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What to Expect When You're Defecting

Chapter Text

The narrow halls of Gralea’s Magitech Development Facility were flooded with blazing blue lights, installed at angles to chase out shadow and dig through every door frame and tucked-away corner. Cor Leonis’ breath steamed as he passed beneath them, and his feet kicked up the heavy mist of frigid air that piped through ducts in the floor. It was an added protection from the daemons that lurched and gibbered and slavered at the steel doors on either side: The creatures bred on that floor were weak to low temperatures, and the scientists who worked there installed every protection to ensure that they remained in the testing cells where they belonged.

But Cor wasn’t there for them. He’d spent the better part of two hours fighting his way through the facility to reach one research lab in particular: The workplace of Verstael Besithia, the man who engineered the worst of Niflheim’s bio-weapons. He couldn’t afford distractions, not now, not when the king himself had ordered Cor to infiltrate the facility for this express purpose.

When Cor reached the lab, it was blocked by an unassuming steel door, which opened far too easily under the influence of one of Cor’s crafted flasks of fire magic. The lock shattered as he passed through the threshold, and the warmth of the office hit him in a wet, heavy blast.

The lab was small, disappointingly tidy, and well-organized. Cor lifted several files and released them into the king’s armiger in a flash of blue magic—The king would sense the change even all the way in Insomnia, and would have his advisors poring through them within minutes. He did the same with several floppy disks, a case of clear vials, and a stack of what seemed to be Verstael’s personal notes. He was about to dig through one of the cabinets in the corner when he heard a high, keening sound, and a steady, dull beeping.

He turned towards the noise, and saw a squat, waist-high steel cube at the end of the room, next to a wall of glowing, flashing monitors. He approached it cautiously, one hand on the hilt of his blade, as the keening sound died off into a series of high-pitched whimpers. There was something alive in there. A daemon? Cor brushed the plaque on the door of the cube, which held a series of numbers, under which was an engraved code of some sort.

Prompto.

The door wasn’t locked. Not a daemon, then. Perhaps it was some experiment, a creature Besithia was crafting into a weapon. Cor pushed at the hilt of his sword with a thumb, and slowly, carefully, opened the door.

He peered through the mass of wires, tubes, and glass containers within, and felt his breath catch in his throat.

“Da?”

 

---

 

The streets of Gralea seethed with pedestrians at the height of the late night rush. Soldiers from the keep at the center of the city marched through on their way to duty stations, medics stood at bus stops and lingered at all-night takeaways, and everywhere there were brightly-clad locals, grinning and chattering and watching the evening news with tentative excitement.

The war’s turned for us at last, they said, as the Emperor’s smiling face flickered on barroom televisions and street-side holograms. It won’t be long now.

In the midst of them, pale with the wide-eyed, thin-lipped look of a haunted man, Cor Leonis disappeared into the night, holding a small, one-year-old child under his jacket as though they were made of glass.

 

---

 

June Fretham, part-time clerk at the Gralea train station gift shop and convenience center, had been robbed seven times in the past three years. Mostly, it was the same man: Percival “Digger” Cuther, the guy who lived four streets down and couldn’t seem to figure out that a pale stocking over the head did little to mask his violently white hair and jittery hands. Sometimes, she’d see him coming and open the till on her own just to save time.

After seven years of retail and three years of working at the train station, she figured she’d seen just about everything.

Still, she’d never been robbed by a man carrying a baby before.

She stared at the disordered rack of baby formula, diapers, cheap wipes and “no tears” shampoo that definitely wasn’t as effective as advertised, and bit down on her thumb. This was way above her pay-grade.

“Well,” she said, turning from the mess with the jaded disinterest of a retail veteran. “I hope he knows what he’s doing.”

 

---

 

“I have no idea what I’m doing,” Cor said. He was sitting cross-legged on a bunk in a sleeper car of the train out of Niflheim, gazing down at the chubby, pink-faced baby before him. The baby—Prompto, he supposed he was called—had soft blond hair that curled up in an unruly lick over his forehead, a grip like an iron vise, and the lungs of a banshee. At the moment, he was trying to chew on Cor’s captain’s badge, and was succeeding at getting a pint of drool over the soft leather.

He hadn’t meant to steal the child. The king would have understood if he hadn’t. It was, honestly, an incredibly foolish thing to do. As soon as Besithia or one of his assistants found the boy missing, a full search would be made, and Cor hadn’t exactly concealed his movements after the fact. But still… He thought of the cube, and the wires, and the raised welts around a tattooed barcode on Prompto’s wrist, and fury roared in the back of his mind.

Soft fingers touched his chin.

“Da,” Prompto said, mournfully.

“Sorry, kid,” Cor told him. “I’m not your…” Prompto’s lip quivered. Shit. Shit. Not again.

He picked the boy up in his arms and jiggled him experimentally as the boy sobbed on his shoulder. I’m twenty-three, he thought, toeing open his bag of stolen supplies. I barely even know how to look after myself.

It was true. If it weren’t for the complimentary meals at the Crownsguard mess hall, Cor would have probably starved by age eighteen, and he was always getting called out by Clarus at muster for having wrinkled fatigues or scuffed-up boots. Never mind all the disciplinary reviews.

“Look,” he said to Prompto, dragging out a stuffed chocobo doll he’d lifted from the train station. “Look, pure evil with feathers.” He bounced the toy in his palm, and Prompto stared at it for a full five seconds before bursting into tears again. “Oh, for fuck’s—for—What do you want, kid? What’s happening?”

Prompto threw back his head and wailed.

In the end, it took three discarded diapers, a bag of puffed wheat snacks, and a half-forgotten version of the Baby Behemoth song for Prompto to finally calm down. Even so, it was a fragile balance: The boy looked on the verge of a full break-down at any moment. Cor covered his face with both hands, and Prompto whimpered. He jerked them away quickly, and a shaky sort of smile broke out across Prompto’s round face.

Oh.

Cor glanced behind him. There was no one outside, and the window at the door of his private car was too high for anyone to look in properly, anyways. He turned back to the boy and covered his face with both hands.

“Oh, no,” he said, in a deadpan voice. “I no longer exist, I guess.” He lifted his hands. “Now I do?”

Prompto giggled. Actually giggled.

“Thank the gods Reg and Clarus aren’t here to see this,” he muttered, and covered his face. “Wow. What do you know, I’m gone again…”

 

---

 

“I need to hear this one more time, Captain.” King Regis’ voice over Cor’s heavy brick of a phone was tinny and far too amused. “You have a what with you?”

“A child,” Cor said. “About, I don’t know. A year old? He knows some words, and he can walk a little.”

“I told you to obtain information, Leonis,” his king said. “And what do you mean, you were ejected from the train?”

“Exactly what I said, Your Majesty,” Cor told him. He worked his jaw around a gloriously colorful bruise. “Apparently, I needed a visa. So I’m renting a chocobo until I can get to a car.”

“Is that… entirely safe?”

Cor looked to Prompto, who was currently snuggled up next to the yellow, thankfully docile chocobo near the fire. Sunlight faded fast in Niflheim’s winter months, and they’d barely made it to a safe haven in time. As it was, Cor could see the faint lights of daemons prowling the edges, warded off only by the glowing lights of the anti-daemon runes on the haven platform.

“He likes the birds, Astrals know why,” he said. Cor and chocobos didn’t exactly get along at the best of times, but this bird seemed to think of Prompto as an adopted chick. “But that’s not why I called. Can you… is Clarus with you?”

Regis made a soft humph, and there was a rustling sound at the other end of the line. Then a low voice broke through the static. “Leonis. How’s fatherhood?”

“Ha. I need help, Clarus.” Cor watched as a lich emerged from the ground near the haven, releasing a soft green mist in the air. Prompto stared at it sleepily, watching its progress around the perimeter of the haven. “It’s… Prompto isn’t taking his formula.”

“Why would you ask me—

“Prince Noctis lives at the daycare,” Cor said, shortly. “I’ve seen you bring your kid to work, sir. Please.”

Clarus sighed. “Fine. Was it the right temperature? Did you follow the directions on the box?”

“Temperature?” Cor asked, unable to keep the panic out of his voice.

“Oh, dear. You will need help. Very well, Leonis. There should be a kettle in the armiger—summon that, and let the fire bank enough to bring the formula to a low heat…”

Ten minutes later, Cor crouched over his knees, holding a cheap bottle in one hand.

“Test it on your wrist, first,” Clarus said, in the gentle, all-too-patient tone Cor had learned to associate with public reprimands.

Cor stared at his wrist. Prompto stared at the bottle. At the edge of the haven, the lich stared at Prompto.

“Right,” Cor said. “Right. Okay.”

“It’s formula, Leonis,” Clarus said. “Not poison.”

“It isn’t hot,” Cor said, after squeezing a drop onto his skin.

“Best you can do at the moment,” Clarus said. “Try it now, and remember what I said. It might just be that he doesn’t like bottles. If he was raised in a lab…”

Cor crawled over to Prompto, who cooed and raised his hands towards him.

“Choco cho cho cho,” he said.

Clarus laughed. “Is that your name, Leonis?”

“All due respect, sir, shut the f—

“That isn’t the kind of language I’d expect from my babysitter, Choco cho.”

Cor groaned, hung up, and bundled Prompto into his lap. Right. Formula, mashed-up fruit and veggies, and eggs. He could do this: At least, until he made it to Insomnia. No problem.

 

---

 

Four months later, Cor collapsed to his knees in the soft grass South of Lestallum, letting his sword drop beside him. At his back, tucked safely in a sling and clapping his hands in delight, Prompto hummed and wriggled. About them, the corpses of a pack of voretooth monsters lay in sad heaps in the underbrush.

“Song!” Prompto crowed. Cor whistled the cheery little victory tune he’d set as a ringtone weeks ago, and Prompto danced in his sling, feet kicking painfully into Cor’s back.

“Good job, Prom,” Cor said. He was still breathless with the fear that came from warding off snarling jaws slick with venom and claws long as knives, all with the knowledge that there was a child hanging from his back.

A pretty decent child, all things considered.

Prompto was learning more words every day, lately. He’d grown to have an affinity for all animals sporting fur or feathers, loved bubbles, Cor’s shoelaces, and a pointless clapping game that had no rules and mostly consisted of Prompto trying to slap Cor on the arm. He liked bedtime stories, which were made up of watered-down tales of Cor’s time with Regis and the others, and slept curled up in the crook of Cor’s arm or sprawled over his chest, drooling impressively.

Technically, they should have been back in Insomnia weeks ago. But there had been that business with customs at Tenebrae, and then the week of storms between there and Lestallum, and he’d taken a few weeks there to get Prompto checked out at a doctor’s office—Except he’d run out of gil, so he had to take hunts to pay the bills, and… Well, here he was.

He repositioned the sling and lifted Prompto out, walking them both to the road. According to his phone clock, their ride should be there any minute. Cor set Prompto down at the curb and held his hand to prevent him from toddling out into the road.

“Da,” Prompto said, slapping his hand.

“That’s right,” Cor said, without thinking.

Prompto’s face lit up like the sun.

When their ride got there, it came in the form of a massive orange semi with a sloped bed, a garish decal of a grinning hammerhead shark, and two sets of fuzzy dice at the mirror. Cor picked Prompto up and held him to his hip as he opened the door, and groaned at the smirking face of the man at the wheel.

“Damn, kid,” Cid Sophiar said. “Old Reggie was right.”

“Not a word,” Cor told him, and set Prompto up in the seat before climbing in.

 

---

 

King Regis sat back on his throne, legs crossed, watching Cor Leonis with the air of a man witnessing the arrival of a new and bewildering life-form. A little to his right, Clarus Amicitia was struggling, and failing, not to laugh, constantly raising his hand to his mouth to hide a trembling smile.

On the dais before the throne, Prompto, the rescued experiment of Niflheim’s elite Magitech research lab and resident toddler, lay on the floor and screamed.

“It’s nap time,” Cor explained, avoiding Prompto’s flailing fists as he picked the boy up. “He’s had a busy day, Your Majesty.”

“No!” Prompto shouted. “No. No no no no—“

“You have a nap time?” Regis asked.

“Wanna choco cho,” Prompto whimpered. Clarus turned aside, shoulders shaking, as Cor dug into his cargo pocket and retrieved a much-loved chocobo doll. Prompto held it tight and sobbed once, eyes bright with the disapproving fury of a boy who needed sleep but was damn well going to fight it all the way.

“As we were saying before, ah, Prompto decided to grace us with his attention,” Regis said, “We’ve taken the doctors’ results into consideration, and with regards to your request…”

Cor bit the inside of his cheek, trying not to let the apprehension show.

“There’s certainly no reason why you shouldn’t take charge of the boy. Approved.”

Cor let out a heavy breath. In his arms, Prompto, emboldened by the fact that no one was staring at him anymore, started to scream again.

“Incidentally,” Regis said, as Cor bounced Prompto gently and whispered soothing nonsense into the cavernous throne room. “Since we can’t have our new Captain going on too long of a leave… Prince Noctis can certainly use a friend his age at the Citadel daycare. Just an option for you to consider, Leonis.”

Cor bowed, and Prompto took advantage of the movement to hang from Cor’s arm by his knees, the subject of pure, aggravated misery. Clarus covered his face with a hand and snorted.

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Cor said, swinging the boy back up again with a whoop. Prompto let out a wet, half-hearted chuckle, and pressed a hand onto his cheek. “I may take you up on that one.”

And with that, King Regis and Clarus Amicitia watched in gleeful fascination as Cor and Prompto Leonis exited the throne room to a chorus of high giggling, and the low, cracking whistle of a well-known victory tune.

Chapter Text

The first time Monica saw Cor Leonis carry his son into the mess hall, she nearly spat out her drink.

“Easy, girl,” Dustin, her colleague, slapped her on the back as she coughed weak lemonade from her lungs.

She’d heard the rumors, of course. Cor had come across a volatile experiment in the research labs of Gralea, something that had drained him, was possibly still draining him, dragging out what little humor and goodwill he had left in his soul. Cor would show up late for muster with his uniform out of regs and bags under his eyes. He missed his monthly haircut, sent the new recruits into a frenzy of panic with a word, and responded to her or Dustin’s attempts at conversation with monosyllabic grunting.

Now, she watched as Cor nervously sat a chubby, blonde-haired toddler on his lap, tipped a tin of puffy spinach treats on his tray, and started cutting up slices of banana.

“No!” the boy said, slapping his hand on the table.

“What do you want, Prom?” Cor asked. His voice was soft, gentle, and he was…

“By the Six,” Monica whispered. “Is that a smile?

“Miracles happen,” Dustin said.

“Cake,” the boy said. Cor shook his head and struggled to suppress a smile.

Monica stared, transfixed, her lunch forgotten as Cor Leonis, Cor the Immortal, Cor the sword arm of the king, bounced the kid on his leg and made soft whooshing noises with a spoon full of banana.

Then Clarus Amicitia strolled in, and she covered her face with her hand.

“Morning, Leonis,” the Shield of the king said, dragging a high chair over to Cor’s table and balancing the young Prince Noctis on his other arm. “You’re early.”

“NOCK,” Prom’s voice boomed in the mess hall, and he stretched his arms out for the other boy. “NOCKS!”

“Pom!” Prince Noctis shouted back, trying to wriggle out of Clarus’ arm. “Pom Pom POM!” Clarus strapped the squirming, protesting toddler into his high chair, but Prom, much more mobile than the prince, crawled out of Cor’s lap and grabbed at Noctis’ hair with both hands.

“Don’t pull,” Cor warned, as Noctis and the little boy giggled and shrieked at each other. Monica turned to Dustin with a haunted look.

“And he thought I was too sentimental for having cats?

 

---

 

Gladiolus Amicitia was a giant of a child. It was as though he had been born a quarter size larger than everyone else, and he still couldn’t quite get the hang of it: He stepped on Ignis Scientia’s feet during Quiet Time, he crushed crayons in his fist when he colored in workbooks, and he hunched in on himself when the younger kids’ daycare mingled with the older children, unsure of where to go. The kids his age tended to shy away from him, and he didn’t have anything in common with the older ones. So he stayed by himself, quiet and tense and desperately lonely, kicking up dust in the playground as he pushed idly on the swingset.

Then Prince Noctis and Prompto Leonis were moved to the pre-k through primary daycare, and everything changed.

“Iggy!” Gladio looked up as Prince Noctis, small for a four-year-old and sporting a mess of black hair that hung too long over his eyes, wrapped his arms around Ignis, who was six and already dressed like a fifty-year-old politician. Both boys fell onto the soft play carpet, revealing a blonde, deeply freckled boy Noct’s age, standing by the door with a chocobo toy in his hand.

Like a baby, Gladio thought, derisively.

“Guess what!” Noct said, as Ignis pushed him away. “Guess what? Prompto and me are gonna be here with you, Iggy!”

“I figured as much,” Ignis said. He always talked like an adult: Gladio had peeked at his workbooks once, and they were full of words and numbers Gladio couldn’t really understand, without a single picture.

“Hey.” Gladio jumped. The blond kid was standing next to him, looking down at the drawing Gladio was working on. “I like your flower.”

Gladio flipped the paper over. The older kids were always making fun of him for picking flowers at recess, or reading books with princesses on the cover, or hanging out with girls too much. He wasn’t about to let a baby like this one do the same.

“Why’d you hide it?” The kid—Prompto—reached for the drawing, and Gladio slapped his hand away.

“Go hang out with kids your age,” Gladio said.

“I said I liked it,” Prompto told him, his face flushing pink. “You don’t hafta be mean.

“What are you gonna do, cry?”

For a second, it looked like Prompto would. Then he took a breath, shoved his chocobo toy in his pocket, lifted both hands, and pushed Gladiolus out of his chair.

The crash brought the entire room into a hushed, horrified silence.

“What are you gonna do?” Prompto asked, looking down on Gladio with eyes that swam with tears and a lip that trembled dangerously. “Cry?”

 

---

 

It took only one week for Prompto and Gladiolus to go from unlikely rivals to full-blown enemies, and Cor Leonis felt like a man lost in an unknown country without a map. Conflict resolution had never been his strong suit: As a teen, he didn’t really bother with problems he couldn’t punch his way out of, and it was truly surprising how many issues could use the intervention of a fist. Of course, it had always ended with Cor being dragged, sometimes literally, to Regis or Clarus for punishment detail, but at the time, he’d deemed it worth the lecture.

Now, Cor helped Prompto put on his best, least stained shirt, and checked the chocobo-themed clock hanging over their kitchen window. The two of them lived in the same barracks apartments Cor had been assigned since the age of nineteen, and the place was rapidly growing far too small for a twenty-six year old and a child with an endless supply of energy. Toys spilled over the coffee table and peeked out between couch cushions. Half of Cor’s dresser now belonged to Prompto, there was a poorly constructed and barely used racecar bed wedged in his crowded bedroom, and Cor spent so much time at the laundromat downstairs that the janitorial staff knew him by name.

Prompto wriggled and fiddled with the high collar of his shirt. “I don’t wanna see Gladio,” he said, looking down at his feet.

“Yeah, that’s kind of the point,” Cor said. “You stepped on his flower crown—“

He called Noct a brat!

“And you pushed him backwards down the slide—“

“Only ‘cause he pulled my hair.”

Cor held back a groan. “Prom,” he said. “Gladio’s a good kid.” Prompto gave him a deeply suspicious look. “No, really. If you tried to make friends with him…”

“I did!

“Well, now you made him cry.” Prompto grumbled darkly as Cor helped him stick on the Velcro straps on his light-up shoes. “So you know what that means.”

“Playdates,” Prompto said, in the same way someone else would say Daemons.

Cor sighed.

Clarus met Cor and Prompto at the door to the royal manor, where he and his family had moved in with Regis’ some months before. For safety’s sake, Clarus had said, but Cor, who had shared a tent with Clarus and Regis for four years, was their resident lookout for late night rendezvous during official balls, and once covered for both of them before the late king himself, had a different guess as to the real reason. As it was, Regis was out on business, Noct was playing with Ignis in the yard, and Gladio…

“Oh,” Cor said, when he walked in.

“Yes,” Clarus said. “Quite.”

Gladiolus Amicitia sat with his knees drawn up on one of the large, black couches in the main entrance, his face a blotchy red and pink, nose running, sleeves stained with tears. Cor gave Clarus a sideways look, and Clarus shrugged.

“It seems our children have discovered the joys of true enmity,” Clarus said, smiling down at Prompto, who didn’t look much better off.

“Prom,” Cor said. “Remember what we talked about on the way here.”

Prompto let out a long, aggravated sigh, and stamped over to Gladio, hands balled into fists at his sides. Gladio stared at him with the blank glare of miserable hatred.

“Dad says I gotta say sorry for stepping on your flower crown,” Prompto said.

Cor groaned faintly. Clarus patted him on the shoulder.

“Yeah, well my dad says I gotta apologize for callin’ you a baby.”

There was a long, tense silence as both boys stared at each other.

“I’m not sorry,” Prompto said.

“Yeah? I ain’t sorry, neither.”

“Oh, yes you are!

Both Gladio and Prompto turned to find Ignis Scientia, all of six years old and brimming with superior confidence, adjusting his starched white shirt with sharp tugs. Noct peered out from behind him, waving shyly to Prompto.

Ignis placed his hands on his hips. “I am not having this!” he cried. “Noct is sad. Gladio’s sad. Prompto didn’t eat his pudding cup yesterday. If this keeps up, it’ll be chaos! A… a breakdown of society!”

Clarus held a fist to his mouth, hiding a grin. Cor stared as the boy strode over to Prompto and grabbed his hand, then Gladio’s.

“Shake on it!” he ordered. “Like men! And say you’re sorry.

Prompto and Gladio looked from Ignis to each other, very slowly.

“You’d better do it,” Noct said, from the door. “Iggy’s scary when he’s mad.”

Prompto pulled a face like he’d just stepped in something foul and grabbed Gladio’s hand. Gladio winced and squeezed back.

“Sorry,” Gladio mumbled.

“Sorry,” whispered Prom.

Ignis nodded. “Right,” he said. “Good. Now we are going outside,” he told them, pointing imperiously to the sliding glass door, “where we’ll play Glaives versus Crownsguard. Noct and I are Glaives. You two are Crownsguard.”

Prompto and Gladio both looked ready to object, but stopped at the look on Ignis’ face. They followed the boy meekly to the yard, and Noct ran after them, reaching out to hold Ignis’ hand.

“Playdates,” Clarus said, as Cor attempted to retrieve his jaw from the floor. He slapped the younger man on the back and grinned. “They’re practically magic.”

Chapter Text

“Dad,” Prompto said one morning, kicking his legs against the standard-issue office chair that served as his seat at the table. “Where did you get me?”

Cor paused with his mug raised, coffee sloshing against closed lips. Prompto puffed out his cheeks and traced stains on the tabletop with his finger.

Iggy says people come from the facts of life,” Prompto said, and Cor’s lips parted involuntarily. He choked on scalding coffee, and doubled over at the kitchen counter. “I asked, and he says it’s like when a momma chocobo and a daddy chocobo start—“

“Oh gods,” Cor gasped. How old was Ignis? Seven? Where was he learning this? “Well, Prompto…”

“Except I don’t have a momma chocobo,” Prompto finished. “Do I?”

Cor could only shake his head.

“Then where’d you get me?”

Astrals, why hadn’t Cor thought of this? His panicking brain scrambled for half-baked excuses and uncertain explanations. Adoption, it told him, in a voice that sounded far too much like the king. It isn’t that hard, Leonis. Everyone knows someone who’s been adopted. Tell him he’s—

“I found you in a box,” Cor said.

Prompto looked up, violet-blue eyes wide, hands stilled on the table.

“Oh,” he said. “Okay.”

 

---

 

“A box, was it?” Regis Lucis Caelum whispered the words in passing as he walked around the front of the Regalia, the light of his golden pauldron flashing in Cor’s eyes. Cor, who was holding Prompto’s hand at the front of North Insomnia’s Starlight Elementary School, shot him the darkest look he could reasonably get away with. The king smiled at him, all innocence, and opened the passenger door. Prince Noctis hopped out, looking stiff and uncomfortable in his new school uniform.

“Hey, Noct!” Prompto said, bouncing on his toes. Noctis smiled nervously, and stood still to let Regis adjust the fit of his jacket.

“Dad,” Noct whined, as the king smoothed down his hair. “You don’t have to. It’s just school.

“It’s your first day,” Regis said. “I want to make sure you look your best.”

Noct turned to Prompto, whose shirt had been ironed the wrong way around after Cor had gone door to door begging for an ironing board, was wearing a jacket a size too large for him, and whose hair was sticking up at all angles. He even wore a mess of colored rubber bands in the shape of different animals, which covered the tattoo on his wrist and made it look like he’d dipped his arm in a vat of tie-dyed plastic.

Prompto bounced again, and the soles of his shoes lit up yellow and green.

“No fighting,” Cor told Prompto, when Regis was done fussing over Noct. Prompto nodded. “Feeling nervous at all?”

“Nuh-uh,” Prompto said, his eyes sliding to the left in the way that meant he was. “I got Noct in my class.”

Prompto stared at him, expectant, and Cor glanced over to Regis, who was watching him with far too much amusement. He sighed. There was no getting around it now: Prompto couldn’t go to his first day of school without this.

“Lucky charm,” Cor said. He crouched down and held up his hand. Prompto slapped it, and he lowered it quickly, making him lunge to slap it again. “I want to—“

“Ride my chocobo! All! Day!” Prompto sang, clapping along. At the end, he jumped up to kiss Cor on the cheek. “See you later, Dad! Come on, Noct!” He grabbed Noct’s hand, dragging the slightly tearful prince away from his father and through the school gates.

Cor stood, watching them go. After a moment, Regis handed him a silk, monogrammed handkerchief.

“I don’t need to…” Cor caught the reprimand in his monarch’s eye, then resigned himself to it, crumpling the handkerchief in his fist. Regis chuckled.

“You know,” he said, in a conspiratorial tone. “It works better if you use it on your face.”

“Your Majesty.” Cor bowed, and Regis’ brows lifted in gleeful amusement. “I am, as always, your servant.”

“Naturally.”

“But… and I say this with respect… You can be an evil bastard when you want to be. Sire.”

Regis clapped a hand on Cor’s shoulder, and inclined his head in assent. “Well, Leonis,” he said. “You had to find out sometime.”

 

---

 

Prompto was eight when Prince Noctis fell to a daemon attack, twisting the height of their autumn vacation into a maelstrom of confusion and fear. Cor was kept hopping most hours of the day, rushing from room to room in the Citadel, conferring with Clarus, Regis, and top members of the Kingsglaive well into the evening. After the first night of this, Prompto had snuck out of the apartment the next morning and broke into the Council hall, glaring balefully at Cor from across the room.

“Oh, hell,” Cor whispered, taking in his son’s tearstained face. “Clarus, I’ll have to—“

“Go on, Leonis,” Clarus said, waving a hand in dismissal. Cor practically ran to Prompto.

After a week, when it was clear that Noct’s condition was unlikely to change, Cor was able to spend more time at home. Prompto wandered about the apartment and the Citadel grounds like a mournful ghost, brightening up only when he trailed after Gladio in the Crownsguard training yards. Cor thought it was concern for his friend that was sending Prompto into such a deep gloom, but he was startled to find, one afternoon, that this wasn’t entirely the case.

“It’s Iggy,” Prompto said, picking at his favorite curried rice as though he’d forgotten how to eat. “I haven’t seen him in ages, and I know he’s scared, and Gladdy says he’s stuck at home cause Noct doesn’t need him…” He looked up at Cor, face set despite the fat tears that trickled over his cheeks. “I want to have him over.”

And so Cor Leonis found himself sitting in the fine, pristine apartment of the Scientias to the East of the Citadel, trying not to breathe in the overpowering scent of berry perfume.

“We’re so pleased to have one of the king’s inner circle here, of course,” Mrs. Scientia, call me Dotsie, said. She poured herself a cup of tea and twinkled at Cor. “I admit, I was worried when Ignis spoke of making a friend who attended public school, but if he’s your son…!”

Beside Dotsie, Ignis Scientia sat perfectly upright, hands folded in his lap, his expression withdrawn and still. Prompto cuddled next to Cor, trying to sit straight but failing spectacularly. His feet swung an inch off the elaborate carpet, and he looked small and shabby against the blindingly white couches and sylleblossom blue wallpaper.

