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Just Skin and Bones

Chapter Text

Prompto volunteers to take the first watch.

One by one, they all retreat to the tent—Noct, Gladio, Ignis, in that order—leaving Prompto outside, alone. He drags his chair to the edge of the haven, far from the warmth of the campfire, and pulls off his wristband.

The barcode on his wrist stares back at him, as stark as ever. The same way it’s always been for as long as he can remember.

He’s always wondered where it came from. He thought it was only a stupid joke his birth-parents put on him because if you were shitty enough to abandon your baby, you’d probably be shitty enough to tattoo them with a barcode, right?

Then Prompto had to find that MT. Then he had to take it apart like he always does with all Niff things. Then he had to pull its glove off and see a near-identical replica of his tattoo on the MTs wrist, wires poking out of wounds he’d shot into it earlier.

He summons one of Ignis’ knives from the armiger and promptly drops it—his fingers quiver and refuse to hold it. It takes him three attempts to pick up the knife and he slowly, slowly guides it towards his wrist. He tries to aim for the barcode, but his hand keeps shaking, so much that he keeps missing the spot.

The tip of the knife digs into his flesh. Flesh. His skin and muscle and fat. And he’s pretty thin, so it’s not hard to feel his the shape of his bone through his wrist. If that really is bone—after finding the MT, he can’t be sure.

He’s always known that he was an outcast, but he was at least comforted by the thought that he was human. He ate, slept, laughed and cried like every other human. But then he had to find that stupid barcode on the MT and now he doesn’t know what’s under his skin.

If he were to cut through, what would he find? Wires and metal and circuits?

A bead of blood rolls down his wrist, leaving a red trail in its wake. This knife is sharp. He’s seen Ignis cut countless animals with it and he knows that it’s sharp enough to cut cleanly through whatever an MT is made of.

He needs to know. He needs to know. He needs to know where he comes from, who he is, what this barcode means.

So he brings the knife down on his wrist and begins to cut.

Chapter Text

“Stop fidgeting,” Gladio hisses for the upteenth time. Noct shifts his gaze to Gladio, narrowing his eyes just the slightest bit before schooling his expression to something a little more neutral. Still, he straightens up, trying to remember what Ignis taught him about proper posture.

It’s not like anyone’s looking at him. His dad’s delivering a speech about the latest war efforts and every person in the crowd standing below has locked their gaze onto him. Noct’s off to the side, Gladio standing right by his shoulder. He’s as still as a rock and looking like an actual noble than the oaf who beats him too hard in training.

Next to his dad is Clarus, the same as Gladio: tall, proud. They really pulled out all the stops for the security today, Noct thinks. He can spot glaives hidden in the crowd and on rooftops, keeping an eye on everybody.

His dad’s speech is long and enough to make Noct fall asleep, so he amuses himself by trying to scout out all the glaives in the crowd. It’s dull, but infinitely better than falling asleep and making a fool out of Insomnia’s prince in front of everybody, so he keeps at it, until he feels Gladio tense.

Noct’s been around Gladio enough to easily read his body language—he’s rigid, and ready to burst into a fight if necessary. “What’s up?” Noct whispers, and Gladio only shushes him. He doesn’t say anything more, and he doesn’t relax either. Noct turns his gaze back to the crowds, but sees nothing amiss.

It’s probably just Gladio being overly-paranoid. He hopes it’s only Gladio being overly-paranoid.

Then there’s a burst of static from the intercom. Gladio swears, but Noct’s eyes rush to his father instead, and he’s met with fear in his dad’s eyes. His dad reaches out to him, then Gladio dives in front of him, arms thrown around his chest, as the explosions begin.

They’re launched backwards until his back hits something solid and he blacks out, just for a second. When he comes to, Gladio is laying flat on his body. Noct’s face is buried into Gladio’s collarbone, and he’s left pinned to the hard ground as more explosions go off. He hears more explosions go off, his ears ringing in protest and above all, the sound of people yelling. Cor’s voice sounds close, barking out orders and Noct wants to call out to him, but his voice comes out raspy, quiet.

Something drips down the side of his face. He thinks it’s sweat, but then he takes the metallic tang of blood. “Gladio?” Noct whispers. His tongue feels thick, weird, and it’s hard to form words. He clutches onto Gladio’s shirt. “ Gladio?”

He doesn’t respond. Noct tries again, but he’s only greeted by Gladio’s silence—his breaths are hardly audible and when Noct pulls his hands away, they come back sticky with blood. Gladio’s blood, he dimly realizes through the haze in his mind.

Noct wants to panic. He needs to get out from under Gladio, call for help, do something. But his limbs are sluggish and weak and there are black spots at the corners of his vision that grow larger the more he tries to move.

He feels the crystal’s magic tugging and pulling at his skin, probably stitching together his wounds, but everything still hurts. There’s something digging into his back and something sharp stuck in his leg. His head hurts and it’s filled with cotton, making even thinking difficult.

Is his dad okay? His magic feels as strong as ever but is he okay? Is Gladio okay? Noct’s covered in his blood and he doesn’t want to know the answer. He should try to pay attention to Gladio’s breathing, make sure it’s still there, but everything fades to a dull ringing in his ears.

His eyelids feel heavy, dropping lower and lower. He feels so tired, like he’s just run a marathon then put under Cor’s training regimen. Is somebody calling his name? His head hurts. Everything hurts. He just wants to sleep.

Noct closes his eyes and lets himself get dragged unconscious.

Chapter Text

Noct’s almost kinda glad that Prompto lives in such a secluded neighbourhood because it means that there’s nobody around to see the prince of Lucis climbing through an open window.

It’s entirely Prompto’s fault for not answering the door, though. And for arguing with him on Friday. And for not answering his texts all weekend. And for not coming to school this Monday. And for worrying Noct.

He falls through the window into Prompto’s house. All the lights are off. He looks around the kitchen and sees dishes left on the counter, Prompto’s set of keys laying beside them on the counter.

The voice in the back of his head that sounds a lot like Ignis tells him he’s trespassing and that he’s invading Prompto’s privacy and whatever. But Noct needs to find out what the hell’s up with Prompto and see if he’s okay and apologize. Or something.

He makes his way up the stairs. There’s no sound from upstairs and Prompto’s bedroom door is shut. He doesn’t need to check if his parents are home, so he goes straight to Prompto’s bedroom, forgetting to knock.

Prompto’s laying in bed, underneath a mountain of covers. There’s leftover glasses of water on his bedside table—one of them’s been knocked over and the stain on the carpet below is still fresh.

“Prompto?” Noct asks, hesitantly. He receives no response. “Hey, Prompto. Wake up.” 

The tip of Prompto’s hair is peeking out from below the covers. There’s something strange stirring in Noct’s stomach and his limbs feel slow as he moves to the bed, reaching a hand out to lift the covers.

Prompto’s eyes are shut and he’s dead to the world. His skin is pale, though his cheeks are tinged red and his breathing is shallow. “Prompto?” Noct tries again, but he barely stirs. He touches the back of his palm to Prompto’s forehead. It’s burning hot.

“Prompto. Hey. Wake up.” Noct shakes his shoulder, maybe a little more insistently than he should. “Prompto. You okay?”

That gets a response. Prompto’s lips part, just the slightest bit, and he groans softly. He stirs and mumbles something under his breath, but Noct can’t catch it.

“Can you hear me? Or say something?” Noct crouches down to eye level and wishes he had Ignis or Gladio’s knowledge of how to deal with people, particularly sick ones. “Prompto? C’mon!”

“S’not… hurts,” Prompto utters. “Ar… dyn?”

“Yeah, I know it hurts. Anything else?” Noct says. 

“Hurts.”

“I got that much.”

Fuck everything. How long’s Prompto been sick like this before? All weekend? He mentioned feeling sick on Friday but Noct just teased him about his bad stomach and that was before they argued. Noct tries to rub Prompto’s shoulder but Prompto weakly tries to bat him away.

“Sstop. Don’t wanna.”

“Sorry. I’ll stop.”

“H-Hurts. No… needles. 'peri...ment?"

What the fuck is he talking about? Noct grimaces and pulls out his phone. He knows Ignis has a shitton of work he’s doing back at the Citadel, but Gladio should be free and a whole lot closer so he calls him instead.

“What do you want?” Gladio says as a greeting and Noct’s never been happier to hear his steady rumble.

“Gladio, something’s wrong with Prompto.”

“Yeah, and what else is new?”

Noct stands up, nearly knocking over the remaining glasses. He probably shouldn’t be yelling by Prompto but he can’t keep his voice down. “I’m being serious! I’m over at his place right now and he’s in bed but he’s like, I dunno, sick or something?”

“Sick in which way? You’ve gotta be more specific about it.”

“He’s not waking up. He’s just mumbling some weird shit. I can’t make out what it is. And he’s pale and burning hot.”

“Sounds pretty bad.”

From the bed, Prompto shuffles around and grits his teeth. “...no clone. Not. I’m… me?”

“Yup, you are,” Noct says to Prompto, then goes back to Gladio. “You think? Can you come over here? Quick? I think he needs a doctor or something.”

“Already on it. Can you get him to drink water or something?”

“I can’t get him to sit up. I don’t wanna move him. What if he gets hurt? He keeps mumbling hurt.”

“You’re useless,” Gladio gripes, but there’s no bite behind his words. “What else is he saying?”

“Weird shit. Medical stuff like needles and it hurts and—”

“S’not a clone! Vers… tea...” Prompto says again and he’s a lot louder this time, his voice raspy.

“—-yeah. Stuff like that,” Noct finishes. Gladio exhales on the other end. “Just… where are you?”

“Give me three minutes. I’m going as fast as I can. Just keep him alive ‘til then. Think you can manage that much?”

Noct sits back on Prompto’s bed, taking care not to jostle him too much. “Yeah, okay, fine. Thanks, Gladio.”

Gladio makes a sound of agreement on the other end. Prompto’s eyes are barely open, glassy, unfocused slits. Noct has no doubt that Prompto’s not seeing anything.

“Hurts,” Prompto says again.

“I know, buddy,” Noct says, wishing he could do something, anything to stop it. He buries his face in his hands. T hree minutes. It's only three minutes. He can last that long.

Chapter Text

Maybe Noctis should have listened to Ignis warning him about over-exerting himself.

Stasis pulls at his bones and his head feels dizzy—the cries of daemons sound a million miles away even if he knows that they’re right next to him, that they’re closing in on him. He tries to lift his blade and throw it, intending on warping somewhere far, but his sword vanishes in a flash of blue light. Pinpricks of blue light fade in the air and Noct’s left staring dumbly at his empty palm.

They’re calling his name and Noct looks upward, comes face to face with a reaper, and watches it raise its scythe, preparing for a swing that’ll cleanly cut off his head, unfazed by the bullets that tear through its bones.

Then Gladio’s voice, right by his ear, yells, “ Get down!” and Gladio’s knocking him down to the ground. He hits his head as he falls and his vision swings from side to side, but he still sees the reaper bring its scythe down.

He hears Ignis cry out.

He sees Gladio’s gaze go slack.

He feels the blood that falls on his body.

And Gladio collapses over his body.

The cry of the reaper is high-pitched and he’s struggling to move and Gladio’s not and all he smells is blood, blood, blood and suddenly, he’s eight years old again. The reaper’s cry turns into the marilith’s screech—still as clear as ever, even after all these years—and the horrible stench of death comes flooding into his lungs.

Noct doesn’t realize he’s screaming and even then, he can’t hear it so much as feel it tearing through his throat.

He needs to run, he needs to run, his back is paining him and no, no, not again—

“Noct!” Ignis’ cuts through his thoughts, as sharp as one of his daggers. “Are you hurt?”

He’s not, he needs to get out. Ignis isn’t supposed to be here. He’ll get hurt too, the marilith’s gonna go after him too. Noct can’t lose him, not like this.

There are bullets firing in the background and Ignis is telling him to calm down but he can’t, he can’t. Gladio’s body is pulled off of his and he doesn’t know if he’s thankful for it or not. Without the weight, Noct can breathe properly again, but his breaths are shuddery and weak. He tries to scramble backwards, but Ignis grabs at his wrists.

“Noct, listen to me! Prompto, look after Gladio. No, no, Noctis, stop!” Ignis cries out, but Noct’s already gotten himself free from Ignis’ grip. Ignis tries to pin Noct again, but he can’t get a hold on him.

“Gotta get out of here,” Noct begs. “It’s—it’s gonna kill you, it’s gonna kill you!” 

“Noctis, the reapers are dead, they’re gone. We are in no danger—Prompto is already healing Gladio.” Ignis wavers, only the slightest bit. He grabs onto Noct’s hands again and rubs circles on his knuckles. “Please, you must calm down. Regulate your breathing. Breathe in for three seconds, breathe out for three. Alright?”

He begins counting without waiting for Noct’s response. And though his mind is still fuzzy, he follows Ignis’ instructions because Ignis always knows what’s to do. Specs is always right.

One, two, three. One, two, three.

Bit by bit, the world around him comes back into view and Ignis’ face takes shape in front of Noct, worried. He can focus on Ignis’ eyes, now, bright and shining. 

“Are you with me?” Ignis asks. Noct’s throat clenches up and he nods. He can’t trust himself to speak right now. He doesn’t know what’s going on. He doesn’t want to know what’s going on.

“Good. Can you walk?” Ignis helps Noct stand and he nods again. “Excellent. I’m going to let go of you now. Can I trust you to follow the rest of us back to the outpost?” Another nod. “Thank you. Prompto, come help me lift Gladio. We need to bring him to the outpost.”

“Is he okay?” Prompto says, staring straight at Noct. 

“I fear he may have a mild concussion, or something of the sort. However, right now, he is fine and should be capable of making the walk back. Gladio is a different matter entirely.”

Noct doesn’t watch as Prompto and Ignis wrap bandages around Gladio, laying on his back on the ground. He doesn’t watch as they lift him, carrying him between themselves. He doesn’t want to see Gladio motionless, knocking on death’s door. He can’t.

“Noctis,” Ignis calls out. “Are you coming?”

They’ve already started walking. Noctis nods, barely, the tiny movement sending his mind reeling. He just needs to walk. He can do that. Right. 

He trails after them in a daze, following the trail of blood Gladio’s leaving behind.

Chapter Text

“Prompto!” Noct yells. His voice echoes off the metal walls of Zegnautus Keep, mirroring his thoughts—ever since he pushed Ardyn Prompto off the train, he’s been thinking about Prompto non-stop. Couldn’t brush him from his mind in Tenebrae, on the train, in the Keep. Kept thinking about what Prompto was doing, how he was feeling, if he was alive or not.

