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The Sun Cannot Wait

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Part One: The Dawnsworn

Prompto had graduated high school a few months ago, his eighteenth birthday going by celebrated by his friends and little else, and he had already fallen into a pattern. He would go to his part-time job at a camera store, using the money earned to buy new lenses for his camera, but most of the time, he was with Noct. Ignis and Gladio were there a good amount of the time as well, and while Noct still lived at his swanky apartment outside the Citadel, Prompto found himself at the Citadel so often that most of the guards knew him on sight, whether he was with the prince or not. Occasionally, Noctis and Gladiolus would drag him to the training room, Gladio hoping to get him in proper fighting form and Noct hoping he would divert some of the heat off of his fellow sparring partner.

He had recently met some of the Kingsglaive, who were not around the Citadel a lot, as they were usually out on missions. However, the ones he had spoken with seemed to be pretty awesome people, well, except maybe Nyx Ulric. Glaive Ulric and him had started off on an odd foot, as he seemed nice enough, but always ran off within seconds when Prompto tried to engage him in conversation. Weird. As for his parents, while he never saw them much in general anyway, they seemed to have all but vanished after his graduation, and he was lucky to see them once or twice every month. They had asked what he was planning for his future last time they were in the same vicinity more than an hour, and he had made some vague statements regarding the Crownsguard that got him a few dubious looks from them, but they had dropped the subject. For now, though, life was what it was, and that was okay.

It looked like it was going to stay that way for the foreseeable future until he went to bed a few weeks after his eighteenth birthday...and everything changed. Prompto opened his eyes to a sea of green grass and blue sky, and a single person standing alone. He had had weirder dreams, but this one felt different. Before he could dwell on it further, the figure moved closer to him.

“I am happy to meet you at last, my Voice. I have waited for time beyond measure to look upon you, and now here you are.”

Prompto stared dumbly at the figure, unable to form a proper response. “I’m sorry...what?”

The figure smiled benevolently at him. “You are the light, my child- for the sake of us all, I need you to learn.”

Prompto blinked at the vision in front of him- what appeared to be a woman, dressed in some sort of archaic orange-red robe. “Learn what?”

“You must learn to sing.”

Prompto blinked again at the woman. “Sing? I don’t understand.” He looked around, but he stood in the middle of a green meadow that went further than he could see, and no matter what direction he looked in, the only people there were himself and the mystery woman. “What a weird dream.”

The woman shook her head, but the smile on her face was kind. “ This is not a dream, my child. I may have borrowed you from the land of dreams, but you are not there as of present.”

Prompto looked around again, again seeing nothing but grass and sky, before settling his gaze back on the woman. “Okay...I’ll go along with this for now. But what do you mean by singing? I sing sometimes, like, in the shower and when I’m having fun. I did a few school things back in the day.”

“These are songs of grace, my light, songs of power. What I must teach you will allow you to harmonize with the spirits of old, enchant the very souls of the living to their inner light. It is an ability that has been lost since the days of Solheim.” Prompto blinked at the mystery woman in shock, then shook his head.

“You’ve totally got the wrong person, ma’am. You probably were looking for Noctis, or maybe Ignis or Gladio. I’m the plebe out of the group, not the one you are looking for if you want anything special,” Prompto stated with absolute conviction as he stared down at his covered wrist, his clasped hands clenching as he spoke.

Long, rosy, slender fingers appeared, lifting up his chin. “I am not looking for the future king and his guard, my child, I am here for you.” Prompto’s eyes widened, tears running down his cheeks completely unbidden; the woman’s slender fingers wiped delicately at his cheeks, a sweet smile on her face. “Why do you cry?” He was mortified, and she retracted her hands as he rubbed roughly at his face.

“Only my- no, it’s pathetic. Sorry. You were saying something about magic music? That sounds awesome, don’t get me wrong, but there’s gotta be better singers out there.” The woman shook her head.

“It is not just your voice, Prompto, but do not think yours is inferior in any way, you simply need training. It is the whole package which I seek, heart and soul are vital to the bearing of a true Voice. I chose you from the cradle, my child, I would have no other,” the woman said, and Prompto flushed.

“Uh, thank you...but why do you need me? Even if I learn to sing these magic songs, what am I supposed to do with them?” The lady looked off to the distance, her previously smiling eyes shadowed. “Ma’am?”

“If I told you that I am trying to save the world, would you laugh?” He hadn’t expected that, but-

“I wouldn’t laugh, ma’am. But, isn’t that what Noct is supposed to do? I think there is a prophecy and everything, although I know next to nothing about it,” he asked, and the woman sighed.

“You are not wrong, Prompto, but what you don’t know is that the prophecy will end with many more dead than needs to be through no fault of the future king and entirely the fault of the circumstances. I hope to avert that with your help,” she stood in front of him with her hands clasped, and Prompto boggled at her.

“And you think I can do this?” he asked, and the lady grinned.

“My light, I know you can,” she paused, and reached forward and took Prompto’s hands. “Now I ask you directly; Prompto Argentum, are you willing to stand with me and learn the songs and skills of the ancient Voices?” Prompto knew he really should be asking more questions, but she radiated sincerity and kindness, and he could not bear to disappoint her.

“Yes, ma’am, whatever you need.”

 

---

 

Noctis watched as Prompto’s eyes crept closed across the table from him at the diner, his head listing dangerously towards his half-eaten hamburger on the table.

“Hey, are you alright?” Prompto didn’t even twitch, and after taking a deep breath, Noctis tried again. “Prom!”

Prompto’s head shot up, but Noctis could see the red in his eyes, the pink and purple bruising under them. He looked awful. He hadn’t looked much better than this when they had met up at the Citadel for arms training the previous week, and it was getting more than a little concerning.

“Yeah, Noct, what is it?” Prompto yawned, but managed to keep his eyes facing Noctis, who sighed and grimaced at the sight.

“What’s going on with you, man? You look like shit.” Prompto winced and looked away, then sighed.

“I haven’t been sleeping well, that’s all. I’m taking after the city name a little too much,” Prompto replied, as he wiped at his face with a slightly shaky hand.

Prompto spoke with no artifice in his voice, but Noctis had the suspicion that there was more to it than just general insomnia. Noctis looked down at the table for a moment, his mind whirling around trying to figure out things he could do, then a thought came to him and he looked back at Prompto.

“You sure? We can go to the drug store, get you some pills to help you sleep,” Noctis stated, watching with fast-growing concern as Prompto paled at his question. What the hell was going on with him?

“No. No pills. I just need to work though this.” Prompto’s tone, cold and far harsher than anything Noctis had heard from his friend in a long time, cut away any further attempts at concern from Noctis. He would need to go about this another way.

Prompto had to go to work soon after, and Noctis bade him farewell with a smile, only allowing it to slip once the blond head had passed out of view. Biting back a groan, Noctis turned and headed back towards his apartment. After a minute or so of walking, he dug out his phone and dialed.

“What’s up?” Gladio responded, and Noctis couldn’t help but sigh again. “Noct?”

“You free right now?”

“Yeah, just finished my training for today. What do you need?” There was a thread of concern in Gladio’s voice, and Noct couldn’t help but smile.

“It’s about our favorite chocobo-head.”

Gladio grunted at the other end of the line. “Ah, yeah. Your place?”

“Yeah.”

“Be there soon.”

Noctis hung up, pausing for a moment on the sidewalk. Did he want to call Ignis? He lifted his phone back to his ear, only to drop it again when he remembered what Iggy had told him that morning. “Meetings all day, right,” he mumbled to himself. He’d talk to him later. He made short work of the rest of his walk to his apartment, kicking off his shoes as soon as he came in the door and collapsing onto his sofa.

How do you solve a problem like Prompto? Noctis slumped further into the cushions with a groan. This stunk. Prompto was usually the one with all the energy while he was the one falling asleep everywhere, and he really didn’t like the sudden role reversal. Prom looked horrible, he fell asleep everywhere, but never stayed asleep- Noctis grabbed a convenient throw pillow and smashed it against his face, enjoying the sudden dark.

The front door banged open, and Noctis could hear Gladio shedding those massive boots with two thumps onto the tile before walking up to where he was, his footsteps stopping right next to him. Before Noctis could react, the pillow was ripped away from his face, and he blinked at the light flooding in. “Hey.”

Gladio looked down at him with bemusement, before shoving Noctis’s feet off the sofa and taking their place. “Hey yourself, princess. Don’t try to kill yourself with a throw pillow, we’d have to carve that on your tomb, and your reputation would never recover.”

Noctis thrashed around until he managed to get into a seated position, giving Gladio a dirty look. “What reputation?”

Gladio chortled. “True enough.” He trailed off for a moment, then the mirth faded from his face. “Prompto, huh.”

Noctis sighed again. It was going to be a chronic condition at this rate. “Yeah. I asked him, you know, at lunch. He said he just hadn’t been sleeping well.” Gladio’s answering snort told Noctis that the two of them were in agreement on the likelihood of that explanation being true. “I suggested sleeping pills, and he looked at me like I had murdered his mother. Shut me down instantly.”

Gladio frowned. “That’s a strange response. Maybe he’s worried about getting addicted to them?”

“Could be. I don’t know. I was afraid to bring it up again after that,” Noct stated as he glared at his dirty fingernails. “What in the hell do we do?”  

“I hate to say this, Noct, but he is an adult. Why don’t we give him some time, maybe it is just a nasty case of insomnia,” Gladio shrugged. “If it doesn’t get any better, we can always figure out what we can do.”