“Prompto wanted to make sure Ignis was doing alright,” Cor said. Speaking to Dotsie was like trying to drive through mid-afternoon traffic. He kept getting lost in the endless stream of conversation, and she had a habit of barreling right over him without a thought. “With the prince’s condition being as it is.”

Ignis leaned forward a little, and his mother clicked her tongue. He sat straight again, and his expression went, if anything, blander still.

“Yes, it is distressing,” Dotsie said, in an unaffected tone. “I do hope he recovers soon. What will we do with all this education we’ve been pouring our funds into without a post for our Ignis to take?”

Cor blinked. “The prince is more than just a post,” he said, unable to keep the ire out of his voice. “For Ignis, at least.”

“Oh, he is fond,” Mrs. Scientia said, completely missing—or ignoring—Cor’s shift in tone. “It helps.”

“It…” Ignis bit his lip when his mother looked his way, and took a breath. “It might help more if I can see him,” he said.

“We can see him every day,” Prompto said. Ignis gave him a thin smile. “I promise. The king won’t mind, he’s nice.”

Dotsie smiled down at Prompto as though he were a not very clever animal who had just pulled off an interesting trick. “To be sure,” she said. “We can’t have them forgetting you, can we, love?”

“No, ma’am,” Ignis whispered. Cor clenched his hands in his lap.

“I suppose I have no choice, do I?” Dotsie said, turning her bright, twinkling smile to Cor once again. “Ignis can certainly stay with you, dear… Marshal, was it? Congratulations on your promotion, I’m sure.”

Cor bowed, not trusting himself to speak, and Prompto, looking from Cor to Ignis with increasing unease, bowed as well.

 

Ignis set down his bag at the door of Cor and Prompto’s apartment, and conscientiously slipped off his shoes.

“It’s very. Very nice,” he said, in a dazed voice.

Cor tried to look at the apartment as someone raised in the untouchable palace that was the Scientia family home would. There were unknown stains on the cheap carpet, the kitchen table was warped with too many spills to count, Cor’s Crownsguard jacket was jammed up in the threadbare couch like a pillow for Prompto to lean against while they watched tv… And then there was the cereal box, still left out from that morning, and the toys scattered underfoot. Even the walls were a bizarre mix of military awards and framed pictures that Prompto had given Cor from school, all of them scrawled with his wide signature. Ignis walked over to one, and stared at it as though trying to identify a new species of creature.

“You’ll have to take us as we are,” Cor said, as Prompto kicked off his sneakers and threw them at the door. Ignis’ smile, when it appeared, was shaky and wide.

“No,” he said. “I like it.”

“Great!” Prompto shouted. He grabbed at Ignis’ hands. “Let’s make your bed!”

Cor guiltily attempted to clean up a little as Prompto, giggling and chattering away at the older boy, guided Ignis through the steps of creating a proper couch fort. When Ignis declared that he knew the best way to set up a fort, thanks to looking after Noct, he and Prompto started up a race to see who could make their half look the best. Prompto’s ended up being a nest of blankets and pillows, whereas Ignis’ was almost a proper lean-to, complete with a door made out of a fitted sheet and a series of cleverly applied clothespins.

“You’re amazing, Iggy,” Prompto said, rolling onto the sheets. “Dad! Dad!”

“Yeah?”

“Can we watch Attack of the Behemoths?”

Cor sighed. “Prompto, you know that’s too much for you.”

Prompto’s face fell in scandalized betrayal. “Dad.

Cor dug through the media tower, and threw a DVD case at the boys. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Prom.”

“It’s okay, Mr. Leonis,” Ignis said. “I’ll keep him safe.”

Prompto made a rude noise, and popped open the case. “I’m not a baby, Iggy.”

Three hours later, Cor came back in to find Ignis and Prompto sprawled out in the sagging remains of their fort, faces illuminated by the blinking light of the television. He turned off the TV, switched on the kitchen lamp as a nightlight, and, just in case, tucked Prompto’s favorite chocobo toy in the corner of their fort.

Cor dragged himself out of bed around nine in the morning: He’d requested the day off to look after Ignis and Prompto, and the king, who seemed almost as concerned for the young Scientia boy as Prompto, had approved the request without a word. When he staggered into the kitchen and living room, he was ready to find the boys still asleep in their couch fort.

Ignis Scientia looked over at him from where he stood at the sink, scrubbing down a frying pan with a soft wire brush. “Good morning!”

“G’mrm,” said a voice from the counter. Prompto, his mouth full of egg and bacon, waved a fork at Cor. Another full plate was placed next to him, and a third was set next to the stove.

“I wasn’t sure what you liked,” Ignis said, sweeping his bangs out of his eyes. “But Prompto says you’re amenable to eggs.”

Cor ran a hand over his face, trying to banish the fog of sleep from his mind. “How old are you, Ignis?” he asked.

“Eleven next February,” said the boy. He shook out the pan and set it down on the drying rack, and then moved around the counter to sit next to Prompto. “We put away the couch cushions and blankets, by the way.”

“He made us,” Prompto said.

Cor leaned against the kitchen island next to the stove, and worried his ear between his thumb and forefinger. “We have some time before the prince is allowed to have visitors,” he said, after a while. Both Prompto and Ignis stared at him. “Tell me, Ignis, have you ever been to the Citadel’s skywalk?”

 

By the time Cor escorted Ignis and Prompto to the room where Noct was staying, Ignis a far cry from the anxious, stony-faced boy of the day before. He still insisted on wearing suspenders and dress clothes, as “The prince’s advisor must always be presentable,” but that didn’t stop him from taking off the novelty moogle hat Cor bought him from the skywalk gift shop, or giggling when Prompto shoved a piece of cake in his face. Cor paid for them to have Kenny Crow’s Junior Kids Meals from the diner next to the dizzying glass walkway between the spires of the Citadel, and Ignis was genuinely excited to see the action figure of Kenny Crow’s sidekick, Kelly, in the bottom of his lunchbox.

He and Prompto were making their action figures fight each other, complete with sound effects, when they finally made it to Noct’s bedroom. Ignis quickly shoved his toy in his pocket, and Prompto pushed open the door with both hands.

“He’s quiet,” Prompto said to the older boy, “but Mr. Clarus says he can hear what you say, probly.”

Prompto bounded over to Noctis, who lay in the comfort of his enormous bed, eyes closed as though in a deep sleep. Monitors beeped in the corner, and a clipboard containing the daily notes on his progress was clipped to the footboard. Ignis’ fingers trailed over it as Prompto patted his hands on one side of Noct’s bed.

“Hey, Noct!” he said, a little too loud. “Guess who’s here?”

Ignis stepped quietly around the bed, and leaned over the sleeping prince. He took one of Noct’s hands in both of his, and looked down at him, his green eyes gone dark.

“Hello, Noctis,” he said. His shoulders started to shake. "Good to... good to see you..."

Prompto ran around the bed when Ignis clapped a hand over his mouth to stifle a sob, and pulled the older boy into a tight hug. Ignis leaned into him, rubbing tears out of his eyes with the palm of his hand, and took in a great, shuddering gasp of breath.

"He knows you're a good friend, Iggy," Prompto whispered, squeezing him tight. "You're the best."

Chapter Text

Prince Noctis woke a few months later, and the Citadel hummed with activity as plans for the young prince’s recovery went under way. Cor was deployed to Tenebrae in advance of the king and prince’s arrival: The captain of the Kingsglaive, Drautos, had reported only days before that he’d been approached by an agent of Niflheim, and both the Glaives and the Crownsguard were on high alert. Prompto, Ignis, and Gladio all clamored to come along, but Cor insisted that Prompto arrive with the main group, after he and Drautos ensured that there were no surprises waiting in the wings.

When the long lines of cars, vans, and Kingsglaive trucks appeared in front of the palace of Tenebrae, Cor stood just to the left of the welcoming committee, directly in view. That could have been some explanation for what came after: A muffled shout, the bang of a car door slamming open, and the hoarse cry of “Dad!”

The Queen, her children, and her top diplomats in the Tenebraean court turned to see Prompto, mussed and bleary-eyed from the long journey, stumble out of the third car in line. He darted out of the grip of a horrified Ignis, and skirted the edge of the dais, making straight for Cor. He didn’t account for the dip in the grass, however, and an unlucky slip of his shoe between a cobblestone and the earth sent him flying.

“Oh, shit,” said Cor Leonis’ only son, loud enough for every noble in Tenebrae to hear. He skidded on the soft grass and landed with a thump in the dirt, ruining what had to be his only nice suit. Cor lunged forward, but a flash of white on his left caught his eye: The princess Lunafreya, resplendent in her crystal-white gown and fur-lined shawl, pattered into the grass and knelt before the fallen boy.

“Are you hurt?” she asked. Prompto broke into a broad grin and sat up on his elbows. She took his dirty hands in hers, and hauled him to his feet with a strength Cor hadn’t expected in one so young.

“I’m okay,” Prompto said. “Grounded, maybe.” He looked at Cor, who figured his face must have been a study in disapproval, and laughed weakly. “I’m Prompto.”

“Lunafreya.”

“The princess? Hardcore!”

Cor quietly added four weeks without television to Prompto’s life sentence. Luna was smiling wide, though, and the tense, reserved apprehension that had tightened her mouth and eyes was gone. She led Prompto back to Cor and squeezed his hands once before letting go.

Prompto might have been scuffed up, covered in mud, and grounded for life, but as Lunafreya Nox Fleuret walked back to her mother’s side to wait for Noctis to wheel himself onto the walkway before them, he looked happy enough to burst.

 

“She’s amazing, Dad,” Prompto said that night, rolling about on one of the twin beds in their assigned quarters. He’d taken news of his punishment surprisingly well, and had been pulled into a meeting with the princess and her brother alongside Noct, Gladio, and Ignis for most of the afternoon. “She has two dogs. Two! Dogs! And she’s so smart, and she likes chocobos, too, and she said there’s gonna be a starshower tonight and Noct and Iggy and Gladio are going and I know I’m grounded but I really really really want to and she’s the most amazing girl I’ve ever seen in my life and I—“

“Breathe, Prompto.”

Prompto clasped his hands together. “Please, Dad,” he begged. “I’ll never swear again. Ever.”

“Pick an easier promise to keep, Prom.”

“I’ll…” Prompto rolled off the bed and landed on his side. Unperturbed, he lay on his back, looking up at his hands. “I’ll do the dishes for a month. For a year.

Cor raised his hands in defeat, and Prompto squealed. “Be back by eleven,” he said, and Prompto ran to the door, frantically grabbing for his boots. “And please don't be a bad influence on the princess.”

“Don’t worry about that, Dad,” Prompto said. “She knows a heck of a lot more curse words than me.

Cor watched, despairing, as Prompto yanked his boots on and fumbled his way out the door.

 

The trip to Tenebrae was the source of a sea change for most of the boys in Noctis’ inner circle. Gladio and Luna’s brother, Ravus, got along like a house on fire as soon as Ravus showed the young Amicitia to the Tenebraean training yards. Noctis stuck close to Luna, spending long hours quietly speaking to her about fairytales and what he’d have to look forward to with his physical therapy. Prompto and Luna were thick as thieves from the start. They exchanged emails and phone numbers on the first day, had a complex web of in-jokes by the second, and on the third, were seriously discussing the details on how they could arrange for Luna to visit the Citadel.

Tenebrae was technically Ignis’ homeland, though he’d never visited before, and he took to it with a desperate enthusiasm. He and Ravus walked out in the evenings, discussing trade and art and music, and Cor often saw him sitting with Luna and Noct, their heads bowed and smiling. He smiled more in general, and could be found most mornings sharing breakfast with Cor and Prompto. As soon as he learned that Cor wasn’t likely to tell him to stop, Ignis proved to have a voracious desire for conversation. He seemed determined to spill his heart out before the trip was over, and Cor had trouble keeping up with the constant flow of new information.

He’s lonely, he thought, as Ignis talked to him about Tenebrae’s libraries. Considering the tense silence of the Scientia home, he could see why. He made a point to pay more attention to the composed, polite young advisor, and privately decided to bring the matter up to Regis as soon as the business with Tenebrae was complete.

Prompto drove with Cor on the way back, sitting with Gladio in the backseat of the car while Cor and Captain Drautos rode in front. Prompto and Gladio had discovered a popular trading card game in Tenebrae, and had rows of shiny plastic cards laid out between them, which they moved about and examined in a way that utterly confused Cor and Drautos. Drautos looked through the rearview mirror to try and figure out how the game was supposed to work, but all Cor had was a feeling that he would have to find a way to order more of them soon.

 

If Ignis Scientia was a livewire in Tenebrae, he shut off as soon as they were back in the Citadel. Prompto, used to his weekly visits, complained that “Iggy’s gotten too grown up for me,” and Cor was lucky if he could spot the boy running through the halls, going from one meeting to another, stacks of books in his arms and over his shoulders. He put it down to Noct’s quick recovery—With the prince able to take on his studies again, it only went to show that his advisor-in-training would be just as busy.

Which was why he was surprised, one morning, to find a clerk knocking on his door.

“Mr. Leonis?” The clerk was one of a hundred nameless faces in Cor’s life, and he struggled through the haze of early morning grogginess to focus. “I think. Ah. I think you might be needed in the library.”

“The library?” Cor avoided the place like the plague, normally. “Why? Who needs me?”

“I was just there,” the clerk said. She was fidgeting: Her hands twisted in her pockets. “I can’t say, but… You’re needed, sir. As soon as possible.” She bowed, and before Cor could ask for more information, was hurrying down the hall.

“Damn,” Cor whispered, and headed back to tell Prompto to head to school with Noct that morning. He threw on a pair of sweatpants and a loose black shirt, and padded his way to the upper library.

It was, as he expected, empty. He sheepishly avoided the front desk—Even though he knew the librarian couldn’t know the extent of his overdue late fines, he couldn’t help but feel that she suspected—and walked among the stacks, craning around corners and alcoves. Surely, if he was needed, he would have been met at the door…

He stopped at the back of the library, staring down at one of the wide window seats.

Ignis Scientia lay there, in the same clothes he'd worn the day before, the edge of one curtain draped over his long legs. He was in the middle of another growth spurt: His ankles showed under his dress pants, and his arms were bony and too long for his shirt. His bag, filled to bursting, lay on the floor, and his eyes looked shadowed and dark with lack of sleep.

“Good morning, Ignis,” Cor said.

The boy shot up so quickly that he cracked his head on the window. Cor stepped forward to steady him, but Ignis was already trying to back away, babbling frantic, sleep-heavy excuses.

“Mr. Leonis,” he said, too brightly. “Sorry, I was. I had to study, so I. It’s a very quiet library, and I was. You know how it. Are you… doing well?”

Cor examined the black curtains over the shuttered window seat, which were thick enough to block out the silhouette of anyone hiding behind them. “I caught the Queen sleeping in one of these windows once,” he said, lifting one of the curtains. “Back when she was still just Aulea, of course.”

“Did—did you? How interesting.” Ignis slowly lowered one foot to the ground.

“Mm. It’s a good place to hide.” He locked gazes with Ignis, who flushed a deep red. “And don’t you know, the Crownsguard locker room door has been jammed open the past few days. Almost like someone’s been using the showers after lights-out.”

“Really?” Ignis’ face was tight with panic. “That could be a security hazard. You should probably. Tell the king.”

Cor crossed his arms. “What should I tell him, Ignis?”

Ignis stood like a rabbit sighting an owl, his gangly legs poised to flee. “I…”

“If it’s a lie,” Cor said, “it’d better be a good one.”

Ignis’ fearful expression crumpled, and he sagged, exhaustion in every line of his body. “I’m sorry, Mr. Leonis,” he said. “I didn’t mean for it to go on like this.”

“No one does,” Cor told him. “Come on, let’s go to the mess hall.”

The mess hall was starting to fill up by the time they got there, but most of the Crownsguard and Kingsglaive soldiers were too busy trying to inhale their coffee to pay much attention to a miserable eleven-year-old following the new Marshal like he was on his way to an execution. Cor watched Ignis mindlessly spoon out some oatmeal from a tin, dip half a jar of cinnamon onto it, and pick out a bag of milk. They sat together in one of the quieter corners of the room, near the bussing tables.

“So,” Cor said. “You’ve been working part-time as the Citadel library ghost.”

Ignis shrugged. “I didn’t mean to,” he said. “It just… happened.”

“Want to tell me how?” On instinct, Cor reached over and opened the milk for Ignis, who stared at him blankly before gingerly taking it back.

“Thank you,” he whispered. He dug his spoon into his bowl. “I tried to go home,” he said, between delicate bites of the worst oatmeal known to man. “I went to the gates of the Citadel, and I got my bag ready as always, but when I reached the guard station…” He waved his spoon in the air. “I couldn’t do it. It makes no sense, Mr. Leonis!” He made to slam his hand on the table, stopped himself halfway, and gently placed his spoon on his napkin. “I’ve done it every day of my life, haven’t I? It isn’t like anything has changed.

“Maybe you have,” Cor said. Ignis sighed gustily.

“Maybe,” he agreed. “But I like being quiet. I like everything having… having a place, and being useful. I don’t know what I’d do if I weren’t Noct’s advisor. Lately, I’ve been.” He twisted his hands together. “Every time I make a mistake, I’m terrified I’ll be dismissed.”

“And you’ll be sent home,” Cor said.

A tear ran down Ignis’ cheek. He shoved it away. “It’s not as though I’m being mistreated,” he said.

Cor decided not to comment on that.

“There are ways for you to stay here, Ignis,” he said, when the silence had stretched just a little too long. “If the king intervenes—“

“Gods, no,” Ignis said, panic seizing him again. “The king can’t know.”

“Give him a little credit,” Cor told him. “If it helps, I can speak to him on your behalf.”

Ignis sat there for a moment, breathing hard, and closed his eyes. His mouth moved, as though he were counting, and when he looked up at him again, it was with the hint of a quivering smile. “Thank you,” he said. “That would be nice.”

 

---

 

King Regis Lucis Caelum sat back in his wide office chair, gazing down at the anxious, red-faced child in the seat before him.

“Of course,” he said, in a cheerful tone. “That would be no trouble at all to arrange.”

Ignis’ mouth opened slightly.

“You’re a little young to be emancipated,” the king went on, summoning a file into his hands with a flash of blue magic. “But you can stay in the Citadel if you have a reliable sponsor—“

“Done,” Cor said. Ignis turned to face him, blinking slowly.

“I thought so,” Regis said. “You’ll need a larger set of rooms, Leonis. Thankfully, there’s a lovely three bedroom apartment in the residential side of the royal wing, not a five minute walk to the manor.”

“I,” Ignis said, softly.

“And I can speak to your parents, young man,” Regis continued. “They can’t say no to a move to the Citadel so soon into your career. You are, of course, welcome to live in the manor if you don’t want to share space with the Marshal and his son, though I worry that the separation of your job and home life would be—“

“Sir?” Ignis squeaked. “Your. Your Majesty?”

“Mm?” Regis looked up from the file he’d spread out over his desk. “Do you have any objections, son?”

Ignis took a deep breath. He looked from Cor to Regis, green eyes wide, and opened his mouth again. Nothing came out. Regis waited patiently, showing nothing behind his benevolent smile and eyes bright with persistent amusement.

“No,” Ignis said, finally. “No objections.”

“Wonderful,” said the king. “I look forward to welcoming you into the Citadel officially. Now, if you don’t mind, I will need to speak to Cor Leonis privately.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Ignis said, rocketing to his feet. “Thank you, Your Majesty. Right—Right away, Your Majesty.” He fled to the door, and Cor could hear a thump of someone leaning heavily against it as it closed.

For a moment, King Regis regarded Cor in silence. The easy smile was gone, but there was still a lightness to his eyes as he rested his chin on his hands.

“I must say, Leonis,” he said. “You’re picking up lost children left and right, these days.”

“I’ll try not to make a habit of it, sir,” Cor said. He and Regis shared a faint, somber smile, and the king returned to the papers on his desk.

“In this case,” he said, flipping a paper over for Cor’s signature, “I will be happy to make an exception.”

Chapter Text

An anguished wail tore through the fourth floor apartments of Cor Leonis, winding through sleek stone walls and digging into the part of Cor’s brain that sent him into a panic over twisted ankles, weeks of the flu, and late night calls to the all-hours clinic when Prompto woke up crying with a stomachache. He fell out of bed, tripped over a pile of discarded clothes, landed heavily on his new dresser, and lurched for the hallway.

Ignis stood in the bathroom at the end of the hall, staring at his reflection with the sort of horror reserved for daemons and B-movie villains. He pressed a finger to his chin and whimpered.

“H’whatsit?” Prompto crashed out of his bedroom, skidding on chip wrappers. He and Cor converged on Ignis, who covered his face in shame. “Iggy, what’s up?”

“This is a disaster,” Ignis cried. Cor leaned against the doorframe. “I can’t go to the manor tomorrow like this. I’ll die.

It had only been a few months since the boy had first moved in, anxious and fiercely apologetic, to the second bedroom in their new apartment, but Cor was starting to see the difference between a true life or death crisis and one of the ones Ignis created in his own head. “Will it actually kill you?” he asked.

Ignis groaned and lowered his hands. Prompto whistled.

“Nice one!”

The older boy shot Prompto a glare. His chin sported four pimples, nothing to write home about, but clearly aggravated by constant face scrubbing. Cor tried to think back to his own early teens, to no avail. He’d treated acne like he treated everything else: Got rid of it as soon as possible, and dealt with the scars later. Ignis, he suspected, would not have the same opinion.

“The advisor to the prince can’t have acne,” Ignis moaned, squinting into the mirror again.

“You’re a human being, not a machine, Ignis,” Cor pointed out. Ignis examined a spot on his jaw and whimpered again.

“You can always wear makeup,” Prompto said. He saw Cor’s look and shrugged. “Ravus does it. Luna told me.”

Ignis’ eyes widened. “That could work,” he said. “Mr. Le—Cor,” he said, nervously. “If I gave you the money, would you…”

“Don’t bother with the money, Ignis,” Cor said. He yawned so wide that his jaw creaked. “Is this an emergency?” Ignis nodded fervently. “Alright, I’ll go. Keep an eye on Prom.”

“I can keep an eye on myself, Dad!”

Cor threw on some more presentable clothes, and took the elevator up to the public sector of the Citadel. There, he stared bleakly at the rows and rows of concealer, foundation, blush and powders in the 24-hour pharmacy before giving up entirely and throwing one of each into his basket. The woman at the counter gave him a curious look, but he just shrugged and gave her his Crownsguard debit card.

Ignis goggled at the cascading pile of makeup as Cor dropped the bag onto the dining room table at home.

“Got some face wash, too,” Cor mumbled, still half asleep on his feet. “Didn’t know what color concealer works for you, but there’s enough here that—“ He jerked as Ignis threw his arms around his waist, burying his pimply face into Cor’s sweatshirt.

“Thank you,” Ignis said, with feeling. “You saved my life.

Cor gave another aching yawn and ruffled the back of Ignis’ hair. “Any time.”

 

---

 

Prompto Leonis was on top of the world. He’d moved into a new apartment so close to Prince Noctis and Gladio that he could wave to them from the window, one of his best friends had moved in with him, and he and Princess Lunafreya had just added each other on a new phone app where they could share pictures together. So far, Prompto had received seven—count it, seven!—selfies of Luna with her dogs, and he’d sent back blurry shots of his new place, the training yards, and Prompto dressed up in one of Cor’s old outfits from his first tour against Niflheim. The jacket had swamped him in leather, but Prompto was sure that one day, he’d fit it fine.

He was on his way through the yards shared by Crownsguard trainees when he heard the unmistakable crack and boom of Gladio’s voice. Gladio! He’d have to take a look at the photo of Luna and Ravus playing with Umbra, for sure. Determined, Prompto turned on his heel and made for the sound of Gladio, talking softly under the high cackle of laughter.

The laughter, though… Prompto frowned. The laughter didn’t sound right.

He picked up speed, and turned the corner to find Gladio sitting on a bench, legs crossed, gazing up at two older boys with a bored, vague look. One of the boys held a book in his hand, and was skimming through it, grinning wide.

“It’s that werewolf book my sister likes!” he said. Prompto bristled at his tone. “Should’ve known Lily Amicitia would like a girl book.”

“Man, do I feel bad for your sister,” Gladio said. “Give it back, please.”

Give it back,” the other boy said, and laughed. “Look, he marked his favorite part. How much d’you bet it’s the kissing scene?”

Gladio sighed. Prompto felt anger boiling in his veins, and he clenched his fists, stomping towards the three of them with a purpose.

“This is embarrassing,” the first boy groaned. “The only reason they let a flower boy into training is ‘cause his dad’s friends with the king—“

The boy yelped as Prompto, a ball of seething, trembling anger in a choco-moogle t-shirt, barreled into him from behind. He struck him square in the jaw as they both went down, screaming in rage. The other boy tried to drag Prompto off, but he bit down on his arm and kicked him in the shin. “Flowers are cool!” He shouted. He slapped the boy beneath him. “What’s wrong with girl books? What’s wrong with girls? I’ll show you what you—“

“Okay, that’s enough,” Gladio said, lifting Prompto off of the other boy with both hands. Prompto’s victims watched in shock as Gladio casually set Prompto down a few feet away, the younger boy’s arms windmilling as he tried to wriggle out of his grip.

“Not helping,” Gladio said. Prompto panted for breath in hiccoughing sobs as angry tears dripped from his nose and chin.

“Oh my gods,” said one of the boys. “Pretty-boy Amicitia has to be protected by a baby.

Gladio’s face went cold.

“Uh oh,” Prompto whispered.

 

An hour later, Prompto and Gladio sat side-by-side in the study of the royal manor, staring at their shoes with all the dejection of prisoners awaiting the executioner. Prompto sported a glorious black eye, a cut on his lip, and his blonde hair was filthy with dirt and grass clippings. Gladio was a little better off, but he had a few scrapes on his arm, and his knuckles were cracked and raw.

Neither of them looked very apologetic.

Clarus Amicitia paced before them, disapproval hanging over him like a dark cloud, his boots clicking on the stone floor.

“Brawling,” he said, in a dangerous, soft tone. Gladio shifted uncomfortably. “Picking fights with Crownsguard trainees like a common hooligan.

“I am common,” Prompto chirped, and Gladio hurriedly shushed him. Clarus turned his impressive frown to the young Leonis, who wilted beneath it. “Sorry.”

“Cor?” Clarus said. “Would you like to weigh in?”

“Huh?” Cor looked to his son, who was trying to shrink into the chair he’d been placed in. “Right. Prompto, you know I said no fighting.”

“They were making fun of Gladio,” Prompto mumbled.

Cor couldn’t help the faint smile that broke out across his lips. “Well, yeah, if it’s for a friend—“ Clarus whipped round to face him, and he instinctively straightened to attention. “I mean no, Prom, violence isn’t the answer.”

“I can see where he gets it from,” Clarus hissed. Cor shrugged helplessly, and he turned back to the boys. “You’ll be delivering an essay each on peaceful conflict resolution to the king by next week,” he said, and Gladio and Prompto both looked stricken, “and you have cleaning duty in the Crownsguard armory for five days. I will not hear of this happening again. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Dad,” Gladio said.

“Yes, Dad,” said Prompto. Clarus tapped his boot. “I mean, yes, Mr. Amicitia.”

“You are dismissed,” Clarus said. Gladio fled, and Prompto peeled off the chair to go to Cor. The two of them left the royal manor in a state of disgrace, Prompto avoiding the critical gaze of the king as he sat with Noctis in the living room, caught in the middle of their magic lessons.

When they left the manor, Cor wrapped an arm around his son’s shoulders.

“They were making fun of him, Dad,” Prompto said, as they strolled along the garden path towards the Citadel.

“I know, Prom,” Cor said. “But Clarus has a point. You can’t just… punch your way… out of a problem…”

He thought of the numerous scrapes, fights, all-out brawls and official reprimands he’d been made subject to before Prompto came along, and felt guilt burn its way through his bones. He ushered Prompto into the elevator at the side of the Citadel and pressed one of the top buttons.

“Dad?” Prompto asked.

“Mm.”

“That’s not the right floor.”

Cor feigned surprise. “Really? Oh. I guess we’ll have to just make do with…” he stared at the floor number, “the ice cream station at the skywalk visitor’s center, huh?”

Prompto’s grin was wide and infectious. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess so.”