And now, he’s found him, standing with his back to Noct in a hangar, and as Noct runs closer, Prompto turns, slowly. He’s dressed in some winter gear, a thick coat that swallows his bony frame and boots that nearly reach his knees.

“Prompto,” Noct says again, just a little breathless. He grabs onto Prompto’s hand. “You’re okay. You’re okay.”

He doesn’t react. Prompto doesn’t return Noct’s grip like he always does, and his body’s unnaturally stiff, so unlike the way he’s always shaking his limbs in one way or another. In fact, Prompto’s entire expression is blank, like he doesn’t see Noct.

“Hey, talk to me. Are you hurt anywhere? Prompto!”

Noct doesn’t care if he’s begging or how childish and weak he sounds. Then Prompto finally, finally looks down at Noct and instead of smiling or breathing a sigh of relief or anything like that, he scowls and pushes Noct away.

Noct stumbles and nearly falls, only just barely managing to catch himself. “What gives? Prompto, I’m sorry, I-I didn’t mean to push you, I thought—”

Prompto pulls a gun out of his holster and points it at Noct.

“What the hell?” Noct says. He expected Prompto to be angry, but not like this. Prompto’s never—he wouldn’t point a gun at anyone. He hardly likes pointing his gun at something like a garula, let alone Noct, unless… “Prompto. Put the gun down. I just want to talk with you. I want to apologize.”

Shut up.”

Noct exhales. The voice that comes out isn’t anything like Prompto’s. It’s not cheery or high or grating or fearful. It’s low, full of anger that tugs at Noct’s chest.

“You—you pushed me,” Prompto snarls and he takes a step towards Noct, his gun held steady. “I tried to tell you that it was me, but you ignored me, like you do with everything.”

“No! I didn’t—I thought you were Ardyn, it was an illusion, I didn’t—”

“He wasn’t talking like me, though,” Prompto points out and the words die in Noct’s throat. “I thought you knew me better than that. But you couldn’t even tell me apart.”

“I-I wasn’t paying attention, I was just so focused on Ardyn that I—”

“You completely ignored everything else. You didn’t pay attention to any of the passengers you were pushing aside when you were chasing me. You didn’t care about calling Ignis or Gladiolus for help. You just rushed ahead on your own without thinking.”

Noct swallows.

“Maybe Gladiolus was right. You’re not fit to be a king.”

What?” Noct gasps. Hearing it from Gladio is one thing, but hearing it from Prompto, who’s loyal to a fault is even worse.

“You heard me,” Prompto says, as nonchalant as ever. “How do you plan on taking the crystal back on your own? You push away your friends and the world and never stop to think about what you’re doing. You always ignore what’s at stake in exchange for your petty whims.”

He’s right. Prompto’s right. He’s always had a habit of pushing everyone away, even when he was a kid, and he’s always taken the way they’d come back to him for granted. Prompto’s right. He knows that he’s can be a better king, that he’s slow, that he’s weak and there’s a thousand other people who’d make a better king than him. And Prompto knows that and even he’s finally tired of Noct’s bullshit.

“You don’t deserve to be king,” Prompto says. Noct doesn’t, can’t respond. He stares down the barrel of the gun.

He swears Prompto’s eyes flash red, then he fires the gun at Noct’s chest.

Chapter Text

The MT dives for Prompto and, with a surprising amount of finesse, kicks the gun out of his hand. It clatters to the side and he and the MT go down hard. Prompto pulls out his knife and tries going for the MT's neck, but the blade only scratches its metal.

The MTs in Zegnautus Keep are built tougher than the usual, that’s for sure.

It grabs the handle of the blade in one hand and the actual sharp end with the other, forcing it down. Arms shaking, Prompto can’t do much more than resist as he tries to push the blade away from his neck. The MTs eyes glow red and distinctly, Prompto wonders if he could have been on the other end if things had been a little different.

He cranes his neck, spotting his gun on the ground. It’s too far for him to reach; he’s gonna need to make a break for it. So Prompto takes a deep breath, grunts, and pushes the MT to his side, clambering backwards, boots skidding on the floor. The MT still holds his knife, but he won’t need it once he’s gotten his gun.

In one smooth move, Prompto turns and starts crawling towards his gun, reaching out, stretching his arm as far as he can go. He can hear the MT getting up behind him, making its way towards him, footsteps heavy on the floor. Footsteps that go faster and faster the closer Prompto gets to his gun.

Prompto inhales sharply, willing himself not to panic. He just needs to get his gun, he’ll turn around, he’ll fire straight into the MTs face. His arm aches but still, he reaches for his gun, it’s so close, he’s almost there, he almost has it .

His fingers brush the edge of the gun and—

No!

Something grabs onto his ankle—

No, no, no, no

And pulls—

No! No, no, no no no no no

His gun’s out of reach, he can’t get his gun, it’s too far, it’s dragging him backwards he screams and kicks at it but it’s not letting go it’s dragging him away he’s—

No no no NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!

He’s flipped onto his back and the MT grabs his arms, red gaze boring holes into his body. It’s immune to his struggles, pinning him down, its grip iron despite Prompto kicking away. He yells, he pleads, but its humanity is far gone.

Prompto’s expecting the MT to kill him, at first. He’s waiting for the MT to take his knife and stab him or put a bullet into his brain. Then he hears a low chuckle behind him, slow, confident footsteps, the swish of a cloak.

“Oh my,” a familiar voice says. “What have we here?”

 

Chapter Text

It’s cold. It’s so fucking cold.

The snow only grows deeper as Prompto goes further and he’s losing the energy to lift his legs high enough to trudge through the snowbank. His boots are heavy and feel muddy too—it’s like his feet are encased in concrete. 

The wind blows right through his coat like it’s nothing, and cuts like daggers in his cheeks. The chill seeps below his skin, ice gnawing at his bones—daylight is running out quickly and if he doesn’t find any shelter soon, he’s gonna… he’s gonna…

But then again, Prompto’s pretty sure he can’t see more than three feet in front of him and even then, that’s a stretch. Everything’s gray and white and cold. He could be walking in circles for all he knows and with how fast the snow’s falling, he’s sure his footprints are fading fast. If any of the others were to come searching for him, they’d have no idea where to start.

If they’d even come looking for him. Honestly, Prompto wouldn’t blame them for going on without him.

His breaths comes out in puffs that are swept away by the wind faster than Ignis can gut a garulessa. Man, what he wouldn’t give to have some of Ignis’ cooking right now, like one of his bowls of soup or curry…

The tips of his fingers and toes are starting to tingle. They feel fuzzy, like Prompto’s leg after Noct lays on it for too long. His fingers are clenched into fists and he can’t move them—he’s afraid that if he tries too hard, they’ll snap like twigs. They’re permanently frozen like that.

Is this how the others will find him? Frozen in place on the ground? Or would anybody even find him at all? Maybe he’ll just lay down and go to sleep and no human will ever find him again. His body will just lay in the snow, all alone, for the rest of eternity.

He wishes he could say bye to the others, call them one last time, even if they’ll probably just decline his message. But his phone is left on the train and that’s all that’ll be left of him, for he’s got his camera tucked away in his pocket. It’d be nice to look at his pictures one last time but he physically can’t bring it out.

At least the cold isn’t as bad anymore. The wind’s still as bad, but the tingles he’s feeling now aren’t as bad anymore. He’s feeling a lot warmer now.

Chapter Text

Gladio had it coming for him. 

Noct had no idea who pissed in Gladio’s cereal this morning, but his Shield’s being an ever bigger jerk than usual. It’s supposed to be a spar but it feels more like Gladio’s using that as an excuse to beat on Noct.

Noct’s battered and beaten and he’s covered in sweat and dirt from being tossed to the ground one too many times. Gladio’s barely got a sheen of sweat on his forehead and he’s still grinning like this is nothing to him. It probably is.

His taunts don’t let up and Noct feels the tips of his ears getting redder and redder until he can barely breathe. He’s tired of losing to Gladio and he’s not going to lose and give this asshole another reason to gloat.

They’re fighting with practice weapons, and Noct can warp just easy with them, but it’ll be too easy for Gladio to predict where he’ll strike from. What Gladio doesn’t know is that he’s got a dagger in the Armiger. He’s been practicing with his dad, summoning weapons forth, and he’s confident enough to pull this feat off.

Summon the dagger, throw it near Gladio, warp and catch him completely off-guard, knocking him onto his ass and winning the fight. Noct doesn’t care if he’s cheating—Gladio deserves it.

It sounded like a good plan.

Then Noct throws the dagger, his aim off because of his fatigue. Then Gladio has to move faster than Noct expects. Then Noct has to hear Gladio’s scream as the dagger flies straight into his abdomen.

Gladio!” Noct cries out, his frustration fading into shame, his anger fading into panic. He drops his weapon and runs over to Gladio, whose laying on the ground, raised by his elbows. One of his hands is pressing down on the area where the dagger’s still in his stomach. Only the handle is sticking out.

“It’s okay, Noct,” Gladio says through his teeth, but Noct hears none of it.

“I-I didn’t mean to—I just—I wasn’t aiming for you, I didn’t wanna hurt you, I didn’t—” The words fall off Noct’s tongue in a jumbled mess. His hand overs over Gladio’s wound. They’re shaking.

“Noct. Breathe.” Gladio is the one stabbed and yet he seems perfectly calm. Noct doesn’t realize how quick his breaths are coming until Gladio points it out and he tries to slow himself down. “Good. Look, I get it. It’s not your fault.”

“But, but I—”

“Can you get your phone for me? We need to call someone for help.”

“Okay,” Noct whispers. “Okay.” He pulls his phone out of his pocket and it takes him three attempts to unlock it, nearly dropping it in the process. He doesn’t hesitate when he clicks on Cor’s number—Cor always knows what to do—and the Marshal answers on the second ring.

“Highness,” Cor says and for the first time, Noct feels some relief.

Cor! Gladio’s hurt! He’s—we were training, and then—”

“Give me that,” Gladio says and snatches the phone out of Noct’s hand without waiting for an answer, groaning in pain. “Hey, Marshal. We’re on the training grounds by the Crownsguard armory. Yeah, it was just a mistake. Got a dagger in my gut right now, but I think I’ll live. I’d still like some help, quickly, though. Yep. Yeah, he’s okay. Alright. Catch you later.”

He hands the phone back to Noct. It’s covered in bloody fingerprints. “What did Cor say? Is somebody coming?” Noct asks. 

“Yeah, he’s sending some people over. Now, we just gotta wait.”

“But, the dagger…!”

“Can’t take it out. I’d bleed out before then, unless you’ve got a potion in the Armiger.”

“I don’t,” Noct admits. He’s been trying to practice making them with his dad, but no matter how much he tries, he can’t get the liquid to turn. His dad makes it so easy, manipulating the crystal’s magic like it’s second nature. “Sorry. I’m sorry, Gladio.”

“This is why we go over weapon safety, Noct,” Gladio says ‘cause of course he’s lecturing Noct. He’s gotta be the only guy in the world who can lecture another person while stabbed.

“I’m sorry,” Noct says again, his eyes glued to the rapidly growing bloodstain on Gladio’s clothes.

“Listen, kid. Keep your eyes on me. Alright, maybe I shouldn’t have pushed you as much as I did, but you gotta learn to control yourself, okay? Can’t go losing your head all the time. Think of this as a learning experience?”

“Gladio, I stabbed you.”

“And what did you learn?”

“Not to cheat?”

Gladio chuckles and just as quickly, his smile turns into a grimace as he lets out a hiss of pain. “Smartass.”

“I’ll be more careful next time,” Noct says, a lot more earnestly this time. “I will. ...So you’re not mad at me?”

“Oh, don’t worry, I’m pissed. But yelling at you about safety isn’t gonna do us much good right now and I think you’ve learned enough of your lesson. Mistakes happen in training, Noct. Ignis nearly took out my eye the other day with one of his daggers. It happens to the best of us.”

“Okay then.” Noct sits back and rubs at his eyes. “Sorry again anyways.”

He wants to apologize more and more, until his voice as gone hoarse because as much as he hates Gladio sometimes, he doesn’t really want to hurt him. He doesn’t wanna see any of them hurt. Gladio or Ignis or Cor or his dad. He thinks his apology isn’t enough for Gladio and Gladio’s lying and he’s probably more angry at Noct than he’s letting on.

But when Noct follows the medics carrying Gladio to the Citadel’s hospital and remains at Gladio’s bedside while he’s healing up, Gladio’s all smiles and cheer so maybe he really has forgiven Noct after all.

Chapter Text

The first time Prompto dies in Zegnautus Keep, it’s because Ardyn’s too careless. He’s strung up like a butterfly pinned to a wall, his flesh torn to pieces—he bleeds out, lonely and painful. 

At first, Ardyn cuts him carefully. Deep enough to hurt , but not deep enough for something a potion (or Ardyn’s weird magic) couldn’t fix. Then he probably grew bored. Prompto stops begging after the third day (day? Could have been a week), loses the energy to even glare on the fourth.

That’s when Ardyn starts hacking and slashing at him with no precision, no carefulness. (And Prompto discovers that he does indeed have some energy left to scream as he’s cut apart). 

It doesn’t take him long to die after that and Ardyn tuts the entire time and it makes Prompto think that maybe his deaths aren’t so much of an accident after all. A part of his mind tells him that maybe Ardyn knows about this time-travel no-death bullshit Prompto’s got going on, but the way he says the same thing every time tells Prompto that Ardyn’s just a sadist in every timeline.

Prompto wishes he could wake up at an earlier point. Way before he got captured. Or even way before he got stuck in the Keep. Maybe even waking up on the train, if he’s allowed to be greedy. He could try talking to Noct some more, hide inside the train instead of on-top. 

At first glance, Prompto almost wishes to go back in time, all the way to Insomnia when he and Noct were just two idiots enjoying life in high school, but if there’s anything his deaths have told him, it’s that the timeline will always follow a set path no matter what and he’s not sure if he’s ready to see Insomnia fall again, if he’s able to comfort Gladio after Jared dies again, if he can stand watching Ignis learn to walk after Altissia again.

His respawn point seems to be in Ardyn’s torture chamber and if he’d stop dying, maybe he’d learn what comes after. He can’t do anything—his arms and legs are tied tightly enough to cut off his circulation and no matter what he does or says, he can’t get free—so this seems more like a test of endurance. He just has to withstand being tortured and dying until he finds the timeline where the others set him free. If they ever find him.

