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Renatus Ex Astris

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Noctis knew he was going to die.

He had known for a while, and he had made his peace with the fact that this was his fate. What bothered him now – what was threatening to break his focus and tears his heart apart – was the fear that his friends would die, too.

He was alone in the Astral plane.

He would die.




Noctis woke with a start.

He started pushing himself up, looking wildly around the room with his eyes still out of focus, pain lacing through his chest and arms. Immediately there was a hand on his shoulder, keeping him down.

“Shhh,” said a familiar voice. “Don’t move.”

“Prompto?” Noctis asked weakly. His voice sounded like sandpaper.

A laugh. “Yes.” It sounded teary.

“I’m...” For a moment he didn’t know what to ask first. Then he went for the obvious. “Am I dead?”

“No, you idiot.” That got Noctis’ attention. Prompto had never called him an idiot before. “You’re alive. Barely, but you’re alive.”

Slowly, the world around him came into focus, and Noctis could see Prompto’s face above him, scrunched up because he was crying.The second thing that dawned on him was the light that was filtering through the curtains.

If he wasn’t dead, why was there light?

“Where are we?” he asked, and then: “How long was I out?”

“In Lestallum,” Prompto said, and yes, that explained it. Lestallum had enough electricity to illuminate their city and keep the darkness at bay, thanks to the disc and the power plant. Of course. But how had he gotten here?

“You were unconscious for almost two weeks,” Prompto continued, wiping at his cheeks. “Medically induced at first. Your body and spirit needed to recover.”

Noctis grimaced a little. He hated that Prompto was crying because of him, but he didn’t know how to make him stop – how to comfort him. “I’m sorry?” he offered.

“You should be,” Prompto mumbled. He was sitting next to Noctis on a bed that was bigger than a regular hospital bed, and unfamiliar to Noctis. He wondered if he was in Lestallum’s actual hospital, or a house that had once belonged to civilians. Everything was being reused now.

“What happened?” Noctis asked.

“You died,” Prompto said, and sniffled, “for about… a minute? I think maybe, we all died?”

“Oh,” Noctis said. It was all only coming back to him slowly.

Prompto, poor twitchy and anxious Prompto, got up from the bed and hit a button at the side that slowly moved the upper part into a sitting position – probably only to busy himself. It felt good to be able to look him in the eye, although even the slight movement induced by the bed made Noctis’ chest ache.

It also explained nothing. An automated bed once again made the hospital very likely, but his head was still swimming, and he couldn’t see much, the curtains over the windows pulled shut.

He was lost. He tried to move his left hand, and it only twitched weakly. Thankfully Prompto got the gist and took it.

“We were in the Astral plane with you...” Prompto continued. “I don’t know how. But we grabbed you, and pulled you out, and next thing I remember I was in my body again.”


He remembered, too.

His fathers sword in his chest.

He had been in the astral plane, fighting with Ardyn’s ethereal form.

His friends, showing up behind him. He had thought it was only an after-image, a mirage concocted by his brain to lend him the strength he needed.

Ardyn mirroring his movements. Ardyn turning to dust. Luna. Stardust?

The kings inside him, outside him, beside him. His skin turning brittle, and the pain of fulfilling his destiny.

And then, when there had been nothing, when he had been feeling himself turn to dust – to nothing – too, a hand on his shoulder. Another on his other shoulder. One wrapped around his intact wrist.

His arm…

Noctis looked down on himself and saw his right arm wrapped in bandages. It stopped just above what had once been his elbow.

“I’m sorry,” Prompto said. “There was nothing we could do about that… It was just gone. And it was hard enough to keep your heart beating.” He paused for a second and Noctis wondered what exactly had happened, what could have been so terrible…

Then, Prompt continued. “We… Gladio and Ignis and I, we were fine once our souls had returned to our bodies. I don’t know if it was Ardyn, or the gods, or what happened to us, but… physically, we were fine.” He took a deep breath. “But you... you were bleeding out. You had your… the sword...” Prompto seemed like he couldn’t finish the sentence but Noctis remembered.

He also finally became aware of the bandages covering his chest, too.

He squeezed Prompto’s hand to show him that he understood, the he remembered what had happened. That he didn’t need to force the words out, because he himself could barely find them.

“We were all so weak, but we patched you up as best as we could, used our last Phoenix Down because we had to do something. Gladio sent me to get help, because phones only work around Lestallum, and even then reception is so spotty with half of the towers down... but I didn’t even make it to the city border, before Cor found me.” Now Prompto was smiling a little, and Noctis was glad. He liked that look better on him.

“Oh, what am I doing.” Prompto let go of Noctis hand and got up, and Noctis found himself missing the contact. “I should go get the doctor… and the others.”

Noctis had half a mind to tell him not to. He didn’t want to give up the quiet and their shared solitude yet, but he was all too aware that Gladio and Ignis deserved to see him, too. And he wanted to see them.


He lay there for about a minute, itching to sit up but all too aware of what Prompto had said.

He could have died.

He should have died.

The thought surprised him and he reflexively wanted to bring up his right hand to his chest. Nothing happened.

Right, his arm.

He tried not to look at the stump. (At least he had something in common with Ignis now. An eye for an eye. An arm for two eyes.)

The ring was gone, too. It wasn’t just that he couldn’t see it, that the others might have recovered it and put it away somewhere for safekeeping, he knew with certainty that it had been destroyed. An image of the heirloom of the line of Lucis crumbling into dust appeared in front of his inner eye and he pushed it away.

He felt empty. The kings had left him. He was pretty sure that he wouldn’t be able to warp, either. The line of Lucis had been severed. All magic was gone.

His thoughts were interrupted by the door opening again and Prompto rushing back in followed by Gladio and Ignis – both at a more moderate but still hurried pace. Noctis barely registered the doctor entering behind them.

They were all alive.

He might have failed in fulfilling his destiny but at least he hadn’t failed them.

“You finally woke up,” Gladio said and Noctis couldn’t even quantify the gigantic smile on his face.

“Guess I did...”

Gladio approached him and gingerly wrapped him in a hug – as if he was afraid he would break him. It was ridiculous to Noctis; Gladio had trained him, he knew how strong he was. What he could take.

“You all can catch up in a minute,” the doctor, a tall woman with short hair, said as she shooed Gladio away. “Just let me check out the King’s condition first.”

The King. Noctis had honestly almost forgotten that that was what he was. It wouldn’t have mattered in the afterlife.

“I’m Dr. Alkaid, your majesty. You’ve made a miraculous recovery so far, primarily thanks to your friends, who acted quickly to save your life.”

His first reaction was discomfort at the address and for a moment he was reeling, before he quickly intercepted: “Please, call me Noctis.” To hell with protocol. He was so beyond that now.

He saw Ignis cross his arms while Prompto tried to hide a smile behind his hands.

She blinked at him in utter confusion but caught herself quickly. “Of course, if you wish. I have to admit it feels odd to call the world’s saviour simply by his first name, but if that is what you want...”

“It is,” Noctis said, before quickly echoing: “Saviour?”

“Oh,” Prompto made, next to Gladio.

“You didn’t tell him?” Gladio asked loudly.

Noctis looked between them and felt, so, so lost.

“Show him,” Ignis said.

Gladio threw open the curtains and sunlight streamed in, illuminating the room and hitting Noctis in the face.

He had just blended it out after noticing it after waking up – because how could it be real – but with the rays now on his face, making him squint at the room, he had to acknowledge it.

“You did it,” Ignis said. “You brought the Dawn.”

And Noctis just stared.

He hadn’t failed. The prophecy had been fulfilled. He had brought the light back. He had defeated Ardyn.

“We’re living again, Noct,” Prom said, and something in that sentence tugged at Noctis’ heart strings. He looked to the left and saw the light reflecting off of Prompto’s hair. He was right. “It’s only been a few days, but life is already flourishing.”

“There’s going to be an eighty percent increase in crops,” Ignis said, matter of factly. “The daemons are gone. Oxygen levels are rising again and people are saying the lakes are clearing up faster than they’ve seen anything change ever before.”

Noctis tore his eyes away from Prompto to look at Ignis.

“I’m sorry you can’t see it,” Noctis said.

Ignis smiled. “I can feel it,” he said. “That’s enough.”

Noctis bit his lip and suddenly became aware of the feeling of the sunlight on his arm, the warmth on his face. Ignis was right. It was more than just light. It was warmth. And life.

There was a pause, until the doctor sighed and waved her hand. “Alright now. Your… Noctis, you sustained major damage to your torso due to, well, being impaled. It shattered three of your ribs and hit your left lung. You were lucky it only grazed your heart.”

Noctis could have sworn he had felt his father’s sword hit his heart. Had he been lucky?

She continued. “We fixed the damage to your organs with cobbled together tech that was left over from Insomnia’s prime, and Niflheim Empire days, but as we rebuild our resources, you’ll need more operations, because this is very much just temporary.”

Noctis nodded. He still couldn’t believe he was alive. He couldn’t believe he had brought back the dawn.

“Now your arm… It seems to have been magical damage, but could not quite figure out what cost you so much tissue.”

“Astral,” Noctis corrected automatically. “Astral damage. I called upon the power of the kings, and it almost destroyed me.” Should have destroyed me.

It spoke for her that his words didn’t even seem to faze her. “You’ll need a lot of time to recover,” she told him. “An adjustment period, I’ll wager. And extensive physical therapy.”

He shrugged. Even that hurt, and he had to grimace. She smiled.

“For now you’ll have to stay in bed,” she told him. “As little movement as possible until your heart and lungs have mended enough.”

She said some more things, medical stuff that he mostly tuned out (for which Ignis would indubitably scold him later and oh gods, he couldn’t wait). He was, surprisingly, very tired.

“Get some more rest for now,” she finally told him. “Catch up with your friends. You’ll receive some nutrition soon, and I’ll be back tonight.” She smiled at all of them and left.

Prompto was back on Noctis’ bed in a flash.

To his surprise, Gladio and Ignis settled down on it too, at the foot.

And Noctis found he didn’t know what to say to them.

“I’m tired,” was what came out, because it was a safe default, and also justified.

“You just slept for two weeks,” Prompto immediately complained.

“Prompto,” Ignis chided softly. “He almost died. Let him rest.”

“You better believe we’re going to put you some real nice training once you’re strong enough,” Gladio said and grinned.

“Mhm, I can’t wait,” Noctis mumbled.

He drifted off back to sleep still feeling the warmth of the sun and the calming presence of his friends seeping back into his bones. It was a good feeling.



He woke up in time for dinner – which was soup. Doctor Alkaid had told him they would start him off on a liquid diet to get his stomach used to proper food again.

Not his first choice for his first meal after saving the world, but he had eaten Ignis’ cooking as his last meal (back when he had thought it would be his last) and he was fortunate enough to know he would taste it again in just a few days, so he didn’t complain save for a small grimace.

Ignis and Gladio had left by the time he had come to again but Prompto was still there, sitting on a chair next to the bed, reading a book.

He ate at the same time as Noctis and the smell of his food made Noctis’ mouth water. He tried not to let it show. That, and the fact that he had trouble moving his left arm the way he wanted it to. He kept wanting to use his right, and realizing that it wasn’t there anymore, and it was frustrating. The feeling of loss had been more contained to his powers until now, and the confusion he had felt, but now he was experiencing how off-kilter he felt without his right arm.

When he dropped the spoon for the third time, Prompto looked at him, his eyes wandering from the bowl to his hand and making the connection almost immediately.

“Do you want me to help you?”

Noctis wanted to be stubborn, and say no, and figure it out on his own, but he was so hungry, and hurting already.

So what came out instead was “Please.”

Prompto helped Noctis figure out how to hold the spoon, and together they guided it to Noctis’ mouth, again and again. It was exhausting, and Prompto’s hand on Noctis’ was so warm, and he didn’t look at him in pity.

He felt both shame, and some kind of gratitude. He just hoped that he would figure out how to use his hand properly soon. He could fight two handed, he should be able to eat, too.

When Noctis’ empty bowl had been taken away again and the doctor had come around for his evening check up – apparently his vitals looked much better than this morning – he realized something about his situation. It was going to be both supremely embarrassing, and supremely boring.

He had spent a decade asleep, and now he was looking at more weeks of bed rest. He was lazy, but he wasn’t that lazy, and months on the run had gotten him used to a certain amount of activity.

It reminded him of a time he would rather forget, and doubly so. It was similar to what had happened after the Marilith incident, and his long road to recovery. He wondered if his injuries back then had been less grave as the ones now, and then if the doctors who had treated him back then were even still alive to ask. Probably not.

He knew he should enjoy the rest he was getting, because at the other end of it waited more recovery, and training, and – oh gods – governing and rebuilding.

“What’s going on out there right now?” he asked Prompto, who promptly put his book down as if he had only been waiting for this moment. Noctis was sure that Prompto had only been trying to read to give him the space he needed, which he appreciated.

“Things are just starting to calm down,” he said, “people were so ecstatic for the first few days, but honestly I’m surprised how fast they started grouping together to help rebuild.” He ran a hand through his hair. “People – refugees – who were stuck in Lestallum before are returning to their home towns. People are so ecstatic at the prospect of returning to Insomnia, even though it isn’t inhabitable yet..”

Noctis felt a pang in his chest and it took him a moment to realize that it wasn’t his injuries acting up, but the feeling of life returning to his city.

His city.

“Gladio and Ignis are helping coordinate the clean-up and provisional repair of a few houses to get workers and returning families settled in,” Prompto continued. “And I’ve mostly been here...”

There he seemed to hesitate, and Noctis knew better than to push him. He would get there on his own.

“We tried to not let news about you get to the public, because we… for a while there we weren’t sure if you were going to make it, but somehow it got out. They love you, Noct. Everyone does. They want you to get healthy, and they want to see you. They want their king.”

For a moment Noctis recoiled at the thought, until he could feel himself reaching out to the idea. He had fulfilled his destiny of bringing back the dawn – bringing back balance – without fulfilling his destiny of dying. Would he be able to be king, like his father before him?

“But… you should just rest, for now. There’s a whole lifetime in front of you now.”

That was meant to help, Noctis was sure, but it sent his head spinning again. Him, living a long life. He looked around the room a little lost but eventually his gaze settled on Prompto again.

“Read to me until I fall asleep again?” he asked.

And Prompto smiled.



Noctis dreamed of being in the Astral plane. Of feeling his body disintegrate.

He looked down at his hands and saw nothing.

Then a hand gripped his, and there was Prompto – pale but so real – smiling at him, pulling him along. Another hand on his shoulder; Gladio, guiding him, providing stability. He could see Ignis behind them (then in front of them), leading them out of what should have become Noctis’ grave.

He felt his heart starting to beat again.


He awoke feeling disembodied and like he didn’t belong.

In a cot next to the far wall, Prompto was sleeping peacefully, and the night was still dark.




The topic of leadership came up again the next morning, when Ignis and Gladio came to visit, and Prompto went to get breakfast.

“There’s no riots or anything,” Gladio said, sitting on a chair next to Noctis’ bed that looked too small for him, “but people are looking for a leader. The mayor of Lestallum, Cor and Ignis have formed a kind of… temporary committee, but people are putting all of their hopes in you.”

“You’re still the king,” Ignis told him. “You’re still the leader of this country. Or, well, you will be again.”

Noctis wasn’t about to tell him that he had never led the country in the first place, had never had a coronation, had never formally accepted the title, and didn’t have a cabinet to support him. Ignis knew all of these things, and would have solutions for all of them.

“I know,” he said. I just don’t know if I want to be. He didn’t know if he could be. But that didn’t matter.

“Cor’s gonna come visit you later today, I think,” Gladio said.

“We’re not going to rush you into anything,” Ignis added, “and I understand that this has to be a lot. But I really think it would be best if the people of Lucis had you to guide them.”

“I don’t really know how to guide anyone,” Noctis said.

Ignis smiled. “You guided us well enough, back then. And you’re not going to be alone in this.”

“Just think about it,” Gladio said. “Rest. Get your strength back. Then you can get to know your country again.”

And that sounded a little more amicable to Noctis.



Cor, surprisingly, was a little less pushy. He just genuinely seemed happy to see Noct alive and reasonably well.

“I’m just hoping they’ll stop calling me immortal now,” he said with a slight grin.

Prompto was there again and he immediately countered with: “Nah, I’ll still call you that. We’ll call Noct something else.”

Cor sighed. “I should have known.”

Noct had to laugh. It still hurt his chest, but the joy of being alive was finally starting to outweigh the pain.

“I’m sure they’ll come up with an even worse nickname for me,” he said, his left hand pressed lightly to the bandages over his chest.

“They already call you the Bringer of Dawn,” Cor said. “Saviour of the Country. Their Light.”

Noctis grimaced. “Their Light?” Wasn’t that a bit too on the nose?

“Meh, I’m partial to just calling you Noct,” Prompto said. “Simple and clean.”

And much more fitting. Noctis’ own name was grand enough already, and he much preferred its simple version – or the nickname his friends (his family) had given him.

“It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?” Cor said. “Personally I think you should show yourself to them while you’re still all bandaged up. Show them that you’re just human, too. No need to not show weakness, not in this new age.”

And that was something that was actually worth considering.

He didn’t want to be seen as some kind of superhero, or an otherworldly powerful being. He was just human. Even more so now that he didn’t have the Ring of the Lucii anymore.

(It would be a while until he would be able to test it, but he was sure that he would never warp again.)


He drifted in and out of consciousness that day, and wondered how he could still sleep so much.

Thus it took him until about midday the next day – when Dr. Alkaid came to change his bandages – to notice that Prompto had barely left his side. That, combined with what he had said two nights ago, made Noctis immediately feel guilty. How self-absorbed could he be?

Prompto excused himself again while the doctor and a nurse worked on Noctis, and when he returned he looked… off. He was sitting on the windowsill, looking out onto Lestallum, and not looking at Noctis much.

Noctis shifted slightly in his bed, his body aching from having to lift his arms, and fought to get the words out.

“Are you alright?”

Prompto turned and blinked at him, and for a moment it seemed like he didn’t understand the question.

“W-” he started, before stopping himself. “Yeah, of course I’m okay. You’re the one in a hospital bed, Noct.”

Noct sighed a little. “Just because I’m the one still in it doesn’t mean I’m the only one suffering,” he said. “How should I know if you weren’t badly injured too and in a bed just like mine up until I woke up? You lost things and… people, too. You’ve been spending so much time here with me. I was just...” He struggled to find the right words. Stringing more than three sentence together at a time still felt odd. “You’re sleeping, right?”

Prompto’s face contorted into a grimace and Noctis wondered if he was about to cry again, but Prompto caught himself.

“I wasn’t injured very badly,” he said instead. “Some burns. Sprained my ankle, but it’s almost healed now. A lot of bruises. I think I broke some ribs, too, but I barely feel them anymore.”

“You know that’s not what I’m asking.”

Prompto shrugged. “I lost my parents a decade ago. I never really… had anyone. It shouldn’t hurt anymore.”

Noctis stretched out his left hand and motioned at him. “Come here.” He wanted to pat the masses of empty bed next to him, but his hand only hung in the air awkwardly for a second before he let it rest on the bed again. Maybe Prompto would understand anyway.

Prompto only hesitated for a fraction of a second too long, but Noctis caught it anyway. Something was definitely wrong. Finally, Prompto slid off the windowsill and walked over to the bed, sitting down on the edge.

“Just because it was a while ago doesn’t mean it can’t still hurt,” Noctis said.

“I… I haven’t been sleeping well, yeah,” Prompto said. “I slept a lot for the first two days, but as soon as I was lucid enough again to realise that you were actually alive I just… couldn’t anymore.”

Noctis only raised an eyebrow. He knew Prompto had more to say, so he just waited.

“I thought you were dead,” Prompto continued. “I had your blood all over my hands even after I woke up – not literally, we washed it off, but I kept finding it under my finger nails and it always felt like it was there… I kept having nightmares whenever I went to try and sleep.”

“So you had to watch me,” Noctis said.

“Yeah… There was no other way to… control the situation. I couldn’t just rely on what the doctors told me, I had to see what was going on. I had to see you.”

And Noctis understood, he really did – when things were out of your control there was nothing else you could do than watch, and hope for the best, and maybe pray. But it still didn’t mean Prompto had to suffer for his sake.

“You know you’re important to me, right?” Noctis asked.

Prompto looked at him and bit his lip, and Noctis could clearly see the tears forming in his eyes.

“I didn’t want to lose you too,” Prompto said, and his voice broke on the last syllable.

And that hit Noctis. The fact that Prompto had lost his parents (both sets, the adoptive parents and the biological parents he had never really had, no matter how terrible his scientist ‘father’ had been) and had then had to deal with his fate, and ten more years of loss, and the thought of losing his best friend – in a way a part of his family – too.

Noctis smiled sadly and slightly raised his left arm. “Come here, will you?”

Prompto inched closer until he was sitting up against the head of the bed next to Noctis and Noctis could put his arm around him. “Doesn’t that hurt?”

“A little,” Noctis said, “but it doesn’t pull on my stitches too much, and anyway… The pain reminds me I’m alive.”

Prompto made a quiet noise that was somewhere between a humm of acknowledgement and a pained mewl.

“I’m fine, really,” Noctis said. Or he would be, soon enough. “But you have to promise to take care of yourself, too. You can sleep here with me. You can eat with me. You don’t have to leave, okay? And I’m not going anywhere, either.”

“I’ll try.” Prompto’s reply was very quiet, but Noctis took it as a good sign.

Prompto curled up like a kitten next to him and Noctis’ heart hurt but he was finally feeling like a real person again. He was alive.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Witnessing Noct recover was nothing short of a miracle.

Ignis and Gladio had been busy organizing recovery and rebuilding efforts, in Noct’s absence, and Ignis feared he hadn’t been devoting as much time to his king as he should. Noctis wasn’t strong enough, yet, to lead his country as he should, so as his advisor it had fallen to Ignis to do what he could to see the country righting itself. He had been there to check up on him, of course, but now it was time to hear what Noct had to say in the matter. But most of all it was time to lend him a helping hand.

Ignis entered his hospital room now, immediately sensing Prompto’s presence.

“At least one of us is always here,” he said, in lieu of a greeting.

“Iggy!” Noctis sounded almost excited, and much stronger than when he had first woken up. Ignis was glad.

He walked to where he knew the bed to be and heard a scraping sound as Prompto pulled back a chair for him. He stretched out a hand to find the backrest and settled into the chair. “Thank you.”

“No problem,” Prompto said and Ignis noted that he, too, sounded a little more cheerful than in the past weeks.

“How are you?” Ignis asked.

“I’m fine,” Noctis said and Prompto snorted.

“How are you really?” Ignis clarified.

“Getting better,” Noct said. “I can sit up on my own now, and I just started eating real food again. The doctor says I’ll be allowed to actually leave the bed next week.”

“That’s excellent news,” Ignis said and leaned forward. “What about the pain?”

“It’s manageable,” Noctis said. “Gets better every day...” There was silence for a second, before he continued, sounding sheepish. “Actually, I had a request.” Ignis heard a little shuffling noise, and assumed it was Prompto moving towards Noct. He smiled, already sure what Noctis was going to ask. “Would you cook for me again?”

“Of course,” Ignis said.

“Thanks, Iggy,” Noctis said, and Ignis could feel his gratitude deep in his bones, when in reality, it was him who should be grateful – who was grateful. Grateful to still have Noct to cook for, to have him to cook for again.

“What have you been up to?” Noctis asked.