 

Cor and Prompto made a strange picture at the corner booth of the skywalk visitor’s center: Prompto, still a mess from his fight with the Crownsguard trainees, bits of grass and debris falling on his shoulders as he leaned towards his unholy mess of chocolate ice cream and sour gummy bears. Cor with a cup of coffee, composed in his sharp Crownsguard uniform. Both of them grinning sheepishly, casting furtive looks around the room as though the king or his Shield were due to arrive any minute.

“Dad,” Prompto said, swirling his spoon in his tub of ice cream. “I’ve been thinking.”

“About?”

“You know. Stuff.” Prompto kicked his feet on the table leg, making their cups jostle and shake. “Gladio’s Noct’s Shield, right? And Iggy’s his advisor. Well, I want to be something, too.”

“You already are, Prom,” Cor said. Prompto smiled at him, but it was a wary smile, with an edge to it.

“Sure,” he said. “But if he’s gonna be king one day…” he squared his shoulders. “I wanna join the Crownsguard.”

Cor set down his coffee. “That’s a big decision,” he said. “You might want to give that one some time…”

“So? You were fifteen when you joined, right?”

Damn. Cor rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, yes, technically,” he said. “But I was… what you’d call a prodigy. Usually, you have to be eighteen—“

“Then I’ll be a prodigy, too,” said Prompto, a nine year old boy covered in dirt, bruises, and grass stains. “The way those guys were talking to Gladio? I don’t want them being Noct’s guard. I want him to have someone he can trust. And that’s.” He straightened, good eye shining with stubborn confidence. “That’s me.

Cor sat back. He thought of the child in the lab, reaching out to him with weak, grasping hands, desperate for contact. The first time Prompto had laughed, fierce and startled, as though he’d never heard the sound before. A chubby toddler screaming and kicking on the dais of the throne room, smacking his head into cabinets in Cor’s apartment, waking from nightmares to grab his hair and curl up in his arms.

Prompto’s stern grimace of determination softened, and he leaned across the table. “Dad?” he asked. “Are you okay?”

He blinked the tears from his eyes and raised a hand to his mouth, beaming down at his son with a pride that threatened to shake him apart.

“I’m fine, Prom,” said Cor Leonis, a thirty-one-year-old Crownsguard Marshal weeping openly into his coffee. “I’ve never been better.”

Chapter Text

Morning at the Leonis household began two hours before dawn, with the low hum of a phone alarm and the soft pad of feet on carpet. Ignis Scientia passed by a haphazardly-placed collection of framed photographs as he made his slow, careful way down the hall, trying not to wake the occupants of the rooms on either side. He featured in at least half of the photos, now. One was of him and his friend Prompto, Cor’s adopted son, standing in a poorly-lit store with matching glasses held out to the camera. Another was of Ignis fixing Noct’s tie before a gala, of Ignis and Cor talking at the kitchen counter, of himself with the king’s arm around his shoulder, looking nervous and proud.

The pictures of Prompto were dominated by blurry instant photos of him as a small child. Ignis could barely remember a time when Prompto wasn’t a part of his life in some way—as Noct’s friend since infancy, he was hard to avoid, and he’d taken Ignis into his confidence like a small whirlwind, sweeping him up so quickly that he hardly had time to think.

And, in much the same way, when Ignis had found himself unable to go back to the cold, pristine Scientia family home, Cor had been there with a solution.

Ignis entered the kitchen to find the coffeemaker already running, a cup of orange juice on the counter, and Cor and Prompto Leonis sitting at the kitchen table with bowls of half-eaten cereal at their elbows.

“Morning,” Prompto said, yawning into his arm.

“You’re up early,” Ignis noted. He took the juice and set about pouring his own bowl.

“So are you,” Cor said. His voice had the tone of an argument he had yet to win. At fourteen, Ignis was already starting to sit in on council sessions and arrange study materials for the prince, and he liked to wake up well ahead of time to compile his notes for the day. As a lifetime member of the Lucian military, Cor was firm in his belief that one should get as much sleep as possible, but Ignis had tried sleeping in once or twice, and just couldn’t see the appeal.

“Is there a special occasion I’ve forgotten?” he asked, sitting next to Prompto. His friend shrugged, thumbing through pictures on his phone.

“Going to work with Dad,” he said. “Today’s my first day of training. With the Crownsguard.

“Potential Crownsguard, Prom,” Cor said.

“Dad. Let me have this.”

Cor grinned. “Regis told me this would happen,” he said. “First, it’s the backtalk. Then, next thing you know, it’s piercings and tattoos and loud rock music—“

“Dad, I know what kind of music you listen t—“

“Buying motorcycles—“

“Mr. Amicitia has a bike—“

“A life of crime…” Cor laughed as Prompto dropped his head into his hands, groaning in embarrassment. Ignis, used to this by now, pulled out a stack of papers and a red pen for notes. He flipped through them as Cor and Prompto’s voices rose in a crescendo of amusement and preteen despair, unperturbed by the chaos unfolding at the table.

It was a far cry from the tense, breathless silence of his life before, but gods if it didn’t feel like home.

 

---

 

Clarus Amicitia adjusted his official council robes over his shoulders, taking in the quiet of the Crownsguard central HQ before he had to emerge into the training yards. It was the first day of training for this year’s batch of new recruits: Boys and girls ranging from the ages of twelve to fourteen, taking the first step in a long journey towards becoming proper Crownsguard soldiers. Not all of them would make it by the time they reached eighteen—The turnout rate rose as recruits entered high school—but it was tradition that they start their training by having the living daylights scared out of them by the current Shield.

Clarus frowned, tugging at his collar. The last time he had so much difficulty getting into character, his son was one of the recruits in line. This time, though… He wondered if this was almost worse.

He opened the door to the training yards, and squinted into the bright haze of the early morning sun.

The new recruits all stood at varying degrees of attention in the middle of the yard, their polished black boots scuffed with dust and their physical training uniforms hanging a little too loose at the waist. All of them stared at him with apprehension, tight-lipped and wide-eyed.

All but one.

“Hey, Mr. Amicitia!” Prompto Leonis beamed up at him through a mess of dark freckles. He rocked on his heels, all of twelve years-old, eyes half hidden in the fabric of his father’s old hat, his wiry arms swinging at his sides.

Oh, well, Clarus thought. Might as well get this out of the way now.

“Leonis!”

Over the years, Clarus had perfected the art of instilling pure, mind-numbing fear into new recruits, to the point where he could harden his gaze just so and make an entire line of soldiers straighten to attention. As it was, Prompto didn’t know how to stand at ease. He shoved his hands in his pockets and leaned back, as though the few inches of distance could possibly save him.

“Did you hear me, Leonis?” Clarus barked. Prompto jumped.

“Um,” he said.

“How do you address a superior officer?” Gods, it was like he was twenty years younger, facing down Cor for the first time. Prompto looked nothing like the man, of course, but he had the same way of biting the side of his cheek when he was confused, and the flash of stubborn cussedness in his eyes that could prove to be trouble. The way the hat tipped over his forehead, plastering his blonde hair to his temple, was certainly not helping.

“Sir?” Prompto squeaked. Clarus raised an eyebrow. “Sir.”

“Right and wrong, Leonis.” Clarus heard a titter of laughter down the line, and silenced the giggling recruits with a glare. “Hands out of your pockets. You are not on a day trip to the park, Leonis. Back straight. Hands at your sides. Eyes forward! Where are you?”

“The Citadel, sir?”

Clarus leaned down, and Prompto’s face flushed red to the ears. “Are you being smart, boy?”

“Don’t think so, sir!”

There was another round of snickering. Oh, yes, if he wasn’t careful, this was going to be Cor Leonis all over again. Clarus straightened and looked down the line of other recruits, who were all endeavoring to stand straight in hopes that his ire wouldn’t fall on them.

“I would hope,” Clarus said, ice nearabout crystalizing around the words, “that you are familiar with the term drop?

“Yes, sir,” Prompto said. Clarus stared at him. “Oh.” Prompto hurriedly scrambled to a plank position and grimly started a set of slow push-ups, teeth digging into his lower lip.

“Let this be your welcome,” Clarus said, in a voice that carried well beyond the training yards. “The Crownsguard has protected the royal family and the people of Lucis since the inception of the realm. It is not a vocation for the weak-willed. It is not a fast-track to glory or a means to an easy life of luxu—Is something amusing, Leonis?”

Prompto, his face redder still with the effort of not giggling, shook his head. “N-no, sir.”

Clarus stared at him for another moment before carrying on. He left the recruits properly cowed and in the hands of one of the younger sergeants, who ordered Prompto back up and began to walk them through basic daily exercises. Clarus maintained his stern expression until he made it to the service elevator, at which point he slumped against the side of the wall, cupped the back of his head, and laughed himself sick.

Two Leonis men in the Crownsguard at the same time? Lucis may never recover.

 

Prompto found Gladiolus in the Crownsguard mess hall three hours later, talking with a deeply bored and sweat-soaked Noctis over some weak, shriveled excuses for cheeseburgers.

“Your dad is evil!” Prompto said, slamming his tray down on the table between them. Noct looked up, startled, but Gladio only shrugged as Prompto wriggled onto the bench.

“He’s only that way when you’re being insubordinate,” Gladio said. “Were you?”

Prompto contrived to shove fries in his mouth in an aggravated way. “I don’t know. No. Maybe. My arms are on fire.

“Nice to see you, too, by the way,” said Noct. Prompto huffed.

“You don’t know what it’s like,” he said. Noct rolled his eyes.

“You kidding?” He pointed a fork at Gladio, who was serenely eating his burger as though his friend’s new hatred for his father were nothing out of the ordinary. “Try training with that guy every day. He’s a beast.

“Thank you, Noct,” Gladio said. He stole a fry off Prompto’s plate, which was mostly a mess of lettuce with a side of potatoes, and elbowed him in the ribs. “So, what, you’re gonna quit?”

“No!” Prompto dug a fork into his bowl with a vicious fervor. “No way. It’s personal, now.”

“Good to hear,” Gladio told him. “You’re scrawny, but you got promise. Just try not to get into a fight with anyone. They’re kinda pissy about that sort of thing, don’t know why.”

Prompto groaned as Noct snickered at him. “Why does everyone keep saying that?” he asked. “It’s not like it’s a habit.”

“It is for a Leonis,” Gladio said, and stole another fry before Prompto could push his hand away. “You guys and trouble are a Crownsguard tradition.”

Chapter Text

The Citadel parking garage had the silence of a shrine: All empty space, hushed breath, a wide darkness that crept up behind stone pillars and along the cracked concrete floor. Prompto stood by the door of a sleek, unmarked car, rubbing the wrist guard that hid his tattoo while Cor threw a katana in the backseat. Ignis hovered a step behind him, and the two boys looked so wretched that Cor almost wished he’d insisted they stay behind in the apartment.

Still, there were rituals that had to be honored.

“Remember, no using the oven while I’m away,” he said. His voice echoed back from the depths of the garage. “Even you, Ignis. Look out for each other, and remember that the king and Clarus’ house is open for you if you want to stay there.”

“We aren’t kids, Dad,” Prompto said.

“Yes, I know.” Cor pushed a bag in with the katana. “I’ll be back in two weeks. It’s a routine assignment.”

Or he hoped it was. His orders were to carry out the third of several strikes on key Imperial fortresses, hoping to root out the new base for Niflheim’s MT program. The strikes were meant to be quick, brutal attacks, but he knew that fights never went exactly as planned. Prompto knew this, too: His face was twisted in anxious worry, and he looked down at his hands rather than meet his gaze.

“Lucky charm?” Cor asked, softly. He lifted his hand, and whispered, “I want to…”

Prompto glanced back at Ignis, but he finished the clapping game, whispering the rest of the verse.

I feel better,” Cor said. Prompto’s lip quivered, but he nodded. Ignis stepped up to Cor and shook his hand firmly. The two of them fell back when Cor climbed into the car, and he could see them standing there, forlorn and small against the high ceilings of the garage, as he turned down the ramp and out of view.

“Well,” Ignis said, after a long, slightly tearful silence. “Want to head upstairs so I can make us bacon and eggs?”

 

Ignis and Prompto made it almost an entire day before they broke. The first morning was wonderful. Ignis made them eggs, Prompto turned on the latest episode of their favorite reality show, Sorey and Mikleo’s Dungeon Crawlers, and Ignis even snuck himself a cup of Cor’s forbidden stash of Ebony instant coffee. Since they were in the middle of a break from school and Noctis woke up late, Prompto was the first to leave, hopping into his boots on the way to the Crownsguard training yards. Ignis recorded the rest of the episode for him, cleaned up the kitchen, and smiled at the empty apartment with the confidence of a job well done.

That night, Prompto tried out one of Ignis’ new pastry inventions, got to one knee, and formally begged him to adopt him as his official older brother.

“If only Noct showed such gratitude,” Ignis said, ignoring Prompto’s pleas entirely.

They were both in bed, sprawled out in their separate rooms, when Prompto woke to a creak in the hall.

“It’s nothing,” he said. “Probably Iggy.”

He thought of the Kenny Crow commercial that had aired on TV that morning. Kenny was always a little unsettling, but this time, he’d been played by a character actor in front of the original diner in Old Lestallum. The diner owner had turned to the camera, and Kenny had turned with him, his wire and felt head jerking like a broken machine as his eyes gleamed red in the fuzzy glow of the screen—

Tap. Tap tap tap. Something on the wall. Hands. Claws? Feathers.

“Ignis!” Prompto shouted. “Ignis!”

There was a silence, and then, “What’s the matter, Prompto?”

Prompto scrabbled for his thick-rimmed glasses and put them on, then turned on the light. He was alone in the room. Ignis was alone in his room. But then… if neither of them were in the hallway, who was—?

Tap tap-tap-tap. Tap.

Prompto screamed.

 

“So we thought it might be prudent to stay with you,” Ignis said ten minutes later. He and Prompto held pillowcases full of clothes and toiletries in their arms, both of them looked more than a little pale, and Ignis was holding Prompto’s hand just a little too tight.

“It’s not like we’re scared,” Prompto said.

“It’s just very. Very quiet,” Ignis continued.

King Regis blinked down at them for a long moment.

“W-we can go back, of course,” Ignis said.

The king stepped to the side and made a quick gesture with his hand, and the boys scurried in. He shut the door after them and tightened the sash on his silk brocade dressing gown.

“Gladio has a spare bed in his room,” he said, sounding like a man dragged forth from the grave. “And we placed one in Noctis’ as well. Try not to wake Iris, though. She’s…” he yawned. “A light sleeper, these days.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Ignis said, and bowed. Prompto bowed a second after.

“It’s too late in the evening for bowing,” King Regis drawled. “Go on.”

He swayed on his feet as the boys beat a hasty retreat up the stairs. There was a creak of one door opening, the slam of another, and the sound of Noctis shouting, “Prompto fucking Leonis!”

Hmm. He’d have to speak to him about that, later.

He’d hardly made it back up the stairs before Iris and Clarus were up as well. Iris disappeared into Noct’s room, and he heard her high voice punctuated by the scream of bedsprings as she jumped on the spare bed.

Clarus gave him a long, weighted look from across the hall, and Regis shrugged elegantly. After Iris, Gladio, Noctis, and—at times—little Talcott running about the manor, what trouble could two more be?

 

---

 

“Congratulations, newbies.” The latest in an endless string of coaches, sergeants, corporals and officers with uncertain titles addressed Prompto’s class of trainees the next morning. “You’re in for a special treat today.”

Prompto wasn’t sure he could handle it, really. He’d barely had any sleep the night before, what with running out of the apartment, settling in at Noct’s, and spending all morning trying to calm down an excitable and wildly hyperactive Iris. No wonder Noct slept in. As it was, Prompto could feel the sleep under his eyes, a constant ache just above his cheekbones.

The coach led them out into the yard, where an older teenager stood in the center of the dusty circle, idly tossing a black metal ball in one hand. His skin was a lighter brown than Gladio’s, and his dark hair was shaved at the sides in a messy mohawk that draped over his forehead. One short braid trailed past his right ear, and he was grinning at the collected trainees like a voretooth in a nest of baby chocobos.

“This,” said their coach of the day, “is Nyx Ulric, from the Kingsglaive recruits.” Nyx’s wolfish grin broadened. “He’s here to teach you the importance of keeping your reflexes sharp. Now. You all have your flags?”

Prompto looked down to the white cloth he’d been given that morning, which was poking out of his pocket, and felt a tiny drop of dread sink into his belly.

“If Ulric takes your flag, you’re out. If you take his flag, he’s out. Simple enough, isn’t it? Alright, recruits.” Their coach raised a hand. “Go!”

Nyx Ulric tossed the black ball high, and disappeared in a shower of blue sparks.

“Oh,” Prompto said, as the boy fell onto the back of one of the older trainees, shoving the girl into the dust as he yanked her flag free. Warp tag! He’d played that game with Noct since they were kids. He ducked behind one of the other trainees as Nyx threw the ball towards them, and clutched at his flag. Nyx sent the boy in front of him tumbling into the dust, and smiled up at Prompto for all of a second just before Prompto shoved the flag down the front of his own shirt.

“Hold on,” Nyx said. “That’s cheating.”

“Not against the rules,” Prompto said. Nyx shrugged as though conceding the fact, then whipped his hand out and snatched Cor’s hat from Prompto’s head in one fluid motion.

“Hey!” Prompto shouted, as Nyx leapt into a warp across the field.

“Not against the rules!” Nyx called back, as he threw a trainee to the ground with his legs alone. Prompto ran to the edge of the circle and watched Nyx take out two more screaming, panicking Crownsguard hopefuls, tracking the movement of the little black ball. Just like Noct, he had a pattern, even though it was a little more erratic than the prince’s. Prompto pushed one of the other trainees aside and dove for the center of the circle just as the ball went flying for one of the younger kids—

The ball landed squarely in Prompto’s palm with a smack. A second later, there was a blinding shower of magic, and Nyx’s hand was around Prompto’s. The older boy stared at him in open astonishment, then grabbed his forearm and threw him onto his back. Prompto hung on to the ball, dragging Nyx down with him, and yanked at the collar of his shirt. They both landed in the dirt, winded and breathless, and Prompto heard the distant shrill of a whistle overhead.

“Holy shit,” Nyx said, chest heaving as though he were trying not to laugh. “That was…”

“My. Hat.” Prompto finished for him, and pulled Cor’s hat from Nyx’s front pocket. He sat up slowly, his back one giant bruise, and firmly shoved the hat over his forehead. Nyx rolled to his heels and extended a hand to Prompto.

“Nice one,” he said. Prompto smiled and took his hand. Nyx’s grin sharpened, then he yanked Prompto forward, shoved a hand down his shirt, and pulled out the rumpled flag with a shout of triumph.

Prompto stayed where he was, breathing hard, as Nyx threw the ball with savage accuracy at the huddle of remaining trainees. There was something wrong happening to him, something strange. His head felt too light, like he’d been running without a break, his chest was all tight, and his skin was hot, way too hot for the early morning chill that ran through the training yards. Was he sick? Was it being so close to a warp? But he’d never felt this way playing tag with Noct. Maybe Kingsglaive magic was different, somehow, or…

Nyx swung the last flag into the air, exultant. The wiry muscles of his arms shifted as he waved his trophies in the scowling trainees’ faces.

Something shifted in Prompto’s stomach, and the heat in his skin was quickly spreading to his face. Nyx winked at him, and whatever-it-was that had taken hold of Prompto flopped about in his chest, making it suddenly very hard to breathe.

The coach hadn’t been too pleased with Prompto’s attempts to improvise, and he was given the lucky task of putting away all the practice weapons after the noon bell rang. Thankfully, the strange heat on his skin seemed to’ve gone away, and Prompto wasn’t in danger of dropping from exhaustion or the flu or whatever Nyx had given him.

“Hey, speedster.”

Prompto dropped an armful of wooden swords on his feet and doubled over with a yelp of pain. A hand touched his back, and a familiar face peered into his.

“Sorry about that,” said Nyx Ulric. He patted Prompto’s back twice and knelt to pick up the swords. “Just wanted to see how you were doing, say hi.”

Prompto stared at him. “H-hi?”

“Yeah, pretty much.” Nyx smiled up at him, and it was a softer smile, this time, with less venom and cunning than before. “I haven’t seen a Crownsguard kid catch a warp object before.”

“Oh,” Prompto said. His face was growing hot again. What was happening? Was Nyx infectious somehow? “Oh. Yes. I. Did that. I did that.”

Nyx started putting the swords away, and Prompto hurriedly picked up the rest. “Anyways,” the older boy said. “I kind of wanted to ask you something.”

Prompto didn’t trust himself to speak anymore. He nodded, throwing the practice swords in their stands any old way.

“The Crownsguard aren’t… They’re treating you ok?”

“What?”

Nyx rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, you know. Because you’re…” He gestured towards Prompto, who felt utterly, totally lost.

“Because of my dad?”

Now it was Nyx’s turn to look confused. “Uh, no. I mean, you look like you’re from beyond the Wall.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Prompto had never really thought about it before. “Dad found me up north, I think.”

Nyx helped him lock the storage cabinet. For a second, their hands touched, and Prompto felt his fingers tingle at the contact. He was carrying something! He looked into Nyx’s face, trying to figure out what it was, and felt heat rise to his cheeks again.

“And no one mentions it?” Nyx asked. “The Crownsguard aren’t always… nice, to people like us.”

Like us? Nyx thought he and Prompto were an us? Prompto wondered if he’d ever be able to speak without stammering again.

“N-not really.” Prompto took a deep breath. “I’m always getting in trouble, you know? Like this?” He pointed a thumb to the weapons rack, and when Nyx smiled again, he felt that twist in his chest. “Maybe that’s enough for them.”

“Maybe.” Nyx clapped a hand on Prompto’s shoulder. “But look, if they do give you hell, head over to the Kingsglaive barracks and ask for me, okay?”

“Gnhnn,” Prompto said.

Nyx released him and gave Prompto a little salute before he turned away. Prompto stared after him, holding the spot on his shoulder where he’d touched him, and wondered if he was going to die.

 

---

 

“Sounds kind of like a crush, Prom.”

Prompto rolled onto his belly on the grass of the royal manor, holding a phone out before his round, deeply blushing face. On the screen, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret sat in a blue parlor seat, her light hair done up in a bun, sleeves rolled up to her shoulders. She gave Prompto a sympathetic look and propped her phone up on a table so that she could rest her chin on her hands.

“It’s not unusual,” she said. “This kind of thing happens.”

“But he’s old!” Prompto cried. “And I can’t get crushes, I’m supposed to be Crownsguard.

Luna smiled faintly. “How old?”

“Like, your age.” Luna’s smile dropped, and Prompto furiously backpedaled. “Sixteen. Seventeen? I mean super young. Really young. The youngest. Young like you.”

“Uh huh.” Luna didn’t sound convinced. “Look, do you want to do anything about it?”

Prompto considered this. “No? I don’t know.”

“Then you’re fine. Noct never told me anything about Crownsguard soldiers not being allowed to date. Maybe you should ask someone, if it worries you.”

“Ask who?” Prompto dragged his hand through his hair. “My dad? Hey, Dad, I think this guy in the Kingsglaive is super cute, when can I start dating people? I’ll die. He’ll never let me out of the Citadel again.”

“Good thing the Kingsglaive live in the Citadel.”

Luna.

Luna giggled. “Sorry,” she said, not looking sorry at all. “Still, even if it’s not your father, you should talk to someone. Other than me, I mean. I’m not really an expert on the lists of love.”

“Again,” Prompto said. “Ask who?

“You can ask me,” said a low, musical voice somewhere above him. Prompto rolled over, limbs heavy with despair, to find the king of Lucis staring down at him with a very amused smile. “Having a crisis, are we?”

Chapter Text

King Regis’ family office was dark: Whoever had designed it lived in a time when forest themes were popular and no one had considered wide, easily-breakable windows to be a crying necessity. The walls were paneled in polished oak, dark green drapes swooped over paintings of fauns and elfin people dancing in brooks, and there was a carving that ran all along the ceiling of a woman turning into a tree and then back again, over and over. Prompto stared at it, wondering if it were possible for him to make a similar transformation. It would definitely be better than this.

“I’m sure you both know why I’ve brought you here,” King Regis said.

In the seat next to Prompto, Prince Noctis sank into a full slouch, indicating with every cell in his body that he wanted nothing more than to ooze through the floor to freedom.

Prom went and made eyes at a Kingsglaive,” Noct muttered. He shot Prompto a look of true betrayal, and Prompto couldn’t help but feel a little hurt.

“I wasn’t making eyes at him. I was talking about him.” Prompto looked to the king, who regarded the two of them with a curiously level expression. “Not that I want to talk about him. Or like him. I don’t. So we should go…”

“Prompto,” said the king. “Your father and I spoke of this possibility, and we agreed that—“

“You talked about it?” Prompto cried. His dad? And the king? Talked about Prompto? Talked about Prompto having a crush? That’s it. He was going to die. He was going to die right there, Ramuh was going to spot him suffering as no other man had suffered since the dawn of time, and would mercifully draw his thunderbolt back and turn Insomnia into a smoking crater.

The lengthening silence slowly reminded Prompto of the fact that he had, in fact, just interrupted the king.

“Sorry,” he said.

Regis smiled: A small, benevolent smile, and Prompto considered trying out Noct’s idea and becoming one with the chair.

“Now,” the king said. “The two of you are close in age, so we agreed that it would be best that you receive this lesson together.” He raised a hand, and a stack of colorful laminated charts fell into it from midair. “Each of you will take one of these, thank you.”

Prompto gingerly took an offered chart, holding it in one finger and thumb as though it were a livewire. Noct dragged his out and let it hang at his side.

The chart was a bright, neon green, and there was a poorly-drawn moogle at the top.

Kupo! the words on the speech bubble said. You’ve hit PUBERTY, kupo! What’s happening to your BODY, kupo? What are these new FEELINGS, kupo? Join Merlin the Moogle on this grand adventure through the REST OF YOUR LIFE, kupo!

He flipped the chart over. There was a cartoon of a boy wearing ridiculously large pants covered in zippers.

Hiya! Prompto read. My name’s Sora, and I’m here to talk to you about your sexuality!

Prompto looked up at the ceiling. No bolt of lightning seemed forthcoming.

“That chart only addresses the bare minimum regarding gender and sexuality, of course,” King Regis said. “I’ll be issuing both of you with a very informative book by Dr. Gainsborough, which covers this in more detail.”

“So we can read that,” Noct said, a sliver of hope in his voice, “instead of having to listen to a lecture.”

“No,” King Regis said, simply. Noct started to groan, low and faint, like a faulty engine. “Now, please take this booklet, Prompto, and you, Noctis, and turn to page three. Puberty and Me: How to tell the difference between romantic infatuation and lust. Prompto, read paragraphs one and two.”

Noct’s groan rose in pitch.

“Come on, Ramuh, come on,” Prompto whispered, under his breath. The sky outside remained cloudless and blue. Prompto, determined never to trust an Astral again, opened the booklet with trembling fingers and began to read.

 

The lecture lasted an hour. King Regis, when it was done, cheerily asked them if they had any questions, and looked dashed when both Prompto and Noctis fled for the door. They stumbled into the hallway to find Gladio there, grinning wickedly and flipping through a paperback novel with a pirate and a bosomy woman on the cover.

“Got the booklet treatment, huh,” he said. Noct snarled.

“Why didn’t you warn me?” he asked. “He did it to you, didn’t he?”

“Didn’t want to ruin your fun, Noct,” Gladio said.

“I hate you,” Noct said. “I hate all of you. Ignis is my only friend now.”

“Really?” Gladio raised an eyebrow at his step-brother. “Remember the pie chart about infatuation and admiration.”

“And I am your friend,” Prompto said, in a wounded voice.

Noct turned to Prompto, and some of the anger drained from his face. “Okay,” he said. “Prompto and Iggy are my friends. Me and you, Gladio? Enemies. Enemies forever.” He grabbed Prompto’s hand and dragged him off down the hall, trailing booklets, helpful charts, and graphs along the way.

 

---

 

Noct’s ban on all things Gladio lasted about as long as their next training session. He and Prompto’s inability to look King Regis in the eye, however, had the possibility of being neverending. Prompto nervously skimmed through the book he’d been given and found himself infinitely more confused by the list of common terms and phrases, Noct threw the book under his bed and refused to touch it, and Gladio quoted it word-perfect until Noct tried to shove a chocobo pillow over his future Shield’s face.

“Nothing wrong with being comfortable with who you are,” Gladio had said, and Noct had kicked him out of the room with all the imperious outrage of his father. At least things were starting to calm down—Prompto wasn’t sure what he’d do if people were still talking about hormones when his dad came home.