Sometimes he bleeds out, his body limp in a puddle of his own blood. Maybe it’s because Ardyn cut him too deep with a dagger or gouged him with a spear. Maybe it’s because Ardyn tears off his arms with a magic too powerful for just a chancellor. 

(Prompto thinks of those stories about children pulling the legs off of spiders. He wonders if that’s how Ardyn looks at him: with morbid curiosity, like he’s nothing more than an insect).

He dies to Ardyn’s magic, too. A blizzaga that chills his bones, freezes him solid until he begins to burn. A firaga that cooks him from the inside-out. A thundaga that sends his limbs jerking out of control, currents crawling up and down his skin.

He doesn’t bother fighting anymore. He’s stopped throwing insults at Ardyn. He’s stopped begging. It’s inevitable. Ardyn takes him and tortures him and he dies and doesn’t get any closer to finding the timeline where he can be free.

By the upteenth timeline, Prompto begins to laugh (as he’s bleeding out from being stabbed again. Wow, Ardyn, can you get any more creative). It’s breathy and faint, and this throat is raw from disuse, but it’s there. And Ardyn can hear it well, judging by the confusion on the man’s face.

He dies quickly after that. Another tally on a wall. He’d try keeping count but he gave up when things started blending into one and he didn’t know if he died or blacked-out. It’s only the thought of the others that keep him going, that give him hope. 

Just need to hold out a little more. It’s only a matter of time before they find him, right?

Right?

Chapter Text

Ignis’ frantic heartbeat matches his footsteps as he runs through the hospital, shoving past nurses and patients with hasty apologies and excuses. Noctis’ voice continues to echo in his ears, from his frantic phone call just an hour earlier.

“Specs, listen, it’s—it’s Gladio. There was an accident a-and… just come to the Citadel hospital, okay? He’s not in a good shape and—and you should be here.”

He’d gone from feeling ire to panic as his useless mind conjured up the worst case scenarios. What sort of accident? A gunshot, a stabbing? Poison? A broken bone or two? What if it was something like Noct’s case, an injury so terrible that Gladio would be changed forever? Ignis, on the other end, had to keep himself from screaming back at Noct to tell him what floor and room Gladio was in. Noct didn’t waste time over the call and his voice was shaking more than Ignis would have liked to hear. Come quickly, Noct said.

And quick, he was. He’d surely broken the speed limit while driving to the hospital and when he catches a glance of himself in a window on the way to Gladio’s room, he realizes he looks a complete mess. His hair falls over his forehead in uneven waves and his clothes are wrinkled and drenched in sweat. He looks feral, unhinged and he doesn’t care about what it will do to his reputation.

Ignis bursts into the hospital room without knocking. He immediately spots Noct, who jumps up from his position on a chair, his fingers itching to summon a weapon. Upon recognizing Ignis, however, he relaxes (though his body still remains tense).

Specs,” Noct says. “You made it.”

Prompto is on the other side of the bed and his gaze is full of pity as he watches Ignis. He pays the boy no heed, walking straight to Gladio’s bedside and oh, Gladio..

The right side of his face is covered in bandages and blood that hasn’t quite dried completely. It’s dripped onto his neck and matted his hair (his dark, silky locks that Ignis has grown to love so dearly). His hands, too, are wrapped in bandages and his shirt is torn in far too many places to count.

Gladio,” Ignis breaths. He reaches out to take Gladio’s hand and stops—he can’t risk paining Gladio. His desire to feel Gladio is suffocating him and it takes all of his willpower to keep his hands to himself, sitting down on the edge of the bed. He turns to Noct. “What happened to him?”

It takes a while to decipher Prompto and Noct—they attempt to explain the story together and end up stumbling over the other’s words. An arcade, an alley, an ambush, and a hidden knife that nearly got Noct. Would have, if it weren’t for Gladio.

Noct and Prompto came out unscathed, that which Ignis grateful for, and yet he can’t bring himself to feel relief, not when Gladio is still laying unconscious.

His eyebrows are furrowed—he’s pained and oh, Ignis wishes he could give him a kiss and soothe his pain, his aches, his worries.

“The doctors said he needed a lot of stitches,” Prompto says. “But his eye should be fine.”

“I couldn’t make a potion for him,” Noct says. “And by the time the Crownsguard came, they used one on him but ‘cause of how much time had passed, his wound didn’t heal properly. He’s probably gonna have a huge scar.”

As if such a thing would ruin his beauty.

Ignis sighs. “Nevertheless, he is alive and will heal. For that, I am thankful.”

Thankful, he says, and yet his heart still sinks at the sight of Gladio. There is a weight that sits on his chest, though eventually, he gives in to his impulses and takes Gladio’s hand.

That eases the weight, even if it’s only just a little.

Chapter Text

“Are you ready, Prompto?” Gladio asks. 

Prompto lays on his sleeping bag, one arm over his eyes, the other laying high on his chest. The area underneath his body are stained with dirt and blood and water from when Gladio was cleaning out the gash on his stomach. It nearly stretches from across his stomach—an unlucky strike from a goblin, apparently—and Gladio’s surprised that the kid’s even lasted this long without passing the fuck out. Astrals knows how much blood he’s lost and they don’t even have a potion to help him replace any, the last of which he used on Ignis and Noct, lying unconscious but a meter away.

Next time Noct demands they drive the Regalia at night, Gladio’s going to kick his ass.

“Prompto?” Gladio tries again when he receives no answer. Prompto takes a deep breath—tries to, at least. He stops midway through with a gasp of pain and, underneath his arm, Gladio catches sight of tear tracks cutting their way across his cheeks.

“Y-Yeah. Yeah, just… do it, man. Get it over with.”

“Tell me if it hurts too much and we can stop.”

“Okay.”

Gladio sighs. He’d give almost anything to be in an outpost right now, but after they got ambushed, they had no choice but to retreat to the closest haven to take care of Noct and Ignis’ injuries. They’re out of potions, they have no help from any hunters and Gladio’s about to play doctor in a tent that’s too hot and suffocating for his liking.

S’not like he prepared for anything else in training.

Gladio takes the needle and presses it into Prompto’s skin with steady fingers. Prompto flinches, but he bites his lip and says nothing. The longer this goes on, the more it’ll hurt and the worse the injury will get, so Gladio grits his teeth and keeps going.

With slow, methodical movements, he begins stitching Prompto’s wound. He’s gotta give the kid some credit—other than the occasional hiss of pain, he doesn’t say a word and Gladio knows he’s not being gentle. Can’t be gentle when stitching somebody together. Gotta be thorough. It doesn’t stop Gladio from feeling a twinge of pain every time he has to drive the needle through Prompto’s skin, though.

It’s slick with blood by now, and almost difficult to grab hold of.

“You doing good?” Gladio asks, hoping that some conversation, any, would take Prompto’s mind off of this.

“I am. Keep going?”

“Sure. Gotta warn you right now, though, it doesn’t look pretty.”

“Think it’s gonna leave a scar?”

“Probably.” Gladio’s known for his blunt honesty, after all. “I doubt Noct’s gonna be able to make a potion when he wakes up.”

“Oh. Good thing the ladies dig scars on a dude, or so I heard.”

“We’ll have to beat off hoards with sticks.”

Prompto laughs, a weak chuckle with no humour behind it. He’s yet to uncover his eyes. “Hah, I wish.” He’s not joking around—Gladio’s heard him jest about this shit before but this sounds a little too… real for his liking.

“Hey, you’ll find somebody out there.” Gladio would probably pat him on his shoulder or some shit like that, but he’s yet to finish sewing up the kid. Seems like the more blood someone spills, the more secrets they spill as well.

“Yeah, right. It’s not like this scar’s gonna be as attractive as yours and nobody’s gonna want to see anyway.”

“Hey, give me a little more credit than that,” Gladio says with forced lightheartedness that only seems to fall flat. “Alright, fine. Listen to me, Prompto. This isn’t the end of the world, y’know. If somebody doesn’t want to be with you because of your scars, that’s their loss.”

“Easy for you to say. I’m sure you’ve never been rejected ‘cause of your scars.”

“You’d be surprised.”

At that, Prompto finally lifts his arm, blue eyes peering out from underneath. “Huh. Never woulda thought you’d have any trouble getting a date.”

Gladio finishes tying the last knot and clips the thread. The stitches aren’t anything nice to look at, but they’re getting the job done and that’s what matters. He grabs a washcloth and begins to gently clean the area around the stitches. 

“Happens to everyone. Not just you,” Gladio says. “Dunno who told you otherwise, but you’re worth a whole lot more than you realize.”

He hates the way Prompto’s looking at him right now—like this is the first time anybody’s ever told him this, like he’s never had somebody be so gentle when touching him, even if Gladio’s only mopping away a mess of blood. 

“Oh,” Prompto says simply. “Thanks.”

The surprise is clear in his tone and Gladio wants to yell, punch something, grab Prompto by the shoulders and shake him ‘til he realizes how much he means to them. But things like these aren’t fixed in a day, so Gladio only says, “Yeah, no problem” in return. 

(He’s not gonna let Prompto keep going on like this—if there’s one trait that defines an Amicitia, it’s their stubborness and he’ll not rest until Prompto knows his worth).

Chapter Text

The world goes still.

Gladio is pinned to the ground, Ignis above him, a dagger held to his throat. He lays there, unmoving, waiting and it would be easy, oh, so easy to kill Gladio. To drag the dagger across his neck, reward him with a red smile, watch him bleed out onto the pavement below.

And yet, Ignis’ hands are shaking.

Ignis knows Gladio—far better than he should, perhaps—and he’s well aware of his strength, the power behind his body. If Gladio so wished, he could effortlessly throw Ignis off and pin him to the ground (after all, he’s done that and so much more on those nights where they’d share a bed). But, as his hands slowly begin to slide up Ignis’ legs to grasp him around the waist, Ignis is only reminded of how gentle Gladio could be with his hands, how secure he feels in his grasp.

It would be easier, so much easier, if Gladio were to fight back.

Ignis has sworn himself to his duty, has kept to his duty without hesitation for years, only for Gladio to threaten it and crush the walls Ignis has surrounded his heart in. He’d known it was a bad idea from the very beginning—from when Gladio first kissed him, from the night where they fell into bed together, to the day where Gladio uttered “ I love you” and Ignis found himself repeating it back. He was selfish, selfish, selfish and look at what it’s cost him.

He’d give up anything to let Gladio live, but he has nothing left. His body, his mind and his life is sworn to his duty and once, he had only his heart—now, it belongs to Gladio and Ignis is left with nothing.

“I’m sorry, Gladio,” Ignis chokes out.

Gladio swallows, oblivious to the way Ignis’ dagger cuts into his neck. His eyes are heavy with resignation and perhaps that’s the worst part yet.

“I know,” Gladio says.

Ignis can’t meet Gladio’s gaze. He is a complete coward and shuts his eyes, breathing deeply through his nose. Through it all, Gladio is silent, patient. When Ignis opens his eyes again, Gladio’s own are shining.

He has already spent too much time on this. His target is getting away and he can’t bear to think about the punishment that will befall the others if he lets them flee.

Ignis adjusts his grip on the dagger, holds it a little more secure. Then, he leans forward.

Perhaps Ignis is selfish for this, asking for a kiss while holding a dagger to Gladio’s throat. But Gladio, dear Gladio, is nothing if not selfless and accepts Ignis, kissing him with a passion he doesn’t deserve.

Ignis allows his tears to fall freely and their kiss tastes like blood, like salt, and yet he can’t get enough of it. His apologies are whispered along Gladio’s lips, but they’re never enough. 

Gladio’s eyes are closed, like a lover lost in the throes of passion and Ignis wants to be selfish one more time— to ask Gladio to open his eyes so he can see those honey-brown eyes he fell in love with a lifetime ago. But no, Gladio deserves so much more than for his final sight to be locked onto his murderer.

It’s quiet, when he dies.

Gladio— his beloved— doesn’t cry out in pain. It’s too easy, killing him, Ignis’ blade moving with practiced precision. 

He never stops kissing Gladio until he feels Gladio’s last breath sweep across his lips.

Then, there’s nothing.

Chapter Text

The Regalia roars through the night, the countryside a blur as it races across the roads towards Lestallum. For all the times Noct has teased Ignis over driving like an elderly man, he really does know how to drive quickly when he means it.

All it takes is Gladio bleeding out in the backseat, apparently.

There’s hardly enough room to lay Gladio down as-is, so he ends up with his torso resting on the seats and his legs bent at an awkward angle braced against the windows. Noct sits on the ground, a hand over Gladio’s abdomen, trying to ignore the way blood seeps into the carseats.

The road is bumpy and Ignis isn’t careful with his turns—at this point, they can’t afford to waste anymore time, even if it means jostling Gladio. It’s all up to Noct to keep him steady. He’s folded his sweater and placed it under Gladio’s head, but his features are still contorted in pain and he lets out the occasional groan.

Noct’s not even sure if he’s conscious and he doesn’t know if that’s a good thing or not.

“Left turn, Noct!” Ignis calls out sharply and Noct has all of two seconds to respond before the Regalia curves. Gladio’s heavy and Noct’s arms are aching from their hunt earlier, but he manages to keep Gladio mostly-still. “Are you still keeping pressure on his wound?”

I am. How much longer?”

“Only a little bit more. How’s he doing?”

“Same as always. The bleeding hasn’t stopped, though.”

“Keep applying pressure.”

“I told you, I am!”

In the rearview mirror, Noct sees Ignis purse his lips. He didn’t mean to come out so snappy, but fuck , he can hardly think straight. His thoughts are a mess and if it weren’t for Ignis barking out orders, he’d be lost. Even Prompto’s doing better, on the phone with Iris, trying to get together a team of medics to greet the Regalia once they make it into Lestallum.

“Hold on, Gladio,” Noct whispers. He can’t see his hands in the dark, though he knows they’re sticky with blood. He can’t hear Gladio’s breaths over the Regalia’s engine. “... Please.”

Chapter Text

Another weird dream again.

Prompto’s gotten used to them by now, but he still wakes up in a daze, unsteady on his feet. And unlike most of his other dreams (and nightmares), he remembers most of the details when he wakes. 

Most of them. They’re blurry, though, like a painting that’s been left out too long in the rain. He’s out in the wild, in a car with three others and no matter how much he tries, he can’t remember their names. Their appearances change too. The big one has the shortest hair of them all in one dream, and the longest hair in the next. And one of them has glasses that hides their eyes, he thinks, but a memory of them with scars that hide them is clearer.

