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Shallow Water

Chapter Text

‘I'm going to die here.’

He was breathing hard and losing feeling of his leg fast, which was probably a bad thing, but at least it didn't hurt as much. His consciousness had taken on a fuzzy incomprehensible feeling, the edges of his sight going black.

He hoped Cor wouldn't get mad.

 

-

 

Prompto had been exploring the edge of the forest in the opposite direction of the house and village. He'd been mapping the village and the forest surrounding it for the past four years, trying to make the place as familiar as possible. So far he had managed to learn most of the forest floor, where to walk and not, where creatures tended to stay and the places to seek or avoid. Cor didn't mind him doing this so long as he came back after a period of time, and checked in once in awhile. He had camped out in the forest for a few days before.

The area of the forest he was in was somewhere he had been mostly avoiding due to the patrolling MTs. Niflheim had been keeping a closer eye on the controlled territories in recent times.

Prompto had been intending to keep away from the patrolling route he had memorised but he’d been distracted and had slipped away from the area he had marked as 'safe’. He had heard the march of MTs and had ran to hide behind the trees, but in his haste, he hadn’t managed to keep quiet.

He heard the MTs stop right behind where he was hiding above the rapid staccato beat of his heart.

“Defective MT unit NH-01987 detected,” came a robotic feminine voice, “Terminate immediately.”

The sound of the heavy metal of the MT units came closer to him, right before shots were fired.

“Oh, shit!”

Twigs and leaves cracked under stumbling boots, as he ran as fast as he could away from the pursuing MTs. He didn't really have an escape plan apart from 'run’, and he couldn't remember which route would take him back to the house. However, he did thank his lucky stars that he at least sort-of knew this part of the woods so he didn't trip on any protruding roots.

Light started filtering in more and more as he ran on, the trees getting sparser, and the sound of waves reached his ears. It became easier to run as the forest started to give way to the cliff side, but that also meant less cover from ricocheting bullets.

As Prompto reached the cliff edge, meaning to take a sharp left turn to go down the rocky banks- where the water would provide a sure respite from the very mechanical pursuers- a shot rang out closer than all the others, and hit him in the abdomen. He tripped and fell straight off the cliff edge. He heard a sickening crunch right before he lost consciousness.

 

-

 

He woke with a gasp. His mind was a fuzzy mess and he couldn't remember how he got to where he was. Where was he anyways? He tried to get up but the pain in his abdomen made him fall back down.

‘Oh right, I was shot.’

Prompto felt a hand on his chest keeping him in place and an angry click of the tongue.

“Don't try getting up again or you'll waste all the healing I've done.” The voice that chided him was male, vaguely accented like the people of Galahd, and muffled, like he was speaking under water. Prompto knew there was something off about that, but couldn't figure what it was in his current state.

He couldn't be dead, right? He was pretty sure it wasn't meant to hurt this much if he was. Maybe he being was saved by this mysterious person, or maybe he was hallucinating a saviour in his final moments.

A hand was placed above where the wound probably was, if all the pain radiating from the area was an indicator. A short moment later, he felt a tingling sensation and then a cool feeling washed over the pain, before it faded out into something more manageable. He didn't realise it'd been so hard to breathe through it till it was mostly gone. It was then that he- staring up into the open sky, view blocked slightly by the cliff side- realised that he could feel his leg again and that it wasn't hurting like it should have been.

He made to get up, or at least sit up, to take a look at the man who had healed him somehow. The hand on his chest and at his abdomen had moved away by then, so he assumed it was safe to move.

The man was somewhat to his side. He had dark, beautiful eyes, like the midnight sky, and even darker hair, but skin so pale it was almost luminescent, even in the light of day.

‘He's not wearing a shirt. Why isn't he wearing a shirt?’

And then he noticed the tail.

He felt his face go slack in shock, as he took in the dark blue scales, shimmering with an oily sheen in the sunlight, and the silky fins. He couldn't even see the end of the tail because it was submerged in the murky water. The man- ‘ was he even a man? He has gills, oh gods’ - raised an eyebrow at him.

The man spoke once more in his strangely toned accent, flashes of his teeth, sharp enough that Prompto had to suppress a shudder, “I'm going to continue working on your leg again, now that the bleeding in your abdomen has stopped.”

Prompto nodded faintly, his mind still not processing what his eyes saw, especially when the hands of the man(?) hovered over his leg and a soft light- 'is that magic? What the fuck’ - emitted forth.

Maybe he had died, and this was some strange purgatory, some place between life and the beyond, or maybe he had been given really good drugs. And then he shifted a little and his very new, very fresh abdominal injury twanged and the enchantment was lifted.

“Stop moving, I need to concentrate. Healing magic isn't easy.”

“Uhm...what?”

“I guess the fall really knocked some things loose in your head, didn't it?”

Prompto wasn't really sure whether he was insulted by that, but he figured that this was more familiar territory than whatever else was going on. He was going to choose to ignore that until a later date.

“What happened? How did you find me down here?”

“I was in the caves,” the man said, indicating with a nod of his head, the shaggy hair moving in tandem with it. His hands never left his leg, the magic a continuous flow, “I heard a lot of noise coming from out here and came to check. Next thing I see, you were falling down the side of the cliff, blood trailing after you.”

“Oh.”

The man-

-Okay, this was getting ridiculous-

“What's your name? I'm starting to get tired of referring to you as 'the man' in my head.”

“It's Noctis,” Noctis said, and with a quick sharp flick of his tail, “And that's not exactly true now is it.”

