For the second time, a letter from Luna arrives to shift the course of Prompto's life.
This time, it's not a letter carried by a magic puppy. It comes in the mail, placed in the mailbox right next to the power bill and a flyer advertising a new grocery store.
The royal seal of the Nox Fleuret line, pressed into a layer of wax, holds the smooth envelope closed.
Prompto lifts the letter out and studies it. What could this be about? These days, Luna can just call or text them about anything. A wedding invitation? But she hasn't mentioned any kind of political maneuvering or any romantic interests, and Prompto's pretty sure that she would.
The letter is addressed specifically to him.
Prompto carries the mail inside. He throws the flyer in the recycling bin and sets the bill on the kitchen table. Then he sits down and opens the letter.
"Holy shit," Prompto says.
I write to seek a boon of you, one that only you can provide.
You and I are the only bearers of Reyvateil blood remaining on the surface of Eos. In light of this, and of your service both to the Crown of Tenebrae and all Eos, I wish to bear your children.
I have not forgotten that you are already bound in marriage, and I do not seek your hand. I wish only for children. Any child would be raised as a full member of the line of Nox Fleuret, and a firstborn daughter would be the Crown Princess.
If you refuse me, it will not cause you to fall from my favor. I understand the magnitude of the request that I am making.
Please send your final answer to this enquiry by mail.
Lunafreya Nox Fleuret
If there's a good way to tell your husband that someone made a serious inquiry about having your babies, Prompto can't think of it.
They've been married two years now, long enough that his heart only flutters some of the time when thinking about the fact that they're bound by the law. It's not as if their relationship is new. Still, they don't know each other perfectly.
How's Noct going to react to this? What's he going to say? They haven't had a Talk about raising kids themselves. Noct's mentioned Luna needs heirs other than her brother if she wants to prevent a mess in Tenebrae's politics the way his step down had made a mess of Lucis, but that's not exactly an endorsement of any particular method of procuring them.
Prompto sighs, and decides to do something useful instead of sitting there worrying. He writes a check for the power company and writes the number down on his ledger. He empties the bowl of water at his shrine, washes it out, refills it, and settles it back into place. While he's at it, he does the rest of the dishes. He hooks his camera up to his laptop and pulls the pictures off the SD card.
He's still fidgeting when Noct gets back, sweaty and blood-spattered, from another hunt. With no more daemons, hunting is less crucial, but there are still nuisance animals and people still want to eat meat. Noct's the best of the best, even if sometimes he forgets that he has to pull his sword out of its sheath.
"What is it?" Noct asks.
Instead of trying to answer, Prompto passes the letter to Noct.
Noct scans the page. "Holy shit," he says.
"What do you think?" Prompto asks, a little timid.
"The important thing here is what you think, isn't it?" Noct asks.
Prompto realizes he hadn't even thought about that. "I... know why Luna would ask," he says. "But I never thought-"
"Never thought what?" Noct pushes.
"I never thought my kids might not be mine," Prompto says, and blushes. "I mean, if you don't want to raise children, then that's- that's okay, but it's really weird to think that I might have to- you know. I'd be Uncle Prom or something, not their dad."
"I never said I didn't want kids," Noct says.
Prompto looks up. "You never really said you did," he replies.
"I wasn't- I don't know if I'm ready," Noct says. "But I- it would be nice, you know? And- I always kinda wondered if we could, you know, since you said you're made up of a bunch of people genetically, if we could..."
"Make babies from both of us," Prompto says. "I've wondered, too." He sighs. "We'd need the research they did in Niflheim. From Zegnautus Keep."
"Well... we'd have to go to Tenebrae if we- if you wanted to do a favor for Luna," Noct says. "We could just... keep going."
"We could," Prompto says. He closes his eyes, and thinks for a moment. "Are you okay with it? Like, really okay?"
"I'm really okay with it," Noct says. "I just- I want ours, too."
And even though it's going to mean sifting through the ruins of Niflheim, even though Prompto has no idea where the money is going to come from, even if this is all the most awkward moment he's experienced since puberty finally ended, he smiles. "Yeah," he says. "That sounds good."
After Prompto sends his "yes" letter and Noct spends an hour on the phone scolding Luna, it's two months before they leave. Prompto and Noct have some money put away thanks to gifts for saving the world and selling off some of the things they accumulated while traveling around saving the world, and Luna offers to pay, but they decide to save up instead.
Prompto takes a whole two weeks of leave from the Chocobo Post. Noct works freelance, but he does call up Dave to let him know he's just out of town and not hurt or worse.
Finally, the day comes. They take their battered pickup truck before sunrise, early enough that it wouldn't have been safe before, and make for the ferry.
"All this time and we're finally taking a boat out of Galdin Quay," Noct says.
"Yeah," Prompto says. He remembers the first time they were here vividly--the first time he saw Ardyn, and the morning after Insomnia fell. It's not a particularly happy memory. He sighs, and looks around for something else to focus on. A moment later, he spots it. "Hey," he says, nudging Noct. "It's kittens."
There are three of them--little orange ones. One of them's made it onto a stool at Coctura's restaurant and is sitting primly. Its siblings are on the ground--though not for lack of trying, Prompto notes, as a kitten jumps up toward the seat and misses spectacularly. He pulls out his camera and takes a few shots as it tumbles on the floor and makes another attempt.
"You're pretty small," Noct informs the kitten on the stool. "Where's your mama? And how'd you get up there?"
Coctura turns around and smiles at them. "Mama put him there," she says. "And she's down here hoping for breakfast." She gestures below the counter. Prompto steps up and peeks over the rim, and an orange cat with a fluffy tail peeks back up at him.
"How's business?" Noct asks.
"Better than last year," Coctura replies. "Not getting a lot of tourists these days, but I've got regulars coming for drinks in the evenings."
"I'm glad," Noct says. He carefully pets the little kitten, and Prompto is too wrapped up in how cute the gentle gesture is to snap a photo. "Any trouble with the ferries?"
"None," Coctura says. "This week's boat is right on time." She gestures toward the dock, where a small vessel that could probably hold twenty or so people floats cheerfully on the water. "You'll probably want to go ahead and board."
"Yeah," Noct says reluctantly. "Good to see you."
"The Argentums are always welcome here," Coctura says with a wink. Prompto knew he liked her for a reason.
They end up being the only passengers on the boat that morning. They spend half the ride in the cabin, where the gnarled old captain tells them that they do this mostly because they think there should be a ferry, since they're losing money running the boat like this. When this sours the mood too much, the captain scowls and teaches them an old sea shanty about Leviathan and mermaids.
It's a solid four hour trip out to Tenebrae, but Prompto doesn't mind. It's a nice day. He gets some pictures of the open sea, and they swing wide enough of Accordo that he can't make out any of Altissia. Seagulls coast through the winds at their sides, and once, Prompto thinks he sees a dolphin's fin in their wake.
Still, it's a relief to pull into the dock. Then it's sort of a mixed bag, because Ravus Nox Fleuret is waiting for them, and he looks just as emotionally stunted as Prompto remembers him.
"Her Majesty, my dear sister, requested that I personally escort you to Fenestala Manor," he says. "We'll take Zoldara Pass by car. It should take about an hour. Let's not make Her Majesty wait any longer than that, shall we?"
Prompto glances over at Noct. Noct gives him a barely imperceptable shrug. "Let's go," Prompto says.
The car is much more old-fashioned than anything you'd find in Lucis, and to Prompto's surprise, Ravus drives. Tenebrae was always a little slow to adopt modern technology, which has been to its benefit cleaning up the mess that the Starscourge and the Astrals had left behind. The ride is a little bumpy, but Ravus makes it considerably more uncomfortable.
"This... matter is entirely distasteful," Ravus says. He runs a hand through his hair. "I would suspect one of you put the idea in her head, but it's too absurd even for Lucians."
Prompto is aware he's being insulted, but decides to pretend he doesn't know. "I'm honored by her request," he says.
"You are," Ravus says, and the ride continues in awkward silence.
It's all worth it, though, when they pull through the gates of the Manor to find Luna waiting for them, a huge smile on her face. "Prompto! Noctis! It has been too long!"
Prompto tries for a graceful bow. "Your Ma-"
"You of all people should bow to no one," Luna cuts him off. "And I would prefer not to stand on ceremony. Come inside. We have so much to talk about." She turns to Ravus, and smiles at him as well. "Thank you for collecting them."
Something in Ravus' expression softens a little. "You're welcome. May I be dismissed?"
"If you wish," Luna replies. She looks back at Noct and Prompto. "I have a hot lunch waiting for us," she says.
"That's great," Noct says.
Luna looks better than she did the last time Prompto saw her, when the world was dying and everything was desperate. She's gained a little weight and she has more color in her. She looks healthy, and the contrast is striking.
They walk in through a side door of the Manor and down a hallway, then into a little dining room that, by the sound of it, is just off the kitchen. The table has already been set for three, with those bell-shaped things for keeping food hot sitting over the plates.
"I am so glad you are here," Luna says. "You look well, although--Noctis, you were limping again."
Was he? Prompto hadn't noticed.
"The suspension on your car is garbage," Noct says. "You should probably have it replaced."
Prompto's not sure whether that's the truth or some kind of excuse, but like a lot of things today, he lets it go.
They seat themselves as a servant bustles through to take the lids off their plates. Grilled chickatrice, with roasted vegetables and what seems to be wild rice as a side. And there's only one fork and one knife, thank goodness.
They spend a little while on small talk. Luna's been spending some of her free time trying to revive the garden. She asks about Prompto's efforts to document the Ark the Wills had lived in, which he doesn't remember telling her about. Inevitably, the conversation drifts toward leading Tenebrae.
"-and there is no one single that the Council considers a suitable rank for me to marry except Gladiolus Amicitia, and even if I thought that a good idea, he would not leave his post as Iris' Shield," Luna says. "And then they tried to convince me that we should create a bond between Tenebrae and Lucis by proposing a marriage between Ravus and Iris."
"He's thirty and she's seventeen!" Prompto says. "That's disgusting."
"It wouldn't be the first time," Noct says. "Grandpa Mors waited until he was forty to get married, and then the Council paired him up with a fifteen-year-old Princess from Niflheim."
"Gross," Prompto mutters.
"I agree," Luna says. "So I am going to obtain heirs now, and worry about marriage later."
"Does the Council know?" Noct asks.
Luna smiles. "They have no idea. Right now, the knowledge is limited to the two of you, Ravus, and my personal doctor."
"Am I going to get arrested for treason?" Prompto asks.
"Not if you are in Lucis by the time they are aware of your involvement," Luna tells him, and giggles.
Noct sits up a little straighter. "If that's the only protection you have in mind for him, that's no good."
"It is not," Luna reassures him. "I am the Queen, Noctis. Ultimately, it is my decision. And Prompto's, of course."
Luna's going to be happier as the Queen than she ever was as the Oracle. "So what's our plan for now?" Prompto asks.
"I will allow you to rest for awhile, as the journey must have been tiring," Luna says. "And then you and I will meet with my personal doctor. Dinner, after that--perhaps a little more formal? Ravus prefers a more formal setting."
"He's going to hate me," Prompto moans.
"I forbid it," Luna says, mischief in her eyes.
Luna had a room made up for them. Noct kicks off his shoes and immediately settles down for a nap. Prompto lays down with his back against Noct's, but there's no way he's going to sleep. He flips through the pictures on his camera, instead, getting rid of a few duplicate and blurry shots.
Prompto's not sure he would call it relief, but something slides the tension out of his body when there's a knock on the door. He gets up to open it without Noct budging, to be faced with a young blonde servant, ten or so, in Nox Fleuret livery. She curtsies politely, expression openly curious. "Her Majesty requests your presence in her salon," she says, apparently too well-trained to ask what she's obviously burning to know.
"Thank you," Prompto replies.
"Right this way," the girl asks, and turns to lead him. From behind, she has a figure similar to Luna's in pictures from when she and Noct were young. Prompto wonders if that's the build that Luna's child will have, or if maybe they'll tend toward being... stocky. He reminds himself that Luna will love them no matter what.
