There’s no way to cheat the system. Soulmarks can’t be faked. There’s a database for them, like the one for fingerprints, that you go into as soon as you’re old enough to sign the release form— because waiting around to find your other half on a whim is a romantic idea in theory, but endlessly frustrating in practice.
It makes it easier this way. It’s a good system.
But Noctis’ soulmark is an absolute secret. There’s only about five people with clearance high enough to have seen it. It wouldn’t do for someone with bad intentions to try something stupid.
At this rate, Noctis wishes someone would try something stupid. It’s hard to watch his classmates spring ahead of him, hard to hear a girl two desks to the right say “She lives in Accordo but we video chat all the time. I’m moving out there after graduation. Gods, talking to her for the first time was—“
It’s just hard.
It makes him feel better that Prompto hasn’t left him behind. It’s only a matter of time before Prompto gets that letter in the mail with his match, but for now he’s turned in his chair to face Noctis, chatting brightly about their history assignment, while the sunlight spins his hair into gold.
Whoever Prompto’s soulmate is, they’re lucky. They’re gonna waltz in and sweep Prompto away, tear down the walls of this better life Noct has started to build, and Noctis won’t even be able to hate them for it. If he belonged to Prom, he’d do the same thing.
He feels better that Prompto’s still here— that all of Prompto’s time and energy outside work and school belongs to Noctis, that all his best and brightest smiles are for him— but he doesn’t want Prompto to be lonely, either.
When the day comes, Noctis will have to let him go. He knows that. He tries not to think about it.
“It’s a little,” Noctis tries, and falters. Prompto waits patiently, scrolling through avatar options on the screen while his friend gathers his thoughts. “It would be weird to let a stranger into my life like that? I guess? I know they’re not— really a stranger, but—”
“No, it would definitely be weird,” Prompto agrees with gusto, relieved (though not surprised) that he and his best friend are on the same page. “I mean, you spend your whole life not knowing them, then you’re moving in together? Say what?”
Noctis lets go of a breath that sounds like a laugh, the uncertainty in his face replaced by that slanting smile Prompto loves so much.
“It’d be easier if you could just pick,” the prince says, in his mullish ‘I’m the prince and I get everything else I want, why can’t I get this too’ tone. Prompto rolls his eyes, all feigned exasperation and secret fondness. “Or— maybe not pick, maybe that would be— but you should get to have a say, at least. You should get to— have a choice.”
Prompto nods, says something like “yeah that makes sense” but in the deepest most cowardly corner of his heart he disagrees. The way it is, at least he has a shot.
He’d never be someone’s choice.
He says something like that out loud once, just in passing, messing with the settings on his camera while he talks.
Noct’s never looked at him before the way he looks at him then. Stunned, like Prompto belted him across the face. Stricken. Hurt.
“You don’t think that, do you?” he says. “Prom, you... I’d... Prom.”
And that’s exactly when Prompto is kissed for the very first time, in the parking lot of the Crow’s Nest diner. Noctis was supposed to be at training and skipped it to hang out with Prompto instead, and they kiss right there like they’ve done it a thousand times, and nothing changes.
There’s no revelation, no confession.
They were already here.
Ignis is washing dishes while the boys pour over homework at the dining room table. Prompto’s voice fills the room the way a light does on a dark evening, and Ignis finds himself smiling at his hands when the joke Prompto’s telling sends Noctis into a fit of stifled laughter.
“I don’t hear studying,” Ignis says mildly, and listens as pencils take up their dejected scratching once more.
Noctis has certainly become brighter since Prompto came into his life. Like a withered houseplant suddenly given proper nutrients, proper care, and a sunny spot to sit in a wide window. There’s only so much that Ignis can do for the boy— not for lack of care, though, or unwillingness to help— and Gladio likes to pretend it’s still just a job.
It’s good for Noctis to have this. To have someone in his life not duty-bound to be there. Ignis is glad that he does.
Gladio wouldn’t admit it even if you paid him to, but Blondie’s grown on him. It’s hard not to like the kid, for a multitude of reasons, and not in the least because he can keep up with Gladio on a Sunday morning run.
He’s sweating and smiling, hardly out of breath while he leans into his cool down stretches, talking a mile a minute about something along the path that caught his artist’s eye and lamenting that he doesn’t have a smaller camera to haul around with him, that maybe he should find some athletic shorts with pockets, and at about that point his shirt rides up.
