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The Wind Will Set Me Racing

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The Wind Will Set Me Racing 

 

“A message for your highness,” Luna reached out and took the envelope from the courtier’s tray, gifting the woman with a smile as she gave a shallow bow and exited the room. It was clearly from Lucis, the gold crest of the royal house embossed onto the rear flap of the fine black linen envelope, and Luna smiled again as she flipped the envelope and inspected the lettering on the front. It was addressed to both her and Ravus, but as all correspondence from Lucis was unofficially routed through her (her brother would never like King Regis, although time and distance from the influence of Niflheim had helped him find a little perspective,) she had received the letter. Walking over to her writing desk, she sat down and picked up her letter opener, carefully slicing open the top. Pulling out the equally luxurious white linen paper, she read down the page once mechanically, then froze. Luna looked again at the thick paper in shock, her fingers tracing the raised lettering on the invitation. A year. It had almost been a year since everything had happened; a year since the Scourge was fought back, a year since Izunia and Ifrit had been defeated, a year since the crystal had been destroyed, and a year since she had...died. Had it truly been so long?

“You look deep in thought, sister. What does Lucis send us now?” Ravus said from behind her, and she turned and raised the letter.

“I cannot believe it has been almost a year! Time seems to pass by so quickly sometimes, doesn’t it, Ravus?” Luna said, her brother reaching out and taking the letter from her hand, reading it over.

“Yes, it does. So they are holding a celebration of that day...I suppose it isn’t a surprise. Will you attend, Luna?” Ravus asked, his tone bland, and Luna restrained an eyeroll. It took a little effort.

“Yes, you know I’ve been wanting to go back, considering my last trip there was rather...eventful. A celebration sounds lovely. I’m assuming you will stay here?” she asked her brother, and to absolutely no surprise, he nodded.

“Yes, there is no reason for me to go. I would not be particularly welcomed anyway, and you are well aware of that,” Ravus replied, and she tilted her head in acknowledgement. He had been invited, but she had no doubt that they expected him not to show. Not only due to mutual distrust, Regis was certainly well-aware that they wouldn’t leave Tenebrae without at least one representative of the family present, the borders were still too unstable. The invitation was for propriety’s sake. Luna nodded, taking the letter back from her brother and carefully replacing it back in its envelope. “I assume you will write them back soon?” Ravus asked, and Luna nodded once more.

“It will be nice to see everyone again, I know you really didn’t have the chance to know them better, but the situation wasn’t exactly ideal, either. Perhaps in the future?” she said to Ravus, again refraining from an eyeroll when his mouth twisted in barely concealed disdain. “You know, you didn’t even have a chance to meet many of them beyond seeing them fight in the battle, so you shouldn’t judge them so,” Luna finally stated, her irritation finally leaking out, and Ravus sighed, taking a few steps back, a frown on his face.

“I...suppose you are right. I must admit, the contents of that book were quite jarring, especially when I remember that the Immortal is one of the people it is referring to. The boy...Argentum- I only saw him the night before at the party, then of course the day of during the battle. The book and the media makes him, well, both of them, sound like they are both some sort of sexual sorcerer, seducing and enchanting all in their path. But from what I heard from you, they are very much not like that,” Ravus said hesitantly, and Luna couldn’t help but laugh.

“You remember what I told you about Cor, correct? Incredibly honorable, skilled, everything his public reputation said he was? Also a sweetheart that can be incredibly awkward?” she said, and Ravus crossed his arms and nodded. “He and his partner are exclusive and utterly devoted to each other, from everything I have heard. I am looking forward to seeing them again. As for Prompto, he is also in a dedicated relationship. As much as the tabloid news that reaches us now makes them sound like...what’s the old word...incubi, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. You shouldn’t take such nonsense so seriously, Ravus. You know how foolish most of that sort of thing is.” Ravus finally cracked a tiny smile, and Luna got to her feet and clasped his arm.

“I suppose it all is rather ridiculous, isn’t it? Do you think all that is true? I honestly didn’t know what to think,” Ravus mused, and Luna shrugged.

“If it is, it is, however, I think we can safely say that the majority of the... rituals have been consigned to history,” Luna replied, and Ravus huffed and patted her hand with his own.

“Fair enough,” Ravus agreed, and he dropped his arms, his expression returning to its usual stern appearance. Luna’s spine stiffened at the change, and she waited for him to speak. She was still far too used to these conversations ending in him ordering her around, even if it had been almost a year since that had last truly happened. After the moment dragged on, she finally spoke up.

“Yes, Ravus?” Her brother sighed, and scratched at the back of his neck, an uncharacteristic move for him; Luna blinked, and waited once more.

“I would have Aranea accompany you, sister. While I do not wish to be that person who kept you locked away any further, things are still unstable enough that I am not comfortable sending you alone across the sea. The empire may still be recovering, but they do have forces and airships at their disposal which they would happily use to kidnap or kill you,” Ravus paused, bringing up a hand to her cheek. “Would you do this for me?” Luna’s back relaxed as soon as he was done speaking. He had asked, well, mostly asked, and was not trying to institute anything unreasonable. Luna kept herself from grinning, instead giving her brother an agreeable smile and a nod in response.

She had been planning to take Lady Highwind with her anyway.

Her response went out with the general correspondence to Lucis in the morning, and she set about preparing for her departure. They had given her almost a month to do so, but she wanted to be there at least a week before the actual day of the event so she could properly see everyone once again, and she felt a little badly about volunteering Aranea without so much as asking if she wished to go. After she had a light lunch, she adjourned back to her study and finally just called the woman.

“Highwind.” Luna smiled.

“Madame Highwind! This is Lunafreya, I was wondering if I could have a word with you,” she said, and she could hear the intake of breath on the other end of the line.

“Princess? Please don’t tell me I forgot a meeting or something. Rav-er, the prince will never let me hear the end of it-” Aranea started, but Luna laughed lightly to cut her off.

“No no, if you have, he certainly hasn’t said anything. I was calling to ask if you would be willing to travel with me to Insomnia for a few weeks, there is an event being held to commemorate a year since the battle at the Citadel. We would leave in perhaps two and a half weeks?” she asked, and there was an awkward beat of silence before she heard the older woman clear her throat.

“I’m guessing Ravus is staying here?” Aranea asked, no longer bothering with titles, and Luna nodded out of habit.

“Yes, he would remain here. What do you think? I thought that perhaps you might like a change of pace for a little while, and if something drastic were to happen, we could just speed back on your airship,” she stated, and was gladdened to hear an amused snort from the other end of the line.

“Sounds like fun, princess; sign me up. When did you want to leave again?”

“Perhaps around the sixth or so? I wanted to get there ahead of time to see my friends, and I’m certain you would enjoy exploring and meeting everyone,” she said, and Aranea laughed freely.

“Gotcha. Bring regular clothes, right? Probably best to not parade around the whole time in armor-” Luna began to laugh, and Aranea trailed off.

“Madame, if we are to adventure together, I would ask you to call me Luna. Would you do that for me?” Luna asked, and Aranea snorted.

“Then none of this madame bullshit, Aranea is just fine. You all are way too formal around here sometimes.” Luna was still laughing when they hung up a few minutes later. Aranea had a point, Fenestala was a den of formality, one that could get incredibly oppressive sometimes. It would be nice to get away from it for a little while.

Also, she and Ravus could stand some proper time away from each other. Ever since the empire had seized the manor, Ravus had been gone far more than he was present, and they had grown used to not having each other around most of the time. But Tenebrae was theirs once more, and their distant relationship had shifted rapidly in a matter of days the previous May; they had spent nearly a year uninterrupted with each other as they worked to restore their homeland, and they still had not entirely grown accustomed to it. It would be good for the two of them to have a little break.

Luna got to her feet and looked out the window, smiling at the sight of the sylleblossoms peeking through the bases of the trees in the distance. For the first time in a very long time, she felt that she could truly enjoy looking upon them without regret, without the bitterness that always seemed to follow in the remembrance of her situation, and she had not felt so content in years.

“Your mother would have been cross to hear that you felt such sadness whilst looking upon your favorite flowers, oracle.” Luna clasped her hand to her breast as she spun around, grinning at the sight of the elegant woman she cared for so much.

“Gentiana!” she exclaimed, and the astral smiled gently as she walked up to her, reaching out and taking her hands.

“So you return to Lucis soon. Your friends look forward to seeing you once more, oracle,” Gentiana stated, and Luna nodded.

“And I them,” she said, then paused, a thought coming to mind. “Would you like to come with me, Gentiana? Perhaps you might enjoy the change of pace?” Not to her surprise, the woman gave a tiny shake of her head, and she sighed. “It’s not because of the Dawn Mother, is it?” Gentiana turned and walked up to the window as well, her eyes open as she smiled.

“While the others have varying opinions on the Dawn Mother making her presence known, the Draconian most of all, I enjoy feeling her warmth throughout the land once more. Her chosen are still coming into their power, and there is more they must learn before they reach their full potential. It is best that their journey be achieved without my presence.” Luna’s brows furrowed as Gentiana spoke. That sounded-

“Do you suspect that my trip will come to something more?” she asked, and was awarded with the astral closing her eyes as she turned and walked back towards the center of the room.

“I suspect nothing, oracle. I wish you safe travels, my lady, and I will come again.” Gentiana bowed and vanished before Luna could inquire further, and she gave an amused huff before returning her gaze to the window. She missed having Gentiana around.

She and Ravus chose not to make it widely known that she was leaving, although they knew it would be pointless to hide it completely. Tenebrae had come together after Niflheim was driven out quickly under their influence, and Luna knew she would be wise to discount it. She had been concerned that the country outside the grounds of the manor would not be so easily swayed back to their side, but minus the occasional issue, it had gone far more smoothly than she had ever expected. It was astounding how much trust was placed in her family, but especially in her, and she would not let the people down. She may not have the blessing of Bahamut and her trident anymore, but she still had her healing magic, and Gentiana still blessed her with her presence, which was always a great relief to her. She had firmly told herself that she needed no other confirmation of her suitability (how well it stuck, well-) The issue of titles still remained, but that was something that she and Ravus would speak about at some point in the future. There was no rush.

The next few weeks were spent in preparation of her trip; proper luggage this time, as she would be taking Aranea’s airship instead of doing a clandestine overland trip, gifts for everyone, both personal and symbolic, in the case of the royal twosome, and making sure she and Aranea had proper clothing. Her brother gifted her with an elegant knife as a sidearm, but had apparently forgotten that she had very little training in anything but polearms, and even that had been mostly symbolic. But she hung the blade from her waist with pride as she watched the luggage being loaded onto Aranea’s red airship, the woman herself going through preflight checks as Ravus walked up to join Luna at her side.

“Ready to depart, Luna?” Ravus asked, his eyes soft and fond, and Luna nodded as she turned towards her brother, bringing up her hand to his cheek; Ravus raised his own hand to cover hers, and they stood there silently for a long moment as the soldiers and servants bustled about them.

“Do try to stay out of trouble while I’m gone, Ravus, I know you’ve probably got all sorts of parties planned-” Luna began, but she couldn’t even finish the sentence without laughing; Ravus rolled his eyes, but responded with a genuine smile that reached his eyes, and she leaned in and wrapped her arms around her big brother. “Take care of yourself, Ravus. I don’t know how long we will be gone, but I will keep in regular contact. Also, if we are needed here, please let me know at any time, yes?” Luna stood on her toes and kissed Ravus on the cheek, the man turning his head and responding with the same before taking a step back.

“Please just promise me that you won’t run off with anyone you meet out in Lucis, especially not your dear Noctis, and I’ll be content,” Ravus replied, humor in his eyes, and Luna affected an insulted huff and crossed her arms.

“How could you? I was hoping that I could convince Cor and Nyx that they also needed a woman in their life-”

“Luna.” Ravus growled, and Luna reached out and patted his arm, mischievous smile still firmly in place.

“Going to deny me my one...or perhaps two? true loves, I see how things are between us, brother-” Ravus finally broke, letting out a rather blustery groan while she giggled next to him. “Don’t worry, Ravus, I have no plans to run off with anyone at this point. We still have too much work to do for me to seriously consider anything for now. I’ll at least give you some advance warning when I run off with one of the Glaives or something-” Ravus groaned once more, but he seemed entirely amused instead of irritated, and Luna considered it a win.

“If you are done riling your brother up, princess, it’s time for us to go,” Aranea cut in as she walked up to them, and Luna nodded and stepped away.

“Be safe, sister, and do not hesitate to call if needed,” her brother said quietly, and Luna nodded once more.

“Keep our home safe,” she responded, then turned and walked away with Aranea, who had a rather impressive smirk on her face.

