

"You're still Noctis, though?" Prompto asks, a little concerned.

"That came from my mom," Noct says.

"Good," Prompto says. He pauses. "Hey. Do you want to be Noctis Argentum?"

Noct stares. "Did you just propose to me?"

Prompto blushes. "I- I guess I did," he says. But after everything that's happened, he's not taking it back. "Do you?"

"Yes," Noct says, blushing even more. "I really like that." He obviously scrambles for something to say. "Um. Do you want to eat something? I know it's been-"

Prompto bursts into laughter, and after a few moments, Noct laughs with him.

Chapter Text

"Shields can't be Kings," Gladio says. "Major conflict of interest. But the Amicitia line is closest to the throne now that the Caelum line has ended, so..."

"Iris," Prompto breathes.

"Noct will formally abdicate in her favor," Ignis says. "The people still see him as King, whatever the implications of the magic."

"I'm looking forward to it," Noct says. "The last time I ever have to be in a boring ceremony."

"We're getting married," Prompto reminds him. He still can't say it without blushing.

"We could just elope to Tenebrae. Have Luna officiate." Noct says it like he doesn't care, but actually, he's blushing at least as hard as Prompto is.

"I'm in full support of you two lovebirds," Gladio says, "but my sister is going to be the Queen of Lucis."

"She'll do a good job," Noct says. "Are you planning to be her Shield too?"

"I don't know," Gladio says. "If she asks me, probably."

"And if I am permitted, I will assist in her training," Ignis says. "I plan to aid in the transitional government in whatever capacity I can, of course."

Noct leans back in his chair. "It's good to be a commoner," he says.

---

Noct frowns down at his phone. "Luna had another seizure," he says. "Not a bad one, and she was in private, but..."

Prompto sighs. There goes his appetite. "I guess that's just gonna be a thing for her, then."

"Seems like it," Noct says. Then he glances up at Prompto. "Hey, no, that wasn't your fault."

"I did it," Prompto says. "I-"

"You were tortured," Noct says. "Specs will do the whole lecture again if I call him."

Prompto sighs again and leans against Noct. "Yeah, yeah, I know. Just..."

"Luna's happy," Noct tells him. "She's ruling her people and they all love her, she's not dying because of some shitty deal with the Astrals, she can talk to me without sending messages through a dog now that her country is free..."

"Okay," Prompto murmurs.

---

"Shit, shit, shit," Prompto chants.

"What's wrong?" Gladio asks.

"The button's missing," Prompto groans. "I knew getting married in my Reyvateil outfit was a bad idea..."

Gladio rolls his eyes. "Here," he says, and pulls a safety pin out of his wallet. "Just hold it in place, and... there."

"You're a lifesaver," Prompto says.

"Yeah, yeah," Gladio replies. "Now let's go meet your prince charming."

Prompto's too stressed to make a remark about how Noct isn't royalty anymore. He reaches up to run his fingers through his hair--no, that'll mess up the gel.

Then they round the corner into the hallway and... oh. There's Noct.

Prompto sucks in a breath. He's seen Noct in a suit before, of course. But this one's even more obviously tailored than the suits that Noct wore to Citadel events, and Ignis managed to do something with his hair that makes him look... even more like a prince charming.

Prompto's smitten all over again.

---

"It's kind of a fixer-upper," Prompto remarks.

"It's within walking distance of the Chocobo Post and some of the best fishing in the slough," Noct says.

"If I may," Ignis says. "Most of the damage to the house appears to be cosmetic, aside from the windows. Structurally, the house is sound."

"It's my money we'll be spending on this," Prompto complains, but he can already picture it: the couch would sit against that back wall, and the TV stand would go across the way. He could set up his little shrine in the corner. They'd probably end up adopting a cat or three that would get underfoot while Prompto made dinner. There are two extra bedrooms, one for guests and one that he and Noct might talk about, one day...

Noct's smirking; he knows he's already won. "I'll let you paint the living room yellow," he says.

"You'll paint it yellow," Prompto replies. "And you're doing the tile in the bathrooms."

"Deal," Noct says, and reaches out to take Prompto's hand. "You know we're going to love it here."

Prompto smiles. "Yeah," he says. "It's gonna be good."