His dad’s absence made for a change in other ways, too. The other Crownsguard trainees were talking to him more, asking him to sit with them during break, talking to him about their parents and what they wanted to do when they made it into the guard officially. Prompto was careful not to talk about his dad too much—He still remembered what had happened to Gladio, even if his classmates were definitely friendlier.

Or they seemed to be.

“What’s that?” Lena, one of the fourteen-year-olds, nudged Prompto one morning after their coach had left them for break, and gestured to his wrist. He glanced at it and saw that his band had slipped up, revealing part of his old barcode tattoo. Hurriedly, he pushed it back down.

“Temporary tattoo,” he said. “My friends and I got a bunch at the arcade.” It was an old excuse, and it usually worked. Honestly, Prompto didn’t know why the mark was there—his dad said he’d had it as a baby, and whenever Prompto started pressing him for more, Cor’s face would get all shuttered and dark. It wasn’t a mood Prompto liked to see, so he’d grown used to just pretending it wasn’t there.

“Didn’t look temporary,” Lena said. She leaned over and grabbed Prompto’s arm. He jerked back. “What? Why’re you freaking out if it’s just a sticker?”

Two other older trainees, spotting the disturbance, drifted over. “What’s going on?”

“The Marshal’s kid’s got some kind of tattoo.”

“It’s not a real one,” Prompto said. “I told you.”

Lena crossed her arms. “Then show us.”

“Fine.” Prompto held up his wrist and tugged at his band. “See? It’s just hard to rub off, okay?”

One of the boys walked up to him, and Prompto stepped back. Firm hands gripped his shoulders—He turned to see another girl behind him, shaking her head with a sideways smile.

Prompto flailed when the other three converged on him, but they were too much at once, and two pairs of hands were holding him down while another pressed at the skin of his wrist.

“It is real,” one of the boys said. “What the hell? Who gets tattoos as a kid?

“Maybe they do it in whatever backwards town the Marshal found him in,” said Lena. Suddenly, her smile didn’t seem so very friendly anymore.

Prompto felt cold, and distant, and strangely set apart from himself. He remembered what Nyx had said, about people like us. What if it wasn’t Prompto getting in trouble that kept people from bothering him? What if, all this time, it had been his dad?

Anger chased the cold out with a vengeance. He shouldn’t have to depend on his dad. He should’ve been able to keep bullies away by his strength alone.

Gladio couldn’t, said a quiet voice in the back of his mind, but Prompto was done listening to reason. He kicked out, and his foot connected with the kneecap of one of the boys, who yelped.

“Get off me,” he shouted, loud enough for his voice to carry across the training yards. One of the others let go of his right arm, and he swung his left wildly. His fist glanced off Lena’s chin, and she staggered back, eyes promising murder.

“I’m from here,” he said, as the others approached him, hands curling into fists.

“Bad blood always comes out,” said the second girl. She kicked out, and Prompto dodged—but there was a boy to his right, and he stumbled into him before he could stop himself. Arms locked around his, and Prompto threw his head back to knock into his captor’s nose, pedaled his feet in the air as he was lifted up, spat and clawed and bit, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough.

 

---

 

“Oh, Prompto.”

Prompto sat on a cot in the Crownsguard nurse’s office, staring at a fuzzy list describing different types of pain. He couldn’t make out the faces: Somewhere in the scuffle, his glasses had been broken, and while he could see okay if he squinted up close, everything in the distance was one big blur. Even his bruises felt blurry, like they weren’t really a part of him, and Prompto’s fingers burned like they’d fallen asleep.

Ignis placed a hand on one of his, and sat next to him on the cot.

“You should be with Noct,” Prompto said.

“Noct didn’t just get jumped by half a class of trainees,” Ignis told him. Prompto’s traitorous chin began to shake, and he turned away. “How are you? Other than the obvious?”

“Mr. Amicitia just left,” Prompto whispered. He was afraid to say it out loud: That would make it real, and then he’d have to tell Cor, and then his life would be over. “He said I… I can try again next year.”

Ignis’ hand tensed on his. “Try again?

“We’re not allowed to pick fights,” Prompto said. “Their parents complained, because they were getting kicked out, so I had to go on probation. I'm lucky. They aren't allowed back at all.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Ignis said. “When Cor finds out—“

“If he gets me back in, it’ll look like I’m only there ‘cause he said so,” Prompto said. “I don’t…” He pulled out of Ignis’ grip and rocked to his feet. “I need to go.”

“Go where?” Ignis’ voice was deeply suspicious.

“Just go. I’ll be back, okay? I’m not gonna run away or anything.”

There was a squeaking sound as Ignis stood. “I still think it’s unfair,” he said. “You worked hard to be here.”

“Not hard enough,” Prompto mumbled.

He left the office before Ignis could go after him, and rounded the corner past the training yards. He wasn’t far from where he needed to go—Just past the skywalk, except much further down, and behind the pillars dedicated to the Queen of the Rogue.

Now that he had time to think about it, everything ached. He couldn’t remember feeling this much pain all at once before, and even the potion the nurse had given him had only taken the edge off. But it wasn’t the pain that bothered him. It was that he lost. He’d never make it into the Crownsguard at fifteen like his dad, not when he couldn’t defend himself. He couldn’t be a sword of the king to Noct. He couldn’t do anything.

As he passed the pillars of the Queen, Prompto wiggled the band off his wrist and let it drop to the ground.

It took him a while to find the right door. Most of the people he asked wanted to know if he was okay, which he obviously wasn’t, but someone gave him directions eventually. He stood before a black iron door in a hall full of them, and rapped his knuckles under the gold numbers by the handle. The sound boomed around him, low and loud.

“Coming!” The voice wasn’t familiar, and Prompto wondered if he’d been given the wrong room by mistake, but then the door opened and the smudged face of Nyx Ulric appeared, mashed next to another boy about his age. He looked down at Prompto and cursed.

“The hell happened to you, kid?” asked the other boy. Prompto clenched his hands and shoved them in his pockets.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “I have… I have a favor to ask.”

“No problem,” said Nyx. He waved Prompto in, and he got the vague impression of a brown sofa, a tilting coffee table, and a floor piled with clothes. “You sure you don’t want to tell us?”

“I'm sure.”

Amazingly, Nyx didn’t push it. He closed the door after them and turned to face Prompto, and for once, Prompto was glad for his lousy vision. It made it easier to talk without thinking of the king’s explanatory charts.

“What’s the favor?” Nyx asked.

Prompto closed his eyes, and took a long, shivery breath.

“I want you to teach me how to fight.”

Chapter Text

Learning how to fight, Prompto discovered, was a lot like waking up one morning to find that everything he thought he knew how to do—even breathing—was wrong. Posture? No good. Standing? Not a chance. Balance? Well, Prompto didn’t know anything about that, anyways. But before any of it could be fixed, he helped Nyx’s friend, Libertus, clear out a space in the middle of the room. Libertus reminded Prompto of Ignis, in a way. He kept asking Prompto if he could get him a potion, or if he wanted some of their instant noodles, or “You sure you don’t want me to take a look at that bruise, action hero?” He hovered like Ignis, too, but it wasn’t that annoying—He was always cracking jokes at Nyx’s expense, and he had the kind of smile that made Prompto want to laugh.

When the space was cleared, Libertus braced himself in the center of the room.

“So,” Nyx said, flashing one of his smiles that made Prompto’s face heat up like a furnace. “This is a thing we learned back home, in Galahd. Technically, it’s the women who fight, but with the war on—“

“Get on with it,” Libertus said. Nyx’s foxlike grin appeared again, and Prompto’s heartbeat pounded in his throat.

“If you want to,” Nyx said, as Prompto struggled to breathe normally. “Watch this.”

It was easier said than done. Prompto tried to pay attention, but his vision was still blurry without his glasses, and even without warping, Nyx moved fast. He charged his friend, swung a fist right towards his gut, and then Libertus moved his hands and—

Nyx rolled as he landed on the carpet.

“Did you see that?” he asked, bouncing to his feet again. Prompto’s tongue sat heavy in his mouth. “Okay, maybe we should have you try.”

And so Prompto stood in the center of the floor, anxious and trembling, while Libertus stood next to him and showed him how to set his feet.

“A little wider than that. No, don’t point your toes. How’s your balance?”

“I don’t… know?”

Nyx’s hand touched his back, adjusting his posture, and Prompto thought that he might spontaneously combust right there.

After what felt like hours of just standing, Nyx called a halt to the lesson.

“Practice that until it’s second nature,” he said, as Prompto shook out muscles he didn’t even know he had. “Next time, we’re gonna teach you how to fall.”

“Great,” Prompto said. “I’m an expert at that already.”

Libertus laughed and tousled his messy hair, and Prompto couldn’t help but smile back, wincing at the healing cut of his lip splitting open.

They walked him halfway to his side of the Citadel, Prompto wedged between them with their arms around his shoulders. He was so busy trying not to pay attention to the weight of Nyx’s arm that he let them carry most of the conversation—He learned that Nyx hero-worshipped the Kingsglaive captain, who was from the same region he and Libertus came from, that Libertus kept picking up strays (“Like you,” he said, earning a half-hearted scowl), and that they were the ones who set off the fire alarm half a year ago, when Nyx thought it would be easier to heat their instant noodles with magic.

“Bad idea,” Libertus said, leaning in to stage whisper in Prompto’s ear. “Like most of the ones he comes up with.”

This was a good idea, though,” Nyx said.

“Yeah, because it wasn’t yours.” Prompto ducked as Nyx slapped his friend on the back of the head, and slipped out of their grip. They were almost at the manor, and Prompto wasn’t sure he wanted them to know that he was friends with the prince: It was nice, talking to people who weren’t born and raised to serve the kingdom. He knew Ignis, Gladio, and Noct didn’t care, but it made him feel a little out of place, knowing he was the only one who didn’t have his whole life planned out. When Gladio got in trouble for fighting a few years back and was placed on probation, too, he still had his job as a Shield to fall back on.

“Prompto!”

Prompto squinted into the hazy distance, and could barely spot a fast-moving blob of color heading towards him. At his back, Nyx and Libertus casually eased forward, blocking him in on either side.

“Someone you know?” Libertus asked, in a quiet voice.

“I think?” Prompto said. “Iggy!”

The blur started to take the rough shape of a human. “Thank goodness,” Ignis said. His shoes crunched over the gravel path. “I was worried you—Who’s this?”

“Oh.” Prompto froze. “This is. Um. Libertus and… Nyx.”

Ignis stopped a few feet from Prompto, and tilted his head. “Nyx? The one who—“

And-this-is-Ignis-Scientia,” Prompto babbled, before Ignis forced him to abandon Insomnia and go into self-imposed exile. “He’s kind of my, he’s my.”

“Brother,” Ignis said, severely. Prompto couldn’t tell, but he had the feeling that Ignis was leveling his terrifying, I know you didn’t read your reports, Noctis glare directly at Nyx. “Concerned brother.”

“Thanks, Ignis,” Prompto said, placing both hands on his chest to push him back towards the manor. “Well, we gotta go, thanks for everything, time to—“

“I hope,” Ignis said, ignoring the way Prompto’s feet skidded in the gravel in his effort to budge him, “that you weren’t in any danger on your… walk.

“Not with us,” Libertus said. Prompto could hear the laugh creeping up in the older boy’s words.

“It’s alright,” Nyx added. “I have a little sister, I know how it goes.”

“I’m sure,” Ignis said, testily. Prompto thought of his earlier plea to Ramuh, and sent up a silent curse instead. “We should head back, Prompto. It’s getting late.”

“See you tomorrow!” Libertus shouted, as Prompto dragged Ignis down the path.

“I’m going to kill you,” he hissed.

“Kill me later,” Ignis said. “There’s been an incident.”

Another one?”

“I may have…” Ignis hummed. “Had words with Mr. Amicitia.”

“Iggy, no.

“My apologies, Prompto.” Ignis took the lead, dragging Prompto towards the service elevator at the side of the Citadel. “But after today, I can’t bring myself to look at him. We’ll be staying in the apartment from now on.”

Prompto stared at the older boy. Ignis never talked back to an adult. He had obedience down to an art, and he treated Clarus and Regis with something like reverence. And he’d gone against all that, just for Prompto?

“I don’t say it enough,” Prompto said, as they stepped into the elevator. “But you really are the best friend a guy could have, Iggy.”

Ignis blushed and turned aside.

They spent the rest of the week sleeping in the living room of their apartment. They made up a giant nest of blankets, comforters, pillows and chocobo plushes Prompto had picked up over the years, and stayed up late watching Dungeon Crawlers and looking over study materials for Noct. In the afternoons, Prompto hung out with Libertus and Nyx, who dragged out one of their mattresses and taught him how to roll onto his hands when he fell. As the lessons went on, a small, weak idea started to form in his mind, wiggling its way through the lightheaded feeling that always came on whenever Nyx looked his way or patted his shoulder in approval.

Prompto replaced his wristband (which had been lost forever in the grass somewhere near the Queen's pillars), but Nyx and Libertus had seen his tattoo, and they hadn't mentioned it at all. He started taking off his wristband when he was at home or with the older boys, and tried to hold down the tight knot of embarrassment that always came up when he saw the dark lines on his skin. He didn't know where the tattoo came from, but neither did anyone else. And, like Cor had told him, it wasn't his fault it was there. Still, it was one thing to hear his dad say something like that, and another to believe it.

That year’s trainee Crownsguard program wrapped up at the end of the week. Gladio and Noct stayed over that day, bringing an armful of snacks and the worst B Movie about chocobo rangers that Prompto had ever seen.

“None of us are talking to Papa,” Noct said, as they all hunched over instant noodles in the middle of Prompto and Ignis’ blanket fort.

“Not even the king?” Ignis asked.

“Oh, no, Dad still talks to him,” Gladio said, “but he’s been really sarcastic. I think they’re worried about what’ll happen when Mr. Leonis comes back.”

“He already knows,” Noct said. Prompto and Ignis stared at him. “They had to tell him. He’s kind-of-sort-of in charge of the Crownsguard, right?”

Gladio opened another cup of noodles and grabbed the electric kettle. “I don’t know if I should be insulted,” he said. “No one made this sorta fuss when I got suspended.”

“You’re not Prompto,” Noct said. Prompto tucked up his knees and busied himself with his noodles. Gladio smiled and kicked Noct in the ankles.

“Now I am insulted.”

 

That weekend brought with it a great grey thundercloud at the head of Cor Leonis’ company car, a harbinger of the storm that was due to descend upon the Citadel. Prompto could feel the chill of it as he sat on the balcony overlooking the Kingsglaive training arena with Libertus, watching Nyx run through drills with the captain.

“I’ve seen him before,” Prompto said, as the captain caught Nyx’s knife out of midair and sent him rolling in the dust. “The captain. He was with my dad when we visited Tenebrae.”

“Don’t tell Nyx that,” Libertus said. “He’ll die of jealousy. Ooh, watch, he’s gonna—“

They both winced as Nyx was forced to warp into the side of a wall to avoid getting thrown again. Libertus made a mark on an invisible tally in the air, and Prompto giggled. Then there came a crack of thunder that made Prompto jump, and the sky opened up all around them.

Prompto ran back with Libertus this time, since Nyx was sulking like a drowned rat in the bathroom, and the two of them skidded and slid about in the mud next to the pristine walking path. Their voices were swallowed up by thunder, and when Prompto made it back to the elevator, he was soaking wet, covered in mud to his waist, and laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe. He sloshed down the hall to the apartment and opened the door wide, grinning like the world’s happiest swamp monster.

Cor looked up from his seat on the couch, and Prompto let the door close behind him with a bang.

Thirty minutes later, Prompto’s muddy clothes were in a plastic bag in the laundry hamper, and he was bundled up in his Wiz Chocobo pajamas and one of the blankets from his deconstructed fort. He sat cross-legged on the couch in front of Cor and watched him warily—Anger radiated from his father like waves, and he could see his phone buzzing and lighting up with silenced texts and calls.

“I spoke to Clarus,” Cor said, and Prompto had a feeling that spoke wasn’t really the right word for it, “and he said that you’ll be moved up to the second program with the rest of your class when it reopens in the spring.”

Prompto peered into his father’s face, which was tense with the effort of holding in a furious rage, and the little thought that had been nagging at him all week spilled over.

“I’m not going back,” he said. Cor flinched, and he reached out to Prompto, taking his hand.

“Don’t give up because of this,” he told him.

Prompto shook his head. “I’m not giving up,” he said. He pulled his hand away. “You don’t have to be in the junior program to become Crownsguard. You just have to pass the entrance exam.”

“Prom, the program teaches you the skills you need to pass—“

“But I can learn those somewhere else,” Prompto said, quickly, not wanting to mention Nyx and Libertus yet. “You didn’t need it. Neither did Monica, or Dustin, or… or Cid. And I’m not getting into the Crownsguard to be like the other kids. I’m doing it for Noct.

Cor sighed and covered his face with both hands. “If this is what you want, Prom,” he said. Prompto nodded. “You know I’ll do what I can to help. Clarus will, too. He might seem like a hardass, but he has… layers, when he isn’t being a stubborn piece of—“

“Cursing, Dad,” Prompto said, and Cor cracked a smile.

“Oh, come here, you hypocritical little…” Prompto squealed as Cor dragged him into a hug. “A full-out fight and a probation. You like to keep busy, don’t you? Anything else happen while I was gone?”

Prompto bit the inside of his cheek, hard, and tried to will himself not to think of Nyx’s easy smile, or King Regis’ charts that lay hidden under his bed.

“Nah,” he said, in a high, squeaky voice. “Not really.”

Chapter Text

Spring had come to Insomnia, and Ignis Scientia was having a crisis.

“My dear, pitiful darling!” His mother, who had recently upgraded her nickname from Dotsie to Dot in order to match society trends, enveloped her son in an embrace that still managed to keep him half an inch from her immaculate dress suit. “Have you suffered terribly? What a barbaric trial to have undergone!”

“It’th not tho bad, ma’am,” Ignis said, having spent the past three days sobbing bitterly into his pillow while Cor tried to make him tea and Prompto assured him that, You make them look cool, I promise! He attempted a smile.

Metal braces flashed in the lamplight of the Scientia family home. Dot wailed and pressed a hand to the back of his head.

“By the Six, Dorothea, he isn’t dying.” Rowan Scientia, Ignis’ father and the stay-at-home host of the family’s soirees and dinner parties, was adjusting the set of one of their ornamental vases. “I hardly approve, in any case. We don’t have such practices in Tenebrae.”

“It’s only for a few years,” Cor said, resisting, as he always did on these twice-yearly visits to the Scientias, from setting their drawing room on fire. “Even the king wore them, once.”

“Nothing wrong with a little overbite,” Rowan said. “For godssakes, boy, sit up straight.”

Ignis slowly disentangled himself from his mother and sat upright, his small smile fading. Cor checked the time on his phone, a little too obviously to be polite.

“It’th like that, thir,” Ignis said, and took a breath when his father gave him a disapproving look. He spoke slower, trying to enunciate around the rubber bands in his mouth. “Posture. But for your teeth.”

Dot harrumphed.

They left the house eventually, amid a cloud of potpourri and eternal gloom. Ignis looked, if anything, worse than he’d been when his checkup at the dentist revealed his need for corrective braces. Cor felt the familiar urge to kick Mr. Scientia’s teeth in growing in the back of his mind, and struggled to tamp it down.

“It’sss really rather thallow, ithn’t it,” Ignis said, alternating between a lisp and whistling hisses. “Being upthet about a thing like thisss.”

“You’re allowed,” Cor said. They turned toward the bookstore on 49th Street, their usual post-Scientia-ordeal stop. Bees wove lethargically through the decorative flower gardens that lined the walk out of Ignis’ old neighborhood, and the breeze that blew from the canal was blessedly cool.

“Not like that, maybe,” Ignis said. It was the closest he would ever come to saying a word against his parents, and Cor knew better than to push it. “And if His Majesty the king went through it, I can, too.”

“I bet he complained,” Cor said, opening the shop door for them. “I hear he had to wear a sort of wire helmet at night, even part of the afternoon.”

“Really?” Ignis asked, making a beeline for the baking section. “Why have I never heard of thisss?”

“Funny thing,” Cor said. He lowered his voice. “Most of the portraits of Regis around that time have mysteriously disappeared.”

Ignis chuckled, and winced as his tender teeth protested. Almost a laugh, even. Cor scanned the comic books for something that would interest Prompto, and thanked past Regis for small favors.

 

---

 

“Doin’ good, Chocobo!”

Prompto rolled his eyes at Gladio while he kneaded his sore legs, coming down from their morning run. His friends all knew Prompto’s plans by now, and Gladio had latched onto him as a potential running buddy who wouldn’t give up halfway to play video games and stuff his face with toxic yellow corn chips. With Clarus’ painfully awkward approval to use the Crownsguard training facilities at any time, Prompto and Gladio had the chance to go running before Prompto had to head to the bus for school. It meant he had to rush for the locker room showers before the homeroom bell rang, but Prompto figured it was worth it. He was already starting to build up his stamina, and there were some mornings where he swore he could almost feel his muscles stitching together.

“How’s Iggy?” Gladio asked. “Holding up with the, you know?” He pointed to his teeth, and Prompto shrugged.

“He’s okay.” He was under strict orders from Ignis not to breathe a word to anyone, especially Gladio, how he’d taken the news. “They hurt a lot, so he isn’t sleeping much.”

“I’ll tell Noct to give him a break,” Gladio said. “Don’t want another I’m not mad at you, Mr. Amicitia, just disappointed, speech.”

Prompto snickered. The two of them helped each other to their feet, and Gladio walked with Prompto as they turned to the Citadel gate. Prompto’s phone buzzed, and he swiped it on to see a picture of Luna, sitting in a garden with, judging from the look on her face, a stolen cupcake. Gladio leaned over to see and sighed loudly.

“You two, really.”

“Like you and Ravus don’t write each other letters about how your muscles are doing,” Prompto said. “Oh!” He smacked Gladio’s arm. The older boy gave him an aggrieved look, and he smacked him again. “I got it! I know what’ll make Ignis feel better!”

“Okay, okay, stop hitting me and tell me!

Prompto spread his arms out in an arc. “A movie!” When this didn’t get the reaction he expected, he went on, “You know how Iggy’s parents met at one of those big outdoor movies in Tenebrae? Luna says they still have them! They’re all boring romances, but Iggy likes that kind of stuff. We should go!”

Gladio shoved his hands in his pockets. “A movie,” he said.

“Yeah!” Prompto bounced as he walked. “Think about it! I mean, I’ll try to go, but Luna wants to show me around. And Noct isn’t gonna watch anything that doesn’t have like, a ton of blood, or maybe a vampire. What about that vampire movie you like?”

“He hated it,” Gladio said, but he didn’t sound like he was paying too much attention.

“Ok, well, even if it’s just you and Iggy, I bet he’ll love it!”

“Huh,” said Gladio, in a small voice.

“I know, I know,” Prompto said, bowing and walking backwards at the same time. “I’m the best. You’re welcome. Same time tomorrow, yeah?”

“Y-yeah.”

“Great!” Prompto ran off, his mind teeming with thoughts of movie theaters, sylleblossoms, puppies and Luna. Gladio, left behind, slowed to a halt and stood in the well-cut lawn of the Citadel, looking for all the world as though the earth had fallen out from beneath his feet.

 

---

 

Iris Amicitia-Caelum was eight years old, prone to giggle, and was going through what Gladio referred to as a “soft punk phase.” She sat in the back of the Crownsguard transport van in yards of layered blue lace, heavy black boots, and a studded leather jacket that she’d found in the back of King Regis’ closet. There was a skull and crossbones embroidered on the back, and the words “Prophesied to DIE” over it, surrounded by flowers. Noct whispered to Prompto that the embroidery had been done by the late Queen Aulea, which made Prompto wonder what her clothes must have looked like.

“I can’t believe you guys got to meet Luna first,” she said, kicking her boots against the floor of the van.

“You were like, two, Iris,” Noct said. He and Prompto were huddled up together, foreheads pressed close as they tried to beat each other on a new phone game. “You wouldn’t remember.”

“I would, too.” Iris shook out her jacket. “I remember everything. Like how you’re supposed to give a speech to the Queen.”

“It’s on my phone, I’ll be fine,” Noct said. His phone, which until that moment had been alight with bright pixelated chocobos and daemons, chose that second to power down. He yelped, and Iris’ grin had undertones of their royal father at his most vindictive.

“Uh oh,” she said.

Noct’s face went deathly pale.

The speech, when it did happen, was probably the biggest trainwreck Prompto had ever seen in his life. He stood next to Cor, who was at the side of Nyx’s hero and secret giant softie Captain Drautos, and watched as Noct hemmed and hawed his way through half-remembered platitudes and made-up stammerings about “allies” and “the future.” Ignis didn’t help much—He kept leaning in and trying to give Noct cues, which only made him distracted. He was so white by the end of it that Prompto thought he’d dissolve into mist. Stark silence met his mumbling finale, and he was already starting to withdraw when Lunafreya burst into enthusiastic applause. Prompto and Ignis joined in, then his parents, Gladio, and Iris, and finally everyone in attendance was (a little uncertainly) filling up the welcoming circle with weak clapping.

“Leave me here to die,” he whispered to Prompto, when he jumped back into the line. King Regis and Queen Sylva kissed cheeks, Gladio and Ravus did a complicated forearm bump of True Friendship, and Iris leapt into Luna’s arms with all the dignity of a three-month-old puppy.

“At least you didn’t cause an international incident,” Ignis said. He spoke much slower, now, but there was hardly the hint of a lisp anymore. “Three centuries ago, one of your ancestors served shrimp to the Queen of—“

“Is that Ignis Scientia?”

Prompto, Noct and Ignis turned to find Ravus and Gladio standing before them, shoulder to shoulder. Ravus was staring at Ignis like he had grown two heads and started spitting fire, and Ignis bowed politely. Prompto followed his lead, but Noct stayed upright, too caught in the throes of embarrassment to care.

“I’m pleased to find you well, Your Highness,” Ignis said. Rubber bands flashed grey and white as he spoke. “I read the book you sent to me on the art of war, and while I disagree with the author on a number of points, I found it an interesting insight into the time period.”

“You… you do?” Prince Ravus’ smile was shaky. “You’re nice. That is, that’s nice.” He dragged at his lower lip with his teeth, and rocked back a step. “Gladio. We must go. Somewhere. Excuse me.” He gave Ignis a hasty bow, and before Ignis was done bowing in return, had beat a hasty retreat down the path, arm hooked around a bewildered Gladio.

“Oh dear,” Ignis said. “I do hope he isn’t coming down with something.”

 

“What happened to Ignis?” Ravus hissed the words into Gladio’s ear as he pulled him towards a secluded gazebo, well out of earshot of the others. Gladio collapsed on one of the gazebos polished white benches and stretched out his legs.

“The braces, yeah?” he said. “Got ‘em a few months ago.”

“No, not that.” Ravus started to pace the short length of the gazebo. “He’s. His hair, for one, has become very. And he. Did he always have the? He’s different.”

“Well, yeah. It’s been years. People grow up.”

“That much?” Ravus turned to him, anguish in his violet and blue eyes. “Gladio. You know that the two of us, as elder princes of our respective countries, have sworn loyalty to one another?”

Gladio narrowed his eyes. “Sure.”

“And in the letter you sent me last autumn, you said that you would do anything to ensure my happiness?”

“Not in those exact words, but—“

“Gladiolus.” Ravus placed his hands on Gladio’s shoulders and leaned over him. “I require your assistance. Will you ask Ignis Scientia to have dinner with me in the Starlight Market?”

The warm air of Tenebrae took a sudden chill. “What was that.”

“Well, I can’t very well ask him myself,” Ravus said, letting go of Gladio to pace the gazebo again. His white robes fluttered as he moved his hands about. “That would be entirely rude. But it’s acceptable for a messenger to—“

“No.” Ravus stopped, and stared at the drawn, pensive face of his dearest friend. “Iggy’s off-limits.”

Ravus tilted his head. “Is he… betrothed?” Gladio grunted. “Then what’s the matter? Is he ill?”

“No, he’s just…” Gladio gripped the bench beneath him, tight. “I’m invoking the code.”

“Which…” Realization dawned. “Gladio. You aren’t saying that you fancy him?”

“I don’t!” Gladio said. “I mean. I don’t know. He’s just off-limits, okay? No dating the bro of your bro. It’s in the code.”