“Looking into a threesome, huh? Scandalous,” the dragoon teased, and Luna’s gleeful laughter followed them into the ship as Ravus’s sigh echoed rather impressively behind her.

The airship made for slightly bumpy but far faster travel than teleporting all over the planet with the Marshal of the Crownsguard, but as much as she liked Aranea, and looked forward to spending more time with her, she found herself missing the man. He had been an ideal companion for a clandestine flight from virtual confinement, his alternating moods of both stoic and friendly, to almost shy and a bit grumpy never ceasing to amuse her, but he had never been anything but a gentleman...even when he had dyed her hair.

Ugh. She was never dying her hair again.

She was just happy Noctis and Regis hadn’t seen it. Her phone suddenly chimed, and she plucked it out of her pocket to see a message from Noctis. Perfect timing.

N: Hey Luna! We just got the word that your airship has reached the western coast! How much longer until you reach Insomnia?

Luna frowned thoughtfully, then got to her feet. She had no idea, actually. A short walk to the small bridge later, she found Aranea chatting with her pilots, the older one in a peaked cap, the younger one in a classic Niflheim-esque pickelhaube, whose names quite escaped her. The dragoon saw her approach and straightened, giving her a friendly smile.

“Hey Luna! Did you need something?” Aranea asked, and Luna nodded.

“Prince Noctis is asking how long we might be to the city, I would like to give him an estimate if possible.” Aranea immediately turned to the two men at the controls, raising an eyebrow.

“Biggs?” The man in the peaked cap looked down at his instruments for a moment, muttering a few things under his breath before looking up.

“At our current speed and barring any deviations, our ETA is around eight hours to the outskirts of Insomnia. I’ll keep you informed if that changes, princess,” Biggs stated, and Luna tilted her head.

“Thank you, sir.” Biggs nodded and faced forward again, and Luna gave a polite bow to Aranea and began to depart.

“Why don’t you take a nap, Luna? Long trips always are tiring, and I’m sure you want to be fresh when we get there,” Aranea spoke up, and Luna paused. She had a point.

“That sounds like an excellent idea, Aranea, my thanks. I’ll answer the prince and lie down for a few hours,” she responded, Aranea giving her a wave before returning to her previous conversation. Luna returned to her small room, laying down on the bunk and quickly typing a response to Noctis.

L: The pilot believes we will reach the edge of the city in approximately eight hours. I will take a short rest and update you further when I awake.

N: Sounds good, I’ll let my father know. Enjoy your nap!

Taking everyone’s advice, Luna put her phone on the tiny table next to the bunk and closed her eyes. She was asleep within minutes.

“-incess! Are you awake?” Luna shot up in bed, her head swimming from the sudden movement as someone knocked on the door. After a moment of closing her eyes and letting her equilibrium settle, she finally spoke up.

“Yes, I’m awake, you may enter,” she said, the door opening to reveal Biggs’s copilot, the young man smiling politely and gesturing vaguely to the ceiling.

“I’m afraid you may have taken Lady A’s advice a bit too much to heart, princess, we’ve already been granted landing clearance, we’ll be in Insomnia in less than an hour.” The man was gone before she could even reply, her door closing softly in his wake, and Luna gasped. Less than an hour? She slept for so long? A quick look at her phone showed the man’s statement to be complete truth, and after cringing at the collection of texts teasing her about being still asleep (thank you Noctis, truly,) she got to her feet and began to get changed. She was not seeing everyone for the first time in ten months in an wrinkled outfit and bedraggled hair.

Perhaps twenty minutes later, just as she was brushing her hair into some semblance of decency, there was another knock at her door.

“Enter.” In the mirror, she could see Aranea opening her door and stepping in, closing it behind her. The former commodore was dressed in a variation on her usual armor, but with a white overcoat and sash bearing the crest of Tenebrae. It made for a somewhat more formal appearance than her usual look, perfect for meeting royalty. The older woman sized her up, Luna could describe it no other way, then smirked.

“Slept the whole trip away, huh?” Aranea teased, and Luna sighed a bit.

“It certainly wasn’t my intention, but perhaps the sound of the engines was more soothing than I thought it was,” she replied, and the dragoon barked out a short laugh.

“Eh, not a big surprise. I can fall asleep within seconds on this boat if I let myself, so don’t feel bad,” Aranea chuckled, and Luna gave the older woman a smile before returning to the tiny mirror to finish her hair. She almost forgot Aranea was there as she continued to primp, and only when the dragoon cleared her throat did she realize that she was still in the room.

“Oh, my apologies! Did you want to speak to me?” Luna said, a bit embarrassed, but Aranea waved her concerns away.

“No, don’t worry about it. I was just curious,” Aranea began, and Luna flicked at her bangs one more time before calling it a day. She looked as good as she was going to get.

“Curious about what?” she asked, and the dragoon actually shuffled a bit in place before finally crossing her arms.

“You seem to be so fond of the prince and his friends, but I’ve heard various things and I was curious what they were like,” Aranea finally asked, and Luna covered her smile with a hand.

“I’m assuming what you heard was my dear brother griping about Noctis, am I correct?” Luna asked, and Aranea gave an amused shrug. “Well, I won’t tell you too much, but unlike whatever Ravus may have said, Noctis is a noble and wonderful young man who I am honored to know, and he will make a wonderful king someday. My brother has rather illogical reasons for his dislike, and I doubt that will change any time soon. Prompto- the voice, as they call him now, is incredibly kindhearted and sweet; very energetic, with the sort of personality that just draws you in. Noctis’s advisor is named Ignis, he’s of Tenebraen heritage, at least partially, and is perhaps a bit more formal, but is a practical and considerate man who is of excellent character. The prince’s shield, as they call him, is a large man named Gladiolus; he’s from an aristocratic family that has served the royal house for generations, and is a fun and capable person who I am happy to know,” Luna explained, and Aranea crossed her arms.

“You make them all sound perfect,” the older woman mused, and Luna laughed and shook her head.

“Hardly, but I’ll leave that for you to decide. You’ve seen many of them, at least for a moment when you came to fetch Ravus in the days following, but I suppose that was almost a year ago,” she said, laughing. “The king is honorable and firm, but fair and kind, his shield, Gladiolus’s father, is very similar. The marshal, or the herald, as he is getting called by both titles these days, is an expert warrior, but also a sweetheart...not that he would admit to that,” Luna didn’t bother hiding her regard on Cor’s behalf, and Aranea gave her a suspicious squint.

“Isn’t this one of the people who you joked about joining a threesome with?” Aranea questioned, her suspicion transforming to glee, and Luna colored, covering her face with her hands.

“Please don’t mention that in front of any of them. I was just trying to tease Ravus, Cor is a very handsome man, but I don’t truly see him in that light. Well, at least in regards to me, at any rate-” she trailed off, then remembered something. “Also, Aranea? It’s not public that the marshal is in a relationship, although I’m given to understand they aren’t hiding it that well anymore-” Aranea nodded, and Luna smiled. “Thank you. Well, I suppose it’s time to prepare for landing, yes?”

“Should be any time now-” The intercom crackled to life, cutting Aranea off, and Luna grinned as the woman gestured matter-of-factly to the ceiling.

“We have been cleared to land in the side courtyard by the king himself, where we will offload the princess, Lady A, and the luggage, then we will move the ship to a better berth for the duration of our stay. Please stand by for landing.” Biggs’s voice cut off with a burst of static, and the dragoon nodded, then gestured to the room. Luna grimaced at the sight of her exploded bag, and scrambled to clean up.

“Need any help packing?”

A few minutes later, just as the cargo bay doors were about to open, Aranea turned to Luna and grinned. “So his name was Cor, right?”

“Aranea!”

The next few minutes were spent in a flurry of greetings and introductions, at first strictly formal, but then Prompto pulled Luna into a hug and it all went downhill from there. The members of the council who had come out to meet the princess looked a bit aggrieved at the breach of etiquette, but they held their tongues and smiled politely as she worked her way around the group, Aranea walking quietly in her wake. When they reached Cor, Aranea’s expression took on a barely restrained twinkle, but to Luna’s relief, she held her tongue. After walking the circle, Regis clasped her hand and gave it a light squeeze, the smile on his face warm and welcoming.

“It’s good to have you back, Luna. It truly is,” Regis said, and Luna covered his hand with her free one, finding herself having to blink back a happy tear as she returned his smile.

“I’m happy to be here, your majesty.” Regis squeezed her hand one more time before letting go, signalling to all assembled with a wave of his hand.

“I know your travels have been long, princess, but we have planned a dinner,” the king stated, and Luna glanced towards Aranea for a moment before tilting her head in agreement.

“That sounds lovely, your majesty. A meal sounds quite-”

“Go home, foreign bitch!” Luna froze at the distant voice, the entire assembled crowd tensing around her. What in the world-

“I think it would be best to go inside, princess,” Gladio cut in, and Noctis came up on her right side and offered her his arm; Luna met his serious eyes with a question, but he shook his head so finely that only she could have possibly noticed, and she reached out and wrapped her fingers around his forearm.

“Then let us go, my lord.” All assembled turned and headed towards the Citadel proper, except the king, Lord Amicitia, and Cor, who all stayed behind, all but Regis talking into their phones. Once they were inside and heading towards what she assumed was either a dining room or banquet hall, she leaned in slightly towards Noctis. “What in the world is going on?” she hissed under her breath, and Noctis’s mouth twisted.

“It’s nothing major, but it’s best we talk after the meal, I think,” Noctis replied, with Gladio and Ignis nodding in agreement. Luna raised her eyebrows, but nodded as well. Very well, then. Luna knew there had been some problems with xenophobia surging after the battle, but Cor and the others had told her things had calmed down, and she hadn’t heard anything about a resurgence. Hm. There was no more talking as she was led into a large dining room, Noctis skillfully escorting her to a seat before sitting down to her left, next to his father’s seat at the head of the table. Prompto directed Aranea to the spot across from her, then sat down next to the dragoon. Gladio took the spot to her right, Ignis next to him, and the table filled in from there. The spots to the king’s left and Prompto’s left remained empty for several minutes until Regis, Cor, and Lord Amicitia arrived, the room rising to its feet as the king walked to the head of the table, Gladio’s father and Cor taking the empty positions near the front of the table.

“My apologies for the delay, but let us enjoy a nice dinner!” Regis stated, and Luna settled in as servants poured into the room with trays and drinks, watching Aranea’s dubious expression as a colorful salad of some sort was placed in front of all of them. Conversation was stilted at first as everyone started in on their dinner, but Luna managed to summon up some energy and talk about general topics as they worked their way through their meals. Aranea had immediately started chatting with Prompto and Lord Amicitia, mainly about the border incursions with the empire with the shield, and about Niflheimian and Tenebraen culture, from her point of view. Luna found herself inexplicably a little jealous; she was used to crowds and people around her, but she had never had the former commodore’s ease with just inserting herself into conversations. She was glad the older woman was there.

About an hour later saw a much reduced gathering in an attached parlor room, where they were joined by Captain Ulric, who gave her a friendly smirk and a slight bow before sitting down with Cor on the loveseat that the marshal had already claimed. She and Aranea claimed another loveseat, while the foursome had taken up a whole table's worth of chairs. The king sat down on a settee, Lord Amicitia at his side, and looked at the lot of them with a slight smile.

“It’s good to have you back, Luna. I’m sorry that your arrival was spoiled somewhat by a...heckler. How was your trip?” Regis asked, and Luna smiled.

“Rather pleasant, actually. I suppose it doesn’t quite compare to the time the marshal snuck me out of Fenestala Manor last year, but I do appreciate being clean upon arrival this time,” she said cheekily, smiling wider as Cor rolled his eyes and crossed his arms with an exaggerated huff. Nyx looked between the two of them and raised an eyebrow.

“I’ve heard a bit of how that went down, but I’d love to hear more,” Nyx stated, and Cor rolled his eyes again while Luna turned to face the Glaive, happy to chat about something silly.

“Well, by the time we got back, I looked like I had fallen into a chocobo stable and let the dirt fester, and Cor looked much the same, but with two weeks of wild beard growth. We made quite the pair. Luckily, I don’t believe there are any pictures,” she said, and Nyx pouted theatrically before chuckling and glancing at the marshal.

“And how much did everyone pretend to not see you like that as you two came into the Citadel?” Nyx asked, and Cor snorted, leaning over and bumping his shoulder into Nyx’s.

“The smart ones knew better,” the marshal said drily, and his seatmate barked out a laugh.

“Fair enough.” The silence after Nyx answered was long and awkward, and finally it was Aranea that spoke up, her expression broadcasting the question that was still at the forefront of Luna’s mind.