Prompto follows the servant down just three doors, until they reach one that's open. He's not sure why the servant thought he needed to be lead here--it would be pretty obvious if she just told him. The girl, completely oblivious to his musings, knocks twice on the open frame, curtsies to the occupants of the room, and steps back to allow Prompto entry.
Luna and a woman that can only be Luna's "personal doctor" are sitting on couches, sipping tea. There's a cart, too, with another setting for one. "Close the door behind you," Luna tells Prompto, and he turns to obey. He catches a glimpse of the servant girl's disappointed expression as he does as he was told.
Prompto takes a seat in a comfortable-looking chair and doesn't reach for the tea. "So uhh, what exactly are we doing?"
"Well, there are a few final things to discuss that are best spoken of in person," Luna says. She glances over at the doctor next to her, and Prompto has an idea of what's coming.
"Your medical records are as best one can expect coming from someone who grew up in one of the Ruined Cities," the doctor says. "I'm pleased with what you've managed to reconstruct. But there are some important unanswered questions." She looks over at Luna.
Luna decides to save the poor stranger from asking a very awkward question. "Your doctors told you when you were a teenager that you may not live a normal lifespan," she says.
"Yeah," Prompto says. "I still don't know anything more specific than that. The last time I saw a doctor for myself was six months ago, and he said he didn't see any signs of premature aging, but..."
The doctor nods. "You also mention a dependency on a particular... drug to maintain your health every few months? Have you noticed any changes in how well it's worked?"
"Honestly, sometimes I wonder if I still need it," Prompto says. "After... after everything that happened in Insomnia, it's been... usually I knew when the deadline was coming up. I could kinda feel it. But now everything's normal the whole time."
"You had better keep taking your medicine," Luna says sternly.
"Yeah, yeah," Prompto says. "I'm not gonna stop."
The doctor looks at both of them. "If not for the unique circumstances, I would advise against this," she says. "But this is a unique situation. And ultimately, of course, it's not my decision."
"Do you have any questions?" Luna asks. "The child will not be yours on a legal basis, but it is obvious you have some stake in the matter."
Prompto thinks carefully. "Are you still having seizures? That would probably be bad when you're pregnant." It only hurts a little to ask.
"It has been six months since my last seizure," Luna says. "The doctor and I believe that as long as I remain on my current course of medication, it should remain stable."
Prompto nods. "I think it's fine, then."
A deeply uncomfortable fifteen minutes later, ten of which Prompto spends in Luna's private bathroom, he's able to... provide the doctor with a sample... and scamper off to the room Luna loaned them to die of embarrassment.
In the hallway, the little servant girl stares openly at his bright red face.
Well, if all goes well, she'll know sooner than she thinks.
Dinner with Ravus is actually less bad than Prompto thought it was going to be. He either has no idea that Luna's accomplished her goal, or she's bullied him into behaving. Once again the place setting comes with a minimal amount of silverware--just a spoon, this time, as they're furnished with some kind of thick stew with chunks of garula and sweet carrots.
"...and Lord Brodeur wanted to give me away to Iris Amicitia," Ravus complains. "The nerve. You would think he would have more respect. I certainly have not forgotten that he stayed in Tenebrae for the entire duration of the war."
Noct shrugs. There's a suspiciously large concentration of carrot slices in his bowl. "I mean, that's rude of him, but I'm glad there are people that didn't get screwed up by all this mess."
"Lord Brodeur may not have been involved in the war, but sometimes I suspect he is 'screwed up,'" Luna says. "Still, there is simply nothing to be done about the members of a Royal Council."
"There really isn't," Noct agrees, and spears some garula for emphasis.
"You got divine permission to quit," Ravus says. "Some of us were not so fortunate."
Prompto's the first one to burst out laughing, but everyone else follows.
The conversation drifts for awhile, and then Luna asks, "So you intend to take the train into Niflheim in the morning?"
"Yeah," Prompto says. "We need to get all the research we can out of Zegnautus Keep."
Luna closes her eyes a moment. "The Tower is still active," she says, opening them. "So the building has power, and the technology hasn't been completely stripped. What are you looking for?"
"Well..." Prompto notes the presense of the servant girl, calm in the corner of the room. "Your project's in biology, right? Our hope is to be able to replicate the results with some genetic research."
"Oh!" Luna smiles. "Then I wish you the best of luck. Anything I can find on my own, I will send to your home immediately." There's something strange in her expression, something that's maybe not the kind of excited that Prompto expected, but there's absolutely no possible way to ask about it.
Late that night, there's a knock on the door, and a familiar notebook slides underneath.
Noct rushes over to grab it, and flips to the most recent page. He stares.
Prompto makes his way to his husband's side, skims over the line, and has to read it again to be sure.
We're considering annexing Gralea.
"Luna," Noct sighs, and digs through his bags for a pen.
In the morning, Noct shoves the notebook into Luna's hands as they sit down for breakfast. They eat croque-mademoiselles, even though Prompto is reasonably sure that's not usually breakfast food, and say their goodbyes.
From there, it's off to the train station. They're the only ones to get on at their stop, but at least they're not the only ones on the train itself. There are other people in their car, and they pick up more as they go.
But everyone except them get off at the stop before Gralea, of course. They had to pay a substantial bribe just to get the train to run out there again--and twice, once to drop them off and once for a return.
People don't live in Gralea anymore. Oh, there are probably a few squatters here and there, but although the sun rises over the city once again, it's said to be a cursed place.
In Prompto's mind, Gralea, and especially Zegnautus Keep, will always be a cursed place.
But Noct's with him, and they're here for a specific reason. This is going to be worth it.
Prompto grabs Noct's hand, tight, as they step off the train.
"And no touching st-strange rocks," Prompto says, trying for teasing and missing.
"Right," Noct says. "But I don't think we've got to worry about that anymore."
Instead of answering, Prompto flicks on his flashlight. "I don't really know what we're looking for," he admits.
"A lightswitch, to start with," Noct returns.
"Good point," Prompto says. He swings the flashlight around toward the door, but doesn't see one immediately.
Noct glances around, too. "We're going to have to carry out whatever it is we find," he grumbles. "I miss the Armiger."
"All your cool powers, and you miss the bag," Prompto says. Not that he doesn't miss it, too.
They wander the facility for hours. In promising rooms, Prompto takes pictures of all the paperwork he can find. They find a computer lab and spend an hour removing hard drives, wrapping them in whatever they can find, and loading them into their backpacks. Empty MT uniforms litter the hallways.
They stop for lunch and then wander further, and find something that is both terrible and exactly what they needed: the nursery.
Glass tubes line one of the walls, each one with a tiny corpse and thin tubing inside; each one is connected to its own computer. The opposite wall is a work area with counters and tables of equipment: a centrifuge, a microscope with dozens of slides, an eyewash station, burners, a fridge. On one table, there's a pink plastic musical instrument--a recorder, Prompto thinks, remembering music classes at school.
"This is it," Noct says in a flat tone.
"Yeah," Prompto says.
This is where he was born, isn't it? This room, probably. This was where some Glaive scooped him and some of his brothers out and ran. Of course they froze; those tubes are full of liquid.
Prompto takes a deep breath. This isn't the time. He can have a meltdown once they're done.
So he photographs equipment. He takes pictures of the tubes and their occupants, if only to memorialize them. He swaps out memory cards and makes sure every piece of paper in the room is on film, then gathers them up and stuffs them into his backpack. While he's doing all that, Noct is unscrewing the computers under each of the tubes so they can make off with all of those hard drives, too.
"We need to leave," Prompto murmurs, backing up against a bare spot of wall. "I need to leave."
Noct nods and hoists his full backpack onto his shoulders. "Let's get out of here."
They backtrack because they don't want to get lost, so they might not have taken the fastest way out, but it's all right. Prompto doesn't fall apart until they're outside.
Sunset streams down on them. Every awful, awful thing that happened in there is over. Luna's connected to the Tower inside, now, and she's not going to let anything like that happen on her watch, and everyone who did this is dead, and Ardyn is really, really, really dead-
"Prompto," Noct says, in the sort of tone that means he's said it more than once before. "Prom. Breathe."
Prompto notices, distantly, that he's shaking. And that his head is spinning--he's hyperventilating, isn't he?
"C'mon," Noct says. He takes Prompto's hand and rests it on his own chest. "Slow and easy." He takes an exaggerated breath in, and Prompto struggles to mimic him.
"Sorry," Prompto huffs out.
"Shh," Noct replies, tone wavering. Prompto manages to look up at his face--he's crying.
But instead of crumbling, something about knowing that Noct's hurting too lets strength flow back into him. Prompto's never had an easy time finding strength for his own sake, but for someone else it's easy.
"This is an awful place," Prompto says, putting his arms around Noct.
Noct sighs into Prompto's shoulder. "Yeah. Cursed for sure."
They stay like that awhile, just breathing. Eventually, as if they'd made a decision, they pull away from each other. Prompto glances back toward the building.
Noct tugs on Prompto's wrist. "Come on. We're getting out of here. I wanna sleep."
Prompto plays along. "Yeah, yeah. Gotta make sure it's safe, though."
"Right, so we gotta start looking now," Noct says, a very intentional whine creeping into his voice.
"Okay," Prompto says, and turns fully away from Zegnautus Keep. "Let's go."
They pick an apartment building that's fully locked up to spend the night in. Probably not someone's squat if it's locked up, and less chance of surprises. Noct is the one in better shape these days, so he's the one to kick open the doors. The apartment they wind up in is really dusty. Prompto strips the bed in the master bedroom and shakes out the blankets in a spare bedroom.
"Just like home," Noct says as they make the bed.
Prompto looks around the room. There's a photo of someone's family on the nightstand. He carefully flips it down. "Something like that."
The mattress is softer than the one they have at home. Prompto would have thought that would make it more comfortable, but instead it just feels strange and unfamiliar.
Prompto dreams of Zegnautus Keep. He dreams of Ardyn. He dreams of dying and leaving nothing behind. He wakes up sobbing twice.
He tells himself it's worth it. It's worth it. They're going to take all of this home and they're going to have kids and it's going to be wonderful.
Morning can't come soon enough.
Relatively speaking, going back to Lucis is easy. They take the train all the way around Tenebrae, take the ferry back across the sea, and before a full day is over they're standing in Galdin Quay with decades of research on their backs. The trip's not over yet, though. Neither of them have been trained in genetics. Someone else is going to have to turn this research into something tangible.
Setting what Prompto thinks is a good precedent, the Royal Institute is one of Iris' top priorities for restoration. It had power before most of the commercial areas did. More importantly for Prompto and Noct, though, is that the Crown's funding jobs there now. With a clean campus, a bunch of scientists starting fresh, partial payment up front, and a pile of not-exactly-smuggled research, Prompto has high hopes.
It doesn't hurt to have an in. It turns out that several members of Prompto's old magic-learning team did survive the destruction of Insomnia--they just had no way of getting in contact. Now, though, Dr. Fio, who specializes in the scientific aspects of magic, is willing to meet for coffee anytime.
"We have... a project, for you," Prompto says, stirring cream into his coffee. "And, uh..."
"Let's call it grant money," Noct suggests. "A lot of grant money."
"I'm listening," Dr. Fio says. He sits up a little straighter. "My field has been looking a little... empty of late."
"Yeah, well," Prompto says. He slips just a few pieces of paper from his bag and passes them across the table. "A bunch of research just... came in," he says. "From Niflheim."
"Niflheim," Dr. Fio repeats. He looks over the paperwork. "This is... oh. Oh, Astrals. Shouldn't this be classified information?"
"There's a lot more where that came from," Noct says. "And there's grant money. We can give you some up front."
"What's the catch?" Dr. Fio asks, looking at the page sharply, like he's trying to memorize as much as he can before it gets snatched away.
Prompto swallows. "We... want the results," he says. "As in, we want children. Or just one child. Really, it's-"
Dr. Fio looks up and his expression seems a lot less suspicious. "Oh," he says. "You know I can't promise something like that without any of the details."
"We know," Noct says. "But we know you'll do your best, and we trust you not to make supersoldiers."
"Tell me about the budget," Dr. Fio says.
"Do you think we should move back into Insomnia?" Prompto asks once they're finally, finally home. "It sounds like we're going to need to visit a lot for the project."
"No," Noct says. He slings his coat over a chair.
"Why not?" Prompto asks.