Ravus stepped back, and drew himself to his full height. “I’d think,” he said, in an arch tone. “That the decision is up to Ignis.

Gladio’s voice went cold and hard. “So that’s how it is, is it, Ravus?”

“Indeed.”

“Fine.” Gladio stood, and tucked his thumbs in his pockets, glaring down the prince of Tenebrae with all the fury he could muster. “Then it’s war.”

Chapter Text

Cor Leonis stood at the door to the Queen of Tenebrae’s sun-facing morning room, blinking away the dry-eyed sting of exhaustion. Noctis had spent the night in their guest rooms last night, which meant he and Prompto hid under the covers of Prompto’s bed, whispering and giggling, the lights of their phones making blurred spotlights on the walls. Ignis had rolled over in his bed several times, making pointed sounds of frustration, but the boys only lowered their voices for half a minute before breaking out into giggles again. Finally, Cor had confiscated their phones, but that only meant that they would then engage in the game he was starting recognize as “How Many Compliments Can We Give Princess Lunafreya Before Cor Loses His Astrals-Blest Mind?”

“Someone slept well.” Clarus appeared at his elbow with a crumbling cheese pastry and a cup of coffee. He pressed them into Cor’s hands. “You aren’t on guard duty, Leonis. Relax.”

“That tone of voice didn’t work on me when I was fifteen, and it won’t work on me now, Clarus.”

“Bribes do,” Clarus pointed out. Cor stopped with the pastry halfway to his mouth, and scowled. “Don’t fret. Did Noctis give you trouble last night? He seems more… well, more Noctis.”

Cor could see what he meant. Prince Noctis sat in a tall chair next to Princess Lunafreya, falling asleep by degrees. Luna kept nudging him to keep him awake, and Regis and the Queen were both gently engaging him in the conversation with amused smiles. As Luna had been gifted with the powers of the Oracle, and Noct had been blessed by the Crystal, they were both set to be the respective rulers of their kingdoms, and as such King Regis and Queen Sylva wanted to use this visit to give them a taste of what a peaceful diplomatic relationship looked like. At the moment, according to Luna and Noct’s pained faces, it looked like boredom.

Outside, behind the floor-to-ceiling glass doors leading out to the garden, Cor heard a familiar laugh.

“Easy, girl! Easy!”

Noct and Luna twisted in their seats as Prompto appeared in the garden, running ahead of Luna’s dogs, Umbra and Pryna. The white dog knocked him to the ground, and he rolled as he fell, landing on his hands. Cor raised an eyebrow at that. It looked practiced, somehow.

“I love you, too!” Prompto’s voice was thin as both dogs tried to lick his face. He laughed helplessly.

Luna and Noct’s expressions were a study in sorrow. At the door, Ignis looked up from his tablet and sighed.

“Don’t you agree, Your Highness?” Queen Sylva said. Luna and Noctis turned around.

“Yes, of course,” Luna said.

“Uh huh, Your Majesty,” said Noct, at the same time.

The Queen and Regis looked at each other. King Regis lifted a shoulder.

“Oh, very well,” the Queen said. “You can go outside. Just remember that we have dinner at six!” Their children were already gone, walking as quickly as politeness could allow towards the glass doors.

Ignis bowed. “If I may join them, Your Majesties,” he said, “I will thee—see that they arrive in time.”

“Thank you, dear boy,” the Queen said.

“Go on,” Regis told him, and Ignis followed Luna and Noct into the garden, where they were instantly mobbed by dogs.

Cor drifted to Drautos, who looked about as comfortable in this drawing room as Cor felt, and the two of them stood in companionable silence while Regis, Sylva, and occasionally Clarus carried on their conversation. He kept an eye on the yard—He wasn’t sure about how rough those dogs were playing—and saw, after a while, Prince Ravus arrive in a tailored suit that looked pretty uncomfortable for how warm Tenebrae could be that time of year. He spoke, and Ignis looked up from where he was dusting grass off Noctis’ shoulders. Ignis smiled, and Ravus’ cheeks went pink. Interesting.

Then Ravus stiffened, and looked out across the garden as though he’d seen a daemon emerge from the earth. Gladio showed up, clad only in a black tank top and skinny jeans, and waved at Ignis, whose smile broadened ever so faintly. Gladio knelt to scratch the dogs behind their ears and spoke quietly, and Ignis’ laugh rang through the glass doors.
Ravus looked ready to kill.

“Trouble brewing?” Clarus again. Gods, that man was a ghost. Cor gestured towards Ravus with his coffee.

“Something like it,” he said. Drautos peered at them and shrugged.

“They’re teenagers,” he told Clarus and Cor. “Whatever it is, it’ll blow over by dinner.”

 

---

 

Ignis wasn’t sure how it had happened, but he was starting to think that he had managed to insult Ravus and Gladio.

“I’m sure that isn’t the case,” Luna said, as they walked down one of the winding pathways towards the castle’s private swimming pool. She was holding Iris’ hand on one side, Noct’s on the other, and Prompto was circling them like an incessantly cheerful shark, taking pictures and joking with Noct about his cactuar-print swimming trunks.

“Yes, but Ravus offered me one of those pink flowers earlier, and Gladio said they were, what was it? Symbols of war? Which is, naturally, a terribly dangerous word to say even in passing. But he looked so upset when I told him…”

“You’ll feel better once you see the swimming pool,” Luna said. She swung Iris’ hand in hers. “Two waterfalls, a slide that looks like it’s made of glass, and a hot tub which mother says none of us are to use.”

“I call dibs!” Prompto shouted. Noct cried out in dismay and broke out of Luna’s grasp to run after him, their bare feet smacking on the path. Ignis and Luna shook their heads in resignation, caught the other’s eye, and smiled briefly.

“I feel like I should thank you,” Luna said. “For how well you look after Noctis and Prompto. They’re… dear friends, but they can be rather—“

There was a sound of Noctis screaming in fear, a roar, and the splash of water on stone.

“Like that?” Iris suggested. Luna nodded.

“Well,” Ignis said, somewhat flustered by the compliment. “They’re my friends, too, Highness.”

When they made it to the pool, Ignis and Luna stopped short.

“Oh, no,” Luna whispered.

Beyond the churning, frothing mess that was Prompto and Noctis trying to good-naturedly drown one another, Gladio and Ravus were engaging in a silent fight over the best lounge chair. Gladio was wearing the infamous “booty-shorts” swim trunks that Regis had banned after the Accordo incident a year before, and the best that could be said for Ravus’ swimwear was that it was, indeed, made of some sort of elastic fabric. Luna turned away, groaning, and Iris made a face.

“Papa’s gonna be so mad when he finds out,” Iris said. “He told Gladio to burn that after what’s-her-name proposed at the beach party.”

“Oh, yes,” Ignis said. “I remember.” It was a shame, really. Gladio and Ravus could well have cut very handsome figures if they weren’t currently trying to trip each other over the pavement like unruly children. Ignis waved to Noctis, who had Prompto in a full-body grapple, and carefully pulled a lawn chair next to where Iris and Luna were sitting.

“Iggy!” He looked up to find Gladio stumbling towards him. “Don’t use that one! There’s a… I found a chair in the shade over there—“

“Yes, and it looks very nice,” Ignis said. “But I don’t see why I should pull my chair all the way there to watch you and Ravus wrestle for it.”

Gladio gaped. “We aren’t—no, it’s for—that’s not what it—“

“Afternoon, Ignis,” Ravus said, appearing behind Gladio with a practiced smile. He tried to lean on Gladio’s shoulder, but the other boy was about half a foot taller than him and greasy with sunscreen, and he slipped. He grabbed onto Gladio’s waist for balance, and both boys went staggering back a step. “How—how was your morning?”

“It went… well, thank you…” Ignis looked from one to the other, taking in their slightly manic smiles. “Are you… did you two also have a… nice morning?”

“Nice enough,” Gladio said, shoving Ravus away by the face. “Iggy, I was wondering if you wanted to—“ Ravus mumbled against his palm, and he pressed harder against the Tenebraean prince’s mouth. “Go to that café at the Starlight Market tonight? The one with the blue awning we talked about last time?”

Ravus gasped in outrage and flung himself out of the way of Gladio’s hand. Unfortunately, this meant that his foot slipped against the edge of the pool, and he was sent flailing backwards. His slender hands grabbed Gladio by the shoulders, and both boys went crashing into the water.

Luna covered her face in her hands.

“Boys are weird,” Iris said, as Ravus and Gladio emerged, glaring daggers at one another. Luna nodded and helped Iris pull out her inner tube from one of their bags.

“You have that right,” she said. At the far end of the pool, Prompto and Noctis were attempting to jump across the pool towards each other, hands outspread. Ignis leapt up, ignoring Ravus and Gladio’s attempts to engage him in whatever petty feud they were undertaking, in a desperate bid to prevent a full-scale disaster from breaking out.
With Noct and Prompto riding on the high of being on vacation at last, Ignis suspected it was going to be a full-time job.

A job which, apparently, was to be constantly interrupted by Gladio and Ravus at their most bewilderingly obnoxious. First, Gladio had offered to block out the sun for him while Ignis looked over his homework on the lounge chair—Which would have been delightful, if not a little strange, were it not for the fact that Luna was too busy looking after Iris to make sure that Prompto and Noct didn’t crack their skulls on the concrete, the slide, the stairs, or each other. And then Ignis had spotted Ravus whispering to Iris, who started wailing that she needed Gladio to swim with her. And so Gladio reluctantly peeled away, only to be replaced with Ravus, whose smile wasn’t quite right and seemed to be having a hard time speaking in full sentences. At one point, Ignis offered to check his forehead for a fever, and Gladio had guffawed so loudly that Ravus flinched and strode off without another word.

Then there was the time Luna, Ignis, Noct and Prompto were walking Iris back to the palace, and caught the boys—thankfully dressed, this time—tousling in a flower garden for the rights to what was apparently a rare “lucky” sylleblossom. Luna had groaned at that, and Ignis and Prompto exchanged curious looks.

Very unusual indeed. Ignis almost wished Gladio hadn’t arranged for that dinner at the café. He didn’t know what he’d do if this state of affairs continued.

 

---

 

Gladio jogged up the stone steps leading to the Starlight Market café, checking the cuffs of his sleeves for stains. He felt overdressed and gawky—That day had been a series of disasters, all Ravus’ fault, of course—and he wasn’t too confident of his chances. If he could just get there early enough to make sure Ravus didn’t try to interrupt, he could have an actual conversation with Ignis and—

“Hello, my bro.

Gladio stopped at the top of the steps. There, looking ridiculously elegant in a blue dress shirt and grey slacks, his hair parted in that irritating way that he had to know was grossly attractive, sat Prince Ravus. He crossed his legs and leaned back in Gladio’s seat, holding up a glass of water like he was a, a… like he was royalty or something.

Which he was, but that wasn’t the point.

“The hell are you doing at my table?” Gladio asked. He sat down in the chair opposite his so-called-friend, and placed his elbows on the tabletop. Ravus smiled at him. Smiled! The bastard!

“Simply enjoying the evening,” Ravus said. He took a sip of his water. Gladio’s water. Gladio wanted to knock that cup out of his perfectly manicured hands. “I have arranged a musical entertainment at the fountain, one of the numbers from The Maiden’s Kiss—“

“You sick son of a—“ That was Iggy’s favorite play! “That’s goin’ too far!”

“Oh, I’ve barely started,” Ravus said. “Do you want to know what I have planned for after?” He leaned forward, and Gladio wanted nothing more than to push Ravus’ unnaturally pretty face into the basket of complimentary breadsticks.

“You know what I’m plannin’ right now?” Gladio asked, his voice nearly a growl.

“No,” said a terse, clipped voice behind him. “But I would suggest you not act upon them.”

Gladio watched Ravus’ expression freeze, then slowly shift into a picture of horror. He turned, and looked up into the furious, bespectacled face of Ignis Scientia.

“That,” Ignis said, in a voice that caused a small part of Gladio to resonate in deep-seated fear, “is enough.” He placed his hands on his hips. “I don’t know what has possessed the two of you to forsake your friendship, but I will not be dragged into the middle of it, nor will I see it continue past this evening. Have I made myself clear?”

Gladio and Ravus stared at him. Ignis tapped the toe of his boot on the stone.

“Yes,” Ravus choked.

“Crystal.”

“Indeed,” Ignis said. “Now, the two of you will resolve… whatever this is, and shake hands on it like respectable human beings, or I will bring your parents into it. I take no enjoyment in playing dirty, but I fear you have left me with no choice.”

Both of them, properly cowed and red in the face, nodded. Ignis sighed and shook his head.

“Very good. Now, if you two don’t mind, I have promised to take Luna and Prompto out for gelato. Good evening to you both.” He bowed, unerringly polite, and stalked off across the plaza.

Ravus sat back against his chair. “What… what on Eos was that?

“That,” Gladio said, glumly, picking up a menu, “was our hopes at a date with Iggy going down the drain.”

“Wait, are you still planning on ordering?” Ravus snapped. Gladio shrugged.

“Seems like a waste of a reservation,” he said. “What do you think? Crab or steak?”

Ravus stared at him, then looked down at his own menu. “Steak,” he said at last. “Definitely steak.”

 

An hour later, Ravus and Gladio walked slowly down the steps of the plaza in the somber, melancholy cloud that hovered over all young people whose romantic hopes had been dashed on the rocks. Occasionally, one of them would let out a long, heart-weary sigh.

“You know,” Gladio said, after a minute. “I don’t hate you.”

Ravus looked up at him, and stopped halfway down a step. “Pardon?”

“It’s true.” Gladio had his hands so deep in his pockets that he was in danger of wearing a hole through them. “You’re the only guy who read the Dusk-Dark series and liked it, even if you do pretend you don’t.”

“And your dedication to your duty is admirable, even if you are a stubborn ass.” Ravus coughed and pushed up his right sleeve, rubbing at his arm. “That is, I don’t hate you, either.”

“Bros again?” Gladio said. He stopped, and held out his hand. There was a flicker of movement in Ravus’ face, and he lifted his right hand, let it hover a few inches from Gladio’s. They stared at each other in a silence that grew rapidly thick with panic, and then Ravus huffed and took a step into Gladio’s space. They were close. Very close. Gladio could see the irises in Ravus’ dreamboat eyes, which were—of course they were dreamboat eyes, it wasn’t weird for a bro to think their bro had the kind of eyes you could get lost in, not when they looked like Ravus’—and he could see the mark where Ravus had smudged concealer over a pink spot on his cheek, and—

Blast your bro code,” Ravus said, and kissed him.

There had been, in history, a rare number of perfect kisses. This was not one of them. Their teeth knocked together. Ravus’ nose ended up mashed into Gladio’s, and they both had Anak steak-breath, which wasn’t appealing at the best of times. Ravus pulled away, rubbing his nose, and Gladio’s brown cheeks flushed scarlet.

“Try it again?” Gladio asked.

“In the solarium, thirty minutes,” Ravus said.

Breathing heavily, lost in the great beyond where the bro code could never hope to guide them, the oldest son of Lucis and the only prince of Tenebrae raced into the dark.

Chapter Text

“I wonder,” King Regis said, in the light, uninterested tone of a man discussing a change in the weather, “if it is possible for our family to visit anywhere without causing an international incident.”

Prompto, sitting between Cor and Ignis, covered his mouth with both hands. Gladiolus and Ravus sat on opposite ends of an ornate, dark blue loveseat, each of them staring intently at the wall as though they were the only ones in the room—or, more likely, in the universe. Gladio had the firm set to his mouth that meant he wanted to be anywhere but in the Mildly Blue Drawing Room with everyone in his life looking on, and King Regis looked like the cat who not only stole the cream, but rolled in it so no other cat could get the chance to enjoy themselves.

“Now, now, Regis,” Queen Sylva said. “I fear it is my fault, as well. I should have kept a closer eye on my son, and not trusted him to behave as a proper young noble with the grace and tact befitting his station.”

Regis nodded sagely. Squashed up against the arm of the loveseat, Ravus Nox Fleuret made a strangled whining sound.

“Love is a wonderful thing,” said King Regis, “but both of you know better than to be found… making out, I believe the term is?”

“Oh, who knows what young people call it these days,” Queen Sylva said. “You were always much better at picking that up than I was, my dear.”

“Regardless, it was quite improper. And in a broom closet, Gladio? A broom closet?

“Sorry, sir,” Gladio mumbled.

Regis drummed his fingers together. “Five years ago, this would not have been a problem,” he said. “Both of you are unattached, older brothers to the crown prince and princess respectively, and would do well to make an advantageous match.”

Both Ravus and Gladio looked up.

“But Gladio swore an oath to be Noctis’ Shield,” Regis continued. “Of course, we can break the contract and start betrothal negotiations if that is your desire…”

“Betrothal?” Ravus choked.

“Break the contract?” Gladio asked.

Queen Sylva hummed. “Or,” she said, with the same, tiny smile that graced King Regis’ lips, “We can arrange for our Ravus to be married into your family, Regis, and your son can continue his role as Shield to the prince.”

The faces of the boys on the couch drained of all color.

“We aren’t—“ Gladio stammered.

“It isn’t as though we—“ Ravus said.

“Perhaps we should give you time to think on it,” Regis said. “After all, I am not an unreasonable man.”

“Father,” Gladio said, in the voice of a young man who knew he would soon regret it. “Weren’t you engaged to Queen Sylva when you married Queen Aulea? What about Dad?”

In the corner of the room, Clarus suppressed a laugh. Regis shot him a dirty look.

“That’s right,” Ravus said. “Mother, you married your chamberlain—

“I believe that we’ve all delayed lunch long enough,” Queen Sylva said quickly, rising in a rustle of expensive silk and well-bred hypocrisy. “Your Majesty, shall we retire to the dining hall?”

“Capital idea, my dear friend,” Regis said, and bowed over her hand as he stood. Gladio and Ravus stared after them in indignant shock, and turned to each other.

“Can you believe—“ Ravus said.

“What a bunch of—“

“Gladiolus,” warned Clarus. Gladio fell silent, and Clarus walked over to them. “I believe what they were trying to tell you, in their own… special way…” He placed a hand on each of their shoulders, and leaned close. “Was to be more discreet.

 

---

 

Prompto rode in the front seat of the car with Cor on the way back, and proceeded to recount every second of the vacation, in elaborate detail, for the first four hours. Luna had given him what she called five years’ worth of missed birthday presents in the form of a brand new, top-of-the-line digital camera, which was now Prompto’s most cherished possession. He rolled down the window and took shot after shot of blurry landscape photos while wind whipped about the inside of the car like a tornado.

“There’s never gonna be another girl like Luna in the whole world, Dad,” Prompto said, half hanging out of the window. Cor smiled and gently pulled Prompto back into his seat.

“Are we gonna have to open up negotiations for you?” he asked. Prompto laughed.

“Nah. Luna’s like. She’s like, I don’t know. A sister, maybe.” Prompto fiddled with the controls of his camera, flipping through filters.

Cor tried to keep his voice level. “Not interested in anyone else, are you?” he asked. He had to admit, he felt a little put off by the fact that Prompto hadn’t told him that his new friend, Nyx Ulric, was the subject of a strong, enduring crush that had poor Prom blushing at the sound of his name. Cor had already spoken with Captain Drautos and was assured that Nyx was an upstanding young man, but it was still disheartening to know that Prompto didn’t want to talk about it.

“Let him have a secret or two,” Drautos had said, when he and Cor talked it over during drinks one evening, when the boys were at the manor. “It’s healthy.” As Drautos was up to his neck in teenaged recruits for the Kingsglaive, most of whom followed him about like ducklings imprinting on a mastiff, Cor had no other choice than to follow his advice. Prompto would tell him when he was ready.

As he expected, Prompto said nothing, though his ears blushed pink.

“Dad,” he said. “I wanted to ask you something. You know my… my barcode?” He pulled up his wristband. “You sure you don’t know what it means?”

“It was there when I found you, Prom, you know that.”

“But what does it mean?

Cor sighed. “I can’t say.”

Prompto was silent for a breath, then he turned off his camera. “Can’t say because you don’t know, or because you aren’t allowed?”

“This is what happens when you talk shop at home,” Cor said. Prompto gave him an exasperated look. “Alright, Prom. The second one. The people who gave you that… They weren’t what you would call nice. They had plans for you. I, ah. Well, I suppose I disrupted them.”

“You’re good at that.”

“Thanks.” Cor passed King Regis’ car on the road, and their conversation was halted so that Prompto could smack the horn and wave excitedly at Ignis, Noct, Gladio and Iris. “When you’re Crownsguard, I can show you the file, tell you the whole story. If you want to.”

When I’m Crownsguard?” Prompto asked. Cor cut off the Regalia sharply, earning himself a long blare on the horn and King Regis’ enmity for the next three hours.

“Sure,” he said. Prompto grinned wide. “When was it ever in question?”

 

---

 

Prompto returned from Tenebrae to find that a new collection of recruits had joined the Kingsglaive, which meant that Nyx and Libertus, when he finally got the chance to meet up with them again, had a slightly more crowded living space than before.

“Prompto, meet Crowe,” Libertus said, gesturing towards Crowe with reverence. “Crowe, meet Prompto.”

Crowe was about Prompto’s age, with choppy black hair, a dirt-streaked face, and a tendency to wear boots indoors. She was sitting backwards on a chair with her feet in the air, and waved at Prompto lazily.

“H-hey,” Prompto said. She looked a little more than intimidating, and when she smiled, she showed too much teeth, like she was sizing Prompto up for later.

“Hey yourself.”

She watched as Prompto, Nyx, and Libertus cleared out the space for their practice sessions, yawned through Prompto’s excited babble about Tenebrae, and seemed to be half asleep by the time they actually got started.

However, when Prompto managed to throw Libertus onto the mattress, she sat up like she’d been electrified.

“Do that again,” she said. Prompto blinked at her. “That thing, where you threw Lib. Do it again.”

“Uh, sure?” Prompto braced himself, and managed—with a bit of luck—to toss Libertus a second time. Crowe’s eyes widened, then she burst into helpless, hysterical laughter.

“Wow, thanks,” Libertus said, from his home on the floor. “The first time she laughs, and it’s at my pain.” Crowe tried to stifle herself, and he gave her a thumbs up. “Anything for you, Crowe.”

“Gods, you’re such a sap,” Crowe said, and laughed again.

“What’s this?” There was a soft sound of footsteps in the short hall behind them, and Prompto turned around. “Nyx, you didn’t tell me you had a guest.”

The girl who stood in the hallway could have been Nyx’s twin, only thinner, shorter, and with long, loosely styled hair. She had a thick braid that ran down her back, a smaller one at her right ear—just like Nyx’s—and had a circlet of glass beads at her brow. She smiled at Prompto uncertainly, and looked up at Nyx.

“Oh, right,” Nyx said. “Prompto, did I tell you that my sister Aurora was visiting?”

Prompto could only shake his head. Aurora was staring at him intently, examining him like he was a puzzle she hadn’t quite worked out. Then she clapped her hands, and Prompto jumped.

“This is him!” she said. “The boy you’re teaching. Nyx, you didn’t tell me he was a Niff.

Prompto felt his cheeks go hot. “I’m not…” He swallowed. “I was born near there, but I grew up here.

“You have the skin tone,” Aurora said. She nodded. “And the hair. And the eyes. I’ve fought a lot of Niffs. You definitely look like one.” Nyx made a disapproving sound in the back of his throat, and she smiled with her eyes the way he did, sometimes, narrowing them. “But Nyx likes you. Let me see your form, come on.”

Prompto stared at her.

“Might as well,” Nyx said. “She’s been doing this a lot longer than Lib and I have.”

“And you can tell,” Aurora said. She re-positioned Prompto as she moved around him. “Nyx and Libertus are impatient. They run straight into a fight. Smack!” She slapped her hands together. “It’ll get them killed one day, if they don’t listen to me. You’ll listen to me, Niff-boy?”

“I’m not a Niff—“

Aurora slapped her hands again. “There! Dead! Head-first in a fight, like all boys. Keep a calm head, and your body won’t end up dead in a ditch, covered in flies.” From her seat, Crowe laughed again.

“Wow,” Prompto said to Nyx. “Your sister’s kind of terrifying.”

“I know,” Nyx said fondly. Aurora tsked and tilted Prompto’s head away.

“Never go head-on,” she said. “That’s a disadvantage for you, ‘cause you’re so small. You want to use both your fists, yeah? Facing me? That’s hard to do. At my back?” Her smile was a twin of Nyx’s, all wicked humor. “Better. Now, let’s try.”

If Prompto thought fighting with Nyx and Libertus was hard, that was nothing on Aurora. It was impossible for him to find an opening in her line of defense, and she had a nasty habit of being able to spot and exploit every one of his. Libertus started up a tally with Crowe, who winced sympathetically every time Prompto was thrown, nearly struck in a vital spot, or had to yield under Aurora’s onslaught.

“Too tense, Niff!” she shouted. She was way too cheerful, Prompto decided, as he tried again to catch her before she could shift to his blind spot. “Your arms are like sticks! What are you going to do with them, huh? Relax!”

“I can’t relax when you keep hitting me!” Prompto cried, dropping out of his stance. Aurora giggled and patted the top of his head.

“I like you,” she said. She turned to Nyx. “You have my permission to bring him into the family, when he’s less of a bean sprout on legs.”

“To what?” Nyx asked.

Bean sprout?” Prompto squeaked.

Aurora tripped over to Crowe, and the two of them embraced each other in a laughing chaos of concentrated evil. Prompto sat on the floor as the exhaustion of the past hour finally caught up with him.

Libertus collapsed next to him, and passed him an energy drink. “Congratulations,” he said. “You survived one of the infamous Ulric women of Galahd.”

“I don’t think survived is right,” Prompto said. Nyx snorted and sat down at his other side. “And she taught you?

Nyx propped an elbow on Prompto’s shoulder. “Oh, no,” he said. “Aurora’s soft. We were taught by Mom. Wait ‘til she comes to visit.”

Prompto tried not to choke on his energy drink. “But I want to live,” he said, plaintively. Libertus and Nyx smiled, and Prompto fell onto the floor, silently cursing the ruthlessness of Galahdian women in particular, and his decision to join the Crownsguard in general, as the laughter of his friends wove about him.

While hand-to-hand fighting with Nyx, Libertus, Crowe and Aurora was showing signs of actual progress, Prompto’s luck with weapons training was running dry. He and Gladio had tried almost every weapon in his arsenal, and had come to the conclusion that broadswords, short swords, and rapiers just weren’t going to work. Ignis tried to teach him fencing, but Prompto had a hard time going from the closed defensive stance of his training with Nyx to the open, broad gestures demanded of him with Ignis. He was sort of better with knives, but they still didn’t feel right.

“Why don’t you try guns?” Noct asked, when Prompto came to him at the Citadel’s private pond to complain. Noct was decked out in fishing gear, had a cooler that rocked with the fish he’d already caught, and seemed settled down for a long afternoon. “Not many people use ‘em in the Crownsguard, but they’re popular with the Glaives. And you’re good at laser tag.”

“That isn’t the same as being good at shooting, Noct.”

Noct cast out his lure. “Better than nothing.”

“Don’t you think it’s time to respool the line?” Prompto asked. Noct grumbled under his breath. “Okay. I’ll ask Dad for permission, but I don’t think he’ll let me.”

 

Guns?” Cor asked, when Prompto brought it up to him at dinner.

“I knew it,” Prompto said. “I’m sorry, it was a dumb idea.”

Cor shook his head. “No, I’m just surprised. It’s not my strongest suit…” He looked to Ignis, who was sneakily trying to pull up his reports at the table, and the older boy sighed and set them back down into his bag. “But in the Crownsguard, I’m the specialization trainer in that area.”

Prompto paused in the middle of shoveling down a forkful of rice. “You mean…”

Cor smiled at Prompto’s flabbergasted face. “What? Don’t want some one-on-one weapons training with your old man?”

“Are you kidding?” Prompto cried.

“Inside voice, Noctis,” Ignis said automatically, and blushed. Cor held back a smile.

“Sure thing,” he said, as Ignis tried to cover his face with a glass of juice. “I’ll free up some space tomorrow afternoon, and we can get you registered for the shooting range.”

Chapter Text

Prompto was calm. He was cool. He was, as Ignis sometimes urged him to be when he was laughing with Noct or Luna over the phone at midnight, at peace with his inner whatever. Inner child? No, this was Ignis—probably inner adult. He was at peace with his inner adult. He could do this.