“I thought things here in Insomnia had largely calmed down after the first month or so following everything? I wasn’t expecting some xenophobe asshole the instant we got off the damn ship, let me be clear. A heads up might have been nice?” Aranea asked, a bit blunter than was polite; Regis frowned, but nodded in agreement.

“My apologies, princess, commodore, the upswing in...tensions happened almost overnight. When the news went out that there was a small celebration planned for the anniversary, it seems to remind the most unfortunate fringe of Insomnian society that I hadn’t inexplicably driven out all but native Insomnians already and sent them home. It’s truly only been a few weeks, but you are correct, I should have mentioned as such ahead of time,” Regis apologized, and Luna waved away his apology.

“It’s quite alright, it was just a bit jarring. Hopefully this doesn’t bode ill for the rest of the trip, I would love to be able to explore the city this time,” she said, and Noctis and Prompto both leaned towards her and nodded.

“No, we are definitely taking you out this time, showing you all the cool stuff. Considering how much of a mess the last trip was…” Noctis trailed off, and Luna nodded in agreement as she met Aranea’s eyes. She had a feeling the dragoon would enjoy the trip too, which was the main reason she had wanted her to accompany her. Give Aranea a break from the skirmishes at the border, and a break from Ravus and his stewing. They all needed a break from Ravus.

...possibly even Ravus himself.

Luna felt a twinge of guilt, barely holding back a sigh. Okay, that was mean. But she longed for a day where Ravus could finally relax for five minutes, she expected him to drop dead of a heart attack by the time he was thirty-five the way he was going.

“Luna?” Prompto’s voice cut into her thoughts, and she blinked and focused back on the blond.

“Ah, sorry, my mind wandered for a moment. What were you saying?” Luna replied, a bit sheepishly, and Prompto laughed.

“We were wondering if you wanted to go with us to downtown, maybe in the next day or two? Show you the sights, drag you to the arcade-” Prompto stopped at the look on Ignis’s face, and even Aranea laughed at the sight of the advisor’s cool expression. “-or, maybe take in a nice museum or two?” Prompto said hesitantly as Ignis nodded sagely in the background, and Luna burst out laughing.

“It all sounds wonderful, Prompto. Thank you, we’ll figure out an appropriate time,” Luna said, then she turned back towards Regis. “Thank you again for inviting me, your majesty. I do appreciate it.” Regis’s eyes crinkled at the edges with his wide smile, and her chest warmed in return. As long as this trip remained far less eventful than the last one, she would be happy.

 

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Cor and Nyx popped back to Cor’s quarters after saying goodnight to Luna and everyone else, and he watched with amusement as Nyx disrobed in record time while he was still pulling off his shirt.

“How did today’s event go?” Cor asked Nyx as he pulled off his undershirt, tossing it into the hamper. Nyx had already stripped down to his underwear and was sitting on the edge of the bed, clearly waiting for him to finish undressing.

“The king schmoozed and chatted with everyone at the community center, bounced babies, shook hands, and steadfastly ignored the shouting idiots outside the gates. A few tried to push through the Glaives I had stationed on the perimeter, but not with any real effort. We got yelled at more than the king, the filthy foreigners that we are,” Nyx sighed, scratching at his nose as Cor threw his pants over towards the hamper, watching them hit the wall and crash to the floor instead. Oh well.

“Those damn fools. You know what’s worse, right? There’s a whole contingent of them whose families only got here a few generations back, who often still have grandparents who talk about the old country, and they all pretend that those family members don’t exist,” Cor grumbled, sitting down next to Nyx on the bed. “Or let me rephrase it, they pretend they don’t exist when their equally close-minded associates are around. Some of them slink home after their bullshit gatherings and say hi to their Duscaean grandmother or their Galahdian grandfather like they hadn’t just been advocating for them to be bodily thrown out of the city. Every time I had to do research into the backgrounds of some of these idiots it made me sick,” he said bluntly, raising a hand and running it through Nyx’s hair, feeling the long strands trail through his fingers. “Don’t listen to them, alright?” The Glaive chuckled next to him, and Cor shifted his hand as Nyx leaned in and rested his head on Cor’s shoulder.

“Oh, I don’t, don’t worry. I’ve heard it since I got to Insomnia, and I’m certainly not going to back down now. The bastards aren’t going to win this one. None of us are going to let them,” Nyx assured him, and he turned his head and kissed the man on the top of his head with a tired sigh. It felt like they were going back to square one, and of course, the poor princess was back right at the height of it. Couldn’t things just go smoothly for a change? It was a naive hope, but Cor would quietly stick to that hope as long as he could manage. After all, maybe it would become true someday . Maybe.

“I hate to say this, Cor, but I think we could both use a shower,” Nyx cut in on his musings, and he blinked as the younger man got to his feet, moving in front of him and leaning over until he was getting a rather up close and personal view of Nyx’s chest, strong arms wrapping around his shoulders. Familiar blue eyes met his for a moment before leaning in further and kissing the side of his neck; Cor sucked in a surprised breath as Nyx worked his way up his neck to his jaw, then continuing up to his ear. “How about we save water, hm?” Cor’s whole body bucked as skilled hands trailed delicately down his arms, but he still felt a laugh bubble to the surface as Nyx’s teeth found his earlobe.

“What-” Cor shuddered as the younger man bit down, but huffed out another laugh. “In what world is the two of us showering together saving water?” Nyx bit at his earlobe again, but Cor could hear the man snort out a laugh as clear as day as Cor grabbed lightly at the man’s hair and pulled him away from his head, then leaned in and kissed him firmly on the lips. “Hmm?” Nyx’s hands cradled his face, and Cor’s eyes slid closed as they exchanged increasingly heated kisses for some time until Nyx pulled away, running his fingertips down Cor’s neck and chest.

“Fine. Let’s go have sex in the shower while wasting tons of water. Sound like a plan?” Nyx said bluntly, and Cor barked out a laugh, even as he got to his feet in response.

“Well, since you asked so nicely-”

Their shower lasted over an hour, and they both were exceptionally pruney by the time they got out. Not that they really noticed (nor cared.)

Cor was quite aware that Nyx never got tired of the fact that he conked out so easily after sex, even if it meant that Nyx had to pretty much drag him out of the shower after they were done; Cor barely kept his feet as the younger man dried him off and bundled him into bed with a fond grin, then to the half-awake Cor’s bewilderment immediately turned and walked out of the bedroom, giving him a very nice view.

“Where’ya goin’?” Cor yawned, half-heartedly trying to fight his way out of the sheets, and Nyx laughed.

“Stay in bed, old man, I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Nyx said, and Cor watched blearily as the Glaive headed back into the bathroom.

Oh. Probably just going to straighten up. He curled into Nyx’s pillow with a hazy sigh, his body still tingling with pleasant aches that he still found incredibly novel. He’d never get over the fact Nyx was there, that he had stayed even with all of his ridiculous bullshit; he had long figured he would live the rest of his life the way the Citadel had always assumed he was. He knew his reputation had him labeled as an ascetic, a hermit; he never thought anyone would truly be interested in him. Almost seven months later, however, there they were, and the Glaive showed no sign of leaving. It still blew his mind how quickly he got accustomed to seeing the other man there next to him in bed, how he pretty much expected to be able to cuddle up with him in the evenings-

“You have the soppiest look on your face right now, Cor. What in the hell are you thinking about?” Nyx said, and Cor rolled onto his back as the bed dipped beside him, raising his arm and running a hand down Nyx’s stubbly cheek.

“I’m just...having a moment,” Cor muttered, his cheeks warm, and Nyx leaned in and nuzzled his nose.

“A moment, huh? What’s the moment about?” Nyx pulled away enough to slide under the covers next to him, and Cor ducked his head into the mattress at the younger man’s side, only to be urged back up with a soft tug on his hair. “Cor?”

“It’s stupid. Don’t worry about it. I don’t want to unload on you, you don’t deserve it,” he said, and instantly regretted it when Nyx’s curious smile twisted into a frown, combined with a slightly more pointed tug on his hair.

“Hey, don’t do that. Considering you didn’t actually raise the kid, you two are a little too similar sometimes. Spit it out,” Nyx’s tone had gone sharp, and Cor sighed, letting his head fall back to the pillow.

“I- I guess I’m just having one of those moments where I wonder why you stay,” Cor started, then thought over what he just said before bolting upright, ignoring all the twinges the rapid movement caused. “Oh fuck, no, that’s not what I meant-” Nyx sat up next to him without a word, looking at him somberly with those blue eyes that he loved so much; Cor stared wide-eyed at him as he tried to get his jaw to move, but couldn’t get himself to utter a sound.

“No, I think that’s exactly what you meant, but I don’t think you meant it as harshly as it sounded,” Nyx said quietly, and Cor thought he was going to have a damn heart attack. He had finally said too fucking much- “Let me guess; you’re too old. You think the whole herald thing secretly weirds me out. You wonder when I’m going to figure out that there’s far better fish in the sea. You think you’re too much trouble to be worth it-” Cor hissed through his teeth and looked away, and Nyx cut himself off. A few seconds later, a strong hand cupped his cheek, coaxing his gaze back towards the Glaive. “But I think it’s something else this time. Am I wrong?” Nyx’s thumb swept lightly back and forth on his cheek, and Cor took a deep shuddering breath and swallowed before managing to speak.

“I always figured I’d die alone.” The sharp intake of breath from Nyx was answer enough, and Cor sighed and looked blankly at the sheets pooled in their laps for a moment. “I fully expected to watch my friends and associates get older, have kids or not, then watch them retire or pass away. Then watch their children do much the same. I’d probably be there, helping in some way until I couldn’t, then that would have been it. I’d die, a few people might say a few nice things about how I was reliable and steadfast, a blunt never married, no children, no partner in the obituary, maybe Prompto bringing me up occasionally, or Gladiolus mentioning me once or twice when he used my sword-” Cor lost his train of thought when Nyx closed his eyes, the younger man’s expression strange, and he fumbled for a moment for words. “I had accepted it. It was what it was. But then you started coming around, showing interest, and I really wasn’t sure how to handle that at first, let me tell you-” Cor’s rapidly beating heart calmed a bit as Nyx looked once more at him, too-glossy eyes crinkling at the edges with humor.

“Considering it took me backing you into a literal corner for you to figure it out, I think that’s pretty obvious,” Nyx commented drily, and Cor coughed in embarrassment.

“Every once in awhile, when we’re curled up here in bed or whatever, I just wonder how I got used to this so quickly, how I just expect to be able to be here with you most of the time…” Cor took a deep breath, letting the air out between his teeth with a hiss. “It’s a complete shift on what I always figured my life would be. As I said, it’s stupid,” he sighed, and he knew his face was bright red. Nyx looked at him silently for long enough that he shifted a few times, his heart rate starting to increase once more; the Glaive finally leaned forward and met his lips with his own, giving him a soft kiss before shifting back under the sheets, pulling him down alongside him. Cor laid his head on Nyx’s chest, listening to the strong heartbeat as he tried to calm his own.

“I’m not going anywhere, Cor. Not if I can help it,” Nyx’s voice rumbled lightly against his cheek, and Cor nodded, brushing his lips against the skin under his head. “Hopefully in time, those random thoughts in your brain will realize that.” He nodded again, then shifted into his usual curled position, throwing his leg over the younger man’s and taking a deep, deliberate breath before slowly letting it out.

He really hoped Nyx was right. On all counts.

The next day saw Cor heading out with the king and Luna on a small tour near the border of the southwestern forest. In an attempt to keep the security team smaller, they convinced the prince and the others to wait for another day to go out with the princess, which went over better with Ignis and Gladiolus than with the younger two. They would survive. In a rare case, Clarus was not present, but was handling something else, making Cor his effective replacement for the day. For her part, Luna seemed to be legitimately enjoying herself as they strolled with a park ranger on the well-marked trail, listening intently as the various types of flora and fauna were pointed out to her as they passed by them. The trip had already been scheduled before the princess had even been invited back to the city, but the king thought it would be pleasant to bring her along. Cor enjoyed the scenery, but he couldn’t let himself get distracted by it. There was too much at stake, too many threats against the king and foreigners in general swirling around the capital, and he needed to be at his best. When they passed two Guards stationed on the path as they continued on, he signalled for them to do a sweep of the area, all the while listening to Luna as she compared the trees of Insomnia to the great forest around Fenestala Manor.

While the king was traditionally accompanied by the Crownsguard when he was away from the Citadel, the Kingsglaive was being fielded within the city more often as time went on; partially to keep them busy, but mostly so the citizens of Insomnia could see them. Cor and Nyx had decided to swap back and forth as the king increased his public appearances, one day with the Guard, one day with the Glaive. A few of the more open events had seen a combined group, but there hadn’t been much call for it yet. If the threats started coalescing into something substantial, however, that would change.