“I was trying to ignore that. My name is Prompto.”

“Well Prompto, your leg should be fine with a lot more rest, and obviously no more falling off cliffs.”

“Ha ha. Not like I was planning on it.”

Noctis smirked at him, slipping more into the water now that his work was done. However, much to Prompto's surprise, he didn't swim away, to be remembered as a lucid fever dream. Instead, he folded his arms in the stone slab Prompto was lying on and rested his head, looking at him.

Prompto sat there awkwardly for a while, until deciding to at least test the healing done on his leg. It was better than just being silently observed. He got up shakily, still not trusting his leg to be able to hold him upright. It had a lot to do with not having known about any type of magic apart from the Oracle's. The bloodstains on his pants and shirt played a pretty big part too.

Once he was fully upright, he shifted his weight a little and took faltering steps along the slab. His leg was a little stiff, and his abdomen ached, but the pain he felt was like what he would feel from an old wound. He turned and smiled brightly down at Noctis, who returned a smaller, pleased smile.

“If you keep stretching and don't push yourself too much, you'll be back to full functionality. You might feel the weather but other than that…”

“Okay, I knew that, but how do you know so much about legs.” Prompto gave a pointed glance to Noctis’s tail.

Noctis’s smile grew wider, showing off his sharp, sharp teeth.

“I'm magic, remember.”

Prompto gave an annoyed huff, hiding his apprehension, sitting back down on the slab next to where Noctis was lying.

“I am grateful though, thanks for saving me. I don't know what my dad would do if he found out I died for such a stupid reason,” he sighed, “Probably revive me just so he could kill me himself.”

“Sounds harsh. My dad wouldn't do that, but I do know someone, or well, a few people, who would.” Noct seemed fond, thinking about these people.

“I don't want to seem rude or anything but I really can't figure out what you are?”

“Nyx calls us mermaids, there are stories about us.”

“Oh…” Prompto thought about it, trying to remember what mermaids were, “I think my dad's told me some of those stories, but I always thought they were just fictional?”

Noctis gestured to himself, and bent his head downwards in a mock of a bow, his hair falling silkily around his face, “Mythical creature at your service.”

“Do all mermaids know how to speak Lucian? Or land speech in general?”

“All of us have at least a bit of a grasp of languages from above here. We learnt them mostly from Nyx and his crew, though some of my people have been known to seek out other humans, in the other regions. I've got better speech than most because my dad wanted me to learn.”

“Okay... that's a lot of things I'm going to need to process,” Prompto shook his head, his hand coming to swipe across his face, “So, this Nyx, he's your teacher? And he and his crew are humans? Or are close to humans?”

Noctis nodded, but then shook his head, “I wouldn't say Nyx was my teacher, it was more a collective effort. But, yeah, they're human.”

“So how...” Prompto trailed off, as he realised that he'd been interrogating the man- merman, whatever- who had saved him, and that was not the thing to do when making acquaintances, even if said acquaintance was half fish.

“How what?” prompted Noctis, when Prompto had let the silence stretch too long.

“Oh, I'm not being annoying, right? You already saved me, there's no obligation you have to stay and answer all my prying. Honestly, I've taken up all this time, you probably were doing something or gonna do something until my disaster of an ass came falling from the sky.” Prompto looked sheepishly at Noctis, embarrassed about his word vomit.

Noctis huffed, amused, possibly endeared, at his rambling, “I only came here to avoid my responsibilities, there was nothing important happening, don't worry about it.”

“Well, if you're sure, but I should probably start making my way back home anyways. I don't know what happened to my phone, and that's another thing I'm going to have to find a way to explain to Dad,” Prompto sighed, getting up from his perch, he was really going to get in trouble, “So I can't check in with him, he might get worried and come look for me, and I definitely don't want that.”

Noctis cocked his head, humming in agreement, “I should head back too, before my dad sends Nyx after me, or Gladio comes looking for me himself, what with me skipping training.”

“Who's- you know, nevermind, I'll ask next time. Uh, if you don't mind me coming back anyways...” he trailed off, feeling silly for assuming that Noctis would want to keep being in his company. He owed Noctis his life, but Noctis didn't owe him anything.

“Sure, I come here pretty often, so the next time you visit, we can talk.”

“O-oh, okay then. See you next time!” Prompto waved at Noctis as he walked backwards, towards the cliff face and where the path to go back up lay.

Noctis waved back, smiling as he slipped into the water. He swam away, Prompto watching the ripples in the water that showed where he swam, up until the water was to deep to effect the surface. He turned around and made his was around the cliff side. The sun was going down, he was going to have to camp out in the forest for the night, because he couldn't really make his way in the forest in the dark, or at least he refused to.

He hoped Cor wouldn't worry, and in the meanwhile, he had plenty of time to come up with an excuse about his phone, and to think about what happened this whole day.

Chapter Text

Cor hadn't been too worried when he had got back, and after fumbling his reason for losing his phone, Cor eventually took pity on him and accepted his weak excuse with only a small reprimand. So, hey, he was getting a new phone soon- Cor was a softie, but don't let him hear you say that- and he didn't have to explain the whole 'mermaids are real and not mythical’ thing. Although, if he really thought about it, it wasn't that impossible. The oracle did have magic and could probably commune with the Astrals, and daemons were some kind of unholy creation, so, not that far out of possibility.

