They’re in a cavern, somewhere by Cauthess, taking care of a daemon’s nest with a group of hunters. He and Iggy heard the intel—apparently there’s a couple of tougher, newer daemons the hunters don’t have much info on—and volunteered to join the hunt.
All in all, it’s pretty easy stuff. Gladio hears the click of a camera as a hunter takes photos of the new daemons and he and Iggy trade quips and flirt like it’s just another date.
Then Gladio hears Noct’s scream—something straight out of his nightmares, something he’s sworn to himself never to hear. It’s high, guttural, like somebody’s yanking his organs straight out of his chest and it’s filled with so much pain that Gladio’s first instinct is to drop everything and run straight to Noct’s side.
But Noct isn’t here, he’s gone, he’s been gone for five years and counting and he’s certainly not going to appear so suddenly in a dark cave filled with daemons. Gladio remembers hunters talking about daemons that can imitate human voices, like Melusine, and it’s not hard to imagine what has Noct’s voice. It comes from deeper inside the cavern, where the lights of their lanterns don’t reach and Gladio has no doubt that the daemon is trying to lure them deeper into the nest.
(But how does it know to imitate Noct, of all people? How did it learn to scream like Noct? The implications are all wrong and Gladio refuses to think about them).
The other hunters hear the daemon, too, but Gladio only barks at them to keep fighting. They probably don’t even recognize the voice. Ignis, on the other hand…
He’s standing stock-still, unseeing gaze focused on the interior of the cave. Slowly, like he’s in a trance, he takes one step forward—one step deeper into the cave. He drops his daggers, the sound of metal clashing against rock echoing around the room like a death knell.
“Iggy!” Gladio shouts and sprints across the cave towards him, daemons be damned. He ignores everything, mind set only on Ignis, who’s still got that shell-shocked expression on. Noct’s screams haven’t let up and god, they tear at Gladio’s ears. It’s not him, it’s not him, Gladio tells himself but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s probably not going to get any sleep tonight.
Gladio grabs Ignis’ arm and he doesn’t even react, only lightly tugging on Gladio’s grip as he continues to try and walk deeper into the cave.
“Iggy,” Gladio tries again. “Listen to me. That’s not him. That’s not him. It’s fake, okay? It’s only a daemon.”
“No,” Ignis says, his voice hoarse. “That’s Noct. He’s—he’s here, he’s hurt, he needs me. I—I need to—”
He tugs on Gladio’s grip, nearly dislodging himself. Gladio wraps one hand around his waist, the other still clutching his arm as Ignis begins to fight his way out of Gladio’s grip. “Stop! Ignis, stop! That’s not Noct!”
“ No! Noct is in trouble, let go of me! Let go!”
Ignis thrashes desperately in Gladio’s arms, attacking him, eyes trained on the cave where Noct—no, the daemon continues to scream. He yells at the top of his lungs, calling to attention the rest of the daemons in the cave. Gladio can’t hold Ignis and keep the daemons off ‘em at the same time.
“ Castor,” Gladio yells to another one of the hunters. “Cover me!”
The sound of a sword cutting through flesh is his answer.
“Ignis, I need you to calm down and listen to me, okay? That’s a daemon. Noct’s not down there!”
“ Shut up,” Ignis hisses. His eyes are watering and his voice is shaking, weak and filled with so much hate— and it’s all directed towards Gladio. “Why are you stopping me? Noct needs our help, we need to help him, Gladio, he’s in pain!”
With one, loud grunt, Ignis pushes Gladio backwards and takes that opportunity to flee . Towards Noct’s voice. Deeper into the cave. Deeper into the daemon’s nest. Gladio stumbles, barely catching himself, and wastes no time going after Ignis.
He dives, catching Ignis’ leg and they both fall hard. Gladio’s jaw hits the rock and black spots crowd his vision but he wastes no time rolling Ignis over and pinning him to the ground. He holds Ignis’ wrist down, legs on either side of his hips.
“No!” Ignis cries out. “No, no, no! Let go of me!”
“ Listen to me!” Gladio roars and he stifles the guilt that bubbles in his chest. “Ignis, Noct is gone! Do you hear me? He’s gone! He’s not here, he’s gone!”
“—is gone, Iggy! He’s been gone for five years, he’s not here anymore! That voice isn’t his! He’s gone.” Gladio’s voice breaks on the last word and that’s when he realizes he’s crying, too. Ignis’ cheeks are wet and blotchy and he’s stopped fighting to get free. Gladio loosens his grip and Ignis moves—not to run away, but to bury his face in the crook of Gladio’s neck.
He wraps his arms around Gladio’s chest and sobs. In the distance, Noct continues to scream.