Noctis leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs and resting his chin on his hands. “I don’t like this.”

Gladio leaned over and patted Noctis on the shoulder. “Neither do I, kid, neither do I.”

 

---

 

At fifteen, Cor Leonis stood before Gilgamesh wielding two swords; beautiful katanas that had been family heirlooms, their only heirlooms, thick with the sticky sort of caked-on dust that spoke to long-term neglect. He had pulled them down from their dingy decorative rack almost ten years prior, and now he found himself in one hell of a situation with them. He managed to cut off one of the arms of the mighty spirit with those beautiful blades, but in the end he lay prostrate at Gilgamesh’s feet, an ancient sword at his neck, waiting for the end to come. Clarus had warned him, told him he was being a fool, but he hadn’t listened. He had felt invincible, and had utterly disregarded the facts of the matter in his hubris. He hoped Clarus wouldn’t blame himself for this mess, he was the idiot teenager, not Clarus.

“You wait for death.”

Gilgamesh’s voice startled Cor from his deathbed musings, and he tilted his head to look up at the being, the blade against his neck cutting a narrow furrow in his skin. “Well, it seemed the obvious conclusion, considering our current position.”

There was a rumbling sort of sound that followed, and Cor didn’t know whether to be proud or depressed that he had managed to amuse the ancient Shield. If Clarus came to find his corpse, maybe Gilgamesh would tell him about this instead of attacking him out of sheer novelty.

“You will not die today. You have been given a greater purpose than just adding to my collection.”

If a lich in armor could look sympathetic, that would be the feeling Cor was getting out of this increasingly surreal encounter. Then the words hit him. “What in the hell are you talking about?”

Another rumble. That was definitely a laugh. “You will see.” The sword was pulled away, and before Cor could say another word, Gilgamesh leaned over, grabbed the Genji Blade from the ground, and vanished into a cloud of light and dust motes.

“Well, shit.” He had liked that sword. At least the laughing bastard had left him his other one. Cor dragged himself to his feet, grabbing his remaining sword as he stood. The instant he caught his breath, he turned and walked as fast as he could manage out of the macabre hall of blades. He may have failed in his attempt, but he wasn’t going to stick around for Gilgamesh to change his mind.

After a few hours of mostly-unimpeded hiking, Cor emerged into the sunshine, with no more understanding of Gilgamesh’s cryptic statement. “A greater purpose, huh.” The motorcycle he had borrowed still remained at the entrance to the path, and he got on, willpower alone keeping him on the bike.

He’d figure it out later.

 

---

 

“You are doing so well, my light; you sing like the spirits of old as you learn the songs.”

Prompto had always liked to sing, a casual hobby that had materialized into the occasional school performance, but nothing formal. He doubted Noctis had ever noticed, as he would only ever go to the school events that happened during normal hours, not optional after-school events, and he was almost positive that Ignis or Gladio had no idea. But still, he did enjoy it, but this was on a whole other level.

Words which he did not know the language emerged on a regular basis from his lips; other voices would join him out of nowhere in harmony as he sang notes that he had not truly tried to reach before. The other beings that would join him in song had frightened him at first, he was willing to admit it. Especially when one of them had been a beautiful woman with black hair and incredibly familiar eyes that he had definitely seen in pictures before in the Citadel, and he had turned in horror to the ever-present lady that was teaching him.

“I do not call them, Prompto, you are doing that all on your own. This is part of your talent. They are not trapped, they are not enslaved, they will only come if they wish. If you recognize one of the spirits harmonizing with you, do not despair, but feel honored; they have heard your call, and they have found you worthy.” They had still disconcerted him for awhile, but he acclimated to their presence over time. He knew that he would never be able to tell Noctis, even if or when all of this came out, that he had sung with the ghost of his mother.

Prompto still couldn’t believe that out of the four of them, he was the one who had been sought out to learn this ability. The woman had claimed that what he was learning could determine the fate of the world, but he could hardly believe that. That was meant to be the job of people like Noct, not people like him. But nevertheless, he sang and he practiced; he would wake up with a tune on his tongue, but he had not sung these songs outside of this dreamscape. He had not dared to.

“You’ll know when it is your time to sing, my child. You will know.”

He did not know who the kindly woman was who was teaching him all these songs, but her presence was calming. Prompto found himself doing what she asked with little concern. He was with her so often these days, after all.

---

 

Ignis had a great many things that could be listed under his job description, but at least fifty percent of them, if not closer to one hundred percent, could be boiled down to simply being observant of everything around him. A few months back, Prompto, normally so effervescent and open, the spark that usually was the catalyst for Noctis to come out of his own shell, had begun to falter, bright eyes increasingly hidden under a film of exhaustion as he went through the motions of daily life. His once-frequent texts had slowed to a crawl, even his constant photo-taking had seemed to have been curtailed under the increasing cloud of fatigue that had enveloped him. It was becoming distressing.

“He’s getting no better, Noctis,” Ignis said, looking down at the dour young man slouched into the sofa across from where he was sitting. “I hate to be the one to say this, but we might want to consider suggesting medical attention. I’m not liking what I am seeing, to be frank.”

Noctis glared at him, but there was no heat in it anymore. He was just worried, as they all were.

“You aren’t suggesting he’s gotten into drugs, right?” Gladio, sitting off to the left in his own chair, put forth, but Ignis shook his head and held up a hand for forestall Noctis before he could burst into predictable outrage.

“I entertained the idea at first, but none of us have seen any obvious signs, and while Prompto can be a bit...excitable, he has always had a good head on his shoulders. I would be truly surprised if that is what has happened.” Ignis stated, making sure he met Noctis’s gaze as he spoke. “Besides, it came on so quickly, it’s quite strange.”

Noctis slumped further down in his spot. “He told me last month that he just hadn’t been sleeping, but when I suggested maybe an over-the-counter sleeping pill, you would have thought I had asked him to...I don’t know, kill a chocobo or something. I don’t think I had ever heard him sound like that.”

Ignis frowned. No one spoke for a long while as he thought about the possibilities. Yes, it could be some sort of illicit substance, but what he had said was accurate. He didn’t think that was the issue. Despite the lethargy, Prompto was still the same; he still took some pictures, still played some video games, still cracked unfortunate jokes in equally unfortunate circumstances. He just looked like he hadn’t slept in a year and kept dozing off even more than Noctis did. The immediate sensitivity to questions about his condition was the more concerning factor to Ignis. Although he was sure that Prompto had secrets of his own, caginess was not something they normally got from the young man. It all added up to a mystery that Ignis did not like, and one he had no intention of leaving hanging.

Someone had to step forward. Noctis was out, he had already tried, but he was afraid of pushing too much. Gladiolus tended to get rather intimidating when he was concerned, which would not work here. Prompto would just vanish and hope that it would blow over, which wouldn’t certainly wouldn’t help the situation.

Ignis sighed and readjusted his glasses. “I’ll approach Prompto about the situation. There’s already an expectation of my expressions of concern-”

Noctis smirked. “You mean your nagging-”

“-and he might take it a little better coming from me than either of you two,” Ignis finished, ignoring Noctis’s interjection.

Gladiolus nodded. “Yeah, he can get a little skittish sometimes.” He leaned over and jabbed Noctis’s shoulder, eliciting a grunt. “Means keep your mouth shut for now, Noct, let the expert handle it.”

Noctis swatted in Gladiolus’s general direction before dragging himself upright. “What do you think I’ve been doing? I figured if I asked him again he’d either rip my head off or do a runner. Remember what we talked about last time?”

Gladiolus nodded. “Yeah, that’s true.” He turned towards Ignis. “I’ll try to stay out of it for now. Do your thing, Iggy.”

 

---

 

The day before Regis’s coronation as the 113th King of Lucis, Cor dreamed of a wide meadow with naught but long grasses and a woman in saffron robes. Well, Cor would say he was dreaming, but that description didn’t seem to be quite the truth. He could smell the grass, feel the light breeze as it ruffled his sleep pants, and hear the woman speak as if she was standing next to him on the street. If this was lucid dreaming, Cor didn’t think he wanted any part of it.

“I am happy to finally meet you, my friend.”

The woman reached out as she spoke, clasping one of Cor’s hands in hers. He shivered at the strange sensation, but did not try to move his hand away.

“It was beginning to look as if you would not survive to reach this point, but I was pleased that Lord Gilgamesh remembered who I am and acted accordingly.”

Something inside Cor knew this being in front of him was something special, and he bowed without conscious thought. “I’m afraid, my lady, that we have not been acquainted.” The woman smiled and reached out with her free hand to cup Cor’s cheek, and his eyes slid closed at the warm touch.

“You know who I am, my friend. You have met with me every time you see the sunrise, each time you have breathed the fresh air of a cool breeze, you have looked upon me each time you see a flower bloom, and heard a bird’s cry. I may not be spoken of anymore like those you call the Astrals, but you know me.”

Cor’s eyes snapped open, and he looked upon the kind face with wonder. “Dawn Mother.” Eos’s eyes twinkled, and Cor found himself dropping to his knees before her. “Forgive me, I did not know.”

Eos shook her head, and bade him rise. “Do not fret, my dear Cor, it is entirely understandable. I am only glad to finally be speaking with you.” Eos looked about for a moment, before a wave of her hand made two sections of the grasses weave themselves together into tidy seats. “Rest, and I will tell you why we are here.”

Cor slowly lowered himself onto one of the grass stools, watching with both awe and trepidation as the Dawn Mother followed his movements on the other. The two sat and looked at each other for what felt like an age before Cor gathered the courage to speak. “If I may ask, Dawn Mother, where are we?”