"They recognize us there," Noct says. "And- this is a good place."
It is a good place. That's why they'd started looking in this part of Lucis to begin with. There aren't any crushing memories here, things that remind either of them of things that hurt. But...
"It'll be hard, having to go in and out of the city so much," Prompto says.
"Yeah, but it'd be worse living there. You know Wiz will give you as much time off as you want," Noct says.
Prompto thinks about Insomnia for a moment: living in Noct's apartment (their apartment) and getting takeout and taking pictures all afternoon. It wouldn't be like that now. "You're probably right," he says. He picks up the bowl from his shrine--it definitely needs cleaning after how long they've been gone.
Noct watches him take the bowl to the sink. "They're dead," he says.
"Yup," Prompto replies. No matter what he does, he can't sense a single trace of any of the Wills of Eos, except faint traces left in his own body.
"So why do you do that?" Noct asks.
"She asked," Prompto says. "And it's easy." And if a goddess could hope there was something out there after death, then he sure could.
Noct keeps watching as Prompto gives the bowl a gentle scrub. "Does it make you happy?"
"More or less," Prompto says. He rinses it off, dries the outside of the bowl, and fills it with water again.
"I don't get it, but okay," Noct says. But then, Noct had a very different relationship with his dead gods, and every reason not to want to think about them.
"Don't worry about it," Prompto says. "Worry about dinner, because I'm tired and I'm not cooking tonight."
"I can get us sandwiches from Café Claire," Noct says. "What do you want?"
They call in an order, and Prompto watches Noct leave to pick it up. The limp looks worse than it has in awhile. Maybe Noct's not doing enough PT.
Three months later, it feels like normal life has re-asserted itself. They're receiving weekly reports from Dr. Fio, but he spent the first few weeks just sorting through the piles of research they dumped on him and he's still in the design phase for the rest of it. Luna's kept them up to date on Tenebrae's politics (someone on their Council suggested that Ravus try to marry Gladio this time--Prompto swears they're just going through every possible permutation now), but she's had little to say about anything else.
Until Luna calls Noct, mid-afternoon on a weekday.
"Yeah? Luna?" Noct says. "Yeah, he's here. Uh, okay?" He sets the phone down on the table and taps to put it on speaker. "Okay, we can both hear you."
Prompto glances at Noct, but he doesn't seem to know what this is about either.
Luna, however, settles the question immediately. "I'm pregnant!" she practically squeals.
"You're pregnant!" Prompto cheers in response. "How far along?"
"Eight weeks," Luna says. "I already knew, but I just had the first ultrasound... a few minutes ago, so we are relatively sure that the little one is developing normally."
"That's great," Noct says. "Is it a boy or a girl?"
"It is too early to know without invasive testing," Luna replies.
"When are you gonna tell everybody?" Prompto asks.
"I plan to wait another month to make a public announcement," Luna tells him. "And I plan on my Council finding out at the same time as the general public."
"Whooo," Noct says. "That's, uhh... really ballsy."
"They will accept it," Luna says.
"Just be careful," Noct says. "And warn us before Prompto's involvement goes public."
"Of course," Luna replies. "I know my actions appear quite reckless, but I am conscious of safety, both for you and for the little one." Prompto can almost hear the warm smile in her voice. "I must end the call before I am caught out. Thank you. Both of you."
"Good luck," Prompto wishes her earnestly.
"You too," Luna says, and hangs up the phone.
Noct takes a deep breath. "That wasn't how I expected my afternoon to go," he says, and sits down.
"Are you still okay with it?" Prompto asks.
"Are you still okay with it?" Noct counters. "Because that's the important thing."
"I wish she wasn't planning to go scoop up a chunk of Niflheim while she's got not-actually-my baby in her," Prompto admits.
"No," Noct says. "It makes sense."
"There is a way into her brain, for someone with the right skillset," Noct says. "And that way is through a building in a foreign country, so she can't do anything to secure it physically. And theoretically, that same problem would happen to any kid that she has. And Niflheim still doesn't even have a government, so it's basically just up for grabs."
"Oh," Prompto mumbles. He doesn't have to worry about the Tower here in Lucis; it's effectively his own property even if it isn't legally. If he did... well, there's a lot he would do if there was any chance someone would crawl into his brain again.
"I mean, it's kind of scary," Noct says. "But I guess anything she does about it would be scary."
"I'm glad I'm not living her life," Prompto says.
A few weeks pass quietly. Luna's pregnancy proceeds relatively well: she has some pretty severe bouts of morning sickness, but she doesn't have any seizures.
Dr. Fio calls Prompto on Friday afternoons. More seems to be going on every week, now, and Prompto is tentatively excited this time. Last week, after some negotiations involving the budget, Dr. Fio got someone from engineering to help with designing and constructing a Reyvateil incubator. Noct's going to have to do two or three more hunts a week, now, and Prompto has to beg Wiz for extra hours, but it's going to be worth it.
It's not a surprise, then, when Prompto gets a call from Dr. Fio this afternoon as well. He takes the time to feed the last chocobo his greens before he answers.
"How's it going?" Prompto asks, eager to find out how things are progressing.
Dr. Fio chuckles. "Well," he replies. "I've managed to replicate the Niflheim method of DNA synthesis with rat DNA. There seems to have been some acceleration to the gestation period, but it seems potentially destructive, so we'll be waiting a few weeks to see if we end up with an entirely healthy infant rat. With that said..."
"Yeah?" Prompto asks.
"I'm going to need DNA samples from you and your husband," Dr. Fio says. "Your hair is within their records, but it would be better to have something fresh, and of course we don't have anything from your husband."
Prompto's heart flutters at the word "husband," but he pushes the feeling down. "How do you want to collect them?"
"A mouth swab will work fine. Can you come out here for us to take it?"
Prompto almost says yes without thinking about it. Then he remembers: Luna's going to announce her pregnancy sometime this week. "Maybe not right now," he says.
"I'll send you a kit by mail," Dr. Fio says, utterly unfazed. "Follow the directions carefully, of course."
The conversation meanders a little after that. There's a tentative design for the incubator, based on the original research but without the capacity to produce a bunch of supersoldiers. So far it doesn't seem as if anyone at the Institute knows exactly what they're up to.
"Just as a heads up," Dr. Fio says. "They've found the remains of the Dive Machine. I don't know what they plan to do with it or who's going to keep it, but I thought you should know."
"Yeah," Prompto says, considering. "Thanks." The phone buzzes--another call is coming in. Prompto pulls his phone from his face long enough to see that it's Noct. "Hey, I gotta take another call. Thanks for keeping me up to date."
Before Dr. Fio can really reply, Prompto's already hung up. He switches over to Noct's call.
"Hey," Noct says. "Luna's going to make the announcement in an hour or so. She told me she's gonna leave your name out of it, and the visit was pretty discreet, but someone or other is probably going to figure out the math pretty quick. You should go home."
"When I finish up here," Prompto says. He doesn't want to lose more hours than he has to, and he senses that he's about to need to take some time off.
"Okay," Noct says, sounding a little reluctant. "Do what you need to do."
"Love you," Prompto says. "See you soon."
"Love you too," Noct replies, and hangs up.
Prompto knows that there's someone dedicated to doing Luna's makeup so that she looks good on TV, but she really does look good. He's heard that pregnant women sometimes look like they're glowing--that's how she looks right now. It might be an effect of the makeup department, but Prompto hopes she looks this healthy naturally.
It's easy to forget, since Luna's always spoken to Prompto in Lucian, that they speak an entirely foreign language in Tenebrae. Noct isn't really fluent, but he can understand most things people say. Prompto, on the other hand, flips to a channel with a live translation.
"People of Tenebrae, and of all Eos," a man says over Luna's precise cadence. "I bring our kingdom good news. The Royal Lineage has been blessed with a new child of the line of Nox Fleuret."
The crowd starts to chatter immediately. Prompto can make out shouting, but he has no idea what anyone's saying.
"The child will be born in April," Luna continues. "I cannot yet tell you whether I will deliver a boy or a girl, but nonetheless, the line of Nox Fleuret flourishes, as it always has."
The crowd hasn't settled at all. Prompto can't blame them.
"This blessing has inspired me to take action," Luna says. The crowd quiets a little now that it's clear there will be a further announcement. "The land of Niflheim has spent many years in shadow. Even now that the darkness has left Eos as a whole, Niflheim is lawless and struggling."
"Holy shit," Noct whispers.
"Just as Tenebrae rested under the protection of Niflheim, Niflheim will come under the protection of Tenebrae." The translator sounds a little shell-shocked.
The crowd erupts into shouting.
Luna's expression is entirely serene. "The coalitions that have thus far been in charge of regions of Niflheim will be judged on a case-by-case basis. Those who have been just and fair will retain regional control. Those who have not will be replaced, with the backing of the armies of Tenebrae, and myself."
"Astrals, Luna," Prompto says, not missing the implications.
"I will not be taking questions today," Luna says, and exits the stage.
As the crowd practically riots, Noct's phone rings. Prompto glances at it as Noct picks up his phone: it's Ignis.
"Did you know she was going to do this?" Ignis asks, loud enough that Prompto can hear it despite the phone being on normal settings.
Prompto laughs hard enough that his stomach hurts.
It doesn't even take a full day for someone to leak that Prompto and Noct had visited Tenebrae at just about the right time for Luna to get pregnant. What surprises them, but really shouldn't have, is that the public all assumes that it was Noct.
"The childhood sweetheart angle," Prompto says. He's still taking an entire day off because reporters are crowding the Chocobo Post, but it's not so bad when Noct's stuck in the house with him.
"I can't believe I didn't think of it," Noct groans.
"They'll get over it," Prompto says. "She's dispatching the military tomorrow. That'll take up the whole news cycle."
"They're outside the gate," Noct says, gesturing toward the window.
Prompto gets to his feet. There are, in fact, eight people standing around at their front gate. He draws the curtains. "They'll get over it," he repeats.
"I hate the press," Noct grumbles. He gets to his feet and stretches, and Prompto catches the grimace.
"Maybe it's better that you didn't go out today if your leg's like that," Prompto says.
"It hurts all the time," Noct says, as if this is not a big deal. "I mostly ignore it."
"And how's your back?" Prompto asks.
Noct sighs. "It gets cranky," he says. "But none of it's all that bad."
Prompto makes a face. "We should get it checked out," he says. "Next time we're in Insomnia."
Noct waves a hand at the closed window. "Whenever you want."
Prompto likes Noct. He loves him, in fact. But there are occasional pieces of Noct that he's not so much a fan of, and he senses one of them is quickly incoming. "You're not the King anymore. You don't have to worry about putting up a front."
"I'm fine," Noct says. "I can still do my job."
"Is that what this is about?" Prompto asks.
"No," Noct says. "It's about me saying I'm fine and you still arguing."
"Hurting all the time isn't 'fine,'" Prompto says. "But fine. It's your business."
"It's not," Noct says, looking over at the window again. "It's not, and it never has been."
Prompto isn't in the mood to coax Noct out of a sulk. "I'm starting dinner," he announces, and steps into the kitchen. Noct will get his head on straight eventually.
It's a relief in most ways to discover that most of Niflheim is indifferent to its change in leadership. There are a lot fewer people around to care that Luna's taking over management, and for those that are left, day-to-day survival is a higher priority than who exactly is in charge. Accordo and Lucis, still rebuilding governments, aren't in a position to actually argue. Gladio says that Iris is really shaken up about it, but Noct tells him not to worry, that Luna's not going to try to expand further. Prompto really hopes that's the truth.
The DNA sample kit arrives. Prompto and Noct swab their cheeks and send the envelope back into Insomnia, and Dr. Fio carefully teases Prompto about their recent media spotlight.
Prompto's more aware of the way that Noct moves now that he knows there's something to look for. Noct limps, worse some days and better others. There's the occasional grimace when he moves quickly, but he never slows down.
Prompto worries about Noct going out and hunting, fighting with a body that's not at its full potential. But Noct's used to pain, as much as Prompto tries not to think about it. And what else can he do? Singing over an old wound doesn't do a lot of good. He has to trust Noct to know what his body can handle.
