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The Little Things

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When the call comes, it’s completely unexpected.

Cor’s thought a lot about Prompto over the years. The first year after he handed the boy over to the Argentum family, he kept subtle tabs on him, watching him from a distance and seeking information about him as much as he could. But every time he saw the child, it was nothing but a stab of sorrow for how much Prompto continued to resemble Sophia as he grew, mixed with the faint lingering yearning to snatch the toddler back and raise Prompto himself.

He still thinks he did the right thing in finding a family to adopt Prompto. His duties to the Crownsguard over the last few years have only increased—he would have had even less time to be a parent to Prompto. But that tiny wondering of ‘what if’ never went away. It’s largely the reason he stopped keeping tabs on the child, shortly after he turned two. He just couldn’t handle it anymore.

But now he’s gotten a phone call. He’d left his number with the Argentum family the day he gave them Prompto, and while he made it clear it was only for emergencies or matters of the utmost importance, he also made sure they wouldn’t hesitate to call if they truly needed him. In the five years since, he’s never once gotten a call from them. He’d honestly never expected to.

Mrs. Argentum’s distraught on the phone. "He showed the barcode to some kid," she says, and the disgusted tone in her voice makes Cor straighten up.

“Did you explain to him the meaning of it?” he asks.

She actually scoffs, and he can’t help the scowl that crosses his face. Silently, he thanks the Six she can’t see him. “Of course not. How could we possibly explain that to a child?”

Mr. Argentum, apparently listening in on a second phone—are they really calling on a landline?—breaks in. “You know much more about it than we do. You rescued him. Please, can you come talk to him for us? His teacher was very upset when she saw it.”

Cor remains silent for a moment, his brows furrowed. “I can be there soon,” he finally says, and they both thank him profusely, before hanging up.

He stares down at his phone, and tries to push down the rising concern. He doesn't like the disgust in Mrs. Argentum’s tone, or her attitude. And that Mr. Argentum referred only to his son’s barcode as 'it’ hasn't escaped Cor’s notice. When he’d given Prompto to them five years ago, he’d explained the boy’s situation very clearly, wanting them to know what they were getting themselves into it, but they’d seemed fine with everything, not bothered by the barcode and just grateful to have a child after learning they couldn't have one of their own.

Had he misread their attitudes back then, or has something changed in the last four years?

Perhaps he’s reading too much into it now. He’s not sure of the full situation, but it sounds as if Prompto showed his barcode to another kid and the teacher had caught him and gotten upset, knowing what it meant. While the information about MTs having those barcodes was intended to be restricted to the Crownsguard and those affiliated with the Royal family that had cause to know, people talk. It’s not unusual for her to have found out, and he can easily imagine the sort of reaction she might have had, seeing one on a student’s wrist. It’s possible Mrs. Argentum just felt disgust for the teacher, or the whole situation, not for her son's barcode.

He doesn’t want to make any hasty judgements until he knows everything and has seen for himself, but it nags in the back of his mind—what if he’d chosen wrong? What if he didn’t find a good family for Prompto?

“Everything alright, Cor?”

Cor blinks, pulled out of his thoughts, and looks at up at Clarus. He looks blankly around the room, and tries to recall what they’d been doing before his phone had rang. Clarus shuffles a few papers, looking at Cor expectantly. Oh, right. Applications for new recruits. Clarus has the final decisions, but he always seeks Cor’s input beforehand.

“A situation has arisen. A personal matter,” Cor says, hoping Clarus won’t question it. Clarus has no idea of Prompto’s existence, and Cor would like to keep it that way. “If I may, I’d like to take an hour or so to deal with it.”

Clarus studies him for a moment, and then nods. “Very well. I have some other matters I can take care of in the meantime.”

“Thank you,” Cor says quietly, and then takes his leave.

* * *

The Argentum house hasn’t changed much since the last time Cor saw it four years ago. Perhaps the paint on the shutters is peeling a little more, and the faded bricks have gotten a little more dull, but otherwise it’s the same. Same curtains in the windows, same scraggly bushes by the porch, and same wooden porch swing that looks as if it’d splinter if you so much as breathed in its direction.

It had seemed okay to Cor before—he’s hardly one to judge, given his own shabby apartment—but now, in the wake of his doubts, it looks depressing, and unsuitable. He can't help but wonder, is Prompto happy here? Does he like his life?

He sighs at the direction his thoughts keep insisting on taking, and forces himself to climb out of his car. Even if Prompto isn’t happy, there isn’t much he can do about it now. He can’t just take the boy away from the Argentums. Prompto is an Argentum now, for better or worse.

Mrs. Argentum has the door open before he even finishes climbing the steps to the porch, and her face visibly smooths out with relief as he approaches. “Thank goodness you’re here,” she says. “He’s in his room. We’ve had no idea what to tell him.”

Mr. Argentum steps up beside her. “We’ve always covered it with a wristband when we have to take him out,” he says. “We thought he knew it couldn’t be seen. We covered it today, before school, but he decided to show it off.” He shakes his head slowly, as if in disappointment.