“We are in a little haven of my own, as it were. A little place of solitude for myself in these trying times.” Cor breathed in to speak again, but Eos raised a hand to forestall him. “Peace, Cor, I have much to impart and I can only keep you here so long.”

Cor flushed with embarrassment, but Eos smiled and shook her head again before leaning forward and taking his hand once more.

“I chose you in your cradle, Cor Leonis; I chose you to be my Herald, the one who would help and guide my chosen Voice, both of you as my Dawnsworn, as they are born and grow in this life. You would be the heart of truth, and you would know my heart beyond question, and neither king nor astral would dare to question you,” The goddess paused for a moment as Cor’s eyes widened in shock, before smiling and continuing. “I will not force you, Cor Leonis, but if you accept, you will be recognized as the messengers of the astrals are, and they will know who you are the instant they see you. I would teach you abilities and skills that have been long forgotten, none used since the last of my heralds departed back in the days of Solheim,” Eos trailed off as Cor stared at her, stunned and not entirely believing. “I know it is much to take in, my friend. In the end, I simply ask that I may be able to count on you for your assistance in several matters in the future, and to listen to me as I teach you what you must know to be successful in your quest.”

Cor could barely breathe. A goddess, the goddess depending how much one knew of the old ways, was asking him to be her servant, her...herald? This was folly, he was nothing special, and he was promised to another’s service. He sighed, and looked at the goddess with wariness. “My lady, I hear your words, and I am not without temptation to agree, but I am sworn to another’s service, and will be renewing those vows tomorrow. I could not in good faith serve both the crown and yourself.” Cor tried to pull his hand away from hers, but she did not release her grip. “Forgive me.”

“What do you know of Bahamut’s prophecy, Cor Leonis?”

The sudden subject change jarred Cor, and he fumbled for a moment before speaking. “You...you speak of the true king, the one who will work with the astrals and the oracle to save the world from eternal darkness.”

Eos nodded, her smile fading as she looked into the distance. “Do you know what that truly entails, Cor? What pain lies ahead for a reward that should have achieved so long ago?”

“I- I honestly hadn’t thought too hard about it, I guess. I assumed fighting the Infernian would be part of it, a sort of finishing the loop from the great war,” Cor said, and Eos shrugged a bit at his words.

“He very well may appear as part of it, but this has to do with the Scourge, which came from without our world, not within, borne on the meteor. It has poisoned the soil and tainted all those who come in contact with it; the astrals could have done more to stop it, but they chose to defer it to humanity in a convoluted series of so-called gifts and prophesies, and then topped it off by ripping out a part of my heart and giving it away with little explanation beyond protect this and wait.” Eos let out a sigh, which stunned Cor even further, but he could not make himself speak. “Did you know that this will be the second attempt at a so-called chosen king? The first refused to cooperate and initially tried his best to heal the Scourge in his own way, but it twisted him inside over time; the astrals, Bahamut primarily, could not stand his rebellion, his daring to change that prophecy, and left him to rot. Anger, bitterness, and betrayal mixed with the vast majority of the world’s Scourge invested in one individual has made him immortal, the true target of the prophecy in the end. It is this person, this abandoned near-king, that will bring on the eternal night and the destruction of much of the world if he is not destroyed.”

Cor shuddered as the goddess trailed off, but he forced himself to square his shoulders and address her. “If this is true, why not wait until the new chosen king is born and make sure he knows what he must do? You sound as if you are thinking of something different.”

The goddess bent forward, bracing her arms on her legs. “In another reality, the chosen one is born, he is raised knowing that he will die somewhat young to maintain the wall, but is left largely ignorant of his true calling in hopes that he would have a normal childhood. The empire gains the upper hand, and he is sent away from Insomnia to marry the oracle to guarantee peace. It is a trap, and before the dust is even settled, much of the city is destroyed; the crystal is taken to the empire, and you nearly alone remain alive of the royal court of his father. You travel to the prince, now king, and attempt to guide him to claim the ancestral power that has been set aside for this purpose, but you can only do so much. The oracle awakens the astrals so the chosen can seek their favor, but it weakens her significantly, and she dies due to the hand of the night-bringer after awakening Leviathan, ending the line of the oracle.” Cor couldn’t believe what he was hearing, and started to lean forward to interject, but he was stopped by a squeeze of his hand.

“Saddened, but knowing that the crystal needed to be retrieved, the king and his companions went to the heart of the empire, where the king was forced into the crystal and left to rot in a place between realities for some time until Bahamut was certain that he finally has the sacrificial lamb he wanted all along. He was freed, and met up with his companions in a land now under eternal night for one last fight, where the Accursed, as the astrals call him, is finally destroyed, but both king and failed king are so attached to the place between due to the magic that keeps the old rulers of Lucis from having a peaceful death that the chosen must sacrifice himself to kill the night-bringer once and for all. The line of kings ends there, and when the sun rises for the first time in many years, the world has lost over half of its population, and again, you alone remain, an aging man who has outlived three kings and several oracles, who has seen the world torn apart so soundly that you are unsure it could ever be made whole again.”

Tears were running down the goddess’s face as she finished her speech, and Cor watched as the grasses grew at her feet as her tears splashed, numb at the sight. There were two key points that he found himself focusing on; one, Regis would be the father of the chosen king, and secondly, it sounded as if everything would end horribly if Eos’s vision was correct. But what could he do? He was just Cor, he knew he was a decent soldier, but he was nothing special. Eos finally released his hand, a cold sweat now taking hold of him, and he wiped at his face viciously with both hands. What could he do? He was just a soldier. He groaned and crushed his palms into his eyes for a long moment before letting his hands drop.

“If- if I agree to this, what would I be able to do to change what you just described? I am no king, your grace, no oracle; I’m just a soldier.”

“I have been weakened by both the presence of the scourge and the machinations of others, but I have gathered power enough to bless both you and my voice with the strength to breach the layers between and aid the chosen king in a hopefully modified version of his fate. I am tired, Cor, but I am far more exhausted at the thought of so many suffering and dying just because Bahamut has a penchant for sacrifice and preordained fate. It may sound callous, but why should the deaths of people millennia before you force you to sacrifice yourself in the here and now? It is all very noble, but still, there is so much that the astrals could have done that they happily disregarded,” Eos paused, taking a deep breath and closing her eyes for a long moment before continuing. “I could guarantee nothing, but perhaps with your help, we might be able to bring forth a new dawn without a full-scale apocalypse...we might be able to break the cycle.”  Eos bowed her head slightly in Cor’s direction when she stopped speaking, then sat up and looked forward, saying nothing more.

Cor sat in silence, allowing the possibilities to run through his head for so long his back begins to ache, but neither he nor the goddess speaks again until Cor finally comes to a decision.

“I accept.”

 

---

 

When Prompto opened his eyes to the meadow, he didn’t even blink at the sight anymore. He was beginning to feel as if he was there as often as he was anywhere else in the waking world, and that he was so easily accepting of that fact that it bothered him sometimes. But now wasn’t the time to dwell on that. He took a deep breath, then walked over the the omnipresent woman. “You know, they don’t talk much about the Dawn Mother anymore, it took quite a bit of digging at the library and online to find much about you.” Eos, the goddess of the world and the dawn, smiled, and Prompto could not help but return it.

“You figured it out.”

Prompto rubbed at his wrist as he chuckled nervously. “Why didn’t you tell me? I know I’m not the brightest bulb in the box, but I think I could have handled it.”

Eos frowned as he spoke, and raised her hands to cup Prompto’s face. “Do not speak of yourself as lesser, my child. I did not want to overwhelm you with facts early on, it was not meant to be entirely deliberate. As you learned the songs and melodies, I simply let it slip from my thoughts. Even immortal beings forget.” Eos stroked at Prompto’s cheeks, soothing the young man. “You have done so well, my light. I am honored that you are so skilled in what I have asked of you. The spirits love you, and help you in droves, which was something I could only hope for. I know it was quite the surprise to you to suddenly end up here.”

Prompto smiled and shook his head, the exhaustion of the waking world not touching him in this place. He could sing forever here, and make the goddess smile at him. It was pleasant, it felt as if he finally had a mother, or, perhaps, a grandmother who truly seemed to be available, even if it was in a dream world. If he was going crazy, at least it was a good way to go. Prompto was jarred from his thoughts by Eos, whose hands were now wrapped around his shoulders and were shaking him lightly.

“Do not go down that road, Prompto. You are not going mad, I promise. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret, as it were.” Eos’s concerned face startled Prompto, who stepped away from her; she let her hands fall to her sides and smiled again at him. “Peace, my light, I did not mean to worry you so.”

Prompto closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then looked upon the goddess once more. “A secret?” he said, and Eos grinned.

“Not much of one, truly, but there is one other besides you who I bring here.”

That did surprise Prompto on one hand, but on the other, maybe not so much. The goddess insisted he was special, but maybe not that special. He bit at his bottom lip for a moment. “May I ask who?”

“When I call for my champions, as it were, there are always two; I have a Voice...that would be you, my light...and a Herald. I always call the herald first, as they support both myself and the voice with both strength of arms and purity of character. The current herald has already done much to help you, even if you perhaps do not remember.”

Prompto gasped, and immediately set to thinking. “I know them, right? If they’ve helped me in some form, I must have met them, yeah?”

