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crescente luce

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“It’s finally over…”

Gnik ym, gnik o, nozirih eht no thgil s’ereh. Tsol si epoh lla dna semoc ssenkrad eht nehw, llits em teem. Worb ruoy no erom ecno nworc eht gnilttes rof em evigrof lliw uoy, emit ni, spahrep. Dnatsrednu lliw uoy, emit ni, spahrep. Gninwad nwo rieht tub, dne their ot dael ot ton erew shtap rieht. Og yrots ot tnaem si eht woh ton si siht, tey dna. Ecifircas. Ytud. Evol. Sruoy sa dethgiew nworc a yllaicepes - nworc eht sraew taht daeh eht si yvaeh woh. Sgnik fo gink, o.

Ignis opens the door to a dark and nerve-wrackingly silent apartment. The street lights give him enough to see by, at least - a blessing considering the uneasy feeling slipping down his spine. It tells him not to turn on the light and he can’t help but to foolishly obey it.

Noctis’ shoes lay in a heap that he toes into order as he slips off his own shoes, Prompto’s are already arranged neatly and out of the way.

Which makes the silence even more disconcerting. Rarely are those two quiet when in the same room together. They just can’t help it.

The paper bag in his arms crinkles loudly, he hurriedly puts it down on the island in the kitchen before it breaks this atmosphere begging, please, not to shatter whatever fragile hold it has. The clock on the stove reads seven-oh-three, matching his phone almost to the second. Not too late for dinner or his arrival, not too early for the sun to have set. Still an odd time for all of this to be going on inside the apartment.

Prompto’s curled up on the couch in a familiar, uncomfortable position. His knees are pulled to his chest, nearly bending his back in half, one hand hand the pillow close and the other loose around his phone. His posture is still tight enough to tell Ignis that he hasn’t been asleep long enough to fully relax, but he obviously fell asleep unplanned on his phone.

There’s a blanket thrown haphazardly over the back of the couch and, when he feels for it, the cushion is still warm from when Noctis was sitting there. He carefully pulls that blanket over Prompto’s form, tucking the edges around his shoulders. The boy sighs, loosening from his curl a bit and pulling the blanket to his chin. Ignis rescues his phone from being lost in the cushions, setting it on the coffee table.

Satisfied that Prompto won’t be going cold, he starts towards Noct’s bedroom. Sometimes, when he’s tired but somehow still coherent, he’ll end up in his bed instead of sprawled out on the couch. The strange part is that Prompto is still on the couch. They had a tendency to migrate to the bed together eventually, leaning on each other as they shuffled, bleary-eyed to comfort. Bedsharing is no where close to unusual for them, though he and Gladio often wonder how and when that habit came to be.

Ignis is waylaid from his destination by the sound of retching coming from the dark bathroom. His brow furrows in concern as he taps a knuckle against the door, easing it open. The dim lights illuminate the depths enough to reveal Noctis curled around the toilet, clutching it with all his might.

“Highness,” he breathes without thinking, dropping to his knees. Noctis flinches, aborting Ignis’ move to touch his shoulder. He hesitates, trying to regulate his breathing to something less than panic. “Noctis,” he tries again in a whisper. “What’s wrong? What’s happened?”

Noctis groans, momentarily tightening his grip before relaxing only slightly. Ignis isn’t fooled into thinking anything is better, the air tense around them and heavy with the smell of sick. Noctis rests his head on his arm, rubbing his face against his bare skin, before turning away from Ignis. In return, Ignis is carefully slow as he presses the back of his hand against his prince’s neck. His hair is slick with sweat, but his skin is clammy.

He shivers at the touch, groaning again. And then he goes still except for his fingers curling against the porcelain. Frozen, for a moment, with Ignis’ hand on his neck and his face pressed into the crook of his own arm.

He takes a deep breath, like he’s bracing himself, and slowly looks up. Ignis’ breath catches in his chest at the sight of Noctis’ normally steel blue eyes glowing with the faintest shimmer of violet, bright enough he swears they cast shadows along his cheeks and nose.

“Noctis,” he says helplessly. “What -?”

“Ignis?” Noctis instead gasps, lurching forward. Ignis catching him automatically, finding himself holding onto the prince’s shoulders as he trembles. “Ignis.”