Two months of repressing concerns, watching the news, turning away the occasional reporter, and picking up extra shifts, Dr. Fio calls with the news that he has something they'll want to see in person. So the next time that Prompto has a day off work, they take a trip out to Insomnia.
"We're going to have to get a bigger car," Prompto says. "There's nowhere to put a baby in this truck."
"You're right," Noct says. He sighs. "Maybe Cid can find us a good deal."
They hop out of the car and head up to the building. The sidewalk is clear of rubble now, but it's only been moved where it was on the sidewalk. The windows are all fixed now, at least, and Dr. Fio has told them that the electricity has been consistent.
Dr. Fio meets them at the door, beaming. Whatever he's done, he's very proud of it. "My lab is just down the hall," he says, leading them forward.
The hums and beeps of equipment form a melody as they walk down the hall, with the beat formed from their heavy footsteps against the tile floor. The scientist wears boots, which is probably a wise decision based on the state of the property but looks a little strange paired with a lab coat.
They turn into a room, and the main attraction is obvious. A huge tank full of some blue-tinted liquid sits against the wall. Tubing runs in and out of the front of the tank and some kind of wiring runs along the sides. There are two round purple... things, the size of blueberries, right where the wiring ends on each side.
Prompto steps closer. He feels like there's a Song pressing against his lips. He feels...
"These are your children," Dr. Fio says. "Perhaps we should have asked before we made two-"
"No," Noct says. He walks up to the tank. "No, two is- two is fine. Two is great."
Prompto's drawn to the tank as well. The two little orbs are translucent, and as he gets closer he can see something inside. He can make out the shape--they're not exactly person-shaped yet, with comparatively huge heads on tiny bodies curled into a ball. The blue tint to the water makes them look a strange purple shade. "When will they be- ready?" he asks.
"It's hard to say," Dr. Fio replies. "Their growth hasn't mapped neatly to a standard pregnancy. If I had to guess, I would guess they'll be as developed as a human newborn in July or August."
"Oh," Noct says. He sounds a little like he's going to faint. "Are they- are they girls, or boys, or..."
"There's one boy and one girl," Dr. Fio tells them.
Prompto takes out his camera and fiddles with the settings. It's going to be challenging to take pictures of things in a water tank. "Do you think they'll make it?"
"We have no reason to believe they'll be unhealthy," Dr. Fio says.
"So no promises," Noct says, tracing a finger against the glass. "But they're okay, right now?"
"They're fine," Dr. Fio says.
"They're perfect," Prompto murmurs, and takes his first shot: Noct from the side staring longingly at their children.
"Astrals," Prompto whispers. "Twins."
Prompto sends four pictures and a text to Luna while Noct drives them back down the highway. The text simply reads, "TWINS!"
Luna texts back as they pull into the station at Hammerhead with an ultrasound picture and a message: "She's a girl!"
Prompto smiles. "Luna's having a girl," he tells Noct.
"That's good," he says, pulling into a parking space. "I bet she's really happy." He's obviously distracted, not that Prompto doesn't know exactly why. "We're having twins."
"Yup," Prompto says. He's a little less shocked, a little more excited. "Let's see if Cid can cut us a deal."
Cid's inside, bent over a worktable. He's got a mostly-disassembled gun laid out in front of him, and he's cleaning the components piece by piece. He glances up at them with a familiar grunt. "You boys. Don't try and tell me you've got more world to save."
"No, no," Noct says. "We've retired from that. We're looking for a car."
"Do I look like a used car salesman?" Cid asks, turning fully away from his work. "This look like a sales lot to you?"
"We were hoping you could maybe give us a lead on a good deal," Prompto says. "See... the pickup's been great for us, but..."
"I ain't got all day, but what?"
Prompto glances at Noct, then takes the plunge. "We're adding to our family," he says. "We're gonna need a back seat."
Cid takes this in for a moment. "Babies havin' babies. Well. Go talk to Cindy out front. Tell her I said to ask about the car she's been workin' on."
"Please don't tell anyone," Noct says. "It's... very new."
"That's your business," Cid says. He flaps his hand dismissively. "Scoot. Go talk to Cindy."
It takes a moment to find Cindy. She slides out from under a car on one of those trolley things, covered in grease and grinning. "Hey boys! What'd'ya need today? Truck acting up?"
Noct apparently decides to take the lead on this one. "The truck's fine, but we need a car," he says. "Cid said we should ask you about the car you've been working on."
"This one?" Cindy takes a look at the car, and Prompto does as well. It's baby blue where the paint hasn't come off, small without looking cramped. One of the fenders is entirely missing. "It's not ready yet. Won't be ready for awhile. Been working on it between payin' jobs. Good bones, but bad shape."
"We don't need it soon," Prompto says. "Six months from now, probably."
"Not sure how much more work this'll take," Cindy says. "But if Paw-Paw thinks you need it, we can work out a deal."
Prompto looks over the page and sighs.
There's normal expenses--the mortgage, the bills, food. There's the money they're paying as "grant money" to get their little Reyvateil babies (twins!), which has gone up again due to the need for a doctor on the team. There's the payments toward the car.
They're going to need things for the little ones--the Blueberries, Noct's calling them, based on their size and their purple coloring through the liquid in the tank. They need to set up a nursery with cribs and a changing table and all that stuff people need for babies. They're going to need baby formula, Prompto realizes, and diapers, and clothes, and...
And Prompto really, really doesn't want Noct to take on more than he's already doing, but it's looking awfully inevitable given these numbers.
Noct comes up behind Prompto, sets his hands against Prompto's shoulders, and kneads a little. "What're you up to?"
"Budgeting," Prompto says.
Noct bends down to look at the page. "We're kind of in trouble, aren't we?"
"A little," Prompto agrees.
Noct hums. "Some of the baby stuff we can get if we throw a baby shower," he says. "We have some pretty wealthy friends."
"Oh, right." Prompto's heard of baby showers before. He's just never been to one. His parents never took him anywhere when he was a kid and then he wasn't in the right age range. "We're going to have to send a present to Luna, though, aren't we?" He scribbles that under "expenses."
Noct leans in further. "I think if I go for some bigger game, I can bring home more," he says, tracing a finger down the income column.
Prompto swallows. "Are you- are you sure you want to do that?"
"I want to make this work," Noct says.
"Okay," Prompto says. "Just be careful. It's not going to help the budget any if you don't come home."
Noct laughs, easy and bright. "With you here, of course I'm coming home."
"I have news," Prompto says. "But you have to absolutely swear that the media doesn't hear a word of it."
"I wouldn't dream of it," Ignis says, voice buzzing slightly through the phone. "What is it?"
"Noct and I, uhh." Prompto realizes he's not sure how to put it. "We're going to have twins."
"A surrogate?" Ignis asks.
Prompto smiles a little. "Not exactly." He explains the money they've been paying to the Institute, the research they've funded so far. "There are two of them," he says. "Twins. Built from my DNA and Noct's."
"That is remarkable," Ignis says. "Of course you wouldn't want the press involved. But that must be very expensive."
Prompto feels himself blush. "Well. We're managing," he says.
"Ah," Ignis says, and Prompto knows he's given away more than he meant to. "When will the little ones be, ah, coming home with you?"
"July or August, we think," Prompto says. "Dr. Fio--he's doing most of the work on the project--says that their growth is different from a normal human, so it's hard to be sure."
"I'm sincerely happy for you," Ignis says.
"Thanks," Prompto replies.
"You wouldn't happen to know the parentage of Luna's child, would you?" Ignis asks.
Prompto laughs. "Now you're fishing for Tenebrae's state secrets," he says. "I'm not answering that, but I will tell you it's a girl. We've got ultrasound pictures, if you want."
"A girl," Ignis says. "She must be delighted." He pauses for a moment, then adds, "And of course I want pictures. And yours, too."
Prompto laughs again. "I'll send you pictures of April and the Blueberries, don't worry."
"Might I share the news with Gladio or Iris?" Ignis asks.
"I think Noct's gonna tell Gladio," Prompto says. "So don't ruin the surprise."
Ignis chuckles. "Of course. I apologize for cutting you off so soon, but there's something I must see to. I enjoy working for the Crown, but it's a time-consuming job."
"I'm glad you're doing something you love," Prompto says. "Good luck with whatever it is."
"And to you," Ignis says, and hangs up.
Prompto turns around to see Noctis lacing his boots. "I've told Ignis," he says.
"Yeah, I heard," Noct replies. "How was he about it?"
"He sounded pretty pleased," Prompto says.
"Good," Noct says. "He's probably already planning the baby shower in his head." He lifts the sheath of his sword. "I'm going to get something good today. I've got a good feeling."
Prompto smiles. "Go on," he says. "I'll see you when you get home." He really ought to be packing up to go to work. He should've been doing that while he was on the phone, but he just gets so excited when he thinks about their babies.
Noct steps in front of him. "Bye," he says, and kisses Prompto's cheek.
"Bye, love," Prompto waves. "Take care."
Noct's not home yet when Prompto gets back from work, so Prompto starts on dinner. He's not an expert like Ignis, but he's learning a lot from this guy on MooTube. Tonight it's chickatrice with a honey mustard pan sauce.
Noct's still not home when Prompto finishes, which is a little strange. It makes him nervous. But this happens sometimes. It can take awhile.
Prompto's trying to weigh the pros and cons of calling Noct--it could be dangerous if Noct's trying to sneak away from something--when his own phone rings. He answers immediately without checking.
"Hey, uh, I'm not going to- to make it back tonight, I'll- in the morning I'll-" Noct babbles, voice strained.
"Noct?" Prompto asks, alarm bells sounding.
"I'm- I'm going to be okay," Noct says. "I just- well, I- I probably should've been more careful."
"Where are you?" Prompto asks.
Noct sighs. "I'm in the ER at- at Galdin Quay," he says. "I- I kinda got, uh, torn up. I tried to- to tell them if I just went home- that you could-"
Prompto considers punching the wall, but knows it would hurt him more than it would hurt the wall. "I'm gonna get a Chocobo," he says. "Where's the truck?"
"You're- you're gonna try to Sing over me and- you'll get the whole ER and you'll-" Noct protests.
"Where is the truck?" Prompto repeats.
This time, Noct gives him directions.
It's about ten when Wiz's fastest chocobo deposits Prompto next to their truck, and about eleven when Prompto pulls into the parking lot at the ER. It takes about two minutes to find Noct, who's arguing with a harried-looking nurse.
"I'm telling you not to put in stitches," Noct says, and then looks at Prompto and brightens. "Just- just leave me alone with my husband for a minute."
"Fine," the nurse says. "Press the call button if you need something."
Prompto hears the nurse leave, but he only has eyes for Noct. Noct, with a blood-soaked cotton pad jammed into his chest.
"What the fuck," Prompto murmurs.
"Garulessa," Noct says, hanging his head.
"You tried to take one on yourself?" Prompto asks.
"I was with Dave," Noct says. "And we weren't chasing the garulessa. It just showed up after we took down the fifth garula. It was pissed, and I was... slow."
Prompto sighs. "Of course. And then Dave brought you here?"
"Yeah," Noct says. "But he left after he was sure I wasn't gonna bleed out. They have me on good drugs. It's completely numb."
"You could've died," Prompto says, hand reaching toward the bloodstained cotton pad, mind reaching toward the right emotions for the job-
"Don't do it right here," Noct says. "Don't make me fireman-carry you out of the ER."
"You'd deserve it," Prompto replies, but he relents. "Come on, then, let's break you out."
It's not difficult to channel the need to soothe out in the parking lot with Noct sitting on the tailgate carefully tugging bloody cotton out of his chest.
"If that'd hit you anywhere else, you'd be dead," Prompto says, hand instinctively reaching to touch the wound.
"Yeah," Noct says. "Go on."
And so Prompto drops into himself, and takes hold of the magic left in him carefully, and Sings.
When he's finished, all that's left of Noct's chest wound is a shiny pink scar. Prompto sags against the tailgate. He thinks he's crying.
"I'm sorry," Noct says, and takes one of Prompto's hands.
"You'd better be," Prompto says. He tries for humor. "Your shirt's ruined. We can't even go to the Kenny Crow's." He straightens himself up, pulls the keys from his pocket, and takes a few wobbly steps toward the front seat. "Come on. I'm hungry."
