Listen, child. The Astrals all had a hand in creation, but we were creatures of Etro first.
The Goddess was first, and we are hers.
It is her form that we take. It is in her light that our souls find their way.
It is her wings that we have been given, so that they may not forget.
In the land of Eos, every person has wings.
Every pair is different: feathered, folded, iridescent and glittering or mottled and dark, blues and greens or reds and purples, black like pitch or pure white like chalk. Some have wingspans larger than they are tall; some have delicate narrow wings, folded close to the shoulderblades. Some ruffle as they walk, and some sway, and some trail. Some control their feathers better than others.
Not everybody can soar into the sky. Some can flutter, some can glide, some can drift. Some like to hover close to the ground. The gods made all kinds, people would say. There's a reason we have the wings we were given.
Prompto's not like them.
The first time anybody looks at Prompto with pity is when he is five years old.
They are sitting in a circle at school, listening to the old stories. The children in the front flutter excitedly around their teacher, straining for a look at the pages of the picture book in her hand.
Is that the Goddess?
She looks like a warrior.
She looks like my mother.
I like her dress.
Does she have a sword?
Can I meet her?
A little girl sitting nearby Prompto with tiny golden wings looks at him and touches his hand quietly.
It's just a fairy story, she whispers to him, sympathy in her gaze.
Prompto, who understands at last that he is different, looks at her until his eyes swim hotly. Then he pulls his hand away.
When his classmates' parents come to take them home, Prompto watches the children giggle as they're held and swung through the air, flapping their arms as they could lift off on their own.
Prompto's parents always walk him through the park, both feet on the ground.
His parents are kind to him. He knows he isn't theirs, not by blood. They still love him like he's their own, and when he chokes up, they rub his back and give him hot cocoa and wait with him until he's strong again. They've done what they can for him, more than anybody could expect. He tries to be strong for them. They're gone so often, and he doesn't want them to worry.
As he gets older, he learns to pull his jacket closer around him. To hunch behind his backpack, so people don't notice. He learns not look at people for too long. He doesn't want to give them the chance to look back.
People at school barely glance at him. Sometimes, they'll try to be kind, and that's even harder — Prompto with his ears burning, knowing that he'll never really be enough. Worse is when they mutter about him, and someone will shush them, and he has to get up and leave and pretend he hasn't heard.
Who, Chocobo Kid?
Shh! You can't say that!
His hair looks like a chocobo!
They say chocobos used to be able to fly.
Don't be a jerk.
He knows he's different. Sympathy's better than the alternative. He shouldn't be angry.
Oftentimes Cindy, beautiful Cindy with her green eyes and hair like a cloud and gold feathers like the sunshine stretching out to the sky, looks at him knowingly and taps her foot against his. She'll say,
S'all right, hon. Chin up. Some got their heads in the clouds and still can't see the beauty all 'round them.
Cindy's always off by herself too, just like Prompto, but that's because Cindy was meant for wild winds, for storm fronts and stratosphere. None of the other boys or girls can catch her, and Cindy doesn't care. Cindy laughs and darts away, and they'll just have to settle for loving her from afar.
Cindy smiles at Prompto and ruffles his hair, and asks to see his pictures. Cindy makes Prompto smile.
Cindy is how Prompto knows they're right, about wings and souls. Nobody's as beautiful as Cindy, inside or out.
Outside the walls of the city, Prompto understands that things are much more dangerous. There are more news reports every day about the fighting, about the clashes on the border between the Insomnian Guard and the Imperial forces. They have flying machines, people whisper. Immortal soldiers. Cursed things with fire and blades that don't need to eat or drink— things that can slice a soldier clean through.
Prompto doesn't like to pay more attention than he needs to. He moves past the headlines on the store shelves, skims through the music section instead. He tries not to listen.
That attack last week. Have you — ?
She made it. They're bringing her back when they can.
Will she be — ?
They don't know. Doctor says she might lose a wing.
Gods. I'm sorry, I can't imagine...
Yeah. She'll pull through. She always does.
Fucking Niffs. They should be shot out of the sky, all of them.
Prompto flips through a photography magazine and tries to imagine himself in all the exotic places he sees on the pages. He tries to imagine the view.
Early in the day, before the people of Insomnia come out and take wing, Prompto runs.
He runs until he's out of breath, heart pounding, feet barely skimming the dust beneath him.
Sometimes, with the wind in his hair, he feels like he could almost fly.
There's a boy in his class.
In a room full of teenagers who are just starting to grow out their adult feathers, who flutter about excitedly and like to flash their wings to show off, the boy immediately catches Prompto's attention.
The boy has dark hair, eyes like midnight, an expressionless face. He's slight, pale, almost fragile-looking. He sits by the window and doesn't speak very often.
His parents are important, people say. They gossip about why he's here. Was he thrown out of his household? Did he run off? Was there a scandal of some sort? A threat to his safety?
The boy doesn't acknowledge any of the whispers.
Why are you here?
"To learn math," he says, deadpan.
Prompto doesn't know. Prompto doesn't care. None of that is what catches his attention.
The boy has no wings.
Prompto agonizes over approaching him for weeks.
He watches from afar, sure the boy will make other friends. He might not seem to have wings, but he's graceful and polite and handsome, and the girls seem fond of him. Surely, he'll be well-liked. Surely, he'll fit in. Surely, Prompto won't have a chance to speak to him before he's swept up by someone better.
Prompto tries to brace himself for confirmation that even a boy with no wings could be happy, popular, loved, if only he wasn't Prompto.
But time passes, and the boy still sits alone.
Prompto jumps in the middle of history class. Someone's tapped him on the shoulder.
He turns. It's the boy.
The boy passes him a scrap of paper.
Fell asleep. What chapter are we on?
Prompto stares. He writes back.
The boy catches his eye and mouths thanks. He goes back to his book.