“Trying to get seeds to the farmers outside of Lestallum, and supplies to regions that are further out. We’re looking for volunteers, too, because most people retreated to single outposts, and Lestallum of course. And then Insomnia… We have teams going into the city to take note of the damage and clear paths, but it’s going to be a while before it’s ready to be rebuilt properly again, although people are anxious to get back. There’s a list of people already volunteering to return, even though they know they would be going back to a ruined city.”

“They love this country so much…,” Prompto said.

“They really do,” Noctis said.

“Which is why they want to see their king, too,” Ignis said, gently. He knew how Noctis felt about this, but Noctis had also been the one ready to sacrifice himself for his people. Noctis, who loved this country – the world – so much that he had taken it all on his shoulders, ready to die for the chance of sunlight.

Noctis was silent for nearly twenty seconds. “I know,” he said. “I’m just… getting used to the idea.”

“That’s all I can ask, for now,” Ignis said. He knew he should leave, get back to his numerous responsibilities outside of this room, but Noctis wasn’t just his responsibility, he was his friend. His family. So Ignis didn’t leave his seat.

 

He remembered the moment he had realized that they could save Noctis.

Ignis remembered a blow from one of his opponents – a Yojimbo Daemon – and when he had opened his eyes the next time, there had been light. It had surprised him twofold, both because he had been able to see, and because there shouldn’t be any light. The world was bathed in darkness, thanks to the Starscourge.

For a moment he thought Noctis had done it, had brought the dawn, but when he looked around, he had spotted him, further away, where the light cut off into darkness. Ardyn was in front of him, dissolving into bright dust.

Noct!” Ignis shouted. No words left his mouth.

Had he traded one sense for another?

He looked down at himself, at his own hands. It didn’t seem real.

He tried shouting again, to no avail, before looking to his left and right. To his left, Gladio was towering up, so much more massive than Ignis remembered him. To his right, Prompto stood, a determined look on his face.

Their eyes met, and after a second of surprise on his face – Ignis couldn’t blame him, he hadn’t directly looked at any of them in years, hadn’t been able to see in over a decade – Prompto nodded.

They had been brought here for a reason.

It was in that moment that a scream ripped through the silence and when Ignis looked at him, damage was spreading all over his right side, his arm breaking away into pieces.

Ignis looked at Gladio, who was already on the move, his arm instinctively on the small of Ignis’ back to guide him forward.

They had to save Noct. They had to guide him back.

They reached Noctis together, and at the same time put their hands on his shoulders. Ignis had almost expected their hands to pass right through them, considering how they seemed to be in an ethereal plane and how brittle Noct looked, but their hands hit real flesh and relief coursed through Ignis.

Prompto darted in beside them to grab Noct’s wrist – the one that still existed – to pull him back from the chasm that was opening up in front of him.

They had guided him back to the light with them.

And when Ignis had opened his eyes next, the world had been dark again, but he had heard Noctis’ labored breathing, and Gladio and Prompto shouting, and he had known they had succeeded.

 

Ignis hadn’t seen the dawn, hadn’t seen the first sunrise after they had saved Noctis, but he had felt the rays creeping up his arms while he sat outside the makeshift operating room.

 

“Prompto,” Ignis said a little sudden, “Iris just got back, and she was looking for you.”

It wasn’t that he had just remembered, he had had the fact in his mind the entire time, but he hadn’t been in a hurry to make Prompto leave. Still, he wasn’t sure how Noctis would take the next topic he brought up, and how comfortable he was discussing it in front of others – even if the only other person in the room was Prompto.

“Aw, fine,” Prompto made, sounding conflicted, but was interrupted by Noct.

“Iris is back in town?” Noct asked. His voice contained both hints of excitement and trepidation. The unspoken question if she was going to come see him was obvious.

“She has some business to take care of first, unfortunately,” Ignis said, barely suppressing a smile, “but she’s anxious to see you, so I assume she’s going to come around tomorrow.”

“Guess I’ll go talk to her,” Prompto said and there was a rustling and shuffling noise as he slid off the bed to stand up. “I’ll come talk to you after, Iggy. Take care, Noct, and get the nurse to bring you real food, okay? I’ll see you later!”

Prompto left, and his absence bathed the room in silence.

“How are you adjusting to losing your arm?” he asked.

He could see Noct grimacing in his mind, although he was wearing his young face in that particular image.

“Okay, I guess?” Noctis tried. Ignis only raised his eyebrows and waited for more. “Could be better...”

“It feels monumental, doesn’t it?” Ignis said. “To lose something that’s always been there, for as long as you could remember, and then having to live without it.”

Another silence, just Noctis’ uneven breathing, before finally, he asked: “How did you do it?”

Ignis sighed. “For a while, I hoped, and then I despaired. And I got used to it, because I had to – and very quickly, at that.”

“It’s hard,” Noct mumbled. “I can’t even eat without help. I can’t… I can’t hold things the way I used to? I’ll try to reach out, but with the wrong arm, and doing things with my left...” He left the sentence unfinished, but Ignis nodded anyway.

“It’s going to be tough for a while, I won’t lie,” he said, “but you have the best doctors we could find. They’re going to have exercises for you that will help you. And you’re not alone.” He paused for a second. “Plus, you have the one advantage I didn’t have: Time.”

Noct heaved a sigh. “Do I really?”

Ignis inclined his head. “What do you mean?”

“I’m going to have to lead this country,” Noctis said, sounding more self-assured than the last time, “and I’m going to have to interact with … my people. But how am I going to do that, looking like this?”

There was a pause where both of them processed what he had said. Ignis was sure that the absurdity of the statement wasn’t lost on either of them.

“They’re going to be able to see beyond a missing limb,” he said. “You took me with you, didn’t you? I was still the same person, even though I felt fundamentally changed. I still believed in you then, as I believe in you now. You’re still able to lead this country. The people will not think you weak because you lost an arm protecting their lives.”

“I’ve been away for ten years,” Noctis said. “How could I...”

“Because this is a new beginning,” Ignis said. “Because so many people have believed in you since before you disappeared, and you brought back the light. All of us are trying to make it in a new world that has not taken its full shape yet, and they know it. They just need someone to guide them.”

“What if it’s not me?” Noctis asked, and he sounded so desperate, so sad – a rarity, he was so good at concealing his real emotions under a layer of grumpiness and bravado. “What if I can’t guide anyone.”

“Noct,” Ignis said softly. “You underestimate how much your people love you. Still love you. And above all, you underestimate yourself. You have so many leadership qualities, and you are kind and generous – all things a king should me. And you have me to help you. You have always had me to help you, have you not?”

It was silent for a while, and Ignis wondered if Noctis was staring out of the window, deep in thought. He had heard Gladio mention that they had moved Noctis’ bed closer to the window so he could look out onto the city. Lestallum was thriving under the circumstances, more people populating the streets than even during the Decade of Darkness, and the roofs of the houses were bathed in sunlight every day. Ignis hoped that the picture would give Noctis the push he needed. Eventually.

“You have time to think about it,” he said. “Meet Iris. Let Talcott visit you. Cindy would probably love to drive up from Hammerhead and see you. Get used to people again. And then, please, consider it again.”

“Alright,” Noctis said diplomatically.

Ignis nodded and rose from his chair. “I need to go and meet with people, check when Gladio will be back, but I will come back later or tomorrow, if that’s alright with you.”

“Of course,” Noctis said. “You know I’m always up for seeing you guys.”

Ignis was glad to hear it. They had spent so much time apart from each other that it had felt a little off-putting how well they had all slotted in with each other again, once Noct had reappeared. They all had to get to know each other again properly.

“I’ll come by again later then,” Ignis said.

He would be sure to cook something special for Noct.

 

 

Walking the streets of Lestallum was certainly an experience every time.

Ignis got recognized more frequently now, and being known as the advisor to the king and part of his retinue caused people to stop him to bring up their concerns and wishes with him. He didn’t mind it.

The city was crowded – more so than it had been after the attack on Insomnia, or even after the fall of the Darkness. People kept flooding in, because they had heard the king was here, and volunteers had their hands full turning people away. Most of them saw reason eventually, returning to their homes or joining the relief teams.

Maybe more of them would start helping after Noctis made his decision.

There were still tents in the streets from the Darkness, when there hadn’t been enough rooms in the city to house everyone. Refugees still filled the market place. Ignis had also been to the edge of the city, where people had started erecting make-shift huts. A step up from the tents, but nowhere near the security of the actual houses in the center. Of course he had not seen them, but the description Prompto had described had been enough for him.

He only hoped that people would return to the villages and the capital once the rebuilding efforts picked up in earnest. The country needed it, and the people deserved real homes.

He would do his best to provide as much help as he could.

 

 

They had taken rooms in the Leville again – although it had not been a real hotel for a long time, most of the rooms converted for the needs of refugees, too – and he returned there now. Ignis had been hesitant about possibly taking rooms from people who needed them more and insisted that they could camp just outside the city, but the clerk had insisted. So Gladio, Prompto and Ignis had finally settled on sharing a room together, although Prompto was rarely ever there, preferring to stay with Noctis instead. Ignis couldn’t blame him. He himself wanted to spend as much time with Noct as possible to make sure that he wouldn’t disappear again.

The room was empty when he arrived, Prompto presumably still out talking to Iris about the growing stray animal population, and Gladio not yet returned from his run leading a group of volunteers to Insomnia. Ignis settled into the chair by the small desk Gladio had found in a deserted house two hours outside of the city a few days ago and brought back for him so he wouldn’t have to work on the bed or the hotel’s reception desk anymore.

He started running his hands over the papers and tapes spread out over the surface. They had not found a braille typewriter yet – although Iris had hinted at Cindy working on something – so Ignis usually had Gladio, Prompto or whoever he was meeting with read out important documents and record them.

He met with people seeking out help and people wanting to sign up to be volunteers in the lobby frequently, but no one had arrived today yet – it was still early, and a shipment of supplies had arrived with Iris’ party, so people were most likely at the still open spot of the market place, trying to get their share of the rationed supplies.

He was anxiously awaiting the day fruit and vegetables would be available in abundance again, and people wouldn’t have to live on rations that were barely enough to get them through the day anymore.

Thinking of food reminded him of his promise to Noct and he started running through his options, mentally composing a list. There were probably some extra rations for Noctis saved up at the hospital, and maybe…

Heavy footfalls outside the room interrupted his thoughts and he turned towards the door in anticipation. Gladio’s steps were unique. The door opened only a few seconds later, the creak of the hinges unmistakeable.

“Welcome back,” Ignis said to Gladio. “You’re back early, I wasn’t expecting you for another day.”

“Streets were easier accessible than we thought and we drove through the night,” Gladio said and Ignis heard the sound of his jacket hitting the bed. Then followed a softer “And hey, good afternoon to you. Is Prom still with Noct?”

Ignis shook his head. “No, he went out to talk with Iris.”

“Oh, Iris is back too? Gonna have to see her, too.” The creak of the bed as Gladio sat down. “What are you working on?”

“I’m indulging myself and trying to come up with a recipe for Noct.”

“He allowed to eat again?” He sounded tired, and no wonder, Ignis doubted he had slept at all in the last three days. Maybe a few hours in the catacombs beneath Insomnia.

“Yes, that’s why he asked me to cook for him again.”

“And of course you couldn’t say no.”

“When could I ever...”

Gladio’s laughter reverberated around the room and it was a welcome sound. Ignis hadn’t heard it too often in recent years, and it made him smile, too.

“You got everything you need for that?” Gladio asked, gruff but Ignis could hear the curiosity and thoughtfulness beneath.

“Actually,” he started, careful as how to word his request, “I have a favor to ask you.”

“Supplies,” Gladio said.

Ignis nodded. “There’s rumors of a herd of wild Garulas out there,” he said, “so if you could bring one back that would help both my little project and the meat supplies around here. And, if there’s any docile young ones, try not to harm them, and preferably bring them back so we can foster them in the reserve near the town.”

A very deep sigh. “Any other wishes?”

“I’m sorry,” Ignis said, “I could make do without the meat, but if there really is a herd out there we have to make sure at least some animals are protected.”

“I know,” Gladio said. “Can I take a nap first?”

“There is no rush,” Ignis said, rising from his seat. The day was progressing and he was sure there were people waiting downstairs for him now. “I’ll let you rest. Alert me once you leave again?”

“I will,” Gladio grumbled. His voice sounded muffled – he probably had his face pressed into the pillow – and already half-asleep.

Halfway to the door, Ignis paused again. “Actually… if you see any wild vegetables, any herbs, anything, bring it back with you, too, won’t you?”

“’course,” Gladio mumbled.

Ignis was glad for all the time they had spent together after he had lost his eyesight where he had taught Gladio what exact ingredients to look for in the wild beyond ‘looks edible’. Gladio might have been adept at survival, but he was no cook.

“Thank you, Gladio. I owe you. Oh, and take off your boots before you fall asleep,” Ignis advised him. Gladio probably wouldn’t, but thankfully Ignis wasn’t the one who had to wash Gladio’s sheets – or his feet. “I’ll be downstairs.”

There was no answer except a low grunt and Ignis chuckled slightly before exiting the room and closing the door quietly behind him. Gladio deserved some rest.

 

The afternoon passed as Ignis talked to people, original residents of Lestallum and refugees and people inbetween alike, many of which weren’t looking for but to help. Sometimes it threatened to overwhelm him, the sheer goodness of the people surrounding him.

Some were looking for help however, for shelter, or extra rations for their children, clothing. Ignis tried to help where he could, and recorded voice notes where he couldn’t, to delegate and to get back to the person in need as soon as he could.

He desperately wished that the Dawn would have miraculously cured the food shortage, too, but while the land recovered much faster than anticipated, it didn’t do it fast enough for all the people.

They were just lucky spring had come in time with it.

Gladio came back down in the late afternoon, grumbling about how many hours of sun he had missed, a hand on Ignis’ arm even though he didn’t need the reminder of where Gladio was positioned in relation to him.

“I’ll get you that meat,” he said. “And the young ones. That reserve is gonna be a real zoo pretty soon.”

“More like a farm,” Ignis corrected gently but smiled anyway when Gladio took his leave with a “Yeah, whatever.”

 

 

Gladio returned in the middle of the night and woke Ignis up, who shot up in bed, disoriented and only half-awake, but adrenaline coursing through his veins from years of always having to be on alert. His hands were outstretched in muscle memory, ready to summon weapons from the ether – neither of which existed anymore.

“I’m sorry,” Gladio said and the tension left Ignis’ shoulders almost immediately at the familiar voice. “I should have slept in the lobby.”

“Nonsense,” Ignis said, lying back down but turning towards the sound of his voice. “Just… try entering more quietly next time. Did you get it?”

“You know I’m terrible at sneaking,” Gladio said and then yawned. “But yup, one adult Garula for our king and the rest of the city population to consume, and two younglings for your zoo.”

“It’s not my zoo,” Ignis mumbled.

“Prompto and your zoo then,” Gladio said, but Ignis could clearly hear the smile in his voice.

“Go to sleep,” Ignis said fondly. “And take off your boots!”

“Yeah yeah, sheesh.” He distinctly heard Gladio’s boots hitting the floor and then the sounds of fabric sliding over skin as Gladio took off his shirt. “You better save me some of whatever you’re making.”

“I’m going to keep saying it until you remember,” Ignis said. That way Gladio would have to do less laundry – provided he showered more often than once a week, which he now had the resources for but still rarely did, considering how often he went back to Insomnia. “And of course I will.”

He was going to make sure his family ate. He would cook for the entirety of Lestallum – for the entire country – if he had the resources.

It was just going to be some stew, but he knew that Noctis was going to like it anyway. He would make it the best stew he had ever cooked.

 

 

He woke up early the next day, at least according to the voice clock on his phone and the coolness of the air when he stepped out onto the balcony attached to their room. Prompto seemed to have spent the night at the hospital again and Ignis made a mental note to take a change of clothes for him.

He went downstairs to the Leville’s kitchen, which was used to feed both the residents and surrounding families now, but was empty this early in the morning, and set to work.

There were potatoes, thankfully, but barely any carrots – the new crop was growing in the greenhouses and the farms immediately surrounding the town, but the greens had barely broken the surface yet – and Ignis couldn’t remember when he had last held a fresh tomato in his hands.

The comfort of cooking had returned to him over the last decade, once he had adapted to his disability, and figured out how to identify ingredients by touch and smell alone. He had mentally filed away the location of every utensil in the Leville kitchen, which was why he preferred cooking here, too.

Cutting vegetables was methodical again, instead of clumsy, and he could let his mind wander while he stirred the ingredients.

Gladio had managed to find some wild eggplant, too, and Ignis was grateful for the extra flavor it would provide. They were running short on everything, but he had been cooking with limited supplies for years. He was used to it.

He made two pots – a small one for Noctis, and a big one for the Leville. Had anyone been watching him, they would have accused him of favoritism, and they would have been right. He would feed Noctis, Prompto and Gladio before everyone else.

He had been hard at work for about an hour and was nearly finished when the kitchen door swung open.

“Mhmm, something smells good.”

“Good morning, Talcott,” Ignis said. “Perfect timing, you can help me with this.”

“Is it for the king?” Talcott asked, his voice and footsteps coming closer.

“This one is,” Ignis said, hitting his wooden spoon against the smaller pot. “The other one is for the people in the hotel. Could you help me take this to the hospital and afterward organize that the contents of the big pot get distributed evenly to the people?”

“Of course,” Talcott said, always eager.

 

They walked to the hospital together, Talcott carrying the pot and Ignis a bag with clothes for Prompto, up the slight slopes in the streets and a staircase. The air was warmer now than it had been in the morning, and Ignis could feel the sun on his back and neck.

He had adjusted to the seasonless, dark world so quickly – much quicker than Gladio and Prompto – when he had first lost his sight, that actually feeling warmth again was much more disquieting to him than he had first thought.

It was a privilege, however, and he was going to savor every second of it.

They arrived at the hospital and climbed up to the third floor together, where finally, they stopped in front of the door.

“Wait here,” Ignis told Talcott. “I’ll ask if he’s ready to see you.”

He didn’t doubt that Noctis had sufficient strength to have visitors, but his readiness to be seen was a different matter.

“Of course,” Talcott said and Ignis left him outside the door with the food while he slipped into the room.

“Good morning,” he announced.

“Morning,” both the occupants of the room said, Noctis’ voice coming from the bed as usual, while Prompto seemed to be sitting on the window sill as he was wont to do often lately.

“Get down from there,” Ignis said to Prompto. “Would you go and fetch some bowls and spoons from the cafeteria?”

“You brought food!” Prompto exclaimed and his feet hit the floor.

“Where is it?” Noctis asked and Ignis chuckled.

“Outside, in Talcott’s arms. I was going to ask you if he can come in.”

A moment of hesitation, then: “Of course.”

Ignis didn’t even had time to react before Prompto was already storming to the door. “Come in, come in!” He ushered Talcott into the room before tearing down the hallway, his footfalls getting quieter and quieter, in the hunt for bowls and spoons.

“Hello, Your Majesty,” Talcott said and Ignis could hear him shuffling further into the room. “How… uh… how are you… doing?”

“I’m getting better,” Noctis said and he sounded a little strained. Ignis hoped he hadn’t overstepped his boundaries. “Thank you.”

“You can put the stew on the table, Talcott,” Ignis said and hoped that the table still was where he remembered it to be.

“Alright,” Talcott said and a moment later the bottom of the pot hit the surface of the table with a dull sound. “I’ll uh… be on my way then. See you later… your majesty. Ignis...”

“Take care of the rest at the Leville,” Ignis told him.

“I will!”

“I think I freaked him out,” Noctis said, the moment the door had closed behind Talcott.

“He is just naturally awkward,” Ignis said. “You certainly didn’t ‘freak him out’, he just sensed that you were not comfortable and took his leave. I can send him around again, if you would like to have a conversation.”

“Maybe tomorrow...”

Prompto returned with the bowls and cutlery before Ignis could reply. “I’m back! Huh, where did Talcott go?”

“To distribute the rest of the stew at the Leville,” Ignis said.

“Aw, okay. More for us.” Ignis heard him set down the bowls next to the pot on the table and walked over to help him serve the food.

“I brought you some clothes,” he said conversationally while taking one of the bowls from Prompto and filling it with stew. “You should shower and change after you eat.”

“Are you saying I smell?” Prompto asked, affronted.

“Maybe,” Ignis said diplomatically.

“Definitely!” Noct called from the bed.

“Not as badly as Gladio, though,” Ignis said, “although I’m hoping he’ll be taking a shower after he wakes up.”

“Wait, he’s back, too? He help you with this?” Noctis asked.

“Why do we always learn last when people come back?” Prompto asked.

“He got me some of the ingredients,” Ignis said. “He returned yesterday, and then left again the same day to go hunt Garulas, which is why he’s still asleep. Or at least he was when I left this morning.” He felt along the table until he found the tray, took the bowl he had filled and a spoon that Prompto handed him, and walked over to the bed. “And you would know when people came back if you ever left this room, Prompto.”

“Uh, harsh, that’s unfair to Noct, he only learns when people come back when you tell him, too. And I was just outside yesterday.”

“That’s very true,” Ignis said. “Would you give the food to your king or do you just want to stand there and eat your own?”

“Ah, sure.” Prompto took the tray from his hands and set it down carefully on Noctis’ lap. “There you go.”

“Enjoy your meal,” Ignis told them.

“You’re not eating?” Noctis asked.

“I had breakfast already,” Ignis said, “and I had to taste my own food, of course.” In fact, it really had been only a small taste, but it was more important that Prompto and Noct were fed. Ignis would eat again when he was back at the Leville.

It seemed to satisfy them, though, and they dug in. There was the clumsy clattering of the spoon against the bowl, and Ignis remembered that Noctis was using his left hand now. At least Prompto didn’t seem to have to help him anymore.

“Iggy, this is so good,” Noct said, his words slurred by the food in his mouth.

“Don’t talk with food in your mouth,” Ignis chastised gently. “But thank you.” He was glad he had gotten the mixture right, despite the limited access to ingredients for his recipe.

“No, thank you!” Prompto said from somewhere to his right, probably perching on the edge of the bed again. “It really is so good. The best thing I’ve eaten in… weeks. Probably since you cooked for us the last time.”

Ignis didn’t like remembering that, but he was honored nonetheless.

 

Prompto finished his bowl first and left, as promised, to take his shower, which gave Ignis the chance to speak to Noct undisturbed.

Ignis waited until he could hear the water running in the small bathroom attached to the room before he collected the dishes from the bed, his hands running over the rough fabric of the blankets until the found the edge of the wooden tray. He carried it back over to the table and set it down.

“Thank you, again,” Noctis said from behind him. “I’m glad I got to… taste your food again.”

“Of course,” Ignis said and returned to his seat next to the bed. “I’m glad you can eat it again.”

There was a pause for several long, silent seconds. Then Ignis heard Noctis take a deep breath.

“I’ll do it,” he said. “I’ll talk to the people.”

Ignis smiled. He had suspected he would have to ask Noct again, but instead he had brought the topic up himself. “Very good,” he said. “When do you want to do it?”

“When do you think I should do it?” Noctis asked.

“It depends on the scale,” Ignis said. “It will take longer to organize now than it used to, naturally, and if you want to invite people from all regions in Lucis, I’d advise at least three weeks to let word travel and give them the chance to make their way to Insomnia.”

Noctis was quiet for a moment. Then: “How long if I want to invite people from further away?”

“How much further?” Ignis asked, although he suspected he knew what Noct meant.

“Like, former Empire provinces. Tenebrae. Accordo.”

