He wakes briefly in the back of a bouncing van. It smells too strong of cigarette smoke and stale food. Noct blinks bleary eyes at the peeling fabric that makes up the ceiling, body weighed down by the throbbing in his head and the weird heaviness of his limbs.
The van rattles over a speed bump, the world disappears into blackness once again.
When he wakes up again, the ceiling is a lot nicer and a lot further away, the ground isn’t moving, and his head still aches. His mouth tastes like something died in it. His arms are numb under him, but as soon as he shifts they explode in pins and needles. They’re tied together with rope behind his back. He wiggles his fingers just barely.
The world sways when he forces himself into a sitting position. Noct squeezes his eyes shut, his stomach curdling. Opening them has him hissing at the bright lights. He blinks a few times, a few tears escaping, and his cleared vision reveals studio lights and cameras and boom mics, all pointed towards black sheet hanging precariously over a green screen wall.
Noct pauses. What the hell?
“Oh good! You’re awake!”
He jerks around, finding a half dozen people milling around in another room that looks like it could be a break room. One of them, a pretty woman probably in her thirties, is closer—too close—and her smile is too wide. She’s dressed in an unrecognizable military uniform, no stripes or stars or patches.
“Who are you?” he croaks out. His throat burns.
The woman smiles softly. “My name is Argento,” she tells him, leaning in even closer as if telling him a secret. That’s not her real name. It’s too obvious. “And you are my guest.”
Noct leans away from her as far as he can make it. “What do you want?”
Argento takes his chin between his fingers, angling his face this way and that. “You, my dear prince, are going to be made an example of.”
He has nothing to say to that. It wouldn’t be the first time. She eyes him carefully then smirks, letting him go and backing away.
“You won’t be here for long, hopefully,” she says casually. There’re a few ways this could go. Noctis is leaning towards a ransom, hence the cameras. But the uniform is throwing him off, making him nervous. “We’re already pushing our luck, driving you out this far.”
“No worries,” someone else says, a gruff man with a terrifying gun strapped to his back. “We still have time.”
“You’re not wrong about that.” Argento laughs and knuckles Noctis’ chin as she pulls away. “I know you’ve been on television before, Your Highness, but try not to get nervous.”
He keeps his lips pulled in a thin line as he watches her walk away, doing his best to ignore the thick curl of fear in his stomach.
Regis is in his office, forced there by Clarus, and doing his best in direct the search for his son without losing his patience and storming out of the Citadel to search himself. It’s been two hours since he disappeared during a break between classes. Two hours, and they’re no closer to figuring out who took him or where.
He sighs, pressing his fingers to his eye sockets, seeing sparks of light behind his lids. Only Clarus is with him; Cor and Titus out in the field. Gladio and Ignis are breaking their time between his office and the Crownsguard’s office, also not allowed to be out in the field.
It’s there, in his office with Clarus, that he gets the notification to turn on the news, any news channel. He doesn’t want to.
He turns on a livestream of LNN and sucks in a breath at the sight of his son, kneeling under harsh lights, arms behind his back, his head pulled back by his hair to expose the pale column of his neck to the camera. Blood trickles from his lips, a bruise is dark on his jaw, but he stares defiantly towards his audience.
There’s only two other people in sight, the burly man gripping Noct’s hair and the woman next to Noctis, a knife in an inverted grip in hand and the sharp side of the blade pressed against the prince’s throat. They both wear military-like fatigues, but there’s no sign of rank patches or affiliation. The shadows stretching on the edge of the backdrop imply there are more people off-camera.
“We are with the People’s Revolutionary of Eos,” the woman says, clear and confident. Regis’ heart stops.
PRE, responsible for the bombing of the blue line track of the transit system two years ago and the attacks on the refugee checkpoint only just last year. His son…is in their hands.
“Clarus,” he chokes out.
“Already on it.”
“We believe,” she continues, “in the freedom of our star and that it can only be found in the unification under a permeant peace. That peace starts with the deaths of Caelum family, the end of their iron-fisted rule of us all.”
Clarus clamps a hand on his shoulder, both to ground him and to keep him seated. “They don’t know where he is,” he says quietly.
Regis keeps his posture stiff, tense. This can’t be happening.
The woman keeps talking, but Regis can’t hear it through the blood roaring in his ears. Noctis is pale under the lights. Too pale, almost ashen. He trembles slightly, barely visible to the eye. Regis knows his son, though. He can see it, his heart clenches for him. A line of red appears where the blade is on his skin, trickling down his throat, staining the white of his collar.
Noctis’ lips twist into a scowl, his eyes flickering sideways at the woman. He doesn’t strain away from the blade, doesn’t pull back from the grip of his hair. His shoulders roll slowly, his knees sliding against the ground.