Anyways, after he had finally reached home, he had written short note to Cor telling him he would explain when he woke up. He fell into bed and promptly- hah-  knocked out for the next 14 hours. Sure he had slept when he camped in the forest, but it wasn't the same as sleeping in a safe place, in an actual bed. Plus he was a really light sleeper, and even being in such a tired state wasn’t going to help.

Prompto had had all the time in the world to think about what happened during that day, especially on his hike back to the house. He was definitely going to have to rework his route for that part of the forest, he couldn't have more Niff scanners picking up his signature. He's already had too many near death experiences for one lifetime.

Being saved by Noctis, who turned out to be a merperson, with a tail and gills and all, had been the least expected thing to happen. There was no way in his wildest imaginations would he have even thought of meeting someone like Noctis. Prompto still hadn't fully come to terms with it. Every time he thought about their meeting, he had to stop, and just wonder. And Noctis had been so friendly.

Maybe it wasn't a characteristic he shared with the rest of his species, because it's not like Prompto has actually met any other merperson before. If Noctis had stayed with his tail hidden in the water, and his mouth covering his teeth, then Prompto wouldn't have known anything about him was different. Noctis did have some strange ticks, but Prompto didn't really have a point of reference for what behaviours were normal, he would have just dismissed it as something other people might do.

Well.

It's not like over-thinking it was going to help him.

Prompto was just going to have to go back to the cliff and meet with Noctis again. And in the meantime, he could go research about merpeople at the town library. Cor wasn't likely to question this, the past few years has shown Prompto to be very strange after all, and it's not like Cor was any better.

Speaking of Cor, Prompto could probably needle some more information about merpeople from him. He’d been the first to tell him about them.

 

-

 

He spent a week dallying at the town library, looking for information on mermaids (putting off going back to Noctis). The librarian took pity on his fruitless search, lending him a set of historical accounts of the creatures of Eos. He'd read some of the reports, and there were some cross-referencing to other books, which apparently had more information on mermaids, but those were only available in the Niflheim controlled city, Altissia. He didn't have the resources to go there, and it was dangerous for him besides. Ultimately, he decided to take them to Noctis to see if they were true. However, that would only happen if he actually went to the cliffs again.

Cor had commented on his restlessness over the course of the week, but Prompto had deflected, telling him he was just shaken from his accident. Cor didn't pry further, just sat him down with a cup of tea and small talk.

He'd been eager to go back to the cliffs after he'd returned home, but after giving it more thought, he wasn't sure where he stood. Noctis was a mythical creature , one that fairytales were written about. Prompto still wasn't sure that he didn't just dream up their entire interaction. He really did want to talk with Noctis more, but- and there were a lot of 'but’s- he didn't want to be a bother.

He gave himself a mental shake. Noctis told him that they could talk the next time he was there. It's not like Noctis told him to get lost. It would probably be a good thing to learn more about the person who saved you, right?

 

-

 

After two more days of indecision, Prompto finally convinced himself to at least try to meet Noctis again. And if the mer didn't want him around he would just leave and never return, simple. Mind made, he packed up what he thought he would need- Noctis might not be there when he got there, he was planning on camping out for a while, that wasn't creepy, right?- and some extra things, just in case.

Cor had gotten another bounty hunt from one of the town citizens and wasn't going to be back for the next week at least, so Prompto shot off a text to him, and left a note just in case he missed it.

He left the early the next morning and took the long way round, as an extra precaution against meeting any MTs. He wasn't ready for another encounter like that again.

He made it to the cliff edge by afternoon. He could see evidence of the chase in the bullet holes on the trees and the bullets littering the grass. Most of it was hidden though, due to rain and falling leaves. He walked over to the edge and had to take a quick retreat, when the sight of the distance to the water made him feel sick.

He couldn't believe he had fallen that far. Oh Gods.

The only reason he was even still able to stand here was because of Noctis. He took a deep breath to calm himself, and made his way down on shaky legs. The distance really was easier to cover when he’d only been half conscious. Not that he wanted a repeat of last time, but, yeah.

Noctis wasn't anywhere in sight, when Prompto reached the base of the cliff. He'd looked around the rocky banks, but to no avail. He felt a small twinge of disappointment, but really, it wasn't like Noctis lived here, he had to go back home some time. And he did come prepared to wait.

In the end, he decided to make himself at home on a different stone slab from the one he had been lying on the last time. He'd seen it when he was looking around, but there had been flaking blood on it, and he'd felt too queasy to stay.

He took one of the history books out to read while waiting.

 

-

 

“Hey, you've finally returned.”

Noctis’s head popped up from under the water, causing Prompto to let out an undignified yelp, nearly letting the book slip from his hands and dropping it into the water.

“Gods, you scared me half to death.” breathed out Prompto, clutching the book to his chest, as his heart rate calmed. He looked up above Noctis's head to the sky. It was late in the afternoon already.

“I could just heal you again.” stated Noctis, in an entirely too serious manner.

Prompto spluttered indignantly, causing Noctis to break out in a shit-eating grin, showing way too many teeth. Prompto felt his heart rate spike again.

“What do you have there?” Noctis pointed to his book.

“Oh, uh, this is a history book on creatures on Eos, I was doing some research, on, uh…” Prompto felt heat creeping up his neck; this was more embarrassing than he'd expected.

Luckily- or unluckily- Noctis didn't seem to catch on, he just groaned, stating: “No more learning while I'm here, I got enough of that when I was younger, back at the Floor. My learning days are over, and I'd like to keep it that way. Once was enough.”

Prompto could press; he did want to learn more about Noctis and his kind, or he could just not.