He doesn’t think much about it, chalks it up to a weird side-effect of watching too many action movies and playing too many RPGs. But there’s always that nagging in the back of his mind, this weird feeling in his chest when he thinks about his dream.


 

Prompto’s made peace with the fact that he has no friends, and will probably never have any. He still wishes he could talk to somebody about his dreams, though, and get a second opinion on it on those days where his dreams are all he can think about. 

On those days, he’s usually struck by a strange sense of wanderlust, to walk away from everything and never come back. To journey out into the wild and forget about Insomnia. But no, he’s stuck here in a high school with nobody to care.

He’s got a lab partner, and they’re quiet. When they introduced themselves, they were so quiet. Prompto could barely hear them, but he swore he heard a ‘Noct.’ He doesn’t know where it came from, but it just sounds so… right on his tongue. 

The guy swears his name is Noctis, though, and nobody’s ever called him Noct. In his mind, Prompto still does because it’s strange thinking of him as anybody else.

They’re leaving the building one day, having had to stay after school to work on their lab, and Prompto waves bye. Noct— Noctis does too and when he turns, Prompto watches him leave, anxiety settling deep in his stomach. He’s gotta be pretty lonely if a lab partner is the closest thing he’s got to a friend and if their simple goodbye hurts this much.

He feels like he should call out to Noctis, stop him from walking away. Instinct tells him to do that, but Prompto’s always been pretty good at ignoring that.

(When he goes home, his thoughts are filled with ice-blue eyes that gaze at him with more warmth than Prompto realizes).


 

In the middle of the night, Prompto wakes up with a gasp. He’s breathing hard and blood’s pounding in his ears, but through the dark, he doesn’t see anybody in his room. Listens hard and doesn’t hear anything out of the ordinary. He wasn’t having a nightmare, either (there’s only so many times he can get scared of experiment tables and red eyes and metal clanking). In fact, he was having one of his nicer dreams.

One of those dreams where he was, y’know, with his friends (he doesn’t know if he can call them that and it seems pathetic to call fake-people his friends but it just seems right) and they were camping somewhere?

There were chairs and a tent and a fire that glowed blue instead of orange. It was growing dark, but he and the others were enjoying themselves over a meal. 

It was a peaceful dream, so Prompto is surprised when he touches his pillow and it’s damp under his fingers. He tentatively touches his cheeks—there are tear tracks running down his face and his eyes are itching. 

That strange feeling is back in his chest again, the one that makes him want to run away, to cry. He should probably move and get himself cleaned up, but his limbs refuse to move and keep him sitting on his bed, staring out the window, until dawn breaks.

Chapter Text

Prompto’s heard somebody call Gladio a freak, once. And Gladio’s said himself that sometimes, kids are scared of him and run away after they get one good look at his face. The scar that Gilgamesh gave him makes it even worse and he’s got eyes all over him as he walks down the street.

It’s nothing out of the ordinary for Gladio to call a lot of attention to himself. He’s as tall as a tree and fucking ripped, with muscles that could snap somebody like Prompto in half. His hair’s as wild and free as his spirit and his body is painted with scars; each of their stories of how Gladio got them could fill an entire book if put together.

He doesn’t know how Gladio does it.

Prompto tucks his shirt under his waistband and never rolls up his pants, even when he’s walking into a pool of water. He keeps his barcode safely hidden away under his wristband and just the thought of somebody, anybody seeing one of his scars makes him want to vomit and hide away until he’s nothing but bones.

It’s a lose-lose situation—Prompto hates being invisible, hates not having a name or a title or any important reason for his existence, but he can’t stand the idea of people having their eyes on him, watching him like he’s a piece of meat or whispering about his appearance.

When the others wash up in a river or a lake ‘cause there’s no caravan or inn nearby, Prompto always hangs around until they’re all finished and back in the haven before he jumps in, scrubbing too hard at his skin like it’ll make all his scars disappear. They tease him for being too self-conscious and maybe they’re right—after all, they’ve got their set of scars, too.

Gladio and Ignis have their fair set of scars and Noct’s got that huge one on his back that never quite fully healed. 

“They’re proof that I survived,” Gladio tells him one night around the campfire. “They’re a sign that I took everything my foes had to give and walked away alive. These scars, and Iggy’s and Noct’s, and yours too, are signs of strength. Don’t ever forget that.”

Oh, Prompto thinks. Gladio probably wasn’t talking about those scars because they’re nothing like the ones he’s got. These scars are ugly, raised little bumps criss-crossing along his stomach and thighs and marks Prompto would rather not look at too closely. If scars are proof that you’ve survived an ordeal, then what has Prompto survived? Nobody was out there to get him—he did this all to himself.

But Gladio doesn’t want to hear that and Prompto’s never going to tell him about those scars, so he just says, “Thanks man,” like it helps.


 

The first potion doesn’t work on Prompto, and neither does the second.

By the third, Noct’s starting to panic and his hands are shaking as he breaks it over Prompto’s still body. But the bruise on his cheek is still as purple as ever and the cut under his eye, while not bleeding anymore, hasn’t closed up.

“Gladio,” Ignis says, all business, “help me remove Prompto’s clothing. There must be a serious wound underneath that we were unaware of.” He summons a dagger from the armiger and Gladio not-so-kindly pushes Noct away to help Ignis.

“He never showed any sign that he was hurting, though,” Noct says and he cringes as he watches Ignis drag his dagger across Prompto’s shirt—that was one of his favourites. Gladio tears away the strips left behind and they’re staring at bandages wrapped around his stomach.

They’re sloppily applied and tiny spots of blood peek through, staining the fabric. Gladio curses and Ignis inhales sharply. Noct doesn’t remember Prompto getting hit by his stomach in battle. He doesn’t recall Prompto getting hurt like this in a long time and he can’t imagine why they’re there or why he’s used bandages instead of a potion or why he didn’t tell Noct.

The blood’s still fresh.

Noct holds his breath as Ignis slowly peels off the bandages, one by one and it’s like he’s watching a disaster unfold. He sees the dried blood first, then a single, small cut. And another one. And another.

Ignis carelessly throws the bandages to the ground and he and Gladio lean in, Noct pushing past them to stand right at the foot of Prompto’s bed.

There’s so many of them, etched across his body. Most of them have healed, but even after the three potions, there are still some that are scarred over, deep and damning. 

“Shit,” Gladio whispers and for once, Ignis is speechless. Noct stares at the little lines, at Prompto’s face, so peaceful like he’s only sleeping, and suddenly the air of the caravan is too suffocating, the walls too constricting.

He thinks about the way he’s teased Prompto about his body and stuck his hands underneath his shirt with cold hands on those nights where they’ve shared a bed in a motel. How has he not noticed until now? How has Prompto been living like this until now? For—for how long have these scars been here?

The questions spin and spin and spin around his head until he’s pushing past Gladio, hearing Ignis faintly calling his name in the distance—he runs out of the caravan and all but collapses on the grass. He throws up; tears prick at his eyes.

Chapter Text

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. 

Fuck.

“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!”

 “Noct—”

“—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.

Chapter Text

“Dude,” Prompto says weakly. “Didn’t you have like, something important to do today? That’s why Iggy was—” he coughs. “—saying that we could only spend an hour at the arcade today.”

Noct only shrugs. He sits at the end of Prompto’s bed, picking at a stray strand at the end of his sleeve. His bag lies on the ground and his phone’s on the dresser, right beside Prompto’s phone and a box of tissues and all the medicine Noct brought him.

“Yeah, but that was before I heard that you were sick. Besides, I’ve still got time. So, why didn’t you call me? I would have brought something sooner,” Noct says. He came to Prompto’s place at the meeting time they agreed upon, actually. On the dot. But Prompto was in bed the entire day and their plans completely slipped his mind until he heard Noct unlocking his door with the spare key he gave him. 

Prompto would have loved for Noct to never see him like this and when Noct first came into Prompto’s room, all wide-eyed and pale, he was cringing in embarrassment. And when Noct left, Prompto thought, “Well, that’s it. He’s left and he’s gone and he’s probably never going to come back.”

Then Noct had to prove him wrong and come back twenty minutes later with enough medicine to last Prompto six months.

Prompto coughs again, and Noct adjusts the cool washcloth that’s on his forehead. “Dunno. Thought it was just a minor cold, y’know. You don’t need to worry about it.”

“Look, if Specs is allowed to have a heart attack every time I sneeze, I’m allowed to overreact when you’re practically hotter than the sun.” Noct sounds exasperated and Prompto hates himself just that little bit more for doing that to him. He tries to shoot finger guns at Noct, maybe make a joke about being hot in that way, but he barely has the strength to keep his eyes open so he only mumbles in response.

They make conversation for a while, and by that, he means that Noct mostly talks about his day and the others at the Citadel and Prompto makes the occasional noise to let Noct know that he’s listening. Somewhat.

But then Noct’s phone buzzes and he checks the text and he looks over at Prompto with pity and Prompto knows exactly what’s coming next.

“Fuck, I’m gonna be late,” Noct says. Prompto’s heart begins to speed. “Sorry, Prompto, I… I’ve gotta go.”

“S’okay,” Prompto mumbles. His heart’s pounding and so is his head—he can barely think straight. Noct’s face crumples anyways as he gathers his things, whispering apologies all along the way. 

He’s by the door when Prompto fully opens his eyes and sees his soon-to-be empty room.

God, he’s pathetic. But he can’t remember the last time he’s spent some time with his parents and his room’s so cold and it’s too quiet and empty without Noct near and gods, he’s so tired of being alone. He’s so goddamn tired of having to take care of himself all the time and of being on his own and of staying strong and putting on a mask.

“Noct,” Prompto calls out. He’s barely louder than a mouse and yet, Noct catches onto him all the same. “W-Wait. I—sorry, I just…”

“Yeah?” Noct takes a step closer. “What is it?”

“Can you… stay here? With me? Please?” He closes his eyes in shame, cheeks burning. He’s horrible and a disgrace and he’s so, so selfish for asking Noct to stay with him when he’s got his more important duties to attend to. He should let Noct go and do his job as the prince of Lucis. But he’s always been weak and selfish and stupid and—

And Noct stays with him anyway. He’s by Prompto’s bedside in an instant, his bag back on the ground and he just says, “Of course,” and pulls out his phone to play King’s Knight. It’s everything Prompto’s wanted and more.


 

Noct knows, that the second he turns around, the second he takes his first step, he won’t be able to go back. He knows that in just a couple of minutes, everything will be over and he can finally rest. He knows that Prompto is wishing for the same thing he wants.

Gods, he wants to stay. He’s ready to fulfill his duty, he’s had ten years to come to terms with everything but fuck, he’s not ready to leave his friends behind. He wants to taste Ignis’ cooking again, he wants to spar with Gladio at daybreak, he wants to screw around with Prompto in an arcade again.

He wishes he could ignore his duties, the prophecy, his calling, everything , the same way he did when they were kids and he’d blow off his duties to spend another day, another hour with Prompto. But this isn’t just about them, now. He’s got a job to do, a world—for Prompto—to rescue.

Prompto’s eyes are shining in the dark and he knows what Prompto’s thinking. His mouth is parted, slightly, like the words are on his tongue and he’s waiting for the right moment to get them out, building up the courage to say them. 

But he never will. Prompto’s never been a selfish person. He won’t ask this of Noct, not when they both know he can’t stay.

Noct meets Prompto’s eyes, one last time.

He turns around and

takes a step on the staircase and

leaves Prompto down below.

Chapter Text

The door beeps and Noct enters another locker room. He quickly scans the room—nothing worth picking up, and no sign of Prompto, Gladio or Ignis—and deems it useless, turning around and leaving just as fast as he came.

He takes off at a light jog, keeping his footsteps light. He doesn’t need to attract anymore MTs to his spot. Zegnautus Keep hums, machines whirring in the background, like the entire building itself is alive.

Then, there’s a crackle over the intercom. Noct grits his teeth, already prepared for the voice that’s bound to come true.

“Another dead end!” Ardyn chuckles. “My, keep this up and you’ll never find your dear Prompto in time.”

“Shut up!” Noct says, despite the fact that he knows Ardyn won’t listen to him, that Ardyn’s taking pleasure in the way he’s getting riled up, that Ardyn’s only toying with him like a puppet on a string. “Where the hell is he? What did you do with him?!”

“You needn’t worry, Noctis. He’s still here with us. In fact, why don’t I get him right now?”

‘What?’ Noct thinks and the intercom goes silent. He shakes his head, doesn’t dwell on Ardyn’s words. He tightens his grip on his father’s sword, the one thing keeping him from going mad, and continues down the hallway. It’s empty, save for the occasional body of an MT laying on the ground.

The map he found isn’t much help either, what with the way the Keep is built—entirely like a maze and without any of the fun—and the way Ardyn’s closed off hallways. It’s near useless, but better than nothing, and if the map is correct, it means that at the other end of the hallway, he’ll reach some stairs to another floor.

So engrossed is he in concentrating that he doesn’t realize the intercom’s turned back on until he hears a weak “Noct?” over the speakers. It’s Prompto’s voice and it comes from everywhere at once, sending Noct’s mind reeling. 

Prompto!” Noct shouts, hoping, praying that Prompto is able to hear him. “Prompto! It’s me, I’m here! Where are you?”

“Noct… it’s you? It’s really you?” Prompto says. He sounds so weak, and breathy, like talking is sapping all the strength he’s got left. “You’re… here? You came…?”

“I did. I’m gonna get you out of here, I swear. Prompto, just tell me where you are and I’ll come get you, okay?”

Prompto coughs and he starts to say something, only for him to be cut off with a scream. It’s nothing like the screams Noct’s familiar with. Not the one he lets out when he sees a spider in a tent or the one he does when Noct’s taken a particularly bad blow from a daemon. It’s terror, pure terror and pain.

“Oh, dear,” Ardyn says, all saccharine, all fake concern. “I can’t have you spoil the ending, now can I?”

There’s another scream.

Prompto!” Noct cries out. “What’s going on? What the hell are you doing to him?! Ardyn!”

“I’m only teaching the boy a lesson.”

“Fuck off! Leave him alone!”

“My, such vulgar language. Perhaps you need to be taught a lesson as well. Oh, but you’re so far away.” Ardyn hums for a moment, deep in thought. “I suppose your friend will have to take your punishment instead, then.”