“You are acquainted, although not well; they know you better than you know them, which will change in the future, but not until it is time. They have done well in keeping their activities on my behalf quiet, and I prefer to allow you both to lead your own lives until such time your true skills are needed.” Eos laughed at the disgruntled expression Prompto shot her. “Patience, my heart, you will know all soon. Just know that they care for you and your welfare, even if they don’t show it.” Eos paused. “I find it a bit unfortunate you were not born in Galahd, Prompto, they are one of the few places that I hear my name still being invoked, and my stories being told. How much easier this would have all been for you,” the Goddess finished, and Prompto blinked.

“Galahd? I know some Galahdians, a lot of the Kingsglaive are from there. They’ve been under varying levels of Imperial control for decades, so there are a lot of refugees in Insomnia. I’ll be honest, I’ve never noticed them mention you before, I thought they focused on the Six as much as the rest of the world does,” Prompto tried to remember if Nyx, Libertus, or any of the Galahdian Glaives he had spoken with in the past had mentioned anything that invoked the Dawn Mother, but nothing came to mind.

“No, they have always included me, although they may not be so obvious about it in exile as they were among the grasses and fields of their home. It is quite possible that out of all of the world, they are the only ones that will know what you are without explanation when all is revealed.” Prompto worried at his bottom lip with his teeth, thinking about the goddess was saying. Would they see him differently? Nyx seemed to be nervous around him for some reason sometimes, but at least he had stopped running away. The others he usually ran into had always been kind and easy to speak with. It was just more questions he would hopefully find answers for eventually.

“My light, how about you sing me the song of the first king of Solheim,” the Dawn Mother asked, breaking into Prompto’s thoughts. He pouted, but straightened his spine, squared his shoulders, and began to sing. When the spirits joined in midway through the song, he didn’t even blink; he had grown used to the otherworldly choir, and they seemed to work well together. Once he finished, Prompto looked at the goddess, who gave him a cheery smile and a nod.

He could do this.

 

---

 

For all of his confidence with the others, Ignis didn’t want to push Prompto too hard. He had always been such a open and friendly person, and Ignis was torn between risking that relationship with himself (and possibly Noctis and Gladio) by pressing the assault, or simply keeping quiet and seeing how things would play out. After some thought on the matter, he decided to try and bring it up here and there in casual conversation, in hopes that the exhausted teen would just fold and tell him. Ignis should have known better.

He tried his best to talk to Prompto about his health on several occasions, but the younger man was surprisingly good at changing the subject. He tried when Prompto helped out in the kitchen, he tried when he would pick him up to drive him to Noctis’s apartment, he tried when he met up with him for lunch at a nice little cafe close to the Citadel. But no matter how he tried to bring it up, Prompto skillfully would start talking about an entirely different subject, and Ignis would find himself just going along with it. After a solid hour of trying to divert a conversation about photography courses at the local university in between bites of a delicious mushroom risotto, he knew he had been beaten for now.

Ignis nodded to Prompto’s ever-tired frame as he rose to his feet. “Well, Prompto, it’s been good seeing you today, I’m afraid I need to return to the Citadel, I have several afternoon meetings I am expected at, and my absence would not be appreciated.” It took far longer than Ignis was comfortable with watching Prompto pull himself up, but he kept his mouth shut. He would try again later.

Prompto ran a hand through his hair, then gave Ignis a wobbly wave. “Good seeing you, Iggy, tell Noctis I said hi.” Prompto turned and walked out of the cafe with Ignis at his heels, stopping abruptly at the sidewalk. Ignis managed to stop before running into the shorter man, but only just.

“Iggy?” Prompto whispered, and Ignis straightened at his tone.

“Yes, Prompto?”

Prompto half-turned in place, his piercing blue-violet eyes meeting Ignis’s with trepidation; Ignis reached over and clasped Prompto’s shoulder, urging him to speak.

“Ignis...thanks. I know you weren’t sure about me at first, but you’re a real pal.”

Ignis froze at Prompto’s statement, which allowed the other man to set off down the road as Ignis stood there. “Prompto?”

“See you later, Iggy!” Prompto was out of sight before Ignis could even think to follow. After staring stupidly in the direction he had gone for far longer than necessary, someone bumped into Ignis and he was thrown out of the moment.

“Pardon me.” Ignis muttered as he turned and headed back to the Citadel. Prompto had seemed like he was going to say something, but had clearly changed his mind. Right as Ignis was waved through the first security gate, his phone rang.

“Scientia speaking.”

“Hey, Specs, how did it go with Prom?” Noctis urged, and Ignis found himself shaking his head before recovering.

“Not yet, I’m afraid; our dear friend has a streak of stubbornness a mile wide.” Ignis sighed. “I will continue my efforts, of course.”

Noctis sighed as well, the sound whistling through the phone as Ignis was waved into the main entrance to the Citadel proper. “Thanks, Iggy. I appreciate it.”

“Always, Noct.”

It would have to wait for next time.

 

---

 

“You have done well, Cor. Your talent in all that you have been instructed in over the last decade is clear, I think it has only added to your legend amongst your people. What is the appellation they address you by now?” Eos said, a definitive twinkle in her eyes as she spoke to Cor.

“Must we?” Cor pinched at the bridge of his nose, but the goddess would not be deterred.

“Of course, Cor the Immortal. Interesting name for my Herald, I admit. The fact you are excellent at moving between has made it look as if you appear everywhere at once, and has helped you survive many battles that you may not otherwise have.”

Cor could do nothing but concede that point. Since accepting the position of the Dawn Herald from the goddess, she had been true to her word, largely leaving him alone most of the time, only visiting him a few times a year to teach him a new skill, the most important of which was clearly the warp-like ability she imparted; it did not work quite like the the ability that the royals of Lucis had, both had the wielder walking in a subtle shifted dimension of sorts, but where the kings would throw an anchor and themselves through in a shower of sparks, he would simply vanish from one step to the next, phasing through space and distance to appear at another location almost instantaneously. The goddess had compared it to the ability that the Messengers had, where they too could send themselves across great distances, and Cor had not disagreed. Unlike the royals and messengers, however, he had gone out of his way to hide the skill, knowing that he was walking a fine line between loyalties as it was. He never used it if the king was within a half-mile at the least, as he was worried that Regis would be able to sense him using the skill.

He may have gained a ridiculous name or two along the way, but he could not be found out as anything other than plain old Cor for now. There was too much at stake.

“It will soon be time where I will call upon you for the first time in truth, my herald, my voice has been born.”

“Where are they?” Cor asked, and the goddess looked squarely at him.

“Far from you, unfortunately. This will have to be remedied, and soon.” Eos’s voice was as stern as Cor had ever heard it, and he felt an electric shock travel up his back. He had agreed, and he could not back out now.

Cor bowed. “I await your call, my lady.”

 

---

 

“I still haven’t figured out who the Herald is. Can’t you just tell me? I’ll keep it to myself.”

“Patience, my light, patience.”

“Pleeeease?”

“Not yet.” Eos sighed again. Prompto wondered if it was blasphemous somehow to make a goddess sigh, but she hadn’t killed him yet, so- “How about you practice the song of freedom again, it’s one that needs to be as perfect as possible to achieve its full effect.

“Fine, but don’t think I’m giving up yet.” Prompto groused, and the Dawn Mother poorly hid a laugh behind a hand.

 

---

 

There had been several more group gatherings, an awkward night at the arcade that ended earlier than usual when Prompto had almost fallen asleep while eating the after-game pizza, another time where they were simply hanging out at Noctis’s apartment that ended up with Prompto snoring into his couch, and finally, an impromptu training session that wrapped up with Prompto again dozing off as soon as his turn was over.

“Well, at least he’s getting some sleep,” Gladio said as he looked down at the sleeping man curled up on a bench, Noctis snorting behind him in response.

“He’s going to fall asleep in the middle of the street or something at this rate. This is stupid.” Noctis snarled, causing both Ignis and Gladio to shoot the prince a look.

Iggy maneuvered between the sleeping Prom and the fuming prince, not wanting him to do something he would regret later. “Noctis, getting angry about the situation isn’t going to help. Give me a little longer to try and coax it out of him. I think I was getting somewhere last time-”

Gladio cut off Iggy with a raised hand. “Shh. Do you hear that?” All three men froze and listened intently, before Noctis looked back down at Prom, a smile coming unbidden to his face.

“He’s singing in his sleep,” Noctis whispered as he knelt to listen more carefully; he could not make out the words, but the sound coming from Prom’s lips was beautiful and as far as he could tell, in perfect tune. Gladio looked stunned as he too took a seat, sitting at the other end of the bench Prompto was on to listen, while Ignis stood at Noctis’s back without a sound.

The three of them waited in silence, listening to Prompto quietly sing in his sleep for several minutes, not moving a muscle until the song ended. Noctis’s foot slipped a few seconds after, his boot squeaking on the floor, and Prom groaned.

Noctis immediately jumped to his feet, backing off several feet to lean against a column; Iggy retreated to nonchalantly look at his phone. Gladio was the only one who didn’t move, instead closing his eyes and leaning against the wall behind the bench.

Prompto slapped at his own face and groaned again before dragging himself back into a seated position. He looked around at the quiet training hall and the three men all relaxing near him and went scarlet. “Oh, I’m so sorry! I hope I didn’t keep you guys waiting.”

Gladio snorted, lightly smacking Prompto on the arm as he got to his feet. “If you needed the sleep, kid, you needed the sleep.”

Prompto rubbed at his arm with a pout, looking again at everyone. “Is everything okay?” Noctis reached out without a word, and Prompto allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. “Guys?”