His hands were steady as he picked up the gun. Cor stood next to him, showing him how to hold it properly, and Prompto wished he could actually hear him through the noise-canceling headphones he wore. All of Cor’s advice churned through his mind as he raised the gun, swirling around the need to be calm, be calm, be calm.

He jumped the first time the gun fired. The target before him was untouched. He glanced at his father, but Cor’s expression hadn’t changed. Maybe he didn’t notice? Prompto tried again.

When their time was up, his dad pointed out how Prompto’s attempts were making a slow, steady march to the vital marks pinpointed on the target boards. “It’s practice,” he said, when they were back in the outer rooms, safe from the ear-splitting echo of the range. “No one’s an expert the moment they pick up a weapon. You have to work at it.”

You didn’t have to,” Prompto said.

“One day,” Cor told him, “you’ll have to ask Clarus about the time I lodged a sword in the Crownsguard training room wall.” Prompto scoffed in disbelief, and he shrugged. “Or the time King Regis warped into a tent belonging to the biggest asshole—sorry, Prom, don’t repeat that—in the army, and “accidentally” set his dress uniform on fire. Or when Cid…”

As they walked home, Cor regaled him with the kind of stories which, if King Regis found out were being spread around, would probably end up being buried just as deep as the old portraits of him wearing old-school braces. It was interesting, if a little unbelievable, but it did make Prompto feel a little better.

Prompto’s usual routine started to shift after that. He kept running with Gladio in the morning, but they started their jogs early so Gladio could hide in the bushes by the S-bend and hurriedly text Ravus a selfie.

“I know I’m being paranoid,” he said, as Prompto hopped from foot to foot behind him, “but it’s like Dad can tell when we’re talking. He gets that look on his face… you know the one. And it’s not like it’s anything serious.”

“Sure, Gladio,” Prompto said, smiling wide. “Just bros, right?”

Gladio frowned. “Okay, Sunshine,” he said, gruffly. “Let’s see how smug you are once I beat you to the starting line.” Prompto cackled and took off before Gladio could emerge from the bushes, and when Gladio pulled ahead of him right at the end, Prompto jumped onto his back and sent them both reeling on the spongy track. In Tenebrae, Prince Ravus got a surprise second selfie from Gladio, which featured Prompto clinging to his shoulders, both of them holding up their right arms to show off their biceps. Prompto was kissing his.

Nyx and Libertus started going out on assignments, which meant that hand-to-hand fighting lessons started to change, too. They took to practicing in the Kingsglaive training courtyard, which was a maze of sandstone and half-built walls, meant to simulate conditions in the wartorn villages at the border of the Wall.

Lessons turned into a complicated, dangerous game of tag, with Prompto and Libertus on the No-Warping Team and Crowe and Nyx on the Sadistic Bastards Team. No one really knew the rules, and Prompto had an awful habit of running right into Nyx, looking up into those dark eyes and wicked smile, and having to twist in midair just so he didn’t land on his back and crack a rib. Luna had said that Prompto’s crush would probably die out after a while, but while Prompto could joke and roughhouse with him most days without a problem, there were still moments when he felt like the world had twisted upside down.

Like the day he knocked on Nyx’s door only to find the door flung open expectantly, the older boy’s well-scrubbed face tight with panic.

“Thank gods,” Nyx said. “It’s Prompto.”

“That’s what they always say,” Prompto preened, before he was dragged into the room by his collar. “Wh… Nyx. Why are you wearing an apron?

Nyx looked down at the blue cloth tied around his waist. “Is it too much?” he asked. “It’s too much. Libertus! You told me it was fine!”

“It is fine,” Libertus called. He was standing in the kitchen, which was filled with the smell of spice-rubbed flatbread and meat on the griddle. “They’re coming out all lopsided, man!”

“Shit!” Nyx released Prompto and ran for the kitchen. “Prom, can you… can we not do the lesson today?”

Prompto slipped off his boots and padded into the living room. It was surprisingly clean—Someone had even tried to sweep. “What’s going on?”

A bundle of black blankets on the couch shifted to become Crowe, who blinked up drowsily at Prompto. “Nyx’s mom is coming over,” she said. “They’ve been cooking all day like a bunch of worrying hens.

“Excuse you,” Libertus called. He was wearing an old grey shirt as an apron, and it was already stained with grease and finger-marks. “Nyx’s mother is a Galahdian legend. She took out ten Assassin drone MTs in the Battle of Dreck’s Peak. She—“

“Speaks gold,” Crowe mumbled, sinking back into her cocoon. “Brought fire to Solheim. Fought a bear with her fists.”

“Actually,” Nyx said. “She did kill a bear once, but it wasn’t with her—“

Everyone except Crowe jumped at the sound of a knock on the door. Nyx moaned and struggled to take off his apron, and gave Prompto a pleading look. Prompto took pity on him and, with a strength of will he didn’t believe possible, opened the door for the Legend of Galahd.

Nyx’s mother was a short woman with laugh-lines at her mouth, a narrow frame, and slender hands scarred with burns. Her hair looked smooth at first glance, but it bulged a little, and when she tilted her head, it was as though a waterfall of braids spilled out over her shoulders.

“Good afternoon,” Prompto said. She nodded, and he wondered how a woman three inches shorter than him could seem so impossibly tall.

“It is,” she said. She spoke with an accent, like Crowe, and it sounded as though every word she spoke was hiding an urge to laugh. “Is my son too busy to greet his old mother?”

“Right here, Mom,” Nyx said, surging forward. Prompto stood back and watched them clasp forearms. Nyx was grinning nervously. “We’re making dinner. Uh.” He turned to Prompto. “Do you want to stay?”

Please stay, said his eyes. Prompto sighed. He couldn’t say no to Nyx, even if he and his entire family was out of his league.

“Sure thing, thanks,” Prompto said. Ms. Ulric raised a brow.

“I see Libertus,” she said, as she stepped into the room. Libertus waved. “One of our little sisters.” Crowe—or the blankets she had transformed into—shrugged assent. “And…” She looked at Prompto.

“Prompto Leonis,” he said, holding out his hand. She took it firmly.

“Yes,” she said, and her smile was so warm that Prompto felt he could sink into it and stay there forever. “Prompto. I know about you.

Prompto flushed pink.

“You’re the boy from Niflheim.”

 

---

 

It was nine in the evening, and Prompto still hadn’t come home.

“I can text him,” Ignis said, from the sea of notes that he’d spread out over the kitchen table. “Sometimes his friends ask him to stay for dinner.”

“Maybe I should pay these friends a visit,” Cor said. He sat at the edge of the couch, idly thumbing through his phone in the hopes that Prompto might call. He’s fourteen now, he thought, remembering Drautos’ advice. The Six know that I broke the rules at fourteen.

His mind drifted past the whitewashed fences of Memory Lane and down a dark alley into Best Not Remembered. He doubted that Prompto, son of a Marshal in the Crownsguard with a home to come back to, would get into the kind of trouble he found in the streets of Insomnia some thirty years ago, but just the thought of it set him on edge.

He pulled up a new text message, and the front door of the apartment slammed open.

“Prompto!” Ignis had his Noctis voice on again, and Cor saw Prompto shove the door shut with a shoulder, looking down at his boots.

“Coming home close to curfew, Prom,” Cor said.

“Whatever,” Prompto yanked at his boots. Ignis’ mouth fell open, and Cor lowered his brows.

“Want to change that tone, son?”

Prompto’s fingers fumbled at his laces, and his mouth twisted. “I don’t.” He tugged at one boot with both hands, and fell against the door. “Care.” It wouldn’t budge. He groaned and threw his hands in the air, then stomped off, tracking dust through the living room.

Ignis looked from Prompto to Cor as the door to Prompto’s room fell shut, sending one of the pictures on the wall crashing to the carpet.

“Do you want me to—“

“No,” Cor said. “You sit tight, Ignis.” He got up and made his way to Prompto’s door. The chocobo crossing sign that hung from a nail had been flipped over, revealing a skull-and-crossbones pattern. It was Prompto’s signal that he wanted to be left alone, but Cor had a suspicion that this wasn’t something he could allow to fester.

He knocked.

“Read the sign.

“I’ll give you to the count of three,” Cor said, “to open that door and explain yourself.”

There was a faint gasp from within the room, and the sound of stamping feet. The door swung outward, and it would have clipped Cor on the nose if he hadn’t stepped back in time.

Prompto’s face was beet red, he had one boot off, and his hands were balled into fists. “Explain myself?” he asked. “Yeah, Dad! Yeah! I sure would like to!”

“Sit down, Prom.”

Prompto strode to his bed, where he sat with a groan of bedsprings. Cor closed the door after him and knelt at his feet, loosening the ties of his right boot.

“I can do it myself,” Prompto started.

“Looked like you needed the help this time,” Cor said. He slid the offending boot free, and searched for the other one, which had been flung against the opposite wall. He stood and picked it up, and deposited them both by the door. By the time he was done, Prompto was more pink than red, and his hands had turned to twisted claws on the chocobo-print comforter.

Cor crossed his arms.

“Seems like the older I get,” Prompto said, looking down at his knees. “The more people call me a Niff.

Cor felt anger tug at his jaw like a string, tight and thin. “Who called you that, Prompto?” Prompto didn’t answer. “Was it that boy? Nyx?”

Prompto looked up at him in shock. “How did you know who… Are you spying on me?”

“Drautos is a colleague, Prom.” Cor tapped his left arm with his fingers. “I’ll let the fact that you’ve been meeting Kingsglaive soldiers without telling me slide. I was told they were good kids, but if they’re calling you a—“

“They aren’t. Nyx wouldn’t.” Prompto bit at his cheek and looked away. “But it’s what I am, right?”

“You know I found you in the North. It isn’t a secret.”

“But Niflheim?” Prompto held his wrist in his hand, twisting the skin painfully. Cor ran through the protocols he’d been given, the explanations King Regis had schooled him to give, and opened his mouth to say them.

“Get your boots on,” he said instead.

“What? Why?”

“We’re going out,” he said, tossing the shoes to his son, “to break the law.”

 

---

 

“We’re breaking the law in a storage closet?” Prompto asked.

His dad shushed him. Prompto rocked from side to side, waiting for Cor to unlock the door to his private storage unit just outside the Citadel gates. He was still angry, still coiled tight with the injustice of everyone knowing who he was better than he did, but his dad had been strangely tense the whole way there. Like he was breaking the law.

“You don’t have to,” he said. His dad looked over his shoulder at him as the door opened.

“No, it’s unfair to lie to you at this point, Prom,” he said. “Come on.” He turned on a single light in the closet, and Prompto shuffled in.

The door closed behind him, and he watched in the dim halflight as his father shuffled around in the neat, mostly empty unit, digging through labeled boxes and file folders.

“Technically,” Cor said, “I shouldn’t even have this. I was supposed to give the camera to King Regis, but I guess it slipped my mind.” He pulled out an old, blocky video camera from the depths of one of the boxes, and opened the back of it. He replaced the batteries with the ones he’d fished out of the TV remote at home, and pressed a button. “Thank the Six, it works. Okay, Prom, sit down.”

Prompto sat against the wall, and Cor sat next to him. He handed over the camera.

“I wasn’t lying when I said I found you in the North,” he said, as Prompto turned on the camera and worked his way through the archaic menu. “I was on a mission to Niflheim. You know that already.”

“Yeah.”

Cor leaned over and pressed a button on the far right of the camera.

“This is you,” Cor said, as the screen turned on. Prompto took the camera and squinted into it. The image on the screen was of what looked like a train car: Snowy fields flicked by the window as the camera swept down to a brown and yellow bunk, on which rolled a dumpy, blonde-haired baby about a year old. He was wearing a shirt that was too big for him and featured the round, slightly unsettling face of Kenny Crow, and it looked like he was wearing some sort of black leggings underneath. His feet were bare.

Cor’s voice sounded younger on the video, lighter. “Captain Cor Leonis, reporting in from the IS:17 mission to Gralea. Besithia’s offices in the Magitech research facility were—“

Baby Prompto gurgled and reached for the camera. “Oh, not again.” The screen went black, and then the video started up again. “From the IS:17 mission to Gralea. Refer to the blue file from Besithia’s office for more information on the creation of Magitech infantry. Speaking of, uh.” Baby Prompto wobbled off screen, and the camera shook as Cor’s hands appeared, setting the baby back down in full view. “Along with the research found in his office, there was a. Child. Not his, I hope.” Cor’s voice was losing his official tone. “Had him in a. In a box, full of wires and. It wasn’t. I need to start over.” The screen went black again.

“You said you found me in a box,” Prompto said, dully. “I thought it was a joke.” At his side, Cor gave a tense nod. Heart thudding in his chest, Prompto pressed the play button for the next video.

“Sorry, Your Majesty,” said the younger Cor’s voice, as a video of baby Prompto rolling back and forth on Cor’s legs, giggling, swam onto the screen. “But I’m breaking protocol. I know I should’ve taken a picture and left him, I know, but look. Uh, Prompto? Kid?”

“Da?” the baby said. The camera moved closer, and Cor’s hand lifted Prompto’s arm.

“You might want to look away from this one, Prom,” said his dad, softly. Prompto fast forwarded through what looked like an examination of angry raised dots on his younger self’s inner elbow.

“Those wires,” Prompto said. His father’s eyes were hard, and strangely impassive in the dark of the storage closet. He found he couldn’t bring himself to ask. He pressed play again.

“—find him I’m going to rip that so-called scientist to pieces, Regis,” young Cor was saying. The Prompto on the screen twisted his face up and wailed. “Oh, shit. Oh no. He’s crying again. It’s okay, Prompto. Prompt? Prom? Do you like Prom? Huh? Oh my gods. Okay, I’ll try this when he isn’t. When he’s not.”

Prompto watched the video fizzle to an end. “Wow, Dad,” he said, after a while. “You sucked at that.”

“Hey, you made it to fourteen.”

“Despite your best efforts, I guess.” He sighed. “So I was, what? A lab baby? An actual lab baby?”

“I don’t know,” Cor said. “You could’ve been stolen from someone, or picked out by a lottery… There were censored parts of the files I managed to find that made it hard to tell. Whatever it was, I couldn’t leave you there.”

Prompto tried to think of what it would have been like if Cor hadn’t found him. Would he be able to leave the lab, or have friends, or even… Would he even be human? He’d heard rumors of what Niflheim did to people, before the war started reaching a stalemate. None of them had been good.

Prompto flipped to a later video and pressed play.

“Third month with Prompto,” said young Cor. He had turned the camera towards himself, and Prompto grinned.

“Hey, no wrinkles, Dad.”

“Who do you think gave them to me?”

The Cor on the screen lifted up baby Prompto, who shrieked excitedly and tried to kiss him on the cheek. This Prompto was wearing a proper large onesie, with a “Little Prince Ravus Lookalike” on the front.

“Ok, say it for the camera, Prom.” Cor jiggled Prompto, who stared at the camera, suddenly shy. “Come on! Say Cor. Cor.

“Da,” came the whispered response.

“Say…. Chocobo.”

“Da.”

“Look, he’s really smart, he’s just hiding it right now,” Cor insisted, as Prompto shoved a hand in his face. “But he’s said four words already! Four. Kids can’t do that yet, right? Not usually. Who would put a kid like that in a lab? Right, Prompto?”

“Da,” Prompto said, sticking a finger in his eye.

The next video was of Prompto sleeping sprawled out on a reclining chocobo.

“Look at him,” Cor whispered. The camera zoomed in closer. “Can you believe a kid that tiny can go through all my diapers in a week?”

“How many of these are there?” Prompto asked. Cor shrugged a shoulder.

“Too many, probably.” A hand reached out on the screen to stroke the tiny Prompto’s hair. “Do you have any questions?”

“All of them,” Prompto said. “But right now I… I don’t know.” He watched his younger self shift in his sleep. It was suddenly very hard to talk. “I’m glad you found me, Dad.”

Cor pulled Prompto to his side and laid a hand in his hair. Prompto felt his breath hitch in his chest.

“So am I.”

Chapter Text

The walk home from the storage unit was quiet, but not in the tense, wound-up way it had been when Prompto had sulked at Cor’s heels, burning with indignation and nerves. He’d recorded a few of the unclassified videos on his phone—watching his dad try, and fail, to dress a one-year-old had to be the most hilarious thing he’d seen in ages—and had come home thoughtful. Ignis was a mess, understandably, but Cor pulled him aside so Prompto could go to his room alone and think.

He watched one of the videos again. It was his dad sitting Prompto on a table next to a blonde baby girl about his age. There was an older guy there—Cid, Cor had said—who laughed every time the girl tried to take Prompto’s favorite chocobo toy away. Eventually, Prompto started to cry, and Cor swooped in to pick him up while the girl stared on in confusion.

In one of the videos he couldn’t record, Cor had said that he should have left Prompto in Gralea. But he hadn’t. The guy who didn’t know how to change a diaper, or sing a lullaby without adding five curse words that didn’t belong, saw Prompto and couldn’t leave him behind.

Then he’d kept him.

Prompto looked around his room. There were posters of celebrities, one of Noct that he and the prince had doodled all over when they were nine, pictures of Prompto and his dad at a chocobo ranch—His dad had spent the whole time jumping and flinching for some reason—and pressed sylleblossom flowers from Tenebrae. His old chocobo toy had a place of honor on his desk, next to a fantasy book he’d borrowed from Gladio and forgot to return. There was a chart of the stars that Ignis had given him for his birthday, and a handmade moogle plush from Iris.

He wondered what his dad’s first apartment had looked like before. What he’d done before. Then he lay back, skimmed through his phone, and watched the video again.

 

---

 

The next afternoon, Nyx intercepted Prompto on his way to the Kingsglaive courtyard. His hair was done up in a new style, with a series of thin bands to keep his mohawk from falling over his eyes, and his uniform smelled like detergent. He’d even cleaned under his nails—not that Prompto was looking, of course—and there was a ghost of smoky eyeshadow past that gave Prompto the idea that Libertus’ dubious skills as a makeup artist had been employed.

“Something going on?” Prompto asked.

“Sort of,” Nyx said. “We’re all being reassigned to watch the Citadel with the Crownsguard.”

“Try not to kick their asses yet,” Prompto said, with a brave attempt at a smirk. “You’ll mess up that pretty hair.” He froze. “Not that it’s. I mean. It.”

“I’m not pretty?” Nyx asked. Really, his smile was unfair. “See what I get you for your birthday, then.” He dug his hands in his pockets, and before Prompto could self destruct properly, said, “I wanted to apologize for last night.”

Prompto, still trying to extricate himself from the endless chanting of You called him pretty, Prom circling the fizzing remainder of his mind, opened his mouth.

“No, I mean it,” Nyx said. “I told my sister to knock it off, but I guess she told my mom. I saw how freaked out you got when she said you were a—when she assumed where you’re from.”

It was true that his mother had left it at that. She hadn’t mentioned Niflheim after that first, dreadful greeting, and spent the rest of the evening chatting and laughing as though it didn’t matter, all the while Prompto stewed in the thought that Niflheim was something anyone could see on his face.

“What if I am from there?” Prompto asked.

“So?” Nyx said. “Look. Fen, the guy with the white hair? Older recruit, good with ice magic? He’s from Gralea. I told you before, Prom. People like us, we stick together.” He shrugged. “I had you pegged as being from Tenebrae at least when I first saw you. Didn’t stop me, did it?”

Prompto shook his head.

“Good. Oh, right.” He dug in one of his trouser pockets. “Mom didn’t get why you were upset—she kept saying shit like, What’s wrong with being from Niflheim, boy?” His attempt at impersonating her was terrible. “But she made you these… sort of cookies. Not really. They’re like spice explosions in flour.” He tossed Prompto a packet wrapped in wax paper. “Give them to a Lucian who thinks they’re hot shit, and see what happens.”

Prompto thought of Gladio, who would eat literally anything on a dare, and smiled. “Thanks, Nyx,” he said, in what he hoped was a normal voice. “I’ll give it a try.”

 

---

 

It was Noctis Lucis Caelum’s first day of high school, and he could tell that it was shaping up to be a disaster. First of all, he was early. Ignis had shown up at six in the morning—six! In the morning!—Just to make sure he shoveled down some breakfast and didn’t put his uniform on backwards. Then when he got there, it turned out Prompto was running late, because Gladio, the traitor, had roped him into doing Secret Ravus Texting Duty again. So here Noct was, slouching awkwardly at the entrance of the school, trying to pretend that the growing crowd of kids around him weren’t boring holes into his neck with their stares.

“Is that the prince?” someone asked.

“No, couldn’t be. He looks so… you know. Boring.

“He showed up in a car from the Citadel, though.”

“Sure, but he doesn’t even look like the King. Maybe he’s just some Crownsguard kid.”

Noct’s slouch deepened. He glanced at his phone. Two minutes until the homeroom bell was supposed to ring.

“Ok, you ask him.”

“Not me!

The whispering ground to a halt as a screech of tires heralded Cor Leonis’ Crownsguard car swerving into the front of the drop-off circle. Prompto stumbled out, his green and yellow tie hanging loose around his neck, and Noctis straightened just a fraction.

“Prompto!” Cor’s voice was muffled through the glass doors of the school. “Your lunch!”

“Oh! Right! Thanks, Dad!” Prompto grabbed a bag from the seat of the car. Noct stared: Prompto wasn’t wearing his wristband, and his tattoo was stark against his pink skin. Prompto turned, and stopped at another shout from Cor.

Cor Leonis leaned across the front seat, hand outstretched. Prompto groaned, then slapped it. They did some sort of complicated handshake—Noct had seen it before when they were in elementary school, but it had been a while—and Prompto stumbled off through the glass doors.

“Noct!” he shouted. Noct rose from his slouch and made it two steps before Prompto bounced over, slapping him on the back so hard that he tripped forward. The watchful crowd erupted into a chorus of excited whispering. “Did you get to the third level of the mystery dungeon last night?”

“Not a chance,” Noct said. He pushed Prompto by the back of the head, and the two of them settled into their usual back and forth of shoving, shin-kicking, and good-natured attempts to push each other into walls. The stares followed them, like they probably always would, but for once, Noct didn’t really mind.

 

Prompto’s fifteenth birthday was eclipsed by the news that had brought Ms. Ulric to the capital in the first place: Niflheim, after centuries of battering down the borders of Lucis, was in the last stage of a slow, horrible collapse. A secret mission from Tenebrae had infiltrated the capital, and there were rumors—whispered by Noct and Gladio, huddled together with Prompto and Ignis in the Leonis apartment—that the Queen of Tenebrae herself was a part of the team. Luna and Ravus were strangely tight-lipped when Prompto asked. All they said in their texts and letters was that their mother was recovering from an extended use of her magic as Oracle, and that the two of them were going to be taking her place in peace talks at Insomnia. Gladio had seemed pretty excited about that, to Noct’s eternal amusement.

King Regis, Mr. Amicitia, and Cor were just as reluctant to talk as Luna and Ravus. Cor came home late and shook his head at Prompto’s probing questions, and King Regis stalked the halls of the royal manor like a restless, immaculately dressed panther. Mr. Amicitia was smiling, which almost made it worse.

Ignis was the first to break the news.

“Look,” he said, shoving a paper in Prompto’s face. He’d actually walked into the high school to deliver the paper to him and Noct, and was trembling with excitement as the two boys skimmed through the front page article.

“Niflheim surrenders?” Noct read. “That’s what’s going on?”

“It’s true!” Ignis said. “I’ve been sitting on it for weeks. I’m observing the Council, as you are aware, for Noct’s benefit, and the Emperor and the Chancellor of Niflheim have vanished! MTs are collapsing in the fields. Something to do with Queen Sylva, I suppose. I must admit, if that is true, I have never been prouder to have dual citizenship—“

“Oh my god, Ignis, can you be more of a nerd?” Noct asked. Ignis shook his head and hugged him tight, lifting the prince off the ground by an inch. Noct bit his lip, and Prompto saw red patchy marks appear at his neck—Noct’s way of blushing.

“I’m clearing out your schedule this afternoon, Noctis,” Ignis said. “It’s, it’s cake and video games today.”

He broke off in a dignified trot to the door, leaving Noct gasping in his wake.

“He cleared out my schedule,” Noct whispered.

“He’s making cake!” Prompto cried.

“Niflheim surrendered,” Noct said. “Wait. Wait. Prompto.” He grabbed Prompto by the shoulders. “Niflheim. Surrendered.”

“I know, dude, Iggy’s making a cake and everything.”

“Yeah, but that means…” Noct squeezed Prompto’s shoulders painfully. “Dad won’t have to keep up the Wall anymore. Prompto!” He jumped, and Prompto staggered back as Noct’s legs wrapped around his middle. They knocked into a row of lockers. “Niflheim surrendered, Prompto!” He smacked Prompto with the newspaper.

“Okay!” Prompto shouted, laughing weakly. “You’re right! I surrender!”

“Shut up, you dork!”

“Off my back, loser!”

The two of them collapsed in a tangle of legs, a whoomph of dislodged schoolwork and newspaper, and a chorus of excitable cursing.

“Shit!” Noct cried at last, earning them both detention for a week. “This means there’s gonna be a ball.

Chapter Text

“What’s this thing called again?”

“It’s a cravat, Prompto.”

“Well, it’s weird, and I think I put it on upside-down or something.”

Cor peeled his gaze away from King Regis, who was welcoming the two-person envoy from Niflheim, and spared a look at his son’s suit. It was a rented outfit, taken hastily from a rack in the Crownsguard communal closet, and honestly, Cor couldn’t remember the right way to fit all the pieces together, either. He grunted. “Looks fine.”

Feels wrong.”

At the dais, the highest ranked members of what was left of the Niflheim military bowed to the king. They were so young. Cor couldn’t believe that there was no one left—The rumors that their intelligence officers were able to substantiate from Gralea were clearly true. When Queen Sylva and her team had infiltrated the Imperial keep, they’d found the place full of daemons. The only humans remaining were the ones deemed too unimportant to keep around the capital city, which left two officers who might as well have been children to negotiate for Niflheim’s future. No wonder King Regis looked like he’d been run ragged.

They were all standing on a raised platform on the roof of one of the Citadel’s main buildings. Black ropes framed the railings, there were gazebos at every corner made into private balconies to better view the evening’s fireworks, a truly amazing set of tables groaned with the kind of food that would make even Weskham weep in shame, and someone had even lugged up the terrifying aquarium from the skywalk. The aquarium was full of deadly, dangerous fish, which appealed to Prince Noctis to a distressing degree. He wondered how hard Noct had to beg for the aquarium to be moved there.

A bell rang from the stairs, and Cor and Prompto turned with the rest of the crowd as a herald cleared her throat.

“Representatives of Her Majesty Queen Sylva Nox Fleuret of Tenebrae, their Highnesses Lunafreya and Ravus Nox Fleuret,” she shouted.

Cor applauded politely, but he was drowned out by his son’s frantic clapping. The princess and prince of Tenebrae were elegant mirror images of one another. Ravus was tall and glowing in a white suit with silver buttons angling from his right shoulder to his left hip, and patches of the fabric flickered in the change of the light as he walked, blushing a faint blue. He wore a light blue cloak that fastened on his shoulder and barely dusted the floor, and there was an obvious buckle at his belt where a sword should be.

Luna’s suit buttoned from the left shoulder across, and it tapered slightly at the waist, flowing out like one of the half-kilts Prompto kept trying to sew onto his vests. She was in sylleblossom blue, and her outfit shifted as her brother’s did, revealing a darker hue. Her cloak was so dark it was almost black, and silvery stars winked at the hem, fading upwards. A circlet on her brow dripped sapphires into her long, loosely styled hair, and stones shimmered at her ears and neck.

They bowed before the king, and Cor glanced down at his son to find Prompto was staring, dumbstruck, at the picture they made. Across the hall, Gladiolus wore quite the same expression.

Iris Amicitia-Caelum, who despite her fathers’ best efforts had yet to grow out of raiding King Regis’ closet of his glam rock attire, was in black leather pants under a… yes, that was a kilt… with a ruffled silvery-white top that Cor was sure Cid and Weskham had tried to ritually set on fire, once. She darted towards Luna as soon as the introductions were done, and towed her to the dance floor. Gladio approached Ravus from the other side, and bowed stiffly, extending an arm. Ravus bowed in return, and the two of them retreated to a far corner. Cor saw Clarus watching them carefully.

“Dad?” Prompto tugged at his tie again. “I’m gonna, you know. Mingle.”

“Don’t mingle too hard,” Cor warned, following Prompto’s gaze to where Nyx Ulric stood guard by the aquarium at the top of the platform. Prompto gave him a sharp salute and trotted off.