“Marshal, there’s a small group gathering near the ranger station, currently around thirty.” He barely refrained from jerking in surprise from the sudden noise in his ear, but only just. Cor would never get used to the communications earbuds, but after about the third time he had grumbled about it to Nyx, the captain had finally just told him to suck it up and use the damn things. Fine. He still didn’t like them.

“Are we talking average citizens or protesters?” he responded, and the return answer came immediately.

“They’ve kept relatively quiet so far, but I see a few signs being held at their feet. I’m going to go with protester, sir.” Cor scowled, leading to a questioning look from Luna. Of course. No one even vaguely affiliated with the Citadel could go out without tripping over one of them the last few weeks, and even the relative seclusion of their location hadn’t kept them away.

“We will reach the station in approximately ten minutes, keep eyes on the group and set up a subtle perimeter; I’ll notify you when our ETA is less than two minutes out. Do not engage with anyone unless necessary,” he ordered, receiving their confirmation before cutting the line. He moved forward, flanking Regis and leaning in to speak in his ear; the king slowed but did not stop, tilting his head towards Cor in a practiced move the two of them had done many a time over the years. “Small group of protesters near the ranger’s station. The Guard is setting up a loose perimeter until we can gauge the situation better,” he said quietly, and Regis nodded.

“Keep me informed,” the king replied, tilting his head towards Luna. Cor bowed his head slightly, then moved to the princess's side.

“Luna, there’s a group of protesters up ahead. We are keeping an eye on them, but we wanted to make sure you knew before we arrived.” Luna’s answering smile was understandably a bit thin, but she nodded.

“Thank you for telling me,” Luna said, and Cor bowed once more before returning to his previous position behind them. When they emerged into the open a short time later, he could see the signs going up, the mouths opening to start yelling; it took all that was in him to not step over to the lot of them and slap the back of their damn heads.

“Get the foreigners out of Insomnia!” Okay, standard material. Cor could see Luna tense slightly, but she managed to maintain a distant smile along with a spine of steel as they walked past the group. He knew damn good and well she had over a decade of experience in smiling at people who would dance on her grave, and it showed.

“Dismantle the Kingsglaive!” More getting rid of the foreigners bullshit. He was pretty sure he could hear Nyx scoffing from the other side of the city.

“Step down Regis!” That was new, at least in a public protest; there had been some radical newspapers calling for the king to abdicate to allow Noctis, purged of all unfortunate influences (read, pretty much all of his friends and associates) to rule in what they figured would be a return to some mythical good old days that never existed.

“Bring back the wall!” Cor could see Regis’s eyebrow arch at that one. Good luck with that, he was pretty sure that they needed a crystal for that to happen.

“Remove the corrupted and the whore!” Ah fuck. He had known it was only a matter of time until he and Prompto were insulted during the protests, and that time had come. Luna had actually dropped her frozen expression for a split second in complete confusion, and Cor sped to keep the princess moving. He would explain later. A few people tried to throw things, but the projectiles were easily intercepted by the Guards on the perimeter. Once inside the ranger station, the employees were clearly rattled by the intruders, but they all powered on, finishing their tour and presenting both the king and the oracle with a token. Luckily, the crowd was held firmly back as they all climbed back into their vehicle, and they left without further incident.

“What in the world was that last sign about?” Luna asked, and Cor and Regis looked at each other with a grimace before Regis sighed and deferred to Cor.

“It’s referencing Prompto and I, I’m afraid. We’ve been hearing this sort of rhetoric pretty often in the more xenophobic rags, but after the release of the Book, it’s been a madhouse. We are pretty sure some of them legitimately believe every damn word in that thing is being followed to the letter, I’ve been called some nasty things, even whore, as that sign stated, but poor Prompto, being of obviously foreign stock, has been the target of far more vitriol. Some groups hesitate to go that far with me, for better or worse; my Insomnian ancestry can be traced back some five hundred years reliably, and while I don’t give a shit, they do on occasion. So they’ve taken to calling me the corrupted instead. One person actually approached me a few weeks back and offered to re-educate me about my origins, my heritage, and how it made me superior somehow; the worst part of the whole non-conversation was that they seriously meant it,” Cor said, his mouth twisting in disgust before he shook his head. “The craziest part about the whole thing was that a month or so ago, almost none of this was happening. It’s all exploded pretty much overnight.” Luna leaned forward, resting a finger against her lips.

“Have you considered that there might be Niflheimian infiltrators?” the princess questioned, and Cor and Regis looked at each other once more before Regis spoke up.

“We are quite sure there are, actually, but we haven’t identified any as of yet. It’s currently being worked on.” Cor could see when Regis thought of something specific, and watched carefully as the monarch leaned back in towards Luna. “Have you seen anything similar in Tenebrae? Any imperial sympathizers? People espousing a little too much about the good old days under the empire?” Luna sat back in her seat with her arms loosely crossed, a look of concentration on her face.

“There was some early on, but it was almost exclusively focused in the small villages along the border. Much of it faded away as soon as it became clear to those who exclaimed such things that the empire cared nothing for them; when a few villages received serious damage through border incursions, they mostly quieted down. I still hear things here and there, but not enough to be of any consequence,” Luna said, and Regis nodded.

“Then they are focusing such efforts on us, as it were. I’ve not heard of any serious issues at all from Altissia either, so this appears to be our battle to fight for now,” Regis stated, and Cor nodded.

“We’ll figure it out. We just need a little more time.”

The prince and his posse took Luna out for a far more casual adventure in downtown the next day; neither Nyx or Cor accompanied them, but the small combined group of Glaives and Guards that went reported the usual protesters, but no serious actual threats against any of them. At least for small mercies. They increased surveillance of the biggest anti-government and traditionalist groups as the days crept towards the anniversary, but no matter how much they searched, they had still not identified any Niffs among the sheep, as it were, and Cor, Regis, and Clarus were all increasingly tense as time went on. At least they were largely leaving the princess alone; there had been a few comments, a few shouts here and there, but the vast majority of the population still respected the oracle, and they hadn’t gained much ground. Surprisingly, there had been almost no mention of the fact that she was the reason the crystal was gone, which he had figured would have been mentioned first and foremost. He honestly didn’t understand people sometimes.

On the third day before the anniversary, Cor woke up in a cold sweat, surging upright in bed gasping for breath as Nyx sleepily sat up as well, placing a hand on his back as his stomach churned ominously.

“Cor? What’s wrong?” Nyx asked, and Cor sat there trying to regulate his breathing while he evaluated himself; this didn’t feel like anything specific, he considered food poisoning, but he knew what that felt like. He just had an overwhelming feeling that something was going to happen. “Cor?” He swallowed heavily as he tried to respond, Nyx’s hand sliding up his back to the cup the base of his neck.

“I-” he swallowed again, then shook his head to clear it. “-I don’t know. It’s nothing specific, it’s just a bad...feeling,” he whispered, bringing his hands up to his face and wiping roughly at his eyes. Nyx’s warm hand was grounding, and Cor leaned back into his arms. “It’s probably nothing. I probably just had a bad dream I don’t remember.” Nyx’s hand stroked his stomach soothingly as he sighed. “Sorry for waking you.”

“Don’t apologize, you dipshit. What’s going on today?” Nyx asked, and Cor pinched the bridge of his nose as he thought. What was going on today? After a moment, he remembered.

“The king has a public appearance at the old Julii palace, followed by a short walkabout around the square. I’ll be his escort, along with Clarus,” he said, then he remembered something else and sighed. “Do you think you’d be willing to lend me a few Glaives who can warp? I meant to ask during more...appropriate hours, but I got occupied with something else and it slipped my mind. I wanted them for aerial support.” Nyx hummed behind him.

“That’s not an issue. I’ll be nice and not send Libertus, he’ll gripe at you the first time he’s gotta warp,” Nyx chuckled, and Cor snorted.

“I appreciate that,” he replied, settling back into the Glaive’s arms; after a few minutes of a nice bit of snoozing, a finger poked him in the stomach.

“I hate to say this, sleepyhead, but we’ve gotta get ready for work,” Nyx commented, and Cor groaned, but pulled away and slid out of bed, staggering off to the shower. Right before they headed out the door, Nyx pulled him into a firm hug and a searing kiss that made him want to ditch the whole affair and go right back to bed, but sadly, it wasn’t a possibility today. “Keep your eyes open, Cor. Don’t ignore that feeling from earlier,” Nyx said firmly before pushing him out the door. It was good advice.

They had considered bringing Luna on this tour, as they all thought she would enjoy the historic architecture, but this event was far more out in the open, and Regis had decided that for safety’s sake, she would not be included. Perhaps another time. The weather was warm and overcast, the right kind of overcast that made for excellent photos (according to Prompto, anyway,) and Cor settled in for the ride. The old mid-classical period Lucian palace, a near-thousand year old building that still stood proudly near the center of town, was lovely and well preserved; Cor would have normally found it interesting, but the sense of foreboding from the morning had stuck around, and it was keeping him hyperfocused on his surroundings. He could always do a tour another day. Fortunately, a few hours later saw them leaving the palace without incident, heading to the nearby square on foot.

Cor dropped back as they entered the grounds of the square, glancing around and visually identifying where the Guards and the Glaives were, signalling silently for several adjustments as they continued along. Clarus was up with Regis, and Cor could hear him chatting with the king quietly about the timetable as they headed towards the ancient statue erected in the center, an enormous marble sculpture depicting the first king and oracle. He thought it was gaudy and overwrought, but no one gave a shit about his opinion, which, when it came to art, was probably a good thing. The sunlight broke through the clouds and suddenly gleamed off the metal highlights on the statue king’s crown, and Cor turned towards the sun out of habit, only to barely catch another reflective flicker that was coming from too low to be the sun-

Cor didn’t even remember moving as he stepped in front of Regis, pushing him behind him as something slammed into the right side of his chest, followed immediately by several more somethings, and he found himself on the ground gasping for air as the familiar hexagonal prismatic glow of the king’s barrier spell covered them; he could not catch his breath, and his vision was getting hazy as he choked around the fluid that was in his throat. He tried to get up, but Regis and Clarus both kept him from moving more than rolling onto his left side, allowing him to breathe somewhat as he was able to spit out whatever was in his throat, even as the sky seemed to be getting dark once more-

“Cor, stay with us, the Glaives have already confronted the shooter, I don’t even know how in the hell you saw that, not with the sun in our eyes…” Clarus’s voice seemed like it was coming from far away, and Cor struggled to understand the words as he stared at his old friend.

“Shoot...er?” he gargled out, and Regis appeared above him, holding a torn piece of what looked like his suit coat, although he was having problems seeing it clearly, his eyes wouldn’t focus right-

“You saved my life, Cor-” Cor’s vision went dark for a moment, and when it cleared enough for him to see, he was on his back again, staring blankly at Clarus and Regis’s faces. They looked so worried for some reason-

“This is going to hurt, Cor, but we need to stop the bleeding,” Clarus’s voice was a million miles away, and he really didn’t understand what the man meant; then Regis’s hands descended on his shoulder and the last thing he remembered was the sound of someone screaming as everything went black.

Chapter Text

 

“Fuck, he’s bleeding like a stuck behemoth, when is the damn ambulance going to get here?” Clarus snarled, his hands holding the torn fabric down on Cor’s wounds as Regis got to his feet shakily, leaning over and plucking the communications headset out of the unconscious marshal’s ear and fitting it in his own.

“This is the king speaking, have the culprits been detained?” Regis paused, then spoke once more. “There is an ambulance on the way, correct? The marshal’s wounds are exceptionally serious, he needs immediate medical attention.” Another pause. “With all haste.”

“Well?” Clarus was being shorter with Regis than he normally would, but their nice stroll through historic Insomnia had suddenly taken a horrific turn, and he was watching one of his oldest friends bleed out in front of him. Regis clearly didn’t mind, however, and he lowered himself back to the blood-soaked tile without hesitation.

“ETA about four minutes on the ambulance. Single shooter, what Cor appears to have seen was the light reflecting off the man’s scope pretty much right as he was firing. He used the sudden burst of sunlight to cover his position...if Cor hadn’t been here, I’d probably be dead. Glaives brought him down to street level, he scuffled with them for a moment before they finally just knocked him out, from what I understand. The Guard has taken him into formal custody.” Regis froze right after he finished speaking, his already-pale face growing even more wan as his hand shot up to touch the earpiece. “What do you mean there was a break-in in the residential block?” Clarus’s growing alarm at Cor’s increasingly grey appearance was increased ten-fold at the king’s words, and he grimaced as his gaze darted from king to marshal, then carefully rolled Cor onto his side again so he wouldn’t choke on the blood in his throat. As soon as the king sighed and looked back down, Clarus met his eyes.