It happens in the blink of an eye. If Regis hadn’t been paying attention, he would’ve missed it completely.
Noctis shifts again, a deliberately wide gesture. It throws the terrorists off, giving him just a little bit of leeway. His arms swing up, one hand going back to grab his own hair at the base and the other hand flicking the rope previously around his wrists towards the camera. His body breaks away in blue crystals and appears back in sight too close to the camera.
People are shouting, guns are going off. Regis is treated to a blur of black and pale skin and shocking red before the camera goes black.
And his phone doesn’t ring.
Regis isn’t allowed in the Crownsguard offices. At least, not right now. Even after the camera went dark with too much blood on the lenses, they are still no closer to finding the location they took Noctis.
It’s probably for the best. His hands are shaking, his heart is pounding. Clarus has been watching him pace for almost half an hour now. He keeps a tight grip around his phone, waiting for it to ring with good news. Any news.
All right, not any news. He would prefer news that his son is alive and well. If he can’t get that, he’ll take alive and only mildly injured at most. A headache is forming, starting at his temples.
His phone rings.
He almost drops his phone. He definitely drops it when the caller ID reads as Noctis. Regis fumbles for it before it hits the ground, mouth dry. “Clarus,” he rushes out. “Noct. Son.” Out of the corner of his eye he sees Clarus yank out his own phone. “Are you hurt?”
The laugh he gets in respond is breathless and slightly wet. “D-Dad,” he mumbles.
“Noctis, where are you?”
“Wanted to call,” Noct replies, faint and oh-so far away. “’m okay.” That’s a lie if Regis has ever heard one. “Think they’re dead.”
Regis slashes a hand toward Clarus then gestures at his phone when he gets his Shield’s attention. He gets a vigorous nod and an of course, what do you think I’m doing? shrug. “Who’s dead, son?”
“…bad guys,” he says. “Took me away. ‘m okay.” He breathes audibly over the line, short and sharp. He coughs half-way through, somehow it sounds even wetter. “Throat hurts,” he whimpers.
Clarus holds up five fingers, flashes them twice. “Help is on the way, Noct,” Regis says despairingly. “Ten minutes. Can you hold on?”
There’s silence then: “Dunno…”
His grip tights on his phone. “I need you to hold on,” he says firmly.
More silence. A shifting noise. The sound of a phone clattering to the ground.
“Noct?” Regis calls out. No answer. “Son?” Nothing. “Noctis!”
The silence is what makes it hard.
Regis drags a hand down his tired face, and that leaves him even more tired. Somehow. He slouches in his chair, very unkinglike and bad for his back absolutely. But he can’t find it in himself to care enough for the crick he’s going to gain.
Noctis lays in the hospital bed in front of him, his hair a halo around his head, his skin washed out against the light blue of the sheets. Nurses cleaned up the blood the best they could, only the faintest traces linger on the shallows of his collarbone and the crevices along the hinges of his jaw. Dark, dried blood is smeared on the outside of the bandages around his throat; pink, fresh blood seeps through from underneath.
He gathers his son’s hand between both of his own, leans his elbows on the side of the bed, and presses the tips of his thumbs in the space between his eyebrows. The heart monitor flashes and beeps quietly, but it’s nothing compared to the faint twitch of Noct’s fingers as he dreams. Proof that he’s alive.
It’d been too close. Warping like that, it both saved him and came so close to killing him. The knife the woman held sliced through his skin far too easily. It had been shallow at first, survivable with even basic first aid. But then he fought the rest of the PRE, killed them. It made everything worse.
He’s alive. Regis has to remind himself. He’s alive. He took care of himself. He even killed some of the higher ranked people of the PRE. He couldn’t be prouder.
Noct’s fingers twitch again. Then they curl around Regis’, putting some force behind the grip. Regis startles. Noctis gives him a tired, strained grin.
Regis smooths a hand over his forehead into his hair. “Good morning,” he says, voice thick. The corner of Noct’s lips quirks up higher. “Don’t try to talk. The doctors say you’ll hurt for a while, but there should be no lasting effects once you heal up. But that’s only if you don’t overwork yourself.”
He nods slightly, eyes fluttering shut. Regis continues petting his hair. It’s long around his face still. The back…Well, the back is missing a few chunks of hair and skin, leaving behind shallow patches of raw blood. A towel had been placed under his head, waiting some time before they bandage it, allowing the blood from the wounds to stain the fabric. Regis tries not to think about it. Noct hadn’t been able to get a good enough grip on his hair under the PRE man’s, meaning when he warped it just ripped out.
It makes Regis sick to his stomach.
The silence was stifling, but now that Noct’s opened his eyes and smiled at him, the air’s cleared. It’s going to be okay.