No!” Noct says, but it’s already too late. There’s the sound of metallic clinking, and Prompto’s screaming again—he’s cut off by a sob for a brief moment, then he’s screaming again. It echoes, repeats through all the intercoms until it’s digging in the back of Noct’s mind and it’s all he can think about. 

Something drops on the ground and Prompto stops. He’s breathing heavily and sniffling. For a moment, Noct only stands still, not even daring to take a breath.

“Have you learned your lesson?” Ardyn says.

“I—I have. I’ll calm down. I’ll do what you want. Just… tell me where to go, and don’t touch him.”

“I don’t think you’re in any position to be making demands, Noctis.” His name is a purr on Ardyn’s tongue and he hates how disgusting it sounds. “However, as I’m feeling so generous right now, I’ll play along. I’ll leave the boy alone, so long as you behave yourself.”

“Noct,” Prompto says, broken and weak. “Noct, please…”

That’s all Noct needs to agree. “I told you, I’ll do it. I’ll do it.”

Ardyn laughs. Noct’s completely under his control but he doesn’t have a choice, not when Prompto’s involved. He follows Ardyn’s every word as the man continues to tease him over the intercom, following the path laid out for him. He fights daemons and MTs and he keeps going through hallways and rooms that lead nowhere.

Then he makes one mistake, cusses at Ardyn under his breath, so quiet that he can barely hear it. But Ardyn does, and he’s rewarded with the sound of snapping bone and Prompto’s garbled yell.

Then he makes another mistake, ignoring Ardyn’s instructions to look in a room on the way to another staircase. 

Prompto begins to beg. He’s begging for Ardyn to stop, begging for Noct to come, to pay attention, to stop hurting him, begging for it all to stop.

Noct’s gone through countless floors and rooms and he’s no closer to Prompto than he was before—Ardyn speaks through the intercom, just out of reach, watching a play he’s laid out all for himself to enjoy. He watches Noct’s every move and Noct realizes he’s getting bored when Ardyn starts doling out punishments for no reason.

“Look at what you’ve done. That computer had very valuable research, I’ll have you know. Now, it’s gone forever, thanks to you. Are you hearing this, Prompto? You can blame Noct for this.” 

“I was particularly fond of those daemons, and now you’ve gone and slaughtered them! I suppose Prompto will be the one to pay for your cruelty. What shall I do? Break a finger for every daemon killed? Stab him as you did those daemons?”

“You’re so very slow, Noctis. Don’t you want to save your friend? Perhaps I should offer you more incentive. Tell me, Noctis, have you ever heard a body burning under a Fira spell?”

Noct doesn’t know how Prompto’s still alive at this point. He should have died ages ago, but knowing Ardyn, he’s probably got some sick tools to keep Prompto alive. The thought of Ardyn healing Prompto just to break him again nearly sends Noct retching.

Having Prompto fall unconscious sounds like a blessing at this point, but a selfish part of Noct needs to hear those screams as proof that Prompto’s still alive.

Noct takes a deep breath, steeling himself, and breaks into a run. Exhaustion pulls at his bones, but like hell is he gonna slow down before finding Prompto.

“Just hang in there, Prompto,” Noct says, louder than usual, in hopes that Prompto’s still able to hear him. “I’m coming for you.”

Chapter Text

Ardyn trips, stumbles, and slows down. It’s only for a second, but it’s enough to let Noctis get the jump on him, tackling him to the ground. There are no other passengers in this part of the train to see Noct straddle Ardyn’s chest. His hands find their way around Ardyn’s neck easily and Noct relishes in the way Ardyn’s eyes go wide with panic.

Wait, Noct,” Ardyn says. Noct presses down with the tips of his fingers. “No, no, what are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing?” Noct growls. He thinks he’s screaming—he doesn’t know. His blood pounds in his ears and he can’t hear anything but that, and Ardyn’s strangled breaths. “You’re a Niff! You—you killed…”

My father. Clarus. Jared. Luna. 

The list goes on; there are so many people who've died for his sake. Their names get stuck in his throat and all that comes out is a choked sob. Ardyn’s features grow soft, pained, but Noct refuses the idea that his words are doing any good—there’s no way that Ardyn’s feeling sorry for him. It’s all just a trick.

“I—I didn’t…”

“Shut up! I saw you! You’re a goddamn monster!”

“Noct—”

“I hate you,” Noct sobs. “ I hate you.”

Grief swells in his chest, anger propels his limbs as he begins to tighten his grip around Ardyn’s neck. Ardyn weakly grabs at his arms, tries to pry them off but it’s no use. He’s helpless and Noct savagely thinks, “Now you know how it feels.”

He pushes down harder, harder, bearing all his weight down on Ardyn’s neck, his chest, forcing the air out of his lungs. Ardyn thrashes and bucks his hips, but he can’t get Noct off him. “Please,” Ardyn wheezes but his voice is growing quieter by the second. Noct can barely hear him over the endless litanies of “I hate you,” that’s falling out of his mouth.

Ardyn’s cheeks are flushed, lined with tears and—and has he always had freckles? No, no. Noct shakes his head and puts his focus back on choking the goddamn life out of Ardyn. Drool collects at the corners of his lips, now turning blue; he splutters, having lost all air to plead. 

Just a little more.

Noct grits his teeth and pushes down that much harder. Ardyn’s body twitches, his eyes roll back in their sockets. His hands fall, limp, to his sides.

Then Noct blinks and suddenly, it’s Prompto that lays under him, motionless. His eyes are glazed over.

Chapter Text

Iris hears a thump outside and she looks outside the window from her spot on the sofa. Mama and Gladdy do the same. They’re all on the sofa, Iris and Gladdy on either side of the sofa, and Mama’s been reading one of Gladdy’s favourite books, I Want To Be Your Canary. Iris doesn’t understand much, but she’s always liked listening to Mama read and sometimes she does silly voices.

Gladdy nudges Mama’s knee, but she doesn’t keep reading. “Why don’t you read the next part on your own for Iris?” Mama says. She gets up off the sofa and sets the book down. Gladdy grabs it but he looks confused and Iris wonders where Mama’s going to go. “I’ll be back in a moment.”

She exits through the backdoor of the house. Iris tries to follow, but Gladdy holds her. “Wait here,” he says, like he’s the boss. Iris grumbles and slouches in the sofa until she’s almost falling off. There’s no more noises outside, and they see the light of Mama’s flashlight bouncing around on the other side of the window.

Gladdy tries reading the next parts, but he’s slow and he doesn’t do the silly voices. Then Mama comes back inside the house and instead of going back to them, she starts walking around. First in the kitchen, then to the front door and to Daddy’s study. She looks at them, then walks halfway up the stairs. Nothing happens and Mama goes outside again.

This time, Gladdy puts down the book. He jumps off the sofa and Iris follows, but then Mama comes bursting back through, stopping them in their tracks. She shuts the door and locks it, then comes running towards them.

“Gladio,” Mama says, hushed. “Gladio, there is something wrong outside. You and your sister must hide while I take care of it, okay?”

“What?” Gladdy says. “What’s wrong?”

“There’s an angry man outside. He’s just causing some trouble, it’s nothing to fear, but I want you and Iris to hide, anyways.”

“I’m a Shield!” Gladdy puffs up his chest to look like Daddy. “I’m not scared of anybody and I’m tough enough to take care of ‘em. I can protect you!”

“I am capable of taking care of myself,” Mama says. “You must listen to me, Gladio. Please. Take your sister, and hide in your father’s study. Lock the doors and do not open them for anybody but me or your father, understood?”

“But—”

“Gladiolus!” Uh oh, Mama’s using Gladdy’s full name, and she and Daddy only do that when they’re being angry or serious. Why is she angry at Gladdy? Iris wants to ask, but they’re not paying any attention to her. “Do you intend on leaving your sister here alone?”

“No, but—”

“Your duty is to protect and right now, Iris is in most need of that. Take her and go!”

Gladdy scrunches his face up and Iris thinks he’s gonna argue with Mama again. She takes his hand and Gladdy jumps, like he forgot she was there and the second he looks at her, he calms down. He squeezes her hand.

“Okay,” Gladdy says. “Okay, I’ll protect her. I swear.”

Mama exhales, and gives him a kiss on the forehead. “Thank you, Gladiolus. I know you won’t let me down.” Then she kisses Iris on the head, too. “My darling Iris, listen to your brother, okay? I will be back soon.”

She hugs them and Iris is too surprised to hug her back—by the time she realizes, Gladdy’s tugging her towards Daddy’s study.

“Wait, Gladdy!” Iris says. She reaches out for Mama, but she’s already leaving towards the front door. “Wait, what about Mama?”

“Don’t worry.” Gladdy hauls Iris into Daddy’s study and locks the door. He carries Iris over to the closet, where Daddy keeps all his coats and shoes and documents and goes inside. Iris steps in, but it’s really crowded and she ends up sitting half-on and half-off his lap. Gladdy shuts the door. It’s dark inside the closet, so dark. Iris can barely see Gladdy’s face. 

“Is Mama gonna be okay?” Iris whispers. She wishes she had Mog with her, her stuffed Moogle. He’s sitting in her room and Iris hopes he’ll be okay, too.

“Of course,” Gladdy says, all confident. “She’s gonna kick their asses.”

“You’re not supposed to swear!”

“Don’t tell her I said that, okay?”

“Okay,” Iris says. “I won’t. I promise. Pinky-promise.” She raises her pinky finger in the air and Gladdy wraps his own around it. They don’t let go for a while and when they do, Gladdy keeps holding her hand with all his fingers wrapped tightly around her entire hand.

There’s a loud noise from outside that sounds like the front door slamming open. Iris jumps, squeaks, and Gladdy holds her down.

“Shh,” he says. “We need to be quiet. It’s like a game, right? It’s like we’re playing hide-and-seek. If we win, I’ll give you all my dessert for the next… month. How’s that?”

“I don’t want your dessert!” Iris pouts. “I want Mama.”

“She’ll come get us soon! We just have to be quiet ‘til then.”

“No! I don’t wanna!”

Iris! Mom said you had to listen to me. Okay? Just like what we were doing before.

Gladdy’s angry and he’s all red in the face. Iris crosses her arms and faces away from Gladdy. She tries to listen on what’s going on outside but everything’s all muffled.

“...guard on their way. Leave…”

There’s a loud stomp.

“...mici...ia.”

And the sound of something heavy being slammed against the wall. Both Iris and Gladdy flinch, and Iris begins to cry. She’s shaking and sniffling and Gladdy just pulls her closer ‘til her face is buried in his jacket. It smells like Mama’s perfume.

“Shh, Iris,” Gladdy says. “Shh, it’s okay. You’re safe here. I’m gonna protect you, okay? They’re not gonna get you.”

But what about Mama? Iris wants to ask, but her throat’s clogged with tears and she can’t speak. She gulps and tries to nod and be silent for Gladdy’s sake, but it’s hard. There’s so many loud noises outside and she’s scared and she can’t see and she doesn’t know what’s going on and she wants it all to stop.

But the noises only grow louder from then on and soon, Iris can’t hear Mama anymore.

(She and Gladdy don’t move for hours and hours. Her legs stiffen up and she cries the entire time, holding onto Gladdy’s shirt. When they hear another set of footsteps, loud and angry ones, Gladdy tenses up and holds her tighter. Even when they hear the Crownsguard speaking, they don’t move. Not even when the Crownsguard start calling their names.

But when they hear Daddy talking, Gladdy tries to move. He looks at Iris and says, “Stay here. I’m gonna go get Dad,” then tries to open the closet door. But Iris thinks about being left alone in the closet, in the dark and what if Gladdy doesn’t come back? What if she gets stuck and gets left there alone, forever?

“Don’t go,” Iris says. “ Gladdy.”

And Gladdy stays. He keeps holding her until they hear Daddy unlock the door to the study, calling their name. Gladdy peeks through the hole between the door, then he opens it and they run into Daddy’s arms.

Iris is still crying and she’s shaking and shaking, but Daddy holds onto her tightly and she feels a little more safe).

Chapter Text

When Gladio first comes to, he doesn’t recognize where he is. Alarm bells are ringin' in the back of his mind, but his brain’s pounding, like someone’s hittin’ it with a hammer, and he can’t bring himself to be alert. 

He’s sweaty, and sticky and the bedsheets are cool against his naked body.

What?

Memories of the night before come to him in bits and pieces. He was at a party, with the ‘guards and ‘glaives. Noctis was safe in the Citadel, so Gladio allowed himself to let loose, have a couple'a drinks.

(bottle in hand a ‘guard with a dazzling smile an offered drink loud music reverberating through his body crowded kitchen late night)

But is mouth is dry and tastes like ash, and his vision’s spinning—usually, it takes a lot to get him hungover and Gladio doesn’t remember having that many drinks.

He’s alone, and the door to this room, whoever it belongs to, is closed so Gladio gingerly shoves the blanket off his body. He tries to shift and pain shoots through his body—his arms, his legs, his thighs, his  ass. The sheets underneath his body are stained with lube and come; so are his thighs and stomach and chest.

(mouths hot on his body fingers trailing over belt loops air’s cold on skin against skin no hands roaming holding his penis pleasure no pain behind messy please stop—)

Gladio leans over the side of the bed and vomits.

Chapter Text

Overall, it had been a pretty good night. Though they were camping on a haven for the third night in a row, Ignis and Gladio had gone off to gather ingredients, leaving Prompto and Noct to be as obnoxious as they wanted around the campfire.

They yell and they cheer at King’s Knight without fear of Gladio or Ignis shushing them and they sneak food from Ignis’ cooking table without fear of being slapped with a ladle.

Prompto’s just settled down into his chair, preparing to enter another dungeon with Noct, when he notices Iggy walk out of the woods, Gladio in tow. But instead of his arms full of ingredients, he’s holding a single dagger in one—and he throws it, straight at Prompto’s head.

And Iggy never misses.

With a yelp, Prompto throws himself off the chair. He lands on the haven, hard, and scrambles up in time to see Ignis advancing on him. Noct’s surprised and he opens his mouth to protest, but Gladio summons his broadsword and shoves Noct behind him. They’re ready to kill and they’re staring right at Prompto.

“H-Hey, guys,” Prompto says. He raises his hands. “What gives?”

“How long have you been planning on lying to us for?” Ignis says.

“Lying? Lying about what? Iggy, if this is about your Ebony can that went missing yesterday, I swear I didn’t—”

Ignis throws another dagger and Prompto dodges to the side—he’s confused and terrified, so much so that he can’t think straight and doesn’t notice Gladio sneaking up on him until it’s too late.