He picked the escape route. It was embarrassing admitting that he'd tried to research about Noctis. He'll just have to subtly inquire about things.

He reached for his bag- lying some ways away from him- and dug through his things to find his camera pack. He had bought a cheap waterproof camera from the camera shop in town during his recovery week. He wanted to get photographic evidence that Noctis was real outside of this place. He wasn't going to show it to anyone, of course. Not yet anyways, not without Noctis's permission.

He waved the camera in front of Noctis, who looked at it curiously.

“I brought a camera, do you mind if I take photos?”

“Oh, a camera. A couple of the Galahdians had one, but it doesn't look the same as yours.”

“Mine’s a waterproof camera, so it doesn't get destroyed in water. Who are the Galahdians?”

“Nyx and the other humans are from Galahd.”

Prompto thought back on his limited scope of geography. He wasn't really sure where Galahd was but the name did ring a bell, so it was probably under Niflheim control. He wondered how those people had managed to leave if that was the case.

Noctis interrupted his train of thought, “You wanted a picture?”

“Oh yeah,” he scooted over to where Noctis was leaning on the stone, and held out the camera in front of them, “Here, a selfie, you gotta smile”

Prompto took a few pictures, and leaned forward over the camera afterwards to look through them. He grinned at them. Noctis had no idea how to smile for a camera

“Has anyone ever told you that your smile is kinda terrifying,” asked Prompto, “I mean, in a cool way, but.”

“What do you mean?”

Prompto turned the screen of the camera towards Noctis, pointing to Noctis's face.

“It's probably because you're showing off all your chompers.”

“What?”

“Your teeth, they're pointy.”

Noctis ran his tongue along his teeth, “All of my kind’s got similar types of teeth, not the same, but similar, because of how we eat, and other stuff.”

“That's cool.”

Prompto filed the information away in ‘things he was learning about merpeople’; they have sharp, pointy teeth. Probably don't mess with them.

“Did the pictures come out alright?” Noctis leaned over into Prompto’s space, looking over the camera. His hair dripped onto the screen. It had been the right idea, buying a waterproof camera.

“Uh, yeah,” Prompto attempted to increase the space between them, but since he also moved the camera, Noctis followed, “Do you want to try using the camera?”

Noctis nodded, and Prompto handed the camera to him, pointing out the basics and just letting Noctis do as he pleased. Noctis took some pictures of the rocks, the sky, and even of Prompto himself, which caused the man to blush.

“If you have any specific photos you want to keep I could print them out and laminate them.” piped up Prompto, a short while later.

“Don’t you use paper for that? Won't it get destroyed?”

“Laminating them means that they'll be waterproof. The plastic would keep the water out.”

“Well, then yes, I'd like to keep some.”

Noctis attempted to hand the camera back to Prompto, but Prompto shook his head, pushing the camera back to him.

“You can borrow the camera, like I said, it's waterproof. Then next time I'll take it back and print the photos you want.”

“Thanks. I can take whatever pictures I want right?”

Without waiting for an answer, Noctis waded towards something that had caught his eye, and for the rest of the afternoon, Prompto amused himself by watching Noctis take photos of anything and everything.

Chapter Text

Prompto did manage to give Noctis the photos the next time after Noctis had returned the camera. There had been plenty of pictures of schools of fish and random flora and fauna, both underwater and above water.

Noctis had showed him a few photos of the people he had talked about, Nyx, his dad, Gladio. There were a few candids of a girl- Iris, Noctis tells him, Gladio's sister- and some group of humans- the Galahdians. They were all gorgeous, even with the terrible photo quality, although more recent photos showed improvement. Prompto was starstruck.

He'd started going to the cliffs more often. He'd even finally told Cor about Noctis, but leaving out the part where he lived underwater, of course. Cor hadn't said anything, but he had looked relieved that Prompto was talking to someone other than his pen pal, and Cor himself, which was understandable.

Speaking of his pen pal, he'd told Luna about Noctis of course. Pryna had come with a new letter a couple weeks after he'd met Noctis, instantly soothing the worst of his worries about Luna. The waiting periods between letters were the worst, especially when there wasn't any news about the Oracle.

Luna had written back pretty fast, the next letter only coming a week after. She had been delighted that he'd made a friend and had demanded- well she didn't demand, but her writing tone had been pretty insistent- that he sent photos to her.

He made a note to ask Noctis if he could, the next time he saw him.

 

-

 

"Hey, do you mind if I send a pic to a friend of mine?" asked Prompto, after greeting Noctis, “She doesn't get much contact from outside her home apart from me, so I like to send pictures to her.”

"Oh, is it to impress her or something?" returned Noctis's teasing remark.

"No it's not like that!" exclaimed Prompto, flushing, "She's just always going on about me needing to make friends apart from her, and maybe she'll stop bothering me about it y'know. Plus you're maybe kinda cool, Noctis."

Noctis smiled, pleased, "Yeah you can send a pic. And y'know, since we're friends, you can call me Noct."

“Oh, u-uh, thanks Nocti- Noct.” he stuttered.

He got out his camera so they could take more photos.

“So, who's this girl anyway?”

“Oh, uh, her name’s Luna. She's my pen pal. I've been writing to her for a few years now. She's great.”

Noct hummed, “You can tell her that you're not too bad at making friends,” he paused, then smirked, “That is, if falling of a cliff and then having to be healed by someone can be counted as not too bad.”

Prompto let out an enraged shriek and attempted to push Noct back into the water, though internally, he was ecstatic that Noctis considered him a friend.