“A month, at least,” Ignis said. “Although it might even be impossible for a lot of people, considering how restricted water-ways and railroads are at the moment. There are refugees from all over the world in Lestallum… Maybe we should invite them specifically, and give them the resources to carry records of what you said into their home countries?”

“I guess that would make more sense,” Noct mumbled. "Do we have working cameras left?”

“We could ask Prompto.” Ignis asked. He probably knew better.

“I think his camera still works, so there should still be operable TV cameras out there, too,” Noct mused.

“We’ll bring it up with him when he comes back,” Ignis said.

He was just glad Noct was finally ready to be seen.

Chapter Text

 

Prompto did actively try to take care of himself. Noct was right, he couldn’t let himself go and excuse it with doing it for Noct’s sake – plus, he didn’t like smelling bad.

Still, he didn’t like leaving Noct alone for more than ten minutes at a time, either. He always felt as if Noct would just disappear into whatever plane they had pulled him out of. He knew that his fear was irrational, but that didn’t make it any less real. This combination made for some very fast showers and most of his meals taken by the side of his friend.

Noct didn’t seem to mind, as long as Prompto ate and didn’t smell too bad.

When Ignis brought the news that Iris was back from her run to Hammerhead, Prompto was conflicted. He hadn’t seen her since the day they had brought Noct to Lestallum, and they had two projects going on he needed to check on with her, but the thought of leaving Noct alone for so long troubled him.

But he left anyway, because Ignis seemed to want to talk to Noct about something alone, and while that kind of stung, it also made sense to Prompto. It had to be important, and he had never been the brilliant tactician or advisor out of the four of them.

He figured Iris would be at the tent town on the edge of Lestallum, distributing whatever fun things she had found or gotten from Cindy to the kids, so he made his way there.

And there she was, surrounded by a gaggle of kids between three and nine, the ones that had been forced to grow up in the darkness and were only slowly adjusting to the sunlight. She was handing out leftover sugary treats she had found at whatever outposts she had been to this time, and trinkets and toys that she had either picked up on her hunt or gotten from Cindy.

The kids surrounding her spotted Prompto first, of course, easily distracted and inexplicably fond of him. He didn’t mind the attention.

Two of them ran up to him and hugged him. “Prompto! Are you here for the animals again?”

Prompto smiled and ran his hands over their heads. “Maybe,” he said and when he looked up, Iris had finally spotted him, too.

She made her way through the kids and came up to him to hug him as well. “Long time no see.”

He hugged her back, and was surprised at how much he had both been lacking physical contact, and missing her. So he hugged her a little tighter.

She laughed against his shoulder. “I missed you, too.”

They separated and she took a step back to look at him. “How’s our king?” Her voice as little quieter, so the kids wouldn’t hear.

“Better,” Prompto said, and it was the truth. “He’s looking forward to seeing you, but I think he’s also scared… Not a lot of people around him recently, and the arm… you know.” He made a vague hand gesture, but Iris already knew that Noct had lost his right arm.

“It’s gotta be hard,” she said.

Prompto nodded, and realized that he didn’t want to talk about Noct’s issues. He didn’t want to spill secrets that weren’t his to tell, and while he was happy to still have Noct, and was anxious to get back to him, he also wanted to give him the chance to talk to Iris himself.

“You think you’re gonna come talk to him later?” he asked.

She handed another toy to a child who eagerly took it from her hands. “If he wants to see me, of course. Although I kind of wanted to spend some time with Gladdy, too.”

“He’s not back yet,” Prompto said, “but I think Iggy said he’d be back tomorrow.”

Another smile appeared on Iris’ face. “That’s great!” She seemed so genuinely happy to be meeting her brother again soon that for a moment, Prompto felt the sharp sting of jealousy. He wished that he had a family to look forward to meeting. He wished that he had had one when he had been young. To grow up loved. But that was in the past now.

Maybe he would be able to build something like that now. (Or maybe he would never have it.)

At least he had Ignis, and Gladio, and Noct.

He was shaken out of his thoughts by one of the kids putting a hand on his arm. “You’re gonna go see the king?” The little girl was staring up at him and Iris in awe. “Can I see him too?”

Prompto bent down to her. “Not yet,” he said, “but I’m sure you’re going to see him real soon.”

“Is he sick?” the girl asked.

“Kind of,” Prompto said, “you remember how it was real dark and then suddenly it got light?” She nodded. “That was him. He made the darkness go away, and it hurt him, so now he’s resting so he can get strong and help us all have enough food and places to live.”

She brightened up a little. “He’s really gonna do that?”

Prompto nodded. “Yes! You’ll see him, real soon, and he’ll tell you himself.” He knew it was going to happen, because he knew Noct. He might be struggling with himself and his fate now, but he was going to find himself again eventually, and return to the people of Lucis. Because that was what he had been working towards for so long.

“You ready to go inspect our little… pet project?” Iris asked, grinning, her hands finally empty of all presents.

Prompto laughed. “Sure, let’s go.”

They walked to the other side of the town together, where – a little outside the border down a hiking path and still in viewing distance of the city – a reserve had been built. It was home to several animal species.

It had all started out with Prompto finding a young injured Kujata almost three years ago and, being unable to just leave it behind – it had reminded him of a certain baby Garula he had saved years and years ago – he had brought it back to Lestallum. It had already been bigger than him, but he knew he had to nurse it back to health.

So many animals had disappeared from Lucis entirely during the Scourge. Both due to not having enough food, and being hunted in excess, and partially also due to the daemons. So a reserve, a sanctuary for both endangered species and injured animals, was what Iris, Ignis and him had come up with, and Prompto had worked there tirelessly when he hadn’t been out on missions.

The first Kujata had been released into the wild a long time ago, too big to keep on the reserve, but it had never strayed too far, even coming up to Lestallum a few times. People said it was the most docile Kujata they had ever met, and that they felt safe around it, and Prompto was proud.

 

While they walked, Prompto continued talking to Iris.

“How’s Cindy coming along with… you know…?” There was no reason to be vague, they were far away from listening ears, but he somehow felt like saying the name out loud would jinx it.

“Slowly,” Iris replied. “There’s no parts, and you know that she can custom make them, because she’s amazing like that, but there’s no raw materials for the parts, and even scavenging can only do so much… She’s estimating it to be another two years, one maybe, if we’re lucky.”

Prompto grimaced. It wasn’t really what he had wanted to hear, but he had known their endeavor would be almost impossible when they had started. That they had gotten this far at all was all thanks to Cindy.

“Guess we’re gonna have to be patient,” he sighed.

“It’s okay,” Iris said. “We’re gonna get there.”

“It’s not a priority, anyway,” he mumbled. It couldn’t be, when there were so many other things to do. But it was disappointing anyway.

“I know it’s important to you,” Iris said. “Sorry for the bad news.”

“It’s alright,” Prompto said and tried to brighten up. He didn’t want to drag Iris down. “Let’s go check on the animals.”

There were more important things right now.

 

The reserve was run by volunteers – as everything was now, people did things for survival first, and because they wanted to second – and they were delighted to see Prompto back. Most of them were younger than him, and the youngest could barely remember a time before the darkness.

“How’s everyone doing?” Prompto asked, and meant both the people and the animals.

“No problems, despite the ongoing rationing,” the man who Prompto had appointed as the head of the reserve, Egidio, said “everything is going much better now with the light… Although Ignis has brought a problem in the city to our attention. Again.”

“The stray dogs?” Iris asked.

Egidio nodded, his lips pursed. “The stray dogs.”

Dogs had flocked to Lestallum in the past ten years, and the problem hadn’t let up. There had been the dogs already as pets in the town, some of which had ended up abandoned during the time of the darkness, either because their owners had died or had ended up lacking the resources to care for them. And there had been feral dogs who were attracted by the light, and the food, and the safety that Lestallum provided. And they had kept coming.

It had gotten to a point where they had to be driven out of the city, or killed. Until Prompto put a stop to it.

There had been so much death already, and he couldn’t see another creature killed just for trying to survive, so a ban had been instated on killing non-aggressive, healthy dogs, and Prompto had tried to set up as many kennels on the reserve as possible.

It wasn’t enough, of course it wasn’t, but it was a start. Dogs were still begging in the streets of Lestallum, and while a lot of them found their way to the reserve on their own now, they were still a nuisance to everyone in the city. Prompto knew, rationally, that he couldn’t help every animal, but he desperately wanted to.

“With the current situation some of the ones we have here could be retrained as watch and herding dogs, which would free up space,” Iris said.

“And they might stray out of the city again now, with the daemons gone… But our best option would be a shelter, of course,” Prompto added.

“That’s awfully optimistic,” Egidio said.

Prompto flashed him a smile. “We get to be optimistic now.”

Things could only get better.

They parted from Egidio and split up to spend some time with the animals. There were many, almost too many for the small reserve, but Prompto’s favorite were the Chocobos, and he always saved his visit with them for last.

There hadn’t been a sighting of wild Chocobos in years, and he didn’t think there had been a baby Chocobo here or at Wiz’ Chocobo Post in the last decade, either. The ones they had here were old, and getting older, and the thought that one day they would die and render their species extinct pained Prompto.

He ran his hand over the feathered head of his favorite, a yellow Chocobo that had been the third addition to the reserve. She was old enough to have some silver in her feathers, although that meant very little by now. Most animals had started losing their colors after prolonged time in the darkness, black fading to gray, and there was even a fully white Chocobo on the reserve – the last wild one they had found, an odd six years ago.

Iris, in turn, had taken a liking to a lot of the bigger animals, the ones that could kill you with one strike. They all became docile around her. It was a sight to behold, and Prompto watched her at work for a while before it was time to go back.

When they returned to the town, the sun was hanging low in the sky and Prompto couldn’t take his eyes off it.

Sunsets were still a novelty, and it had finally stopped feeling like the dark was returning when it became night. Instead, he could finally enjoy the changing colors of the sky again.

 

“I think I’ll go see Noct tomorrow,” Iris said when they had reached the town again.

Prompto looked at her in surprise. “Why not today?”

“I want to see him in the light he brought,” she said. “Not nightfall, but when the sun is up. Midday. Morning, maybe.”

And Prompto found himself wishing to see Noct in the early morning light, the dawn, once again. It wasn’t that he hadn’t been seeing him, or even been paying attention, but while he had been looking, Noct hadn’t.

For a moment he saw an image in front of him, of waking up next to Noct and running his hand over the dots of light dancing on his dark, feathery hair. He pushed the thought aside quickly. Not a road he wanted to go down.

He shivered a little and Iris bumped her shoulder into his. “You okay?”

He nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine!” It came out much weaker than he wanted, but he gave her a grin and hoped it sufficed. “Just tired.”

“It tires you out, doesn’t it?” she asked. “Suddenly having actual day and night time again...”

He shrugged. “It does. I missed the sun, but it… it takes some time to get used to.” And truth be told, he still hadn’t been sleeping as much as he should, although being in the same room as Noct helped.

They walked up the steps towards the old market place. “Are you staying at the Leville, too?” Iris asked.

“Uh, I am,” Prompto said, “but I’m gonna go check in with Noct before I head there.” Truth be told, he probably wouldn’t be able to leave Noct again once he had returned to the hospital, but he didn’t think he could tell her that. He knew he should go to the Leville, have a proper dinner – or what counted as proper dinner now – and sleep in a real bed, but just the thought of spending the night there filled him with dread.

“Ah, makes sense,” Iris said, and they stopped at an intersection. Prompto had to keep going up through the town to the hospital. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“Looking forward to it,” Prompto said and grinned. He waved as she walked away and then hurried on back towards the hospital.

 

 

He spent the night on the small cot they had set up in Noct’s hospital room for him, and it went like most of the nights before had: He drifted off to the sound of Noct’s even breathing, only to wake up again about an hour later, convinced that something had gone terribly wrong. He would make sure that Noct was alright and still asleep, lie awake and stare at the shadows moving in the room for a while, fall asleep again, rinse and repeat.

The moment morning came and the room started getting lighter, he was up. He went to leave the room to brush his teeth and maybe find some breakfast in the cafeteria – or the nurses’ office, more likely. He was wearing the same clothes he had been wearing for the past three or four days, but he didn’t want to go to the Leville until Noct had at least woken up.

Noct was still sleeping when Prompto came back to the room, and the light from the rising sun was stretching out over his body in a way that made Prompto want to take a picture. His fingers itched, but he restrained himself. He should at least ask first, and he didn’t think he ever would. So he hung around and did nothing, waiting until Noct woke up, then he waited while Noct had breakfast, and finally he found he couldn’t get himself to leave after all.

Iris came around after breakfast, knocking at the door tentatively. The discomfort that passed over Noct’s face when she entered the room was brief, and Prompto was glad to see him lighten up.

“Hey you two,” Iris said and settled into the chair next to the bed instead of going for a hug. “You look good.”

Noct gave a crooked smile. “Thanks. You too.”

“I hope they’re feeding you well.” She nodded at the tray with the now empty plate on the bed next to Prompto, who was sitting at the foot of the bed again.

“I just got the okay to eat solid food again,” Noct said. “Iggy is gonna cook for me.” Prompto was actually looking forward to that.

Iris beamed. “That’s great! He does the best things with the small rations.”

Noct’s face fell a little, and Prompto realized they hadn’t actually told him about the rationing yet. No reason to make him feel guilty for taking up resources that he needed to get back on his feet. “How small?”

“Enough to survive,” Iris said quickly. “It’s not an official rule for all regions – too hard to carry out at the moment – but the bigger towns implemented it. People can still go hunting and stuff, but everyone who’s unable to is taken care of.” She put her feet up on the bed. “We’re doing better now, all thanks to you.”

Prompto could have sworn that he saw a blush rising on Noct’s face and suppressed a laugh. He had never been good at dealing with compliments, despite all his bravado.

“How’s it going out there?” Noct asked. “What do you… do?”

The corner’s of Iris’ eyes crinkled up as she grinned. “I used to do security, believe it or not. Keep daemons and looters in check. Made quite a name for myself,” she said. “Now I’ve started doing supply runs like Talcott, and carry messages between regions. I spend a lot of time in Hammerhead with Cindy. It’s getting warmer there again, it’s really nice.”

“I can feel it,” Noct said. “When the windows are open.” The ‘I hope I can go out and experience it soon’ was silent, but Prompto could hear it anyway. Noct was quiet for a second before asking: “How’s Cindy?”

“She’s doing well!” Iris said and smiled. “She’s making little knick knacks for people. Toys for kids, and a typewriter for Ignis, things like that. She likes spending time outside again now, and we actually went picking flowers yesterday. There’s flowers again, Noct. They’re beautiful.”

Prompto was leaning back mostly and letting them talk, but he saw the wistful expression on Noct’s face. Not being able to go outside and see the positive change he had brought to the world seemed to really grate at him.

Iris continued talking: “And she’s working on finding new ways to harness energy now that we have sun again. We’re close to running out of oil, or at least she can barely get any anymore, and the disk can’t provide enough electricity for all of Lucis.”

Noct sat up a little. “Solar energy,” he said.

She nodded. “Exactly.”

“The crystal used to power Insomnia...” Noct mused. Prompto nodded slightly. As far as Noct had told him, the crystal’s power hadn’t just fed the wall, it had been the source for almost all electricity in the city, and with it gone, returning power to Insomnia would be almost impossible. Unless they found another way.

And for the first time Prompto saw Noct look a little excited, like he was contemplating the future of Lucis.

Hopeful.

 

Ignis came with his stew about twenty minutes after Iris had left, and he brought Talcott with him, at least for a moment, but Prompto understood that Noct had had enough people around him today already and wasn’t up for another surprise visit.

The stew was divine, and while Prompto ate, his eyes kept straying to Noct. He seemed to be okay using the spoon with his left hand now, the tray secure over his legs. And he was enjoying the food. Prompto was so glad that after all this pain, and all these weeks, Noct was finally allowed to eat Ignis’ food again. He deserved it.

He looked young again, sitting in bed – finally supporting himself on his own again – and eating the stew his friend had made, youthful joy crossing over his face intermingled with something deeper, something sadder.

Prompto finished his food faster and got handed a pile of clothes by Ignis and sent to the showers. He was secretly relieved. He knew he was starting to smell again, but he had neither wanted to be a bother, nor leave. This gave him incentive enough to leave without actually leaving Noct alone, with the added bonus of not disappointing either of them.

There was a bathroom attached to Noct’s hospital room, and Prompto felt weird whenever he used it, but Noct had given him express permission several times and it was much more convenient than going down the hall every time.

Prompto didn’t remember how many weeks in the past ten years he had spent without access to a shower, or even running water.

It had been a luxury during the darkness, because even places that had power not always had enough for showers, especially hot showers. The only place with constant electricity had been Lestallum and even there problems with the water supply had occurred frequently. The Starscourge had infected everything, somehow.

So while he didn’t enjoy working up to a shower, he did enjoy being under the water very much once he had made it into the shower. That’s how it was this time, too.

He warred with himself all the way throughout locking the door behind himself and getting undressed, but when he stepped into the shower and turned on the water, he felt his anxiety fall away little by little.

It was as if the pressure was being washed away along with the grease in his hair.

He had gotten so used to cold showers, if any at all, that hot water was still a luxury to him. Even now it would cut out sometimes, but so far he had had a hundred percent success rate at the hospital. Small mercies.

His intention was to shower as quickly as possible – there weren’t even a lot of products to try out in this bathroom, none of the fancy things Noct had had back in the day, just standard soap and shampoo – but in the end he stayed under the hot water’s spray for much longer than originally planned.

When he emerged from the bathroom, barefoot and a towel around his shoulders, Ignis was gone and Noct looked pensive.

“Aw, Iggy already left?”

Prompto automatically gravitated back towards the bed, where he sat down and started toweling off his hair properly. It took him a moment to notice that Noct hadn’t answered and he peeked out from under the towel to see him staring at his hand in his lap.

“What, no complaining that I’m spraying you with water?”

That at least finally made Noct look up.

“I agreed,” he mumbled.

Prompto blinked. “To what?”

“The whole king thing, I guess,” Noct said, and scrunched up his nose slightly, adorably. “But first, talking to the people...”

“Oh,” Prompto made. Then, louder, again. “Oh!”

Noct grimaced. “I’m gonna have to hold a speech.”

“I’m so proud of you,” Prompto said, impulsively, and he meant every syllable.

“Does that mean you’re gonna write my speech?” Noct asked, a slight smile on his lips.

Prompto snorted. “Better ask Iggy, he’s better with words.” He wasn’t the right person for that. He tripped over his own feet – literally and figuratively – with his friends enough already, putting words into Noct’s mouth was beyond him. “He’s finally gonna get to do the job he trained for.”

Noct groaned a little. “Speech writer wasn’t his job, though. He was supposed to be my advisor…”

Prompto shrugged. “I guess in this new world, everyone has to find their new identity.”

That only got another grimace from Noct, and ultimately, silence. They would all have to find their way again.

 

 

Prompto was glad that Noct had finally agreed to Ignis’ proposition.

He seemed energized for a few days, and Prompto could see him growing stronger with every passing hour, finally hopeful enough to have his smiles reach his eyes again. Until Doctor Alkaid gave the okay for him to get out of bed.

“You shouldn’t walk at first,” she said, standing next to Noct’s bed with a smile. He had finally been allowed to change out of the hospital gown into sweatpants and an oversized T-Shirt – one of Gladio’s that Ignis had brought with him – the last time they had redressed his wounds. “We should see how your body adjusts to being moved before you attempt standing on your own two feet. We’ll evaluate your healing process together tomorrow and make a plan for when to start with physical therapy.”

So they had a nurse lift Noct into a wheelchair. Prompto stood next to them the whole time, watching the process and Noct’s face. He grimaced, but seemed glad to finally be out of bed. The wheelchair didn’t look very comfortable but hey, it was movement.

“I can take it from here,” Prompto told the nurse. The woman nodded at him.

“Be careful,” she told him and stepped away from the wheelchair. “You can go out into the yard, and the elevators are fine, but if you have any issues call for me.” She looked at Noct. “You shouldn’t move on your own too much. Just get acclimated to fresh air again.”

Prompto heard Noct breathe in and he recognized the noise as him suppressing a sigh. He turned his head away and grinned a little while Noct said: “Sure.”

He took the wheelchair’s handles and watched as the nurse left the room before he let the bright smile spread over his face. “So, you ready to go outside?”

Noct craned his neck back to turn his head and look at Prompto. “Sounds good.” Prompto didn’t say anything about the slight nervous edge to both his voice and his expression.

He pushed Noct down the corridor and into the elevator.

“You wanna press the button?” he asked.

Noct snorted. “Who am I, a child?” He pressed the button for the ground floor anyway and Prompto grinned.

“Nah, too much beard for that.”

Noct scratched his patchy beard at that, and while Prompto couldn’t see his face, he knew he had said something wrong by the way Noct fell quiet. He didn’t say anything again until they reached the ground floor.

Prompto pushed him into the corridor and looked both left and right. “Looks like we’re good to go,” he said.

“Good to go?” Noct echoed.

“It’s just that there’s orphans living on the second floor, and they come down to play sometimes, and I didn’t want them to mob you,” Prompto explained while he pushed Noct through the corridor towards the back exit of the hospital, the one that led to the gardens behind it.

The doors were automated and outfitted with a motion detector, so they swung open inward when they got closer.

It was such a little thing, something that he had encountered almost every day in his youth, but now it seemed so odd and out of place to Prompto. In a world that had been plunged into darkness for a decade, and was lacking in both food and medical supplies, automated doors still worked. (Sure, one of them had had one broken window replaced with a piece of wood because the glass just hadn’t been there at the time, but that was beside the point. The motion sensor still worked.)

The sun hit them the moment they stepped outside and Noct hissed.

“You okay?” Prompto asked and stopped. Noct had raised his arm to shield his eyes from the sunlight. “It’s an adjustment, huh?”

“It’s so warm,” Noct said, surprise in his voice, and Prompto remembered how cold it had been before. Even ten years ago, when the days had gotten shorter and shorter, it had already been cold, the sun not getting through to them anymore.

“I know,” he said.

He kept an eye on Noct as he slowly lowered his hand again, and started pushing the wheelchair again. The path from the hospital doors led through a yard that had once been green but was now mostly brown, although there was new, young grass peeking through. There were trees a little further away, and a lot of them were bare-branched if they weren’t conifers, which were rare here.

“The trees are budding,” Prompto said. “For the first time in a decade there’s going to be fruits that weren’t grown in makeshift greenhouses. And I’ve already seen some wildflowers near the cliffs. Wildflowers, Noct.”

A second of silence, then: “Can you show me?”

Prompto beamed. “Of course!” He hoped that his smile carried on into his voice, because Noct couldn’t see him from where he was looking at the dry ground.

Seeing Noct’s back was nothing new for Prompto, who had spent years running after his best friend; but he had spent just as many hours looking at his face, committing the tilt of his nose to memory and never getting used to the way his eyes suddenly scrunched up when he laughed. This was a new perspective. Being taller than him, and mostly staring at the back of his head and neck.

He hoped that it wouldn’t be for long.

 

He pushed Noct down the path and they stopped at one of the trees. It was one of the younger ones in the yard, maybe thirty or forty years old, and they looked up at the lower branches together.

“An apple tree,” Noct said.

“I barely remember what real apples taste like,” Prompto said.

The promise of having fresh fruit this fall almost made him tear up. The land was recovering right in front of their very eyes and so would its people. Soon food would be plentiful again, and kids wouldn’t have to starve anymore, and maybe in a year or so the orphans wouldn’t have to live in the hospital any longer.