Gladio grabs his arms and pins them behind his back. “Stop fuckin’ with us, freak,” he growls, low in Prompto’s ear. 

“I-I don’t know what’s going on! I swear! Guys, please, what the hell are you doing?”

In response, Ignis simply walks towards him, daggers still in hand. His eyes lock onto Prompto’s wristband.

No,” Prompto says. “Iggy— Ignis, wait, please, no, no—”

Ignis cuts through his wristband deftly. The pieces fall to the ground, leaving his barcode free for all to see. Ignis stares at Prompto expectantly, but he’s focused only on Noct. His face is emotionless, though, and not in the way that he usually always is. He’s filled with apathy, ignoring the way Prompto’s eyes are beginning to tear up.

“A Niff,” Ignis spits, venom lacing his words, “that has been lying to us about being a Lucian. You are a monster.”

“No! No, please!”

“Bettin’ you were real happy once you read the papers about Insomnia’s fall, huh?” Gladio grunts, and tightens his grip. Prompto’s arms sting and ache, but he continues to struggle. “Bet you just couldn’t wait to see our faces.”

“I didn’t know anything! I swear, you have to believe me! I’m Lucian! I’m Lucian!”

“How many people have died because of you? Under whose orders were you working from? Perhaps if you tell us, we’ll feel more inclined to show you mercy.”

“Nah, I say we break the kid. Teach him a lesson about lying. C’mon, Iggy, I know you want revenge for Insomnia and Jared, too.”

No!” Prompto gasps—he tries to break free, but Gladio is unforgiving and soon, he finds himself with Ignis’ dagger at his throat. It cuts into his skin. 

Ignis turns to Noct, and, as calm as always, asks, “So, what shall we do with him, Highness? It’s your orders.”

“Noct—” Prompto says, ignoring the dagger’s sting. “ Please, you gotta believe me. I’m one of you. I’m your friend. Please.”

But there’s no recognition in Noct’s face. He takes a step towards Prompto. “It was supposed to be a peace treaty. And now my dad’s dead,” he says, cold, harsh, angry. “Insomnia’s gone— everything’s gone! Luna’s out there, somewhere, running from the Empire and you—you…!”

He shakes with fury and he stares straight at Prompto. “Get rid of him,” he spits.

Noct!” Prompto cries out. “ No, Noct, no—”

And Prompto wakes up, in a cold sweat.

He scrambles out of his sleeping bag and bumps into Ignis in the process, jostling him in his sleep. The tent’s dark, the moonlight just barely bright enough to illuminate the other’s faces—peaceful, asleep. 

Prompto slows his breaths, checks his wristband. It’s still there (and so’s his tattoo, same as always). It was just a dream. It was just a dream, he tells himself, yet his heart still races.

He watches the others fast asleep and wonders when they’ll find out, how fast they’d abandon him if they knew. He’d deserve it. He’s a liar and a coward and a Niff and a failure and a weakling and a pathetic excuse for a human being. If he’s even that. 

Exhaustion tugs at Prompto’s eyes, but he doesn’t go back to sleep.

Chapter Text

Noct gasps—blood bubbles at the corners of his lips and drips down his chin. He lays flat on his back on the cold ground, but out of fear of further irritating his injuries, nobody has moved him. There’s a large gash on his chest, a deep gouge thanks to an unlucky hit from a Red Giant. Gladio’s surprised that Noct’s still conscious and almost wishes he weren’t.

He groans in pain and sweat paints his forehead. Every breath that comes out is strained.

Ignis wastes no time once he gets to Noct’s side. He immediately presses down on Noct’s wound with his jacket, ignoring Noct’s cry of pain. Blood gushes around Ignis’ palms, staining the cloth a deep red. “Prompto, give me an elixir,” Ignis orders, without looking at Prompto. “Prompto, an elixir! Now!”

Prompto flails. “We—We don’t have any!”

“A hi-potion, then. Give me something. Anything.”

Gladio searches through the Armiger himself—he finds nothing. “Iggy,” Gladio says, “we’re all out. We don’t have any potions.”

“What?” Ignis says but sure enough, when he searches himself, he comes up empty. They used their last curative earlier, in their fight against the Red Giants, flans and other daemons Gladio couldn’t care to name. Getting to the last floor of Costlemark had taken everything they had—including all their curatives, it seems.

Noct coughs.

“I only have a Phoenix Down,” Gladio says. He pats his pocket, where he feels the warmth of the Phoenix Down emanating through. It’s an emergency, reserved for Noct and only for Noct. 

“It’s no use.” Ignis puts more pressure on Noct’s wound. The blood still pours freely. “His heart hasn’t stopped; it will do nothing for him.”

“I can—there’s gotta be someone nearby,” Prompto suggests. “I can take one of those teleporting-things and get outta here, look for some help or grab some potions from the Regalia.” His voice raises at the end like he’s asking a question.

Gladio crouches down next to Noct and, after muttering a quick apology, helps Iggy put more pressure on his wound, ignoring his pained scream. “Don’t bother,” he says to Prompto. “Getting out might be easy, but you’d only just get yourself killed by a daemon coming back down here alone.”

“Then what?!” Prompto yells, uncaring about any daemon that might’ve heard his voice. “It’s better me than Noct! We don’t have a choice! What else are we gonna do, just wait around for Noct to die and hope a Phoenix Down works?”

Silence falls over the room, broken only by Noct’s quivering breaths. 

Ignis exhales. “Perhaps—”

No,” Prompto interrupts. “No, no, no, no, no. Iggy, you can’t—you can’t be serious. You’ve gotta be kidding me! This is—what if he dies for real? What if the Phoenix Down doesn’t work? We can’t. We can’t do this! Gladio, say something!”

“Iggy’s right,” Gladio says, avoiding Prompto’s eyes. He ignores his gasp and continues, “This is the only way we’ll be able to help Noct at this point. At this rate, it won’t be long before he bleeds out. Waiting around for help or going to find help ain’t gonna do much here.”

“But—” Prompto’s words die in his throat. His gaze never leaves Noct’s face, growing paler by the second.

“Gladio,” Ignis says. His voice is shaking. “He’s losing too much blood. The Phoenix Down will be able to restore only so much.”

“Yeah,” Gladio says. “I know. Move, I’ll do it.”

Prompto looks from Gladio to Ignis, the colour leaving his cheeks. “W-What are you guys talking about? What are you—”

“Are you sure, Gladio? I am capable enough of doing it myself.”

“Trust me, Iggy, it’s gonna fuck you up.”

“And not you? You are his Shield. You are meant to protect him.”

“I know. But my job also involves keeping him alive, no matter what I have to do.”

“Guys!” Prompto says, but they both ignore him. Gladio stares Ignis down and while he knows Iggy’s stubborn, he’s not about to back down either. He knows Ignis, knows that he wouldn’t even dare give Noct a scratch. This… doing this’ll wreck him. It’s always been Gladio’s job to do the dirty work, whether it’s taking apart a Garula or being the guy to throw himself in the thick of battle to protect the others. He’s used to pushing down his emotions to deal with the ugly parts of life.

Eventually (thankfully), Ignis relents with no further argument. He understands, too, that time is running out and the longer they argue, the more blood Noct loses and the less of a chance he has for the Phoenix Down to be effective. Slowly, he shuffles away from Noct, whose eyes follow him all the way.

Gladio rearranges himself by Noct’s body and summons one of Iggy’s daggers. It’s long, sharp and thin. Should get the job done.

Prompto realizes what he’s doing and cries out. Ignis holds him back and Gladio tunes out Prompto’s panic. His focus is on Noct and only Noct. He pulls the Phoenix Down out of his pocket and sets it aside. Noct’s eyes, wide, lock onto Gladio’s and there’s something like resignation behind them.

“Sorry, Noct,” Gladio says, and he plunges the dagger into Noct’s heart.

Chapter Text

Gladio’s never liked Killer Wasps. They’re small, quick, poisonous and aerial. Part of him thinks that Noct chose this hunt for them specifically to spite him for dragging him out of bed that one time but, whatever. Prompto shoots them down, Gladio picks off the ones that survive the fall to the ground. All in all, it’s an easy hunt.

Prompto and Noct are comparing kills, when Prompto goes, “So how many did you get, Iggy?” and Gladio finally gets a good look at Ignis. He’s slightly disheleved in that attractive way of his and it’d be a lot hotter to look at if he didn’t look so spaced out.

“Iggy?” Gladio asks and Ignis blinks.

“Oh, my apologies. I was… lost in thought for a moment, there. What were you asking, Prompto?”

“How many Killer Wasps did you take out? Noct got four, and I got three.”

Gladio grumbles and sends his greatsword back into the Armiger. “You’re not even gonna ask me how many I got?”

“We know that aerial foes aren’t your specialty,” Ignis says, smooth as ever. “I believe I got three as well, Prompto. It appears that Noct is the winner here.”

Noct crows with triumph. “Looks like I’m choosing what we’re having for dinner tonight,” he says. Gods, Gladio can only hope it’s not something shitty—the kid’s a disgustingly picky eater. Gladio walks over to Ignis and throws an arm around his shoulders, giving Ignis a quick peck on the cheek.

“Hoping it’s gonna be something simple?” Gladio says and Ignis flinches away from his touch, instead of leaning towards it like he usually would. “Hey, you alright? Did one of the wasps get you?”

“I’m alright. You worry too much.” Ignis brushes him off and adjusts his glasses. “Come, shall we catch up with the other two?”

“I’m your boyfriend, it’s my job to worry about you.” Gladio wants to argue further, but Ignis has already begun to walk off. He wants to trust Iggy’s words, he really does, but it’s always like Ignis to hide his injuries so not to bother anyone else. But Iggy looks fine while walking and Gladio can’t see any visible injuries. He just looks a bit… dazed, so Gladio chalks it up to exhaustion.


 

He sends Noct and Prompto to a diner for dinner, instead of having Ignis cook for them. They didn’t complain much, or at all, and it leaves Ignis free to get some rest in the caravan they’ve rented.

Gladio’s just returning from the diner when he catches sight of Iggy through the caravan’s window. He’s bent over the sink and probably scrubbing the gunk out of the bottom of the sink. Gods, Gladio knows the caravan ain’t the cleanest but fuck, can’t Iggy ever take a break?

He exhales, ready to wrestle Ignis into bed if he needs to—and that’s when he sees Iggy crumple to the ground. “ Ignis?” Gladio yells and he sprints towards the caravan, throwing the door open. Inside, Ignis lays on a heap on the ground and Gladio skids to his side, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Iggy? Iggy, what the hell happened?”

Ignis only groans in response. Gladio grits his teeth, and turns Ignis over, holding him in his arms. His glasses have fallen to the ground and his eyes are unfocused. Gladio looks over his body, but nothing’s out of place. He runs one of his hands along Iggy’s abdomen and that’s when he gets a reaction. Ignis’ body jerks and he cries out, mumbling something incoherent. 

“Sorry!” Gladio says. “Sorry, sorry. I didn’t know. Iggy, I’m gonna lift your shirt, okay?”

He doesn’t wait for an answer. With his free hand, Gladio rolls up Ignis’ shirt and he’s greeted by a foul stentch. There’s a deep wound in his side, something that looks like a stab wound—it hasn’t even been wrapped.

“What the fuck, Iggy?”

It takes a moment for everything to click together—the wasps, their stingers, some of them had poisonous ones. Judging by the appearance of the wound, Iggy was unlucky enough to get struck by a poisonous one. And, like the idiot he is, he did the damage from the rest of them.

Without hesitation, Gladio breaks a potion over Ignis’ wound. The skin stiches together easily, but Ignis remains still. He reaches out to grab at Gladio’s hand, but if he’s something to say, he doesn’t have the strength to.

He searches for an antidote, too, and comes up empty. Shit, shit. Gladio whispers an apology to Ignis, then lifts him up, bridal-style. Gently, he lays Iggy down on the bed and takes out his phone. Noct would be more tempted to ignore Gladio if he called, but he’s never ignored one of Iggy’s calls before.

He picks up on the second ring.

“Noct,” Gladio says. “Buy an antidote, or buy something you can make into an antidote and bring it to the caravan, quick.”

“Gladio? What the hell’s—”

“Stop asking stupid questions and get your ass moving! Ignis needs one, now.”

There’s shuffling on the other sound and Gladio can barely make out Prompto’s voice.

“Okay, I’ll hurry,” Noct says and he hangs up. Gladio tucks the phone away and looks back to Ignis—his face is scrunched in pain and his brow is beaded with sweat. Gently, Gladio takes one of Ignis’ handkerchiefs from the armiger and wipes his brow, pushing his hair out of his face.

He leans over, pressing a chaste kiss to the side of Ignis’ forehead, and holds his hand. It ain’t much, but he’s hoping that it’ll make Ignis feel a bit better.

Chapter Text

Prompto first realizes that something’s wrong when he walks down the school hallway in the morning. There are whispers, a lot of them, and eyes that follow his every movement. Prompto rounds a corner and it’s like all conversation stops to focus on him. For somebody who’s so used to being a nobody and invisible (especially compared to Noct), this sets every single one of Prompto’s hairs standing on end. 

He can’t make out any of their whispers, though, and when he looks at his reflection in his phone camera, there’s nothing on his face. His appearance looks exactly the same. 

So Prompto just chalks it up to teenagers being weird and, ignoring the shivers down his back, goes to his class. 

The second sign that something’s wrong is when Prompto walks into class and sees Noct already there, awake and not passed out on his desk. He’s typing away on his phone with a frown, but that’s got to be because he’s awake this early.

“Hey, dude!” Prompto waves and joins Noct beside the desk. But when Noct first sees him, he jumps and looks like a deer caught in headlights. He fumbles with his phone and it falls face-down on the desk. “What’s up?”

“Oh, Prompto,” Noct says. He’s still staring at Prompto with that same look. “Hey. I didn’t expect to see you today.”

Maybe that was the third sign that something really was wrong. “What? Why not?”

“Well, it’s just that—y’know, I saw the… the thing and I was thinking that you wouldn’t ‘cause…” Noct bites his lip, then casts his eyes to the side. “Never mind, just ignore me.”

“No, no, no.” Prompto waggles his finger in front of Noct’s face and leans over his desk. “You don’t get to say that and leave me hanging. What the hell’s this thing you’re talking about?”

“You mean you don’t know?” Noct gasps.

“No? What the hell happened?”