Prompto tries to slow his heartbeat all the way through to chapter thirteen.
The boy misses school sometimes.
A day or two here, sometimes even a week. The teachers don't pay it any mind — maybe they expect it. He usually seems to be on top of his studies, or maybe he's got tutoring arranged somewhere to make up for missed lessons.
The other students don't really pay it any mind either. Only Prompto finds himself looking for the dark head of hair whenever he arrives in the morning. When the boy isn't there, Prompto feels a twinge of disappointment.
Prompto finds a sunny afternoon when the wind's not too bad and the traffic is slow. There are people playing basketball on the court nearby. The leaves rustle on the trees in the park. He fixes his hair for the third time.
Prompto takes a deep breath. He clenches his hands into fists. He approaches.
The boy looks up.
Prompto says, "Hey."
The boy smiles. "Hey."
And that's that.
Prompto, darlin', proud of ya! Cindy beams. It's called friends. S'where everythin' starts.
The boy's name is Noct.
People are nice to Prompto when he's around.
They're not especially mean to Prompto when Noct isn't around; most of the other children outgrew their meanness by high school. Maybe they were tired of it. But none of them really took notice of Prompto or went out of their way to talk to him before.
Now, when Prompto walks into a classroom, he knows he'll have a seat. He knows that when he gets a good grade he can show it to someone, and when he gets a bad grade he can groan about it and Noct will smile.
They eat lunch together and they study together. Noct sometimes shares his food with Prompto (it's always delicious). Prompto teaches Noct a few card games, and they get their cards taken away once for playing in class.
Other students sit with them sometimes. They look at Prompto in the eye now, and he can make them laugh — laugh with him, not at him.
Prompto is thrown the first time Noct beckons him, leans over, and mutters in his ear: "Wanna skip class this afternoon?"
Prompto's never missed class. He's never had a reason to.
"Hell yeah," Prompto whispers back, and Noct grins, slow and lazy.
Noct gets tired easily. He always seems bored, and he can fall asleep just about anywhere. Prompto gets the feeling sometimes that Noct gets drained just listening to Prompto talk, but whenever Noct seems to drift off, Prompto stops, and then Noct always goes, "So? Then what?"
Noct is the first one to learn that Prompto hates bugs, that he gets a stomachache after eating curry, that his phone password is the same as his laptop password, and that he's got very good aim. Prompto is the first to learn that Noct's moved schools twice already, that he has a part-time job on weekends, and that he only drinks coffee with three lumps of sugar or more in it. Prompto doesn't tell Noct everything, but sometimes Noct is curious, and Prompto finds that he doesn't mind.
When Prompto gets a new bike, Noct is the first one to see it. Noct sits on the handlebars, and they make it a block past the hill before tumbling into a yelling heap on the grass.
Prompto doesn't know much about Noct, but Prompto gets it if Noct doesn't like to talk about some things. Maybe that's why they get along so well.
It's a long time before Prompto brings it up, casual. He puts his hands behind his head, looks at the sky, and he tries not to stammer.
"So hey, I noticed..."
Noct looks at him, puzzled.
"Just, you... you don't have wings."
Noct gives him a funny look. "Who says I don't?" he laughs.
"I can't see... I didn't... oh." His parents had told him once that some people like to hide their wings. If a person folds them up tight, oftentimes you can't even see them. Prompto can get away with going unnoticed for a little while, if he stays out of the way, because you can't always tell.
"I don't see yours either," Noct says.
"Yeah, well, I... I guess that's true."
Inside, Prompto feels a little let down. He shouldn't. He shouldn't hope for more people to be like him. But he'd hoped... maybe. Well.
Most of all, Prompto feels like... like... he fits, when Noct is around. Like the feeling of missing is gone, just for a while.
Noct stays at an apartment further from school than Prompto's, and they always walk home together. He always smiles at Prompto when they part at the corner. Prompto always lingers wistfully for a minute, reluctant to go home and be on his own.
Near the end of the semester, Prompto's chattering away when he realizes that Noct has stopped walking.
Prompto trails off. "Where're you going?" They're at the big intersection leading up to the city centre. Prompto's street is still a ways further.
Noct nods apologetically down the main road. "Home for the weekend," he says.
"Home? Where do you live?"
"Up at the Citadel."
Prompto'd completely forgotten. Noct never talks about his family.
All the rumors race back to the forefront of Prompto's mind — kicked out, scandal, dangerous — but all he manages to say is, "Wow. Fancy. Your parents do something important?"
Noct smiles. "Something like that."
Noct slings his bag over his shoulder, his uniform sleeves rolled up in the summer heat. He doesn't seem to have anything with him other than his books, but then if he lives at the Citadel, he probably doesn't need to pack anything.
Prompto stands still. Noct seems to be waiting for him to say goodbye and continue on. He's so used to watching Noct walk away that he doesn't know how to make his feet move first.
But Noct doesn't seem to be in any hurry. Standing in the shadow of the glass buildings nearby, he shrugs and looks down towards the Citadel. "You should come by sometime."
Prompto blinks. "Yeah. Sure," he says.
Prompto makes himself walk away, feeling Noct's eyes on his back.
He gets to the end of the block before letting himself look. Noct's still there. When Prompto waves goodbye, he waves back.
He's never asked if Noct can fly.
Noct doesn't fly, though. He walks Prompto home every day, and he says goodbye on the corner, and Prompto watches him until he disappears. His feet never leave the ground.
When Noct had said he should come by sometime, Prompto had agreed, but he hadn't actually expected Noct to invite him over.
He's never been to this part of the city, though he's passed through on the train enough times. The Citadel can be seen from almost anywhere in Insomnia, towers glimmering in the sun, but navigating the grounds is entirely different.