Gladio only happens to catch a fleeting glimpse, but it’s enough to draw him up short. He says, “What the hell was that?”
Prompto blinks, not getting it. The spot above his hip where his soulmark apparently sits is covered again by his shirt.
He’s a cagey thing, even if he’s not as skittish around Gladio as he used to be, and self-conscious about his body. The Shield backs off.
They vetted Prompto Argentum for two full days when it became clear he’d be a permanent fixture in Noctis’ life. The soulmark was one of the first things checked. The results weren’t a match.
Gladio’s probably just seeing things. He tells Ignis about it anyway, because that’s what you do when you have an Ignis.
It’s late and it’s dark, and rain is drumming against the window. The room is lit in odd half-colors, the TV on with the volume turned down, a flickering distraction. Prompto can guess it’s probably freezing outside, but he’s tucked up against Noctis with his bare toes buried under Noct’s thigh, warm in a black hoodie he stole ages ago and pajama pants he’s borrowing for the night.
Noctis’ cheek is pillowed against Prompto’s hair, and the weight of him, the heat of his body pressed along Prompto’s back, is more familiar than anything else Prompto can think of. He’d probably recognize this before he recognized his own parents.
“Sometimes,” Noct says suddenly, surprisingly, because Prompto thought he’d dozed off by now. “Sometimes I wonder if there’s even— someone out there for me. My other half.”
Prompto doesn’t turn to look at him, just lets his heart climb up his throat and waits.
“‘Cause I’m— you know. Maybe it’s better if I don’t. So no one has to deal with— “
“You do,” Prompto says, cutting him off. His eyes are burning but he won’t cry. “Of course you do, dummy. They’re out there, and they love you.”
His friend is quiet for what feels like a long time. The arm around Prompto’s waist pulls him in tighter.
Noct says, quietly, “Yeah?”
Prompto wants to say how lucky that person is, who gets to stand at Noctis’ side and really belong there— how he’d do anything, anything to be the one belonging there— but he doesn’t. He twists around instead, all but flopping across Noctis’ lap, to look up at him with the goofiest grin in his whole arsenal.
“But no matter what, I love you more.”
It works in pushing all those unhappy shadows out of Noctis’ eyes, earns Prompto one of those crooked smiles he loves so much, and then Noctis is leaning over him, leaning in.
His breath still hitches a little when Noctis kisses him, every time. He still feels shivery, still presses carefully closer like it’s a dream he might wake up from if he moves too fast.
Prompto doesn’t know what he’ll do when Noct’s other half shows up, and he loses this place in Noctis’ life, in his home, in his heart.
He’s determined to enjoy it until then. And no matter what comes after, no matter where Noctis goes and who he goes with, most of Prompto’s love will still belong to him.
“Inconclusive?” Regis says, frowning. “I thought it came back non-matching.”
“Apparently there was a miscommunication,” Ignis replies in a neutral tone that anyone who knew him would recognize as the beginning of a merciless warpath.
The young advisor is clever and cutthroat, but he’s also very kind, and loyal to Noctis above anyone else. Regis has never had second thoughts about leaving his only son in Ignis’ care.
“See that it’s handled,” he says. Ignis bows and takes his leave, and Regis spares a moment of pity for whatever poor soul the young man has in his sights, but no more than a moment.
Noctis was always a lonely child. Enrolling him in public school was a father’s desperate attempt to make things better for his son; to give Noctis freedom from his position for a handful of hours every day, freedom to feel like a teenager. Gods help him, Regis had hoped he would make friends, but it seemed as though Noctis would always drift on alone, never quite able to bridge the gap between himself and his peers.
And then Prompto Argentum filled Noctis’ days, and Regis can scarcely remember the last time he’s seen his son look lonely.
The council is still suspicious of the boy, with his coloring and the circumstances of his citizenship and the horrific place he was born, but Regis didn’t heed them before and he certainly won’t now.
“Inconclusive,” he murmurs to himself in distaste. Perhaps they’ve put too much faith in that database, after all, if it could lead them all to miss something so obvious.