Ignis smiled and tucked his phone away. “Everything is fine, Prompto. Just woolgathering.”

Noctis held on to Prompto’s hand long enough for the blond’s blush to return in force, letting go only when Gladio cleared his throat. “Ah, er, why don’t we go find some dinner, guys.”

Prom looked at the time on his phone, and choked. “Oh shit, guys, I’ve got to go to work! Next time, yeah?” With a wave, Prompto fled the room, leaving the other three to stare warily after him.

“So did anyone know he could sing? Like, really sing?” Gladiolus rumbled, and Ignis shook his head. Noctis stood staring at the door Prompto had exited through, and Gladiolus moved to bump into him. “Noct?”

“He did a few things in high school, but I don’t really remember much. He wouldn’t bring it up or anything, he’d just do it. I think he was embarrassed or thought that I would find it lame,” Noctis muttered, shaking his head as the three of them exited the training hall.

“Hm. Well, another piece of the puzzle that is our friend. Remember what I said earlier.” Ignis said, and the others nodded.

“Yeah, Iggy, I remember.” Noctis split with the others shortly after that, and sighed. Prom was driving him crazy, and the fact he was pretty closed lipped about didn’t help either. Soon. They would figure out what was going on soon.

 

---

 

“Cor Leonis, it is time.”

Cor gasped, nearly tripping over his own feet as his awareness adjusted to the meadow. Normally the transition to the goddess’s was smooth, but he had been all but thrown in. After a few moments trying to gather his equilibrium, he bowed to the goddess. “My lady?”

“The Voice is in grave danger where he is, if not retrieved within a year or so, he will not survive.” Eos’s face and posture was like stone, and Cor knew he was seeing the Goddess of Dawn, not the kindly mother goddess he usually interacted with. Cor rose from his bow and squared his shoulders.

“Tell me where I must go, my lady. I will set out as soon as possible.” Cor stated, then stood at attention, waiting for orders.

Eos’s posture and expression softened slightly, and she nodded. “Excellent, my dear herald. He is on the other continent from you, in a city covered in machinery called Gralea. He has no parents that would claim him, and a fate that will leave him a shell soon if allowed to remain.”

Cor hissed in a breath. Gralea. The heart of the damned empire. Of course. This would be tricky. “How will I know him?”

Eos waved a hand, and an image of a rail-thin child with light blond hair appeared before him. The boy was dressed in a grey scrub-like outfit with a number upon the breast, and he appeared little more than a half-starved waif until he looked up. Cor bit back a gasp at the child’s beautiful blue-violet eyes, large and luminous even in a transparent image, and inside his mind, something seemed to trigger, a switch clicking over. He needed to find this child, and soon.

“As you approach the city, you will be able to feel his presence to some extent. This should help you locate him.” The goddess approached Cor, raising both hands and settling them on his shoulders. “If he does not survive, then all is lost. I will be unable to help as I stated I would otherwise as I will be unable to gather the strength to bless another in a reasonable amount of time.”

Cor stepped away from the goddess and bowed once more. “I will take my leave, then, I have much to prepare to be able to travel.”

Eos raised a hand in clear benediction, and the meadow began to fade away. “Do not forget what I have taught you, Herald of the Dawn. You will need it.”

Cor awoke the next morning with a solid case of nerves, the type that he had not had since his first battle. He would need to leave his king and his country for some time to fetch the child, and Regis could not find out what he was doing, as much as part of him really wanted to tell the king and friend. Cor stewed for a bit on his course of action, but since he had no intention of deserting, there was only one option he could take.

A few hours later, Cor walked back to his quarters a bit thunderstruck. He had petitioned for a leave of absence, made up some malarky about wanting to travel around and see the world without having to do so from a battlefield, and Regis and Clarus had smiled and granted his petition immediately. Something about having only taken a week off in the fifteen years since he had joined the Crownsguard, and since that week was to go challenge Gilgamesh, it really doesn’t count, does it, Clarus?

Cor sighed, then grabbed a plain backpack and got to work. He couldn’t understand Regis sometimes, but on this one occasion, he figured it was best to count his blessings. As he pulled a shirt out of his closet, Cor thought about what he should bring. He was going to be taking some serious shortcuts, but he would still need supplies. Perhaps a few changes of clothing for the kid wouldn’t hurt either. He would need to be discrete buying those, however; his face was too well known in much of the city, and for a well-known bachelor such as him to be seen buying clothing for small children...it would invite questioning. Maybe he would drop by Lestallum and purchase some there, less opportunity for problems.

In the end, Cor gave himself three days to prepare. Clarus saw him off from the Citadel with a smile, telling him to enjoy his trip, and Cor rode his motorcycle outside the city and past the various checkpoints until he ended up under the open sky. He left the bike stashed in a channel inset into one of the old walls of northern Leide, then tightened the straps on his pack, took a deep breath, then stepped. He shot too far north on the first jump, ending up not too far from the Keycatrich Ruins. After a few moments to breathe, he stepped again, this time landing perhaps ten miles east of Alastor Slough. He swayed in place for an uncomfortably long period of time, willing his stomach to settle before doing one more jump. This time saw him in the Rydielle Ley area, and it was all he could do to remain standing. He had never jumped so far nor so much in a short period of time, and Cor had never realized how draining it was. He managed to stumble to a nearby haven and crash for the evening, not even bothering to set up any sort of tent.

The next morning, he managed a decent breakfast, then began his travels once more. Two more steps landed him on the outskirts of Lestallum, where he partook in a relaxing walk around the city, ending with a meal and a visit to a clothing store for children’s clothing. After he had walked a quarter mile outside of the city, he jumped again, landing south of the Vesperpool, one last step left him just to the northwest of it. Falling to his knees, Cor gasped for breath, barely able to keep down his meal from earlier. He thought about doing another jump, but the acid in his throat made him reevaluate. It took longer than he would have liked, but he managed to find a haven and settle down for the night. He needed to reach Galahd tomorrow so he could catch a boat to Niflheim, as he knew that there was no way he would be able to step across the ocean.

Cor reached the northwest coast by mid-day. Galahd was an occupied territory, and it showed. MTs patrolled the area, but as long as he kept his head down, he figured he would get through without issue. As a small attempt to change his look, Cor had shaved his mustache off back at the camp, but hadn’t bothered to do much else besides wear some of his older clothes. It wouldn’t do to attract attention. In a stroke of luck, there was a boat heading to the eastern coast of Niflheim leaving that evening, and he quietly bought his ticket and waited for launch.

Two days later saw them docking in the Succarpe territory on Niflheim’s eastern coast, an arid region that was not heavily populated. As soon as he disembarked, he consulted a map that probably dated to five minutes after Solheim fell, oriented himself, and stepped southwest. The rest on the ship had done him well, and he managed to reach the foothills of their eastern mountains before calling it a day. The next saw him get nearly lost in those same mountains, but he managed to orient himself and reach the Vogliupe desert before nightfall. One more day saw him utterly exhausted and within the Weltham mountains, less than 100 miles outside of of Gralea. The smog from their industry was visible even at such a distance, blocking out much of the night sky. Tomorrow would probably be the day, Cor mused, and forced himself to eat as decent of a meal as he could scrounge together. He would need the strength.

When Cor awoke the next morning, he felt a presence in the back of his mind, a small warmth that he could not explain. He was close. He packed up his little camp and pulled his hood up to cover his face as much as possible before squaring his shoulders and jumping.

With his ability to move between , Cor easily entered the city, bypassing any security checkpoints. Once he felt safe enough, he dove down an alleyway and allowed his mind to drift. The warm presence that had grown exponentially as he approached the city was all but flooding his mind now, he just needed to figure out how to narrow down its source. All of his instincts told him to head to the great keep in the center of the city, and he put his head down and did just that.

For all that Zagnautus was the Great Imperial Keep, it was shockingly easy to break into. Using all the skills at his disposal, Cor moved from room to room, floor to floor, and what he saw before him made his heart ache. MTs as far as the eye can see, many in odd bays that seemed to be some sort of storage locker, scientists with determined looks in their eyes going about their business-

-and then he found the first room with the children. A room with some thirty cribs lay before him, each baby with an IV line feeding a black fluid into their bodies. He forced himself to leave after several tense moments where he squashed down the urge to rip the lines out of the children. He could not save all of them, he knew this, but the temptation still tore at him. The next room he found housed children that appeared to be in the two to three range. These children were also attached to machines feeding them that same black sludge. He looked around, but he was being pulled elsewhere. He heaved a deep sigh and left the second group of children behind as well, but not without first having to swipe a hand across blurry eyes and wet cheeks.

The room he entered next appeared to be filled with records, and he forced himself to glance at a few of the ones that were sitting unfiled. It took him only a matter of seconds to realize what he was looking at. When he opened the file for one MT-073919-20 and saw the expressionless face of a girl no older than six, Cor had to bite his fist to keep from screaming. All this time, he had thought, they had all thought that MTs were machines, robots, but instead they were children warped by some vile drug into what ended up on the battlefield. Flipping through several other files confirmed this, and he again had to force himself from the room. He had a job to do, even if what he really wanted to do was burn the whole damn keep to the ground.

He paused outside the next room he reached, feeling the warmth of the tentative connection with the child envelop him. He had made it. Cor lingered longer than he meant to, savoring the soft feeling, but when he heard footsteps behind him in the hallway, he quickly opened the door and entered the room. Blue-violet eyes met his from across the room, and he knew it was time to go.