"You okay to drive?" Noct asks.
"They drugged you," Prompto replies.
"You're shaking," Noct says.
"Fuck." Prompto steps back. "Neither of us can drive."
"Let's just take a nap in the truck bed," Noct says.
"People will think we're dead or something," Prompto argues.
"Fine, then let me drive," Noct says, and takes the keys out of Prompto's hand. "I swear I'm okay to drive."
"We're going to have a huge argument when we get home, you know," Prompto says, moving around toward the passenger seat.
"Yeah," Noct says. "I know."
"You scared the shit out of me," Prompto says.
"Yeah," Noct says. He takes a huge bite of his burger in what Prompto guesses is an attempt to buy more time to decide what to say.
"You're doing dangerous work," Prompto says. "And I've never-"
Noct swallows. "You hate it," he says. "You hate it every time I go without you."
"And I keep letting you go." Prompto sighs. "But- you could've died."
"Yeah," Noct says. His hand lifts to his chest. He's taken off the ruined shirt, leaving the new pink skin on display. "I know."
"I need you," Prompto says, praying he can get Noct to actually engage instead of just shutting down. "And I'm gonna need you even more when the Blueberries get here."
Noct sighs. "I know." He shuffles his fries around in the box. "But we need the money. And I don't know how to do anything else."
"You're not going to bring in much money if you're dead," Prompto says. He decides, on the spur of the moment, to push a little harder. "You're not slow. What happened?"
Noct's quiet long enough that Prompto thinks he's not going to answer. Finally, he sighs again. "My knee was hurting when we got out there, but not enough to make me want to stop. But then we were fighting garula one after another, and it kept getting worse, and then... when the garulessa showed up, I tried to move. Tried to move back. But the knee just..." He leans down and rubs at it a little. "It wasn't supporting my weight, I think. I couldn't get out of the way, and then I fell."
"Bad time to fall," Prompto says softly.
"Yeah," Noct says. "Really bad."
"I'm not gonna pretend this didn't happen," Prompto says.
Noct frowns. "Then what are we gonna do?"
Prompto's almost as relieved as when Noct's wounds had first closed. Noct's being cooperative. "We're going to Insomnia and we're gonna see a doctor," he says. "I guess we'll figure it out from there."
"Post-traumatic osteoarthritis," the doctor says, finger hovering over the sheet. "These are the knees. See how they don't match?"
Prompto looks at the x-ray. He can see a difference, he thinks, but he's not sure what exactly it's supposed to mean.
"So what do we do?" Noct asks, tense.
"You'll want to scale back activity," the doctor says. "Exercise is critical for management, of course, but too much will just put strain on the joint."
Noct has that slight crookedness to his mouth that means he's biting his lip.
"I'm not going to prescribe you anything right now," the doctor continues briskly. "We can if it becomes necessary, of course. But you're young and fit, and the joint isn't too swollen. I suspect with more care about your activities and some over-the-counter pills, you'll be feeling considerably better."
Prompto has to ask the questions--Noct has clearly checked out, stewing in his own thoughts. It's not unheard of for this to happen. Not even too surprising after all the serious injuries Noct's had. It's not going to go away--Prompto knew that, and Noct probably did too, but he needed her to say it. It will be something that they manage, rather than cure.
"But it can be done," the doctor says. "You're bright young things. You'll work it out."
They bundle out of the office with a stack of papers full of recommendations and a pamphlet on mobility aids, all of which get jammed into Prompto's pocket.
"Hey," Noct says. "While we're all the way out here, can we visit the Blueberries?"
Usually, Noct wouldn't ask permission to do something. He'd just demand, or on a better day, say that they should and wait for Prompto to agree. This is... strange.
But Prompto's not going to deny him, especially not on something he wants to do anyway. "Yeah. Let's go."
The Blueberries don't look like blueberries anymore--they've grown a lot in the past week. They're about the size of cherries, now, with a bundle of wires almost like a cherry stem running from the outside of the tank through to their midsections. They look a little more baby-shaped than before, but they're still absolutely within the realm of alien.
"Their ears are starting to develop already," Dr. Fio says, and points out dark spots on the sides of their heads. "We believe this is part of their Reyvateil heritage. We expect that by this time next month they'll be able to hear voices from outside the tank."
"Huh," Noct says. He's smiling, at least.
"You may want to learn Hymmnos, if your husband hasn't taught it to you already," Dr. Fio says. "They'll understand it innately, but they'll have to learn Lucian like any other baby."
Prompto smiles. "That might make things easier," he says, and presses a palm against the glass. "Was i ga yart yora," he murmurs, even though he's just been told that they can't hear him yet.
Not yet. But soon.
When they get home, Noct drags a blanket out to the couch and burrows into it, then pulls out his phone. "I'm telling Gladio," he says. "Just like we planned."
"Good," Prompto says, settling on the couch to lean against Noct. "Do it."
There's a little chit-chat that Prompto has to decipher through only hearing half the conversation: apparently Iris wants to go back to school now that the educational system is functioning again, but there's no precedent for a reigning monarch attending high school. And Ignis is planning a major land purchase for the Crown and he won't tell Gladio what it is or why it's so urgent.
Noct eventually gets to the good part, though. "Prompto and I are having babies. Twins."
Gladio shouts something that Prompto still can't quite make out and Noct bursts into laughter. "No, it's not some weird Reyvateil thing- well, it is, but Prompto's not pregnant," he says. "They're, uh, growing them in a lab in the Institute." A pause. "No, seriously, we can visit them if you really want." And another pause. "Of course Specs already knows. You can tell Iris if you want. But we really don't want the media all over us." Prompto watches Noct relax a little. "Yeah, yeah, okay. A boy and a girl, in July or August. We're calling them the Blueberries."
Their conversation winds to a halt eventually. Noct seems a little reluctant to hang up, but he does, and then he drapes himself over Prompto.
"How're we gonna get the money for the babies if I'm not supposed to be a Hunter anymore?" Noct asks.
Prompto's been thinking about it for days, considering everything they have. "We can probably get a loan," he says. "We can pay anything off eventually." But what he's really thinking about is almost as stupid and dangerous as what Noct's been doing--going down through Costlemark to collect relics of the Wills and selling them off. There are still people who are rich enough that they'd buy them, as little as Prompto wants to sell.
Noct frowns. "Eventually," he says, and it takes Prompto a moment to remember he's talking about a loan. "I don't know if I like it."
"I don't either," Prompto says. "But this..." He rests a hand on the place where the garulessa had pierced Noct's chest. "This can't happen again."
"I know," Noct says, and falls silent.
Was i ga yart yora - I can't wait to meet you
It's harder with Noct not hunting. Prompto works longer hours and spends a lot of time staring at his ledger. He knows how to handle a shoestring budget--his parents left him alone without money more than often enough. His lunches go on the chopping block--Noct should get all his nutrients in when his body's this screwed up, but Prompto's got no good reason to keep all three meals. His boot has a hole in the sole, but a few strips of duct tape on either side will keep it together until better times. They run out of paper towels and he doesn't buy more.
Still coming up red, but Prompto's going to fix that, maybe. He sighs and washes out the bowl of water from his little shrine. He's probably going to have to move it before the Blueberries start walking unless he wants to end up with water all over the floor. He wonders if there's someone out there who would be mad about that, or if they're all really gone.
He's really in a sulk if he's wondering about mortality. He's got more important things to worry about.
Noct's voice cuts through his reverie. "Hey. Prompto, get over here." It's an urgent, strained tone that Prompto absolutely does not like, and it gets him turned around and facing the couch immediately.
The TV is playing the news. They're live in Tenebrae--Prompto recognizes Fenestala Manor in the background. "--Queen of Tenebrae has had a tonic-clonic seizure while on the stairs. Prince Ravus issued a statement that the Oracle-Queen has sustained only minor injuries; however, due to some abdominal trauma, the unborn child may have been injured during the fall. Because of this risk the Oracle-Queen was airlifted to--"
Noct grabs Prompto's hand and holds it tight.
"She's gonna be okay," Prompto says.
"I know," Noct says. "Just- this is terrible."
"Yeah," Prompto agrees. "She's never had a seizure in public before, has she?"
"No," Noct murmurs. "I don't know if the public knew she has them, I wasn't paying attention..."
"But she's gonna be fine," Prompto says. "She's weathered worse publicity than this before. And April- They've got the best doctors in Tenebrae on it. She's gonna be okay." Even as he says it, though, he's not sure. Luna's at 29 weeks, if he remembers right. If something happened-
"They're gonna be fine," Noct says, but he doesn't let go of Prompto's hand for a long time.
The official statement is that Luna and the baby are fine, but Luna's stuck on bed rest for the rest of her pregnancy.
"I bet she's not a fan of that," Prompto says.
"It's to keep them safe," Noct says. He looks up from where he's cleaning his fishing gear. "What are they saying about the seizure?"
"There hasn't been a statement about it," Prompto says, skimming the article on his phone. "The media's full of questions but no one's answering."
"Now's a bad time for Luna to look weak," Noct says. "This is some awful luck for her."
"Yeah," Prompto says. "But everyone's okay."
"Yeah, everyone's fine," Noct says, a little more cheerfully. "I think I'm going to try fishing this afternoon. If nothing else we should get enough for dinner."
"That's great," Prompto says. Fishing shouldn't be too dangerous or straining. Most of it is just sitting still. "I'm going out."
Noct starts to say something, then stops. "Have a good day," he says instead.
Manual labor without lunch sucks, but Wiz makes sure all his employees take the appropriate number of breaks and makes Prompto take a turn at the counter of the gift shop when he starts shivering from the January chill. It's probably that kindness that gets Prompto to mention just why he needs more shifts.
Wiz smiles. "A generation that's never known the Scourge," he says. "Imagine that. No wonder you're makin' yourself so busy." He considers. "My niece isn't plannin' on any more little ones. I'll ask her about some baby clothes."
"Thank you," Prompto says.
"Don't worry about it," Wiz says, and leaves Prompto to tend the counter.
It's late by the time Prompto gets home. He smells a distinctive fishy scent when he comes in, and then spots Noct in the kitchen.
"How does it look?" asks Ignis, faintly distorted in the way that phones usually fuzz sounds.
Prompto stays quiet near the door, watching.
"It's white," Noct says. "And really flaky when I poke at it."
"Good," Ignis says. "Put a lid over the pan and take it off the heat. Now check on the green beans. Are they hot?"
"Um," Noct says. "Yeah-" He glances out of the kitchen and sees Prompto, and immediately turns red. "Prompto's home," he says.
"And you're finished," Ignis says.
"I'm gonna- umm-" Noct splutters. "I'm gonna go." He hangs up before Ignis has a chance to say anything else. He swallows and looks at Prompto. "I made dinner," he says.
"You did," Prompto replies. And he's relieved that he didn't have to come home and gut fish after working a twelve-hour shift. "Was Iggy helping you?"
"Yeah," Noct says. "I wasn't really confident I could do it on my own." He scratches at the back of his head. "C'mon. Let's eat."
The fish is a little overcooked, the rice is a little crunchy, and the green beans obviously came from a can. But it's perfectly edible, and further, Prompto didn't have to do it. "Thanks," he says.
"I know you're tired," Noct says. "But there's also something that you're not gonna like."
"What is it?" Prompto asks. "Are the babies okay? Is Luna-"
"Nothing like that," Noct says. "No. Ignis called about purchasing some of our land as a national historic site."
Prompto frowns. "What, our front yard?"
Noct shakes his head. "Ignis says Costlemark is legally yours. He wants to buy it, and the surrounding area."
Prompto's first thought is of Ardyn Singing him into submission. His second thought is Luna invading Niflheim to capture the Tower at Zegnautus Keep.
Then he imagines someone walking down into the depths of Costlemark, through the ruins, all the way to the Ark. He works at a Chocobo post. He couldn't stop anyone. He wouldn't even know they were there.
At least the Lucian government could post a guard to keep people out of the most pivotal areas, or notify Prompto of their presence.
And really, Prompto's not living forever, though he wonders what his lifespan is going to look like now. He has to make arrangements with someone eventually, for himself and for his children and anyone else.
But can he trust the Lucian government never to hurt him or his children? Maybe if Iris is the Queen, but it won't always be Iris, will it?