They carried on towards where the mountain’s cliff rose up at the edge of the yard, a partial view of the city to the left. A few flowers were clinging stubbornly to the stones, and the grass at the foot of the cliff was somehow greener than the rest of it, and gentians poppies nestled into the green. Prompto wondered if Noct was thinking about sylleblossoms.

“Whenever I saw some wintergreen in those ten years it was like a small miracle,” Prompto said and moved to stand beside Noct.

“It is, even now,” Noct said, and Prompto could see him looking at the flowers so softly. He wished he could pluck them, and take them into the hospital with them, but it was a bad idea. Wild flowers should be left alone, especially right now.

There would be time to collect flowers and put them in vases in the future again. Now it was time for them to grow.

They stood next to each other in the light and Prompto saw Noct turn his face towards the sun, his eyes closed and a small smile playing on his lips.

A few days of this, and maybe he would stop looking like the ghost he had almost become.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Gladio was glad that Noctis had finally come to his senses. Sure, the time after he had woken up had made for an adjustment period, but at some point he had had to see that he would have to take the role as king once again.

They were in the midst of arranging things for his speech now. Since Noct had decided that he wanted to do it in Insomnia a lot of preparations were in order, including running provisional power lines to the city, and inviting all relevant people.

Gladio hadn’t visited Noct in a couple days, busy with overseeing the repair work on the long-unused transmission towers, but had heard from Prompto that he was now finally allowed to leave the bed, and physical therapy would begin soon.

Today he was on his way to talk to him about details pertaining his speech – or rather, his ideas about governing. Ignis had gotten stuck in a meeting with Lestallum’s mayor, so the task had fallen to Gladio, and honestly he wasn’t too annoyed about it. He had wanted to see Noct anyway, but had been so busy that it had been hard to get even a few hours of sleep, let alone time enough to visit his king.

The door to Noctis’ room stood slightly ajar and when Gladio pushed it open he was surprised to not find Prompto sitting on either the windowsill or the bed with Noct. He figured he had been put to work by Ignis, too. And then his eyes fell on Noct.

He hadn’t noticed him entering – how, Gladio had no idea, since he was aware he had a heavy step – and was pushing himself up on the corner post of the bed.

Gladio hesitated, not frozen in place but curious as to how this would play out. He knew Noctis wasn’t actually allowed to stand on his own yet, the reconstructed parts of his chest too fragile to survive a fall. But of course he didn’t listen, because he was stubborn, and thickheaded – less so than himself, Gladio knew, but thickheaded enough for them to clash countless times during their lives. So he kept watching, because there was no need for intervention yet.

Noct’s legs were trembling and he was biting his lip, but he was standing. Then Gladio saw a small smile appear on his face, just before his legs gave out.

Gladio was at his side in an instant to steady him, one arm carefully wrapped around him.

Noctis flinched. “What are you doing here?” he grit out.

“Helping you out, as usual,” Gladio said, as lightly as he could. “Since you’re not gonna ask for it.”

“I don’t want to sit anymore,” Noctis said, pushing against Gladio with his left hand.

“I know,” Gladio said, “but it’s not gonna help you if you fall and tear open your wounds. We worked hard to get you here, you know?”

Noct gave up on his futile attempts to shove Gladio off and glared at him. “Aren’t you always saying I have to push myself more?”

“Yes, but not like this.” Gladio was still holding him up. “Where did you want to go?”

“Just… wanted to get up,” Noctis said, but the way he was looking to the side betrayed his lie.

“Not likely,” Gladio said.

Noct scoffed, then, after a few moments of silence, he silently admitted: “The window.”

Gladio sighed. “Alright,” he said. “You’re gonna sit down for a moment and then I’m gonna help you over there, okay?”

Noct eyed him warily for a second, but then nodded.

Gladio put a chair next to the window and then carefully helped Noct over to it. He didn’t even think of using the wheelchair, considering Noctis’ obvious disdain for the thing.

“I couldn’t see it properly from the bed,” Noctis said, stretching up a little. Even though his bed was closer to the window now than it had been in the beginning, when he sat in it he was still too low to see outside properly.

“You could have asked someone to help you,” Gladio chided.

Noct looked away from the window and directly at him. “Would you have?”

Gladio had to grin a little at the direct call-out. “Probably not,” he admitted. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have, or that I would have been in the right.”

Noctis pursed his lips and looked away again, out at the city, angling his face towards the light out of what looked like instinct. But his expression was still tense, a little furrow in his brows that Gladio knew to read as frustration.

“This sucks,” Noct grit out finally, not looking at Gladio.

“I know,” Gladio said. “But it’s not forever. You have to be patient.”

Noctis laughed joylessly. “Feels like I’ve been doing that all my life. Being patient.”

“It’s good that you’re feeling this impatience,” Gladio said, “it means you want to get better. But you need to wait a little longer.” He crossed his arms. He was standing next to Noct, looking out through the window at a world that had waited a decade for this. They were quiet for a moment before he talked again. “You walked, just now, didn’t you? And you’re going to walk again. Your doctors know what they’re doing.”

“I just don’t want to have to ask for help all the time,” Noctis mumbled. “I can’t even go to the bathroom on my own.”

“Iggy had to ask for help too, in the beginning,” Gladio said, now looking outside at the town’s roofs, too. “And you know how fiercely independent he is.”

That finally made Noctis look at Gladio. “He didn’t tell me that.”

“Well, he should have. But he probably forgot. It’s been ten years. And you’ll get there, too. Your physical therapy starts in a couple days, right?”

Noct shrugged. “Yeah.” He didn’t say anything else.

Noct would get stronger again, and they would get through this. What did it matter that he would most likely have to hold his speech sitting down? It didn’t make him any less capable. People had seen Regis’ declining health for years, and still believed in him, and it had not ultimately been what had done him in. Noctis improving state would be a sign of hope, not of despair.

Finally, Gladio pulled himself up a chair, too, and sat with Noct. He smiled a little. It was like old times. “You irresponsible king.”

“Nothing happened,” Noctis said defensively. Then, a second later: “Do you really still think I’m irresponsible?”

For a second, Gladio felt almost guilty that he had to think about. Still. It had been ten years, and they had all moved on, and Noctis hadn’t had the same time to mature that the others had had, trapped in that damn Crystal. He was many things, but not irresponsible.

He shrugged. “No,” he finally said.

He realized he had never gotten to talk to him about what he had initially come here for, but he knew it was going to be alright.

He had trust in Noctis.

 

Gladio took it upon himself to tell the doctor about Noct’s stunt anyway. He figured she should know, just in case. Thankfully, Noctis’ evening check-up didn’t show anything out of the ordinary.

“How do you feel?” Doctor Alkaid asked, a smile on her face but concern in her voice.

Noctis’ gaze strayed to Gladio for a second, then back to her, tension in his shoulders, before he sighed. “My chest aches”, he said truthfully. “But no more than usual. And my legs are stiff.”

“Sounds relatively normal,” she said.

“Yeah,” Noctis mumbled.

She finished up the check-up and left him with the promise that physical therapy would start the next day.

Noctis seemed relieved, and while Gladio didn’t ask him if he was looking forward to PT he knew he must be feeling torn between excitement and anxiety. Physical therapy was never nice, but it was a necessary step. He himself was glad Noct had recovered well enough to start now.

Though if Prompto heard about this little stunt Noct had pulled today, he would be full of anxiety, and if Ignis did, he would be disappointed, but this had been important for Noct. He had to make his own mistakes, and test his own boundaries. So Gladio chose to keep it between him, Noct, and the doctor.

 

 

The next two weeks were busy with preparations. The provisional power line to Insomnia had been finished, and it itched Gladio to drive there himself and try it out, but he had to trust Iris and Cindy to do it on their own.

He checked in with Noctis every couple days, often at Prompto’s insistence when he had things to do and didn’t want to leave Noctis “unsupervised”. Gladio told him that Noct wasn’t a child, but Prompto still seemed anxious, and all words didn’t help, so Gladio went anyway. Plus he wanted to see the progress Noctis made.

And it was rapid. He could see him getting stronger every time he visited.

He was allowed to go to the bathroom on his own again, and by the end of the second week could take accompanied walks in the garden without the wheelchair. He got tired after just a few minutes, but every day he could stay on his feet longer.

The problem were his lungs.

Gladio was there for another check-up and he watched from near the door, with Prompto hovering on the windowsill once again.

“You likely will not get back to the level you were before,” the doctor had told him. “Especially not before we can do more reconstructive surgery, which is impossible with the means we have at the moment.”

Noctis grimaced, if at the idea of waiting or the prospect of more surgery, Gladio didn’t know. It had to be frightening, and frustrating. But a quiet “Okay,” was the only thing he said.

 

 

They all came together the day after that to talk strategy, because in two weeks time they would have to be in Insomnia, addressing the people. Or well, Noctis would have to. Their job was it to get him there, keep him safe, and make sure he knew what he was going to say.

Gladio knew Ignis had already been talking about that with him, but he was still worried. One advisor wasn’t a cabinet. He felt strangely excluded, even though that had never been his job. He served. He protected. He dished out lots of advice, sure, and he knew Noct trusted him, but it had never been in his original job description.

Now that he was allowed to walk again, Noctis refused to sit in the bed as much as possible, which struck Gladio as odd. Years past, Noctis had spent as much time horizontal as he could. Things did change, after all.

So they were all sitting around a table, Prompto and Noctis on one side, Ignis and Gladio on the other. The entire thing had a few too many corners and sides for Gladio, and he objected to Noctis not sitting at the head, but he didn’t say anything about it.

“I think we should talk about when we want to leave for Insomnia,” Gladio said, leaning his forearms on the table.

“We have enough gas to drive all the way to Insomnia, perhaps three or four days before, in case of any unforeseen events,” Ignis said. “It is the fastest way, now that all essential streets have been cleared, and-”

“I don’t want to drive to Insomnia,” Noctis said, suddenly – interrupting Ignis, to boot – a stubborn tone to his voice. It had all of them looking at him in surprise.

“You were the one who insisted on wanting to do it there,” Ignis said impatiently. “And you cannot possibly walk all the way there.”

“You could walk through Lestallum,” Gladio said diplomatically. “And we’ll pick you up with a car at the city border.”

“That still sounds irresponsible,” Prompto said, nervously worrying his lip.

“It does,” Ignis said. “It does however sound like an acceptable compromise, especially since you cannot drive up to the hospital anyway.”

They all knew that there was a way to drive up here, but it was for emergency vehicles only, and with the streets so crowded Gladio would rather not take the risk, especially to conserve gas. Plus, by the time Noctis reached the parking space, he would be most likely tired enough to just agree to get into a car.

“It’s just too far to walk all the way to Insomnia,” Prompto argued. “Even if we leave super early, you’re just not-” He stopped himself, but Gladio knew that it was too late.

“I’m just not what?” Noctis snapped. “Strong enough?”

“I didn’t say that,” Prompto said quickly, his hands raised defensively. “I just don’t want you to push yourself too much, okay?”

This was about to escalate, and Gladio could sense it. It was odd, usually he was the one to lose his temper in situations like this, but he could understand Noctis, however irrational he was being. He had been nearly dead a few weeks ago, and now he wanted to carry on like nothing had happened.

“I do not think conserving gas is a bad idea,” Ignis cut in quickly, before the situation could get out of hand, and Gladio was grateful. “But our time is not unlimited, and we’re on a schedule. I suggest we do it in stages and switch between driving and hiking, and I will plan as extensively as possible.”

Noctis was still frowning, but he seemed to know that he was being stubborn. “Alright,” he relented.

 

 

They started their journey a week later.

Prompto was sitting on the hood of the car in the early morning light, his legs dangling, and watched as Gladio loaded the trunk. The car they were taking for the first leg was nothing like the Regalia, but rather a sturdy jeep, and several decades older than them, Gladio guessed. But it would hold.

“That our old tent?” Prompto asked as Gladio came with the last few items.

“I wish,” Gladio said as he deposited it in the trunk. “We lost that one. This one I picked up about three years ago. It’s old, too, but still does the job well enough.”

“It’s strange, but I can’t wait to camp with you guys again,” Prompto grinned and hopped off the car. “I’m gonna go pick up Noct now.”

“Good luck with that,” Gladio said and closed the trunk. “I’ll probably meet you halfway, I just gotta find Iggy first.”

“He’s probably still at the Leville, making last minute adjustments to his plans. Which are gonna go out the window the moment Noct realizes it’s too much to walk all this way,” Prompto said.

“He’s too stubborn for that,” Gladio said. He could see Noctis working himself into the ground before he gave in, at the moment. Which, at any other point, would have been a good thing. But not now, when he was already wheezing after fifteen minutes of walking.

“We’ll see.” Prompto shrugged and then waved as he took off. “See you in like half an hour, big guy!”

Gladio raised his hand, mirroring the motion, and then walked in the different direction back towards the Leville to collect Ignis.

He found him with his tape recorder pressed to his ear. Gladio had to rap his knuckles against the door frame to get his attention, which was something that hadn’t happened in a long time. Even immersed in a task, Ignis would still have noticed someone entering the room – especially Gladio, as Gladio knew from experience.

“You ready?” he asked, as Ignis shut off the recording of the possible routes they could take.

“Not completely,” Ignis said and Gladio sighed.

“There is no way to plan this completely,” he said. “There’s too many variables.”

“Exactly,” Ignis said. “I need more time, I-”

“We don’t have more time,” Gladio said. “Come on. When we left Insomnia ten years ago all we had was a route to Hammerhead and the knowledge that we had to get to Galdin Quay.”

“We had a car that would take us the entire way, then,” Ignis said indignantly. “Not this... frankly insane plan.”

“I’ll knock him out and we can drive the entire way,” Gladio offered with a smile. “Come on now.”

“That seems excessive,” Ignis mumbled but finally rose from his seat, carefully picking up his tape recorder and putting it in the pocket of his jacket.

“Anything else you needed?” Gladio asked.

Ignis shook his head. “No, everything I need is in my luggage in the car already, if you didn’t forget to load it.”

“Oh haha, very funny,” Gladio said. “Of course I packed everything.” He stepped aside as Ignis came towards the door, and surveyed the room one last time.

Then, on a whim, he picked up the book he had been reading that was lying on the nightstand. He didn’t expect a lot of downtime, but there had been moments in their earlier travels – much, much earlier, ten years ago, gods – when Prompto and Noctis had dozed off while Ignis was driving, and Ignis hadn’t wanted any distractions, so Gladio had read.

He closed the door to the old hotel room and followed Ignis down the hall towards the stairs.

 

They met Prompto and Noctis about halfway down the way to the parking spot. Noctis was clinging stubbornly to the wall of a house, his knees already trembling, and from the way Prompto was hovering closely but not touching him, Gladio knew that he had already rebuffed him at least twice.

“How are we doing?” he asked, and then decided to go for the outright question: “You gonna make it to the car?”

“I will,” Noctis said through gritted teeth.

“It won’t hurt you to accept help,” Ignis chided gently. “You saw how often Gladio and Prompto had to guide me in the beginning. There’s no shame in it.”

“I know,” Noctis said, and it came out sharply at first, but after he had taken a few more steps his voice became more resigned. “I know.”

“Come on, buddy,” Prompto said, his voice breaking on the last word, as he finally stepped in close to Noct and wrapped an arm around him. Noctis leaned on him, and finally let go off the wall.

Gladio took a step forward to help but he felt Ignis hand on his arm, holding him back. It slid lower, wrapping around his wrist. “Let him do it,” Ignis said under his breath, so only Gladio could hear. Gladio knew he wouldn’t be able to reply at the appropriate volume, so he only nodded and – aware that Ignis couldn’t see his movement of affirmation – moved his fingers to brush over the back of Ignis’ hand where he was still holding onto him.

Ignis let go.

 

They reached the car twenty minutes after that. Later than anticipated, but Gladio was sure that Ignis had planned for this, too.

Prompto helped Noctis into the elevated passenger seat and then climbed into the back with Ignis, while Gladio got into the driver’s seat.

“Slow and steady, please,” Ignis said, as Gladio buckled himself in. “And don’t forget your seatbelt.”

Gladio scoffed. “Who do you take me for? And I’m already buckled in.” He looked over to see Noctis struggling with the seatbelt, but before Gladio could reach over, he managed to fasten it properly. Gladio smiled.

“You have gotten used to off-road driving,” Ignis said, “I just want to make sure you remember that we are on the streets now, and there is no need to rush.”

Gladio rolled his eyes and turned on the engine. “I’ll be careful,” he said nonchalantly. Careful with his precious cargo. He wasn’t going to coddle Noct, but he also wasn’t going to drive through any potholes pointlessly, just to see the occupants of the vehicle jostled around.

He looked in the rear view mirror as they left Lestallum, and for a moment Déjà Vu struck him. They had left Insomnia like this ten years ago, with nothing but a car and a promise.

But this time they were going home.

 

Ignis had told Gladio the two options for the day. Their first stop was supposed to be Saxham Outpost, from where ideally, they would walk towards The Malacchi Hills. But Noct barely said a word during the hour after they left Lestallum, and when they reached the outpost, he was dead asleep, head resting uncomfortably against the window.

The sun was still high in the sky, barely afternoon, and Gladio only needed to exchange one glance with Prompto to decide that he should keep driving.

The second option, the one all three of them had been hoping for secretly, was Wiz Chocobo Post. They couldn’t betray Noct’s wishes and trust and drive straight through to Hammerhead – or gods forbid Insomnia – but they had hoped seeing the Chocobos would make him forget that he wanted to be angry in the first place.

Prompto sure had been excited, and Gladio knew that Noctis didn’t love the flightless birds much less than he did.

So he pulled into the parking lot by the Chocobo Post long before sunset, and turned off the engine. Noct started stirring immediately, and that was odd, as far as Gladio was concerned. Ten years ago, nothing short of an explosion could have woken him up. But now he opened his eyes, looking around blearily, but much more alert than Gladio was used to. “Where are we?” he asked.

“Wiz Chocobo Post”, Ignis said from the backseat.

Noctis froze in the motion of rubbing his eyes with his hand. “What? That’s over halfway to Hammerhead!”

“We know,” Prompto said, “but we made good time, and didn’t want to wake you.”

Noct turned around and glared at him, but before he could give a retort, Ignis unbuckled his seat belt and opened the door. “Might as well get a meal and a last good night of rest here before we set off to Hammerhead,” he said. “By foot.”

Gladio saw Noctis open and close his mouth and then turn back around to unbuckle his own seat belt. “Fine,” he said. “But just one night.”

It was a little surreal. Back then, Noct was the one who had insisted on driving all the time, and staying in hotels and caravans whenever possible. Now he seemed eager to hike, and camp, and despite his appreciation for nature, Gladio had heard him complain about the tent often enough to know that he had no love for it.

Maybe it was about independence, and autonomy.

 

They all exited the car then, and made their way across the yard to greet Wiz.

The outpost had done relatively well for itself, despite the decade of darkness. People had still come to see the Chocobos, a speck of light and happiness in the dark, and races had continued to take place whenever Wiz had been able to tap enough electricity for the extra floodlights.

Right now Wiz was over by the pens, brushing over the feathers of an old Chocobo. He had probably spotted their car already, an outlier with most people coming on foot, but had returned to his work by the time they stepped out. Which made for an even bigger surprise when he looked up and recognized them.

His whole face lit up.

“It’s true,” he exclaimed and the Chocobo next to him squawked. He quickly caught himself and attempted a bow. “Your Highness.”

“No need for that,” Noctis said, maybe a little uncomfortable, his expression neutral.

“I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you the first time we met,” Wiz said and Gladio snorted.

“That’s quite alright,” Ignis said, “we were trying not to be recognized.”

“We did get kind of famous though, didn’t we,” Gladio mused and Prompto elbowed him in the side.

“I knew you lived for the attention!”

Gladio crossed his arms. “Excuse me, I was just doing my job, and getting some recognition for it, it’s not like I wanted fame.”

“So you’re saying you’re not crossing your arms right now just to show off your muscles?” Prompto grinned. Gladio’s posture tightened at being called out like that. It wasn’t like he did it intentionally, it just felt comfortable.

Before they could continue bickering, the Chocobo Wiz had been brushing took a step forward and nudged its nose against Noctis’ shoulder ever so gently. And just like that, Noct was smiling.

“Oh hey, buddy.” He raised his left arm and ran it over the Chocobo’s head down to its beak.

“That’s the one you used to ride back in the day,” Wiz said. “He’s retired now, like most of ‘em.”

Noct got a wistful look in his eyes. “Good for him,” he said. “He did brilliant work.”

“He missed you,” Wiz said, “like most of the people did, too. I’m glad you’re back.”

Noct smiled, and even if it was kinda crooked, Gladio was glad to see it. “I’m… glad to be back.”

 

Ignis cooked dinner together with Wiz that evening, and as promised they spent the night in the caravan.

The next morning they set off on foot, leaving the car with Wiz for him to use – or to be picked up by someone at a later point in time.

Prompto, Ignis and Gladio himself were wearing heavy backpacks with all the supplies – no more storing things in the ether for them – while Noct was walking without any extra weight. He had complained about that arrangement too, at first, but Gladio was sure that by now he was glad he had only himself to carry.

If he got tired, they could camp, and if he couldn’t continue on the next morning one of them – most likely Gladio or Prompto – could always double back to get the car where they had left it.

The first hour went smoothly, although Noctis started slowing down significantly after forty minutes, and leaned on Prompto again afterwards. They took a rest after about two hours, mostly for Noct’s sake, of course, but Prompto had been complaining loudly about a stone in his boot and blisters for about fifteen minutes, so Ignis sanctioned a break.

They had come across a stream and were now sitting at the water’s edge. Prompto was taking his boots off – to shake out the pebble that Gladio was sure didn’t exist – and then immediately took off his socks, too, just to stick his feet into the cold water.

“Guys, this is great!”

“He put his feet in the river,” Gladio said to Ignis by way of explanation.

“I heard,” Ignis said.

“Does this look like a good fishing spot?” Prompto wondered aloud.

“I figure the water is too shallow,” Ignis said, “from what you’ve described and what I can hear it’s only a small stream.”

“The current is too rapid for the line to take properly, too,” Noct cut in. “Fly fishing might work.”

“Well, if we’re not gonna fish I might as well rest my feet, too,” Gladio said and pulled off his boots, too.

“Good, otherwise your feet might stink up the tent later,” Prompto quipped.

“You little fiend!”

“He’s right though,” Noct mumbled.

Prompto grinned and kicked his feet up, splashing water at Gladio. Gladio sputtered, and did it right back at him, of course getting a bigger splash. They all ended up soaking their pants up to their knees, but it was worth it.

 

They walked another few miles that day, with two more breaks, until it was late afternoon, and Ignis declared that it was time for them to set up camp for the night.

“You should find us something to eat for dinner,” he told Gladio. “I have some supplies with me, but I’d rather not use them if we can have something fresh.”

Gladio nodded, his fingers already itching for the hunt. “Sure, I’m gonna find us some meat. Prompto, you in?”

Prompto looked between Noct and Gladio. “Shouldn’t I help set up camp?”

“We can manage,” Noct said. “Go find us some food.”

Prompto still looked torn, but finally took a step towards Gladio. “Alright. Let’s make it quick.”

“Let’s go then.” Gladio started walking north, hoping they would find some rabbits.

“And some greens, if you can find any!” Ignis called after them.

Gladio wasn’t sure how much edible things he would manage to get, but he was sure that he would recognize at least some of the things Ignis had taught him to look for, and when in doubt he could always bring back some dandelion leaves.