It sure is an intimidating place up close. Everything is so grand. Even the streets seem to sparkle, the lamps are polished to a sheen, and the white concrete is spotless. People in uniform or in formal wear come and go, wings folded neatly, no-nonsense strides setting them apart from groups of civilians fluttering and milling about with pamphlets. Everybody here is either on important business, or a tourist. Prompto guesses he's the latter.
Prompto stops to look at the directions on his phone yet again. Come up at noon, was all Noct's message said. I'll find you at the gate. Noct had not deigned to mention that there were six gates into the grounds, and that each was set about a mile apart from the next.
Prompto eventually chooses one that seems to be open for the public and slouches in past the guards. He enters into sprawling gardens and tries to follow a group of people who seem to know where they're going, but finds himself hopelessly lost again fifteen minutes later. There are paths that branch out and cross the grounds, shaded by trees and lined by hedges and flower beds, and none of them seem to indicate where they lead.
He should've brought his camera. Or a map. That might have been more important.
As he wanders closer to a wing of the building with white stone arches, Prompto slowly gets the feeling that he may be trespassing. There are no tourists around here. The grass and foliage is well-maintained like the rest of the place, but there doesn't seem to be anyone around. Perhaps this area is out of use, or maybe everybody is busy at this time of day.
Prompto hears a crash from inside. He freezes. There's shouting.
Okay, maybe he should leave.
Prompto just picks a direction and starts to walk. He should probably just call Noct at this point; the embarrassment of being lost can't be worse than the embarrassment of being arrested for being somewhere he shouldn't. Prompto looks up, trying to figure out if there's any sort of landmark he can describe to give Noct an idea of where he is. The only thing he can see is a rather nondescript bench.
Maybe his frantic air is what gives him away, because seemingly out of nowhere, someone addresses him.
"Hey. You lost?"
Prompto whirls around.
A man a few years older than Prompto is standing in the shade, eyeing him quizzically. He's nearly a good foot taller than Prompto, dressed in all black. A scar makes it look like someone tried to bisect his face, and Prompto's willing to bet that whoever it was probably didn't survive the attempt.
"Uh," Prompto says.
"You new here? Where are you assigned?"
"I'm not," Prompto says. "Assigned. I'm a visitor."
"Yeah," Prompto stammers. "I'm supposed to be meeting someone."
"Strange place for a meeting."
"No, I mean my friend Noct was supposed to find me at the gate, but he didn't tell me which gate, and I'm kind of — "
Prompto feels everything grind to a halt. "What... how do you know my name?"
The man looks amazed. "No kidding. You're the kid Noct talks about."
Prompto has too many questions. "Wait, kid? Noct talks about me? You know him?"
The guy grins. "Who doesn't?" He closes the distance between himself and Prompto. "He probably meant the inner gate, if that helps. 'Course, it'd be better if he was around to show you himself, but if I know Noct, he's probably running late."
That does sound like Noct. "Yeah," Prompto says, relieved. "I was gonna call him, but I'm... not exactly sure where I am right now."
The guy squints at the sun, then looks back at Prompto thoughtfully. He says, "I think he forgets not everybody can just walk in here."
Prompto scratches the back of his head, embarrassed. "Yeah, I guess."
The guy shakes his head. "Don't worry. Hang on." He reaches into his jacket pocket for his phone. He presses a few buttons. He turns away. "Hey, Noct. I found your friend. He's down at the training grounds." There's a pause and a chuckle. "That's a good question."
The guy seems familiar with him. Prompto can't hear what Noct is saying. He tries not to fidget.
"Yeah, right. I'll keep him around, you come down and get him yourself." The guy hangs up. "He's going to be late. But he's coming."
"Thanks. Uh..." Prompto glances around uncomfortably. "I guess I should wait."
The guy looks Prompto up and down. "You can stick with me until he gets down here," he says.
"Me? No, no, I don't want to bother you or — "
"Come on, I've got a meeting." The guy turns and starts walking.
Prompto, not seeing any better option, follows.
A guard addresses Prompto as they approach an entryway, asking for identification.
The guy waves him off. "He's with me."
The guard nods, and they proceed through the gates into the corridor. Prompto has to nearly run to keep up. "Thanks. Uh..."
"Gladio," the guy says. "I'm with the Crownsguard." He shrugs. "I saw you wandering around outside the training grounds back there and I thought you were one of us."
"Oh." Prompto absorbs this. It seems like a strange assumption to make. As far as he knows, nobody has ever looked at Prompto and thought, he looks like one of us. "How do you know Noct?"
Gladio finally frowns and stops to stare at him. "You really are new around here, huh?"
"Well, I've... never been here before."
Gladio starts walking again. "Gladiolus Amicitia," he reintroduces himself. "Crownsguard and future Shield of the Crown Prince of Lucis."
Shit, that sounds familiar. Prompto feels himself pale. "That's... an important job."
Gladio shrugs again. "He can be a pain in the ass, but he's an important kid," he says.
Prompto's glad he's trailing a few steps behind, because he's beginning to feel slightly light-headed. "You mean Noct?"
"Yeah, and you can tell him I said that. Pain in the ass." Gladio turns down a hallway into a room lined with lockers.
Prompto's steps falter. Maybe he should've... asked Noct... exactly what his parents did.
Gladio's opened a locker, and Prompto stands at the other end of the row to give him some privacy. This day is getting more and more surreal. "You know Noct once spilled dumpling sauce down his arm and licked it off?" That Noct. "And he copies my answers during history quizzes?" Crown Prince. "And he uh, he once stole my shoes because his were wet, so I stole his umbrella?" Holy shit.
"Sounds like him," Gladio snorts. He slams the locker shut.
"He hasn't really mentioned you," Prompto says weakly. Or any of this.
Gladio raises a brow, then heads towards the other end of the locker room. "Guess he doesn't talk about us much."
The door at the other end of the locker room opens into a short, narrow hallway with bare sandstone walls. Bright sunshine pours in from the entryway at the other end of it. Gladio walks towards the light, and Prompto follows hesitantly.