When trying to describe later to a grown Prompto what had happened, Cor basically just grumbled something about not leaving any of his roommates behind, and had somehow managed to get twenty-four children outside of the city undetected. What he would never tell Prompto is that the attempt nearly killed him, his ability had never been used to transport one extra person, let alone two dozen, and it was only due to the strict obedience drilled into the children that kept them all together when he promptly passed out on landing. It took a full day for Cor to scrape himself off of the ground of the haven he had dumped all of them in, and he would nurse a severe headache for a week. Pulling out the assorted clothing he had picked up for the kid, he managed to distribute it enough where they looked more like a preschool class out for a field trip then runaways from a hospital. The lesson learned, Cor scraped together much of his remaining funds and bought a pile of third class tickets at a rural train station outside of Gralea, and thanked every deity-like being who would listen that the children were incredibly well behaved.

Against all odds, Cor and his ducklings made it to Tenebrae without incident, where they were met unexpectedly by a housecarl of Nox Fleuret, who announced that the queen wished to see them. Cor was wary, for all of the Oracle’s friendship with the line of Lucis, it was quite another thing for a wayward Crownsguard to show up with a gaggle of small Niflheimian children. It was clear by the stern faced guard that she would not take no for an answer, and the whole line of Cor and his ducklings, little Prompto (he had a name, Prompto had told Cor with as much pomp and regality as Regis could ever hope to pull off, it was just that they only called him that when he was undergoing his individual training) at the front with him, headed up the hill to the palace.

Queen Sylva was waiting in the main throne room of the palace when they entered, and Cor marched in with the children and bowed to the queen, noting the somewhat bemused expression on her face.

“Welcome to Tenebrae, Sir Leonis. I have heard some very interesting things about you in recent days.”

Cor felt a chill go down his spine, and shifted closer to Prompto. He would have to abandon the other children if he had to flee, but he had faith in the good nature of the oracle to see them taken care of. Out of the corner of his eye, a pale raven-haired woman dressed largely in black stood partially concealed by the shadow of a nearby pillar, her gaze piercing right to the heart of him. A messenger of the astrals. Cor could not explain how he knew, only simply that he was right. He glanced back at the queen, who was clearly watching the two of them, and after a pause, the queen raised a hand, dismissing her staff. After the doors closed behind the last of them, the three adults left in the room regarded each other.

“Gentiana has told me that you and her are not so different, Sir Leonis. She tells me that you serve the Dawn Mother as her herald, the first since the days of Solheim.”

For Cor, hearing it vocalized in the regular world was jarring, and he could not make himself speak as the messenger, Gentiana, emerged from the shadows and approached him, a distant smile upon her delicate features.

“You and yours are in no danger here, herald. Your king will hear none of this unless you wish it.” Cor let out a breath that he had not even realized he had been holding. Safe. He could not bring himself to entirely believe it, but he allowed himself to relax a small amount, his still-amazing headache lessening the slightest amount.

“I’m afraid you caught me at a bit of a disadvantage, your majesty, lady messenger- I have literally never spoken the words of my position in the waking world, and to hear them so bluntly is...unnerving,” Cor bowed his head to look at the children as he spoke, brushing his fingertips through Prompto’s messy golden hair. What he almost missed was the oracle’s features softening as she watched him interact with the child, and a look being exchanged with Gentiana leading to a decision being made.

“I cannot take them all, Sir Leonis, but I will take in the children less likely to blend in at your destination.”

Cor could have cried with relief at those words, but he forced himself to stay calm. “Any assistance you can provide would be of the utmost help, your majesty.”

In the end, Cor stayed a week; the oracle’s eldest child, Ravus, was attending a special course in the southern part of Tenebrae and was not around, but the next oracle, little Princess Lunafreya was there, and she was excellent with the children. Prompto followed the older girl around like a lovestruck puppy half the time, and Cor constantly felt like the bad guy when he would retrieve the little one from her side. Over the course of the week, the queen used her power to purge them of the sickness within them, and one by one they left, leaving Cor with nine, including Prompto. They were offered a ferry back to one of the southern capes of Lucis, and with sincere thanks, Cor and his much smaller group of ducklings departed.

As Cor and company progressed back though Lucis, mostly by bus, but also by walking, he started dropping children off at various orphanages. While he felt a little guilty each time, he rationalized that they would have a far better life anywhere but where they came from, and sent them off with a smile. By the time they had reached the Causcherry Plains, it was just Cor and Prompto, and he hitched the little boy into his arms and stepped. The plains of Leide stretched before them as he walked the two of them up to the old wall.

“What’s that?” Prompto asked, pointing to what was either the wall or his motorcycle, which was thankfully still in the same place he left it.

“That’s my motorcycle, I use it for travelling.” Cor replied, giving the vehicle a quick visual inspection before sitting down by it, Prompto still in his arms.

“Are we gonna ride it?” It was the child’s innocent question that threw Cor into a partial state of panic. All the time travelling, both to Niflheim and back, and the most important question had not been answered, hell, he hadn’t even really thought of it, even as they parted with the other children.

Where was Prompto going to stay? The goddess had given no instruction; he had not heard a peep from her since her edict that sent him on this mad dash across the world, and he...was he supposed to take in the child? Prompto was a complete sweetheart against all odds of his upbringing, but excepting the whole herald thing, Cor was the textbook career soldier. While he had tried a few relationships over the years, he had never thought of getting married. He had certainly given pretty much no consideration to having children. He was gone far too much, and his position carried a considerable amount of risk. While the goddess seemed to expect him to survive well into the future, it wasn’t a guarantee. He couldn’t bring a child into that. He couldn’t.

Prompto wriggled out of his lap during his musings, running over to poke his fingers delicately into the engine of Cor’s bike; Cor found himself on his feet dislodging said little fingers from the grease covered engine before Prompto could get completely filthy, plucking up the tow-headed child with a sigh. He couldn’t say he wasn’t a little ( a lot ) tempted with the adoption idea when those luminous eyes looked up at him with such sweetness, but-

“Damn,” Cor muttered, leading to Prompto tutting disapprovingly at him. “Yeah, kiddo, I know.” Cor disengaged the kickstand of his bike carefully, leaning the bike against his side as he awkwardly juggled Prompto before finally just plopping him on the seat. “Stay there for me.”

“Okay.” Prompto clutched the sides of the seat as Cor began walking the bike down the hill towards the road far slower than he would otherwise, making sure his charge kept his balance.

He was a cute kid.

Cor wasn’t quite sure how he was going to be able to ride the bike with Prompto, but he made it work by zipping the kid into his hoodie, his little blond head resting right below Cor’s chin. Not the safest method in the world, but he was only going to the closest haven for now. He needed time to think. He gave the idea serious consideration as he set up where they would rest, his eyes constantly travelling to the sunshine-haired boy. He wanted to, he truly did, but-

The next day, he left his bike behind, did up his hoodie so his face was mostly concealed, and hoisted Prompto onto his hip. He had let his beard grow in, thick and scraggly, and it would help keep his identity under wraps while he did...what he needed to do. He had made his decision, as much as his heart hurt because of it. As he left the boy with the matron of the largest orphanage in Insomnia, Cor was weeping before he even made it out of the building, made all the worse by Prompto’s cries and screams when he realized he was being left behind. Cor told himself it was for the best.

Cor was a fucking liar, especially to himself.

He tried to rally, told himself he would reconsider if Prompto wasn’t adopted within a year, but the loving and beautiful child that he was made him one of the fastest turnarounds at the main orphanage in Insomnia had ever seen, and Prompto Ferrarius became Prompto Argentum before three months was out. It was easier then; Cor occasionally checked in on the child, albeit from a distance, and somehow managed to go back to his regular life.

As the years went by and Prompto turned into a latchkey kid that spent most of his time alone, Cor felt that old regret slice through him constantly. It was far too late to do anything about it now, he reasoned, and buried that sour feeling as low as he could manage. If there was an emergency, he always knew where Prompto was. That would have to do.

When Prompto suddenly started coming around the Citadel as a teenager bouncing alongside the prince, Cor was so suspicious about the circumstances that he asked the goddess about it the next time she checked in with him; she laughed at his dubious expression, but swore she had not even reached out to her Voice yet, and thusly the two boys had honestly befriended each other on their own, as far as she knew. Cor always got the impression that she had expected him to adopt Prompto, but she had never once articulated her thoughts on the matter one way or the other, and he chose not to dwell too much on it, because that…that was a chasm that he would not soon climb out of if he let himself start the descent.

When Eos reached out to Prompto for the first time, soon after the boys had graduated high school, Cor knew immediately. The second mental switch of sorts related to the young man flipped over, and the all-consuming sense of right that flooded through him was enough for him to need a few moments to himself. Things were coming together, and even though he wasn’t entirely sure how everything would play out, at least things were going well for now.

 

---

 

Prompto could barely keep his eyes open. The Dawn Mother had seemingly fetched him every time he had fallen asleep during the previous week, and he couldn’t remember the last time he had gotten more than a few hours of actual rest. He had considered bringing it up to the goddess, but he always felt fine when he was there, and she was always so encouraging-

He was supposed to be going for his usual training session with Gladio, and even though he was pretty sure he was going to fall asleep on the benches again, he had splashed cold water on his face and forced himself to jog to the Citadel, hoping the cold air would keep him awake. It wasn’t going all that well, he had stumbled more than a few times in what was usually a smooth run, and he almost turned around and headed home more than once.