“Break-in?” Regis nodded, then tilted his head at the sound of sirens in the distance.

“Finally. Yes, small group, dressed as cleaning staff- they went to the diplomatic rooms, clearly looking for someone-” Clarus shook his head, still holding Cor on his side and the cloth pressed against the gunshot wounds.

“There’s no one staying there right now, the princess is on the royal floor-” Clarus cut himself off as Regis ripped off another piece off of his coat and attempted to wipe Cor’s face with it, trying to clean off some of the blood.

“-Monica thinks they were after Prompto, but they won’t be certain until they are interrogated,” Regis finished, and Clarus sucked in a shocked breath.

“This was no accident. They weren’t aiming for Cor, it was definitely an attack against you, and to try and kidnap the boy at the same time? This screams Niff all over it. This has gone far enough, we need to find these bastards. If Cor dies because of this, I’m going to snap some necks myself,” he growled, and Regis nodded fervently.

“I’ll probably join you-” the king trailed off as the ambulance parked only feet from them, the image distorted by the shield. With a clench of his fist, the barrier fell, and the emergency personnel swarmed around the prone Cor, peeling back the makeshift bandage with a frown.

“At least three gunshot wounds to the upper right torso, suspected lung collapse-” Clarus could only make himself back up a few feet as they lifted the man onto a gurney, and he looked over at Regis once more to see the man sway alarmingly for a moment, then rushed to support him. Did he get hit? It was impossible to tell with all the blood, but he didn’t like the look on Regis’s face-

“Let’s have you checked out as well, your majesty. Just in case,” Clarus signalled to one of the paramedics, who took one look at the monarch and beckoned them both forward.

“I’m fine, Clarus-” Regis argued half-heartedly, but Clarus was able to get him to climb into the ambulance with Cor, himself following immediately after. It was a snug fit, but they made it work, and he reached out and clasped Cor’s lax hand as they began to move, fiercely ignoring the ice trickling into his chest. This was not how the damn Immortal was going to die, he wasn’t going to allow it.  

 

-----------------

 

Nyx was watching the news broadcast of the king’s visit to the Julii Palace out of the corner of his eye as he worked on his ever-present stack of paperwork, accomplishing half as much as he normally would in his distraction. Cor had looked downright spooked when he first woke up that morning, and if it had been almost anyone else on the damn planet, Nyx would have chalked it up to a simple nightmare, but this was Cor. The fucking herald of the Dawn Mother, who had been blessed with visions before, and while they were all supposedly of the past, not of the future, he would be in no way shocked if said abilities occasionally branched out.

He didn’t like this. Not in the slightest. After reading the same piece of paper for a third time, he sighed and dropped it to the desktop, pushing away from it with a quiet grunt and getting to his feet. He needed to move. Nyx walked out of his office to see Crowe jumping to her feet with her phone smashed against her ear, her mouth forming a perfect o, and his shoulders tensed.

“What’s going on?” he nearly shouted, and the rest of the room went dead silent as Crowe nodded instinctively before hanging up, her arm dropping to her side.

“Intruders in the residential block, diplomatic floor; the Crownsguard is confronting them now. They probably won’t need us, but she asked us to be ready just in case,” Crowe said quickly, and Nyx’s eyes widened as he worked his way through reasons why they would be there.

“There isn’t anyone up there right now, is there? The princess is staying somewhere else-” Nyx’s phone rang this time, and he swiftly answered it. “Ulric.”

“Six intruders, dressed as cleaning staff; comments several of them made are leading me to believe they were looking for Prompto, not the princess. This appears to have been a coordinated kidnapping attempt, no sign of any more of them, but keep alert,” Monica said, and Nyx grunted his agreement. “I’ll call the marshal in a few minutes as soon as they are secured.”

“Thanks for the heads up, Elshett,” he replied, and after a short confirmation, he hung up. “So we just had an attempted kidnapping, unconfirmed target as of yet. They didn’t know what floor their target lived on, which was good for us, as they picked the one floor that I believe is completely unoccupied. We’ll be on alert until otherwise stated-” The sound of gunshots and screaming on the television cut off the rest of his statement, and Nyx turned towards the screen in what felt like slow-motion just in time to see Cor stagger back, blood blooming on the right side of his chest as the king threw up a shield around the three of them; the last view as the spell distorted his view of the marshal was the man collapsing into Lord Amicitia’s arms, and the camera panned out to show his borrowed Glaives leaping into action, warping to the top of a nearby apartment block and grabbing the shooter in a clean motion and warping down to the ground with him. Nyx couldn’t breathe. The Glaives and Guards managed to subdue the suspect after a short scuffle, and the commentator immediately returned to the still-active magic sphere keeping him from seeing Cor-

“Nyx!” Crowe’s voice tore his gaze from the screen, and he turned wide-eyed and stared at the woman, not really comprehending. “Nyx, call the kid, I doubt they were watching TV, and he needs to know. I’ll call Elshett.” Nyx blinked, but didn’t move. What in the world was she talking about; Cor just got shot- A sharp smack to his upper arm made the haze in his mind clear, and he took a shuddering breath and nodded to his friend. Shit, he’s acting like a fucking rookie-

“Right,” he choked out, dialing everyone’s favorite blond, who...didn’t answer. He dialed it again, his teeth clenched, and after several rings, the call was picked up.

“Ulric? What’s going on?” Gladiolus’s voice from the small speaker jarred him further, and he glanced at the screen of his phone to make sure he dialed the right person. “Ulric?”

“Where’s Prompto? I need to speak with him immediately,” he got out, his voice still strange; the intake of breath on the other end told him that Gladio could tell something was wrong, but what- Gladio broke in on his disjointed thoughts, his voice laced with barely controlled panic. What the hell was wrong now?

“Not three minutes ago, Prompto clutched at his chest, screamed, and promptly passed out. We were about to call the marshal-” Oh fuck. This couldn’t be happening, not now- Nyx strode to the corner of the office with a grimace, letting his head rest against the wall. Their bond. He had no idea it could be like this, if this killed Prompto too-

“Don’t bother calling him, he’s the reason for your situation,” Nyx said as quietly as he could manage, and again heard Gladio hiss.

“What in the fuck are you talking about? What do you mean that he’s the reason-” He cut off the younger Amicitia with a growl, the little bit of control he had over his emotions cracking at the edges.

“There was an assassination attempt on the king, Cor spotted the sniper and threw himself in front just in time to collect what looked like multiple shots in the right side of his chest. I-” he choked on his words, and listened as Gladio sighed on the other end.

“Ulric. We’ll take care of Prompto, he seems to be stable, he’s just...in pain. There’s not a mark on him. This has to do with their bond thing, doesn’t it? Fuck, I didn’t realize it could be like this...” Nyx rubbed at his chest, sighing as Gladio trailed off.

“I think we both know what it is. I don’t know what this means, what we are going to do about it-” Gladio cleared his throat, and he swallowed whatever the hell he was about to say as he pressed his forehead harder into the wall. He needed to get it together-

“-yx. Nyx! You need to go to whatever hospital they are taking Cor to, we’ve got this. Prom would want someone with Cor, so don’t stay out of weird misplaced guilt. Get out of here,” Gladio said sharply, and the younger man’s tone knocked him out of his shock enough for him to move away from the wall and gather his thoughts properly. Amicitia was right, he needed to go, but first-

“There was a kidnapping attempt by intruders just a few minutes ago as well, they hit the diplomatic rooms. Monica thinks they were after the kid. Do not leave your quarters. Not one of you. Not until we find out what in the hell is going on here,” he snarled, and Gladio luckily knew how to take orders.

“Understood. Get over to him, Captain.” The line went dead, and he forced himself to look back at the television just in time for the ambulance to pull up; the king dropped the shield to reveal Cor, unconscious, covered in blood, and looking very gray as Clarus held a makeshift bandage to the wound.

“Nyx, they’ll be going to Insomnia General East, I’ve got Libertus pulling around a car. Pelna, take the captain and get moving,” Crowe barked, and Nyx sucked in a shaky breath and stared at her. He didn’t know what he’d do without her, even as he continued to freak out internally. “Nyx, he’s a sturdy old bastard. He’ll pull through. If you stroke out before you even see him in the hospital, I’ll never let you live it down. Move!” Nyx lunged forward and gave the feisty woman a kiss on the cheek before letting Pelna drag him out the door.

“Someone contact the princess! Make sure she knows what’s going on!” he remembered as he crossed the threshold to the office, and Crowe gave a sharp nod and lifted her phone once more as he was escorted out of sight. A few minutes later saw him being all but pushed into the back of the car Libertus had pulled up in, Pelna sliding in next to him.

“Insomnia GenEast, Libs. As fast as you can,” Pelna said to Libertus, who nodded and took the instruction to heart as Nyx found himself pressed against the back of the seat as the car accelerated. “Nyx, he’s gonna make it. There’s no other choice in the matter. So take a deep breath and slow your breathing before you pass out. Come on.” Nyx groaned, pressing his palms into his eyes and doing just that a few times before sagging in his seat.

“I don’t know why I’m acting like this, it’s not like I’ve not seen this before out in the field, hell, even before I joined the Glaive-” Nyx forced himself to sit up, trying his best to brutally push down the nausea in his stomach as Pelna patted him on the back.

“One, this isn’t the fucking field, and any of us should be able to go for a walk without being shot at, king or not, and Nyx, you moron, you weren’t stupid in love with anyone you were out fighting with before, unless I really missed something,” Libertus chimed in from the front seat, and Nyx actually huffed out a laugh in response. The man had a point. “You were like this in Galahd right before we...left. So don’t feel guilty, just do what Pelna said. It’s gonna be alright. A few lousy gunshots weren’t going to be enough to take down the immortal, let alone the herald,” Libertus said bluntly, and Nyx straightened. Libertus was right, Pelna was right, they were all right. Cor was too fucking stubborn to let it keep him down for long.

“Thanks, guys. I think I just freaked out there for a few minutes. He was- he woke up this morning looking like he had seen a ghost, said he had a bad feeling he couldn’t pinpoint,” he said quietly, and Pelna turned towards him, his eyebrows raised in surprise.

“I don’t remember being able to see the future on that list of abilities, but hey, I’ll probably believe about anything at this point. Do you really think-” Nyx shrugged, and Pelna hummed in response.

“I don’t even know anymore. Could have just been a gut feeling, too. It’s not like he doesn’t have some thirty years of experience in this field, he could have just been reacting to the open-air nature of the second half of the tour…” Nyx shook his head. “Pointless to assume, I suppose. There’s going to be serious shit going down after this, I don’t know the last time there was a serious assassination attempt on home soil on the standing monarch, but I know it’s been a long time. We’d best be prepared.” Both Pelna and Libertus nodded in agreement as he settled back into the seat, letting his eyes drift closed.

Hold on, Cor. You've got this.

Libertus parked the car as close to the front as he could manage, and the three of them sped into the hospital together, drawing stares and surprised looks as Nyx approached the reception desk, the other two flanking him.

“Ma’am, we’re here to see Marshal Leonis, he would have been brought in just a short time ago-” Nyx paused and frowned at the woman’s expression, which was dubious at best. “I was informed he was brought here.” The receptionist’s eyes flicked over the three of them, then returned to him. Nyx’s hackles began to rise at the dismissive look on her face.

“I’m not authorized to tell you anything. You have no jurisdiction here, Kingsglaives, I suggest you move along,” her tone was biting, and Nyx realized with a sinking feeling that they had probably just run into someone that had been holding a sign and yelling at them just a few days prior. Shit.

“I’m the captain of the Kingsglaive, ma’am, and I have every right to be here. I’m not conducting an investigation, I’m just here to visit a friend,” he said evenly, refusing to rise to the bait; the woman scoffed and waved her hand dismissively.

“We’re not accepting visitors for him at this time. Leave, or I’ll have you escorted out.” The waiting room was filled with all sorts, but Nyx noticed with a sinking feeling that the three of them were probably the only immigrants in the room. He had never had a reason to come to the east side of the city before they started working with the Crownsguard, it was the upper crust area of town, with a large majority of the population being exclusively native. There was nothing to be done about it, he would have to call in the big guns. Frowning at the receptionist, he stepped away from the table and made a quick call, hoping desperately that he would answer.

“Amicitia.” Thank the goddess.

“My lord, it’s Ulric. We just arrived to the hospital, and we were hoping we might be able to visit the marshal?” He could hear the confused tone from the older man; he found himself understanding perfectly.

“Why the hell are you asking me? Just come on in,” Lord Amicitia stated, and after another glance at the receptionist, who was reaching for her own phone, he sighed.

“The receptionist refuses to let us pass, and has ordered us to leave the premises. I believe we are perhaps being… let’s just say that there are not many Glaives that live in this side of town, if you understand where I’m headed with this,” he said quietly, and he could hear the man’s irritation as he sighed.