Prompto swallows hard. "Can we just eat? I'm tired."
Noct watches Prompto's face for a moment. "If you want." He takes a bite of fish. "I screwed this all up."
"It's not that bad," Prompto says.
"Not- Never mind," Noct says.
"I didn't know it was legally mine to begin with," Prompto tells Ignis.
Ignis hums, tinny over the phone line. "Ah, well, it's your heritage. The Crown recognized it was yours by birthright."
Prompto frowns. "You had something to do with that, didn't you?"
"I may have," Ignis admits.
Prompto has a flash of insight. "This isn't about ownership at all. This is you trying to give me money."
Ignis sighs. "If we buy it from you, the contract would name you as conservator," he says.
"You can be infuriating sometimes," Prompto says. He sighs. He needs the money, and if this is arranged just right--and Ignis would've tried--there would be little for him to really object to. "I know you've already written it up. Send it to me. Let me read it."
"Understood," Ignis says.
"And don't try this shit again," Prompto adds.
"Of course," Ignis says. "I simply thought- Prompto, you are attempting to restore a race that was subject to genocide. You should not have to do it entirely out of your own pocket."
Prompto considers this. "That's not why I'm doing it," he says.
"Nonetheless, it remains true," Ignis says.
Sometimes Ignis is a real headache. "I'll think about it. Send me that contract."
"Are you really sure you wanna do this?" Noct asks. "We can still back out."
"I want to get this settled," Prompto replies. "And then afterward we get presents." Not to mention the part where he gets to change out of his old dress uniform. He's lost muscle since he debuted this outfit, so now it's a smidge too big for him, but with some careful use of safety pins it's not obvious.
Noct, in a more sensible suit, reaches forward and fiddles with one of the ribbons at Prompto's waist. "All right," he says. "I'm ready if you are."
"Then let's go," Prompto says.
Ignis is waiting for them at the door to the throne room. "I do apologize if I overstepped-"
"We're doing this," Prompto interrupts. It's already done, really--they already had the money two weeks ago. All that's left is to create the public record.
Ignis nods. "Very well." He pushes the door open, then calls, "Your Majesty, may I present Lord Prompto Argentum and the Honorable Noctis Argentum." He leads them forward into the room, down to the space in front of the throne.
Iris waits for them on the throne in what Prompto knows is her least favorite dress, but she's not their only audience. Gladio stands guard behind and to the right of her. Members of the Council, though not all of them, stand on the right side of the room, and a few members of the public stand on the left. Everyone's looking at them.
And of course Prompto has to do the talking, because now he outranks Noct.
Prompto and Noct kneel before the throne until Iris says, "Rise." She's not quite managing to conceal how desperate she is to get this over with. "You may speak."
"Your Majesty, I come before you to cede the region including Costlemark Tower to the Crown of Lucis, in accordance with the agreement drafted by Duke Scientia," Prompto says, hoping it isn't completely obvious he memorized the words off some cue cards.
"We accept the terms of the agreement," Iris says. "In accordance, we grant you a sum of money for the region, and we grant you and your descendants the rights and responsibilities of stewardship of that territory."
"Thank you, Your Majesty," Prompto says.
Iris smiles with just a hint of mischief. "Of course." She gives it a moment, almost so long that Prompto wants to bow and retreat, but then she squares her shoulders and speaks again--absolutely off script. "We have been made aware that young Reyvateils are to be born once more in the country of Lucis." Of course she knows that--she's coming to the baby shower.
"Yes, Your Majesty," Prompto says.
"We wish to take this opportunity to make a promise," Iris says. She rises from the throne. "By the Wills of Eos, neither the Crown of Lucis nor the line of Amicitia will not permit any child, human or Reyvateil, to be born solely for purposes of war or violence."
Prompto feels the faintest hint of power in the air, like a gentle breeze. Eos still remembers, then.
Iris smiles again. "We are not worried about you making that mistake, Lord Argentum," she says. "Court is dismissed." She walks away from the throne and through a back door, and the room erupts into chaos behind her.
Prompto can't help it and laughs hard enough he starts to list into Noct's side.
"Taking cues from Luna," Prompto giggles.
"This suit is a rental," Noct says. "Let's get out of here."
They change clothes in a room that Ignis was thankfully able to close off for that purpose, because Prompto attracts a lot of attention in formal attire. Ignis even promises to take care of returning the suit, so they just leave it there and walk out to the truck in casual clothes.
"I didn't even need to be there," Noct grumbles.
"I would've been terrified," Prompto replies. "Come on. Can't be late to our own baby shower."
"Especially if we're gonna call Luna," Noct says. "Yeah, we're going."
They're the first to arrive at the Royal Institute, and Prompto takes the opportunity to get a good look at the blueberries. They're definitely not berry-size anymore--each one is almost as big as Prompto's fist. They really look like tiny babies instead of strange little fish now. They're still in their probably-protective sacs on either side of the tank, with wires coming in from either side. There are at least twice the wires that Prompto remembers connected to each side, though, and a tiny tube full of something dark pokes through the sac into all four tiny feet.
Prompto taps on the glass--and they wriggle in response.
"Oh, hello," Prompto says. "I'm your daddy."
Noct comes over. "I'm your other daddy," he says. "We love you."
"Was yea ra inferia yora," Prompto says.
Noct blushes a little. "What he said," he mumbles.
A click and flash of light herald a camera going off. Prompto turns around to Iris in casual attire, grinning and wielding her cell phone in one hand with a large box tucked under her arm. Gladio is only an arm's length away from her carrying his own box. "Lemme see the babies," Iris says.
Prompto steps away from the tank with a little reluctance. "Here," he says.
"Wow," Iris says, and snaps another picture. "Hey, little guys. I'm your rich auntie Iris. I'm gonna get you lots of cool presents and spoil you rotten, okay?" It doesn't really seem like the twins respond to that, but she doesn't seem bothered. "Have you called Luna yet?"
"I'm working on it," Noct says. He takes his phone out of his pocket.
"This is from her," Gladio says, setting a small, weighty box in Prompto's hands. "She sent it to us so you couldn't open it early."
Noct lifts up his phone. He's got Luna on a video call. She's got her phone propped up on something in front of her as she sits on her bed, and wow, she is very pregnant. "Go on, open it," she says, grinning. "I've only got a few minutes."
Prompto opens the box and finds a blanket--no, there are two of them, sized to swaddle an infant. They're pastel purple, and so soft that it's impossible to resist running his hands over them. "They're beautiful," he says, passing one over to Noct.
"Yeah," Noct agrees. "Thank you."
Luna beams. "They're light, so they won't overheat your little summer babies." She pauses and looks at something off the screen. "I'm sorry, I have to leave- I wish you well."
"Thank you," Prompto says, and then Luna hangs up.
Ignis arrives next, pushing a handcart. There's a very large gift, and balanced on top is a cake box and a bottle of what appears to be wine. "Ah, did I miss Queen Lunafreya?" he asks.
"She only had a minute or so," Noct says apologetically. "What all do you have?"
"You will have to open it to see," Ignis says, laying the cake box on one of the lab tables. "I hope these were cleaned."
"Of course there were," Dr. Fio says, wearing his familiar lab coat. "I can't stay, but here." He thrusts an envelope into Noct's hand. "Congratulations. Please wipe down the tables before you leave." He turns on his heel and vanishes before anyone can ask him a single question.
Cid and Cindy arrive shortly after that, and Cor is next. They all have sizeable packages on hand, big enough that it makes Prompto worried. Wiz comes in with a box too, but at least Prompto's pretty sure he knows what's inside and that it didn't cost him a lot of money.
Ignis uncorks the bottle of what turns out to be sparkling blueberry juice and distributes a moist vanilla-flavored cake. Everyone's eyes are on the tank and the babies floating inside. Prompto and Noct are subject to a barrage of questions, only some of which they can answer.
After everyone has eaten, it's time to open gifts. They start with envelopes: Dr. Fio left them a gift card to a baby supply store, and it turns out Dave sent Cid with one as well.
Wiz, as expected, brought a full box of baby clothes in yellows and greens. "They're used, but I figure you'll save a lot on buying new." He also produces a pair of chocobo plushies that Prompto recognizes from the gift shop, one pink and one blue, small enough for a little child to hold.
Ignis brought them a pair of unassembled cribs, mahogany with a glossy finish and with mattresses included. The price sticker for each has been carefully removed, but it's obvious they must have been expensive. "One does not compromise on craftsmanship when buying products for babies," he says. "If you require assistance assembling them, feel free to ask."
Cid and Cindy presented them with two car seats. "You'll be needin' them if you're drivin' the little ones all the way back from Insomnia," Cid explains gruffly, and then launches into a lecture about how the seats need to face the back, and how long to use booster seats, and "if you get into an accident, get new car seats even if they look fine," ending only when Cindy gently prodded him to suggest this could all be detailed later.
Gladio's gift is a changing table, unassembled like the cribs. It has the same glossy mahogany finish as the cribs, like it had come as part of a set. The little pad to set the baby on comes with four covers in different colors, each of which can be thrown in the washer.
Iris brought baby bottles--ten of them. There's also a canister of baby formula and a pair of bibs that read "Daddy is my Favorite." Iris giggles. "Because you're both daddy," she says.
"This is all really nice," Prompto says, because it is. Everything is nice, and everyone clearly spent a lot of money on this, and this will go a long way toward furnishing the nursery and getting everything ready for the Blueberries. It's almost too nice. It makes him a little nervous.
"Thank you," Noct says. "All of you."
"Yeah," Prompto says. "Thanks a lot."
"Don't worry about it," Gladio says. "Just send us lots of pictures."
"I can do that," Prompto says.
Putting together the nursery makes it start to feel real. Prompto's on his knees with a paint roller loaded with sunny yellow paint. It's getting uncomfortable, but he doesn't really mind. He thinks of the Blueberries playing on the floor in this bright and sunny room and feels warm from head to toe.
"Hey," Noct says. "I was wondering."
"What is it?" Prompto asks.
"The Blueberries," he says. "Someone's going to need to take care of them during the day."
"Yeah," Prompto says. "I was looking for a daycare." He wasn't yet, actually. There were so many other more pressing problems. But he had been thinking about how he should be looking for a daycare.
Noct hesitates. "What if I just stay with them?" Before Prompto has any idea what he wants to say, Noct keeps going. "I mean, if I'm not doing hunting or politics, then we shouldn't spend the money on daycare, right? I know I don't know a lot about kids, but you're getting leave so we'll figure it out together, and... and when you go back to work then I can just... stay with them." He's blushing deep scarlet.
"You want to be a stay-at-home dad?" Prompto asks.
"I could do it," Noct says defensively.
"I never said you couldn't," Prompto replies. He considers the idea for awhile. "I think you could do it if it was really what you wanted."
"I want to," Noct says. "I've been thinking about it."
"Okay," Prompto says. "I mean, you can change your mind. But I'm not trying to say no." He thinks it's cute, really. He never would have imagined Noct as a stay-at-home parent, but the mental image is coming into focus and he likes what he's seeing.
Luna's baby shower gift--a baby bath with a sylleblossom emblem that Noct found on sale--is still in the mail when it happens. Noct gets a text not long after Prompto finishes work: "April has decided she wants to be born in February."
It's too early, a month and a half before Luna's due date, but there's no question. It's not those practice contractions that Prompto's vaguely aware exist. Luna's water broke and everything. The baby's coming.
"Maybe Reyvateils just gestate faster," Noct says wildly. "Or different. The Blueberries aren't like normal babies, Dr. Fio said, so maybe-"
"It's gonna be fine," Prompto says, resting a hand on Noct's shoulder. "They have some of the best doctors in the world with her."
"I wish I could be there. Even though I can't do anything anymore." Noct stares down at his hands.
Prompto knows that the loss of Noct's magic is a complicated topic, one that it's not always safe to broach, and now seems like it's not the time. Instead, he pulls Noct into a hug. "Hey. Did I tell you that the Blueberries are already pinging the server?"
"Huh?" Noct asks, clearly confused right out of his funk.
"It's true," Prompto says. "Nobody else it could be. They don't have proper addresses, so they can't actually do anything, but something in them obviously knows it's there."