He was just so tired. The guard waved him in, and he barely had the strength or wherewithal to acknowledge her as he trudged into the courtyard proper. Prompto was so out of it that he didn’t even notice Ignis coming up alongside him until the other man cleared his throat, causing Prompto to jump, trip over a step, and almost land face-first on the very threshold of the Citadel. Normally, he would be completely embarrassed and trying to wave off his mistake with silly excuses, but he could barely form words, instead staring stupidly at Ignis as he knelt before Prompto.

“-Prompto, are you alright?” Ignis said, concern plain in his face, and Prompto realized that he had missed whatever Ignis had said. “Prompto?”

“Oh, shit, I’m sorry. You know me, I’m a big clutz-” Prompto grabbed at Iggy’s outstretched hand and managed to find his feet, too tired to really notice that he was swaying rather alarmingly even after finding his footing.

Iggy was suddenly far too close for Prompto’s discombobulated equilibrium, and he only remained standing due to Iggy’s grip on his hand. “Prompto, I have been patient, I have tried not to push too much, but this has gone far enough,” Ignis spoke, his grip firm around Prompto’s hand as he started trying to twist away. “Please, Prompto, let me take you to see a doctor. We’ve all been so worried about you.”

It took every bit of energy Prompto had, but he managed to shake loose of Ignis, turning on his heel to get out of there. He couldn’t see a doctor, he knew what was wrong, but she needed him, she told him that, and he really didn’t want to disappoint her by asking for some days off. He would adjust, he always did-

“Prompto!”

Ignis’s shout seemed like it was coming from the opposite side of the courtyard as the world spun around him, and Prompto let out a gasp before he crumpled to the ground and let the darkness carry him away.

 

---  

 

Ignis couldn't take it any more. Prompto ripped himself out of Ignis’s grip and staggered back, swaying alarmingly as he attempted to turn away. The younger man was muttering something under his breath as he continued to wobble backwards, his freckles standing out against his increasingly pale skin. Ignis could not make out what he was saying, but the sight made his chest clench in fear. This was far enough. Ignis had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but whatever was wrong with Prompto, it had clearly reached its zenith.

He started to move closer to Prompto, hoping to see if he could get him to sit so he could call for medical services, when all the color rushed out of Prompto’s face, his eyes rolling back as he began to collapse.

“Prompto!” Ignis lunged, barely managing to grab him before he could crack his head on the concrete. “Damn it!” Pulling the unconscious Prompto into his lap, Ignis dug around in his own pocket for his phone, before producing it and preparing to dial emergency.

“Let me help, Scientia.” Ignis blinked in surprise, craning his head to look at Marshal Leonis, concern clear in the drawn expression. “It’ll take too long for the paramedics to get here; we’ll just take Argentum to the Citadel infirmary for now, and they can decide if he needs more specialized care.” Without waiting for a reply, the marshal dropped to one knee and gathered Prompto into his arms with ease, rising again just as smoothly. Ignis scrambled up after the Crownsguard, who was already ten feet away before he even found his feet, and hastily caught up.

“Marshal, my thanks. He’s been so tired lately, and just as close-lipped when we’ve tried to see if we can help, but I never expected it would go this far,” Ignis said quietly, looking between the determined expression on Cor’s face, and the slack features of his friend, and a stray thought crossed his mind. “Not that this is ideal timing, but have you two met before?” At his inquiry, the strangest expression passed over the marshall’s face for a moment, but it was gone in a flash and Leonis was back to his usual stern countenance. Odd, Ignis mused, but there was more important things to worry about now. The three of them made quick work of the Citadel, and before Ignis knew it, Prompto was being lowered to a gurney and wheeled into an exam room, and the two men were left alone.

“To answer your question from earlier, yes, we have met on several occasions here

and there, but I tend to run into him here when he’s visiting the prince or training with Gladiolus,” Leonis stated, and Ignis tilted his head in understanding. “He’s a good kid, I’m sure this will be just a temporary setback.” The compliment was unusual for the marshal, who was well known for his evenhanded style of leadership, and certainly not as one to dole out undeserved compliments. Ignis had to work to contain his surprise. Prompto had obviously made an impression on the older man.

Ignis thought again on the strange expression that had overtaken the marshal’s face on the way to the infirmary and thought that perhaps the Marshall knew Prompto a little better than he was willing to admit. He had no proof, but he wondered... A thought suddenly hit him, and Ignis bowed his head to the older man. “I should call the prince and Gladiolus and apprise them of the current situation. I thank you again for your assistance, sir.”

The marshal waved off the thanks and sat down in one of the lobby chairs. “I’ll stick around until we hear something, you do what you need to do.” Ignis couldn’t hide the surprised blink, but nodded again and exited the infirmary.

Ignis pulled his phone back out and dialed Gladiolus first, as it was the usual training session that Prompto had with him that he had missed.

“Yeah?” Gladio sounded a bit winded, almost guaranteeing that he was in the the training room.

Ignis decided to simply lay out the facts. “Prompto fell unconscious outside in the Citadel courtyard, I assume while he was heading in to meet up with you. The marshal happened to be nearby, and he assisted in taking Prompto to the infirmary-”

“Wait, what? Prom passed out? Shit, give me a minute, I’ll be right there.”

Ignis’s phone beeped, signalling that Gladio had hung up. One down. Ignis dialed Noctis this time, waiting until it cycled through to voicemail, hung up, then immediately dialed again.

“What’s up, Iggy?” In complete contrast to his previous call, Noctis sounded like he had food in his mouth, and Ignis barely bit back another sigh.

“Come down to the infirmary, Prompto lost consciousness out in the courtyard, the marshal and I brought him up.” Ignis pulled his phone away from his ear in a practiced motion after he was done speaking, knowing what was coming.

“What the fuck do you mean he’s in the infirmary, Iggy- what the hell I’m coming down now,” Noctis yelled, his words running together as a door opened and slammed in the background of the call, then the noise cut off abruptly as Ignis’s phone beeped once more.

Ignis tucked his phone away and allowed himself to lean against the wall outside of the infirmary, waiting for the others to show. All they could do now is hope that whatever the problem with Prompto was, it was easily correctable. Ignis didn’t want to consider a serious medical condition and the impact on someone as energetic and outgoing as Prompto usually was. It would be something straight-forward. It had to be.

Due to the difference in starting locations, while Ignis had called Gladiolus first, it was Noctis who skidded into the hallway, dashing up to Ignis without a word. Ignis grabbed the prince’s arm right before he entered the infirmary, and pulled him to the side just as Gladiolus reached them as well.

It was Gladio who spoke first. “So what happened, Iggy?” Noctis pulled his arm out of Ignis’s grip, but didn’t try to go inside again. Ignis gave them both a short recap, admitting that he had finally snapped and begged for Prompto to be seen by a doctor, only for the blond to collapse just moments later.

“-and then the marshal, who just happened to be nearby, swooped in and took Prompto almost before I could react. I doubt that I could have picked Prompto up so easily, but he got to his feet like he didn’t have a grown man in his arms. In hindsight, it was quite impressive,” Ignis pondered, tapping his finger against his lip. Gladiolus chuckled, and even Noctis cracked a bit of a smile after Ignis finished.

Gladio slapped Ignis on the back before heading to the door. “Down boy, we know that the marshal makes your heart all a-twitter, but we probably should see how the idiot is doing.” The silly smiles that had found homes on their faces died immediately, and Ignis and Noctis followed Gladiolus into the infirmary. Leonis was still seated, although now he had his eyes closed; his ramrod posture and his crossed arms did not invite conversation, and the three of them sat down catercorner to the older man, settling in to wait.

After what felt like an age, a doctor came out, and all four men immediately rose to their feet. The doctor’s footsteps stuttered when she saw those gathered, but to her credit, she recovered just as fast and approached the group.

“We’ve run some tests, even given him a potion, which has assisted in Mr. Argentum transitioning to natural sleep, but as far as we can tell, this is just an unfortunate case of acute exhaustion. While the blood work isn’t back, there’s no obvious signs of anything artificial, and no physical evidence to otherwise contradict that. Unless something unprecedented comes back in the blood test, I’m going to say that he’s got a very nasty case of burnout. I doubt he’s slept more than a few hours in the last week. I might expect to see something like this in an active warzone, but Mr. Argentum has managed to achieve against the odds,” the doctor paused, then looked over at Ignis. “Has he been out of sorts for awhile, or is this recent?”

Noctis levelled a rather un-princely snort. “Try at least three months.” The doctor’s eyebrows raised, and Gladio and Ignis nodded in agreement.

“Hmm. Well, barring anything unexpected coming back in the blood work, we are going to admit Mr. Argentum, and simply let him sleep. We’ll reevaluate when he awakens.”

The doctor turned to head back into the exam room, stopping when Noctis reached out a hand and grabbed her sleeve. “Can we go in?”

“Give us a few minutes to move him to a regular room, and that will be acceptable. Please remain as quiet as possible whilst you are in there, we want him to rest.” The doctor bowed to Noctis, nodded to the others, then vanished into the exam room behind.

The marshal sighed, and all three younger men turned to face him as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m going to get out of here for now. Keep me updated if something happens, or he wakes up.”

Gladiolus nodded. “Yes sir.”

“Thanks, Cor. For your help.” Noctis said, and the Marshal nodded to the prince and left. Noctis took a deep breath, then pulled out his phone. “Time to make sure I’ve levelled up a few times in King’s Knight so I can trick Prompto into thinking he’s been sleeping for weeks.”