Noct nervously glances around the classroom and Prompto follows his gaze. That’s how he notices that everyone in the class was watching them, but the moment they see Prompto look up, they nervously turn their attention elsewhere.

“C’mon.” Noct grabs Prompto’s hands and all but drags Prompto out of the class, through the hallways and to the school’s roof, the part that they’re technically not allowed to go on. But it’s completely empty and that’s what they need right now.

“Okay,” Noct says. “Okay. So, uh, last night, there was a video posted online and it was… it was of you and…”

“Dude, spit it out.”

“I—ugh, here,” Noct says. He fumbles with his phone, tapping away, then he thrusts it in Prompto’s hand. “Just… this was the video.”

Prompto shoots Noct a weird look, but he takes the phone anyway and turns the volume up. He clicks the video. It starts off dark and grainy. Is this gonna be just another one of those jumpscare videos? He expected Noct to be better than this.

“Geez, who filmed this? I wanna buy ‘em a better camera, their phone sucks.”

Keep watching!” Noct hisses.

“Alright, alright.” Prompto quiets back down and focuses on the video. He doesn’t recognize the place—way too dark for that—and it’s pretty much silent. Then the camera focuses on a room at the end of a hallway of a house that looks a bit familiar, though Prompto can’t say where.

The room door’s ajar and light spills out. Whoever’s holding the camera sneaks towards the room and then pushes the camera’s angle to peer through the crack in the door. And inside—and inside...

“What the fuck?” Prompto says. His heart pounds in his ears and suddenly, the house seems a lot more familiar now.

It was a party, a couple weeks back. It was pretty busy and there was alcohol and it wasn’t all that bad, actually. Prompto met a couple of cool people, even when his awkwardness was amplified by how tipsy he was. Then after the party, he and another guy he’s already forgotten the name of went to one of the room upstairs and… and…

It shows clear in the video—Prompto’s down on his knees, sweaty and debauched with a mouth full of that guy’s dick. He—he didn’t know that someone was watching, he thought they closed the door properly, it was supposed to just be a one time thing.

The guy’s dirty talk—which seemed so hot in the moment—sounds like nails on a chalkboard. When the guy finishes, it’s all over Prompto’s face and the camera manages to catch his sultry smile.

Then the video changes, to another one. It’s still Prompto but this time, he’s got his mouth around a different guy and it’s in an empty classroom.

Prompto knows how that ended already, he doesn’t need to see it again. He pushes the phone back to Noct and sits down.

“I’m gonna be sick,” Prompto says.

Noct sits down next to him and awkwardly pats him on the shoulder. “I’ve been texting Ignis about it all morning. He’s doing his best to get everything taken down.”

But hundreds of people have probably already seen the video and who knows how many times it’s been reposted, downloaded? Fuck it all. Fuck.

“I—I didn’t…” Prompto stutters. “I didn’t know anybody was watching. I thought—I knew we could have been caught but I didn’t expect someone to film it. It was just… I—”

“Look, man. You don’t need to explain what you were doing. You do you,” Noct says. “Not gonna think any less of you for it.”

Out-loud, at least. Now, Noct knows that Prompto’s filthy, inside and out and he’s a fuckin’ slut and everybody knows and there’s no way Ignis or Gladio is gonna let him see Noct again. What if he’s a bad influence? What if they accuse him of trying to seduce Noct?

Gods—what is Noct gonna think after this? Prompto’s been trying to build up the courage to ask him out and fuck, there’s no way he’s gonna be with a whore who’s always got a dick in his mouth. 

“Prompto?” Noct says. “Hey, you still home?” His phone rings and Noct spares a glance at it. “Fuck, it’s Specs. Sorry man, I gotta take this. Hopefully he’s got good news.”

And Noct stands, answers the phone, and walks away to the only place on the roof with good reception. His back is to Prompto and it would be so easy to sneak away, Prompto thinks. He can’t deal with this right now. He just… can’t. He just wants to run, run and hide away under his covers.

Prompto picks up his bag and turns to leave through the door to the roof, but then the door swings open and a group of kids come walking out. The roof’s not exactly private, but whenever he and Noct go up here, they’re usually left alone.

Not this time, though. The kids see Prompto, lock eyes with him, and start approaching him like sharks through water, smiling with too many teeth.

“Look who’s here. Who’re you waiting for?” one of the guys ask. He’s a full head taller than Prompto and stands over him with a grin. “Got another appointment?”

“No, no, I didn’t—”

“Are you seriously trying to deny it, dude? The video’s online for everyone to see. Who would’ve known that the loner was actually a huge slut all along?”

Prompto takes a step back. The guys take a step forward.

“This roof’s pretty private, huh?” a girl says. “Good spot to suck someone’s dick.”

“No!” Prompto says. “I wasn’t—I wasn’t gonna… I wasn’t waiting for anybody!”

“Is that so?” the first guy says and Prompto’s really not liking the looks in his eyes. “You got some spare time, then?” He grabs his dick through his pants and raises an eyebrow. “Wanna see what’s all the fuss about.”

The kids laugh and Prompto grows paler. “Listen, man, I don’t want to do anything with any of you.”

“What’s the matter? You didn’t seem to have any problem gettin’ on your knees for anybody else,” the guy says. He shrugs and that’s—that’s when he sees Noct, standing over by the corner of the roof, still talking to Iggy. The guy fake-gasps. “Oh, snap. Sorry, didn’t realize that you were the prince’s whore, now.”

“Shut up!” Prompto snarls.

“Does he pay you for it?”

Shut up!”

But that didn’t come from Prompto—it comes from behind him and when he turns, Noct’s right there. How did he get here so quickly? Something tells Prompto that Noct warped over here and judging by the shocked expressions on the kids, he did. He’s usually not supposed to use magic in school and he broke the rules for Prompto.

Great. Another reason for all the Crownsguard to hate Prompto.

Noct’s shaking in fear and he looks ready to spit venom at them. But instead, he takes a deep breath, and grabs Prompto’s hand again. “C’mon, Ignis has a car waiting for us outside. Leave these assholes alone.”

Prompto lets himself be dragged away. Something tells him that those kids aren’t gonna let up, and Noct holding his hand isn’t doing any good for the rumours that Prompto’s his… his whore, but it’s the only comfort he has right now.

He squeezes Noct’s hand and Noct tightens his grip in return.

Chapter Text

Ten years later, the arcade’s still standing. The sign’s been knocked off and the glass on the windows is shattered, but when Prompto shines his light inside, he sees that most of the games are still pretty intact. It’s surprising that it’s survived this long, after years of abandonment.

“Noct,” Prompto grabs at Noct’s sleeve (gods, it feels so good to do that again, to touch Noct again) and tugs. “Hey, remember this arcade?”

It takes a moment for Noct to remember, and Prompto catches the moment when recognition hits him square-on. The tells are all the same: Noct’s eyes go wide and his lips part, just slightly as he exhales in shock. If Prompto needed further proof that Noct’s here, that this is really Noct, he doesn’t need to look any further.

“Shit,” Noct says. “The same one we got banned from? I can’t believe it didn’t get destroyed.”

“You mean the one that you got banned from? Pretty sure you were the one yelling at me for beating your high score in that one game. Again,” Prompto adds after a beat.

The memory is as clear as ever—it was for a shooting game and they spent the entire afternoon taking over the scoreboards and, once they’d achieved that, fighting each other to take number one. Prompto always said that Noct was the loud one, but in truth, they were both yelling with youthful joy, excitement taking over their common sense until they were finally kicked out for making too much of a ruckus. 

“Yeah, right,” Noct says. “If we didn’t get banned, I totally could have beaten your score.”

Prompto raises an eyebrow. From aside, Gladio and Ignis listen in. “You sure? Them’s fighting words, Noct, and there’s only one way to prove it.”

“What do you mean?”

“You think it still works? The ‘glaives have been restoring power to parts of the city, right?” Prompto says. It’s a stupid idea, he knows that much, and maybe he’s trying to stall for time, but his heart is speaking before his brain.

“There’s no way it’s gonna work,” Noct says, but there’s a mischievious glimmer in his eyes, one Prompto hasn’t seen in a decade and more. “ You’re on.”

Ignis sighs, but it’s not the tired kind. It’s the familiar sigh that’s full of resignation, the one that means Noct’s won. “Gladio and I will keep watch outside,” he says, with a smile he can't quite hide.

“Take your time,” Gladio adds even if he knows that their time is running out and they don’t have any to spare. “We’ll call if there’s any trouble.”

Noct and Prompto nod their thanks and, with twin matching grins, march right into the arcade like they own the place. As it turns out, Noct was right; the machine Prompto mentioned doesn’t work. It’s all busted up and the wires are frayed at the edges. But they find another machine that works, and another. They take a while to start up (and a bit of magic) and the screens are filthy and cracked and the games lag a little too much to really be considered enjoyable, but they play them anyways.

They play the arcade games and Prompto loses himself in the nostalgia, savouring a happiness he hasn’t felt in a decade.

They play the arcade games like they’re kids again; like they have all the time in the world; like Noct’s not going to die tomorrow.

Chapter Text

It was bad enough hearing Noct’s pained wails in the background with his captor’s eerily calm voice speaking overtop of it. It was bad enough reading a description of what the captors would be doing to Noct if their demands weren’t met. Then they had to send a video.

Gladio would have jumped at the chance to see Noct again but not… not like this. 

He and a few others are sitting ‘round a table as a large screen flickers to life before them. Ignis sits across from Gladio and he’s as pale as ever. The circles under his eyes, the ones that appeared when Noct was kidnapped, grow darker by the day and he looks like he might keel over at any second. Gladio reckons he looks the same.

King Regis is here, too, sitting at the front of the table. His dad tried to convince Regis not to watch the video, but King Regis insisted. He waits for the video to start, patient and stony.

The video opens to Noct, died in a chair. He’s bloody and filthy, and his hair is matted with dried blood while bruises decorate his fair skin. His chin rests on his chest, and for a moment, Gladio thinks he’s sleeping (or unconcious). Then, Noct’s face shoots upward. His eyes are wide, feral, and his gaze immediately locks onto the camera in front of him.

There’s no audio—and secretly, Gladio is thankful. It’s hard enough watching Noct scream as lit matches are pressed to his body while daggers cut through his skin like butter. Tears stream down Noct’s face and he mouths, please and stop without rest.

His captors wear heavy, dark cloaks and gas-masks. From a glance, Gladio can’t get a single clue as to who they are but he’s paying more attention to Noct, anyway. He can’t look away, even when he berates himself further for every new scratch Noct gets.

They place a bag over Noct’s head and he begins thrashing desperately. He shakes, he yells, but his restraints hold and the video ends. Gladio’s muscles are tight and he’s breathing heavily, fingers clenched into fists that he can’t stop from shaking, while Iggy looks impassive as ever. But Gladio knows Ignis, and knows that he’s trying just as hard as Gladio not to let anything show.

When he spares a glance at King Regis, he has the same stony expression plastered over his face. He speaks, and his tone is devoid of emotion. Gladio’s never had more respect for him and at the same time, he’s never had less. He wants to punch something, to grab King Regis and yell, “ Why aren’t you doing anything? He’s your son!

The logical part of Gladio’s brain says that giving into whatever captors demand for ransom isn’t a good idea. The emotional part that he’s never quite been able to stifle, no matter how hard he tries, says fuck everything else. Noct’s in pain and Gladio’s ready to go out there and rescue him alone if he has to.

He’s dismissed with the others once the video ends. Only Cor and Monica stay behind to investigate the video for clues, while his dad has to nearly drag King Regis away to get some rest. 

After watching the video, Gladio’s sure he needs it too. He’s unsteady on his feet and just about ready to pass out. But later, he’ll lie in bed and instead of going to sleep, his mind will replay the video in his head, over and over, with the sound of Noct’s screams at full volume. He’ll hear Noct pleading for Gladio to help and asking Gladio “ Why? Where are you? Why aren’t you coming to get me?”

(And when he does, finally, mercifully fall asleep, he’s wracked by nightmares of what else Noct’s been suffering through for the past three months).

Chapter Text

They’re silent as they make their way through the prison cells in Zegnautus Keep. They’re all empty, but some cells are drenched in dried blood (some red, some black) and in others, Noct spots the remains of torn clothing and the gates to those cells ripped open. He looks into every one, even as his stomach begins to feel more and more sick—he can’t risk missing Prompto.

There’s no daemons and Noct’s thankful for that. He doesn’t have to worry about fighting anymore of them, even if he’s now got Gladio and Ignis by his side. He doesn’t have to worry about Prompto fighting any of them and he doesn’t have to worry if any of them are Prompto.

Ardyn’s gone silent over the intercom, too. Noct wants to be thankful for that as well, but the silence means he doesn’t know where Ardyn is, what he’s doing.

Even still, Noct has no choice but to go on, trudging past cell after cell with no sign of Prompto. He’s beginning to wonder if he’ll ever see Prompto again when a flash of blonde catches his eye. There, at the end of a corner, he sees a figure standing, arms spread wide.

Without telling Gladio, without waiting for Ignis to catch up, Noct gasps and runs forward. His footsteps echo loudly on the metal ground and as he gets closer, he sees— yes! It’s Prompto! Holy shit, it’s him and fuck, he’s not standing. He’s strung up on some metal contraption by his wrists like a goddamn ornament and he looks like absolute shit.

The gate to Prompto’s room is locked. Noct tries to pull it open, but the metal hardly budges. A lock holds it secure and refuses to move, even as he growls and curses and slams against the lock with his father’s sword. Prompto doesn’t react to all this noise. Hell, Noct can hardly tell if he’s breathing or not.

Move!” Gladio hisses from behind him and grabs at his shoulder, tossing him backwards. He bumps into Ignis and utters a quick apology as he watches Gladio slam down on the lock with his greatsword once, twice. It breaks on the third swing and Noct’s pushing past Gladio.

“Prompto!” Noct rushes to his side quickly releases him from his restraints. He drops like a puppet with its strings cut—Gladio’s there to catch him and he lowers Prompto to the ground, cradling him gently. 

Up close, Noct can easily see the bruises on Prompto’s skin, and there’s too many to count. Dried blood cakes his body and he’s dirty, pale. 

Prompto,” Noct says again. He carefully touches Prompto and his skin it’s—it’s cold to the touch. Ignis crouches down too, and touches Prompto’s arm. He gasps and recoils the second his hand makes contact with Prompto’s skin and Ignis grows ever paler. “No, no!”

Gladio breaths in, heavily, and runs his hands down Prompto’s skinny arm, ignoring the way it bends in ways it’s not supposed to. He presses down on Prompto’s wrist. Then he tries his other one. Then his neck.