"So..." Noct makes a face. "So it's like you can feel them moving."
"Kind of," Prompto says. "They're there, at least."
"And they're in one piece," Noct says.
"Yup," Prompto says. "They're fine. And I bet that Luna can tell April's fine too." He hums. "Did she tell you what her real name is going to be?"
"She said she wasn't sure," Noct says.
"She'd better make up her mind soon," Prompto says. He grins. "The press is going to lose its shit. April's not going to look a thing like you."
Noct smiles. "Yeah. I wonder how long it'll take for them to figure it out."
"I might have to take time off work again," Prompto sighs. It's not so much of a problem with the influx of money from Ignis, but he still doesn't really like being stuck at home hiding. He'd rather be doing something.
"We'll see how it goes," Noct says. "I'm surprised they weren't all over us after that stunt Iris pulled."
"I think they missed the significance." Prompto sighs. "One of us has gotta make dinner."
"We can order out," Noct says, checking his phone.
Luna texts Noct a couple dozen more times as the night progresses, complaining about how long it's taking. They keep vigil, glued to Noct's phone, waiting for something to happen. Around three in the morning, she stops sending messages.
"That means it's probably really happening," Noct says. "Right?"
"Yeah," Prompto says. "Not long now. Well, in comparison."
And a little after five, while Prompto's dozing against Noct on the couch, Luna sends them a picture. A selfie with a tiny infant cradled to her chest. It's hard to make out the details of the baby's appearance from the angle, but the baby definitely has a full head of blonde hair. Then Luna sends one last text: "Her name is Astra."
The news coverage begins in earnest that morning. Prompto tries to convince himself he's awake enough to go to work while talking heads discuss baby Astra: her early birth and the supplementary oxygen she's being given just in case, her conspicuously blonde hair, the ring of illegible scribbles--probably her Installer Port--on her tiny arm.
"C'mon," Noct says. "Come cuddle. They're going to figure out it's you and reporters are gonna swarm us, anyway."
"They haven't figured it out yet," Prompto says, only half paying attention. "They're saying Astra is Luna's clone now."
"They're going to figure it out eventually," Noct says. "They know about the trip and they know you went. Trust me."
Prompto sighs. "I guess." He really is tired. He picks up the phone to call in and it starts to ring in his hand.
Prompto answers, of course. "Yeah, what's up?" he asks muzzily.
"Was it you?" Ignis asks.
"Was what me?" Prompto counters.
Ignis sighs. "Are you Astra's biological father?"
Prompto hesitates maybe a little too long.
"You are," Ignis says. He sounds a little impressed.
"She wanted to be sure she'd have a Reyvateil baby," Prompto explains. "And we're friends and stuff."
Ignis huffs a laugh. "Now all the nobility are going to want designer babies," he says. "At any rate, I called to warn you that the press is on the way. I was asked what type of relationship you have with Luna when someone from the newspaper called."
Prompto sighs. "They're not gonna want to let up on that, are they?"
"Eventually every news cycle ends," Ignis says.
Noct comes up behind Prompto, practically stomping his feet, and drapes himself over Prompto's back with a little tug. "I should call out of work," Prompto says.
"Perhaps you should," Ignis says. "Good luck."
They say their goodbyes, and then Prompto turns in Noct's grip. "Yeah, yeah. Let me call out of work like I was gonna," he says.
"Call out from in the bed," Noct protests.
Prompto smiles. "You'll be too cuddly for me to use the phone. Just give me a minute."
Noct pouts a little, but he removes his limbs from Prompto. "I'll be waiting." He slinks off to the bedroom like a cat whose mouse got away.
But Prompto really does want to join him, so he makes the call as quickly as he can.
Luna, unsurprisingly, is busy being a single parent with a newly expanded country to run. She does find the time to send at least one picture of Astra every day, though: swaddled up cozy in a bassinet, peering up out of a baby sling, being held by an uncomfortable-looking ambassador.
Just a few months more, and Prompto can have that too.
In the meantime, there are other things to think about. The press gives up on getting Prompto to comment after a few days, and Prompto goes back to work, wrapping up as many things as he can so he won't be needed as much when he goes on paternity leave. They spend entire evenings talking about potential names for the Blueberries. They go shopping for the essentials that they don't already have.
February turns to March, March turns to April. The next time they visit the Blueberries, they're outside of the sacs that had enclosed them and drift freely in the tank, connected by an umbilical cord of wire and tubing. After that, they're off to the entrance ceremony for Iris' new high school--a special program for students whose education had been disrupted by the fall of Insomnia.
In May they settle on the names for the babies. Prompto Sings under his breath, and the Blueberries suddenly have a proper server address. It's a mass of junk data and he can tell, but--but they're tiny little people and they have tiny little souls and the weight of it has him sobbing for an hour.
"They're real," Prompto says, bawling.
Noct holds him close. "You better not be like this when we bring them home," he says, but after Prompto explained what happened he was all choked up too.
June feels endless. Astra starts to babble in perfect pitch. Iris has a shouting match with the Council after going on a date with a commoner, and while no one is brave enough to actually ask him, Gladio says the rumors are that Ignis has gone on more than one date himself. Noct finds a rocking chair at a yard sale and drags it home as a last piece for their nursery. Prompto gets to watch a chocobo chick hatch, which is less exciting than it would have been a year ago but still interesting.
Then it's July, and that stretches on too, until finally... finally Dr. Fio calls. "Your children are ready when you are," he says.
The car's paid for, and Noct already packed a week ago in a fit of impatience: car seats in place and checked by Cid, diaper bag tucked into the middle seat. They scramble to get inside. Noct really pushes the speed limit on their way into Insomnia.
"They're not going to take the babies out without us," Prompto says.
"I'll drive slower when we have them," Noct says.
When they arrive at the Royal Institute, it's early enough that the place is nearly empty. Prompto's glad--that means fewer people are going to see them, and that means they'll maintain their privacy a little longer. They haul the car seats into the building, thrumming with anticipation.
Dr. Fio waits for them in the now-familiar room, along with the doctor whose name Prompto can't remember and is too embarrassed to ask. They're both wearing green gloves that reach up past the elbow. They look relaxed, not at all anxious, and the calm vibe reassures Prompto a little. They don't expect anything to go wrong. He shouldn't either.
"Good morning," Dr. Fio says. He gestures toward the tank. "The little ones are ready to be born. Their heartbeats are strong; they've got good color; their lungs are prepared to breathe air. It's not going to do them much good floating in this tank forever."
Prompto steps closer to the glass. "So what's going to happen?"
"We're going to disconnect them from the sides of the tank," says the doctor. "Then, when they're fully disconnected, we'll take them out of the growth fluid, make sure they're still doing okay, patch them up a little... and the rest is up to you."
Prompto takes a deep breath. "Okay," he says. "Then let's do it."
"Which one first?" Dr. Fio asks.
Prompto and Noct look at each other. "I guess... the one on the left," Noct says.
"The girl," the doctor says. "All right."
It doesn't take long at all. The wires and tubing seem to take no more than a solid tug to remove, and then they're lifting her out of the tank. She has Noct's dark black hair, but her eyes are Prompto's shade of blue. She doesn't breathe for just long enough that Prompto starts to worry, but then Dr. Fio gives her a gentle thwap on the bottom and she wails in response.
The other baby shifts in the tank. "Don't worry, you're next," Prompto says.
The doctor slips off his glove and stuffs a cotton ball into the dent left by the tubing, then tapes over it with a strip of surgical tape. Then he offers the baby to the two of them.
Noct steps forward before Prompto can even gather his thoughts, cradling his still-crying daughter in his arms. "Hello," he says softly. "Welcome to the world."
"Ready for the next one?"
Prompto's not even sure who asked, but he turns to see that the scientists have moved back to stand next to the tank. "Yes," he says.
Their little boy is next. He looks almost identical to his sister. He doesn't take any coaxing to breathe and starts to scream almost instantly. A cotton ball goes into his belly button, a strip of tape goes over that, and then-
And then the baby carefully goes into Prompto's arms.
"Hey," Prompto murmurs. "I'm your daddy."
He takes in the little squalling bundle in his arms for a moment. It's then that he sees there's some kind of marking on his son--his son--on his son's foot. He carefully shifts his grip to get a better look at it.
The Hymmnos word diasee is written in a little circle.
Child of God, huh.
"Did you put the Installer Ports on them?" Prompto asks.
"No," Dr. Fio says. "They grew in."
Prompto wonders if there's any real meaning for a full three seconds before he realizes how little it matters in the face of his children.
"What are their names?" Dr. Fio asks.
"This is Sona," Noct says. "And the one Prompto's holding is Vox."
There are a few things left to do before leaving. First, each baby gets a sponge bath with warm water to clean off the "growth fluid," which sounds more gross the more Prompto thinks about it. Then it's diapers and onesies--that should be enough in the July heat. Finally, though, Noct scoops up Vox and Prompto lifts Sona, and it's time to go home.
"We'll see you for your one-week checkup, but call right away if there's a problem," the doctor says.
"Right," Noct replies. "Thank you very much."
"We'll see you," Prompto agrees, leading the way out of the room.
"They're ours," Noct murmurs as they walk down the hallway.
"Yeah," Prompto says. "They really are."
"We forgot to buy a stroller," Noct continues.
"We'll get one," Prompto says. "One of those cute double ones."
The parking lot is filling a little, but it's still early. There's not a lot to see. Prompto keeps his head down--it's not hard when everything in him wants to be staring at his child--and hopes not to be recognized and told on by the woman who walks past them with a coffee on hand.
Strapping in the babies isn't too hard since the seats are put in already--it's simply a matter of buckling them into place. Still, Prompto lingers over Vox a moment, making sure the straps are tight and then leaning down to kiss his little forehead. "Was yea ra inferia yor," he murmurs, before finally moving up to the front seat.
The babies sleep through most of the ride home, though Sona wakes up and fusses for a few moments before falling asleep again. Prompto cranes his neck from the front seat to check up on them while Noct drives like a man four times his age, and it takes an eternity to get home.
But they do make it home, and they bring the babies inside, and Prompto's heart is so full it could burst.
It is not easy to parent newborns, even if they were grown in a tank instead of being born the traditional way. They don't sleep on any particular schedule at first. Their cries are piercingly loud, and one of them crying tends to set the other off even if nothing else is wrong. Vox hates it when Prompto or Noct put him down in his crib, and Sona always seems to want to eat but will only eat a tiny bit at a time.
But every time Prompto sees Noct with one of their children, he feels strong again.
And Noct is good with them, even when they're this little. He's better at guessing what's wrong when one of them starts crying, and it always seems to soothe them when he holds them to his chest. Prompto is honestly a little jealous, when he's not too tired to feel anything but tired.
It's on the way to the one-week checkup that the first strange thing happens. As expected, Vox is unhappy about having been put down, and his crying is enough to push Sona into tears as well. It's not safe to pick them up in the car, and Noct's driving, so it falls to Prompto to try to get them to settle.
In a fit of desperation, Prompto starts to Sing to them. "Wee ki ra murfan near en crushue..." It's not a lullaby, but maybe the Hymmnos will get through to them.
It does. His children go silent.
It does, and when Prompto turns to look at them, the babies' eyes shine in a bright gold light.
Prompto wouldn't call his reaction panic exactly. He doesn't shout or do anything that would have Noct swerving off the road. He cuts off Singing immediately and digs in his pocket for his cell phone, then texts Luna: "did your baby get glowing eyes because ours got glowing eyes when i sang for them."
Almost immediately he gets a response: "You have your babies?"
And Prompto realizes that they never actually told anyone that they'd brought the little ones home. "Oops," he mumbles.
"Prom?" Noct asks.
"We uhh. Didn't tell anyone about the babies," Prompto says.
"...Oh," Noct says. "We sure didn't."
"I uhh-" Prompto pauses as his phone buzzes with a new message.
"Have the Blueberries left the tanks? Or are they in the tank and acting weird?"
Prompto swallows. "I don't know how we're gonna tell them," he says.
"Just take their picture and text them when we're at the appointment," Noct says. "They knew they couldn't come because of the press and nobody could tell a one week old baby from one that was just born."
Luna sends another text: "Prompto, you can't just text me that!"