“Yes? Noctis, what’s going on? Are you alright?” Obviously not, what a question.

Instead of answering, Noctis continues gasping quiet little breaths. He reaches up with a shaking hand, pressing the pads of his fingers against Ignis’ right cheek bone. Ignis flinches, but doesn’t stop Noctis from trailing his fingers to the corner of his eye, pushing his glasses up far on his forehead, then over the top of his eye socket as if marveling at something.

“You - You -.” Noctis can’t seem to get more than that out besides his name. His eyes still glow that eerie violet that flickers like magic.

Then his gasp turns into a sob, cracking hard in his chest. His weight grows too heavy for Ignis to prop up like this, so he lets the younger man fall against him and wraps his arms around his back as Noctis cries almost silently into his shoulder. Trembling hands come up, curling tight fingers into the fabric of his shirt.

He can’t even begin to imagine what has happened. There are no reports of any major battles with any significant loss of life - and even then, Noctis has always been distant enough from the meat of the war to not have a connection that could lead to this sort of reaction. As harsh as that sounds, the King has done his utmost best to keep his son away from the darkness for as long as possible. And, Ignis is pretty sure his own role is whatever is wrong with the prince is misplaced. He hasn’t been anywhere other than the Citadel and Noctis’ apartment in three weeks.

Ignis brings a hand up to card this fingers through black hair, scratching a little at his scalp like they’re children again and Noctis woke from another nightmare, trembling and terrified.

The next noise Noctis makes is a soft sigh, his shoulder relaxing like a weight has been lifted.

“What happened?” Ignis asks again, feeling a bit more confident he’ll receive an answer.

“Nightmare,” Noctis mumbles.

And, for some reason, that answer is not satisfying enough. Nightmares aren’t unusual, but -


“Nightmare,” he insists, pressing his face harder against Ignis’ chest. “Don’t wanna talk about it, Iggy.”

He sighs. “If you insist.” They will have words later, but for now Noctis goes practically boneless in his hold. “Come. You’ve abandoned Prompto to the couch.”

Noctis slides away from him, leaving him suddenly cold, and stays there on the floor, watching Ignis stand with an unreadable look on his face. Ignis meets his stare, refusing to back down from the violet that still shimmers in his gaze. Eventually the downed man gives him a tentative smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes and allows Ignis to help him up.

It doesn’t take either of them to realize Noctis won’t be able to stand on his own, legs quaking under his weight. Together, Noctis’ grip tight on Ignis’ forearms, they shuffle to the bedroom. He carefully arranges the prince to be sitting on the bed then digs into the dresser for a clean shirt to replace the sweat soaked one he still wears.

“Change,” he tell him, tossing the loose sweater over. It’s one he finds Noctis wearing whenever things get too much. “I’ll go get Prompto.”

Noctis grimaces as he plucks at his soaked collar and doesn’t say anything, just nods tightly.

Ignis gives him one last look before he goes back to the living room. It’s distressingly difficult to wake the blond, but he eventually opens bleary eyes and follows him into the bedroom like a particularly lost puppy. He’ll have to remember to plug in both their phones before he leaves for the night.

He half expected Noctis to already be asleep by the time they arrive. In reality, if it weren’t for the fact he did change his shirt, Ignis would’ve thought he hadn’t moved at all. Prompto grunts, taking a large stride to stand in front of his friend. One hand goes to his shoulder, the other hovers over his face like he wants to brush his cheek.

“Dude, are you okay?”

Noctis is staring up at him with that same look he gave Ignis earlier with that barely violet shimmer. And now it can be recognized for what it is - wonder. He’s marveling at them for whatever reason. But there’s a hint of fear there too.

“I don’t know,” he admits, voice uncharacteristically raw.

Prompto makes a whining noise at the back of his throat, shoving him until Noctis is laid out on the bed and then curling up with him. He shuffles Noctis down a bit to rest his chin on the dark hair of his crown, wrapping his arms around his shoulders. Noctis hesitates for only a moment before he grips the back of Prompto’s shirt and buries his face against his friend’s chest, shoulders shuddering.

Ignis could almost smile at the sight if it weren’t for the tight ball of anxiety curled in his stomach, Prompto doesn’t help when he shoots him a confused and concerned look - probably wondering why he didn’t wake up at the first sign of a nightmare like they all tend to do.