Gladiolus laughed, following Noctis’s lead and grabbed his phone; Ignis rolled his eyes and sat back down, allowing his thoughts to wander.

Maybe, just maybe, Prompto will finally tell them what was going on once he reawakened.

 

---

 

Cor stopped by his office to inform Monica that he was leaving early today, leaving as soon as he heard her confirm. He had never tried to reach out to the goddess, instead waiting for her to come to him, but matters had reached a head. Prompto had been little more than a zombie for months, ever since she first contacted him, and his growing fatigue had been flooding into the back of Cor’s mind as time went on. He had a rather unfortunate hypothesis that he needed to have confirmed.

Eos had always seemed to be a rather benevolent goddess, but she was not human, and perhaps...perhaps she needed to be reminded of that before she killed her own voice out of accidental neglect. Cor reached the door of his quarters, entering and shutting the door behind him quickly when he heard voices in the hallway behind him. He had no interest in chatting with one of his neighbors right now. Cor pried his boots off, leaving them by the door before he headed into his bedroom, allowing himself to slump onto his bed.

How was he supposed to go about this? The Oracle had to do ceremonial things to speak to the Astrals, as far as he knew, but Eos had never mentioned anything like that before. After entertaining several ideas, including the somewhat ludicrous idea of going out and speaking to the open air, Cor settled for simply mentally reaching out, hoping that she would, at the least, read his intent. Laying down in his bed, he got to work.

Dawn Mother, my lady, your humble servant has need of your presence, I wish to speak to you of your voice . He repeated his statement unvoiced several times, but Cor was a soldier through and through...he could sleep anywhere. Somewhere around the tenth repetition, he dozed off.

Well, this is a first, my herald. I’ve always wondered if you would reach out to me, but you are rather self-sufficient, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that your reasoning is young Prompto. “

Cor opened his eyes to find himself lying within the eternal grasses of the goddess’s meadow, the target of his call standing before him, he scrambled to his feet and bowed to her as he always did when they met. “My lady, thank you. I wasn’t sure how I might go about this.”

“If you truly seek me, Cor, I will hear you. I promise that I do not linger in your thoughts at any given time. But you are my herald, and I will always hear when you call,” Eos smiled and dipped her head to Cor, who bowed again. “ Now what has happened that has led you thus?”

Now that Cor was here, he realized he wasn’t quite sure how to broach the subject. Perhaps she was hoping that Prompto would toughen up? No, that couldn’t be it, even the strongest of people needed to sleep. Well, the goddess chose him, she’ll understand his bluntness. “My lady, forgive me if I sound a bit...er, patronizing, but I must ask; are you aware that mortals need to sleep?” In hindsight, getting to see a goddess look legitimately confused was rather amusing, but it was a serious matter.

“I know that you all need rest at some point of the solar day, but I must confess, my dear Cor, what brings up this subject?” Eos had summoned two seats as he spoke, which Cor gratefully relaxed onto. The vagueness of her statement had answered Cor’s question for him, now all that was left was to convince her to let the kid sleep more than once a week.

“Prompto has slept so little in the last three months that he is seriously endangering his health, my lady. I thought it would be prudent to speak with you about the situation.”

The confusion on the Dawn Mother’s face had transformed to shocked concern, followed just as swiftly by a flash of what Cor could only describe as embarrassment. He actually felt rather bad for her, considering that he was pretty sure she had just forgotten. By her own admission, Solheim still reigned supreme the last time she had a herald and voice, and perhaps...even immortals forget.

Perhaps I have been bringing him here too often...He’s been doing so well with all I must teach him that I enjoy seeing him. Unlike you, I have a strong omen we will not have the almost thirty years you and I have had together for him to learn all that is required for his task, but if he is becoming ill, than my passion in his training will not help him,” Eos paused, then looked seriously at Cor . “Tell me, how much time per solar day do humans usually rest? For some reason, I thought it only a hour or so, but clearly my memories of mortal sleep patterns are perhaps weakened with time and distance.”

Cor found himself smiling despite himself, and he shook his head. “I think your usual human sleeps between six and nine hours a night, my lady.”

“Oh, I...see. I can tell you want to just tell me to leave my poor voice alone to rest occasionally, and I am sure you are completely in the right. I will not summon him for a fortnight, then I will ask what would work best for him.” Eos, still looking a bit flustered, shot Cor a questioning look. Cor responded by rising to his feet and bowing.

“Your wisdom is absolute, Dawn Mother.” Okay, that may have been a bit sarcastic , Cor thought.

Eos raised a divine eyebrow in censure before waving a goodbye to him as the meadow faded away. Cor found himself staring at the ceiling of his bedroom, the moonlight flooding in through the window.

“Well, that worked.” Cor muttered, then sat up, pulled off his shirt and pants, then fell back into bed and retired to normal sleep.

 

---

 

Prompto woke up feeling like he was born again. Seriously, he couldn’t remember the last time he felt this good. Prompto opened his eyes and realized very quickly that he wasn’t at his place, but even that realization didn’t keep his post-decent sleep high from fading too badly. Then he looked around for real at what was clearly a hospital room, noticed he had an IV, and his mood quickly deteriorated. Shit. He scrambled at the sheets with his hands and tried to get up, only for his lax limbs to immediately collapse back under him. Prompto scowled at the ceiling, then figured he’d just see if anyone was around.

“Hello?” Calling out ended up being a bad idea, as he started coughing from the dryness in his throat; he had only just gotten it under control when a nurse entered the room, giving him a kindly smile before heading over to his bed.

“Mr. Argentum, it’s good to see you awake. How are you feeling?” Prompto opened his mouth to reply, but began to cough again. The nurse frowned, but swiftly retrieved a small cup of water and held it up to Prompto. “Do you think you can drink on your own?” Prompto made a few aborted grabs for the cup before finally managing it, bringing his shaking hand to his mouth and taking a gulp of water that he barely swallowed, but he forced it down. He looked back up the man staying at his bedside and nodded his thanks.

“How long have I been here? And where is here?” Prompto inquired of the nurse, who smiled and shook his head.

“I’m afraid I’m under royal orders not to tell you yet, my apologies. I’m Septimus, and I’ll be your nurse while you are still here with us. You are currently in the infirmary at the Citadel, where your friends brought you. How are you feeling, Mr. Argentum? You came in here a bit ragged, unfortunately.” Septimus smiled down at Prompto, who didn’t know how to process all that the man had just said.

“The last thing I remember, I was talking to Iggy...then nothing. Drat, I passed out, didn’t I? Shit,” Prompto grumbled, looking at the IV. “I actually feel pretty much amazing, besides the fact I’m here and I’m sure my legs will flop like noodles when I get up.”

“That’s excellent to hear, Mr. Argentum-”

“Prompto.”

“-Prompto. Our belief is that you simply hadn’t been sleeping adequately for a significant amount of time, and your body decided that enough was enough. What do you think?” Septimus asked, and Prompto hung his head.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much the issue in a nutshell.” Septimus nodded as he grabbed the chart at the end of the bed, made a short note, and replaced it.

“I’ll be back in a little bit, go ahead and relax. The doctor will want to speak to you.” The nurse left before Prompto could reply, but as Prompto lifted the cup to his mouth to take another sip, there was a knock at his door. Prompto looked up (and up) to see Gladio standing there, a grin on his face.

“Hey Prompto! Good to see you awake!” Gladio said, and Prompto couldn’t help but return the smile, even as trepidation started to trickle down his spine.

“I’m sorry I’ve been such a mess lately, maybe this will get my sleep cycle back in whack.” Prompto muttered, ignoring the fact that he knew exactly what the problem was. As much as he hated to say anything to the goddess that didn’t have to do with their meetings, he was going to have to speak up. He couldn’t go through this again, he’d probably pass out onto the subway tracks next time. Gladio raised an eyebrow, but apparently took him at his word, conversation drifted to different topics for awhile as Prompto tried to stretch out his limbs.

Obviously everyone had gotten the memo, because shortly thereafter, both Noct and Ignis showed up; Noct promptly claimed he had slept for a month, which almost gave Prompto a heart attack, and Iggy rolled his eyes at Noct even as he tutted at Prompto about his health. Almost four days was the actual answer, and that was almost as distressing.  

Prompto sighed and picked at the sheets for a minute before finally steeling himself to speak. “I’m sorry for worrying you guys, I know you’ve all tried to bring it up over the last few months, and, well, I think I’m not really used to people really paying attention when I’m under the weather, my parents are gone so much-” Prompto was cut off by Noct, who leveled him a rather impressive glare.

“Just tell us next time, dipshit. We didn’t like seeing you like that either.” Gladio grunted his agreement with Noct, and Ignis rolled his eyes again, but Prompto noted that he didn’t disagree with the sentiment.

“I promise.” Prompto’s cell phone was produced from somewhere, and they started playing King’s Knight; Prompto happened to look over at his right wrist as they played, and the sight of an unfamiliar wristband almost caused him to drop his phone. He recovered even as Ignis gave him a dubious look, and Prompto took a single deep breath, and forced himself to return to his game.

The doctor came in, drew some blood, and stated that if Prompto got a normal night’s sleep, she’d release him tomorrow. So after a bland lunch, and everyone having to leave shortly thereafter, Prompto played for a little longer with his phone, only to set it aside as his eyes grew heavy. He would talk to the goddess if he saw her, he had to. He couldn’t go through this again. The last thing he remembered seeing as he drifted off was a slightly familiar silhouette appearing next to his bed, running a finger over his right wristband and gently smoothing a hand through his hair.

It was nice.