"We might be in trouble already," Prompto says. He swallows and types, "pics later!" Then he turns his attention back to the babies. Sona and Vox, luckily enough, seem to have fallen asleep. At the very least their eyes aren't open and glowing anymore. "I hate being so far out of town at times like this..."
The twins are pronounced mostly normal one-week-olds at the appointment, although Dr. Fio takes a strong interest in the glowing-eye incident. Still, there's nothing wrong, and they arrange to meet again when the babies are a month old.
Prompto finally sends out pictures and confesses they were late. There's some gentle scolding, but for the most part everyone is kind about it, given they're getting pictures of cute babies.
The babies don't do much other than eat, sleep, soil their diapers, and cry through the first month. Prompto wonders if all infants are this loud or if they've got extra volume from being Reyvateils. Either way, he's more exhausted and worn thin than he had ever imagined. Still...
There's Noct, half-asleep with a baby in each arm, humming an off-key lullaby. There's the way that Sona and Vox grip his fingertip. There's the way the twins seem to become more and more awake each day, the way they're slowly more reactive in tiny, subtle ways. And... well, there's coffee. And with all of that, Prompto makes it through one day at a time.
"We'd be taking them to the temple soon," Noct says. "At a month old."
"For what?" Prompto asks.
"Nobles brought their babies to the temple when they were about a month old, to have them blessed and show them to the Astrals. Well, and everyone else too. It would've been the first time the family met them." Noct glances over at Prompto's shrine, which has been relocated significantly further from the floor. "Feels a little strange."
"We could try to do... something," Prompto says. He has no idea what it would be, but it seems like the right thing to say.
"It'd clue the press in," Noct remarks.
"They'll find out sometime anyway," Prompto says. He tries to think. "We could- it wouldn't be the same, I know, but Ignis and Gladio and Iris want to meet them. We could go visit."
"We could," Noct says. "They've got a one-month doctor appointment anyway, so we could just go afterward."
"I'll call Ignis," Prompto says. "See if the guys can squeeze us in."
"Yeah," Noct says. "That'd be good."
Sona and Vox pass their one-month appointment with flying colors. Dr. Fio tells them that their hearing is clearly better developed than an average baby and a little experimenting reveals that they strongly prefer Noct and Prompto's voices--even though they didn't have months in the womb learning those particular sounds. They get their first vaccines, which neither of them appreciate.
On the way out, Prompto realizes the tank isn't empty. On one side, there's a tiny clump connected to a wire. "Who's that?" he asks, before he can stop himself.
"They'd prefer to maintain confidentiality," Dr. Fio says. Which is fair, but has Prompto even more curious, because how many people even knew this was happening? Who could afford it?
Still, there's more to do. Noct's got his shirt on inside-out and has to take it off and put it back on while they're in the car, and the babies need a diaper change before they can make for their next destination.
The Citadel has a lot less security than it did when Regis was still the king. There's a single guard at a checkpoint who recognizes Noct and waves the car through, and there's one that nods them through the front door with a very interested look at the stroller Prompto's pushing. There are people in the halls of the Citadel, but not one of them is in uniform. Some of them gawk openly.
Well, that's how it's going to be.
They take the elevator up and make a few turns until they're in a part of the Citadel that Prompto's never visited before: the Royal Quarters. There's no one to prevent them from being there, which feels a little strange, but Iris never goes anywhere without Gladio as her shadow, so Prompto supposes that's all right.
Noct knocks on one of the doors--clearly, he knows where he's going already, he used to actually live here--and Gladio answers. He breaks into a smile when he sees who's there. "Come on, get them in," he says, and tugs the babies inside by the front of the stroller. Prompto and Noct follow.
The room they're in is some kind of rich-people living room. The furniture is ancient, old-fashioned stuff, but its arrangement and the sheer quantity of knickknacks make it feel more casual. Iris, dressed in her school uniform, is spreading a blanket over one of the couches. Ignis sets down a tray with mugs on the table, and Prompto smells coffee and nearly groans with relief.
"Let us see them," Iris says, brushing the blanket into place and turning toward her guests.
"They're right here," Noct says. On cue, Sona begins to fuss.
It's reflex now to reach for them when they make noise, but before Prompto can even get to the front of the stroller, Gladio's already picked Sona up, settling her perfectly in his arms. Prompto is reminded of how much younger than him Iris is.
"What's she want?" Gladio asks, bouncing Sona a little.
"She's probably hungry," Noct replies. "She's always hungry." He digs into the diaper bag. "We brought formula, we just gotta-"
"Let me handle it," Ignis says. "Have some coffee."
Noct looks at Ignis for a few moments and they have some kind of silent conversation, which ends in Noct handing Ignis the diaper bag and practically crashing onto the couch. "Coffee sounds great."
Prompto still has a powerful hovering instinct to grab onto his babies and not share, but he's trusted these people with his life probably hundreds of times over and they've always pulled through. He can let them play with his babies. He sinks into one of the chairs, then realizes he's forgotten to get coffee.
Well, he can get it in a minute.
He doesn't know how much later it is that he feels someone shake his shoulder. He blinks a few times. Sona and Vox are bundled back into the stroller. Noct's repacking the diaper bag. Did he sleep through everything?
Iris smiles at him. "We figured you needed the sleep," she says. "Coffee before you go?"
Prompto nods. "Coffee," he says, trying to get himself back together.
When they get home, Noct's pensive and quiet, sitting in the rocking chair in the nursery and staring at a blank spot on the wall.
"Noct?" Prompto asks, softly so he doesn't wake the babies.
"Today was okay," Noct says. "I'm... okay."
Prompto reaches out a hand. "Nap with me while they're sleeping?"
Noct looks up, and takes Prompto's hand. "Yeah," he says, and breaks into a smile. "Yeah, let's do that."
Writing in serial format is basically an endless game of "let's pretend I did that on purpose"
"I have no idea how Luna's doing it," Prompto mumbles, looking at the picture of Astra--she's sitting up unsupported for the first time, according to the rest of the text. "She's got to be exhausted."
"She probably has a nursemaid helping her," Noct replies. "And I heard that by about six months, babies sleep better at night."
"That'd be nice," Prompto says. "Wish you'd sleep better, little monster." He gently rubs Sona's head. The babies' hair had all fallen out, which is supposed to be common in newborns, so she's bald. But that doesn't make her any less cute because she and her brother have figured out--there it is.
They've figured out smiling.
When Prompto's paternity leave runs out, it's going to be pretty hard to go back to work. Wiz was really generous to give him three months. A lot of places don't give any leave at all. He doesn't know how either of them would survive without it. It's rewarding every day, but it's rough work.
And now that they're two months old and Prompto's getting a little more rest, there's something that he wants to figure out.
The babies' eyes always glow when Prompto Sings to them. Sometimes they glow when he just normally sings to them. A few times, they've glowed just because he's walked into the room. And they each have diasee on the bottom of one foot.
He wonders how literally he's supposed to take that.
"Thanks for coming out with me," Prompto says. He's jittery--he hasn't been away from the twins for longer than a quick grocery run since bringing them home, and here he is about to go down in a dungeon with Ignis. "I really don't know what we're going to find."
Ignis rests his hands on the daggers at his hips. "That's what these are for," he says primly. "Now, what exactly are we looking for?"
"I don't know," Prompto admits, slowly loading his gun. He might be rusty. He hasn't even been keeping the gun at the house. "This might just be me being paranoid. But if there's anything, it'll be down in the Ark."
"Understood," Ignis says. He probably expected as much. "At least we won't have to contend with daemons."
And so the pair step out of the car and walk toward Costlemark Tower.
There's a lot more small wildlife around than Prompto remembers, but that makes sense. Daemons had always seemed to prefer humans, but they would eat other things if they couldn't get people: wild chocobos, stray cats, even chipmunks and songbirds. Now that the threat is gone, things daemons ate are on the rebound. The scientists are all very interested in how it would turn out. Prompto's just hoping they don't run into hundlegs looking for an easy snack.
It's quiet, though, and as they wait for night to fall, they lapse into conversation. "Did you tell Noct what we're here for?" Ignis asks.
"Kinda. I mean, I don't really know what I'm here for," Prompto admits. "I just... wonder."
"Wonder what?" Ignis pushes, as the runes shift their glow and stone rumbles.
"Well," Prompto says. "I guess..." He leads the way forward. Even now, this place draws him in. "I think maybe the thing with the glowing eyes, with the twins... I think maybe it's not them, exactly."
"You believe it's you," Ignis says.
"Well," Prompto says. "The Wills--I mean, they granted me all that power, right? But I don't... I used a lot of it, then, obviously. But..."
Ignis shoves what looks like a dead mouse to the side with his foot and looks up and down the corridor. "Have you been getting stronger?"
"Not exactly," Prompto says. "Nothing's happened by accident, or gone off harder than I meant it to." He takes a moment, thinks about how to phrase it. "But... all those crystals I used to need to, well, not die," he starts.
"Yes?" Ignis asks.
"They don't- my body won't take them anymore," Prompto says. "It's just like if you press them against normal skin. It's been years. And I'm- I'm obviously not dead."
"Quite," Ignis says. "Does Noct know about that?"
"He's the one that first- ran into difficulty. He thought he had the angle wrong or it was the wrong position or something."
Ignis chuckles softly.
Prompto feels his cheeks go hot. "Hey," he grumbles. "Anyway. Noct knows. We just sort of took it as a side effect, though, and hadn't thought much about what it meant."
"And now you think it means something," Ignis concludes.
"I don't know what I'm going to do even if I'm right," Prompto says. "So this really is a dumb trip." He sees movement and pauses, but his flashlight reveals it's only a bug, and a normal-sized one at that.
"There is no shame in the pursuit of knowledge," Ignis tells him.
It's an uneventful trip down. Some part of Prompto is disappointed, but the rest of him is glad he's not wasting time. The sooner he gets home, the better.
Finally, they reach the bottom, and walk up to the door to the Ark. It's closed. He's going to feel real dumb if they came all the way down here and he can't get the door-
There's a hum of electricity, and the sound of a pre-recorded voice through a speaker. "Welcome, Hymmnosphere." The door slides open.
Prompto glances at Ignis, as if he would know why that happened. He glances behind them. Nobody else. Nothing interesting in the entire room, except them. So he takes a deep breath and squares his shoulders and steps forward.
It's just as he remembers it, and he can't decide if that's how he wants it to be. He only knew the Wills a little, but it doesn't feel right to stroll right through their home when they aren't there.
If there was anything left for him here, where would it be?
The computers. This place still has power. Maybe they left him a note.
So Prompto walks down the hall and turns toward the room filled with monitors. They're blank, but they wink into life all at once as he crosses the threshold.
"Welcome, Hymmnosphere," the voice repeats. "New user prompts are currently enabled."
Prompto looks at the center of the room. There's a scorch mark on the floor. He remembers feeling like he was going to burn alive, here.
He turns his attention to the monitors. They show a wide range of locations: places that Prompto recognizes. There's Fenestala Manor, from the outside and- that's inside Luna's bedroom, Prompto thinks, and he can just make out Astra's tiny form in a bassinet. There's the Citadel, from outside, and the throne room, and the living room of the Royal Quarters. There's at least six views of Zegnautus Keep, and ten views of Costlemark and even more of the Ark itself.
There's... there's Prompto's house. The outside. The living room. The bedroom, and the nursery.
"Why is my house on a monitor?" Prompto asks, a little nervousness creeping into his tone.
"This room's displays are currently set to display locations calculated to be of importance," the voice informs him.
"What things are of importance?" Prompto asks.
"Song Towers," the voice states. "Stages of political discussion. This facility. The residence of any living Wills of Eos."
Prompto swallows. "Who do you think I am?" he asks.
"Current user is Hymmnosphere, Will of Eos," the computer states, like it's nothing. "Would you like to change the way you are addressed by the system?"
"Call me Prompto," he says, feeling a little like he might pass out.
"User designation changed to Prompto," the computer says.
"Does he have any new messages?" Ignis asks, and Prompto has a flicker of hope. Maybe they left something, something to explain all this.
"User not recognized."
"Do I have any new messages?" Prompto asks, praying.
"Prompto has no new messages," the computer reports.
"Shit," Prompto mutters, and sits down on the bare floor.