“I’ll be right there. If any of them try to force you out, inform them that I’ve cleared you to be here.” The line terminated, and Nyx pocketed his phone and waited; sure enough, only a minute or so later, four burly looking security guards appeared, with the receptionist indicating them. She was a persistent xenophobe, he’d give her that. Two of the four headed forward without stopping, the third one slowed and frowned, but the fourth one froze entirely, looking back towards the receptionist.

“Alba, you know who that is, right? You really want us to kick out the head of the Kingsglaive? He’s obviously been told to come here-” the guard was cut off by Alba, who snorted and waggled her fingers at them.

“I’ve received no information on guests for the marshal, and why would a man of his caliber want to see a Glaive? Everything I’ve heard is that they hate each other; they try to get above themselves and disrupt the proper order just because they are the king’s charity pets-” Pelna actually laughed, and Nyx brought a hand to his mouth, attempting to cover his own smile.

“Pets, hm? That’s a new one to me. Captain Ulric, have you heard that one before?” Lord Amicitia emerged into the lobby, giving a sharp look at the receptionist before approaching the three of them. Nyx shook his head with a cocky smile.

“No, I’ve heard a lot of things about us, but I think being called a pet is new,” he responded, and Amicitia smirked and nodded.

“Let’s go, I’ll walk you back,” Amicitia said, and the three followed behind the shield as they passed the reception desk, the woman too cowardly to speak up against the well-known noble. “Remind me to find her supervisor later, I want her disciplined.”

“Yes, sir,” Nyx replied; after a minute of walking, he finally gathered the courage to speak up. “How- how is he doing, sir?” Amicitia sagged, his shoulders drooping as he looked over and met Nyx’s eyes.

“He lost a lot of blood, Ulric. But he made it into surgery, and all we can do now is hope that he makes it out. They’ll be able to use some potions, but only after the bullets are taken out. They warned us that it might take awhile, only one of the four shots he took actually exited the body, and at least one is lodged in a lung,” the shield suddenly stopped in the hallway, running his hand down his exhausted face. “The king would be dead right now if it wasn’t for him. The only mercy is that the shooter was using an old rifle, any modern sniper rifle would have probably just killed both of them.” Nyx blinked back sudden tears, and Amicitia grabbed his arm, an understanding look on his strong features. “Come on, we can glare at the king together until we have news on Cor.”

Nyx almost stumbled. Wait, what?

“The king is alright...right?” Libertus said hesitantly, and Nyx could have punched himself in the face on the spot. He had been so worried about Cor he hadn’t even asked about the king. He couldn’t believe himself right now.

“He got winged by the one bullet that didn’t stick around in Cor, didn’t realize it until he got here. He’s fine, they’ve already treated him, but it’s the principle of the thing,” Amicitia said bluntly, a tinge of humor in his eyes, and Nyx quirked a smile.

“That’s true. My apologies, he looked fine on television, I didn’t even think to-” Amicitia waved away his explanation, and Nyx looked at the boring tile floor for a moment, his cheeks warm.

“Ulric, out of everyone here, you had the most reason to be...thrown by what had just happened. Don’t worry about it.” Conversation died as they walked into a small room with a Guard on the door, all four of them nodding to the woman as they entered, and then Nyx’s eyes met the king’s.

“Captain Ulric,” the king said, and Nyx placed his fist to his chest and bowed.

“I’m glad to see you safe, your majesty,” he replied, and the king rose to his feet and walked up to him, reaching out and clasping his upper arm.

“Thank you, captain. Cor...I’m forever thankful to him. We’ve fought together for a long time, but this stands out above and beyond. I only wish…” the king sighed, squeezing Nyx’s arm before releasing it, bringing his hand to his beard and absently stroking it, his expression guiltier than Nyx would like. Nyx slumped, scratching at his arm and sighing.

“There’s a reason he’s the best, your majesty. We both know this. Don’t feel guilty about it,” he commented, then huffed out a laugh. “If you had gotten seriously injured or...otherwise, Cor would have never forgiven himself. While I’m certainly not thrilled about his condition, it could have been a lot worse.” Nyx looked back at Libertus and Pelna, who had both remained silent for the exchange, and gave them a tired smile. “I guess we wait, then.”

The king sat back down, and the rest of them followed suit. After a few aborted attempts at small talk, they fell into a tense silence, heads jerking up every time footsteps passed the room they were in. After some time had passed, Nyx looked over at the king, realizing he had forgotten something important.

“Your majesty, I just realized I forgot to say something...it’s of the utmost importance it stays between those in this room, however,” Nyx said quietly, and the king and Lord Amicitia both turned towards him, questioning expressions on their faces.

“What do you mean, captain?” the king asked, and Nyx scratched at his nose and sighed.

“After the shooting, I called Prompto’s phone to let him know. Gladiolus answered. Apparently at the same time that the bullets hit Cor, Prompto screamed, clutched his chest, and collapsed-” The collective intake of breath made him stop, and he grimaced. “I don’t think any of us realized the bond between the two worked like that, and if it links them this much-” Lord Amicitia crossed his arms, a serious scowl on his face.

“They’ll be easy targets if anyone finds this out, they’d be susceptible to torture, at the least. I can’t think of a greater liability for each other than this; there has to be something that they can do. I don’t suppose you know anything from your Galahdian traditions? I know that book didn’t cover everything,” the man said, and Nyx conceded with a tilt of his head.

“No, it doesn’t. According to one of the elders here in town, the bond bits were heavily glossed over or left unwritten for their protection. But you are right, there must be something, otherwise none of the other heralds and voices would have lasted very long. Maybe I can...er, delicately inquire with some of the elders again, maybe they will have an idea,” Nyx replied, looking back at the door again when footsteps passed on by.

“If the bond is this strong, Nyx, I worry that if...shit, I don’t want to say it, but say one of them dies, I think it’ll take out the other too,” Libertus said haltingly, and everyone else scowled.

“Fuck,” Pelna muttered, and the king snorted a humorless laugh.

“I would say you have the right of it, Glaive Khara-” the king cut himself off as the door to their room opened, and when a doctor stepped in, eyes tired, they all jumped to their feet. The doctor blinked at the group, but faced the king directly and bowed slightly.

“Your majesty, I am pleased to report that Marshal Leonis has survived the operation, and should make a full recovery with time. It appears that he...how might I say this, he appears to heal faster than normal people? His wounds were already showing signs of healing, but unfortunately with the bullets still within; it took some finessing to get them out because of it. The main trauma was the blood loss, he was well into a full case of hypovolemic shock by the time he was brought in, had he not reached us when he had, his chances would have been far more slim. While the physical wounds are well on their way to being fully healed, he’ll be in considerable discomfort for at least a day or two, and he’ll be tired and weak for at least several days beyond that, enhanced healing or not. If you would like to see him, he is being moved to a post-op room. I’ll have a nurse come fetch you when he’s settled,” the doctor finished, bowing again and backing towards the door; the king raised a hand, and the woman paused.

“I’m going to station a Glaive and a Guard on his door for security. I would appreciate if they are both treated with the utmost respect while they are here. Also, would it be possible for someone to remain overnight with the marshal? I know it’s not generally permitted, but it would be a kindness.” Nyx barely kept his jaw from dropping at the king’s words, forcing himself to look away from both him and the doctor while he waited for an answer.

“The guards were expected, your majesty, and will be treated well. As for the other request...it is a bit unusual, but we do have some cots available. I can have one moved in. If you can let me know who would be staying, that would be appreciated so the staff is aware.” Nyx looked back over and met the king’s gaze; the monarch dipped his head in questioning, and he nodded and gave a slight smile in response. If he was going to be allowed to stay, he was going to stay. The king indicated him with a hand, and the doctor’s eyebrows went up. Ah. Well, of all the times to be found out, this would probably be one of the better ones. Unless she thought he was an extra guard or something...

“Captain Ulric will be remaining overnight.”

The doctor gave Nyx one more inquisitive look, but left soon after; Libertus volunteered to stay as one of the guards on the door, and Pelna was asked to drive both the king and Lord Amicitia back to the Citadel after they got to see Cor. The nurse came in shortly thereafter, and the lot of them followed her until she indicated a nice single room, then leaving them to it.

“Give us a few minutes, Khara, and we’ll be ready to leave,” Lord Amicitia said, and Nyx waited outside as the two older men headed in to see him. Pelna jostled his arm against his, and Nyx turned.

“Want Crowe to pack you a bag? I’ll be back to relieve Libs in six hours or so, I can bring something then,” Pelna asked, and Nyx shrugged.

“Most of my clothes...aren’t in my quarters, but yeah, there should be enough for a small bag, thank you.” Pelna nodded as the door opened, and the king and Amicitia stepped out, both looking tired and relieved.

“He looks like he hasn’t seen the sun in weeks, but besides that, he looks a lot better than he did when he was brought in here,” Amicitia stated, reaching out and clasping Nyx’s shoulder as he leaned in. “Take care of him.” The king also came up to him a moment later, repeating the gesture.

“I’ll see how a certain person is doing and keep you informed, captain. Thank you for letting me know,” the king said, tightening his fingers before releasing. “I’m glad he has you.”

Nyx was still blinking at the monarch’s words as he bowed and watched the three of them depart, and it took Libertus poking him in the side to knock him out of it.

“Scoot. I’ll peek in later, see how he’s doing, but you need to be in there.” Libertus opened the door, and pushed Nyx in gently, closing it behind him. Well then. Nyx swallowed heavily, then walked forward; he had seen Cor unconscious for an extended period of time after the battle, but they certainly hadn’t been together then, and he had just looked like he was sleeping. His eyes focused on the prone man, ghost-pale and perfectly still; the only sounds in the room was Cor’s quiet breaths and light buzzing of the machines he was hooked up to, and forced himself to take a deep breath as he moved to Cor’s bedside.

“Well, you were right,” he said, reaching out and taking a lax hand in his own. “You had a bad feeling about today, and you were completely fucking right. I’m never going to let you live this down. I’m going to remind you of it in ten years or something, or whenever is least convenient for you. Tell everyone how your gut saved the day,” he quieted as he spoke, letting his thumb run across the back of the unconscious man’s hand. “Fuck.” He pulled up a chair and sat down, then lifted Cor’s hand once more and bringing it to his lips. “Please do not get injured like this again, I can’t take it. Cor the fucking Immortal isn’t supposed to be the one looking half-dead in the hospital,” he whispered, brutally ignoring the tear that worked its way down his cheek as he settled back in the chair, still holding his lover’s hand.

Nyx didn’t bother moving when a nurse and orderly came in together to both check on Cor and bring a cot for him; luckily, neither of the two commented, and they left them alone soon enough. Libertus popped in with a sandwich and drink for him some time later, said hello to the still-out Cor, and bid him a good night; Pelna gave him the bag Crowe had packed for him, passing on that Prompto was having phantom chest pains and was a bit groggy, but was otherwise mostly better. He killed a few minutes doing some carefully phrased phone calls, but the only lead he got was from Elder Drusilla mentioning her well-connected sister in Galahd. Insomnia was pretty much tapped out for Dawnsworn info, as far as he could tell. They would have to look elsewhere. A nurse popped in one more time to check on Cor, and after she left, he changed into a t-shirt and pajama pants and climbed onto the cot, wriggling around until he got somewhat comfortable before reaching out and running his hand down Cor’s arm.

“Good night, babe. I’ll see you in the morning.”

If the nurses came in overnight, he didn’t notice, and he woke to see the early morning sun creeping in the windows, and the sounds of someone who was starting to rouse. He dragged his aching body off the uncomfortable cot and got to his feet, grinning at the sight of a far more hale looking Cor shifting about on the bed. Nyx knew he'd probably still be out for the count if their positions were switched, and he found himself very thankful that the goddess seemed to like her representatives sturdy.

“Muhrmmmm,” Cor muttered in his sleep, and Nyx pulled up a chair with a smile, sitting down and taking Cor’s hand, waiting for him to wake up. It didn’t take long. “Agh, wha-” Cor’s eyes cracked open slowly, first the right then the left, and Nyx tightened his grip on the man’s hand to make sure he knew he was there. “N-nyx?” Nyx could feel the tension in his spine release, his posture slumping on the spot as he leaned over and kissed the top of Cor’s hand.