The hallway opens up into a huge space that makes Prompto stop short.
It's not exactly outside. He couldn't call it a courtyard either. It's a massive enclosed pit that looks old, ancient; they've emerged at the top of it, and there's a walkway around the perimeter, lined with stone benches. The middle falls deep away, so steeply that Prompto can't see the bottom. It must be a mile deep.
Towering stone and concrete formations soar up from the ground, forming plateaus, arches, ledges. Some of it is covered in soft sand, other parts in underbrush, greenery. The terrain looks to be varied to mimic the badlands in the further territories of Lucis outside of Insomnia. A crumbling bridge extends out into the middle of the pit.
Prompto knows just by looking. These are the training grounds where the soldiers learn to fight.
Gladio is setting his equipment bag down on a stone bench. "Noct knows to find us here," he says. "I've got a sparring session scheduled."
Prompto is still looking out over the pit, awed and dizzy. He wishes he had his camera. He takes a step closer to the edge.
You'll fall, a voice whispers in his mind. And you won't stop falling.
His vertigo makes him jerk back. He looks away, back at Gladio. He swallows.
Gladio straightens up and studies him. "You're welcome to join us," he says, tilting his head towards the pit.
"I'm..." Prompto hugs himself involuntarily. "I'd better not, you know." He doesn't have to lie. "I don't think... I think I'd look bad next to you, and all."
Gladio looks amused. "Sure. But just so you know, we got the place to ourselves this afternoon."
And Gladio turns and takes his jacket off, and Prompto's heart stops.
He doesn't have wings either.
No, that's not right.
He has wings, but they're different.
The feathers are ink. Not the color of ink, but ink on skin — the feathers climb down his arms, like something alive, and when he raises them, they move —
— and they stretch —
— become light —
and Prompto forgets to breathe.
Gladio flexes his wings, shadow and light flickering, as he walks up the bridge to the centre of the grounds. He rolls his shoulders and gives them a light beat. Prompto can feel the warm wind, the dust whipping up.
He hasn't been this close to anyone really using their wings for as long as he can remember. Prompto feels his own shoulderblades ache. But then he hasn't seen anyone with wings like this before.
Gladio takes a running leap. The wings catch the air, a cracking sound like thunder. His feet touch down on a pillar across the way before he pushes off again.
Prompto is so transfixed, he doesn't notice someone else walking up the passageway.
The voice comes from behind him. "Good day." Prompto starts and turns.
The man before him is sharp-featured, dressed crisply, weapons pouches strapped with leather to his hips and shins, gloves on his hands. He nods at Prompto politely, as if he'd expected him to be there.
"Back at ya," Prompto says, trying to calm his heartbeat.
He flicks his gaze past Prompto. "Quite the place, isn't it?" The man is slender and pale and — when Prompto looks, he's scarred, too, a burn mark marring the skin behind his spectacles. But he removes them and folds them, and Prompto can see a strange blue light in his eyes. "It's not quite like anywhere else in the Citadel."
Prompto struggles for something to say. "Definitely," he settles on.
"Nor," the man says dryly, catching sight of Gladio, "is there a show-off quite like this one anywhere else in the Citadel."
"Except for the one standing right there," Gladio says over his shoulder. Prompto looks between the two of them. Gladio greets the man. "Iggy. Thought you'd be late today."
"Is that an excuse to be late yourself?"
"I thought I'd give you a chance to warm up."
Gladio grins. "Good."
The man sets his glasses aside.
He smiles, and he runs, and he leaps off the ledge.
The wings that burst from his shoulders are brilliant blue fire, the same light. They spread out wider than the man is tall, flashing and leaving afterimages when Prompto blinks; the feathers seem to shed drops of flame that dissipate in midair. Prompto can feel their heat.
Gladio laughs. Another crack of the air, and he's soaring up, up into the open space above the pit, and the other man follows him, a snap of razor feathers and a falling dive before he whirls back towards the sun. Prompto can see the gleam of blades in their hands, the wicked edge to their smiles.
"How about we start light?" Gladio calls.
The other man smirks. "How about we make this a challenge?"
Gladio gives his sword a quick experimental swing. Across from him, there's the spin of a pair of daggers.
Prompto watches, mouth open, as they circle each other.
Afterwards, when Ignis has bid them farewell and Gladio's packing up his things at the side of the pit, Prompto speaks. "You don't have wings."
Gladio stops and looks at Prompto like he's crazy.
Prompto fumbles for words. "No, I mean... how... how did they get like that?" He stops. He continues. "I've... I've never seen..."
Gladio sits back on the bench, elbows on his knees. "Ones like ours?"
There's a moment of quiet.
Then Gladio says, "Well, I can't speak for Iggy. You'll have to ask him yourself. I can't promise he'll tell ya, but it's his story to tell."
Prompto thinks of the blue light behind the man's eyes. "Okay."
"As for me," Gladio's eyes are warm and amused, "Story's long and involves some history lessons. Don't wanna bore ya, unless you got time for a drink."
Prompto coughs. "Can't really drink yet." Not officially, anyway. A few more months to go.
"Rain check then," Gladio says. "Everybody's born with wings. Sometimes we just don't get them until later."
Someone calls out. "Oi!"
Prompto and Gladio look up. A familiar dark-haired figure slouches near the entrance. It lifts a hand in a wave.
Gladio stands up as he slings his bag over his shoulder. He raises his voice. "Well, look who's here. How many naps did you take on the way?"
"Yeah, yeah," Noct rolls his eyes. "Prompto, come on." He slips back out the door.
Prompto stares at the Crown Prince's retreating back.
When he glances back at Gladio, the man is watching him, evaluating.
Gladio finally speaks. "Have you ever seen Noct's wings?"