 

-

 

One of the many times after that, when they were hanging out again, Noct had stayed longer than he usually did. That was how Prompto met Gladio.

Noctis usually had impeccable timing, arriving and leaving at the same hours each time they met. However, on one particular day, Noct had arrived earlier than usual, in a sour mood.

“Hey buddy, what's gotten you in a bad mood?”

Noctis scowled, “I don't want to talk about it.”

“Well, if you're sure,” said Prompto, dragging out the words, looking innocently off to the side.

“It's just that-” Noctis started.

Prompto smiled a small, secret smile. He didn't like to pry- that would be hypocritical, when he himself was so secretive- but Noct made it so easy sometimes.

The scowl on Noct’s face deepened, “Gladio’s been pushing me again. I mean, he always does, but,” he sighed, bringing his hand up to his face, “It's been a long week. There’s been a whole slew of Niflheim ships flying over our area, humans poking at things that isn't their business. My dad and Clarus are both on edge, and there's something about news from family friends. It's grating.”

Niflheim? Oh crap.

Prompto saved that piece of information for later worrying, deciding instead on safer ground, asking: “Clarus?”

“Gladio's dad. He and my dad have known each other forever. It's why I'm close to Gladio and Iris.”

“Oh, that's cool. Hey, if you wanna take your mind off all that heavy sounding stuff, we could go look around the reefs up where the water's clearer. I even brought an oxygen mask this time. It's a small one, more portable. I found it at a store back in town, there were a whole bunch of other really cool stuff. I'll only be able to stay underwater for short periods of time with it, but we don't really need to stay under long right? Just to take a look around the reefs, and y'know, it's only if you wanna…”

He trailed off when he realised he'd been running his mouth again. He'd been doing that more often around Noctis. It was just so easy to get excited about small things when he had someone to share that excitement with.

He looked at Noctis and noticed that he was smiling indulgently at him, causing him to flush, but Noct did seem more relaxed than he'd been when he had just arrived, so that Prompto was just going to count that as a win.

“You know, nobody I know talks quite as much as you,” stated Noctis, “Nyx loves the sound of his own voice, and Iris can talk for ages about anything that catches her attention, but you just seem to forget that you're speaking.”

Prompto stuttered out an apology, embarrassed at being called out, but he was shushed by Noctis.

“Dude, don't worry about it, it's cute.”

Prompto spluttered, his face felt like it was on fire.

“You can't just say things like that!” he exclaimed, flailing.

“Why not? It's true.”

“Oh gods.”

Noctis laughed at the picture he made, face cringing but still flushed from embarrassment.

“I'm glad you find this so amusing.”

He really did. He didn't like to see Noct upset.

“Well, then,” Noct said, smiling, “There are reefs to be looked at.”

 

-

 

Around late afternoon, while they were lounging around, Prompto was suddenly hit with an intensely foreboding feeling.

“Something wrong?”

He looked around, rubbing the back of his neck, “Uh, no, I just have a weird feeling is all.”

“Huh,” Noct looked around, “Maybe we've been spending too long in the sun. It is kinda getting dark already.”

While Noct's back was turned to Prompto, Prompto felt a hand come up to cover his mouth, cutting off his startled gasp, right before he was pulled backwards down into the water.

“Prompto-” Noct turned around, only to be met with empty space where Prompto had been, “What?”

Under the cover of rocks, Prompto and his kidnapper resurfaced. The hand covering Prompto’s mouth released, and he took a large shuddering breath, his heart going a mile a minute.

He turned to look at his captor and was met by a glare. The man was huge and menacing, a prominent scar running from his forehead straight down his cheek to his chin. If he'd been in the right mind, he would have noticed that the man looked familiar, like someone he'd seen before in photographs, instead, all Prompto recognised was the feeling of his blood running cold under the man's scrutiny.

“Um-” Prompto started, but he was cut off when the man made a silencing gesture.

“His highness went off in a huff this morning,” began the man, his deep voice filling the small space they were in, “I figured that I should let him cool down first, and he'd return as usual.”

The man looked off to the side, where Noct could be heard calling for Prompto.  

“But then, he didn't return, so of course I had to look for him. It's my duty to make sure he's safe,” the man- Gladio, Prompto realised, Noct's trainer-slash-watcher- gave a pointed glance towards him, “And then I see him just hanging around this human. I knew he'd met someone of course, he'd been carrying around a camera, but I'd just assumed it was one of the refugees.”

The camera had had photos with Gladio's face on them- smirking usually, sometimes fond, indulgent- so different from the serious man in front of him.

“Now, I don't think you're a threat, at least not with intention. In fact, he seems to come back home happier and calmer after you meet, so this is just a warning. You do anything to hurt Noctis and no one will ever find your body, got it?”

Prompto nodded his head vigorously to show that he understood. Gladio flashed his pointy teeth in a menacing grin. In the background Noct sounded more and more worried, the longer it took to find him. 

Gladio hummed, “Time to go meet his highness, before he gets too upset, he cares so much about others, you know.”

Another pointed glance at Prompto, which caused him to shrink even more than he already had. Prompto was probably hallucinating the hint of amusement in Gladio's eyes. Yeah.

Prompto felt the world bottom out from under him, as Gladio picked him out of the water and lifted him in his arms. He flailed, nearly hitting Gladio in the face, but the man just gracefully moved his head out of the way.