“I’m here, babe. You’re in Insomnia General East, you were brought here after the attack,” he said, kissing the man’s hand one more time before standing up to look him better in the eye; Cor’s expression was exhausted and strained, but clear, his eyes tracking Nyx’s movements without difficulty. “Before you worry, you saved the day; the king got scraped by one of the bullets that hit you, but he was patched up in minutes. You, on the other hand, needed major surgery. You’ll be a mess for a few days, and you might have to do some light physical therapy on your arm, but you’ll be fine-” Nyx choked on the last word, looking away from Cor to the boring yellow wall, blinking back sudden tears. Why in the hell was he crying now? Cor was awake, he was clearly on the mend-

“Nyx?” Cor’s voice was quiet, but the thread of concern he could hear in it made him look back down in shame. Okay, he wouldn’t tease Cor again if he got a little out of hand the next time he got sick- “They got the shooter, right?” The Guard’s expression was wry, with a slight smile on his face, but Cor had clearly decided to take pity on him and stick to other topics.

“Yeah, pretty much immediately. You saved the day, old man.” Cor snorted, then grimaced in obvious pain as his shoulder was jostled.

“Since it sounds like everyone is alive, I’ll take it. Anything-” Nyx felt his cheeks warm as Cor focused his full gaze firmly on him. “-anything else I need to know?” Oh shit. Yeah, there was one giant thing, but this wasn’t the most secure place-

“One other thing, but not here. We’ll talk about it after you get discharged,” he said evenly, and Cor’s eyes widened, but he nodded slightly. Nyx smiled in relief, then leaned over and kissed the man firmly before withdrawing. “I’ll be staying with you until they let you out.” Cor turned his head, clearly seeing the cot, and raised an eyebrow.

“How did you manage that?” Cor asked, and Nyx smirked.

“The king asked, actually. I was totally shocked, but I wasn’t going to argue it,” Nyx said, shrugging, and Cor cracked a smile.

“He’s occasionally helpful, I will give him that,” Cor commented drily, and Nyx barked out a laugh, leaning over one more time and kissing the older man’s forehead before pressing his own against his.

“Try not to get shot again, you idiot. I’d appreciate it.” Cor’s eyes crinkled at the edges as he huffed in amusement.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

In the end, Cor wasn’t discharged until the evening of the next day, and Libertus drove a sore Nyx (those cots were deadly) and still rather wrung-out Cor back to the Citadel, where they met a joyous gathering of both Crownsguards and Kingsglaives giving Cor careful pats on the back and varying renditions on the atta-boy theme before they finally let them go; a short, quiet conversation with the king followed, then Nyx steered the clearly dragging Cor onto the elevator and back towards their quarters. About two seconds after they walked into the room, the door closing behind them, Cor turned towards Nyx with a frown.

“Where’s Prompto? I’ve not heard a thing from him besides a text message yesterday-” Nyx grimaced, and Cor scowled. “I’m guessing this is what you wouldn’t tell me in the hospital. What in the world is going on?” Nyx pulled off his boots, stacking them in the shoe rack before walking over and flopping down onto the sofa, feeling his spine pop in several places. Ow. He listened to Cor sigh behind him as he removed his own shoes, then the couch dipped as the other man sat down next to him. “Well? Nyx opened his mouth for a moment, then closed it again; he repeated the motion several times before he finally just spit it out.

“Prompto...when you got shot, he clutched his chest, screamed in pain, and collapsed. Luckily, he was in his usual location, so the only people who you expect-”  Nyx trailed off as Cor jumped to his feet, and he scrambled to his feet right after him and grabbed him around the waist. “Cor, he’s fine! It all appeared to be phantom pains coming from your-” Cor turned in his arms, a wild-eyed look on his face.

“Is it supposed to be like this? What if I had died? Does that mean-” Cor forced out between his teeth, and Nyx shook his head.

“I honestly don’t know. As I mentioned around New Years, the bonding stuff was pretty much left out of the book for your safety, the problem is that it’s been so long since there was another herald and voice that all but the probably far more accessible knowledge is gone. I did tell the king and Lord Amicitia, they both agreed that it’s a very serious problem. If it got out-” Cor pulled away from him, stomping into the kitchen and getting himself a glass of water. Nyx groaned and ran a hand through his hair before following him. “Cor-”

“I refuse to be the reason Prompto dies prematurely. It’s not an option. I’ll retire right fucking now if that’s what it takes,” Cor said, slamming his glass on the counter; Nyx crossed his arms and looked down at the floor for a moment, trying to collect his thoughts. While Cor’s solution would probably lessen the chances of it affecting them, Nyx was pretty damn sure it would work both ways.

“Cor. While that’s a very noble idea, I have a sneaking suspicion that it works both ways. You can’t tell me that Prompto wouldn’t say the same damn thing if we asked him. He’d hate it, but he’d stay locked in the prince’s quarters for the rest of his fucking life if it kept you safe, and you know it. You two are really similar sometimes,” Nyx sighed once more, then straightened his bank and shook his head. “No, there’s got to be a way to fix this. I’ve already talked with the few elders here in Insomnia, I’m positive I’ve tapped them for everything they know. We need to go to Galahd,” Nyx announced, and watched as Cor swallowed heavily, then nodded.

“Then that’s what we’ll do,” the marshal said firmly, downing the rest of his water before putting the glass into the sink far more carefully than his previous treatment of it.

“It can wait a few days, though, you need to rest,” Nyx smiled, reaching out and running his hand down Cor’s jaw. “...and shave. If you let your beard go, the whole Citadel will think the end of times is coming or something.” Cor, after a pause, bit playfully in the direction of Nyx’s fingers, and he laughed, grabbing the older man around the waist again and urging him towards the bedroom. “We can talk to the kid in the morning, bed now.”

A nice shower and shave later, the two of them were tucked into bed, Nyx’s hand running through Cor’s hair as they got comfortable. Suddenly, Cor stiffened, and he pulled his hand away in concern.

“Cor?” Cor lifted his head just enough for Nyx to catch his eye.

“Isn’t the anniversary tomorrow?” Ah shit, he had forgotten all about it-

“Oh shit, you’re right. I’m surprised no one has called us yet-” Cor patted his stomach with his free hand as he set his head back down on his chest.

“Sleep now, it’ll come first thing in the morning,” Cor said, and Nyx decided that the old man had a point, closing his eyes and letting everything fade away.

Cor was right, of course. After a deluge of phone calls, Cor sat next to him in bed staring blankly at the wall before suddenly turning and kissing him.

“What’s that for?” Nyx asked, and Cor gave him a shy little smile.

“Not the best lead up the last few days, and I apologize for that, but happy birthday.” Nyx’s jaw dropped, and the older man used his surprise to nibble at his neck for a moment, eliciting a laugh out of him.

“I had completely forgotten. Shit-” Cor’s answering laughter made Nyx’s heart sing with joy and relief, and if they lounged around in bed for far longer than originally planned, the rest of the world could go jump in a lake.

 

-----------------------

 

The four hours or so where Prompto thought his chest was being torn apart was possibly the most frightening thing he had been through in his life, and he had faced an astral and came out the other side. When the pain finally subsided enough for him to be able to focus on his surroundings, he was laying in bed, Noctis and Gladio each holding one of his hands, while Ignis had a hand resting on his stomach, and Luna a hand on his knee. Everything ached.

“Prompto? Can you hear me?” Luna asked, and before he could speak, she reached out with a glowing hand and touched his forehead, the pain immediately calming down another fifty percent. That was nice of her, and after a few attempts, he finally got his mouth working to say so.

“T-thank you, Luna. That’s really helpful,” Prompto got out, and Luna smiled sweetly and brushed his bangs out of his eyes.

“I am pleased I am still able to do this, despite everything,” Luna said, pulling away from Prompto and putting her hands in her lap. Noctis squeezed his hand and frowned at Gladio, who sighed.

“Prom, what do you feel?” Gladio asked, and Prompto opened his mouth to answer automatically, only to shut it again. He didn’t ask how he felt, he asked what. Why would he- Prompto closed his eyes and concentrated as well as he could manage, but the instant he tried to reach out to Cor, the pain began to swell again, and his eyes shot open.

“What happened to Cor?” he gasped, and Gladio grimaced as Noct’s eyebrows shot up, his expression going pale.

“They were out doing a tour and a meet-and-greet, Prom, he, dad, and Clarus-” Noctis stiffened and gave a desperate glare at the shield, Gladio quickly shaking his head.

“Yes, Noct, it was an assassination attempt. Yes, they were aiming for the king, Cor saw and took the hit. The person who called Prom’s phone earlier was Nyx, who could barely get two words out at first. I told him what had happened to Prom, he told me that Cor was injured, and I told the idiot to get to the hospital, because he sounded like his fucking world was about to end. The fact that you are awake bodes well for both of you, I think. I hope,” Gladio trailed off with a sigh, and Prompto could see that everyone was glaring at Gladio, except Luna, who had an expression that told him that she knew what had happened.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Ignis asked flatly, and Prompto looked back to see Gladio scratch sheepishly at the back of his head.

“We were worried about Prompto, and I didn’t want everyone to freak out about that, too. I’m sorry, it probably wasn’t the best idea, but it sounded good at the time,” Gladio admitted, and Noct sucked in a pointed hiss of air between his teeth in response before sighing.

“Whatever. So this...it’s about you and Cor’s bond, isn’t it? I thought it was supposed to be helpful, not take each other out if one of you gets hurt?” Noct asked, and Prompto blinked, staring at the sea of faces around him and shook his head.

“I don’t know, I honestly don’t know- but Cor, is he okay? We can figure out the bond stuff later, but you’re telling me that Cor’s hurt-” Prompto had to take a few deep breaths before he could move, but he managed to sit up, then bent forward and started to crawl towards the end of the bed, leaving the others to scramble and shift around him.

“Prompto, I am also quite concerned, but perhaps it would be best you remain in bed? You had quite the attack-” Prompto shook his head, cutting Luna off as he swung his legs over the headboard; after taking a moment to collect himself, he got to his feet, swaying more than he would like as he stumbled out of the room, the others in his wake.

“I just wanna see the news, I’m not trying to leave-” he said, and Gladio groaned, leading to the lot of them staring at him as Prompto fell onto the sofa and fumbled for the television remote.

“What now?” Noct whinged, and the older man smacked his forehead and sighed once more.

“I forgot, Nyx told us not to leave the room for now, there was a kidnapping attempt on the floor with the diplomatic quarters, they aren’t sure if they were after the princess or Prom yet, but he said Monica thinks they were after Prom-” Gladio choked as Ignis landed a solid smack to the back of his head, following immediately with a light soothing stroke.

“Do not keep things like that from us again, Gladio. I know you were trying to keep everything calm, but it’s not helpful in the long run,” Ignis said, and Prompto actually cracked a bit of a smile as the shield gave a contrite look that that made him look like an oversized mastiff. Iggy had a point. He turned back towards the TV and turned it on as Noct came and sat down beside him, and Prompto realized he wouldn’t even need to change the channel.

The news had been broadcasting live when the shooting occurred, and they watched the replay in slow motion as the sun broke through the clouds, Cor turning and looking towards it, only to glance down in the space of a blink and step in front of the king, collecting multiple shots in the right side of his chest less than a second later. Prompto rubbed at his chest as they watched, the memory of how it had felt to him still far too fresh. The footage showed the king’s barrier spell, the take-down of the shooter, then the ambulance arriving; Prompto gasped at the size of the lake of blood that seemed to be under Cor as they lifted him onto the gurney, then they watched as Cor, the king, and Lord Amicitia all climbed into the ambulance and sped away.

“Shit,” he muttered, and Noct nodded.

“Yeah, that about sums it up. I think I’ll call dad, see if there’s any updates-” A rapid knock on the door made Noct pause, and Luna rose to her feet as an exhausted looking King Regis stepped into the room, his clothes torn and covered in what Prompto knew was dry blood. Cor’s blood. His eyes began to tingle, and he quickly sniffled and tried to get to his feet, only to be stopped by a raised hand.

“Relax, Prompto. Am I guessing you all just found out?” the king asked, and received a mixed answer of yes from Noct, Iggy, and Prompto, and no from Luna and Gladio. The man raised a somewhat bewildered eyebrow at the response, but continued on. “Cor will be fine. He collected four gunshots in his chest, but the surgery to remove the three that stayed was successful, and the doctors expect no major complications given that he appears to heal faster than normal. He was mainly in danger from the blood loss, but they do expect him to make a full recovery. He’ll probably be in the hospital for a day or two, then I’m guessing off work for at least a week. I’ve arranged to have Captain Ulric stay with him, which means Monica Elshett and Crowe Altius are currently running the Guard and the Glaive respectively until they are both back on duty. He saved my life,” the king finished softly, then walked a step closer and looked directly at Prompto, who stiffened. “How are you feeling? I understand that you fell unconscious at the same time as the attack?” Prompto looked down at the coffee table, his relief from hearing about Cor’s improved condition mixed with worry over the situation in general. Was the bond supposed to be so...binding?