He can only shrug at the unasked question, making the blond’s lips twist even more in confusion. Prompto turns back to resting his chin on Noctis’ head, dragging his fingers up and down the prince’s back.

Ignis steps backwards out of the room. There are no answers to be given tonight. All he can do is leave them be and hope whatever this is was truly a nightmare, and it will all blow over by the morning.

[“Ah, I do believe this is a family affair. I’m afraid your presence isn’t necessary.”]

Noctis wakes to the hazy light of dawn. He blinks lazily, staring at the ceiling for a too long moment, before he makes note of the weight next to him. His head lolls to the side, catching sight of Prompto curled up against him. He reaches over, numb and dazed, pressing his thumb against his friend’s bare chin.

His bare chin, the posters on the wall he hasn’t seen in eleven years, the sun is peeking over the horizon in a way he had been positive he’d never see again.

Shouldn’t have seen again.

He jerks up, heart beating so hard in his chest he feels breathless. His clock reads an early hour still. Prompto murmurs something, flipping to his other side. Noctis scrambles off the bed, stumbling towards his computer and cracking it open. The lock screen stares back at him, proclaiming sunny days, highs in the upper 20s, and the date in stark white letters as the 30th of June, 753. He’s seventeen. Gods, he’s seventeen years old.

Noctis legs go weak, his knees buckling. He collapses in his chair, it swinging enough that he’s facing the window to see the sun slowly crest over Insomnia. His city. His home. The last time he saw it, it had been in ruins.

He runs a hand over his face. Had it all been a dream? Or a Six-damned prophecy of what’s to come? He honestly wouldn’t put it past anyone - whether it’d be the Astrals or the Lucii - to shove that nightmare onto him.

But what if...what if he is truly back? What if it hadn’t all been a dream?

“Why?” Noctis can’t help but whisper when that thought occurs to him, clasping his hands together so tightly his knuckles turn white. “I did what you asked. I did the Crystal stint. I killed Ardyn. I died. For you.” He chokes on the sob threatening to crack out of his chest, mindful of the sleeping roommate. “Luna died for me. Why are you making me start over?”

Maybe...Maybe this could be his chance! His chance to change everything. His father’s fate. Luna’s sacrifice. Ignis’ eyes. Nyx’s death. Every one of his mistakes could be reversed. He could fix it all. Is - Is that why? Why he’s here, almost fourteen years before his death?

Noctis presses his fingers against his eyes until he sees sparks bursting in the dark. Ardyn will be a problem. He will always be a problem. But he can’t gain the strength to beat the Accursed if he can’t make Covenants with the Astrals. Without Luna here he can’t even accomplish that. Convincing his dad that he needs to gather the Royal Arms while he still lives and Insomnia is still safe seems out of the question.

He grits his teeth. Gods! If they really did send him back to the start, why couldn’t they have picked a better point?

A soft groan interrupts his thoughts, his eyes snapping immediately to Prompto stirring in bed. The blond stretches, spine cracking, and he glances over to where Noct had been laying. Noctis watches him jump, stiffening at the empty spot, then whirl around frantically. He freezes when their eyes meet, sleepiness flooding from his expression to be replaced with concern.

“Dude, you feeling okay?”

Noctis frowns. “Yeah, of course I am.” Better than he had last night when he jerked awake, head swirling with magic and chest tight with the memory of that final sword impaling him. “Why?”

“Because it’s six in the morning and you’re awake,” Prompto points out. “You’re never awake. Even when school was a thing.”

He snorts, rolling his eyes. Okay, fair.

“I’ve just been thinking.”

“Uh-oh.” Prompto swings his legs over the side of the bed until they’re at eye level. “A dangerous past time for you. Don’t hurt yourself.”

Noctis chokes on his laugh, reaching out to smack his friend’s knee. Prompto smiles a little then, but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. He grabs onto Noct’s wrist before he can pull away completely, thumb pressing against his pulse point.

“No, seriously. What’s wrong?”

The truth strangles and dies on the tip of his tongue. He can’t. Not right now. Not until he knows what he can prevent. Images of Prompto strung up in the Keep flashes in his mind’s eye. He swallows thickly.