Prompto... "I haven't," Prompto whispers.
Gladio gives him a measured look. "Maybe you oughta ask him about them."
Gladio hangs back to let Prompto go first. Prompto steps slowly. He skates past the edge of the pit to follow Noct out, lights still fizzing in front of his eyes.
Prompto looks out over Insomnia, sun in his eyes, and wonders how many people would kill to have a view from this particular balcony.
From the training grounds, Noct had led them up through the courtyards, the gold gates, through airy marble lobbies and red-carpeted walkways, through galleries full of velvet hangings and stone vases and old oil paintings, through sitting rooms with glass roofs and burbling fountains. On another day, Prompto would've stopped to take in the sights. Noct would've had to wait, probably with his arms crossed and an impatient scowl, as Prompto poked around in amazement. This day, Prompto had been too gobsmacked to do anything but follow behind the Prince quietly.
"They didn't freak you out, did they?" Noct had asked, concerned.
"Gladio and Iggy. They're supposed to look after me and they can get kind of overbearing," Noct had said. "If they gave you a hard time, it's just because we're friends."
"Oh. No." Prompto didn't point out that if anybody, it should've been Noct he'd be intimidated by. But Noct had looked at him the same way he always had, the same slight frown and leisurely walk, and Prompto had kept it to himself.
Noct had led them up an elevator, nodding to the guard standing outside. "We can go up to my place. I can have food ordered in," he'd offered.
"Sure," Prompto had said. They'd ridden the rest of the way in silence.
Noct's chambers in the Citadel were more of a penthouse apartment setup than any sort of Royal Stateroom Prompto might've imagined. They were still really impressive. There was a living room with a top-notch entertainment system and some uncomfortable-looking couches, a neatly-organized study with a broad polished wooden desk and wide glass windows, a dining room that looked like it'd never been eaten in, and a kitchen that looked entirely unused. A set of stairs led up to what Prompto assumed was a loft. The whole place was larger than the house Prompto had grown up in, and was probably more than four times the size of his apartment now. Prompto had assumed it looked so neat mainly because Noct was barely ever there.
Noct had wasted no time flopping onto a couch and turning on the entertainment set. "There's soda in the fridge," Noct had said. "Check it out and get what you want."
Prompto had, instead, chosen to nudge aside one heavy curtain on the far wall.
Noct, seeing him peer out the set of wide glass doors, had done something with the controls from the couch. The doors had clicked open on their own. Prompto had stepped outside.
Here, on a balcony sporting views few could boast to have seen, with the city of Insomnia stretched out before him and the clouds close enough to touch, Prompto wonders if being in the sky is supposed to make you feel this small.
"Can you see your house from here?"
Prompto looks over his shoulder. Noct is leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed.
"Nah," Prompto says. "But you sure can see far."
"Yeah. It's one of the few places where you can see past the Wall," Noct says. "At night, sometimes you can see the daemons roaming around out there."
Prompto shudders. "Good thing they don't fly, huh," he says, quietly.
Noct shoots him a strange look. "Some do," he says. "But they don't like the Wall."
Prompto tightens his hands on the railing, feeling the breeze on the back of his neck.
When Prompto doesn't answer, Noct frowns and stands up, unfolding his arms. "We can go somewhere else if you want," he tries. "How about the central gardens? There's a place nearby there with really good sandwiches — "
"How come you never show your wings?"
Noct goes still.
Prompto turns, his back to the city, and looks at Noct.
"I..." Noct seems at a loss for words for the first time since Prompto's known him. He steps forward. "What are you talking about?"
"Why don't you ever show off your wings?" Prompto says.
Noct scratches his head. He tries for a laugh. It comes out awkward. "I... guess I didn't think it mattered."
"I don't... it's not a big deal." Noct drops his hand.
Prompto's mouth shuts. He hears rushing in his ears. He realizes, strangely, that he's angry. "Then why do you hide them?"
Noct's frustrated now, too. "I don't know. Why do you? Why does it make a difference?"
"Can I..." Prompto's voice threatens to crack. He pushes on. "Can I see them?"
"What? No. I don't like people staring, okay?"
Noct looks at Prompto, equal parts defensive and afraid. Prompto's not sure why. What does he have to fear, up here in the sky? Why should it matter to him? Noct can choose. Noct doesn't need to hide anything.
Prompto feels the fight drain out of him. He unclenches his hands. It's not Noct's fault. It doesn't make a difference to him. Not the way it does for Prompto.
Suddenly, he just wants to leave.
"You know," Prompto says, feeling sick, "I think I gotta head home for today. Thanks for having me. I'll just show myself out."
"Prompto, what are you talking about?"
Prompto pushes past Noct and into the apartment. He has to let his eyes adjust to the sudden darkness, and as he blinks, looking around for the door, Noct says, "Wait."
Noct is standing on the balcony in the sun, summer wind ruffling his hair. He looks uneasily at Prompto through the curtained doors. There's a defiance to him.
Finally, he seems to make up his mind and sighs. He turns begrudgingly.
With the noontime city lit up like a sea behind him, Noct unfolds his wings.
Prompto has never seen anything like them on Eos.
Like Gladio's and Ignis's, they start with a shimmer, like a trick of the light. But then the feathers unfold, gleaming and faultless. They're pure black, edged with scattered gold, blades like midnight sky; and as Prompto looks, they change, ever-moving, crystal and glass, leaving luminous blue sparks behind in the surrounding air. They're bright, brighter than any wings he'd seen before, too bright to look at for long.
Prompto steps forward. He reaches out, almost without thinking. Noct flinches away at first, then lets Prompto touch a feather. It's like touching warm metal, heat and silk.
"Do..." Prompto breathes. "Can you..."
Noct evades his gaze. But he steps back. With a fluid movement, he pushes up, one foot on the railing, and then he dives into the sky.