Cor looks at him, and wants to punch him in the face. He smiles instead, albeit a bit tightly. “I’ll make sure he understands,” he says, and follows them in. They go through the living room, and into the hallway. Mrs. Argentum points out Prompto’s bedroom, and they leave him to go on his own.

Cor thinks he might actually hate them both.

He never should have given up Prompto.

He heads down the hall, approaching Prompto’s room quietly. The door’s open, and he stands there and observes the six-year old for a few moments. The boy’s sitting hunched over on the edge of his bed, frowning as he traces one of the diamonds on his wrist. He looks so forlorn and lost, the sight of it nearly breaks Cor. It would be very easy to take him, to just tell the Argentums they were going out for ice cream or something while they talked, and then simply never come back. He’s Crownsguard, the police probably wouldn’t do much, and surely Regis will be on his side–

Prompto snaps his wristband back into place, concealing the barcode once more, and Cor swallows. It’s a wishful fantasy, nothing more. He gave up his chance five years ago. He can’t get it back. He knocks on the door jamb instead.

Prompto snaps his head up, and Cor finds himself biting the inside of his cheek to keep from gasping out loud. He looks so much like Sophia. Whoever Prompto’s father is—and he still doesn’t know, despite all the research he’s put into finding out—Prompto got none of the man’s features.

“Hello,” he greets the boy, trying to keep his voice soft and soothing. He knows people find him intimidating sometimes, and he doesn’t want to scare the child. “May I come in?”

Prompto doesn’t speak, merely nods, so Cor comes into the room slowly, sitting down next to Prompto and making sure to keep a respectful distance between them. He remembers with grim nostalgia the week Prompto spent with him all those years ago, and how Prompto would always climb into his lap when given a chance, grinning widely and reaching his chubby little fists out to Cor as he babbled nonsense happily.

Now, though Prompto looks small enough to still fit in his lap, Cor gets the sense that the boy would be way too shy to do such a thing anymore, even if he could somehow remember Cor. He wants to tell Prompto that they’ve met, to apologise for giving him away, to pull out his phone and show Prompto the one picture he has of them, to try and recapture some of what could have been. Instead, he says, “My name is Cor Leonis. I’m part of the Crownsguard. And I know you’re Prompto. Your parents called me. I hear you had trouble at school today?”

His voice comes out somewhat harsh, his throat clogged with the emotions he doesn’t dare show. And yet, his words seem to relax the child. He listens as Prompto responds, anger igniting and coursing through him when Prompto says the words 'Nif traitor.’ What sort of adult would say that to a six year old, right to their face? He makes a mental note to look into having the teacher fired. It’s the least he can do for the boy.

It takes him a moment to wrest the anger and protectiveness back into control, to feel that it’s safe for him to speak without the boy believing Cor’s mad at him, and by then Prompto’s talking again. “Can I show you something? It’s a secret.”

Cor knows, of course, what Prompto’s going to show him. He wishes he could say no—he doesn’t want to see the barcode up close again. Ever since he’d first given up Prompto, he’s been looking into the matter of Niflheim’s army. He knows now, without a doubt, that Niflheim uses humans—of any ages—to turn into their magitek soldiers somehow. Every human slated to become an MT receives such a barcode. It’s a way around the research center-cum-base where the unfortunate intended soldiers are kept. It sickens him, to know that Sophia’s baby was given such a barcode, and was to be raised from birth to be turned into a mindless killing machine. Niflheim will have a lot to answer for, if they’re ever to fall.

But he doesn't want to tell the boy they've met before, doesn't want to admit he's seen the barcode, and so he lets Prompto show him, and he can’t help the sadness he feels as he looks at the black lines that still engulf the boy’s small wrist, even five years later. He feels another flash of hatred for Prompto's parents, for putting him in the position of having to shatter the boy's world. "Have your parents told you anything about it?" he asks, though of course he knows they haven't. But it's an easy opening.

Prompto shakes his head, hiding his face behind his hair. "They don't talk to me much," he says, and the loneliness in his voice tears at Cor's heart. He can't help the frown that comes over his face. How could he have chosen so badly? What had made the Argentums turn away from the son they'd once wanted more than anything? He aches to spirit the boy away. Even if he's not parent material, surely he'd be better than this.

There's no point in addressing it though. Prompto's started school now—perhaps he'll make friends that will help offset the loneliness his parents have caused. He needs to focus on the topic at hand. "What do you know about Niflheim?"

The boy's confused, as he should be—it was seemingly a bit of a non-sequitur. Cor would smile at his answer, if his next words weren't so serious. It's obvious when Prompto catches on to what exactly Cor's telling him. His eyes go wide and startled as he gasps, staring at Cor as if he expects Cor to suddenly laugh and declare it all a bad joke. "I'm an MT? I'm... I'm from Niflheim?"