“It’s so peaceful out here,” Prompto said as they walked through the grass together, towards an outcropping of rocks that Gladio figured would serve as shelter for animals.

“Forgot you haven’t been getting out much since the Dawn,” Gladio said.

“I just haven’t left Lestallum much,” Prompto said defensively.

“That wasn’t an accusation,” Gladio said. “Just… stating a fact.”

Prompto didn’t say anything to that, which was odd.

“Just, you know, you don’t have to protect him on your own, alright?” Gladio started again. “That’s my responsibility.”

“Well, you haven’t been there,” Prompto spat, suddenly and sharply, and it seemed to surprise even himself. He stopped short. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean...”

“You’re not seeing beyond your fears,” Gladio said, trying to keep his temper in check that wanted to yell right back. It wouldn’t help. “We couldn’t do anything for him while he was in the hospital, so I was doing what I could out here. I can’t hold his hand through recovery, but I can make sure he doesn’t injure himself again, and that his way is paved to become the best king this country ever had.”

Prompto was quiet again, and when Gladio looked over he was chewing on his lower lip. “Aren’t you afraid he’s just going to… vanish?”

“Die again?” Gladio substituted. “Fall into pieces? Just disappear? I was, for as long as he was unconscious. But he’s breathing, and talking – as much as he does – and now he’s walking again. He’ll be okay. He’ll stay.”

“I am afraid,” Prompto said, and it sounded like an admission as much to himself as to Gladio. “Maybe the gods will just decide that they want to take him from us after all.”

“They won’t,” Gladio said. The gods hadn’t let them take him back just to reverse it all a few weeks later. “We won’t let them.”

“Right, they’re gonna have to go through you.”

“Damn right they will.”

 

 

They returned to camp with some beavers they had spotted further down the river, some wild turnips that Prompto had found and dug up and something that looked like cabbage. At least Gladio hoped it was.

Ignis had already gotten a fire going, and the parts for the tent were unpacked, but not put together yet. Noct was sitting next to them on a log, looking like he had tried but ultimately failed to set up the tent.

Gladio handed over their take to Ignis.

“You need any help with that?”

“One of you could skin them,” Ignis said, “but I’d rather you set up the tent.”

Gladio looked from him to Noctis, who was still looking defeated, and wondered how long it would take until he just fell over. “On it,” he said.

By the time Gladio and Prompto had erected the tent, Ignis had skinned the beavers by himself and was cooking them on makeshift spears, since bringing a skillet would have been too heavy. Noctis was sitting on the ground now, his back leaning against the log, and his eyes drooping. Gladio flopped down next to him, Prompto on his other side.

“Long day, huh?”

“I guess,” Noct mumbled. At least this was the Noctis Gladio knew.

It reminded him of days gone by, them all sitting around like this, exhausted after making their way through the wilderness, Ignis cooking for all them, the sounds of nature all around them.

 

When it started to smell like dinner, Noct was asleep with his head pillowed on Gladio’s thighs, his feet in Prompto’s lap.

Gladio looked up to meet Prompto’s gaze, but Prompto only had eyes for Noct. Gladio almost rolled his eyes, but a hand on his shoulder distracted him.

“Should we wake him up for dinner?” Ignis asked in a hushed tone.

Gladio shook his head and, keeping his voice as low as possible, answered: “Nah, he can have a big breakfast tomorrow. Sleep is more important for him right now.”

“We should move him to the tent,” Prompto said. “He shouldn’t get cold.”

“I think he’s comfortable like this,” Gladio said.

Ignis brought them a blanket anyway.

 

 

 

The next morning, it was obvious that Noctis wouldn’t even be able to walk as far as he had yesterday. They packed up camp after a quick breakfast – leftovers from the night before and terrible coffee cooked over the fire – and then set off towards the East, but Noct was slow from the get-go and he only got slower.

By midday it was obvious that they would not reach Hammerhead by nightfall like this, and most likely not the next day either.

They were sitting in the shade of some trees and, for the first time since the Dawn, Gladio felt himself resenting the sun. It was only spring, but it had been beating down on them relentlessly since they had entered Leide, as if it was trying to make up for all the years of not reaching Eos at all.

“We should try to find a car,” Ignis said as he handed Noctis a water bottle.

Noctis didn’t protest. In fact, he didn’t say anything, and looked very pale – paler than usual – so Gladio took it upon himself to answer.

“There’s no outposts close enough.”

“A road, though,” Prompto said, standing close to Noctis like a guard. “Maybe we could find an abandoned car.”

“Or, and as much as I dislike the thought, someone who would take us with them,” Ignis said.

“Hitchhiking?” Gladio asked and raised his eyebrows.

“There’s barely anyone who still drives,” Prompto said, “I don’t think we could find anyone.”

“More people will undoubtedly be going towards Insomnia right now,” Ignis said. “Additionally, Hammerhead is an important supply node, so there will be traffic towards and from it.”

“I think it’s at least worth considering,” Gladio said.

“What do you think, Noct?” Ignis asked.

Noct, who had been drinking water, lowered the bottle and shrugged weakly. “Sure. We can try.”

They allowed themselves some more time of rest, enough for Noctis to regain his color and Gladio to pull Noct’s hair into a short ponytail; to keep it off his neck so he wouldn’t overheat. Then they set off again, following the map towards where they knew the road to be.

 

They thankfully found another tree to camp out under while they waited for cars to come. Ignis would hear them coming from further away than the others, and Gladio and Prompto took turns standing in the sun holding lookout and waving at the two cars that passed in the three hours that they spent waiting.

The third, finally, stopped. It was a truck not unlike the one they had been driving, except with a truck bed attached to it, which was fully loaded with luggage and assorted furniture.

The driver rolled down their window. “You looking for a ride?”

Gladio nodded. “Yeah, we’re on our way to Hammerhead but one of us can’t walk anymore.”

He spotted two kids in the backseat, looking at him curiously. The car was almost full, there was no way they would all fit. But maybe at least Noct could ride with them. Gods, he would hate that.

“How many are you?” the man asked.

“Four.” Gladio grimaced. Ignis had approached the car, too, to help with talking if needed, and Gladio saw the man’s eyes stray up to his scars and sunglasses.

“I can ride in the truck bed,” the woman said from the passenger seat.

“Me too!” one of the kids piped up from the back.

“No way, not you with all the stuff we have in there,” the man said. “But I’m sure we can all fit. Come on, get in.”

Gladio turned in and waved to Prompto and Noctis. Prompto helped Noct up and they slowly approached. The wife had exited the car by now and was looking at them all.

“I think you can ride in the truck bed with me,” she told Prompto, “you look small enough.” Prompto didn’t look too happy about that, but he only opened his mouth once and then immediately closed it again without complaining.

Gladio leaned back to look at the truck bed again. “You moving or something?”

“We scrounged together what we could to get this truck and go to Insomnia,” the woman replied. “Heard the king was gonna hold a speech and decided it was a good a time as any to return home.”

Noctis next to Gladio twitched visibly and even Gladio felt a chill creep up his spine at her referring to Insomnia as her home. They looked young, probably his and Ignis age. They must have fled after the Niflheim attack on Insomnia, and not been back since. Gladio wondered if they had found each other before being misplaced, or after.

“Us, too,” Ignis said, interrupting Gladio’s thoughts. “We left Insomnia ten years ago, and are now going back.”

“Gonna make a stop in Hammerhead first, though, to visit some friends,” Gladio added.

She smiled at them. “I understand. I’m Estelle, and this is Keahi.” She motioned at the man in the driver’s seat.

“Charmed,” Ignis said, stretching out his hand for her to shake. “I’m Ignis, and this is Gladio.”

“The scrawny one’s name is Prompto, and our silent companion here is named...” For a moment Gladio struggled to find an alias for Noct – and he really didn’t want to use Noctigar – but Ignis came to his aid once again.

“Lucas,” he said, without missing a beat. “He had a bit of an accident a while ago that he is still recovering from, but we wanted to make our way to Insomnia as quickly as possible.”

“I totally understand,” Estelle said, “we’re all impatient now that the king has brought the Dawn.”

Gladio helped Noctis into the passenger seat and then opened the back door while Prompto and Estelle climbed into the truck bed.

“Budge over,” he told the kids in the backseat. It would be a tight fit, but Ignis was slim. The child did as asked, and Ignis climbed into the car followed by Gladio, who had trouble closing the door.

“Hi, I’m Armin,” the younger kid said to Ignis. He was maybe five, by Gladio’s guess. “What happened to your eyes?”

“I got injured in a fight,” Ignis replied, not at all impatient, even as Armin climbed into his lap. It freed up space in the car, but made Gladio worry for a minute, until the father looked back at them.

“Armin, don’t climb on our guests, and don’t ask rude questions.”

“Oh, it’s no problem at all,” Ignis said, raising a hand to steady the boy.

“Alright,” the man – Keahi – said. “We’re off then. Everyone buckled in?”

Gladio helped Ignis buckle his seat belt while he was still holding Armin, then looked at the front to make sure Noctis had fastened his seat belt, too. Then he buckled himself in.

“Ready!” the other kid shouted.

The car started rolling again.

“So did you lose your eyes because daemons clawed them out?” Armin asked.

Ignis chuckled a little. “No, I still have them, I just can’t see. And it wasn’t daemons.”

“What was it then?”

“Armin!” Keahi shouted from the front.

Armin pouted but finally sat down. Just not on the seat, but still on Ignis’ lap. “Fine, I won’t ask anymore.”

“It’s quite alright,” Ignis said and ran a hand over the boy’s head. “It was just very scary, and I wouldn’t want to frighten you.”

“Oh, I’ve seen daemons!” the girl said excitedly. “Before the Dawn, I mean.”

“Oh, did you?” Gladio asked, leaning over. “How was that?”

“I wanted to fight them,” she said, her tone very serious, “but Dad wouldn’t let me.”

“It was scary,” Armin continued.

Gladio grinned. “Well, are you glad they’re not around anymore?”

“It’s better,” she said. “We don’t have to be scared all the time anymore. And Mom and Dad can go back home.”

“Ah, you have never seen Insomnia, have you?” Ignis seemed wistful all of a sudden.

“Have you?” She seemed curious now.

“I did, when I was younger,” he said. “It was grand, and beautiful, and I was… quite sad when I had to leave.”

“Are you happy you’re going back?” Armin asked.

“I am.” Gladio heard the emotion welling up in Ignis’ voice. He smiled a little.

Ignis was warm against Gladio’s side, chatting away with Armin and the girl, and Gladio wondered how he had never noticed how good Ignis was with children. There were still new things they could discover about each other, even after all these years.

 

Chapter Text

 

Noctis sat in the front seat on the way to Hammerhead, and despite how guilty he felt about the entire thing, he drifted in and out of sleep, thankful for the time of rest. He had overextended himself with his idea of walking to Insomnia, walking home, and he knew it. He had inconvenienced them all, and that was the reigning emotion at the moment; but the frustration about not being able to do what he had done ten years ago was still there, quietly seething in the back of his mind.

He couldn’t see the others in the rear view mirror, since it was tilted for the driver’s use, and he was too tired and embarrassed to turn around, but he could hear them. Ignis conversing with the children, and Gladio laughing and telling stories himself. He was glad that they could at least draw the good from this situation. They deserved it.

And he also noticed how good both of them were with kids. Maybe a lifetime of taking care of him had trained them for that. But sometimes he also wondered what their lives would have been without him – if they could have been freer. He imagined Ignis running a restaurant, and Gladio training kids in martial arts, and Prompto as a photojournalist.

He sighed, and felt his attention waning again, and then he drifted off as the scenery outside passed, getting more familiar with every passing beat.


The next time he woke up, a hand was on his shoulder, gently shaking him to wake him. When he opened his eyes blearily, the first thing they focused on was the big Hammerhead sign. He smiled a little.

“We there?” he asked then, bringing up his hand to rub the remaining sleep from his eyes.

Prompto’s distinct laugh echoed in his ears. “Yeah, sleepyhead.”

Noct sighed and undid his seatbelt, sliding from the seat and onto the concrete. He seemed to be the last person in the car. Apparently their new friends had taken the opportunity for a break, too.

“Oh hey, look who’s here.” Another familiar voice. He turned to find himself face to face with Cindy, whose eyes were gleaming with excitement. “It’s good to see you again, boys. Especially you, prince. Or should I call you Your Majesty now?”

Noctis grimaced. “Noct’s fine,” he mumbled. He still didn’t care much for protocol – especially with old friends like Cindy. Although her just unabashedly calling him Prince back then had always been kind of… grounding.

Cindy grinned and turned a little. “Iris! You ain’t gonna believe who just showed up!”

A second later Iris burst from the garage – her hair in a loose ponytail – and her smile was about as wide as Cindy’s. “Gladdy!” She made a beeline for her brother, and Gladio caught her easily.

“Hey, little sis.” He grinned as he hugged her and Noctis leaned against the car, watching them. His legs were still a little weak.

“You guys made it! And early, too. We didn’t think you’d be here until tomorrow at the earliest.”

Gladio slowly let go of Iris. “Someone was a little overeager and we caught a ride the rest of the way.”

Iris eyes fell to Noctis and her expression softened. “Hey, Noct. You alright?”

“I’m okay,” Noctis said quickly. He had felt worse in his life. He just really needed some more sleep, and maybe a good meal.

“Come on in,” Cindy said. “Let’s get you guys set up inside.”

Noctis pushed off the car and Prompto reappeared at his side, like a reassuring ghost. “I can do it,” Noctis said, a bit of an edge to his voice.

“I know,” Prompto said. Noct didn’t bother to continue arguing, because he knew Prompto wasn’t going to stop. He had promised to be by his side, after all.

They followed Cindy and Iris into the garage. Part of it was still the original work place; several cars stood unused, covered with tarp and sheets – there simply hadn’t been enough gasoline or parts to go around and fix them all. However a third of the garage had been converted into an overnight resting space for hunters, as so many places at non-abandoned outposts had been during the Darkness, but it stood empty now that there were no more daemons. Noctis remembered Iris telling him that she and Cindy lived in the small apartment above the mini mart, where Cindy had used to live with Cid before he had moved to Lestallum.

“We’ve got some fresh bread,” Cindy said and motioned at them to sit down on the old couches. Noct did so gratefully and immediately sunk into the old stuffing. He was never going to be able to get up again. “And Iris caught some Hundlegs a couple days ago.”

“Oh, you’re saints,” Prompto exclaimed. “I’m so hungry!” Then he paused. “Wait, aren’t those the weird insect things… ugh.”

“I thought you learned not to be picky,” Ignis chided gently. “But I don’t understand how you could be hungry, anyway, you had lunch two hours ago.”

“That’s a lie, it’s been at least four,” Prompto said. Noctis suppressed a smile.

“No worries,” Cindy said with a grin. “We’ve got ya. It’s all in the seasoning for those mean bastards...”

Noctis wasn’t the biggest fan of Hundleg meat himself, but it would do. Most people had gone hungry too often to be picky about where their food came from – and according to Gladio, Hundlegs were one of the few species that still existed in excess.

Noctis watched as Ignis got up to help, and was immediately held back by Iris. “No, you’ve guys had a long day, just rest.”

“I just sat in a car for over two hours,” Ignis said, “with a very energetic child climbing all over me. I need to move, and I would like to help.”

Iris looked at him for a moment and sighed, lowering her hand. “Alright.”

“Where are they, anyway?” Noctis asked. “Estelle, and...” What had been her husband’s name?

“The kids wanted to check out the old cars outside,” Gladio said. “Figured it would be best to let their parents deal with that.”

“Aw, you get sick of them?” Prompto asked.

“They’re good little gremlins, but I already have you two,” Gladio said with a grin.

“We’re adults, Gladio,” Noct mumbled.

“Doesn’t mean you don’t still need someone to take care of you.”

“Hey, Iris, does he mother you too?” Prompto yelled.

“No, he goes full blown big brother for me!” came Iris reply, echoing through the garage from the front. “It’s worse, believe me.”

“Both of you are going to bed with no dinner,” Gladio grumbled.

“Don’t listen to him, kids!” Ignis replied. He and Iris had already left the garage to go prepare the food, but he must have heard them from outside anyway.

Noct gave a little snort and leaned back into the cushions, closing his eyes. He could get used to this. Something akin to normalcy. Just sitting down with his friends.

If there hadn’t been the dull ache in his chest. If there hadn’t been the knowledge in the back of his head that in just a few days, he would be speaking to the entire country.


They postponed all decision making until the next day, and Noctis didn’t argue this time. He couldn’t deny that he was exhausted, and needed rest. Dinner wasn’t a quiet affair, Iris and Cindy hadn’t seen them too often during their preparations and wanted to know everything from how Noctis’ recovery was going to how it stood with gasoline supplies in Lestallum.

After dinner Iris and Cindy bid them goodnight and went to their own apartment. Then the four of them, on their own again, settled down on the bed and mattresses and this time Noct was a little more aware of his surroundings. He felt the sting of nostalgia clearly this time. Prompto was sprawled out next to him, playing something on his phone, while Gladio had pulled out his book – as he had so many times back on their first road trip.

Ignis cocked his head at the sound of the pages turning.

“What are you reading?” he asked.

“The same book I told you about,” Gladio said. “That love story about another world.”

Ignis smiled. “Read to us?” he asked. It was clearly meant as more of a Read to me statement, but Noct found himself missing the sound of Gladio’s reading voice and the many times he had drifted off to it. So he added a “Please? It’s been forever.” and Prompto next to him nodded vigorously.

Gladio blinked at them in surprise before catching himself and shrugging with a smile. “Sure.” He put his bookmark back into the place he had stopped and then turned back to the beginning, so everyone would be able to follow. Then he started to read.

It was a good story. Standard love story, from what Noct remembered, but… calm, somehow. Or maybe that was Gladio’s way of reading it. It was so soothing that Noct felt himself drifting off, feeling warmth surrounding him. The last thing he remembered was Gladio softly pronouncing the words “And then he stood in the door, out of breath, wondering what he was doing.” and someone pulling a blanket over him.

He fell asleep quickly, and only woke slowly, the way he had his entire childhood. It felt familiar.


They sat together over breakfast, strategizing, while Cindy tinkered with something in the back of the garage and Iris lounged on the couch next to her brother. Estelle, Keahi and their children had spent the night in the old caravan and had also joined them, making Noctis self-conscious about every word he chose.

“I vote we drive the entire way back,” Gladio said.

“We have some cars here y’all can use,” Cindy called from the other side of the garage before Noctis could cut in.

“Oh, we’d be happy to take you all the way to Insomnia,” Estelle said.

Noctis shook his head. “No, it’s alright, thank you.”

Ignis smiled. “We’ve already imposed on you too much, we couldn’t possibly.”

Plus, Gladio had gotten a taste for driving now, Noctis wagered.

Noctis opened his mouth to object to driving all the way, but Prompto looked at him from across the table and pointed at him accusingly. “Don’t you dare.” Noctis frowned. How had Prompto known what he had been about to say? Well, he didn’t know how he would have argued without giving away his identity to the other family at the table, anyway.

“Can we talk about it later?” Noctis asked. He got up. “I want to take a walk.”

“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Ignis asked.

“It’ll be like ten minutes,” Noctis sighed. He looked at Prompto. “Come with me?”

Prompto scrambled to follow him immediately and they walked away together.

“Don’t go to far,” Gladio called after them.

“Yes, mom!” Noct replied.

“I thought I was the mother,” he heard Ignis mumble and Noct grinned.

They headed out into the desert in the direction of the sun and Noctis wasn’t sure if it was on accident or if he had subconsciously picked it. It wasn’t the direction Insomnia was in, but the sunlight on his face felt good.

“I don’t want the first time I see Insomnia again be from a car,” he told Prompto after a few minutes of silence.

“I get it,” Prompto said.

Noct noticed how tired he still was and he sat down on a boulder, still in sight of the street.

“I know I’m not gonna be able to walk all the way there,” he said. “The last two days cured me of that delusion, but...” He didn’t end his sentence, didn’t know how, but he hoped that Prompto knew what he wanted to convey.

Prompto stood next to him, and there was a slight breeze stirring his hair that made it impossible for Noct to look away from how the sunlight caught in it. “I know,” he said. “I’ll help. We’ll figure it out.”

Noct sighed. It was probably the best they could do for now.

“You’ll be able to walk out and into Insomnia on your own two feet countless times in the future,” Prompto continued.

“Will I, though?” Noct asked. “Or will I have to sit in an armored car? I don’t want that.”

“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. Not something so small,” Prompto said, and he sounded so convincing that Noctis almost believed it. He sat on the boulder for another few minutes, watching as the sun rose higher into the sky, and finally let himself be pulled up by Prompto’s outstretched hand. They would figure it out.


When they returned to the garage, the family was piling back into their car already.

Keahi approached the both of them. “We’re gonna be off, then,” he said. “We already said goodbye to your friends but wanted to wait until you came back.”

“You didn’t have to,” Noctis said.

“Oh, it wasn’t an issue. We just wanted to make sure you were alright.”

God, even strangers were doting on him. And they didn’t even know who he was. It was odd. He tried to smile at them. “I’m fine. Thank you again for driving us.”

“It wasn’t a problem, it was probably the most fun the kids had on this entire trip so far.”

That actually made Noctis smile genuinely. “I’m sure Ignis would be happy to babysit for you sometime.” Honestly that would probably be a less stressful job for him. Maybe Noctis should convince him to change careers. (Except he could probably never let go of Ignis.)


They exchanged their proper goodbyes and then watched the family drive off. Noctis wondered if the next time they would see him they would feel betrayed or elated.


Ignis and Gladio came out of the garage, and Noct and Prompto approached them.

”I feel like we should stay here for another day,” Gladio said. “Regroup, get some of that energy back, talk about our next step.”

“Sounds good,” Noct said and sat down in the chair outside the garage.

“That actually means talking about it, though,” Gladio said, “and none of that stubbornness, you hear me?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Noct mumbled, “just let me nap first.”

Figuring out the exact way to get to Insomnia seemed to stressful to him now, and spending another day in the sun, surrounded by something that was close to a normalcy he hadn’t felt in a long time, appealed to him.

It was warm in Hammerhead.



Eventually, they decided to drive. Noctis was still insistent on walking into Insomnia on his own, but he was aware that he wouldn’t make it the entire way. He would take small victories.

They set off once again the next morning, when it was still early. The sun had barely risen over the horizon and Noct stood leaning against the garage door, waiting while Cindy readied their new car, watching it. It wasn’t the first time he had seen a sunrise since he had woken up alive, but it was the first time here in Hammerhead, and it struck him how different it looked than in Lestallum.

He wondered what it would look like in Insomnia. The sun rising between derelict skyscrapers and houses, casting its light on broken streets. Would it gut his heart even more or give him hope for the future?

He pushed the thought aside. He’d see it himself soon.

Iris and Cindy both hugged him to say goodbye, and it didn’t feel awkward for once.

“We’ll be there before your speech,” Iris promised. “Just gotta take care of some things here first.”

“Let’s go, we can be there this afternoon,” Gladio said.

Noct sat with Prompto in the back this time, with Gladio driving again. Prompto had offered, but Gladio had only grinned at him, and Noct had let Ignis take the passenger seat because of his long legs.

“You could stretch out if you wanted,” Prompto told him as they pulled out of the parking lot, and motioned at the space between them.

Noct shook his head. “I’m alright.”

They drove in silence for a while, until Prompto piped up again.

“Who’s excited but also scared to go home again?”