Noctis grabs Prompto’s wrist in a mirror image, tugging until he’s leaning forward just a bit and Noctis can see every constellation freckled on his friend’s face. Something flickers in his expression, unreadable until Noct realizes his hand is wrapped around the leather brace hiding the barcode stained against his skin.

He loosens his grip, sliding it until he’s touching skin below it. “Nothing,” he says, the lie sour. Then he smiles, carefully not too wide. “Absolutely nothing.” Prompto still looks unsure so he tacks on a: “Same old, same old. If we’re going to push. Just a nightmare.”

He doesn’t like to talk about his nightmares and Prompto never pushed before, so the subject is dropped relatively easy. Noctis still has to sit through breakfast with both Ignis and Prompto giving concerned looks, which makes him wonder how horrible he looks. Or how bad last night was. It is really that awful?

Plan for the day : get access to the archives without raising suspicion, go through his phone and laptop to familiarize himself with at least the last few months - Ignis’ meticulous itineraries should help with that -, and see what he can do about the kingsglaives. He has some ideas for that group.

Should be easy enough to start with.

Lies. It’s all lies.

Getting caught up on what he’d been doing at this point in his life is easy enough. Ignis’ notes are impeccable and thorough. No detail left unnoticed. And he doesn’t text many people and out of the few he does only three of them he holds actual conversations with, so not much to catch up there.

(A bright side, he will realize later, is that now he knows how to pass certain levels in King’s Knight, something Prompto whines about and accuses him of cheating when they plays a few nights after he...came back?

Noctis just smirks and lets Prompto throw himself onto Noct’s lap in an attempt to distract him. It won’t work.)

It’s getting access to the archives that ends up harder than he thought. He already has basic access as the prince, along with a few perks people like University students wouldn’t get, but as soon as he mentioned wanting to get to the fifth level shelves, the bookkeepers shut him down. Hard. It doesn’t matter that he’s the Crown Prince, nooo, he needs permission from the King himself to touch those books.

Which, great. Now he has to come up with an excuse for his dad. Well, crap.

Off to the other thing on his list! The Kingsglaives.

The headquarters is practically deserted when he arrives. The reports had said something about an unusual spike in daemon activity needing a larger than normal response team. Nyx is on one of those teams, something Noct is relieved to hear - he is one of the best - but it makes him itch even more to see him alive. Crowe and Libertus, too. Shame. If he couldn’t make contact with Nyx, those two were the next best option. He hadn’t spent much time with either of them before the fall of Insomnia, but Libertus he’d seen in Altissa before, well, everything fell to pieces even more.

It had been Libertus that told him exactly how his city crumbled under the weight of the Diamond Weapons, how Nyx had used the Ring of the Lucii to destroy Glauca - no, Drautos -, and how Luna forced them their separate ways after it all.

But it had been Ardyn who showed him the body Nyx, strung up in the throne room, bound by chains and dripping the black of the ‘scrouge, half his body burned with the magic of the Lucii.

Noctis shakes his head, breaking away from the memories. His chest throbs, forcing him to press his hand against the spot to ease the pain. No, that’s the past. The present will be different. It has to be.

There’s a few ‘glaives still around, some healing from being injured and others just not on rotation this time. A couple of them are in the sandy training arena, playing a very obvious game of warp-tag. He grins, sticking to the shadows, and leans against a column on the sidelines to watch the two ‘glaives do their dance.

It’s fast paced and just a little dangerous, the kind of game that’s the most fun. They’re laughing as they go, the one with Galahd coloring - ashen brown hair with a few thin braids and one thicker one, the darker skin of an inlander - shrieks in laughter as her companion just barely misses tagging her.

Unfortunately her companion - with southern coloring, the dark skin and the coils of darker hair. Not one country, not anymore, but a scattering of a proud clans - not only misses tagging her, but her warp strike is also misaimed. Instead of her short sword leading her to one of the crumbling pillars in the middle of the arena, it hits the air next to it. And, suddenly she’s free falling.

Noctis doesn’t even think. He pulls a dagger from the ether and throws with more accuracy than he had at this age. The dagger pulls him through a warp, landing him high in the air to catch the ‘glaive, and, with another toss, takes them both to the ground.