“Up you go.” Gladio carried him out of the nook they were in and lifted him up onto a large rock. Gladio settled on his arms on the rock, still mostly in the water.

Noct was still calling for Prompto, when he turned and spotted him sitting on the rock, catching his breath.

“Prom! There you are, where'd you go?” Noctis came closer, getting a better look at him, “Are you okay? You look kinda pale, well, more than usual.”

Prompto opened his mouth, trying to think of an explanation, but was beaten by Gladio.

“S’up Princess.”

Noctis turned to look around Prompto and saw the Gladio resting, with a shark's grin on his face.

“Gladio,” Noct shook his head with a sigh, “I should have known.”

Noct turned his attention towards Prompto, hand coming to rest on Prompto’s shoulder in comfort, “He didn't scare you too bad did he? He's just protective, all of them are.”

Prompto assumed that 'all of them’ referred to anyone who had ever gotten to know Noctis. He got it really.

“Nah, it's fine, I'm alright.”

Noct looked like he was contemplating his answer, but decided to just let it go.

“What are you doing here?” this time the question- voiced like an accusation- was pointed at Gladio, who had moved closer towards Noctis, “You don't usually come to check on me.”

Gladio raised an eyebrow, “That's what you think. And anyways, you didn't come back your usual time, and you left upset. Obviously, I had to come check on you.”

“Aw, were you worried? Obviously, I'm fine.”

Gladio twitched at Noct's obnoxiously flippant tone, “I'm sorry for snapping at you before, okay? It's been tense at home but that was no excuse to take it out on you.”

Noctis's mouth screwed to the side, seeming to want to continue pushing the issue, but his shoulders drooped as the fight left him. He took a breath and let it out slowly.

“I'm sorry for leaving without saying anything. It was irresponsible and thoughtless of me, especially with Niffs poking around. Everyone worries enough without me disappearing.”

They both stared at each other, at a standstill, sizing each other up, before Gladio snorted.

“What?”

“You actually sound like an adult, when you talk like that.”

Noct gasped, pretending to be offended. He shoved at Gladio's chest, but he couldn't keep his face straight, face breaking out in a grin.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. You should savour it, probably not gonna happen again.”

Gladio laughed, which made him look a lot less intimidating than he had been, noted a silent Prompto. Prompto had been quietly observing their back and forth, knowing that he wasn't part of the argument.

Gladio wrapped his arm around Noctis's shoulders in a one armed hug, smiling down at the mer.

“So, Princess,” Gladio's smile turned into a smirk, “Who's Blondie over there?”

“Gladio, meet Prompto,” Noct gestured at them, “Prompto, Gladio.”

Prompto squeaked out a ‘Hi’, and then hid his face in embarrassment.

“We met when Prompto fell out of the sky bleeding all over the place.”

“Noct!”

Prompto groaned, falling back onto the rock he was sitting on.

“Are you going to mention that to everyone we meet?”

“Pretty much.”

Prompto groaned louder, throwing his arms up around his head. He shot up in his position suddenly, hit by a thought.

“You didn't tell me you were a prince.” Prompto accused, pointing right at Noctis.

“You didn't?” asked Gladio. He thought about it for a moment, and then shrugged, “Eh, typical.”

“It's not like it matters,” whined Noctis, “It's a title, not like what I do on most days will affect anything. And humans don't know about Insomnia anyways.”

“You mean apart from the Galahdians, the Altissians, and of course, the Niffs.”

Noct waved a dismissive hand, “They don't really know we're here, we're just stories, remember?”

Gladio rolled his eyes, “You should be more careful. Even Prompto could have been someone dangerous.”

Prompto grimaced, hand fiddling with the wristband on his right arm.

“Psh, Prom wouldn't hurt me,” said Noct, coming to Prompto's aid. Prompto flashed him a small smile, “Not like he could anyways.”

“You're so full of yourself sometimes.” retorted Prompto, pushing away the thoughts of what was under the wristband.

Noctis laughed, full and delighted, Gladio shaking his head at Noct's side, amusement written on his face. Gladio wasn't all that bad, when he wasn't actively trying to scare the life out of Prompto, so he figured it'd be alright, probably.

And, yeah, maybe if Prompto had known that Noctis was a prince, it would have taken them longer to get here. It had been hard enough to get up the nerve to talk to him again, when Prompto had known that Noct was a merperson. He would have just assumed that a prince wouldn't have time for him.

He was glad that he'd been allowed to get to know Noctis.

 

-

 

In the town centre, far from the cliffs, market goers looked up as airships passed overhead.

A woman speaks to her companion.

“There's been more and more of ‘em Niffs flying ‘round here. Whaddaya reckon they're here for?”

“Dunno, could be anything. Rumour has it that they've been circling some part of the sea for sometime, looking for something.”

“Would you two shut your gossiping,” interrupted a vendor, “You can talk all you like behind closed doors, but not out here where they can hear you.”

The women rolled their eyes, but stopped talking, not daring to take the chance.

The sound of the engines of the airships petered out, as it got further and further from the town center. A feeling of disquiet settled over the market square.

Chapter Text

The forest was quiet today, not in the silent, noiseless way, no, but peaceful. It was a nice change from all the noise the recent influx of Niff ships had caused.

Noct and Gladio had told him that the ships had carried a whole slew of people looking for things in the water. The Niffs hadn't yet managed to find their home, but they were getting closer than was comfortable, informed an agitated Noctis, flicks of his tail cutting foam into the water behind him.