Noct withstood the urge to raise his hand while Gladio chuckled in the front. “The word you’re looking for is anxious.”

“I am,” Ignis said, to Noctis’ surprise. “I don’t know what it looked like when we were there last, and I’ll never know again, so nothing can taint the image in my mind, but I remember how empty and devastated it felt. I’m afraid it’ll feel the same way when we get back.”

“I’ve been there a few times now,” Gladio said, “and it’s getting better. It’s empty, but it doesn’t feel ghostly, or apocalyptic or whatever. There’s people again, even if there’s not a lot of them.”

“But does it feel like home?” Prompto asked.

For a moment Gladio was quiet, then Noctis saw him shrug. “I don’t know.”

Noct turned away and looked out of the window, at the passing scenery that seemed so familiar and so alien all at once. He remembered this place well enough, but he wondered if Insomnia would still even be recognizable.

He figured they would have to find out for themselves, all of them. Home wasn’t the same for everyone, and it could change. And Noctis didn’t even know what home was anymore, or where, or what it felt like. It had eluded him for so long, and he felt displaced wherever he went.


He watched the scenery become more familiar, and his heart grew heavy. When they passed Ostium Gorge and came to the former Empire checkpoint and base, he suddenly leaned forward.

“Stop.”

Gladio looked at him from the side. “We’re almost there.”

“Just stop,” Noctis repeated.

Gladio slowed and stopped the car at the side of the road.

“What is it?” Ignis asked.

“It’s the old checkpoint,” Prompto said. “Where we...”

“Where we climbed the ridge and looked at Insomnia after the Empire’s final betrayal,” Noct finished.

“Oh,” Ignis made and opened the door to get out

“You sure that’s a good idea?” Gladio asked.

For a moment Noct didn’t know what to say, while Prompto was already unbuckling his seatbealt. “It’s perfect, actually,” he then said. Seeing Insomnia again for the first time the same way he had said goodbye to it, when he had thought he would never return, ten years ago felt… right.


Climbing the hill was laborious. There were no magitek soldiers to defeat like there had been last time, but the entire area had been overtaken by nature in the last ten years. Thick vines that had flourished even without sunlight, and doors that had rusted shut. They cut through them, and Gladio and Prompto pushed through the doors eventually, but Noctis was sweating by the time they reached the top anyway.

His chest was hurting again. He pressed a hand to it and he could feel the scar tissue even through his shirt – but also his beating heart beneath.

“You alright?” Prompto asked.

“Yeah,” Noct said.

And then he looked up.

The bridge was still there – of course – and Insomnia beyond it was… grey.

The last time he had seen it in the light, it had been overcast, and there had still been smoke rising from the attacks, with magitek engines hovering overhead and the red of the empire peeking out even over the distance.

When he had returned in the darkness, it had been empty and devoid of any light except the occasional still functional street light and the Citadel in the distance. And quiet.

Now it was sunny, and the sun was reflecting off the old buildings. But it was just. There. Sitting across the water. It was like even the Dawn hadn’t been able to fully illuminate it.

He found himself searching for the glint of the barrier on instinct, even though it hadn’t been there for a decade. The force of habit was strong, and he wondered if he had ever really processed what had happened.

“It’s not the same,” Gladio said and Noctis flinched slightly.

“It really isn’t,” Prompto said, and he sounded choked up.

“It never will be again,” Noctis said. But it was alright, because Insomnia’s people weren’t the same anymore, either. They would rebuild together, and the city would be as new as the people who returned to it. Or so he told himself.

“I’m almost glad I cannot see it,” Ignis said.

“You’ll get to know it again,” Prompto said. “We will.”

They stood there for a while longer, looking at what had once been their home. It was hopefully going to be again, but… not for a while. Still, Noct felt something while looking at it. Sadness, maybe. And something lighter. Something like sunshine and hope.


They left eventually, got back into the car and drove past what remained of the checkpoint base, through the gorge and onto the bridge. Noct was frankly surprised that it was still holding, but maybe the seasons had only done so much when there had been a prolonged time of no usage. Traffic towards Insomnia had not been frequent in the last few years.

He remembered walking over this bridge to get to his last fight with Ardyn.

It seemed so long ago when in reality, it had been less than three months.



“Let’s walk,” Noctis said once they reached the end of the bridge.

Prompto looked at him. “We can drive a little further.”

“No, I want to walk into the city. It just… feels right.”

“Alright,” Gladio said and stopped the car. They all got out again. And then they just stood there for a moment, taking it in – again. Noct knew that it wasn’t the first time the others had been back to Insomnia since what had happened, but for him it was almost… new.

“Welcome home,” Prompto said and Noct smiled at him.

It was less silent than he had thought it would be. The last time, the only sounds had been the groaning of the daemons and then the sounds of the ongoing fights. And the darkness. He wondered if Ignis had been able to hear it, it had been that heavy. But now there were chirping birds and voices – albeit distant. The wind between the houses didn’t sound as hollow anymore.

It really was as if the sun had brought life back into the city.

He took a deep breath.


They made their way to the Citadel on Ignis’ insistence. Noctis wasn’t too keen on seeing it, flashbacks clouding his vision and memory, but he knew he would have to eventually, so he might as well get it over with. Back to the scene of the crime.

Noctis honestly didn’t know how it was still standing.

“It was designed and built by the best architects and engineers in the world,” Ignis said after he voiced the thought. “It was made to last a century.”

“It outlasted my dad alright,” Noct mumbled and wrapped his arm around his middle self-consciously. He suddenly felt cold, despite the city already heating up with the late spring sun.

A weight settled on his shoulders and when he looked away from the looming towers of the citadel, Prompto had put his jacket around him.

He grinned at him. “You know I don’t get cold as easily as you do.”

For a moment, Noct thought he should protest – he distinctly remembered them traipsing through ice caves and Prompto complaining the loudest – but he shut his mouth just as quickly. Prompto’s jacket was warm, and it shut out the chill seeping into his bones from his homecoming. “Thank you,” he said.

“You’re welcome,” Prompto said and his grin grew – almost impossibly – even wider.

“Shall we go in?” Ignis asked.

Noct bit back the ‘If we have to’ and said “Sure” in place of a nod.


They ran into Talcott in the throne room.

Noctis was out of breath again, and he stopped short when he saw Talcott there, just sweeping the floor. He looked up when he heard them approaching.

“Hello, sirs,” he said, then slightly bowed to Noctis. “Your majesty.”

Noct wanted to ask him to just call him Noctis.

“You getting everything ready for the speech?” Gladio asked.

Talcott nodded. “Yes, I figured it should at least be… reasonably clean. This is still a royal affair, after all.”

“It declined as much as the rest of the country, I assume?” Ignis asked.

Noct tuned them all out after that. He kept staring at the throne, and even though he was still a dozen meters away from it he could see it being darker where he had sat, stained by blood.

“Can we go?” he asked Prompto.

“Of course.” Prompto’s hand twitched slightly, then he turned to Ignis. “We’re gonna go check on the other rooms.”

They left Ignis and Gladio talking to Talcott and left the throne room. None of the elevators worked and the stairs were hell on Noct, but they made it up to the floor where his childhood room had been after a while. Noct was silent the entire way.

The hallway was silent, and their feet stirred up dust with every step. When Noct pushed open the door to his old room however, it was still jarringly familiar. It looked undisturbed.

The bed was still there, although the mattress looked musty. Noct sat down on it. It was elevated enough for him to be able to look out of the dirty window down over the expanse of Insomnia. It still looked beautiful in the sunset, light reflecting off of thousands of window, steel beams and chrome.

“I don’t want to hold my speech in the throne room,” he said, quietly but decisively. “I want it outside, in the sun, where a lot of people can listen.” For a second he paused, before he forced the next thought past his lips. “Like Luna did.”

Prompto sat down next to him. “I can see it already,” he said. “You look better in the sunlight than in that… room, anyway.”

They were quiet, but Noctis could feel the charge their conversation had started with still in the air. Then Prompto talked again: “I keep seeing you… On the throne. Bleeding out, not breathing.”

“I know,” Noct said. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have anything to be sorry for,” Prompto said quickly. “I just… I don’t know how I’m going to get used to you sitting on that throne without thinking about it every second of every day.”

“Maybe I won’t,” Noct said. “Maybe I’ll throw it out, maybe I’ll hold court in the gardens, maybe I’ll just...” He didn’t voice the last part of the thought. Too destructive.

Prompto looked at him with one side of his mouth quirked up. “Guess we both have to get used to it again, huh?”


Ignis and Gladio came up only a few minutes later – probably owed to their long legs and faster speed.

“We should stay here tonight,” Ignis said. “It’s already getting late.”

“There’s no sheets on the bed,” Prompto said. “And no bedding, now that I think about it.”

“Oh,” Ignis made and stepped forward to run his hand over the bare mattress. “You’re right. I cannot believe no one prepared this room.” He turned to Gladio. “I specifically told you to have accommodations ready.”

“And I did that,” Gladio said. “On the ground floor, so Noct wouldn’t have to walk up dozens of flights of stairs.”

“Oh,” they all made at the same time and Noct had to suppress a laugh.

“To be honest I would have set us up in our old house with Iris and me but it’s not very livable right now,” Gladio said.

Noct just stared at him. “It was destroyed?”

“About half of it,” Gladio said. “It’s gonna take a while to put it back together.”

“Gladio,” Noct mumbled. “I’m really sorry...” He had grown up in that house with his father – Noct could only imagine what it felt like to have it destroyed. Sure, the Citadel had been his home his entire childhood, but he had fled it as soon as he could.

“It’ll be fine,” Gladio said. “Now let’s go, time for dinner.”

They got up again to go downstairs.

“Want a piggyback ride?” Prompto asked.

Noct raised his eyebrows. “No, thanks.”

“You wouldn’t even be able to carry him,” Gladio snorted.

“Oh, no, he’s plenty strong enough,” Noct said. “I’m just afraid we’d fall down the stairs together.”

“Nooooct,” Prompto whined and this time Noct really had to laugh.

While he started making his way back down the stairs slowly, he both heard Prompto complain and Ignis quietly apologize to Gladio behind him.

 


They ate the leftovers they had taken from Hammerhead, and then set up for sleep in one of the rooms on the ground floor that might have been a servant’s quarters or a study at some point. All Noctis knew about it now was that it had been empty for years. His boys around him filled it again. Gladio with his size, and voice, and Ignis with his advice, and Prompto with his laughter.

Gladio had found an actual bed for him, frame and mattress and all, which he was quietly grateful for. The others settled down on a mix and match of blankets, camping mattresses and old futons, and Noctis wasn’t surprised to see Prompto lying down closest to him.

Gladio extinguished the small oil lamp they had lit after it had gone dark – electricity had been restored to the Citadel, but it still went out sometimes, and some of the lights didn’t work anymore – and they all lied down to sleep. Soon the rustling of the blankets stopped and it was quiet except for their breathing.


The Citadel felt too big around them. Noctis couldn’t see the ceiling in the darkness, and it felt like he was back in the throne room, surrounded by a vastness he couldn’t quantify.

He cleared his throat, just to see if he could hear the noise echo in the room. He couldn’t. It wasn’t as big, after all.

“You still awake?” Prompto asked and Noct flinched slightly.

“How’d you know?” he asked.

“I can tell by your breathing.”

Noct took a second to process that and then breathed out – somewhere between a laugh and a snort. “Of course.”

“What’s on your mind?” Prompto asked. “It’s weird, isn’t it? Being back.”

“It is,” Noct said. “It’s… it feels familiar but also… off.” His hand automatically wandered up to his chest under the blanket. It felt like the hole in his torso had reappeared, but the skin under his fingers was intact. He knew that this feeling cut deeper than even swords. Homesickness was powerful.

“At least we have each other,” Prompto said.

Noct remembered what they had said about rebuilding, and making Insomnia theirs again. Maybe home wasn’t a place after all.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m glad.”

“Some people,” Ignis said quietly in the dark, “are trying to sleep.”

Noct would have shared a half-guilty, half-amused look with Prompto, if he had been able to see him. Instead he just smiled as Prompto mumbled a “Sorry” and closed his eyes.

The ceiling didn’t feel so far away now.


Chapter Text

 

The next morning, Noctis didn’t wake up until the room was already illuminated brightly by the sun outside. He slowly sat up and looked over to the windows, noticing how he felt a little more like himself.

When he pulled his gaze away from the sunlight streaking in through the glass, he noticed Ignis sitting on the floor next to his bed, mending a shirt. He cocked his head to the side when he heard the blanket falling off Noctis’ chest. “Good morning.”

“Morning,” Noct said. He looked around, but there were no traces of Gladio and Prompto, and the makeshift beds were neatly made.

Ignis held up the shirt and tapped the ripped hemline he had been sewing back on. “Is it crooked?”

Noct shook his head. “It looks fine to me.”

“Good,” Ignis said and put the shirt aside, rising from the floor. “How does breakfast sound?”

“Great, actually.”

“Would you like to do your stretches before or after?”

Noct groaned. He was supposed to keep up a tentative and very scaled down training regimen of stretches and walks but it tired him out and was painful more often than not. He was ready to be healthy again, but he didn’t want to go through the process of healing.

Ignis interpreted his silence right and smiled. “Let’s do them now, so you won’t have to bend that much with a full stomach.”

It was weird to have Ignis guiding him through his stretches, when before it had either been his physiotherapist, a nurse, or Prompto. But Ignis hands on his back were sure, even though he had never seen what Noct’s workout was supposed to look like. He just knew.

Noct was ready to just go back to sleep once they were done – and it had barely been 15 minutes – but Ignis helped him up off the floor. “Let’s go find the kitchen.”

“You haven’t been yet?” Noct asked as he pulled off the shirt he had been wearing and grabbed a reasonably fresh one that wasn’t soaked with sweat from a dozen minutes of movement. Ignis helped him into it almost naturally.

“No, not yet,” he said. Noct remembered him being very familiar with The Citadel kitchen even before he had left to live outside the palace, in the city, and back then it hadn’t been his job to cook for Noct. His father had employed a trained chef. To be fair it had never been part of Ignis’ job description afterwards, either, it had just… happened. Being advisor and assistant to a teenager must have been terrible.

“Alright, let’s go then,” Noct said as he buttoned up his shirt. Wearing button-ups had become much more appealing since raising his arm still hurt, and pulling a shirt over his head with one hand was hard, too. The only issue now was the buttons, but he got better at them every day. Ignis had only attempted to help him with them twice, and then let it be after Noct had told him he wanted to try on his own. It took a little longer than it used to, but he was doing fine.

They made their way to the kitchen. There wasn’t much to eat except for what they had brought and some staples that Gladio had hoarded here weeks early, in preparation for their arrival. Noct had some toast and watched as Ignis cut up something that looked like winter apples.

“Where’d you get those?” he asked.

“An old greenhouse in the outer districts,” Ignis replied. “About half of the trees died and most don’t carry any more, but some of them just… ended up like this. Small and shrively, but they taste just as well as you’re used to.”

“Shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” Noct shrugged.

Ignis smiled. “Good thing I can’t.”

Noct had to laugh at that. “Oh no, I’m sorry, that’s true.”

“It’s quite alright, I enjoyed making the joke,” Ignis said and Noct could see him grin while he finished slicing the last apple. He handed him a slice and Noct took it gratefully.

“It was a good one,” he confirmed and popped the apple into his mouth. Ignis was right, it tasted much better than it looked; rich and juicy, with something lying underneath that he couldn’t quite place.

“Are you satisfied for now?” Ignis asked. He had made some sandwiches before the apples while Noct had eaten, and Noct figured that he wanted to get them to the people working outside.

“Yeah, sure.” He slowly got up out of the chair he was sitting in.


The sunlight was almost blinding when they stepped outside.

Gladio was on the square in front of the Citadel, directing volunteers. Prompto was sitting on a makeshift barricade off to the side, his hair disheveled, and when Noct came closer he saw a line of sweat trickling down his temple. He must have been working hard, even while Noct was still sleeping.

Then Prompto spotted him and smiled, which made his eyes light up. It was as if someone had trapped stars in his expression. Noct blinked, and the thought was gone again. Slowly he smiled back.

“Good morning, sleepyhead,” Prompto said, hopping off the barricade.

Noct rubbed the back of his head. “Morning,” he said. “You look like you’ve been busy.”

“As a matter of fact, I have been,” Prompto said. “Helped set up these lovely barricades. They’re still fiddling with the power lines but apparently part of the Citadel should have electricity again later today.”

“Nice,” Noct said. He watched as Ignis walked over to Gladio to talk to him. For a moment he was quiet before he started talking again, and it was almost like his mouth was forming the words on its own. “I almost feel guilty because I can’t help.”

“Almost?” Prompto grinned.

Noct grimaced. “Well, you know...”

Prompto laughed. “I know my lazy king. But there’s no reason to feel bad. All these people are here because they want to, not out of some forced sense of loyalty or responsibility. Your part comes later, and it’s probably the biggest of them all.”

My lazy king. It made Noct grin.

“Do you really want to do this?” he asked.

Prompto shrugged. “Well, it’s not the most enjoyable line of work in the world, and it’s tiring, but it’s necessary and I can see where it’s going to culminate.”

Noct frowned. “No, I mean… being here,” he corrected. “In Insomnia.”

Prompto, who had been raising his arms over his head to stretch his muscles, stopped mid-movement and blinked at Noct. “What?” He dropped his arms. “Of course I want to be here. I’ve adapted to a lot of different places over the years, and Insomnia started feeling further away, but it’s still home. I want to see it become full of life again. I want to be here, with you, okay?” He shook his head a little and smiled. “And I thought I was the one who always overthinks everything...”

Noctis distinctly remembered a conversation on a motel roof, a decade ago. It stood out in his mind, the way Prompto had talked about himself, and while he hoped that he had found himself now, Noct often wondered if Prompto only stayed with him out of duty. And even though Noct wanted to believe his words, there was still the nagging feeling that he had been conditioned to think this was the only way to live.

“Have you even been home yet?” Noct asked. “To your old house.”

Prompto shook his head. “Not yet.”

“We should go,” Noct said, the words tumbling out of his mouth before he could take them back.

Prompto beamed at him. “Let’s go then.”

Noct nodded and followed him to where Ignis and Gladio were still talking. “Hey guys,” Prompto said. “We’re gonna go check out my old house. You alright without us for a while?”

“Are you sure walking all this way is a good idea?” Ignis asked.

“I was actually wondering if I could take one of the cars,” Prompto said. “We wouldn’t take it all the way and I won’t waste gas, I promise.”

Everyone turned to Ignis, as if he was the chief decision maker. “Alright,” he sighed. “I know you’re not going to wear out Noct unnecessarily, and your driving has gotten a lot better.”

“I love it when you guys talk about me like I’m not here,” Noct quipped.

“Sorry, Noct.”

He made a dismissive hand motion and then followed Prompto over the square and down the main street until they came to a corner where a few cars were parked haphazardly.

“I don’t know how free the roads are, but we should be able to get there,” Prompto said as he opened the driver’s side door.

“I’m fine with walking,” Noct said, walking around the car.

“You said that last time and you’ve been exhausted for two days,” Prompto said. Noct didn’t have a good answer to that, so he just climbed into the passenger seat and shut the door behind him. Prompto was right, but he still didn’t want to be treated like an invalid. He had become bad at recognizing his limits – especially since the line had been drawn so much further out just a few months ago. He felt foreign in his own body.

Prompto didn’t interrupt the silence, instead starting the car and pulling into the street, but Noct could tell he was uncomfortable. His hands were drumming on the steering wheel and his leg was shaking above the clutch. He desperately searched for something to say.

“Do you think all your old pictures are still there?” he asked.

There had been pictures all over Prompto’s bedroom when they had left. Noct hadn’t been there a lot, Prompto had preferred to hang out at his place and Noct had accepted it – he had always known on some level that Prompto was self-conscious. But he remembered the pictures. There were some artsy shots of Insomnia’s skyscrapers, the arcade they had used to go to, a photo of Ignis cooking in Noct’s old apartment (he didn’t even know if that still existed), pictures of Noct and Gladio training. There had only been two pictures of Prompto up on it, which had always struck Noct as odd – one of the two of them together on the day of their graduation, one of the four of them, mere weeks before their departure, the day Gladio, Ignis and Prompto had received the crownsguard fatigues for their journey. Prompto had carried a copy of that one with them when they had left, but Noct had watched him pin the first printout onto the wall himself. The last addition.

Prompto shrugged, his eyes still fixed on the street. “I don’t know. They might all have rotted away.” He paused for a second. “Maybe the entire house was destroyed, like Gladio’s.”

“They said the suburbs were hit less hard,” Noct said.

“Ten years is a long time,” Prompto said.

Noct sighed. “Ain’t that the truth.”

“I am curious, though,” Prompto said. He eyed the turnpike to the highway warily but then took it anyway. Noct wondered how many abandoned cars there still were on the three lane street. Prompto accelerated.

“Me too,” Noct said.


It was surprisingly easy to get through the leftover debris and old cars on the highway. Prompto had to swerve a lot, which made Noctis grimace, but he tried to not make any noise, in case that would make Prompto abandon their endeavor entirely. In between pain flaring up in his chest Noct asked himself how much of the pot holes were from the initial assault on Insomnia and how many had come into existence during their fight with Ifrit.

But apart from the dull pain, and the thoughts about destruction, they made it to their exit ramp without incident.


There was an old power pole lying across the street Prompto lived in.

“Guess this is our stop,” Prompto said and turned off the engine. The silence was almost deafening for a moment until Noct opened his door and heard birds. It made him smile in surprise. Prompto exited the car, too, and came over to stand next to Noct, but then didn’t move anymore.

“Scared?” Noct asked.

“A little.”

Noct reached out with his left hand before he could even think about it. “Come on.”

Prompto scared at him incredulously for a moment, but then his face broke into a smile and he took Noct’s hand. They took a step forward together. And then another. And another

Then they were standing in front of Prompto’s house. A lot of the paint and some of the plaster had peeled or crumbled off the facade, but it was still standing. Prompto next to Noct breathed a sigh of relief and Noct squeezed his hand automatically.

“It still looks almost the same.”

“It does,” Noct said. “Wanna go in?”

“I lost my key,” Prompto said flatly.

Noct looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “Are you kidding?”

“No, really, probably somewhere in Altissia. I have no idea where it went after we left Lucis.”

“No, I mean are you seriously thinking you still need a key?” Noct had to laugh. “The windows are probably broken by now anyway if the lock wasn’t blown out ages ago.”

“Oh,” Prompto made. “Oh man, I’m so stupid.”

“You’re not,” Noct said quickly.

Prompto pivoted quickly. “Oh no. What if there were looters? Not that there’s a lot to get here but I had some… stuff.” He was hurrying towards the entrance now and Noct could barely keep up while he quietly wondered what was so important to Prompto that he hadn’t taken it with him when he had left.

“It’s probably fine,” Noct said, a little out of breath but still trying to sound reassuring. “I don’t think anyone would have been after anything that wasn’t food or clothing, and most people were just trying to get out of the city as quickly as possible.”

Prompto frowned. “Have you met a human in your life, ever?”

“Look, it looks fine,” Noct said, pointing at the door. “Let’s just go in and see what it looks like, okay?”

They door was closed, and when Prompto tried to door handle, it wouldn’t budge, which was annoying but they took it as a good sign. They went around the back and found one of the windows broken, so Prompto could push it open easily enough.

“Go back to the front and I’ll let you in,” he told Noct. Noct nodded but waited until Prompto had climbed in through the window, watching him hop down onto the floor of the house he had grown up in. The floor under the broken window was dirty and scratched, due to elements and maybe also animals.