Ah, balls. For Cor, who viewed romance as he would a distant country he had no care to visit, a formal ball held appeal largely as a means of entertainment. Who was watching whom, who lusted after power or the hopes of one wrapped up in a pretty dress, who went straight for the common guard instead… And the food wasn’t half bad, either.

“Placing bets?” Clarus appeared at Cor’s elbow with a small dish of his favorite iced cookies. Cor grabbed one and gestured to the small, pathetic delegation from Niflheim. The oldest of the pair was monopolizing Ignis, and Prince Noctis was starting to inch closer to his advisor, face turning an angry pink. The younger one, Lucas? Loqi? Cor’d fought him once before, he swore—was staring after Prompto. Hm.

“That Aranea will break at least three hearts by the end of the night,” Cor said. “They’ll probably thank her for it. And no offense, Clar, but I give your son Gladio about ten minutes before he and Prince Ravus attempt to run off to find a hiding spot.”

“Which balcony, do you think?” Clarus said.

“The one you and Regis used. You remember,” he said, meaningly. “When you made me stand lookout.”

“Good man,” Clarus said. “Always so dependable. Ah, look, they’re corrupting my youngest already.”

“Oldest trick in the book,” Cor said, as Gladio leaned down to slip Iris what looked like a handful of bills. Iris nodded sagely and jerked her head towards the aforementioned balcony, and Ravus and Gladio attempted to mince their way around the dance floor. Clarus groaned.

“Do you want me to interrupt?” Cor asked.

“Gods, no,” said Clarus. “Let Regis do it. He’s been so overworked lately, it will do him good to inflict terror on someone.

Cor and Clarus smiled at each other, and Cor reached over to steal another cookie.

 

---

 

“Nyx Ulric, I presume?”

Prompto beamed at Nyx, who was doing a stand-up job of trying to look professional while his friend introduced him to the crown princess of Tenebrae. Nyx was supposed to be on duty, sure, but this was a celebration, and who knew when Prompto would get the chance to get them all in one place again?

Lunafreya tilted her head, and spoke in a lower tone. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone you spoke to me.”

“All due respect, Your Highness,” Nyx said, “I am on the job.”

“Prompto has told me so much about you,” Luna said. Prompto tried to control his breathing. He could do this. He turned his face to the cool breeze and thanked the gods that the weather had already started to change.

“None of it good, I’m sure,” Nyx told her. He smiled just a little, and Luna smiled back. They really looked… nice, together. Nyx all in black, Luna dressed up like a dragonfly in blue, both of them looking at each other like they were… like they were…

Prompto felt the bottom drop out of his stomach.

“I hear you’ve been teaching Prompto how to fight,” Luna said. She eased closer, between the boys, and placed a hand on Prompto’s shoulder.

“Not just that.” Prompto looked at Nyx, whose smile had turned malevolent with glee. “Taught him how to dance, too.”

Liar, Prompto thought, panic overriding the dread of seeing how familiar the two of them were already. Luna gave Prompto an arch look.

“You never told me this, Prom,” she said. Maybe the weird, eel-like fish in the tank could do him a favor, bust out of the glass, and swallow Prompto whole. That would save him.

“Oh, he’s shy,” Nyx murmured. “But you know what they say. Seeing is believing…”

“Then I insist,” Luna said, and Prompto flashed Nyx a murderous glare. “Let me see how good of a teacher this Nyx Ulric has been.” She extended a hand to Prompto, who had no choice but to take it and pray that the last few days of hurried dance lessons with Noct and Ignis would do the trick.

Thankfully, Luna took pity on him, and they settled into an easy two-step pattern. Luna’s cloak flowed around Prompto’s legs as they moved, and he kept getting distracted by the glitter of her earrings.

“He seems nice,” Luna said, when they were closer to the center of the dance floor.

“Oh, he likes to pretend he is.”

Luna laughed, and Prompto’s cheeks felt warm. What was happening to him? It wasn’t like they were dancing too fast. “Really, Prompto. I can see why you like him. He’s very… Well, he seems so suave and put together, but there’s something of a fighter in him, isn’t there?”

“Y-yeah.” Prompto focused on not stamping on her boots. That was safe. Boots were good. Practical. Prompto liked boots. Much better than sapphires.

“A little old for you, still. He has to be, oh, twenty?”

“I know that, Luna.” Prompto let her whirl him in a circle, but he offset that by dipping her dramatically. She snorted, and he grinned at her. “But when I’m twenty, it won’t matter.”

“That’s a long time to wait.” Luna dragged herself upright and placed a hand on Prompto’s cheek. “Maybe you should try dating someone else for a while. It’ll give you some perspective.”

Luna’s eyes were soft, and her hair formed a halo of light around her face as she looked down at Prompto. He felt a familiar, dizzy rush of warmth through his skin, and the tilting feeling of being thrown off-center on a planet that was whirling too quickly for him to catch up.

Oh, no.

It’s just the fancy outfit, he thought, desperately. She’s still Luna. But that was the problem. He knew she was still Luna—He’d seen her in fancier outfits than this, had even seen her in a swimsuit—but he still felt… Oh, no, he felt…

“Excuse me.”

Prompto turned from Luna to find the skinny kid, Locke-whatever, from Niflheim, standing before them like one of those wooden puppets of the old kings that they sold on the Skywalk. He bowed to Luna, who inclined her chin slightly, and looked at Prompto with the kind of intensity Pryna and Umbra saved for leftover bacon.

“I would like to speak to the son of Cor Leonis, if you don’t mind,” he said. Gods, how could he manage to sneer and talk at the same time? Wasn’t it exhausting? Well, anything was better than having to think about what just happened. Prompto shrugged at Luna and nodded, gesturing the older teen towards the drinks table.

“What was your name again?” Prompto asked. “Sorry, but Dad was talking when the herald announced you.”

“Loqi Tummelt, and I’ll thank you to remember it, Leonis.

“Okay. Ooh, punch!”

Loqi followed Prompto around the drinks table like a persistent shadow. “Cor the Immortal never told me he had a son.”

“You guys talk?” Prompto asked, shoving a cherry tart in his mouth whole. Yes. Think of food. Not how… He watched Luna meander towards Nyx again, and nearly choked on the pastry. Loqi gave him a curious stare.

“Not… exactly, now. But we’ve fought before!” Loqi adjusted the fit of his jacket. “You could say that I’m—Yes, I’m his nemesis.

Prompto slowly turned to him, cheeks bulging with tart. “How old are you?”

“Seventeen. Don’t laugh! You’re laughing!” Loqi actually stamped his foot on the stone. “Why do the Leonis men always laugh at me?”

Prompto realized too late that there was a wetness to Loqi’s eyes that hadn’t been there before. He hurriedly chased down the tart with watermelon punch, and tried to school his face into stillness. “Okay,” he said. “Okay, I won’t laugh. What’s your deal with my dad? Why are you his, uh, nemesis?”

“He wants to kill me,” Loqi said.

Prompto looked to his dad, who was chatting with Clarus Amicitia like a gossiping debutante. “Uh huh.”

“I,” Loqi said, puffing out his chest, pigeon-like, “am the product of careful breeding, the best training the Empire has to offer, and an advanced MT-enhancement program that began at birth.” He touched his right wrist absently, which was covered by a gold cuff. “I’m the dream of the Empire. And I was supposed to have a… I suppose you would call it a brother.

“Wow,” Prompto said. He leaned slightly, and saw Luna reach out and touch Nyx’s shoulder. His stomach was starting to flip.

“And your father… your father infiltrated the Empire and destroyed him.”

“Yeah, definitely not cool,” Prompto said, absently. “Wait, what?”

“I said he—Are you listening to me?”

“Sure, totally. Destruction. That’s shitty. Uh. But are you sure he wants you dead? ‘Cause he never said anything to me about it.”

“Then maybe,” Loqi said, pouring punch into his own cup, “we should ask him.”

Luna’s full laugh rang through the air. Prompto sighed, and caught some of the yearning he felt in Loqi’s eyes. “Oh. Yeah, yeah, I can introduce you. Come on.” He held out his hand to Loqi, who stared at him in mild disgust. “What? We don’t hold hands in Niflheim?”

We?

“Whatever.” Prompto grabbed his hand anyways and dragged him off, sputtering protests, towards his dad. Cor saw them approach, and he and Clarus raised their brows high.

“Prompto,” Cor said, “We don’t kidnap foreign dignitaries.”

“Prompto?” Loqi repeated, in a small voice.

“This is Loqi,” Prompto said. “He says he’s your nemesis or something. You should talk.”

He let go of Loqi’s hand. Clarus had his deadpan face on again, and Prompto’s dad was definitely trying not to smile.

“Oh, yes,” Cor said. “How could I forget my, ah, nemesis?”

“I…” Loqi said, looking from Cor to Prompto. “I wanted to…”

“Oh, dear,” Clarus murmured. “I do believe Regis has found our son. If you will excuse me.” He bowed, hiding a smile, and retreated towards the far corner balcony, where a frantic Iris was trying to turn Regis aside. An uncomfortable silence stretched out between the three remaining members of their group, and Loqi knocked back half a cup of punch, holding the glass to his mouth.

Cor frowned. “Prom,” he said. “Your sleeve.”

Prompto looked to his right cuff, which was pink at the edges. “The punch!” he cried. “Shit.”

“Language,” Cor said. He held out a hand, and Prompto sighed, extending his arm. As Cor unclasped his cufflinks, he spoke to Loqi in the same low tone. “The war’s done, Lieutenant. I don’t make a habit of holding grudges.”

Prompto rolled back his cuff, hiding the stain, and tugged his sleeve over his tattoo. The movement caught Loqi’s eye, and the older boy took one look at the lines on Prompto’s wrist, jerked, and spat watermelon punch all over Cor the Immortal’s borrowed suit.

 

“So that happened,” Prompto said. He and Ignis sat by the railing of one of the unused balconies, legs dangling precariously one hundred stories over the city. Fireworks cracked and boomed in the twilit sky, and Prompto leaned in to Ignis’ shoulder, taking comfort in his solid, steady presence.

“Do you know what that poor man was talking about?” Ignis asked. “When Aranea sent him to his rooms, he was behaving rather… strangely.”

“Who knows, dude.” Prompto draped his arms over the lowest railing. “And now Nyx and Luna are out of my league. Because they’re in each other’s.

“Nothing is set in stone, Prompto.” Ignis wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “Don’t lose heart.”

They watched a red and gold firework light up the north district of the city. “You really are the best, Iggy.”

“So they say.”

There was a shifting sound behind them, and Prompto and Ignis turned to see Noct and Gladio at their backs. Noct sat next to Prompto with a groan, and Gladio eased himself into a cross-legged position at Ignis’ right.

“It was getting boring without you guys,” Noct said. He swung an arm over Ignis’, letting his hand drape over Prompto’s right shoulder. “Kinda pretty, though, isn’t it?”

“You can say that again,” Gladio said. They all took a short breath together as a stream of fireworks rose into the air like glowing rockets, only to burst into a cloud of blue, fiery flowers. Prompto closed his eyes and imagined he could feel the warmth of that fire on his cheeks, and sank back into the steady hold of his best friends in all the world.

Chapter Text

Niflheim may have surrendered, Lunafreya and Nyx may have hit it off better than Gladio at a used bookstore’s half-off sale, and Loqi Tummelt may have sprayed hot pink punch all over one of the top members of the Lucian military, but the world still had to move on. Prompto and Noct went to school the next morning with sugar hangovers, Ignis flitted back and forth across the halls of the Citadel like a bespectacled hummingbird, and Gladio…

Gladio met Prompto outside the school gates that afternoon. He’d dressed up, which meant he’d thrown on an actual shirt, and someone—probably Iris—had tied back his hair. He looked halfway respectable, and Prompto knew before he even opened his mouth why he was there.

“Time to see what we’re made of, Sunshine,” Gladio said, as Noct ran in for a high five. Prompto chewed at his lower lip.

“What’re you guys doing?” Noct asked. “Tell me it’s not another run. I’m not running.”

“We’re signing up for the Crownsguard exam together,” Prompto said. “Gladio, are you sure—“

“You see these guns?” Gladio lifted one of Prompto’s arms, and Prompto pushed him aside. “Mine ain’t so bad, either. Come on, I need a friend there. Half my class are assholes.”

“That’s what you get for sticking with the training program,” Prompto said.

“Yeah?” Gladio ducked down, and scooped Prompto onto his shoulder. “Maybe if you stuck with it, you’d be able to lift more than your own body weight.”

“You guys are disgusting,” Noct said. Gladio held out his other hand. “No. You’re not carrying me, Gladio. You’re just gonna have Prompto take a picture so you can show off to your secret boyfriend.

“Secret boyfriend?” Prompto asked. “Who? Ravus is gonna be pissed!”

Gladio dropped him in the dirt, and Prompto and Noct bumped fists.

The sign-up process was the easy part. Prompto’s dad had given permission for him to take the test almost half a year ago, as soon Prompto was able to hit every mark on the shooting range without fail, and all he had to do was sign his name on an empty date on their calendar. Gladio was scheduled to go first—His exam would be that weekend. Prompto’s exam would be two days later. It was during school hours, but Prompto could afford to skip a day. Probably.

“Now,” Gladio said, when Prompto was done signing his life away, “we need to keep ourselves distracted. I know how I’m doing it.”

“Don't need to know that,” Noct said.

“Not with—Noct, you piece of—“

Prompto watched Noct attempt to warp down the hall and away from Gladio’s impending wrath, and checked his phone. He had five days until his exam. Five days to slowly, surely sink into the kind of mind-numbing fear reserved for horror movie victims and diplomats who smartmouthed the king at the end of a long day. Right.

Ignis’ solution to this, when Prompto found him scurrying through the halls, was paperwork.

“It’s fun!” he said, with the panicky look of a young man who had tipped so far over the edge of exhaustion that he had come out the other side. “Just file everything from J to M, and when I come back, we can go through the sticky notes that Mr. Amicitia keeps leaving everywhere.”

“Uh, Iggy,” Prompto said, carefully. “You know, you might be going at this too hard.”

“I couldn’t possibly, Noctis,” Ignis said, patting Prompto on the head. “Thank you all the same.”

He bustled off. Prompto looked at the stack of paperwork, craned his neck around to see Ignis trotting down the hall, and pulled out his phone.

Thirty minutes later, Cor and Prompto intercepted Ignis outside the third floor Council hall.

“I just suggested you do paperwork, Prompto,” Ignis said weakly, as Cor and Prompto guided him down the hall by the elbows. “I have not been overdoing it in the slightest, I am at the height of self control, I—“ He paused, and snapped his fingers. “Oh! I do believe I’ve come up with a new recipe for that cake Noctis keeps going on about. If you’ll hand me my phone, I can jot it down to test on Gladio later…”

“The phone’s being confiscated,” Cor said. Ignis made a distressed whining noise in the back of his throat. “No protests. The king can survive a day without you.”

“So can Noct,” Prompto said, before Ignis could speak. They frog-marched Ignis into the apartment, where Ignis, still voicing fervent protests that he was quite well, lay down on his bed, fully clothed, and passed out immediately.

Cor couldn’t stay to keep an eye on Ignis, so Prompto called up Noct, who appeared at the door with video games and a bag of nacho chips the size of his torso. The two of them stood over Ignis and watched him drool a puddle onto his pillow.

“Woah,” Noct said. “You weren’t kidding, Prom.”

“Noctis!”

It came out partly as a snort, and Ignis, shocked awake by the sound of the prince’s voice, flailed impressively before landing on his back on the floor. Noct stared down at him, blinking owlishly.

“Hey, Specs.”

They spent the night in the living room, Ignis wrapped up in blankets between Prompto and Noct, nursing a cup of tea like it was his last lifeline in a churning ocean.

 

---

 

The second day found Prompto at the edge of a circle of Kingsglaive soldiers, warily staring down the lone figure of Nyx Ulric’s mother. She stood in the center, arms folded across her chest, feet apart, eyes bound by a thick black cloth. Prompto, Nyx, and a handful of Glaives hovered at a distance, too fearful to get close.

Libertus approached Ms. Ulric from behind. There was a blur of movement, a tilt to Ms. Ulric’s head, and Libertus was on his knees, hissing in pain.

The Glaives all unconsciously backed up a step.

“Come on, Prom,” Nyx whispered. His breath tickled Prompto’s neck. “It’s like getting a jump on Crowe. You keep to her front, I’ll go from above.”

“Right,” Prompto whispered back. He grabbed Nyx’s hand tight, holding down the urge to blush. “It was nice knowing you, Nyx.”

“You’re a stand-up guy, Prom.”

Prompto darted towards Ms. Ulric from behind, then made a quick about-face as she turned. A slight smile twitched across her face.

“Prompto,” she said. How did she know? Prompto madly backtracked, but she was on him in a flash, and the best he could do was adjust the grip of his hands and hold on. He resisted being thrown for all of two seconds, giving Nyx just enough time to warp over his mother’s head—

There was that foxlike smile again. Prompto swore.

Nyx cried out in alarm as his downward warp was interrupted by Prompto Leonis being flung bodily into the air beneath him. They collided with a thick smack of limbs, and Nyx tossed his knives out of the way before wrapping his arms firmly around Prompto and taking their full weight as they landed. The other Glaives burst into applause and raucous whistling, and Prompto rolled off of Nyx, gasping for breath.

A foot landed on the dust between them.

“We aren’t done,” said the Legend of Galahd.

Ten minutes later, Prompto collapsed against a broken pillar at the edge of the courtyard. Nyx sat next to him, looking about as winded as he was, and Crowe kindly offered her sympathies by pouring a canteen of water over their heads.

“Man,” Prompto said, when he was capable of human speech again, “If my exam is anything like that, I’m gonna move to Galdin Quay and take pictures of dolphins for a living.”

“Not too late to be Kingsglaive,” Nyx said. “You’re too good for those jerks at the Crownsguard, anyway.”

Prompto thanked the gods that he was already pink with exertion, and hunched his shoulders. “Yeah?”

“I mean it. I could do with a guy like you around. We could.” Prompto blinked, and Nyx glanced up at Crowe. “Crowe and Libertus...”

“Don’t drag me into this,” Crowe said. “I’m here ‘cause they feed me. And don’t look now, but that skinny little Niff kid—Shit, sorry, Prom—is staring at us.”

Prompto fell onto his back rather than actually walk around the pillar, and saw Loqi Tummelt standing behind them, hands fisted in his pockets. “Huh.”

“Didn’t he spit up on your dad?” Libertus asked. “Oh, no, he’s coming over.”

“Cover me in dirt, quick,” Prompto said. “Maybe he won’t see me.”

Loqi came to a stop a few feet from Prompto’s head, and narrowed his eyes in confusion.

“You’re in the Kingsglaive?” he asked.

“Nah, he’s a dirty little traitor,” Crowe said. “Going to the Crownsguard like Dad.

“Shut up, Crowe,” Prompto said, reflexively.

“Great,” Loqi said. “Now I’ll have to deal with two of you.”

“No you won’t,” Prompto told him. “You’ve surrendered. After this, you don’t have to deal with us at all.

The Glaives around Prompto grinned, all teeth, but the look Loqi gave him was almost devastated. Prompto sat up and twisted round to face him. “Dad didn’t have to pay for the suit, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Loqi opened and shut his mouth quickly, like one of the fish Noct reeled up in the ornamental pond. “I didn’t—that isn’t why I—“

“Oh,” Prompto said. “I think I get it.”

“You do?” Loqi’s face lit up. “So you know. Of course you know. It’s only natural, even if you were just an inf—“

“If you want to hang out, you could’ve just told me.”

Loqi stared at Prompto for a long, long moment.

“Bet I could swing us tickets to the Skywalk,” Prompto told him. “Best fries in Insomnia, hands down.”

Again, another minute of intense staring.

“Fine,” Loqi said, in a squeak that was almost passable as one of Prompto’s own. “Tomorrow? Noon?”

“Sure.”

He whirled round on one heel and stalked off like a disgruntled bird of prey. The others watched him go with more than a little amusement.

“Weird kid,” Libertus said, after a while.

“You can say that again,” said Prompto. “Maybe after this, he can finally get off my back.

 

---

 

It turned out that inviting a member of a hostile foreign delegation to a fast food run during peace talks fell under King Regis’ What The Hell Has Possessed You, Leonis, rule, and what had started with Prompto’s attempt to get Loqi to leave him alone became a full event, complete with an entourage consisting of Luna, Gladio, and Aranea. Ignis was still at home, being watched over by Cor, who was gamely marathoning a baking show with him.

“What do you call this?” Luna asked, staring down at the mess on Prompto’s plate.

“Fry Explosion,” Prompto said. Luna picked at a fry, buried in parmesan cheese, spices, and a goo that Prompto was pretty sure was edible, and bravely took a bite.

“Well. I’m sure that used to be a potato.”

“This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever eaten,” said Aranea, inhaling her own Fry Explosion with an enthusiasm that could rival Noct’s. Prompto liked Aranea. Sure, she was high-key terrifying and could probably kill him with her high heels alone, but that was no different from most of the women in Prompto’s life. She nudged Loqi, who stared at his salad like it had offended him. “Unclench, kid.”

Gladio barely hid a snort, and Loqi turned a dark pink.

Luna stole another fry from Prompto, and scooted just an inch closer. Prompto bit down a sigh, and Loqi jerked up like one of those tiny, paranoid dogs that Cor’s friend Dustin owned, the ones that shook all the time and peed on the floor when they were excited.

“That code on your wr—“ he started to say. Then he yelped as Aranea, standing abruptly, clipped him in the eye with an elbow.

“Is that,” she said, with the slow relish of one witnessing a god come down to earth, “a bobble-head doll shaped like King Regis?

When Gladio entered the testing rooms for his Crownsguard entrance exam, Aranea and Loqi were at the back of the crowd, juggling bags full of kitshy souvenirs. Aranea wore a “I survived the Citadel Skywalk Challenge” beanie, she’d forced a pair of cat ears on Loqi, and had shoved an extra large shirt over her robes that had a cartoon version of King Regis’ face on it. Regis, who had arrived with Clarus to wish his oldest son well, kept looking over at her with growing concern.

Ravus, standing off to the side, took Luna’s hand.

Gladio emerged from the testing rooms about an hour later, covered in sweat and beaming wide. He didn’t even have to say it—The small crowd waiting for him burst into excitable shouting. Iris tackled him in a hug, he and Noct bumped fists, and Ignis shook his hand. He hugged Prompto so hard that his bones ached, and both Regis and Clarus took a moment to ruffle his hair and murmur words of encouragement. Gladio grabbed the King’s hand for a second, and the two of them spoke urgently, voices lost in the cacophony around them.

“Thanks, Dad,” Gladio said, a little louder. He turned, and his gaze met Ravus’. The prince of Tenebrae released Luna’s hand and slipped through the crowd to stand at Gladio’s side.

“I have an announcement, guys,” Gladio said. The others slowly quieted. “Ravus and I… we decided that… Well, it’s happening. We’re gonna do it.

“Oh my gods,” Noct said, in horror.

“Gladio, gross!” cried Iris.

King Regis covered his eyes with one hand. Ravus’ cheeks burned.

“We aren’t—“ Ravus looked to Luna, who was staring at him with something like reproach. “For Astral’s sakes, Gladiolus! We’re getting engaged.

“Oh.”

“Thank the Six.”

“I thought you were—“

“I’m going to die,” Ravus muttered.

Behind them, holding onto King Regis’ shoulder with all the strength left in his body, Clarus Amicitia wept with laughter.

Chapter Text

“Tip them gently in the water.”

“This is gentle.”

Cor leaned over a pan on the stove, trying to pour an egg, white-first, into simmering water. Beside him, Ignis, whose ankles flashed under yet another pair of pajamas that couldn’t keep up with his constant growth spurts, expertly browned bacon on another pan. Coffee hissed and spat in the machine by the microwave, one of Ignis’ calming ocean sounds mixes played on his phone, and the sun was just starting to rise over the first glowing panels of the Wall.

“It astounds me that you’ve gone this long without learning how to poach an egg properly,” Ignis said, as he flipped the bacon onto a paper towel.

“You might find it hard to believe,” Cor said, “but being a full-time soldier means you don’t always have time for fine cuisine. It was instant noodles and coffee ‘til Prompto came around.”

“And for some time after, too,” Ignis told him. “Don’t think I didn’t see all those cup noodle boxes when I first moved in.”

“You definitely didn’t see them after you threw them out.

Ignis smiled through a mouthful of braces. “I suppose my coming here did some good, then.”

He watched Cor fish a moderately poached egg out of the water, then nudged him aside to take over for the next two. Resigned to his eternal status as second-chef, Cor dug through the cabinet for their leftover muffins.

“Don’t sell yourself short, Ignis,” he said. “This place wouldn’t be the same without you.”

He turned in time to see Ignis’ ears tinge pink, and the young advisor-to-be ducked his head in bashful silence.

Prompto dragged himself out of his bedroom around ten, looking like a nest of birds had rolled around in his hair all night. “G’mrnmfrm,” he said, and stared at the food on the plate between Ignis and Cor. “Wh’s’t?”

“Use your words, Prompto,” Ignis said.

“You sound like Dad.” Prompto managed to sit down on his second try, and appeared to be attempting to eat his eggs through osmosis. Cor propped his chin on his hand and watched him, brows raised.

“Long night texting Luna?”

It was impressive, really, how quickly Prompto went from teenaged-zombie to wide-eyed alertness within the span of a second. “Who? No. No, I wasn’t. A little. We were talking about the whole Gladio and Ravus thing.”

“Of course you were,” Ignis said.

“Hey, shut up.”

“Did I say anything out of line?”

Ignis bumped Prompto’s shoulder, and Prompto bumped him back, grinning sheepishly. Cor cleared his throat, and they both looked up at him.

“Prom,” he said. “I know you’ll be enjoying your last day of freedom with your friends, but it’s important that you get some sleep before the exam tomorrow. Curfew is at six tonight.”

Prompto opened his mouth in a wordless cry of outrage, but it died at the look on Cor’s face. “Okay, Dad.”

They made it three minutes into their meal before a chorus of knocks broke through the mid-morning quiet, rattling the door on its hinges. Cor jumped—Prompto caught the movement and smirked at him.

“This is the Prompto Leonis Extraction Squad!” Noct’s unmistakable shout was high and muted, as though he were being pressed against the door. The knocking increased in volume.

“We…” Lunafreya sounded like she was about to laugh. “We demand the boy!”

“And the other one!” cried Gladio. Ignis rolled his eyes.

“I don’t negotiate with kidnappers!” Prompto shouted back. The knocking abruptly stopped.

“He’s up,” said someone who sounded suspiciously like the young man from the Kingsglaive, the one whose name Prompto kept writing on his notebook when he thought Cor wasn’t paying attention.

“Let’s get ‘im!” shouted an unfamiliar girl’s voice. Prompto paled.

The door burst open.

“Sorry, Mr. Leonis!” Luna cried, as a crowd of teenagers descended upon the apartment. They pattered through in a chaos of boots, black clothes, and laughter, and closed upon Ignis and Prompto like a fist. “We’ll bring them back in one piece!”

“I’m hardly decent!” Ignis cried, from within the crowd.

“Where we’re going, we don’t need decency,” Gladio said. Cor set down his coffee mug, and Ravus, standing at the door with the clear intention of staying as far from the crowd as possible, caught his eye and shook his head slowly.

Then they were gone, bearing Prompto and Ignis away like the tide, and Cor was left with three half-eaten breakfasts and the lingering smell of cheap body spray.

“There go the future leaders of the free world,” he said to his empty apartment. “Astrals help us.”

 

---

 

Prompto and Ignis didn’t have long to wonder what their abductors had planned for them before they were thrown into the Crownsguard locker room, where two bundles of clothes were shoved into their arms.

“Put those on,” Gladio said. “Don’t worry, Specs, yours are just your old clothes you left at our place a month ago.”

Ignis sighed gratefully and disappeared into a stall, but Prompto had to take a moment to look over his outfit.

“Uh.”

“For the record,” Nyx said, from where he stood guard with Libertus and Noctis, “It was the Prince’s idea.”

Prompto shook out the t-shirt.

Choco-Moogle Fest 114! it said, in bright, bubble letters. There was a cartoon of a chocobo on one side, and a grinning moogle on the other. The jeans, when he looked them over, had chocobo patches on the hem.