That had been a few days ago. Prompto had returned home with that little bit of worry niggling at the back of his mind. He wanted to ask Cor if he knew what was going on, but he'd have to wait a few days for Cor to return first.

Prompto had been in his darkroom, looking through the photos he'd developed. It would be more convenient for him to just go into town to the printing shop but he liked the busyness of doing everything himself. It'd been a few years already- since he broke his programming-, but he was still relishing the ability to do something just because he wanted to and just because he could.

He was just deciding between three photos to hand to Noctis, when he felt a soft, yet insistent presence press against his mind, seconds before a familiar bark could be heard.

A smile crept onto Prompto's face. He returned the photos to their places- deciding on them could wait for another time. Taking care to let as little light into the room as possible, he exited the darkroom and walked to the back door.

When he opened the door, he was greeted by a bundle of fur barrelling into him. He fell down, lying on the ground, laughing as the snowy white dog licked all over his face.

“S-stop, ha,” he gasped out, in between breaths, “That t-tickles! Pryna!”

The dog stopped her assault on him and sat back on her haunches. He was trying to catch his breath, when he noticed that the weight of a fully grown dog was still crushing him.

“Pryna, get off,” he tried to say sternly. She just cocked her head, looking at him in askance. He knew she understood what he was telling her. That innocent face wouldn't fool him again, “Pryna, I can't breathe. You're not so small anymore, Tiny.”

Prompto held his breath, pretending to suffocate. She didn't fall for it, but she huffed and got off his chest anyway, so it was still a victory. He grimaced when he felt slobber slide down his face.

Pryna pushed her nose right up to his face as he was trying to wipe the saliva off, darting her tongue out to slobber more on him.

“Pryna!” exclaimed Prompto, as she stepped back again. She had a look on her face that was suspiciously smug, for a dog. He pushed at her, wiping his face some more, “You're so gross”

Pryna whined at him, gently headbutting his shoulder. Prompto sighed, shaking his head, a smile sneaking onto his face again.

“You’re such a dork. I missed you too, girl.”

 

-

 

Prompto got out the dishes he kept specifically for Pryna’s visits, filling them with water and food. Pryna sniffed at the food, and lapped at the water, before plopping down at Prompto's feet.

Pryna dropped her head, showing off the letter capsule she carried around on a sling around her back. Prompto smiled down at her, giving her a scratch on the head.

Prompto released the letter from the capsule, settling back in his chair, Pryna getting comfortable under the table.

Dearest Prompto,

I hope this letter reaches you in good health.

Thank you for the photos you sent with your last letter. They were absolutely gorgeous, your skills have really grown since you started. Iggy especially loved the one looking out to the sea from the cove. He said it reminded him of the lakes he used to visit with his parents.

Prompto blushed, Luna sometimes shared the shots he sent to her with her advisor, Ignis. He knew that Ignis was Luna's closest confidant and oldest friend- one of her only friends, really, besides Prompto, and a person named Gentiana that Luna sometimes alluded to-, but it was still embarrassing for him to know that someone else had seen his pictures, someone he didn't really know at all.

I hope you continue on with Noctis and Gladiolus. I really am glad that you've found yourself some more friends. You can always talk to me, but I know it is not the same to have someone who can be there for you in person. I admit that my pushing for you to find more friends has a more selfish reason, for I will not be able to be there for you, not until I complete my responsibilities.

Prompto frowned. What did she mean by that? He could feel the worry creeping at the back of his mind.

On a more serious note, I am sure you have noticed the increase in Niflheim airships flying over various towns. There has been a rise in activity over here, and I am worried that my brother has been caught up in it. He will not tell me anything for fear that they might hurt me to get to him, but I know that something is definitely happening.

I am so sorry to tell you that this might be the last you will hear from me for some time. I have a duty to do and I will have no time to write to you, not on the journey I am to take.

‘Oh, Luna,’ thought Prompto, ‘ What have you gotten yourself into?

He knew that if she couldn't write letters, then there were no other forms of communication to be had. The Niffs limited her use of any technology, and technically she was only allowed to speak to those she healed, but she'd been able to send letters through her dogs, who somehow were never caught.

I sincerely hope that this will not be the final time we speak. I should like to meet with you at least once in this lifetime, and I know that Pryna will miss you dearly.

Do take care, and know that you are always in my prayers. These are delicate times we live in.

Love,

Luna.

Prompto really hoped that Luna knew what she was doing. There really wasn't much that he could do to help her, especially since he didn't know what it was she was planning. All he could do was worry, until any news of her reached him, good or bad.

He sighed, putting down the letter. He kicked out his feet and accidentally hit Pryna, who had been peacefully napping under the table. She yipped, startling him, as he'd forgotten she was there.

“Oh shit! Sorry, girl.”

Prompto slid from his seat to crouch on the floor, stroking at the scruff of Pryna’s neck.

“What has your mistress gotten herself into?” sighed Prompto.

Pryna whined and nuzzled at his face, cajoling a smile out of him.

“Promise me you'll take care of her, and yourself?” asked Prompto.

Pryna yipped and licked his face. He laughed, pushing her back to give himself space. He got up and dusted himself off.

“Yeah, alright. Let's go do something, while you're here.”

 

-

 

A façade of peace was settled on the home of the Tenebraen royalty, the Fenestala Manor. The green that surrounded and encompassed the manor and its surroundings gave off an aura of tranquility in the early morning light.

The manor was held in a tentative sort of peace. No one would dare attack a home blessed by the Astrals, at least, not overtly.