Prompto straightened, dusted himself off unnecessarily and then stopped short. “Oh no, what if daemons lived here?”

“They didn’t live anywhere, Prom,” Noct said quietly. “I think that was the point.”

Prompto turned to him, and for some reason Noct couldn’t tell if he was smiling or looking sad. But there was something in his expression, and it made him uneasy enough to have to look away. So he stalked off, back to the front door, which Prompto would hopefully be able to open from inside.

Prompto made it there before him, because Noctis was still infuriatingly slow, and the moment he made it inside he scanned the room for somewhere to sit, even though he knew full-well that he would be greeted with a short hallway.

He had the urge to take off his shoes, despite ten years of dust having accumulated on the hardwood floors. Old habits die hard, and this house was so intrinsically linked with them, almost more than his old flat had been.

“I barely recognize it,” Prompto said.

“I know how you feel,” Noct mumbled. He felt the same way about The Citadel. About the whole damn city. It was familiar, but so changed, and it was unsettling.

“It’s so empty,” Prompto said and Noct carefully stepped forward. “I know my parents evacuated – although too late, they didn’t make it very far – but I didn’t… I didn’t think they would have taken so many of their things.”

They only looked into the living and cooking area briefly. It was empty, and cold, and void of… anything, really. So they quickly moved on to Prompto’s room. The door was standing slightly ajar, but not enough to see anything of the room, and Prompto stopped in front of it. Of course he would be hesitant to go in.

“Do you want me to go first?” Noct asked.

Prompto shook his head. “No, but… could you...” He made a helpless hand motion, his hand hovering in the air unsurely, but Noct smiled and took it again.

“Alright.”

Only then did Prompto seem to have the strength to push open the door. Noct stepped in after him, the door not wide enough to accommodate both of them at the same time, and it must have been uncomfortable on Prompto’s arm, still holding Noct’s hand – but he didn’t say a thing.

His room hadn’t changed at all, and after the rest of the house it was a shock. His comforter was still on his bed, blanketed by dust and dirt that had fallen off the ceiling, but otherwise it had been untouched for ten years. His desk was the same. There was a little light filtering in through the half-drawn blinds. Prompto stepped closer to them, letting go of Noct’s hand, and pulled the string, the old mechanism creaking and letting even more dust rain onto the floor, but the blinds rose and sunlight streamed into the room.

It drew Noct’s eye to the wall above the bed. There they were, all the pictures. Faded and covered by dust like the rest of the room, not as bright and vivid as they once had been, but they were all still there. Now it was Noct’s turn to step closer, and his side felt strangely empty without Prompto right there. He looked up at the picture and a small smile formed on his face.

“I can’t believe they’re still there,” Prompto mumbled.

“It’s like this place was frozen in time,” Noct said.

“You say the creepiest things sometimes,” Prompto said and when Noct looked at him he was frowning unhappily.

He shrugged. “Well, I was frozen in time.”

Prompto slightly pinched his thigh, a place he knew wouldn’t hurt. “You weren’t frozen in time. You clearly aged.” He made a sweeping gesture at Noct’s body and Noct had to chuckle slightly.

“Believe me, I know… But there’s a big chunk of time missing from my life that I never got to experience.”

“I know,” Prompto said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like… You never got to actually experience those ten years. And my twenties weren’t typical or fun either, but you… You didn’t… get a life at all.” His voice broke a little. “I’m sorry, that’s a dumb thing to say.”

“No, that’s exactly how I feel,” Noct said. It hadn’t him bothered back then, because he had known that he was going to die anyway. But now? Now he was suddenly supposed to be the adult he very clearly hadn’t been after he had left Insomnia, or woken up from the Crystal, in a capacity that he had never been entirely prepared for, and it scared him.

They were still standing there, side by side again, looking up at the pictures.

“You wanna sit down?” Prompto asked after a few seconds of silence, and Noct let out a sigh. He was already feeling the pain in his chest and back again, and his legs were tired, but he hated that it was so obvious.

“Yeah.”

Prompto took the edges of the comforter and pulled it off the bed. “Take a step back. Or… just leave the room, it’s gonna get extra dusty in a moment.”

Noct grimaced a little but went back through the door frame. Then he watched as Prompto shook the comforter, throwing dust in the air, making himself cough.

“Okay, it should be fine to sit down on now,” he said after he was done, just throwing the comforter to the floor and motioning at the bed before he opened the window. The bed was now indeed free of dust.

Noct stepped back into the room and sat down. The relief wasn’t immediate, and the motion only made him grimace.

“You wanna lie down instead? Relax your muscles?” Prompto asked.

Noct hated that this was necessary. But he put his legs up and lied down and yeah, that was better. Prompto smiled down at him. Noct sighed and rolled his eyes and Prompto, ever the expert at interpreting his moods, sat down next to him. At least like this Noct didn’t feel quite as humiliated.

Still he kept looking for a way to distract them both from how embarrassing this situation was. “When did you find out what happened to them?” he finally asked.

“A hunter in Lestallum,” Prompto said after a moment. “The last time I saw them was days before we left, right? And while I had hoped they had made it out or were at least okay under the Niflheim occupation, the longer time stretched on without a trace of them I guess I just… accepted that they either hadn’t made it past the city limits or died out there when the night and the daemons came.” He pulled his legs up to his chest. “I kept asking around, but never found any clues, until this guy passed through and told me he had helped bury a couple, just two weeks after the attack on Insomnia.” His voice had grown shaky and he raised his hand to wipe tears from his eyes. “The man had my fathers ID. They died in an ambush on a hunter outpost because the Empire thought they were hiding former Glaives.”

“I’m sorry,” Noctis said.

“It’s okay,” Prompto said. “I guess in a way… I never really knew them.”

“Doesn’t make it okay,” Noct mumbled. Then he hesitated. “We didn’t get a real chance to say goodbye – none of us did – and it sucks.”

“Yeah,” Prompto made, turning his head towards Noct with a small smile. And then they just sat there, in quiet solidarity, watching the shadows get longer outside of the open window.


It had been at least an hour when Noct had to yawn. Prompto turned towards him. Noct didn’t know what he saw in his eyes, but the corner’s of his mouth edged downward ever so slightly. “We should head back.”

His first urge was to protest. He didn’t want to leave. He wished they could stay here, just the two of them. He wished they didn’t have to go back. But he didn’t voice any of it, because Prompto – poor, sweet Prompto – would let him. Because Ignis and Gladio would have to spend time and energy to come looking for them, since phone reception was still spotty at best. Because he wasn’t supposed to think, let alone say, things like this anymore. So all he did instead was nod and sit up.

They went back outside to the car.

The drive back was spent mostly in silence and as Noct watched the darkness passing by outside he felt like it grew thicker the closer they got to the Citadel.




They spent the next two weeks reacquainting themselves with the city. It felt more familiar by the day, especially with power returning to the city center, and a steady flow of people coming in. Some families were even able to return to their old houses, which hadn’t been subject to destruction beyond the decay caused by time. Noctis was glad for that.

They had also made more rooms in the Citadel livable, both to make room for guests and so that each one of them could have a little privacy, and he knew that both Gladio and Prompto had been disappearing from time to time to try and fix up their own houses.

Noct was in fact back in his old room now, after a valiant effort by Prompto and Talcott to clean it up. Ignis still insisted that it wasn’t good for his body to climb these stairs all the time, but it was one of the few familiar things about the Citadel that didn’t feel tainted to him.

Still, with the day of his official return to the living – and the throne? – and his speech growing closer, he became anxious again. This was what he had grown up thinking was his destiny, only to realize his fate lay in another direction. It felt… odd. But he knew the people saw him as their hero, and he would have to at least try to lead them in some way.

His only further issue were their expectations. And the fact that the face he saw in the mirror every day didn’t look like his own.


Sometime around the middle of the week – weekdays had lost their meaning to him, but he was sure Ignis knew which day it was – he visited what had once been the Citadel gardens. The big glass dome had caved in during the Empire’s first attack when the wall had gone down, and most of the more exotic plants had died with it, but native, resilient flowers and grasses had grown in their place.

Ignis had come with him, and Noctis did his best to describe what he was seeing.

“There’s clover everywhere,” he told him, carefully leading him around another big piece of broken glass still attached to a steel beam. Thick vines had grown over it. They were both walking slowly, but Noctis was sure Ignis was mostly doing it for his benefit. Noctis hadn’t seen him stumble once since he had woken up again.

There was a slight breeze ruffling his hair and he stopped for a moment, tilting his face towards the sky. It was odd to stand in the middle of what had once been covered by a roof – even if it had been made of glass – and directly look at the clouds above. The sunlight should have been glinting off the glass above him, but instead it was hitting him right in the face. He raised his hand to blend it out for a moment and assess the state of the former dome’s skeleton. Most of the structural steel beams that had once hold the glass panes seemed to still be intact.

“Do you think we could get it fixed?” he wondered out loud.

“The gardens?,” Ignis asked. “Certainly.”

“I know there’s more important goals first. Infrastructure. Food. But eventually… I’d like to see this place the way it was again.” Noct had put his hands into his pockets and wasn’t looking at the sky anymore. Instead he had directed his gaze at Ignis, and thus could see him smiling softly.

“You could put it in your speech,” Ignis said.

Noct ducked his head. “Funny. I figured you would think it’s too much of a personal goal, since it doesn’t benefit the public.” He knew Ignis had only said it to get him to talk about the speech, but he wasn’t going to call him out on it.

“Your personal goals interest the people, Noct,” Ignis said. “They want to know about your recovery, and what you intend to do with the throne room, and if Insomnia will stay open to all people.”

“There’s no reason to close it off again.”

Ignis laughed a little. “That’s the answer I was hoping for. But talking about your speech, I’d like to know how far you’ve gotten with it.”

Noctis bit his lip. “Yeah, you’re not going to like this one. I have maybe… two words.”

Hello everyone?” Ignis asked, sounding bemused.

“Okay maybe I have five words...”

“You still have some time,” Ignis said, and Noctis blinked in surprise. That wasn’t the reaction he had expected. Usually Ignis would scold him, and for something this important Noct had almost been counting on it. This level of nonchalance was not something he was used to.

“I feel like it’s running away from me,” he admitted. “Time, I mean.”

“I can completely understand that,” Ignis said. “It’s disorienting, isn’t it? To suddenly be part of a life again you didn’t think you would return to.”

“Mhm,” Noct made.

“I do not want to rush you,” Ignis continued. “Just… know that there’s nothing shameful in asking for help. That’s what I’m here for after all.”

Noct smiled. “No offense, but I don’t think I’m going to let you write my speech. It should come from me directly.”

“Very well.” Ignis inclined his head towards him.

“You’ll be the first one to hear it,” Noct promised. That was the least he could do.

And in reaction to that, Ignis gave him an even bigger smile, one that was usually reserved for actual joyous occasions, and times when they startled him with their positivity and jokes. To see it again now felt like a privilege.




It was the night before the speech, almost none of it was written, and Noctis was sitting on his bed fretting about it. He didn’t regret refusing Ignis’ offer of help. This was something he had to do on his own. But it was getting later, and he was getting nowhere, and handwriting this thing was possibly the worst decision he had ever made. Plus his fingers caught on the stubble on his cheek whenever he scratched it nervously and it was infuriatingly distracting. He had just put his papers aside to take a break when Prompto came in. He was all too aware of how troubled he must have looked.

“Having second thoughts?” Prompto asked.

Noct shook his head. “Not really.” It was the truth. He was the one person who could do the job. “This is the right thing to do. But...” His words came especially slowly today, they were hard to form and even harder to actually bring past his lips. He didn’t like being like this.

“But what?” Prompto asked patiently and sat down next to him on the bed.

He didn’t say anything for a moment, but brought up his hand to his chin to scratch at his beard.

“Are you still worrying about how you look?” Prompto guessed.

Noct nodded, relieved to not have to say it himself. “I want to shave, but the last time the nurse had to do it for me...” His hand wandered to his arm and closed around the stump self-consciously. He was getting better at using his left hand for things, but shaving himself required a level of coordination he didn’t possess yet.

Prompto flashed him a smile and crossed his legs. “I could help you.”

Noct looked up at him, feeling more vulnerable than he had in a while, and that was saying something considering how he had been needing help to go to the bathroom just a few weeks ago, and even now he still had to ask one of his friends for help getting up when he had an especially bad pain day. But this was different. He was letting Prompto into his space even more than previously. “Would you?”

Prompto nodded. “Of course.” He smiled and held a hand out to Noct to pull him up. Noct took it without thinking. “You got a razor in your fancy bathroom?”

“I honestly don’t know,” Noct said and shrugged. He had been in his bathroom, of course, but hadn’t checked if he had everything essential beyond deodorant and a comb.

Prompto chuckled, pulling him along. “We’ll find out, then.”

There was a razor, of course, and some shaving cream, which Prompto found after rifling through the cabinet. “Ignis really had these rooms stocked,” he said and gave a low whistle.

“By whom?” Noctis asked.

“I don’t know, actually,” Prompto said, setting the shaving cream down above the sink. “Talcott maybe? Or he did it himself.”

“He probably would have told us where everything is in detail though,” Noct mumbled. Ignis was nothing if not devoted to details, and he definitely would have let Noctis know what exactly his bathroom contained. Plus he had so much to do with the preparations for the speech, it was unlikely that it had been him who had put the things in the bathroom.

“True,” Prompto said. He looked around for a moment. “Alright, stay here, I’m going to get a chair.” Then he vanished through the door, probably to get the chair from the old desk in the bedroom. It was still the heavy one Noctis had done his homework on as a child, back when his feet hadn’t even been able to touch the floor when sitting on it.

Noct took a breath. Then another. He liked that he didn’t have to do anything but wait right now, because Prompto had told him so.

Prompto returned with the chair a minute later and set it down in front of the sink. “Sit down.” He motioned at it, and while Noctis sat down, Prompto moved in front of him, slightly bending down. He carefully extended a hand and ran it over the hairs on Noct’s face. “More stubble than beard, so I think we should be fine here,” he announced cheerily. Noct shivered a little, but he didn’t know if it was because of the feeling of Prompto’s fingertips on his skin or Prompto’s breath ghosting over the bridge of his nose.

“Okay,” was the only thing he said.

“Let’s get started then,” Prompto said and straightened up to grab the shaving cream. He poured some into his hand and then started spreading it on Noct’s face. It felt… odd. He was used to the feeling itself, but he somehow still couldn’t quite grasp the fact that he wasn’t doing it himself. He kept quiet.

He kept quiet while Prompto surveyed his face. He kept quiet during the first few strokes of the blades against his cheeks. The shaving cream had warmed up, but the razor was still cold, and it almost made him flinch, even though he had known it was coming.

He kept quiet, until the feeling of having to say something – anything – to make himself feel less awkward became unbearable.

“My dad taught me how to shave,” Noctis said. “Feels like that was a million years ago...”

He felt Prompto’s hand still. Noctis remembered Prompto telling him, nearly fifteen years ago, gods, that his adoptive father had never taught him, that he had had to learn on his own. He didn’t know which one of them was worse off – having memories of your family, and missing them every day, or never having known the unconditional love of a parent.

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly but then the razor returned to his skin.

“No, keep talking,” Prompto said. “You miss him, right? You should talk about him, more.”

Noct wracked his brain for more things to say. He hadn’t thought about what to say beyond this, and his mouth still wouldn’t find the words. “I remember standing next to him, and he showed me how to hold the razor, and I asked him why I should shave, when all I wanted was a beard like his.”

Prompto laughed at that.

Noctis almost had to smile at the sound, but then a memory of his father’s face kept him from it. “Oh,” he made.

“What is it?” Prompto asked, sobering quickly. “Did I nick you anywhere?”

“No,” Noct said. “No, I just realized that I hate having a beard now.”

“Because it makes you look like your dad?”

“Because it makes me look like my dad,” Noctis echoed.

It may be good for Lucis to have a ruler who would end up looking so much like the previous king, to have a reminder of what had been, but Noctis didn’t know how he was going to go on like that – looking in the mirror every day and knowing how much his father had given for this country. Something that had ultimately cost him his life.

“Well, good thing we’re shaving you then. You’ll look like yourself again,” Prompto said and Noct knew he was only trying to cheer him up, but he could see through the fake happiness easily. Still, he was thankful to him for trying.

It didn’t take long after that to finish the shaving. Prompto cleaned off Noctis’ face and then the razor. “All done,” he said. He ran his hand over Noct’s jaw one last time. “Your face is so smooth now,” he said. “Impressive, considering how it’s all sharp angles.”

A lifetime ago Noct would have replied with a joke about how Prompto was sharper. But he wasn’t anymore. Prompto had always been skinny, but somewhere between spending ten years in the Crystal, fighting for their country and in the end fighting for his life, Noctis had lost so much weight he could barely recognize himself. “I know,” he mumbled. “I hate that, too.”

“Why? I think you look good. You could use a little more padding, sure, but your cheekbones make you look very… regal.” Prompto grinned at his own joke and Noctis snorted.

Then he took a shaky breath. “I don’t know. Makes me look old. Older… than I feel, I guess.” He had to constantly remind himself that he was thirty now. No longer the boy he had fallen asleep as. No longer the boy he had died as.

“I understand that,” Prompto said, as Noct pushed himself up. “But I hope you get used to it. You should like your own face.”

“Me too,” Noct mumbled. He turned towards Prompto, and Prompto smiled.

“Hey, look, your eyes are still the same. You still do that squinty thing when you’re annoyed. And your hair,” Prompto reached out to take a strand of Noctis’ black hair between his fingers, and it seemed almost as if he wasn’t thinking about it, “it’s still the same colour, and just as soft. Maybe a little longer, but it suits you. You’ll be able to rival Gladio’s mane soon.”

The corner of Noct’s mouth twitched. “I doubt it. But thanks.” Then his eyes caught on the sorry excuse for a goatee on Prompto’s chin. “So, when are you going to shave?”

Prompto squawked indignantly and then they both laughed, genuinely, possibly for the first time that day.


When they had calmed down, Prompto pulled Noctis out of the bathroom and back into his room. “Come on, let’s look at your kingdom again.”

They went over to the window looking out over the plaza. Prompto climbed up on the generous windowsill and then held out a hand for Noctis to help him up. Then they just sat there on opposite sides, each leaning against the wall, facing down towards the city.

More and more lights had started glittering in the buildings during the dark hours again. Not as many as there had been during Insomnia’s prime, but their number was steadily growing. It filled the city with life again, and every time Noctis saw it, it filled him with hope. Hope for a future where light didn’t just mean life, but also happiness. A future where they could potentially take it for granted again – but never would. A future where children wouldn’t know of the suffering their parents had to go through to get back to their homes.

“It’s weird to not have to feel afraid of the dark anymore, huh?” Prompto mumbled.

Noct blinked, having been pulled out of his thoughts, and turned his head to look at him. “Yeah.” Prompto was right. For so long, the darkness had been something to fear. A literal children’s nightmare, complete with monsters and gruesome, senseless death. Now it was just what it was – darkness. And all one had to focus on with the light was its beauty. It was almost as if Noctis was looking down at the stars, instead of having to look to the skies.

“Hey Prom?”

“Hm?”

“You think there’s a typewriter anywhere in this building?”

 

Chapter Text

 

The morning of the speech broke with warmth, and the sunrise felt just as golden as Gladio described it to Ignis. They were outside overseeing the last-minute preparations, as Noct was getting ready inside. Ignis would return to him in a few minutes to help, but for now he had wanted to make sure everything was in order out here.

And while Ignis listened to Gladio describe what had been set up, and what still had to be fixed, he angled his face towards the early morning sun falling through the empty skyscrapers, where it was coming in from over the sea, and just let himself feel it for a moment.

“Hey, you listening to me?”

Ignis hummed. “I am, since I’m capable of doing more than one thing at once.”

“Haha, very funny,” Gladio grumbled. “But yes, basically everything’s under control here and the barricades are all set up the way we wanted, which is good because there are already people waiting.”

“Anyone we know?” Ignis asked, finally turning his face towards Gladio.

Gladio laughed. “Do you think I’d just be standing here, then? Cid, Iris and Cindy are inside, waiting, and Aranea is on her way.”

Ignis was strangely glad Noctis had decided to hold his speech out on the plaza in front of the Citadel instead of the throne room. It shouldn’t matter to him – he had never seen the hall in disrepair, he hadn’t seen the spilled blood on the stairs – but the room made him feel uneasy anyway.

It wasn’t what it had once been anymore, and it was palpable. Every time he entered it it felt cold, and there was nothing left of the awe it had used to inspire in him fifteen or even ten years ago. It had lost its life with the fall of the city, and that hadn’t returned with its rightful king.

He shuddered a little and decided to turn his attention to more pressing matters.

“How much longer until he has to come out?” he asked Gladio.

“About an hour,” Gladio said.

“Be more precise, please.”

Gladio sighed, but Ignis could hear the amused breath in it. “An hour and seven minutes.”

“Thank you.” He turned away from the sun and the chatter of the quickly growing crowd. “I’m going to head back inside then and help Noct get ready.”

“You do that,” Gladio said. “I’ll make sure everything out here is in order.”


Ignis came back to Noctis’ room to the sound of the blow dryer. Thank the gods for the return of electricity in the city.

“Prompto?” he asked loudly, and the noise ended.

“Hey, Iggy!” Prompto greeted him cheerfully.

“Aren’t you supposed to be outside?” Ignis asked, amused. In truth he had been expecting to find Prompto here, despite his actual assigned duty being helping with crowd control until the lower plaza was full. It had never been easy to keep Noct and him apart since they had become friends, and it had only gotten more pronounced during the last few months. Ignis couldn’t blame them. Death and fear would do that to a person.

“Weren’t you supposed to be in here, doing what I’m doing right now?” Prompto shot back and a moment later the blow dryer was pressed into Ignis’ hand.

“Point taken,” Ignis said. “But I’m back now. Go help out Gladio, would you? Iris and Cindy might need help finding a place to watch from, too.”

“Sure thing, boss,” Prompto sighed. “See you later, Noct. You’re gonna do great!”

Ignis could tell that there was more he wanted to say – not only by the heavy silence that took up one, two, three seconds before Prompto actually walked towards the door, but also by the little rustling noise of Prompto’s hand sliding over Noct’s hair – but he didn’t actually say it. Why, Ignis didn’t know. Maybe because he was in the room. Maybe because things said out loud were hard to take back, even if one meant them.

He waited for the door to shut before stepping towards Noctis. “I apologize for shooing him away,” he said, “but we all have to play our roles for an hour.”

“It’s okay,” Noct said.

“You’ll see him again in a moment,” Ignis promised.

“We’re not that codependent,” Noct said, with a hint of exasperation.

Ignis only laughed and decided to change the topic. “Is your hair dry?” he asked.

“The back’s still a little damp,” Noctis said.

Ignis nodded and felt his way along Noct’s shoulder before turning the blow dryer on again. The back of Noctis’ hair had always been a little more like down feathers than actual hair, compared to the front, where it was a little rougher. It was like the strands in the back had never aged, not in thirty years.

It didn’t take long for the hair to dry now, either.

“There,” Ignis said and unplugged the hair dryer to put it away, “that should do it. Now, are you fully dressed already?”

“The shirt isn’t buttoned up yet, my hand was… too shaky earlier,” Noctis said. “And then just… the cape.”

“Shoes?” Ignis asked, his hands already moving to Noctis’ collar.