Watching Noct fly is like watching a streak of lightning. He barely seems to move as he hangs in the air, but he takes a step, and the air splits, and he takes another step. Prompto can barely track him as he darts across the sky, just shapes like dancing, light imprints left behind, Noct hovering over the city, over his city, like an Astral from the old paintings.
Prompto doesn't know how long he watches Noct from the shadow of the apartment.
Noct zags a circuit around the Citadel, and then he's back in front of his balcony, just beyond the railing, cheeks flushed, frozen in the air.
Softly, he steps back onto the railing.
And then his feet touch the ground again.
Prompto's voice is still caught in his throat. Noct looks up at him. There's a challenge flashing in his eyes.
"You can go now if you want," Noct says. His voice sounds cold, but Prompto hears the bitterness underneath it. It's a dare.
Prompto shouldn't have pushed Noct. Noct had never asked Prompto for anything. But Prompto had to. He had to see. Noct can't understand why, but —
Prompto's mouth curves. He lets out a short, semi-hysterical laugh.
Prompto turns around, and slowly, slowly, slides his shirt over his head.
Noct sucks in a breath, and the quiet rings in Prompto's ears.
Noct steps forward. Prompto stands in the middle of the apartment, back bare, eyes fixed on the wall ahead of him.
Noct touches the scars, and he says, voice strange and tight, "What happened?"
"I don't know," Prompto says, voice small. "It's always been like this. My parents say I was found like this."
"Why?" Noct says, as if Prompto doesn't want to know himself, as if Prompto hadn't wondered about the same for years.
Prompto tugs the shirt back over his head, hands shaking. "Does it matter?"
Prompto turns and sees Noct's stricken look.
"Prompto," he says, wings glowing blue-white-transparent, "I'm sorry."
"It's fine," Prompto says.
"Prompto — "
Prompto's vision blurs. He turns and walks, runs, runs until he can't feel his feet.
When he gets back, Cindy takes one look at him and takes him into her arms, soft down and the smell of motor oil enveloping him.
Oh, sweetheart, she says gently, What'd they do to you?
Prompto just buries his head into her neck.
Prompto knows that Noct's trying to get a hold of him. There's messages on his phone, just a few short ones, and Prompto can't bear to read them.
His apartment feels small and cramped now. His parents won't be in town for another month. He doesn't want to wait for Noct to show up at his door.
Come out to Hammerhead with Pawpaw an' me, we'll get that sunshine back into ya, Cindy had said.
So Prompto goes, out into the dustlands past the Wall. He figures he won't be missed.
Hammerhead is pleasant. Sure it's hot and dry all the time, and there are packs of teethed creatures and crawling things with stingers that make Prompto jump. But the folks are friendly, and the pace is slower, and people don't ignore Prompto like they used to do back home. The garage doesn't have much space, but there's a caravan Cid and Cindy have set up, and they let Prompto stay there for as long as he wants so long as he helps out around the shop.
The work is good. Cindy lets him handle the simpler stuff. Prompto finds he's good with machinery; he likes messing around with the details, tinkering until something works the way it's supposed to, sweat and grease and oil and polish. Cindy teaches him how to drive stick, and lets him take some of the old cars out. She doesn't even complain when he drives too fast and stops too short — just holds onto her hat and grins.
Takka at the diner always gives Prompto a discount on his favorite foods. Prompto goes out to gather ingredients for him sometimes, and always gets to try out the new dishes. Prompto even meets a few of the local hunters, who laugh and let Prompto sit in when they tell stories around the campfire, their tattered old wings smelling like smoke and mud.
Prompto types Noct a short message, just to let him know he's okay. I'll be out for a while. He hesitates, but sends it, and then shuts his phone in a drawer.
After a few days of watching the sun rise and set over the roads and the campgrounds, Prompto starts to forget that he ever even tried to belong anywhere else.
A group of scavengers travelling on chocoback come through the post one day, stopping for food and equipment. Prompto approaches breathlessly, cautiously. They let Prompto feed the chocobos, show him how to pet the birds just right, how to hold the reins.
The next day he has off, Prompto spends his pocket money on a chocobo rental. He strokes the bird's feathers just behind the neck. It purrs beneath his hand. He spurs it on over the landscape.
The bird might not fly, but it runs fast, faster than Prompto ever managed to run back in the city. Prompto races halfway to the Slough before he turns back.
Prompto will go back sometime.
Maybe Noct will have forgotten about their fight by then.
Maybe Noct will have forgotten about him by then.
One overcast morning, Prompto arrives at the garage and finds it empty. The lights are on, but nobody is around. The air seems still outside, too; there aren't any customers in the diner, and Prompto can hear the occasional police siren echoing from down the road.
He goes around back to see Cid with his hat low, Cindy leaning worriedly over the counter, listening to the radio in the glow of the workroom. They look up at Prompto when he walks in.
There's been an attack on the Crown City. The Citadel is in lockdown.
Prompto barely hears the whole report before he's out the door, hands numb, fumbling with his whistle. He feels as if there's frost in his joints.
He makes it back to the West Gate into Insomnia, but the Guard has a blockade set up, patrolling the air and the road. They're not letting anybody in or out. People crowd around on their phones, trying to get in touch with loved ones inside the city. A radio crackles where someone has set it on the pavement. No new information is available at this time.
Prompto's phone is out of battery. He looks up at the Wall helplessly.
Prompto gets back to Hammerhead and plugs in his charger. He waits for the battery to tick to life, then scrolls to his text messages. There are no new ones.
Noct, I heard about the attack. Where are you? Are you okay?
The message sits there for the rest of the day, and no reply comes.
The next morning, a car pulls up at the garage.
Cindy, Cid and Prompto have been at the shop since the middle of the night, fiddling with broken machines in silence. None of them had been able sleep. Now, Cindy peers out the window, somber, and goes out to meet the customer. She speaks with the driver briefly, then comes back in — Prompto, sweetie, it's for you.