Ignis is making Prompto nervous. He sighs inwardly and readjusts his body language. Prompto would probably still try to make a break for it, halfhearted excuse and all, if he thought he’d make it more than two steps.
Gladio is leaning against the wall in the entry way, huge arms folded. Ignis is fairly certain the Shield isn’t actively trying to look like a threat, but it’s more than enough to keep Prompto sitting meekly on the sofa.
“Um,” Prompto says at length.
“You’re not in trouble,” Ignis says.
He makes sure his voice is relenting, almost gentle. He doesn’t believe Prompto is afraid of him anymore (the boy’s self-preservation has always been a little wanting) but he would be happier if Prompto could be convinced that Ignis does, truly, enjoy his company.
Prompto relaxes a fraction, and Ignis proceeds.
“I must ask why you never signed the consent form to have your soulmark released to the database,” he asks next, and Prompto blinks.
“What consent form?”
The silence is heavy. Gladio stands upright slowly.
“Ah,” Ignis says.
“Prom,” Gladio says, disbelieving. “Your doctor should have offered you the papers when you turned sixteen.”
“Oh,” Prompto says, obviously with no idea where this is going. “I don’t have a doctor. My um, my job— I’m part-time, I don’t have insurance.”
Gladio opens his mouth to ask the obvious question, and Ignis silences him with a look.
Prompto’s house is empty. His house has been empty for all the years Ignis has known him. The evidence of Prompto is there in the clutter, the photographs on the wall, the dishes drying by the sink, the green things growing in cute planters along the windows, but it’s obvious at first glance that he lives alone.
And it’s obvious that Prompto couldn’t possibly know what no one was there to tell him.
“So do we tell— “
“Absolutely not. Not until we’re certain. I won’t have his heart broken more times than we can help.”
“Yeah. Alright. Just, y’know. Seems kind of obvious now.”
Noctis and Ignis have a meeting to attend, and somehow Gladio is talked into giving Prompto a ride home from school. He argues for argument’s sake but maybe not as hard as he could.
He’s a few minutes early, waiting by the school gate with his arms folded, leaning against the car. A familiar sight, at this point, and there’s no mistaking the tags on the car.
Five minutes turn into fifteen, and Prompto’s usually— well, prompt, when Noctis isn’t there to make him lazy by virtue of proximity. He’s usually early, there before anyone else, smiling eagerly when they finally show up.
Gladio unfolds himself from the car and goes looking for him. It’s a damn good thing he does.
“You wanna tell me why you thought it’d be clever to pick a fight with two guys twice your size?” he asks in his not-asking tone. Prompto fidgets, holding a wad of paper towels to his bleeding nose, and doesn’t answer. “Iggy’s only a phone call away, kid.”
Prompto’s head jerks up to look at him, expression dismayed. “Nooo, Gladio, don’t call him, he already doesn’t like me.”
Gladio thinks of last week and the solid three hours Ignis spent patiently teaching Prompto how to make his favorite green curry soup when he still won’t let Gladio so much as toast bread in Noct’s kitchen and says, “Sure, Prom. I’m waiting.”
“Ugh, fine— it’s just— well, Noct can be kind of an asshole.” His tone says ‘you know it, I know it’ and Gladio nods, giving him that. “So he ticks people off, sometimes. They can’t punch him, obviously, but they can punch the guy that hangs out with him without getting hauled in front of the king for treason, so— y’know, here we are.”
There’s a brief moment where Gladio almost loses his temper. But Prompto’s sitting on the counter of the school bathroom like a bruised peach, and by now Gladio knows better than to raise his voice at the kid.
So he reaches over and picks up Prompto’s free hand, turning it so the knuckles face the harsh overhead lighting.
“You don’t get torn knuckles from playing punching bag. You hit ‘em back?”
“Hell yeah I did, dude. Giving me shit is one thing. Talking shit about Noct is a whole ‘nother.”
The kid’s barely as tall as Gladio’s shoulder and skinny enough that if he turned sideways he’d disappear, but he’s scowling. He looks ready to pick a fight all over again.
Gladio can’t help it— he throws his head back and laughs. “Fuck, Prom. You’re somethin’ else. Noct used up all his good luck in life on you.”