It hurts. He can't keep the pain from his voice as he answers, and hopes Prompto is too shocked by what he's hearing to question why Cor sounds upset. "Yes. You were born in Niflheim, branded with that barcode at birth, intended to be raised to become an MT," he says, not holding back. Prompto deserves to know, even though every part of Cor desperately yearns to shield him from the awful truth. "Your real mother managed to escape with you when you were one," he continues—and to this day, he still has no idea how— "and brought you to Insomnia where you were adopted by the couple now raising you."

"My real mother..." Prompto looks lost, and Cor can't blame him. It's a lot to take in. He's just glad the kid isn't questioning how Cor knows all of this, or why he's the one telling Prompto instead of his parents. "Where is she?" Prompto asks him softly. "My real mother."

Cor can't help but hesitate. He truly has no idea what became of Sophia, after the night she'd given him Prompto and left. He's since tried to find her, but with no luck. "She died, shortly after bringing you to Insomnia," he finally settles on saying. "I'm sorry." It's probably close enough to the truth anyway, and it's unlikely Prompto will ever have reason to find out different.

The boy nods, looking down at his barcode. Cor watches him, and hopes that if they ever have reason to meet again someday, that Prompto can forgive him for being the one to tell him, and for forcing him to live a lie from here on out. "You understand that you must keep that barcode hidden? From everyone, all the time." It hurts him to say the words, to be so stern. It hurts even more to use Sophia against the kid. But it's necessary. He doesn't want to see anything happen to Prompto.

He watches as Prompto covers the barcode with his wristband again, and places a hand carefully against Prompto's shoulder. "You're a good kid," he says. "You'll be okay." The words are inadequate, not nearly enough to take away all the hurt he's just caused. But it's all he has to offer.

* * *

Clarus is waiting for him when he gets back to the Citadel. "Everything go okay?" he asks.

Cor nods, ignoring the mild curiosity in the other man's tone. "Fine," he says. "I'm sorry for the delay."

Clarus nods back, and Cor pulls up a chair, looking down at the stack of applications still sitting off to one side of the desk. They get down to business, and Cor determinedly shoves all thoughts of Prompto out of his mind. He can wallow in his regrets later. Right now, as always, his job comes first.

The two of them work well together, and they get through the applications quickly, Cor giving input on the best candidates based on the training he's both given and observed. Once they set the last paper aside, Clarus thanks him warmly for the help, and Cor takes his leave.

He's only gone down one floor on the elevator when it stops, the doors sliding open, and then Regis steps on. "Your Majesty," Cor greets him, nodding. The king smiles politely at him, returning his greeting.

They're silent as the doors shut again, and then Regis glances over at him as the elevator resumes its ride with a little lurch. "I heard a most interesting story from my son today," he says.

Cor arches an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"It seems," Regis says calmly, "that during his first day of school earlier, a classmate of his got in trouble for having a tattoo."

Cor frowns, not making the connection. "A tattoo? On a six year old?"

"Noctis was most upset that he wasn't able to see the tattoo," Regis remarks with a slight smirk, his amusement obvious. "But his teacher 'went really crazy,' as he put it, and dragged the other child down the hall, screaming at him the whole way. Something about being a 'Nif traitor,' he said."

...Oh. "How unfortunate," he remarks evenly, schooling his expression into one of neutrality, giving nothing away. "It's troubling that a teacher could act that way towards a child."

"Yes." Regis nods. "I intend to have her removed from the school. I don't feel comfortable leaving Noctis' education in her hands."

"Indeed. If you think it best, sir." At least now Cor won't have to try and do it himself.

They're quiet for a moment, and then the king speaks again. "Clarus mentioned you had to leave earlier to deal with a situation."

Cor frowns. "Yes. It was a personal matter."

"I see. And how is young Prompto these days?"

Cor sighs, briefly shutting his eyes in weary resignation before looking at the king. "Lonely, I think." He should have known Regis would have easily pieced it together. The king is no fool. "And today I destroyed his whole world as he knew it."

There's a beat, and then Regis says quietly, "You didn't tell me." There's no accusation in his tone, but Cor feels it anyway.

"I'm sorry, Your Majesty," he murmurs. He doesn't try to offer excuses. He knows the king is right.

"You impressed upon him the importance of keeping it hidden, I presume."

"Yes. He understands," Cor says, grimacing. "His parents hadn't bothered explaining a thing."

The elevator jerks to a stop then, and Cor makes a note to yell at somebody to yell at maintenance. They step out into the lobby, but before they can go their separate ways, Regis clasps his shoulder. "Cor," he says seriously, and Cor looks at him. "It doesn't do well to dwell on regrets. You did the best you could, that's all any parent can hope for."

Cor doesn't bother to point out that he's not a parent. He just nods. The king does have a point, after all. "Thank you, Your Majesty," he says quietly. Regis smiles at him, and then heads down the hall towards the set of rooms at the back. Cor watches him for a moment, and then heads to the entrance of the Citadel. Prompto will be fine. He just has to keep telling himself that. And maybe, if he says it enough, one day he'll even believe it.