They land in a crumpled heap, Noctis unable to compensate for the additional weight. They lay there, breathing hard, as the other ‘glaive warps her way to them. She lands heavy as well, her knees buckling in her hurry.

For a moment they just sit, catching their breath. Then the southern ‘glaive makes a noise of despair. Noctis glances down to see wide brown eyes watching him in horror.

“Oh, shit,” she breathes, voice pitched high. “You’re the prince.” There’s a pause. “And I’m in your lap. Oh shit.” She scrambles away to her friend and they’re both standing, bowing low. “I’m so sorry, your Highness.”

Noct sighs and stands, brushing off the sand from his jeans. “You were falling. I caught you. Dunno why you’re sorry.” They’re still bowing. He already forgot how annoying that was. “Please, stop. Don’t bow.”

The Galahdian looks up first, suspicion in her expression. Understandable, from what he can remember in the immigrants and the refugees never liked the royal family. “How can we help you, Prince Noctis?”

He grabs the back of his neck. “I was looking for Sir Ulric - Nyx,” he corrects, feeling ridiculous. “I understand they were suppose to be back earlier this morning?”

They exchanges looks that he doesn’t even bother trying to read. “Their caravan got delayed a day,” she offers. “An ambush just outside the territory limits. They should be back tomorrow afternoon instead.”

Noct sighs again. Just his luck. “Of course.” He smiles. “Thanks anyway.” He turns to walk away. Two of his three things pointless to even bother with today.

A hand at his elbow stops him. He turns to see the Galahdian biting her lip in thought.
“Can we help?” she asks. “I’m Mau - Mautco. This is Nkechi.” Her friend nods sharply, still looking embarrassed. “Until Ulric comes back, at least. Can any ol’ ‘glaive do it or do you need a hero?” His lips twitch at that last part.

He eyes them. While Nyx is ideal, along with Crowe and Libertus, and they’re his ultimate goal, he can’t help but remember the tensions in the refugee districts and the fact that the fall of Insomnia was only helped, not hindered, by the growing unrest among those whose homes were all but abandoned by his grandfather and even his father.

With Noctis out of the city walls before the treaty talks even began, he can’t help but feel like he abandoned them too.

“Sorry, but I really do need Nyx,” he tells them, truly feeling sorry. Nkechi’s shoulders droop a little and Mau takes a step back. “But,” he adds, “you can help with something else? I normally train with my Shield, but he lacks a few things I need right now. The ability to warp.” He sticks out his thumb. “And, honestly, I’m hoping to try your food.” He sticks out his pointer. “And I think my friend could take advantage learning from experienced fighters like you.” Now his middle.

“I’m sorry, but...our food?” Nkechi says slowly. “Excuse me, but what the hell? That’s sort of left field….your Highness.”

Noctis laughs. “I know. But why not? I hear about the festivals all the time, what better way to learn about the world outside my walls than to try as many different foods as I can?”

Mau jabs her friend in the side. “You could teach himonye nabatara ìhè mbụ.” They both glance at him and laugh.

“I don’t know what that means, should I be worried?”

“Oh, no, not at all, Prince Noctis,” Nkechi assures him, though the fact that she can’t stop laughing doesn’t help at all. “It’s just a traditional dance.”

“Then I should be very worried,” he replies, but now he’s grinning. “I have two left feet when it comes to dancing. You should be worried too, honestly.” He shimmies just to make them laugh again, liking how they’re more relaxed now. “But I wouldn’t say no to learning it, if you were teaching.”

Nkechi laughs again. “Why not? Bring your friend tonight? Are they trained?”

”Not at all, not yet.” Damn, he’ll need to get Prompto a gun. Not a Crownsguard-issued gun this time. But a real gun, one that’s all his. “His sharpshooter skills are rusty.”

”Ooh, a gunner.” Mau looks ecstatic at the prospect. “You don’t see very many of those in the kingsglaives. His Majesty’s magic is more about direct contact. Would it work?”

Noctis shrugs. “Let’s find out, yeah?”

They part ways on happier terms than they met. Noctis can’t help but whistle a jaunty tune as he makes his way out of the Citadel. That adventure turned out different than expected, but a good different. He’s made a couple more allies, some he didn’t even know he could’ve had back in the day. Things are looking up.

Of course, when he tells Prompto the plans for the night over round of video games, the blond groans out right and claims Noct is tormenting him on purpose so he would be too tired to bother him with photographs.