Noct watches this all, his heart pounding faster and faster as Gladio—steadfast, strong—begins to shake, his fingers trembling as they move to the other side of Prompto’s neck. Nobody’s saying anything. Nobody needs to say anything. They’re all thinking the same thing and nobody’s brave enough to say it.

Slowly, Noct presses his palms to Prompto’s chest. There’s no movement at all.

He leans down, down, resting the side of his head against Prompto’s check. He can’t hear anything.

And, when Noct listens for Prompto’s breath, holding his own, there’s nothing.


 

Gladio carries Prompto on his back. Noct leads Ignis through the keep and when daemons or MTs approach them, it takes only seconds for him to kill them all with the Ring of the Lucii. So maybe he’s acting reckless—he doesn’t want to hear complaints from the other two.

He finds the machine that’s restraining his access to the Armiger and crushes it with his father’s sword. The crystal’s energy and magic immediately flow through his body, leaving him breathless as his exhaustion vanishes.

They have two Phoenix Downs left in the armiger.

Less than a minute later, they’re both used up.

Prompto doesn’t wake.

Chapter Text

Noct finds Prompto in the snow easily. At first, Prompto tried to run, terrified that Noct had jumped after him to finish the job, but Noct explained something about Ardyn? And illusions? Honestly, Prompto didn’t understand half of it; he was mostly just glad that Noct didn’t really hate him.

But by the time they made up, the train had long gone and with it, Ignis and Gladio and all their hopes of getting to Gralea.

They take their warmest clothes out of the Armiger and start walking. There’s endless snow all around—white ground, white sky, white landscape—and Prompto can hardly tell up from down, but he and Noct keep walking foward anyway, hoping to find something.

“Remind me never to complain about the heat again,” Noct says. His breath is visible in the air and his lips tremble in the cold. The tips of his hair are frosted under his hood.

Prompto licks his lips. “Yeah. I’d kill to be in Lestallum right now.” He sucks in a breath that rattles in his chest. His mouth’s dry and the wind’s chill spreads through his body. Though his fingers are tucked under his armpits, he’s beginning to feel the tips of them growing numb.

He and Noct try to talk more (which mostly consists of Noct apologizing and Prompto forgiving), but eventually, they’re too cold to even move thier mouths. Prompto feels like his limbs are frozen in place, the only sign that he’s alive being the way he can’t stop shaking. He’s lost since lost the effort to lift his feet to trudge through the snow and instead shuffles forwards in Noct’s footsteps. 

“You see anything, Noct?” Prompto asks after a while—he knows the answer but he wants to hear something other than the wind rushing through his ears. Noct doesn’t respond, though. He doesn’t respond when Prompto repeats himself. 

He falls, face-first, onto the snow in lieu. 

Prompto bend his knees, oblivious to his protest, and forces his arms to obey and push Noct onto his back. He brushes the snow from Noct’s face. Noct’s flushed and his teeth are chattering but when Prompto tries to get his attention, he barely stirs. His eyes are barely open, snowflakes clinging to his eyelashes.

“Noct? Noct, wake up man. You can’t sleep here.”

Prompto receives only a mumble in response. He looks around, hopelessly, like he’s expecting somebody to pop out and give them some help. Nothing. And the potion he’s got in the Armiger doesn’t help Noct either. 

He can’t feel his fingers.

Prompto swears, prays and waits, but Noct doesn’t get up and he’s wasting more time. His legs are growing numb, to the point where Prompto wonders if he can still walk. Noct’s more important though, so Prompto pulls off his beanie and his scarf and wraps it around most of Noct’s face. He wants to give Noct his jacket, too, but he’s not sure if he’ll make it if he does.

He’s also not really sure how he gets Noct on his back but he does, his knees buckling under the weight of Noct and all his jackets. Prompto locks his arms into place. He can hear Noct breathing right by his ear, uses that sound to put one foot in front of the other.

“‘Kay, Noct, you gotta stay awake for me, okay?” Prompto’s voice is shaking. “It’s not a good idea for you to go to sleep. I know you want to but not this time okay?”

Noct mumbles something again. Prompto can’t tell if he really understood, but he’s awake and that’s all that matters.

“Just imagine what we’ll do once we find some shelter. We’ll have a warm meal and sit in front of a fireplace.”

Prompto’s stuttering like crazy and he can hardly swallow, his throat dry.

“What did you name that cat we found in Galdin, again? I totally forgot, but I guess now’s a good time as ever to tell you that Monica named him ‘Fuzzy.’ I think Iris called him some flower name and Talcott calls him ‘Mr. Fuzzy.’ Isn’t that adorable?”

The tips of his ears are beginning to burn—Prompto feels like he’ll shatter, like glass, if someone were to bump into him. His eyes ache, from the wind and the endless, blinding snow. But there’s still no shelter in sight so he walks on.

“You still with me, Noct?” Prompto says. “Don’t worry, okay? I’m gonna take care of you. We’re gonna be okay.”

Noct stops shivering a little later.

Chapter Text

Noct’s phone blares at 6 am sharp—he yelps and scrambles to sit up, already prepared to summon his sword before he remembers where he is. He’s in bed, in the Citadel. He’s safe.

The thought doesn’t bring him comfort.

He doesn’t check who’s calling, simply swiping to decline the call. Rolling over, Noct shuts his tired eyes and tries willing himself to fall asleep. It doesn’t work.  His heart is still thumping like crazy and his mind’s beginning to scream at him again. His entire body feels heavy and he doesn’t wanna move.

The doors to his room are slammed open some twenty minutes later. Noct doesn’t need to look up to see who’s coming in. There are only two people who’d enter his room without knocking and one of them’s gone.

“Noct,” Gladio growls. His footsteps grow louder until they reach the foot of his bed and childishly, Noct burrows deeper into the covers. Gladio’s not having any of that shit, and yanks the edge of the blanket. Noct comes tumbling to the ground and he groans, rubbing his backside. “Get the fuck up.”

His exhaustion is quickly replaced by anger. “What the fuck do you want?” 

“Why the hell didn’t you answer my call? Get dressed,” Gladio says. He stomps over to the windows, throwing the curtains open and so what if Noct hisses at the light. Gladio crosses his arms and stares expectantly at Noct.

“No,” Noct says. He’s not interested in whatever bullshit Gladio’s trying to get him to do. Fuck training, fuck camping, fuck all that shit. Like any of that is going to really distract him from what’s important. “I’m not going anywhere, not unless they’ve got an update on Iggy.”

Gladio huffs. “You’re in luck, dumbass. That’s exactly why I’m here.”

What?” Noct jumps up and he’s immediately hit by a wave of dizziness—he stumbles and nearly falls over. Would have, if Gladio weren’t there to catch him. Not really surprising, considering Noct can hardly remember the last time he ate. “They—they found him?”

“We’ve got him,” Gladio says. “He’s here, in the Citadel hospital. I’m here to escort you to him. Now get movin’.”

Noct’s already throwing a sweater on before Gladio’s finished.


 

On the way there, Gladio explains. 

Cor was leaving the Citadel around 2:30 am, having finished a couple of reports on the newest Crownsguard recruits, when he saw a black vehicle skidding away from the front entrance. Curious, Cor went closer, until he saw a figure on the steps.

Ignis was nearly unrecognizable, apparently. He’d been beaten so badly that Cor was unsure if he was even alive. 

(If Gladio notices Noct’s shudder, he doesn’t comment on it).

When they reach the entrance to the Citadel’s hospital, Noct bursts through the doors—the Crownsguard inside jump up at the noise and immediately back down once they see his expression. With wary nods, they part to let Noct through.

“This way,” Gladio says. He leads Noct down a secluded hallway. There’s a single Crownsguard standing outside a door at the very end of the hallway. “Is it okay if we visit?” Gladio asks, like Noct’s not going to bust in whether or not the Crownsguard will allow him.

They nod, and step aside. “Yeah, but he’s still unconscious. Don’t expect much, Your Highness.”

Noct was never expecting much. He knew that asking Ignis to be conscious was too much. He only wanted— needed —to see him, to know that he’s here, and alive.

But the man laying in the hospital bed isn’t Ignis. It’s… not. It can’t be. Ignis is all hard lines and fancy clothes, never a hair out of place. Noct knows every detail of Ignis’ face, from the bump on his nose down to the acne scars he’s never been able to rid himself of.

The person in the bed— Ignis , Noct has to remind himself—looks barely alive. He’s thin, just skin and bones, and Noct sees blue veins stark against pale skin running along their arms. And his face is swollen, purple and black. Like he’s been stung by bees a million times all over. 

Noct also recognizes the sign of rope burn on his wrists. And he's got some burns that look like cigarettes were pressed into his skin, searing holes into his body. Noct doesn’t want to see what’s under the bedsheet.

Hell, he can hardly bring himself to look at Ignis in general.

Gladio pushes a chair under Noct, and his legs buckle under his weight. He learns forward, elbows on his knees, and stares at the ground.

“Cor suspects a kidnapping,” Gladio says. As if it’d be anything else. When Ignis first disappeared, Noct heard rumours being spread that he’s abandoned his duty. That he’s taken the Crown’s money and benefits and ran. He even heard some people calling him a traitor, that Noct was lucky Ignis didn’t take his life. 

Bullshit. Fucking bullshit. There was no way Ignis would abandon Noct, just like that. Not once did Noct believe Ignis up and left.

‘Course, the alternative wasn’t much better. But it’s the truth, it seems.

Gladio slaps a hand down on Noct’s shoulder. “We haven’t confirmed a motive, but we’ve basically got proof that it was some Niffs that did it,” Gladio continues. “Apparently he’s got the Niff’s emblem burned onto his chest.”

Branded, like some goddamn cattle.

“Though it’s easy to imagine why they were… torturing him.”

Like Gladio needs to bullshit around. Noct already knows, dammit. He’s known from the very beginning that Ignis was kidnapped to get information on him. In the four months that he’s been gone, Noct’s known that he was probably being tortured and tormented because of him.

There’s no way that Ignis said anything, though. If anybody’s stubborn, it’s Ignis and he’d rather die ten times over than put Noct through the slightest of danger. He’s always been protecting Noct—whether it’s been lying to keep him out of trouble when they were kids, or taking care of some thugs that threatened him and Prompto one time—and this is no different. Judging from the expression on Gladio’s face, he thinks the same.

(He’s angry, though Noct knows now that it’s directed all inwards. He’s blaming himself for letting Ignis get hurt and Noct would offer some words of comfort if he weren’t doing the same).

“We don’t know why they dropped him off here, though. Or why they risked dropping him off so close to the Citadel. There was no ransom, no nothing. It was almost like they got bored and finally realized they weren’t getting anything out of Iggy.” Gladio takes a deep breath. “Well, whatever the reason, I couldn’t care less. Iggy’s back and that’s what matters.”

Noct wishes that was enough for him. But it’s not. The restlessness that’s been plauging him has only grown tenfold now. 

Somewhere, out there, is a group of fuckers that took Ignis and tortured him for four months. They kept him tied up and beat him until he was unrecognizable and ruined him and they’re out there, free.

He’s not gonna fuckin’ rest until he’s gotten those captors under his boot, begging for a mercy he’ll never give.

 

Chapter Text

“Noct, wait!”

The words tear out of Prompto’s throat, fall from his mouth, before he realizes what he’s saying. He’s taken a single step forward, broken out of his bow, his posture, his composure. He’s nothing like what a true, proper Crownsguard should be.

But Noct turns around—slowly, like he can’t bring himself to look back—and Prompto can’t find himself regretting those words. None of that matters anymore. Sure, Prompto’s a member of the Crownsguard and he dons his garb with pride, but he’s always been Noct’s best friend first and foremost and he’s not going to watch Noct walk away like that.

He can’t.

Prompto didn’t follow Noct here just out of duty—he did it out of love and Noct probably already knows that, but he needs to show Noct, give him something to take with him to the throne.

Noct faces Prompto dead-on. He’s got a sad sort of look on his face, almost like pity, and to Prompto’s side, he hears Ignis call his name. The rain falls, heavy.

It takes all of three seconds for Prompto’s face to crumple. He runs, chasing Noct up the stairs, catching him around the shoulders and burying his face into Noct’s neck. Prompto lets out a broken sob, clinging tight, like that’ll stop Noct from leaving.

Noct utters his name and returns the hug—Prompto burns the warmth of his touch into his memory. Then there’s another pair of arms being wrapped around him; Ignis, who buries his face in Noct’s hair, visor askew. Gladio engulfs them all in a bear hug, his arms encircling them, protecting them in the only way he can, now.

Prompto’s crying. Loud, ugly sobs that echo around the empty Citadel. He’s not ashamed of it, though, not when he can hear the others crying as well. Their tears clog their throats, leaving them unable to speak—but their embrace does that for them.

They break apart when a cold wind blows, particularly hard, like it’s trying to whisk Noct away. Like the Astrals or Noct’s ancestors are tired of waiting. Noct looks at each of them in turn.

“Thank you,” he says, “for everything.”

When he walks back up the stairs, his pace is a lot slower. Prompto’s still holding onto Gladio and Ignis as he watches Noct leave, but their touch can’t chase away the chill of the night—there’s something, someone missing.

The tell-tale screech of metal and the clicking of teeth alert Prompto to the arrival of daemons behind. Gladio summons his broadsword, hefting it onto his back with an exhale, like its weight is suddenly too much to bear, and Iggy grips his daggers too tightly.

They face the daemons but Prompto can’t tear his eyes away from Noct, watching as the rain drips off his back. His figure grows smaller, blurrier, as he climbs farther and farther. If Prompto’s legs didn’t feel so numb, maybe he’d be there, right beside him.

“Hey.” Gladio’s voice snaps him out of his reverie. “Focus, Prompto. Our job ain’t finished yet.”

“We’ve still one last thing to do,” Ignis says, “for Noct.”

It feels so wrong to turn his back on Noct, but Prompto does, turning around only to be greeted by the sight of more daemons than he can count. Red giants with swords that burn even through the torrential downpour and imps twice the size of him. There’s arachne and necromancers and so many other daemons that Prompto can’t even recognize.

It’s terrifying, but Prompto can still hear Noct’s heavy footsteps on the stairs and knows that, no matter what, he’s not gonna let them touch Noct. There’s no way in hell he’s letting anybody stop Noct.

Prompto exhales, summoning his gun for the last time.

“Alright,” he says, “let’s do it.”