Inside, a blonde woman walked at a brisk pace, her heels clicking on the marble tiles. She hurried along corridors and hallways, the silk of her skirt brushing against her legs. There were no people to stop her in her rush, no maids, no hurried scholars, no one in sight, not in the high upper levels of the manor, where only those who Niflheim had done extensive checks on were allowed to venture.

The young woman's bearing and the clothing she wore identified her as one of the royal- formerly- family. Her face, known far and wide, distinguished her as the venerated Oracle, Lady Lunafreya.

Luna stopped in front of a wide archway, leading into a reading room, when she finally spotted who she had been searching for.

“Ignis!” Luna exclaimed, “There you are. I have an urgent matter to discuss with you.”

“Your highness, please, take a rest. You look positively out of breath.”

Ignis had been lounging, to the best that he could, on one of the ornate chairs in the room. He had been looking through the paperwork that Luna hadn't found the time to go through.

Luna walked right up to where he was and stuck her hand out, indicating impatiently that he should take it. He huffed out a breath, putting down the papers on the coffee table and taking her hand. She pulled him up and tugged, leading him out of the room.

“Honestly, Iggy, how many times have I told you not to call me that,” said Luna, leading him towards another, more private room, “We've known each other for forever, there's no reason for formalities when we're alone. And besides, Ravus and I haven't been royalty in a long while, so it hardly counts.”

“You know what they say about habits, my lady.”

Luna wrinkled her nose, as she locked the door behind them.

“Iggy.”

Ignis sighed, “Where have you led us, Luna? What do you have to say that cannot be said in the reading room?”

“This is the study room of my mother. Ravus and I, when we were younger, used to sneak in when she was working. She always knew we were there but she let us hide from our governesses.”

Ignis just raised an eyebrow at her stalling. Luna sighed.

“I haven't been fully honest with you these past few months. There's another part of my duty as Oracle that I must fulfill, though it is not common or public knowledge.”

“Luna…”

“In the prophecy from days long past, the Oracle must assist the Last King in defeating the Scourge. It is my duty to awaken the Astrals and form covenants for the king.”

“Luna, I know. Lady Gentiana informed me weeks ago of your plans. I know about the sovereign under the sea, the letters you wrote. I know exactly what the prophecy entails, or as much as Lady Gentiana deigned to reveal. I know.”

For a short moment, Luna looked stricken before it was replaced by a wry look.

“I suppose I can't blame Gen for wanting someone to watch over me, so that I don't do anything to endanger us all, although she does her best to keep an eye on me herself. I was the one keeping secrets.” she said, with a self-deprecating laugh.

“No, you can't blame her, not for being worried for you, as am I.”

“Ignis…” Luna sighed again, “If you know about the prophecy, then you know I have to do this. You've seen the people, the plague is spreading and I'm only one person, no matter how powerful my birthright is. This is the only way to stop this once and for all.”

Ignis looked at her, really looked at her, searching her face. He had known her for many years, and looking at her now, he could see that, while she was still the same Luna he had grown up with, it seemed that she had settled into herself. There was a resolve about her, like she understood fully the implications of the prophecy, and chose to fulfill it regardless.

Though Luna claimed that she was no longer the monarch of the land, she still thought of the people before herself, like a true ruler. One that he was proud to serve.

“Well, then. I guess we better get prepared for the journey ahead.”

“What? Oh, no. I couldn't possibly ask you to join me, it's far too dangerous. Gen's been instructed to take you somewhere safe, while I'm gone.”

Ignis frowned at her, “Do you really think I'll let you go it alone? No, I know Lady Gentiana will be there with you, but, Luna, what use am I without you? The only reason I'm still here is because of you. You are sorely misinformed, if you think I wouldn't follow you wherever you may go.”

He offered a small smile to her, “And, really, you're right. It is far too dangerous for you to journey alone. I am obviously coming along with you.”

Ignis was caught by surprise, when Luna darted into him, gathering him up in a hug. He loosened her hold, so he could hug her back.

“Thank you.” Luna's voice was muffled by his shoulder, “I know you won't change your mind about this, even if I really would like you to stay safe. But I'm glad, that you would do this for me.”

“Of course, anything, my lady.”

 

-

 

They were sitting shoulder to shoulder on a bench in the study room, discussing their escape from the heavily guarded manor.

“His majesty, King Regis, has offered to pay for our safe passage to Insomnia. I had Gentiana contact some people to ferry us out, we just need to sneak off to the meeting area without getting caught.”

“Well, seems easy enough.” Ignis deadpanned.

Luna knocked his shoulder with her hand, “I have faith in us. We've snuck around plenty before.”

“If you say so. When are we supposed to meet them, again?”

“Oh, right. Tomorrow, when I'm supposed to be out meeting the people. Someone will come asking for me. They'll be from Niflheim, according to Gen. We'll follow them to the rendezvous point.”

“What?” exclaimed Ignis, turning his body to stare down at her, “How can you know that this person isn't just going to kidnap you off to somewhere?”

“I trust that Gentiana would tell me if that were the case.”

You’re really just going to put your safety in others’ hands, on faith?”

“That's what you're for, aren't you?” retorted Luna, grinning at him.

“You're lucky that you couldn't talk me out of following you. This recklessness could get you killed, and then the prophecy would be useless anyways.”

“I really am lucky to have you, Ignis.” replied Luna, ignoring the latter half of his tirade. She leaned into his shoulder.

He huffed, rolling his eyes, but pressed back into her.

“Tomorrow, then”

“Tomorrow.”