Prompto goes out, wiping his hands on his trousers. He recognizes the man with the glasses in the driver's seat.
"Hey," he says.
Ignis says, "Get in."
The car is the classiest Prompto's ever seen, glossy black and silver. The windows are tinted, the paint polished and waxed to shining. Prompto wonders briefly if the doors are bulletproof.
"The ride isn't exactly inconspicuous," he says as he gets into the passenger's side. Anywhere but old Hammerhead, they might not stand out so much.
"Better than the open air for a conversation," Ignis says. He parks at the side of the road, pulling the break.
Prompto twists in his leather seat. He feels cold in the pit of his stomach. "Where's Noct? Is he okay?"
"He's with Gladio," Ignis says. He glances down at the phone in his hand. "He's fine."
Prompto feels himself sag with relief. "Are you sure?"
Ignis's gaze is sharp, but he seems reassured by Prompto's anxiety. "I can still see, so yes," Ignis says, wry. "But you may hear for yourself."
Ignis holds up the phone, and Prompto takes it.
"Hey," Prompto says, holding the phone to his ear.
"Prompto. Are you okay?" Noct sounds strangled. "You weren't at your apartment — "
"Yeah, I'm okay," Prompto says. "My family — they're out of town right now. I'm staying with Cindy."
"Gods. I was — I was worried, you idiot. Why — why didn't you — "
"I texted you," Prompto says. "I texted you yesterday. Why didn't you text me back?"
"I didn't have my phone by then," Noct says. "And — I couldn't have anyway, the line wouldn't have been secure." Noct exhales shakily. "Prompto, I'm so sorry."
"No," Prompto swallows. "Just — you're okay? Things are okay?"
There's a pause, and Noct's voice has an agitated tone when he starts again. "Yeah. They got — they got Gladio, a bit. We should've been more ready. I don't know — " He trails off. "Look, just stay where you are. I'll come find you."
"Out here?" The roads are still fairly deserted, though passerby have been seeking shelter at the diner while waiting for word from inside the city. Nobody's looking for Prompto, but Noct... "Is it safe?"
"Safer there than here, probably. You stay put. Just — wait for me."
The line cuts out before Prompto can say anything else.
Ignis is watching him, his hands folded on the top of the steering wheel. His face is grave and impassive. Prompto wonders how much the man knows about him; how many times he's been silent in the background of Prompto and Noct's conversations, listening in, saying nothing.
"Did he... did Noct tell you what happened?" Prompto says.
"You'll have to be more specific," Ignis says, not unkindly.
"About me. About what I did," Prompto says.
Ignis pauses. "I look after Noct," he says. "But what happens between him and his friends is not my business unless it puts him into danger."
"Right," Prompto says. "I see."
Ignis takes the phone back. He shifts gears and pulls back around to the garage as Prompto looks out the window.
"Stay here for now," Ignis says to him. "I'll bring Noct around later."
Prompto nods, and is about to get out when Ignis speaks again.
"I will say," Ignis says, looking straight ahead, "His Highness can be rather thick about these things. But don't think he doesn't understand. More than you'd suspect."
Prompto looks back, hand on the door handle.
Ignis is wearing dark glasses, but Prompto can still see the scars on his face, long-faded scratches. He wonders again what had happened. The man's mostly covered, and the only skin showing is the gap between his gloves and the cuffs of his sleeves. Prompto wonders, without meaning to, if he has the same scars elsewhere. Prompto wonders if Ignis does know about him. He hadn't really answered Prompto's earlier question.
Ignis glances at him, faint blue glimmer behind the glasses. Prompto's starting to recognize the light.
He doesn't know what to say, so he merely exits the car and waits for Ignis to drive away.
Noct comes that afternoon.
It takes Prompto a moment to recognize him at the door. The Prince is in a casual jacket with a high collar and a baseball cap. He's paler than usual and there are dark smudges under his eyes, but aside from a cut on one cheek, he looks whole.
His eyes flick over Prompto from head to toe, and he seems to relax only when he's certain Prompto's okay.
"C'mon," Noct says. Prompto steps out and lets the caravan door bang shut behind them.
They climb up to the bluffs overlooking Hammerhead. The sky is gloomy, threatening rain, but no drops fall despite the humid air. Prompto can see for miles from here, the half-fallen utility poles, the scraggly green vegetation sprinkled across the cracked sand; the abandoned construction machinery on the roadside, the dualhorns roaming in the distance near the watering hole. The gleaming black car is parked some distance away at the bottom of the rocks. Prompto can't see the driver, but knows Ignis must be inside, watching over the Prince.
Noct turns to look at Prompto.
"What happened?" Prompto asks.
"There was supposed to be a treaty," Noct says. He looks tired. "Didn't go well."
"I'll say," Prompto says. "How's it like inside the city?" They still haven't been able to get much news out of Insomnia.
Noct looks haggard. "It's not pretty," he says. "It wasn't just the Citadel. The guard was able to help most of the people out of danger, but..." He rubs his face. "I wanted to look for you. I sent Ignis. Nobody had seen you, and I thought... I thought..."
Prompto winces. "Is Gladio okay?"
"Yeah. He'd say it's the other guys you should be worried about." Noct smiles and looks away, hands in his pockets. "It ain't the first time he's taken a hit for me. I'm just glad Iggy wasn't there this time," he says, and trails off, absently.
Prompto thinks about the slash across the big soldier's face. He thinks about Noct in his school uniform, Noct eating fast food, Noct poking around a sports shop for fishing gear while Prompto loitered around impatiently. He's an important kid. Noct probably doesn't like to talk about his family because of this, Prompto realizes. Things can go wrong so fast, and Noct, Noct isn't the only one who'll get hurt.
"Listen," Noct says awkwardly. He turns back to Prompto. "What I said..."