“There’s a hat, too,” Gladio said. Ravus, standing behind him, sighed dramatically and passed it over. The hat was bright yellow, with wings, and a spring with a glass moogle jewel on the top. Gladio shook it. It wobbled.

“I don’t have to—“ Prompto said, and saw Noctis lift his shoulders a little.

“If you’re gonna be Crownsguard, you’re gonna be my Crownsguard,” Noct said. “So put it on, chocobo-butt.”

“Yeah? Cancel mid-term exams and I’ll do anything you want.” Prompto ducked behind a row of lockers to change.

When he emerged from the locker room, decked out in the choco-moogle outfit, the waiting crowd in the hallway burst into whistling applause. He bowed. Luna curtsied. Nyx and Libertus bowed back. Crowe made a gesture that was probably illegal in at least two countries.

“Alright,” Noct said, clapping his hands together. “Let’s go.”

 

---

 

The guards stationed at the gates of the Citadel had little explanation for what they saw emerging from the main doors around noon: A crowd of teenagers, some in Kingsglaive black, others in the garb of various royal households, jostling each other in a loose marching formation. At their head was a young blonde teen in a yellow moogle cap, walking backwards and taking photos while one of the Glaives kept pulling him out of the way of potted trees, medians, and occasional passers-by. They were almost to the gates—the youngest guard was starting to wonder if he ought to call in the Marshal to be sure this was allowed—when two figures ran down the high stairs behind them. The boy with the camera slumped, then shrugged and waved an arm. The figures—Good gods, they were the envoy from Niflheim!—latched themselves to the fringes of the group, and the whole lot of them marched up to the gate.

“Prince Noctis,” said a boy with messy black hair and a skull-print shirt. “Taking some losers out for a tour.”

The guard stared.

“That’s the Crownsguard, Prom,” said one of the Glaives, a dark-haired girl who looked like she’d just rolled out of bed. The blonde kid elbowed her, but before the guard could find the words to respond, the crowd was off, shouting and giggling and, in the case of one of the Niflheim ambassadors, sulking, into the streets of the city.

 

---

 

The first stop on Prompto’s Last Day as a Civilian was the arcade. That lasted about an hour—Crowe and Aranea roped Luna into the karaoke booth, wherein Prompto learned that while Luna was clever, drop-dead-gorgeous and diplomatic to a fault, she had the kind of singing voice that made nearby children run for cover. If she were a lost princess in the woods, she wouldn’t be summoning helpful bluebirds or squirrels to do her bidding any time soon.

While Aranea and Crowe gamely winced and urged Luna on, Prompto taught Nyx how to play the shooting game he and Noct were always playing after school, and pointedly ignored the way Noct leered when Prompto showed Nyx how to hold the gun. Libertus was talking animatedly to Gladio and Ravus, and Iris had challenged Loqi to a dance-off.

“Loser!” the machine said, as he fumbled to hit the left arrow marker in time. “Tooooo bad!”

“That’s not—this is rigged!” he cried. Prompto gave him a thumbs up, and he flushed red.

“What do you think his deal is?” Nyx asked, as he missed yet another target in Rogue Fishes Gone Bad. “Trying to get to the Marshal through you?”

“Dunno,” Prompto said. “It feels like the other way around.” Nyx shifted closer, lowering his voice, and Prompto held his breath.

“I’ll keep an eye on him for you,” Nyx said. “I don’t like the way he stares.

At the Dance Prance Evolution Station, Loqi collapsed on the rail as Iris pumped her fists in the air in victory.

They hit one of Crowe’s favorite Galahd-inspired bakeries on the way out. No one was sure if Aranea was crying because of the spices or out of joy, but judging by the number of bread loaves she bought and shoved into her bag, Prompto suspected it was both.

Two hours later, they were kicked out of the North Park’s public fountain for indecency. Gladio insisted that a bare chest was hardly indecent, but Ignis and Ravus had to point out that stripping down to one’s booty shorts, particularly the ones that were banned by the king specifically, probably was.

They finally stopped in a gazebo in one of Insomnia’s upper city rose gardens. Prompto was propped up between Luna and Nyx, showing them the photos he’d taken that afternoon, Ravus and Gladio were whispering to each other in a heated debate over a book, Ignis was extolling the virtues of the study of poli-sci to a dead-eyed captive audience, and Aranea was laying out her haul of Insomnia souvenirs in the entrance-way. It was odd, having the lines between the Kingsglaive and his more royal friends converge, but it had happened so seamlessly that he could barely remember why he’d ever wanted to separate them in the first place. Luna’s shoulder was warm against his, and Nyx’s hair brushed his cheek as he leaned in to look at a photo, and everything was, for just one moment, perfect.

“Prompto.”

Luna whispered it in Prompto’s ear, and he leaned over to see Loqi sitting just outside the gazebo, pressing the heel of his palm to his right eye. Nyx followed Prompto’s gaze, and the three of them watched as Loqi took a shaky breath and twisted the gold cuff at his right wrist.

“Is he crying?” Nyx whispered.

“You should talk to him,” Luna said, nudging Prompto. He frowned, and she set the full weight of seventeen years of royal disapproval into her eyes. There wasn’t much Prompto could do about that. He stood, shrugging off the others’ curious looks, and stepped over Aranea’s line of Prince Noctis figurines.

“Hey.” Prompto threw himself into the grass next to Loqi, startling the older boy out of his daze. “Are you homesick or something?”

“What? No.” Loqi spoke too quickly, and a little too high. He carefully avoided Prompto’s eyes. “I’m perfectly fine, thank you, Leonis.

“Don’t have to get pissy, bro,” Prompto said, trying for a lighter tone. He raised his hands in surrender. “I’m not gonna—“ He stopped. Oh, no. Loqi was crying. They were thick, heavy tears, the kind that came on the heels of a screwed-up face and the kind of wail that could outdo Luna’s attempt at a high note in karaoke. A strangled whining sound came from the back of Loqi’s throat, and he turned to Prompto with the wretched, red-faced look of true misery.

“I’m.” Loqi’s voice wobbled dangerously. “I’m just. I'm glad you’re...”

Then he burst into great, gasping, hiccoughing sobs, curled up in Prompto’s arms, and rested his forehead on the bright patch of his moogle-chocobo shirt. Prompto patted him awkwardly. In the gazebo, all conversation halted so that the entire group could watch, transfixed, as one of the only remaining members of Niflheim’s military wept into the shoulder of his nemesis’ only son.

 

---

 

“I’m not sure this is wise, Prompto,” Cor said, when Prompto came home at five-thirty. Following Loqi’s truly magnificent breakdown in the rose garden, the party had understandably died out. Luna kissed Prompto on the cheek and wished him luck, Nyx slapped him on the back and smoldered at him, and Noct had taken advantage of Prompto’s bewildered, dreamy-eyed fog to steal back the chocobo hat. Every time Aranea or Prompto suggested that Loqi go back to Niflheim's suites, Loqi looked so panicked that no one could bring themselves to push it too hard.

So here he was, holding on to the back on Prompto’s shirt like a lost child, with Ignis glaring at him as though expecting him to spontaneously declare war at any minute.

“I dunno, Dad,” Prompto whispered. “He’s kind of…” He made a face, and Cor looked at the older boy’s tear-stained cheeks and red-rimmed eyes. “Just for dinner?”

Cor frowned. “I’ll have to call Regis. Come in, then.” He stepped aside, letting Loqi pass through the door and into the Leonis family apartments.

“It’s enormous,” he said, in an awed voice. Prompto looked askance at the living room. It wasn’t exactly big. Not as big as the manor, anyways, or Ignis’ old house. It wasn’t even the biggest apartment in the Crownsguard—That belonged to Monica and her rotating collection of five million cats.

“It’s okay, I guess,” Prompto said. “What’s your place like, at home?”

Loqi’s eyes took on a panicky edge. “… I didn’t. I didn’t have one.”

“One what? An apartment?”

The look on Loqi’s face was one that Prompto wasn’t sure he wanted to see again. Over Loqi’s shoulder, Ignis caught Prompto’s eye and crossed his hands. “Uh, nevermind. Want to see my room while Dad talks things out with the king?”

Loqi didn’t respond, so Prompto dragged him down the hall by the wrist. His fingers slid over the gold cuff, and he slipped free when Loqi stopped, peering up at the pictures on the wall.

“This is you?” he asked.

“Um, some of them. Ignis is in a few. Come on, my room’s in here.” He tugged at the older boy again, and the two of them slipped into Prompto’s bedroom. Loqi seemed lost, standing stiff and almost frightened in his formal clothes, surrounded by the chaos of Prompto’s walls, his desk covered in books and figurines, the chocobo-print sheets on the bed.

“This looks like it belongs to a child.” Loqi said.

“Wow, thanks, dude.”

“No, that isn’t what I…” Loqi touched the worn chocobo toy on Prompto’s desk, and that lost look passed across his face again. “It’s nice.”

Prompto felt like he was on the edge of a vast ocean—the wrong word could tip him over the edge, and into the depths of something he wasn’t sure he was prepared for. “Thanks,” he said again, in a softer voice.

Loqi turned to him. “Cor the Immortal,” he said. “He’s your father. Actually your father. Not a, a keeper, or a handler, or a guard.

“Getting kind of weird, buddy.”

Loqi gripped Prompto’s hands tight enough to hurt. “Prompto,” he said, like it was a curse, or a prayer, or possibly both. “I always thought that was a stupid name.”

Before Prompto could say anything back, Loqi released him. He sighed, shaky and loud, and slowly, carefully, unhooked the cuff around his right wrist.

Prompto took in the dark lines on pale pink skin, and raised shaking fingers to the barcode above his own hand.

Dad?!

 

---

 

“Perhaps it would be best if you sit down, Prompto.”

Prompto wasn’t sitting down. Prompto was never sitting down again. He gripped the back of the couch where Loqi Tummelt was sitting, looking vaguely tearful and a little relieved to find that he wasn’t the only one on the verge of an emotional precipice.

“I have a brother?” Prompto cried. “Other than Ignis,” he added, in a quieter voice. Ignis, watching from the kitchen counter, raised a glass of tea and turned his gaze to the king.

King Regis, clad in black pajamas over a shimmery gold men’s dressing gown, shrugged one shoulder. “Apparently so.”

“Did you know?

Cor made a disapproving sound, but Regis raised a hand. He looked utterly out of place in Cor’s apartment, even with his hair slightly mussed and wearing the royal equivalent of house-clothes. “Cor. I believe Prompto is allowed to be upset. No, son, we were unaware that the program that, ah, created you… had another subject.”

“I wasn’t…” Loqi quailed as Regis’ fierce gaze was focused on him, and straightened. “It wasn’t exactly the same program. I didn’t… take… to all the experiments. Prompto was supposed to be the one who—He was meant to be better.

“He certainly did better here,” Ignis murmured, and Regis and Cor both gave him a warning look.

“Is this going to stop me from joining the Crownsguard?” Prompto asked. Panic clutched him in a tight grip. “Do I have to go back with him?

Loqi’s face pinched, and Prompto realized what he’d said too late. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s fine.” Loqi’s voice was very small. “I wouldn’t want to leave, either.”

King Regis’ eyes hardened, and Prompto thought he might try sitting down after all. He collapsed on the couch, and all the adrenaline of the past two hours sank with him.

“You’re a crown citizen, Prompto Leonis,” King Regis said. “Does this change how you feel about your loyalty to Lucis? To my son?”

Prompto bristled at the implication. “No,” he said. Cor, sitting in a chair at the other end of the room, looked at Regis oddly, but Prompto was too riled to notice.

“Would you fight for the ruler of Lucis?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“Die for them?” Prompto nodded, slowly. “Kill for them?”

There was a short pause. Prompto could feel Loqi staring at him, Ignis watching from the counter, Cor tense in his seat.

“If I have to.”

Regis folded his hands in his lap. “No one will force you to leave your home,” the king said. “And I certainly hope this does not deter you from taking your Crownsguard exam in the morning. Gladiolus could use a friend in the guard.”

Regis turned to Loqi, who, to Prompto’s surprise, grabbed his hand. “And we know of you, Loqi Tummelt. Should the peace talks go well, there is no reason for you to be barred from communicating with—or visiting—Prompto, should he agree to it.”

“I can visit?

“Well.” Regis’ demeanor shifted, becoming a little less imposing and a bit more like the man he was around Iris, Gladio, and Noct. “While Niflheim will fall under the control of Tenebrae, there is still an empty position for an ambassador to Insomnia. It hasn’t been used in over two hundred years, but I believe the suites available are still in good condition. Something for you and Aranea to consider, as the talks progress.”

Loqi only stared.

“Now.” Regis stood, and jerked his head slightly. Cor rose from his seat. “I’m sure you two would like to catch up. Or preferably get some rest—you will be taking a physical in the morning, Prompto. The Marshal and I will need to speak for a moment.”

He swept out of the room, holding the door open for Cor, and left Loqi, Ignis, and Prompto in the living room.

“That…” Loqi swallowed hard. “That was…”

“The king can have that effect on one,” Ignis said, helpfully. Loqi nodded.

The silence stretched out, thick with all the words left unsaid, the years that Prompto had never known were lost.

“So,” he said, at last. “You wanna watch Dungeon Crawlers?”

 

When Cor Leonis re-entered his apartments a few hours later, after sitting through an emergency meeting with Regis, Clarus, and Drautos, the likes of which hadn’t occurred in nearly a decade, he came in to find all the lights off save for the small blue glow of the television. The screen illuminated the faces of the boys sprawled out on the couch: Ignis, curled up in a corner with a book in his lap, Prompto half lying on top of Loqi, both of them open-mouthed and defenseless in sleep. They really did look similar, in this light. The hard lines of Loqi’s mouth were softened, the wrinkles of his brow smoothed out—so tense, for someone so young—and his freckles made a soft smudge of discoloration on his cheeks. Cor thought of the one time he’d fought the boy. He’d been so decked out in armor that Cor hadn’t realized his age until he spoke, and had pulled back his blow, narrowly missing him in lieu of taking out the MTs at his left. Was this what Prompto would have become, if Cor had not thought to look in the box in Besithia’s lab?

He pulled the book out of Ignis’ fingers and draped one of the couch blankets over him, then pulled out another. As he set it over the gangly limbs of his son and his so-called nemesis, he saw that Loqi was holding Prompto’s right hand in his own, the lines of their tattoos gone black against the light of the television. Cor smiled.

Well, then. Maybe the Empire didn’t ruin everything it touched.

He turned off the television, and the four of them disappeared into the dark.

Chapter Text

Ignis woke Prompto just as dawn began to break over the buildings of the upper city. Light streamed through the sheer curtains of the kitchen and turned the tile a warm gold. Prompto sat on a spare kitchen island, and Ignis leaned next to his dangling legs as the two of them ate leftover berry muffins, watching the reflection of the sun slide over the glossy surface of the Spire.

Ignis sighed and rinsed his hands off in the sink. The sound of the tap running woke Loqi, who rose from the tangle of blankets Prompto had left him in with a wide-eyed, disoriented air.

“Morning,” Prompto said, waving from the counter. “Want a muffin?”

 

Loqi, Cor, and Ignis all had to be present at meetings before Prompto’s exam, and left amid a one-sided argument between Loqi and everyone else regarding where they could pick up coffee in time. Prompto closed the door to them, looked around the empty, sunlit apartment, and went off to retrieve his camera.

He wandered in the outskirts of the restricted Citadel gardens for a while, painfully out of place in the jogging pants and vest he’d set aside for his physical. Bees hummed in the grasses by the sylleblossom circle, tulips bristled along a fountain depicting one of the old Queens, and squirrels darted across the path as Prompto rounded the edge of the small cherry orchard. The Citadel felt deserted, given up to the trees and the wild creatures who had no respect for locked gates or peace treaties.

Nyx and the others were right about the Crownsguard. It was full of people who looked to Cor and Clarus and saw in them the chance for promotion and glory, or who looked to the gates of the Citadel and saw an easy paycheck while they waited for other opportunities to pull through. The Crownsguard had meant something, once. What it meant to Mr. Amicitia wasn’t the same as what it was for the new recruits. Dreams like glory and honor belonged to the Kingsglaive, and even that was shaken with the uncertainty of an Insomnia without a war to fight. What was left? Why join at all?

Prompto thought of the box in the lab where he’d been found. Loqi crying in a rose garden. Who would have come for him when he was young and not yet broken? Who would support the boys like Gladio, who even as the eighteen-year-old Shield of the Prince would rather be surrounded by softness, or Ignis, who was always on the edge of being consumed by a need to be useful? What about Noct, always set apart even from his closest friends, tied to the weight of the ring on his father’s hand?

Prompto lay on the path and took a shot of the Citadel through a line of sylleblossoms. There would always be something. And until now, Insomnia had always been so focused on the big problems of the war that it was easier to let the little things slide.

Like Loqi.

Maybe Noct’s Crownsguard would be a force to fight those sort of problems. The little ones, the ones no one thought were important enough to correct, like a baby in a testing facility who should have been left behind.

The eight o’ clock bell rang. Prompto turned off his camera and got to his feet, turning towards the near-empty expanse of the Crownsguard training yards.

It was time.

 

---

 

Prompto arrived at the testing rooms early. Unlike with Gladio, there was no one waiting for him at the door. He understood why—Noct was at school, and the others were busy with the peace talks. His dad was probably inside the testing rooms himself, sitting in but unable to make a judgment on Prompto’s results. He reached for the door.

“Your highness, please!

That voice he knew. It echoed down the empty hall, followed by a furious patter of heels and the thud of boots. Prompto turned to it, and saw Luna, panting and heaving, her cheeks pink with exertion as she raced ahead of a frustrated and hardly winded Nyx. She was holding something soft and and faded in her hands.

“Thank the Six, I didn’t miss you,” Luna gasped. She collapsed against the wall a few feet from Prompto, and Nyx rolled his eyes.

“You can’t just sneak out of a council,” Nyx whispered. Luna gave him a stern look.

“Ravus will be fine in my place… so long as he… doesn’t open his mouth.” She took great, gasping breaths, and held out a hand to Prompto. He took it awkwardly, helping her stand a little straighter. “Besides… I know Noct should be… skipping class…”

“Oh my gods,” Prompto groaned. “He’s supposed to take notes for me in bio!”

Nyx shook his head in despair. “I’m glad I could see you, anyways,” he said. “Still sure you don’t want to defect to the Kingsglaive?”

“Too late for that, dude.”

Nyx gave him one of his disarming smiles, and Prompto felt momentarily weightless. Then Luna squeezed his hand and pushed something into it.

“Ignis said you might need this,” she said. Prompto looked down and laughed.

Cor’s old hat was draped over his fingers, worn and loose with age. He shook it out and slipped it over his combed-down hair, where it fitted securely on his brow.

“Lookin’ good,” Nyx said. Luna winked at him.

When Prompto entered the testing rooms at last, he was smiling, his body light and his face warm with the sensation of floating through air.

 

The exam started with a physical. The leftover feeling of weightlessness helped him through the boredom of standing on scales, letting himself be manhandled by efficient doctors, and running through a truly unchallenging setting on a treadmill. Gladio had warned him that this part would be underwhelming, but Prompto hadn’t been prepared for how tedious it would be. He was used to running longer, and hadn’t broken a sweat when the time was called. Then one of the younger Crownsguard soldiers saw him through a test of basic physical exercises, made unsettling, quiet checkmarks on a clipboard, and ushered Prompto through a service door and out into a small, fenced-off training yard.

It was one of the cleared spaces for sparring use among Crownsguard soldiers—Prompto had snuck in once or twice with Noct, when they were young, trying to catch Mr. Amicitia and Cor facing off—and a set of conspicuous targets had been placed on one side, beyond one of the lowered fences. Prompto stood in the center of the yard and looked out at the line of judges at the other end—they were too distant for him to see the expressions on their faces, but he could see his dad standing to the side, arms crossed over his chest. Prompto shook out his arms nervously.

“Hand-to-hand,” one of the judges said, in an impassive tone.

A Crownsguard soldier climbed over the fence: She was young, and Prompto was surprised to find he recognized her. She was one of the older girls from his disastrous trainee class. Though she wasn’t part of the group that had targeted him, he still felt a twinge of unease, and met her easy smile with more of a grimace.

They bowed to one another, and a bell rang.

“That means start,” the woman said, in an all too helpful tone. Prompto sank into a defensive stance, narrowing the line of his body.

“I’m surprised you came back,” she said, too soft for the judges to hear. She was circling him, but her footing was all wrong. Too casual, too open. He frowned, and she caught the movement. “After you got Lena kicked out for a little hazing. It’s why I signed up for this: I had to see for myself if you were stupid enough—“

Gods, she was so slow! After years of training with Nyx, collecting bruises from Nyx’s sister, being thrown into the air like a doll by his mother, Prompto could see where this soldier was about to move before she even took a step. He shifted his weight, adjusted the placement of his hands, and gripped her arm.

The sound of the Crownsguard soldier hitting the dirt on her side was impossibly loud.

The second time, she tried to feint to his left, but Prompto knew what that looked like. They ended up with his knee to her back and her face in the dirt, and Prompto looking up at the judges in surprise. Wasn’t this supposed to be a test?

The bell rang again, and Prompto released the soldier, who scrambled to her feet.

“Where the hell did you learn that?” she whispered. Prompto grinned at her.

“Say please and I’ll teach you.”

She spat at his feet and stalked off, heading towards the inner rooms of the testing center like a disgraced cat. Prompto dusted off his knees. He’d have to watch out for her in the future, at least.

The targets were pretty much what Prompto expected them to be. He was given one of the basic models of what passed for guns in the Crownsguard, was directed to a marked spot in the field, and ordered to shoot as many of the targets as he could in the allotted time. In this case, Cor had to put in his own assessment, regardless of his relation to Prompto, and was seated in an empty chair next to one of the other judges. Prompto could feel his gaze on him as he lifted the gun, and tried to call back that calm, floating feeling from before.

The timer sounded.

He missed the mark of one target by about five inches, another by two. All the other targets sported bullet-holes in every vital mark, perfect and precise. Prompto frowned at the two he’d missed, but the judges didn’t seem to be paying it much mind. Their heads were down, even Cor’s, and Prompto didn’t object when someone came up to confiscate the gun.

All that was left was something like a personality test, which was almost exactly the same as the one he’d taken to get into the trainee program. Prompto barely paid attention. If kids like the ones he’d fought as a trainee could get in, he didn’t have to worry.

When it was done, Prompto was left in the last testing room, drumming his hands on his knees in the stark, lifeless silence. He couldn’t help but feel a little let down. Years he’d been training for this, having nightmares about it, waking up in a cold sweat thinking of endless tracks to run and opponents to fight, and this was it?

I’m not doing this to be an ordinary Crownsguard, though, he thought, as he tapped his heels on the tile floor. I’m doing this for Noct.

He didn’t have to wait long. The door to the outer rooms opened, and Cor stepped through at the head of a handful of the other judges, clearly trying not to smile through a forced grim expression.

“Congratulations, Prompto,” he said, and extended a hand. His gaze flicked to the hat and back again. “Like father, like son.”

Prompto rose from his seat and, to the scandalized gasps of the judges behind him, threw himself into his father’s arms.

 

When Cor and Prompto stepped out into the hall, it looked like the entire Citadel was waiting for them.

Noct was the first to throw himself at Prompto, all bedraggled in his mussed school uniform, shouting out curses that had Mr. Amicitia frowning over the heads of the crowd. Then Nyx pushed the prince out of the way, and Prompto was in his arms, he was going to die because he could feel Nyx’s hand on his shoulder and his breath in his hair—and then Luna pulled him into a hug, and Prompto was going to die again, except Ignis was there, too, and Crowe kept kicking his shin in what counted for her as a full-scale celebration, and Libertus was—

Prompto’s head was starting to spin. At one point, he was pretty sure Loqi grabbed his hand and whispered something about destiny, or maybe daemons, he couldn’t tell. Gladio slapped him on the back so hard his teeth chattered, Nyx’s mother actually smiled at him, and Prompto wondered if it was possible for someone to be so happy that they literally drifted away from their body and into the clouds.

“Alright, alright, give him space,” Noct shouted into Prompto’s ear. He pushed Prompto out of the way, past Cor, who was laughing so hard he had to lean on Clarus’ shoulder for support, and wrapped a skinny arm around his shoulder. Gladio and Ignis latched on to him as well, forming a circle against the bright, chattering crowd around them.

“You did it,” Noct said. “Prompto fucking Leonis, Crownsguard!”

Your Crownsguard,” Prompto said.

“All of us,” Gladio added. Ignis nodded, and ruffled Noct’s already disastrously messy hair. The prince grinned up at all of them, eyes bright.

“I don’t deserve you guys,” he said.

“Just wait,” Prompto told him. He held his three closest friends tight, and squeezed his eyes shut in an echo of a prayer. A promise.

“We’ll be the best.”

 

---

 

Five Years Later:

Prompto Leonis knelt on the passenger’s seat of the Regalia, leaning out over the open road with his camera in both hands. Beside him, Ignis sighed and grabbed him by the belt to keep him from tumbling over the side. The hills of Duscae were starting to fall away to the rocky, floating plateaus of Tenebrae, and Prompto wasn’t about to let an opportunity for a photo like this go to waste.

“Dude,” he said, as Ignis tugged insistently at his jeans. “Let me get this shot.”

“Try not to die, Prom,” drawled Noctis, who was perched on the backseat, one leg dangling over the side. “I need you if we’re gonna be dragging Ravus all the way to Insomnia.”

“Watch that tone,” Gladio said, flipping a page in his book. Prompto snickered.

Five years of an anxious peace had finally led to what Noct had been waiting for since the news of Niflheim’s surrender: For the first time in centuries, the magical Wall protecting Insomnia was finally taken down. Queen Sylva and King Regis had decided that the best way to celebrate this momentous occasion was with a wedding. Which meant that Noct, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladio were on their way cross-country to pick up Gladio’s surly groom-to-be. And maybe, if Prompto had any say in it, stop every two hours for a photo op.

“Collecting shots for Luna’s harem?” Gladio asked, as Prompto twisted round to take a picture of a passing anak.

“Ha, ha, Gladio,” Prompto said. “It isn’t a harem. It’s just, you know. Me. And Nyx. Sort of. It’s complicated.”

It was. Carrying out any kind of long-distance relationship was tricky, but when the one at the other end of said distance was a princess due to inherit a throne, it took complicated to a whole new level. But Prompto was already getting commendations in the Crownsguard, it was rumored that Nyx was in talks to take over as captain after Drautos, and, well… Queen Sylva had married her chamberlain, right?

He still wasn’t sure what he was going to tell his dad.

“Hey!” Ignis’ hands jerked on the wheel as Noct jumped down into his seat. “Specs, pull over. I think this is the place that Dave mentioned.”

“The dog tag?” Ignis asked. “Are you sure?”

Ignis pulled the Regalia over to the side of the road. On their way through Hammerhead, the four of them had run into a Hunter who needed help obtaining the dog tags of other fallen Hunters in the field. This latest one was tricky—the man in question had taken up a base of operations in an old shack, and Noct had spent the last hour scanning the horizon for anything fitting Dave’s description. Now, he pointed down a slope, where a decrepit wooden building sagged in the high ferns. There was also a pack of voretooth there, and the glint of metal in a patch of trampled grass.

“Shit,” Gladio said. He summoned his sword before he was out the door.

Prompto scouted in front, ducking behind a rock to fire a shot that would weaken all monsters in a thirty foot radius. Then Gladio charged in, a tornado of concentrated fury, followed by Ignis, who directed Prompto and Noct to the stragglers at the edge of the pack.

It was over in minutes, but by the time they examined the suspicious patch of grass, it was clear they were too late.

“Poor guy,” Noct said, holding up the dog tag in one hand. He looked to Prompto, who still hadn’t banished his guns. Prompto stood at the door of the shack, a gun in one hand, the other on the latch.

“I heard something move,” he whispered.

“Careful.” Ignis stood at Prompto’s back, between the door and Noct. Prompto nodded, and gently eased the door open.

Nothing was there. The shack was small, with a bed in one corner, a plastic tub in the other, and a stack of supplies piled precariously next to a camp stove. Ignis shrugged, but Prompto took another step inside.

There was a faint shuffling sound at the foot of the bed.

“Prompto,” Gladio said, but Prompto raised a hand. The gun he held disappeared in a flash of blue, and the young Crownsguard soldier knelt on the floor, ducking down to peer into the dark under the bed.

There was the shuffling again, and a whisper, hoarse and small and barely audible in the breathless silence of the shack.

Da?