“Your photography never bothers me,” Noctis tells his friend with a frown. When has he ever given off that idea? “Prom, I love your pictures!” He gets a bright grin in response and he realizes Prompto was deliberately fishing. Noct punches his shoulder. “You loser. Come on, that’s just mean.”

“Mean?” Prompt says incredulously. “Mean!, he says. You’re the one who signed me up for kingsglaives training with a weapon I’ve never trained with before.”

“Does that mean you have other weapon training I don’t know about?”

He sputters. “N-No! Stop being picky with how I talk.” He shoves Noct until he falls off the couch. “It’s unbecoming for a prince!”

Noctis laughs, clambering back up onto the couch. “Maybe,” he says. “But not for a friend.” He takes the controller from Prompto’s hands, turning the conversation a little more serious. “You don’t have to do this, but…I want you to be able to protect yourself, Prom. I want you to be able to be with me.” He swallows thickly around the lump. “I‘ll need your help, through whatever happens. Will you be there?”

Prompto’s expression is hard as he peers at Noctis’ face, seemingly searching for something. He nods, once. “Ever at your side, Noct. You know that.”

Something in his chest loosens at that and he sighs, falling forward until his forehead meets Prom’s shoulder. His eyes burn and he’s unable to keep the relieved tears from falling. Prompto doesn’t say anything, just rests his hand between Noct’s shoulder blades and presses his cheek against the crown of his head.

They stay like that until an alarm tells them to head to training with Mau and Nkechi.

Gladio finds him in the archives right where Ignis said he’d be. That, itself, is not unusual. When Ignis doesn’t know where the Crown Prince of Lucis is, then it’s time to worry. No, what’s weird is that Ignis told him Noctis’ been spending a lot of his limited free time here among the dusty books.

Noctis is not known for putting his nose in books unless he absolutely has too. Only recently has he even bothered reading the briefings and meeting notes Ignis so carefully writes for him. This, this is part of his personality rewrite happened after the nightmare Iggy walked in at the tail end. That had been only just a week ago and now Noct was getting everyone worried. He’d a done a one-eighty, half the ‘glaives are convinced he’s an imposter. Iggy thinks he’s finally growing up, but Gladio can tell he doesn’t believe that.

Gladio just wants to know what the Six-damned is going on.

The kid doesn’t even acknowledge him, just sits there skimming through a dusty book with one hand while the other jots down notes in a worn journal. Prompto, ever at his side, is splayed out under the table with a book over his face and his chest moving rhythmically in a rare deep sleep. Noct’s got foot resting against the blond’s shoulder, adding pressure every now and the until Prompto grumbles, still asleep, then he resumes the light touch. Like he’s making sure Prompto’s still there.

The table across from the desk Noct’s claimed is what grabs his attention. It’s covered in various maps, most of them - after shuffling through them - world maps. A few are dated from the beginning of the Lucis Caelum rule, the neat script of the royal cartographers a dead give away. The top one, weirdly enough, is the most widely accepted map of what people think Solheim use to look like with its various temples and cities. And right on top of that is a transparent sheet scribbled in shorthand, but obviously Noctis’ handwriting.

“What are you even doing?” he finally asks, straightening the transparency so the edges match up. Some of the marks don’t line up still and he frowns.

Noctis’ gaze flickers up, looking at him through his lashes. “What do you mean? I’m reading.” He marks something else in his notebook.

He grunts. Damn, Iggy’s right. There is something off about the kid. He can’t quite put his finger on it. Something with the way he holds himself - less slouching, a straightness to his spine even as he sits there, less about wanting to let the world pass on by. Something about the way he talks, still soft spoken, but now there’s steel behind the tone, a finality that Gladio’s heard only from the king.

And his eyes.

He doesn’t know why no one’s brought it up yet, but his eyes aren’t just the blue of the late Queen anymore. There’s purple around his left pupil. Barely there, hardly noticeable - except now, in the dim light of the Citadel Archives, the color shines something otherworldly. The glint there makes him want to shudder.

Gladio scoffs. “Since when do you read anything other than manga?”

The corner of his lips twitches. “Says the man who reads either cheesy, one-crown romance novels or ancient war books in Old Lucian with no in between.” He points his pen at Gladio. “You have no room to talk about book genres.”