Prompto likes his soulmark. It sits just above his hipbone on his right side, stark black against pale skin, impossibly intricate for all that it’s hardly bigger than a coin. It always reminds Prompto of some of the designs he sees around the Citadel, some of the motifs in the Crownsguard uniforms, some of the flowery little accents in the car Ignis drives.
Too fancy and faux-regal for someone like Prompto, but— it’s pretty. He likes it.
He’s never let anyone see, though, because— there are stretch marks there, too, and they’re ugly. Prompto’s learning to love a lot about himself, but he can’t love those yet.
Still, he lets Ignis bully him to a doctor’s appointment— “You really should have a check-up, Prompto, if you can’t even remember your last one”— and it’s a little awful. He’s underweight, apparently. The doctor talks to him very seriously for what feels like an hour about his weight and his diet and it makes Prompto want to crawl out of his skin. Only the knowledge of Ignis waiting outside keeps him from bolting.
When they finally get around to the soulmark, Prompto’s nerves are shot. He wants to go home. He nods to everything the doctor says, and bites the inside of his lip when he hikes up his shirt to let her scan a picture of it, and maybe his hand shakes a little when he scrawls his name on the consent form.
“I’ll bet you’re excited,” the doctor says kindly as she walks him to the door. “Soon everything will change.”
His eyes are hot, and his voice is locked somewhere he can’t reach, and Ignis puts a hand on his shoulder to guide him to the car.
The idea of his soulmark sitting next to a million others while some computer churns away to find his match—
It makes him feel sick.
“I don’t want everything to change,” Prompto says out of nowhere, when they’re a little more than halfway to Noctis’ apartment. He can’t help it when he starts to cry.
Ignis takes a hand off the wheel to hold one of his.
It’s a warm evening, still light out at eight PM, when the truth comes out.
Prompto’s at home because Noctis has urgent business to deal with— business that swept him out of school in the middle of class without a word. Prompto would have worried the rest of the day and probably well into the night, but Gladio texts that everything is fine, and Noct’s Shield would know, wouldn’t he?
He has a window open, taking pictures out on the fire escape, when thunderous knocking sounds on the front door. His initial reaction is one of panic, but then Noctis’ voice, muffled from the hall, demands, “Prom!”
Ten seconds later he’s spilling into Prompto’s shabby house, looking as ruffled and wide awake as Prompto has ever seen him.
“Noct?” Prompto starts, that earlier worry fighting its way back. “You okay, buddy?”
There’s something in Noctis’ eyes Prompto doesn’t recognize. He’s staring, unblinking, like Prompto might disappear the second he looks away.
It’s uncomfortable. Prompto doesn’t know what’s happening. “Noct,” he tries again, and it gets his friend’s attention this time.
“Hey,” Noctis says, coming closer. His eyes are still intense, but he’s smiling that crooked smile. “Wanna see a state secret?”
Prompto lets go of his breath in a rush, a little bit wants to shove Noctis for scaring him like an asshole, but ultimately settles for an unamused, “Will I get arrested?”
Noctis shrugs out of his jacket, tossing it over the back of a chair, and hikes up his shirt. There’s a black undershirt he always wears, always, one that’s skin tight and disappears beneath the hem of his pants, but he pulls that up, too, and—
That’s Prompto’s soulmark. Those curling, elegant black lines that Prompto knows so well, there’s no mistaking it.
“But that’s,” Prompto says, uncomprehending. It feels like he’s underwater. “How— “
Noctis is staring again, and the way he’s looking at him—
The way he’s looking at him—
“It’s you, Prom,” Noctis says. “It’s always been you.”
“Gods, I’m an idiot,” Noctis says. He reaches for Prompto’s hands and holds them. “You were right here all along.”
His favorite person in the whole world is exactly who it’s supposed to be.
And because he’s Prompto, he bursts into tears the second he makes sense of what he’s hearing. Noctis holds him, presses a kiss to the crown of his head, and they’ve been here before. Nothing has changed. But Noctis is dizzy with knowing he’ll never have to let go.
“Wherever I go,” Noctis says, “you’ll be there. I swear by all the Astrals, Prom, you’ll never be lonely again. I’ll take care of you, I’ll make you happy, I swear.”
“Noct,” Prompto says, shaking with laughter through the stubborn tears, familiar and beautiful and the brightest thing Noct's ever touched, “don’t be stupid. You already do.”