"No," Prompto says, guilt rising. "Noct, it was me. I shouldn't have — "
"No, I was wrong," Noct blurts. "I should've — I should've asked, or just — "
"No, I'm — I was glad," Prompto says. "I would've. I would've told you. Just..." He wants to say thank you to Noct for just being there, for being someone Prompto could tell, despite all their differences. For coming after him now. Prompto's still not sure why, but Noct is here, and — and Prompto's happy.
"I should've done something," Noct says, frustrated.
"Like what?" Prompto says. "You were fine, Noct, you were," Prompto swallows. He looks down. "You were great."
Noct looks at him like Prompto is the most infuriating person on the planet. Then he just sighs.
"Come here," he says.
They're already standing close together, and Prompto is confused for a second. Noct steps forward. He lifts his hand and places it on Prompto's chest.
"Tell me to stop if you want," he says.
There's a slow warmth and a glow. Prompto sucks in a breath. There's a burst of light, and then Prompto can feel
unfurling from his shoulders towards the grey sky,
silver and light and streaks like dawn, like something he almost remembers,
a pair of wings unfold.
Prompto looks down at himself. He looks wildly up at Noct. Noct steps back and lowers his hand again, biting his lip and assessing his handiwork.
Prompto twists, hand trembling. He touches a feather, dusted with gold. It's warm, sparking, and it feels familiar. He doesn't know how.
Softly, he stretches them, feeling muscles he thought he never had shift. It's like stretching after a long sleep, pleasing and strange.
He steps forward. He gives his wings a beat. He nearly lifts off the ground.
"Shit," Prompto breathes.
Noct chuckles. "Steady," he says.
Prompto sinks to the ground, and Noct follows him, hand hovering above his arm in case he needs assistance. Prompto tries to catch his breath. He has to try a few times before he figures out how to fold his wings, and then he keeps them close, fingertips against the feathers in disbelief.
"How... how did you...?"
Noct sits across from him, legs crossed. "The line of Lucis," he says. "My father's Glaives have the same. It's so that those who defend the King can — can follow him where he needs. Can fight for him. No matter what happens."
The words are bitter, and something whispers in Prompto's mind that maybe that's what it was meant for, but it wouldn't be enough for Noct. Not for the boy who kept his wings hidden all the time, who made his own guards laugh and liked to put his feet up on Prompto's lap when they sat outside during lunch.
"They're only like that when I'm still around," Noct says. "I can't heal. Not really. They'll repair, but — it's just temporary."
So you can fly if anything happens. So you can be safe. "They feel real to me," Prompto whispers.
"You don't have to keep them if you don't want," Noct says quickly, and Prompto realizes Noct is nervous. "It's not — "
"I will," Prompto says. "Noct, they're — they're mine." He doesn't know how he knows that.
Noct relaxes. "Good," he says. He sits back on his heels, slight smile of relief.
Prompto thinks about the Empire. If the Imperials had thought to strike close to home, if they'd thought the people of Insomnia would be willing to give their King up, well, they'd underestimated how hard they'd fight for their Prince.
Through all this, Prompto has been trying to articulate a question. He's not sure what he means to say, but it comes out —
"Why me?" He's not royalty. He's not a Glaive, or a Shield, or an advisor. He's nobody important. He's just Prompto.
Noct looks at him funny and laughs. "Dumbass," he says, fond. He reaches out and swipes Prompto on the head. "Haven't you been looking after me this whole time?"
Noct reaches out and helps pull Prompto to his feet. Prompto staggers a bit. He doesn't even mind when he starts to feel a few drops of rain.
They're close to the edge of the bluffs, and the landscape is still deserted. Below them, the lights of Hammerhead cut through the gloom. It'll be evening soon.
Prompto stops. "I've never had... I've never been able to... to fly," Prompto falters. He still can't. He doesn't know how.
"You're going to learn," he says.
The city recovers from the attack slowly. Parts of some of the outer districts are wrecked, but the Wall is still standing. Changes are made to strengthen the city's security and defenses, but oddly, people are also leaving the Crown City for the first time in years, visiting family and friends in the nearby territories. Perhaps they had realized with the attack that Lucis wasn't divided as sharply by the Wall as they had thought.
Life goes on as usual otherwise. The shops are open, students fluttering about, drivers honking in the midday traffic. The Citadel is still closed to civilians, parts of it under reconstruction, but Noct had waved this off.
"You're not a civilian," Noct had said, as if it was obvious. "You're with me."
Prompto's not sure Noct knows exactly what civilian means.
Still, he arrives on time, finding his way through the shadowed winding paths, and the guards let him through the gate.
Noct looks up outside the door as he approaches. "You made it by yourself," he says, pleased.
"Uh-huh. Didn't get lost once," Prompto says (lies; he'd gotten lost twice on the way).
They walk down the narrow hallway, the sunlit pit and the training grounds opening up before them again. The place is empty, air quiet and undisturbed. Noct had made sure.
Ignis is leaning against a pillar when they arrive. He raises a hand in a short wave. Gladio is sitting, legs dangling over the ledge, a bandage around his chest. They both greet Noct as Noct walks up towards the bridge, Prompto following closely behind.
Gladio leans back and stands. He nudges Prompto on the shoulder as he passes. "Knew you were one of us," he says. Ignis merely nods at him.
Noct closes his eyes, tilts his head back, and steps into thin air. His wings flash to life, a white-blue wave. The others leap, one and then the other, bright feathers flickering alight to join him. They soar across the pit, dizzying circles, before gliding closer again.
Just off the edge, Noct looks back at Prompto.
"C'mon Prom," he says.
The three of them wait, hovering near.
Prompto looks at the ground, far, far below them. He looks at Noct in the light, soft eyes and curved lips, hand outstretched.
Prompto takes a moment, and a deep breath, and steps off the edge.