Prompto makes a noise from his spot, Noctis automatically eases the pressure from his shoulder. This time, though, Prompto curls on his side, book falling to the floor, and wraps himself around Noctis’ leg like it’s his stuffed chocobo.

The fondness in Noct’s expression is almost painful to see. He doesn’t free his leg from his friend’s grip. Gladio gives into the urge and ruffles the Prince’s hair. That gets a squawk from him and an attempt to bat his hand away.

Gladio instead hooks his arm around his shoulders, leaning a little weight on him and peering at his notes. All in a short hand he doesn’t recognize. “What are you reading anyway? Is that about Solheim?” And Niflheim, weird. “Why so interested? Iggy can barely get you this interested in your own country.”

Noctis jabs a sharp elbow into his side. “Rude,” he mutters, expression dark. “And no reason. Just a passing idea.”

He snorts. “Lies. This is more than just ‘passing.’” He gestures towards the maps - a result more than just a few nights working on this. Noct follow the movement, lips pressed into a thin line as he stares at them. “Noct,” he says, dropping his tone to something more serious, gentle. “What’s going on? You’ve got everybody worried.”

There’s a moment of silence as something terrible passes over Noctis’ face. He tilts his head so his bangs shadow his eyes, visibly debating something. Then, he closes his notebook carefully, marks the page in the book, and stands, shoving his chair back hard enough it screeches. Prompto startles awake.

“You shouldn’t be,” he says, tone deliberately light. “I’m fine.”

“Seriously? We’re gonna do this? Fine.” Galdio stands straight, crossing his arms over his chest. “You haven’t been sleeping. One. You spend more time with the kingsglaives than anyone else these days - minus Prompto. Two. And three, you are acting just plain weird. Ever since that nightmare not even Prompto woke up for.”

They’d talked about it. One of the downsides to the two of them being friends is that they’re willing to go to ridiculous lengths for each other. Which means losing out on sleep - yeah, even Noct. When Prompto has a nightmare, Noctis is instantly awake. When Noctis has a nightmare, Prompto’s instantly awake. That’s just how it goes.

But Prompto didn’t wake up that night. Noctis managed to get to the point of being in the bathroom and throwing up, but he still hadn’t gotten up. Ignis mentioned having problems shaking him away, and with how light a sleeper the kid is on even good days, it’s something to make them all worry.

Yet, Noctis doesn’t seem to be worried.

“You’re barely coming to training anymore - .”

“Council meetings.”

Gladio frowns. “What about when you’re not at those meetings?”

“Training.” He finally glances up, something unreadable in his eyes. “With the kingsglaives.”

Yeah, that’s the problem. Gladio is suppose to be his Shield. Is suppose to protect him and train him. Why is he going to his father’s men for training instead?

“I never said you couldn’t either,” Noctis continues, expression smoothing out. He’d always been a shy person - ever since the accident when he was a kid - but this closed off version is something more. “Prompto and me, we’ve been practicing against magic and warps.” He glances to where the blond is sitting cross legged on the floor, looking up at them. “He’s good with guns. You should come and train with us some times.”

Gods, it’s like pulling teeth. He wants to grab Noctis by the shoulders and tell him that, this is not the point! Yeah, he’d like him to come back to training one on one like they use to. But it’s the fact that this is even happening that’s the problem. Something’s going on. Something only Noctis knows about, and he’s not telling anyone.

And there’s nothing he can do about it, he realizes. Gladio lets out a breath, sagging a bit. There’s nothing he can do but stand by his prince’s side and hope he can protect Noctis from whatever is coming their way.

Gladio meets Prompto’s gaze, earning a knowing smile from the younger man. He grimaces. This is going to be fun.

Noctis smiles and claps him on the shoulder, the tingle of magic chasing away the lingering bruises from training with his dad. He doesn’t even wait to see Gladio’s scowl at the use of magic, just saunters over and starts rolling up the transparency and the top map into a tight scroll.

“Well, now that that’s taken care of,” he says loftily. “How mad do you think Iggy is?”

Prompto’s groan and falling back to the floor as an answer just makes Noct laugh loudly. Gladio presses his fingers against the bridge of his nose. Why? Just...why?