There was silence for a moment, only broken by the soft sound of buttons slipping through fabric, before Noctis sighed. “Prompto tied the laces for me.”

“Good,” Ignis said. “That means you’re good to go.”

“I guess,” Noctis mumbled.

“You’re going to be amazing,” Ignis told him and he could almost see Noctis’ frown. “Your speech is impeccable, you look good and you have a lifetime of experience and education. And most of all, these people don’t know you. So whatever their expectations are, you can still be whoever you want to be.”

“Not whoever I need to be?” Noct asked.

“First you are who you want to be. Then you figure out the rest,” Ignis said.

“That’s very unlike you to say.”

Ignis scoffed. “We’re starting over in trying to build a new country out of what is basically ashes and seedlings. You should be allowed to start over, too.”

“Aww, I can’t believe you’re getting soft in your old age.”

There he was, the Noctis he knew. Ignis sighed, but he had to bite back a smile. “Watch yourself, brat.” At least it seemed like he had successfully taken away some of his nervousness, and that had been the goal all along.

It was almost time to go now. He could hear the murmur of the crowd outside despite the thick walls of the Citadel and the closed window.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Noctis said, echoing words both of them barely remembered.

Ignis ducked his head and moved away to fetch the cape from where he remembered having put it last night. He got a firm grip around the collar and then returned to Noct to throw it around his shoulders, closing it in the front so it would stay put.

“There we go.”

He reached out and brushed a strand of Noct’s hair out of his face like he had done so many times before.

“How did you know?” Noct asked.

“Two decades of experience,” Ignis said. And a decade of missing him.

He also knew that it would just fall right back into Noct’s forehead. They had considered brushing it back for the speech, but ultimately they had decided against it. Noct had always liked hiding behind his hair, and even though that wasn’t necessary anymore, making sure that he was as comfortable and familiar as possible during his first public appearance since the Dawn – since before they had left, really – had been the priority.

He wasn’t wearing the Kingly Raiment, because no one wanted to be reminded of that night, but the Royal Raiment instead. Simpler and less focused on having to fight in it. The cape was longer than the one of the Kingly Raiment, too, closer to what King Regis had worn than what Noctis was used to, but Ignis had made sure he actually wanted to wear it and wasn’t just going along with Ignis’ propositions.

Noctis took a deep breath and then rose from his chair.

“Let’s go,” he said.

“Do you have your speech?” Ignis asked.

“It’s right there on the desk,” Noct said and there was the quiet rustle of paper as he picked it up. And then just quiet, which Ignis was sure was him hesitating between the edge of his desk and the door.

“Come on,” Ignis said gently, “your country is waiting for you.”



They met Gladio and Prompto by the closed front doors of the Citadel. Usually, at this point in the day, sunlight would stream in, warming the cold marble floors, but none of it was touching Ignis now, except for cool darkness.

“Has Aranea arrived?” he asked.

“Together with half the country, yeah,” Prompto said.

The murmur of the crowd was much more pronounced now. Ignis imagined he could feel it in his hands, a low thrum climbing up his fingers. So many people, gathered in the same place for what must be the first time in a decade.

“Someone should introduce him,” Gladio said.

Ignis scoffed at the belated realization, the sensation slipping from his hands. “Of course,” he said.

“You or me?” Gladio joked lightly.

“I had considered Cid or Cor, but in the end both of them declined,” Ignis said. “So I assumed the role myself.”

“You really don’t have to,” Noctis said beside him. “I don’t think I need an introduction.”

“It is only proper,” Ignis said. “Plus, people might not recognize you.”

“Unlikely,” Prompto and Gladio said at the same time.

Ignis cocked his head to the side for a moment. “How do you mean?”

Nocti sighed deeply. “Well for one there’s a giant poster of me out there, no idea where they got it from, and for two… I look more like my father every day.” There was something in his voice that indicated that his hurt went deeper than the annoyance he was putting on, and Ignis frowned slightly. He wished they had talked about this earlier so he wouldn’t have to prioritize the speech over Noctis’ feelings now.

“Well, you will have to be introduced anyway,” he said, “as was your father, every time he held a speech at an event. Some traditions are worth keeping.”

“Alright.” There was a slight smile to Noct’s voice now. “I guess you can have your fun, too.”

“I will,” Ignis said. Actually getting to do the job he had been trained for in his youth was what made him happy. Not the years of fighting, but this. Being by Noct’s side and supporting him. He turned towards his right, where he knew Gladio to be. “Doors?” he asked.

“We got it,” Gladio said.

Ignis listened to them move inside the cold hall for a moment, silence settling over them quickly – only to be broken just as quickly, too.

“Ready?” Prompto asked Noctis.

“Do it.”

There was a scraping sound as Gladio and Prompto pushed against the doors and a moment later Ignis could feel the warmth of sunlight climbing up from his shins as it flooded through the widening gap. The noise of the crowd grew louder, too, exacerbated by the fact that people noticed the Citadel doors opening.


It would have been tempting to hold the speech from the top of the steps in front of the Citadel, but Noct had refused.

Instead they had set up a stage at their foot, the building towering behind it. Ignis could feel it looming behind them now as they waited for Prompto and Gladio to descend the stairs first. But he could also feel the full force of the sunlight hitting his front and he knew that it made the Citadel look better. Brighter. Inviting.

That also meant that Noctis had to go down all the stairs and then up five steps again. He had been recovering at a much quicker rate now, but he still got winded quickly, and Ignis worried.

“They’re at the bottom,” Noctis said quietly.

“Let’s go then,” Ignis said, offering him his arm. It was more for Noct’s benefit than his; he had taken the steps so many times in the past few days – and so many times in his youth – that he knew them well enough not to stumble, but he also knew Noct would not have taken it if he had known that.

They descended the stairs together and the murmur of the crowd grew louder yet again.

“There must be thousands,” Noctis mumbled, and Ignis could feel him tightening the grip around his arm.

“As many as could come and fit,” Ignis said. Another step down towards them. “They love you, you know?”

Noctis was quiet for a moment and it made Ignis said to hear that the unspoken reply still was I wish they didn’t. He had proven himself so many times, and yet he still couldn’t believe it.

He left Noctis to his thoughts for the rest of the stairs before Noct’s grip on Ignis’ arm slackened, indicating that they had disappeared from the view of the crowd. They reached even earth only moments later – and after another few meters the first of the five steps to the podium, the small stage bordered on both sides by tent-like material. Ignis just barely hit the base of the first step, as Noct stopped too late. He didn’t say anything about it, Noct’s nervousness palpable in his shallow, fast breaths and his rapid pulse beating against Ignis’ hand where he was holding onto his wrist now.

“We can do this,” Ignis told him, dropping all pretenses. “Follow me in a minute.”

“I know,” Noctis said. And Ignis could feel him straightening up beside him, unfolding himself from where he had been curling around his hurting core to protect himself both physically and mentally on instinct. He finally let go of Ignis’ arm.

They both took a deep breath and then Ignis put his now free hand on the thin rope that served as a makeshift railing for the small stairway. He took the first step up, then the second. He knew that Prompto and Gladio were waiting up top to their right, just as they had agreed.

He ignored the urge to go into their direction when he reached the end of the steps, going straight ahead instead. The desk with the microphone was four steps away and he counted them in his head as he walked, only having done the tour once before. When he raised his hands on the last step, they came up to meet the edge of the podium. He stopped, satisfied, and let his hand feel the base of the microphone, too. It was in working order, Prompto and Cindy had tested it in the early morning, but he felt a flutter of nerves anyway. He pushed them aside, and took a deep breath.

This was it.

“Dear citizens of Lucis,” Ignis said and it startled him for a second to hear his own voice reverberate across the plaza, “people of the world. I present to you, His Majesty Noctis Lucis Caelum.” Noct had fought him on using the title, but in the end Ignis had won this particular argument. He was still royalty, no matter how much he hated it, and the people looked to him as their king.

Ignis stepped away from the microphone, turning and making a hand motion in the direction he knew Noct to be coming up the steps at this very moment, and then walked backwards until Gladio’s hand landed on the small of his back, stopping him.

Noct’s footsteps were muffled by the carpet they had laid out on the stage, but Ignis could still hear the four steps, clear as day. He imagined Noctis hand gripping the podium for added stability, his clothes and hair waving ever so slightly in the light morning breeze, sunlight glinting off the golden accessories to his outfit. It was moments like these that gave him a pang of regret, of wishing for his eyesight, just so he could see what specific moments looked like.

He leaned towards Prompto. “What does he look like?“

“Regal,” Prompto answered, without the slightest hint of irony, and Ignis didn’t even try to hold back his smile. That was enough for him.

“You’re the one who dressed him,” Gladio mumbled under his breath from his other side.

“Yes, but I didn’t see him,” Ignis said. Thankfully these moments passed fast.

“There’s sunlight all around him,” Prompto said, and the image in Ignis’ mind glowed in response.

Gladio shushed them both, effectively making the picture before Ignis’ inner eye disappear. “He’s starting.” Reality was more important now.


“Hello everyone,” Noctis began, earning a ripple of chuckles from the crowd, “everyone here on this plaza. Everyone out there listening, or watching. I hope you’re standing in the same sunlight as me, and I know some of you may not have gotten used to it yet – I know I haven’t.”

Noctis had presented the speech to Ignis in the early hours of the morning, before dawn, according to him, in the silence of Ignis‘ old room in the Citadel. It had been a monumental experience, hearing these words leave Noct’s mouth, and Ignis still felt chills, knowing what was to come.

But the words sounded different in the daylight. Maybe it was because this way, Ignis could focus on the reactions of the crowd, the way Noct’s voice resonated in the big space of the plaza, and let the words wash over him in a way they hadn’t earlier.

“I’m glad to be able to share this new light with you,” Noctis continued. “And I hope you will continue by my side as we embark on rebuilding a country that deserves the same name.”

Next to Ignis, Prompto let out a low whistle, and Ignis suppressed the urge of shushing him. It would only disturb more, and there was little chance anyone except them had heard Prompto anyway.

“As you can see all around you, the land is recovering at an astonishing rate, and we already have measures in place to rebuild infrastructure and help guide society, with further meetings up ahead.”

Ignis heard him take a deep breath that shuddered across the plaza despite Noctis obviously having turned away from the microphone for a second.

“What some of you might not know is that fulfilling my fate left me in a situation where I was gravely wounded,” Noct continued. “What saved me wasn’t fate – it would have had me die. What saved me were the people by my side. I have spent the past few months recovering.”

It was brutally honest, and Ignis commended him for his bravery. In the past, showing weakness may not have been befitting of a king, but in this new age, a little bit of vulnerability would go a long way with the people.

“I am still on that path, and there are many things I cannot do anymore. We have lost the abilities of the crystal – and so have I. But nonetheless, I hope we will be able to heal together, side by side.”

Ignis had to think of the many, many steps that still lay in their future. Both for Noctis and for the country. Noctis would have to go through another operation – several, most likely – to repair the damage to his chest, and it seemed like a strange juxtaposition to what the country had suffered. A long, slow decay, opposed with a fast, sharp death. Now nature’s recovery matched what should have been Noct’s demise, while his healing crept forward slowly.

“I do not know how many of you listened to the speech of the late Lady Lunafreya ten years ago, but she was right.”

There was a murmur from the crowd, a recognition. People had stopped talking about Luna, eventually, like they had about everyone. At some point many people weren’t remembered by anyone anymore, except the ones who had been closest to them. That had been the sad reality in the long night, where the people had been too occupied with fending for their lives than sentimentality, for the most part.

“We did not surrender to the darkness, but all of you fought it, tooth and nail, so you could stand here today, and I am thankful for that. I am also thankful for your faith in me, and the gods. And even those who lost their faith along the way, I do not blame you. It was a terrible ten years, and it took far too long, and far too much to bring the Dawn.”

Ignis clasped his hands behind his back.

“For so long, light was a currency. But it doesn’t have to be that anymore.

And as such, I hereby decree that electricity will no longer have to be paid for. The only thing I ask for now, is your patience. Every citizen of Lucis will eventually receive access to a power line as we rebuild.“

Now the crowd, hushed so far after the appearance of their prince – their king – became loud. There was the occasional gasp, and then, a cheer rose. Ignis had to smile.

Gladio leaned closer to him. “Is he serious?” he murmured.

Ignis only nodded.


It had been the only point they had argued about.

“It’s not a feasible business model,” Ignis had said with controlled volume, aware of the closed door at his back, wondering if Gladio and Prompto were up already.

“Good thing I’m not running a business, but a country,” Noctis had said, voice like steel, and for a moment Ignis had been amazed by his resolve – his sudden will to see this through – until he had remembered what they had been talking about.

“You cannot possibly think this will help the economy.”

“Depriving people of basic needs won’t make it better! There is no economy to speak of right now, Iggy. We have to define what that means again, and I want to see the country come nearer to the city, not by the city falling further but by the country being elevated!”

And that had been the deciding point, because Ignis hadn’t heard Noctis talk so much about Lucis without taking a breath before, the sheer force with which the words came out of his mouth. Ignis had sighed and opened his stance, dropped his folded arms.

“Alright,” he conceded. “Alright.” And he had relented.


He still wasn’t entirely convinced on it, but it had become apparent to him that he couldn’t argue against Noctis on this topic, so he would not try any more. If he was that passionate about it, it could be the right choice. And either way, Ignis couldn’t do much more than advise him on things. Making monumental decisions like these was not his job anymore. It was Noctis’. And that he was actually making them showed that he was taking charge, and that he wanted to take charge.

Now he forced his attention back to the present, to the awe of the audience, and Noct’s voice.

“Additionally, I promise you that housing will be restored, and no rent must be paid on communally restored buildings. You will not starve, and you will not die of exposure. We have lost too much to not provide the bare necessities out of greed for something that doesn’t have value anymore.”

Ignis held back a chuckle. He really was going all in – advocating against currency like that. Ignis wasn’t sure what the thought about that, either, but he had thought it best not to argue with Noct again. He must have thought about this at length, and there would be enough arguments in a potential future cabinet, anyway.

Speaking of...

“I do not have a full cabinet yet, but we are building a government again as we are building a country, and I want the people to have the input they deserve.”

They had discussed the matter only vaguely so far, and while Ignis could be sure of his and Gladio’s spots on the council, none of the other spots had been taken permanently yet. Cor would be a good choice, as might be Monica.

“I promise you, this city – this country – will be restored to the way it once was. And we will not stop there. We will continue to improve, and grow, and the disparity between city and country will vanish. We should be united.”

There was an obvious smile in Noct’s voice, stretching his syllables, that Ignis would have recognized in any situation, and the crowd seemed to echo it, sounding cheers of agreement. Ignis found himself smiling at the thought. How much Noctis had grown...

“I hope you can all find your home again in this new world, and I will help you in whatever way I can.”

Ignis remembered Noctis telling him that at this point – the end of it – he was thinking of bowing slightly, and from Prompto’s intake of breath next to him, and the sharp hiss, indicating that the crowd had done the same, he assumed that this was what had happened.

“Bless you all.”

And Ignis, strangely, did feel blessed. Like something had finally fallen into place.

They crowd in front of them was reverently silent for a moment before breaking into cheers. Ignis was sure that Noct wanted to thank them all a thousand times over but knew enough not to – and anyway, he was probably getting too choked up to do it.

Ignis noticed a rustling at his side and reached out his arm, barely just catching the sleeve of Prompto’s jacket. “Don’t,” he said. “I know he must look weak, but it was his decision to do this standing. You must let him walk on his own.”

Prompto made a sound not unlike a kicked puppy but obliged and they waited while Noct’s footsteps receded down the steps agonizingly slowly, barely audible over the audience, and Ignis prayed he wouldn’t fall.

Ignis didn’t need Gladio’s “he made it,” both because he had been able to judge the time it would take Noctis to get down the few steps quite accurately, and because he could feel Prompto surging forward beside him the moment Noct’s foot hit the ground, and this time he didn’t stop him. The tent around the stage would shield them, and Noct would have a moment to recover before going up the stairs to the Citadel again.

Gladio put a hand on Ignis arm and Ignis covered it with his own, glad for the assistance even though he would have made it the few steps on his own. He knew it wasn’t pity when it came from Gladio. Not anymore.

“You did so great!” he heard Prompto exclaim from the bottom of the stairs. “They loved you!” The people of Lucis were still loudly cheering in the background.

There was a moment of quiet as Gladio and Ignis approached, a little shuffling, some breathing, and Ignis knew Prompto was hugging Noct, and Noct was about to protest, to downplay this achievement – his first speech in front of his people.

“It’s true,” Ignis said to preempt Noct putting himself down. “You did well. I’m impressed.” He knew Noct didn’t want to hear it, but that he needed to all the same.

Noctis huffed. “Okay, thanks.”

“We should celebrate,” Prompto said.

“How?” Gladio asked and Ignis could hear the frown in his voice. “There’s no restaurants anymore.”

“You don’t need a restaurant to celebrate,” Prompto said. “And besides, Iggy can cook for us.”

“Do I get a say in this?” Ignis asked, amused, but more indulgent than anything else. He already had a menu planned for later – simple, like everything was now, but hopefully still becoming enough.

“You don’t have to,” Noct said wearily.

“I was joking, Noct,” Ignis said gently. “Of course I will cook.”

They would wait for most of the crowd to dissipate before going back up into the Citadel, so chairs had been set up at the base of the stage. Ignis heard Noct letting himself fall more than he actually sat down, and his feeling of worry heightened a little. The speech must have exhausted him more than expected.

“You okay?” Prompto asked Noctis quietly, probably low enough for Gladio not to hear, but not quiet enough for Ignis.

“I’m fine,” Noct replied, sounding strained. An obvious lie.

Ignis hand found Gladio’s arm. “Where did we put the water?” Earlier he had instructed the two of them to put some bottles of water and some cups into the small resting area, too, but had no idea where they actually ended up. “Can you give some to Noct?”

“Yeah, of course, one sec,” Gladio said. Ignis knew Noctis was going to accept something to drink from Gladio at least – plus he was in no position to resist. He felt Gladio getting up, his hand falling from his arm.

As he listened closely, he tracked Gladio’s movements a few meters away, heard him open a bottle of water and pour it into a cup before he walked over to where Noctis was sitting.

“Drink that,” he instructed, “you just talked a lot.”

“Thanks,” Noct mumbled and Gladio returned to his seat next to Ignis, obviously satisfied with Noct’s reaction, so Ignis assumed he was actually drinking.

They mostly lapsed into silence after that.

The waiting time also made it possible for Iris, Cindy and Aranea to come find them from where they had been watching from somewhere at the side of the crowd. Gladio announced their presence to him despite Ignis hearing their voices talking to the guards at the checkpoints from ten meters away.

Iris was loud enough not to need to be introduced, anyway. “Noct!” she exclaimed and her excited footsteps marked her way towards him, followed by another pair of feet – Cindy.

Meanwhile, someone – who by process of elimination had to be Aranea – stopped next to Ignis.

“Did you write the speech?” she asked him, without even a greeting.

“Hello to you, too. And no, I did not. Noctis wrote it himself.”

She gave a low whistle. “Impressive.”

“He had a formal education, you know,” Ignis said, somewhere between amused and annoyed, “ten years of crisis didn’t take that away from him.”

“Oh, I’m aware,” she said and then, judging by the scraping of a chair, took a seat next to him, “it’s just hard to reconcile that with the boy I met literally going around fighting his way out of unpleasant situations.”

“Well, diplomacy was rather dead at that point.”

She chuckled. “Good point.”

They had had a few interaction over the years, even with travel becoming increasingly dangerous and hard she had managed to keep popping up in Lucis, and her sharp mind had grown on Ignis, despite their starting out on opposite sides. She was an opportunist, but with strong ideals, and he respected that.

Ignis talked to her for another ten minutes before excusing himself and getting up. “I’ll go on ahead and start preparing the meal.”

“We’ll follow when there’s less people,” Gladio said. The noise of the crowd had decreased significantly, but Ignis knew that there still had to be people lingering around. He nodded in acknowledgment.

“I’ll come with you,” Iris said. “You shouldn’t have to cook for all of us on your own.”

He would have declined, but he knew Iris wouldn’t take no for an answer in this instance, and a little help couldn’t hurt, either.

They walked up the steps to the Citadel doors together and then paused in front of them. The sun had moved on by now, high in the sky but further in the south, its light hitting Ignis’ face at a different angle.

“How many are still there?” he asked Iris.

“Less than a hundred,” she said easily. “They’ll be able to leave soon.”

Ignis couldn’t blame the people for wanting to get another glimpse at their king, but it was an idolization they didn’t need right now. He turned away and walked through the doors, Iris hurrying after him towards the kitchens.

They had been able to obtain some good flour and Ignis had taken the opportunity to make fresh pasta. Packaged noodles had run out seven years into the darkness due to the last factory in Leide being cut off from electricity, much to Gladio’s chagrin. Not even hoarding of Cup Noodles had been able to make them last forever.

Iris let out a noise of excitement when Ignis brought out the dough, and it made him smile. It was astounding what simple things made people happy now that would have barely elicited a reaction from them before the Fall.

“Prepare the salad?” he asked her, opening the functional fridge to motion at the wild lettuce and carrots they had found a few days ago. He couldn’t wait for them to be able to plant an actual garden. With so many people coming into the city the few greenhouses that had survived over the years had been almost emptied of whatever crops they had been able to provide.

Iris grabbed a knife from the block next to Ignis eagerly and they worked alongside each other relatively quietly for a while, until Iris was done.

“Should I set the table?” she asked.

“That would be nice,” he said. “The one on the second floor, please, not the one in the old king’s quarters and not the royal dining hall.”

“The elevators still aren’t working?” she asked and he heard her open the cupboard.

“Two of them,” he replied, “but we’re not sure how much strain they can take. Either way, I think a smaller room would provide more familiarity for all of us.”

Iris hummed as if she was only half-listening while she gathered plates and cutlery and then her footsteps disappeared from the room.


Gladio returned before her, his heavy knuckles rapping against the door frame unmistakable. “You need any help?”

“No, I’m almost done,” Ignis said, “but you can send Iris down again to help carry the bowl.”

“Second floor?” Gladio asked and Ignis nodded, his face angled towards where he knew the door to be.

“I’ll be there in a moment.”

“Alright, we’ll be waiting,” Gladio said and then laughed as he walked away, his laughter receding down the hallway.

Iris did indeed come back downstairs to help Ignis carry the food upstairs, and they heard the others already when they came up the stairs, even though the dining room was a good ways down the hallway. How five people could be that much louder than three, Ignis had no idea.

Still, lunch wasn’t rambunctious, but there was an energy that neither of them had been able to provide lately, not with how tired they had been from trying to prepare for this day.

Everyone dug in hungrily, and Ignis was glad he had made enough for two servings for everyone. They all needed it.

Gladio agreed to show Aranea around the city – albeit a little begrudgingly – and Cindy offered to take a look at the building’s elevators, to alleviate the strain on Noctis’ body and to make it easier for them to get around in the tall building.

And Ignis just sat and listened to them talk, warmth creeping up in his chest that had nothing to do with the food or the sun outside.

Sharing meals with Noct still seemed like such a privilege after nearly losing him – twice – and going without it for a so long. The same was to be said for Gladio and Prompto. With them spending so much time apart in the last decade, Ignis felt strangely nostalgic when they sat around the same table now. He usually wasn’t one for nostalgia, but reviving an old habit like this made him almost… homesick, for a time and place long gone.

But with the way things were changing now, he hoped they would at least be able to keep up the tradition of a weekly meal with the four of them. A connector.