“I hurt, mainly on the right side of my chest, which makes a lot more sense now. I really just feel drained and tired, though, which if I’m feeling some weird reflection of what he is, also makes sense. I’m sure he was knocked out for the surgery,” he said quietly, then forced himself to look up, meeting the king’s eyes. “What are we gonna do? If I get hurt or something, will this happen to him? I can’t- I don’t want to be responsible for him getting hurt, or worse, I can’t be, he’s so important-” Noct wrapped his arms around him and pulled him closer, stopping his increasingly manic tirade before he could really get going.

“You know he’s going to say the same thing, Prom, so don’t even get started. There’s gotta be something, so don’t panic, and we can figure it out once he’s back here at the Citadel,” Noct stated, and Prom almost kissed him in relief. That was exactly what he needed to hear. Prompto took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. He could do this. They would figure this out.

“Do you think I could go visit?” he asked the king, but wasn’t surprised when the older man gave him a sympathetic look and a shake of his head.

“Due to the kidnapping plot and the shooting, let alone the revelations of what serious injury seems to mean for you two, I think it best that you all remain here for now. I do apologize. It’s not what I would want either,” the king said, and Prompto nodded slightly in understanding.

“It’s okay, sir. I am glad to see that you are unharmed. I know Cor would have been furious if something had happened to you,” he said, a hint of a smile on his face, and the king actually huffed out a laugh and ran his knuckle down his beard in what Prompto would call a nervous tic. Huh.

“Take care of yourself, Prompto, and please stay on this floor for now. I would ask the same to you, Luna.” Luna frowned but nodded, and the king nodded to the lot of them and took a step back. “I need to go get cleaned up, I will see you all later.”

Prompto fell into an uneasy sleep that night, worried about Cor and what their bond meant for them, but after several starts and stops, he finally drifted off. He slept well into the next morning, only waking up when a concerned Iggy jostled him lightly awake around lunchtime.

“How are you feeling, Prompto?” Iggy asked, and Prompto wriggled around for a moment and smiled.

“A lot better, actually,” he said, and Iggy smiled at him before leaning in and giving him a soft kiss.

“That’s good to hear.”

While they didn’t want him to go anywhere, he did send a quick text to Cor, wishing him a speedy recovery. The response he got back was a bit garbled, which he found hilarious, but Prompto was pretty much positive they had Cor on painkillers from the odd floaty feeling he occasionally felt. He’d excuse it.

Nyx brought Cor home the next day to an impromptu mini-celebration, from what he had heard from Libertus, but Prompto had been asked once again to stay put, and the others all remained with him as well. He could tell the marshal was still worn out, and he could only hope that Nyx threaded him through the crowd quickly so he could get some sleep.

When they were all sitting down to eat dinner a short time later, something suddenly came to mind, and Prompto looked up in trepidation.

“Isn’t the anniversary tomorrow?” Gladio’s eyes went comically wide, along with Noct’s; Iggy shook his head and sighed, but Prompto could see the amusement in his eyes.

“Did you all forget?” Iggy asked, and Prompto scratched at his nose and chuckled.

“Well, it’s been a hectic few days, Iggy, I forgot all about it between the random pain and all-” Prompto cut himself off at the vaguely distressed looks that were suddenly on everyone's faces, and shook his head. “Sorry.”

“So we'll talk to Cor after the event, figure out what we are gonna do about this,” Gladio started, and before Prompto could even open his mouth, Gladio gave him a sharp look. “Yes, I meant we , Prompto. You don't think we'll leave you two to to figure this out all by yourselves, do you? You know Nyx will say the same thing about Cor as well, so don't think it's just us.” Noct and Ignis nodded firmly in agreement, and Prompto could feel his cheeks warm as he dipped his head and stuffed more pasta in his mouth. Alright. He’d shut up. It’s not like they’ve been kindly pummelling him over the head with their care and concern for years or anything-

After the events of the previous three days, the anniversary event was rather anti-climactic; security was at maximum as the lot of them stood outside, the first group consisting of Cor, Luna, Noct, and himself right up front, with Ignis, Gladio, and several of the Glaives and Guards up with the second group along with Madame Highwind, in recognition of her efforts to liberate Tenebrae. The assassination attempt had apparently shocked the city enough that there hadn’t been a single protest or even a harsh article in the days since, and even some of the more hard-line media had issued statements wishing for the king’s continuing good health, and the marshal’s swift recovery. Well, until today. There was a group off to the side with signs, but they were largely behaving themselves. Maybe the moment of goodwill was still hanging on, even if just a little.

A plaque was unveiled and a short speech was read by the king, once again emphasizing brotherhood and acceptance and a bunch of other virtues that Prompto could tell were going right over the heads of that group standing off to the side with their hateful signs, but there was nothing to be done about them. Either they changed, or they didn’t; he was all too aware of the xenophobic undercurrents of the city, unfortunately, and he knew that generally they could give a rat’s ass about fluffy, inspirational speeches. His stomach was still churning a bit, though; after all, they had missed the shooter that had nearly killed the king until the last possible second-

Prompto decided his time was better spent glancing occasionally at Cor instead. The man looked hale, but tired, and he had a feeling that Cor would much rather be in bed resting than standing for some ceremony only three days after he almost died. Prompto had a suspicion that the king had given him an out, though, and the forever-dutiful Cor insisted on showing anyway. Of course. The king wrapped up his speech while he was sizing up Cor’s condition, indicating them with a regal sweep of his hand; all of them found themselves doing an awkward sort of mini-bow to the crowd, then they thankfully followed the king back inside the Citadel.

“Was that it?” Noct asked bluntly, leading to an eyeroll from Lord Amicitia and an indulgent smile from the king.

“There’s a semi-formal party this evening here at the Citadel, I won’t ask you all to stay long, but if you could perhaps make an appearance for an hour or so, I would appreciate it. Cor, you are not included in that statement. You would know all about it if you had read the paperwork I know Mr. Scientia brought to you, Noctis,” the king said, and Noct grimaced, but nodded as Iggy looked like he was making a list in his head. Next to him, Cor slumped a bit and pinched at the bridge of his nose, his fatigue clear, and Prompto sidled closer and gently bumped his side.

“Hey,” he said, and Cor turned tired eyes on him, the older man making a clear effort to dredge up something resembling a smile. “How are you feeling?” Their eyes met, and for a strange, eerie moment, Prompto swore he felt a torrent of aches and pains surge through his body for a moment, along with an abject sense of worry and fatigue, and he gasped, jerking his gaze away. “You aren’t okay, what am I asking-” Cor put his left hand on his shoulder (it had not escaped him that Cor was moving his right arm rather gingerly) and coaxed him back around, his expression starkly concerned.

“Prompto, did you just-” Cor started, but Prompto shook his head desperately, and Cor paused with a frown.

“Maybe we should find somewhere to talk? Just the two of us?” he whispered, and Cor sighed.

“Probably best,” Cor stated quietly, and after a few quick discussions and farewells, Prompto walked for a minute alongside Cor until the older man reached over, wrapping his left arm around his shoulders and stepping; he was proud that he barely stumbled as they appeared in Cor’s quarters, and they both took a moment to free themselves from their shoes before relaxing on the sofa. Prompto took no time in snuggling up to the older man, who wrapped his arm around his shoulders again and let him get comfortable.

“I’m not hurting you, right?” Prompto asked, and Cor shook his head before heaving a deep sigh. “So what are we gonna do?”

“I- I honestly don’t know. When Nyx told me what had happened to you, I was- I was horrified. I’m nearly fifty, Prompto, I’m hardly a boy anymore; the last thing I want to do is take you out with me. You’ve got so much time, so much promise-” Okay, maybe everyone had a point with the comparisons between the two of them, but really, did Cor think he was just going to accept his well-meaning bullshit? Prompto turned his face towards the older man’s chest and thumped his forehead lightly into it.

“No, don’t even start. I said something similar to the guys a few days ago, just in reverse, and Noct told me to cut it out. And you know what? They’re right. We need to figure this out. There’s gotta be something, or none of the dawnsworn would have survived very long,” he said, and after a long pause, Prompto was beginning to worry that he had somehow ticked off Cor- then he felt the man’s chest vibrate under his cheek, his jaw dropping as he pulled away enough to look up at the quietly laughing Cor.

“Nyx told me pretty much the same yesterday, said that we are perhaps a bit too similar sometimes. We do both tend to jump to the worst conclusion when it comes to ourselves, and it’s perhaps not the best way of dealing with things,” Cor said, his lips still curled in a smile; Prompto grinned at the older man in response before groaning.

“Why are they all right?” he groused, and Cor snorted.

“Because they know us all too well, I’m afraid. Did you four discuss any options or ideas?” Cor asked, and Prompto shook his head.

“Not really, we figured it best to wait for you.” Cor shifted slightly, bringing up his right arm and slowly rotating his shoulder with a grimace.

“Nyx thinks we need to go to Galahd, that any information we could find here is exhausted. I think he’s right, at the minimum, it’s our best lead for information besides-” Cor paused, his smile turning a bit wry, and Prompto tilted his head in askance.

“Besides…?”

“Asking her directly, of course,” Cor said bluntly, and Prompto facepalmed. He talked to her at least once a month, why hadn’t he thought of that this time? He was such an idiot. Prompto shifted so he was sitting mostly upright, just leaning lightly against the other man.

“We should go do that then,” he said, and Cor’s eyebrows flew up as he lowered his right arm back to his side.

“Now? What about the party?” Cor asked, and Prompto smiled and waggled a finger at the man, getting a dubious expression in response.

“The king already excused you, and they don’t expect me back in time. The guys said they would go for a while to make up for it,” he explained, inwardly cheering when Cor rolled his eyes and nodded.

“You just wanted to get out of the party, didn’t you?” Cor commented drily, and Prompto grinned, settling his head back down onto Cor’s arm and closing his eyes.

“Maybe a little.”

The familiar meadow exploded into life around him, and he looked around to see Cor bowing to the goddess, who looked unexpectedly grim as he approached the two of them. She summoned up a smile for the two of them, however, reaching out and brushing their cheeks with her hands before withdrawing.

“It is good to see you two well. I was incredibly worried about Cor after such a horrid injury, but the magic and technology of your world has gone far since the fall of Solheim,” the goddess said, looking between the two of them before beckoning them to sit. “I am quite sure I know why you are here, unfortunately, and it comes down to me telling you a little story.” Prompto blinked, turning and meeting Cor’s equally confused eyes before returning his attention to the Dawn Mother, who was looking directly at him. “When you were a young child, still trapped in that horrible place you were born in, I beseeched Cor to go retrieve you and bring you to safety. However, and I know he definitely thought so at the time, I gave him very little instruction beyond that. I know the night before you came to your great city, he tortured himself over what he would do with you: would he take you in, raise you as his own? Would he anonymously leave you at a place so another could help you? He desperately wanted to ask me, but he did not try to reach for me, and I did not summon him. In the end, as you know, he convinced himself that he would be a poor parent, and carefully took you to the place you would stay until another took you in,” Eos said, and Prompto turned again to see that Cor had gone bone white, his eyes glossy with unshed tears. Aw hell. He scooted closer and leaned against the man, wrapping an arm around his waist. The goddess gave them both a sad smile before sighing, a fathomless sound that made his heart fall into his stomach. “What I didn’t tell either of you is this: in my heart, I truly wanted Cor to take you in; although he thought otherwise, I think we both know he would have been a fantastic father to you, as he has shown in his own way over the past year. However, I said nothing because I feared that doing so would have killed the two of you, and I was hoping against hope that you would succeed that day a year ago and survive the encounter.”

“W-what?” Cor sputtered, and Prompto tightened his arm around Cor’s waist and stared at the goddess in shock before his brain finally kicked in. Wait.

“This has to do with the bond thing, right?” he asked, and she nodded.

“Yes. The longer you two interact, the stronger it grows; major events or traumas can accelerate your link as well, as you have both definitively discovered over the last year. You went from barely sensing him to being able to borrow his energy, as it were, during your attempt to help your friends; then the two of you have spent a lot of time together, getting to truly know each other, and it’s grown in other ways, such as your situation a few months back regarding privacy-” Prompto felt as Cor took a deep breath, heaving an incredibly deep sigh as he exhaled.

“So it’s only going to get stronger, is it?” Cor finally got out, and Eos’s mouth quirked up at the edges.

“Not all of my chosen link so naturally, but you two are quite similar in many ways, and your clear feelings of paternal regard have lent your bond a strength that cannot be diminished. Unfortunately, the newest trauma with the heinous attack upon your king has exacerbated the issue; before, most of your...transference was mental or spiritual, as it were, with the exception of your issues of a few months ago, but you are now having physical reactions to each other’s pain. Prompto was able to sense your very condition with a look not an hour ago, although he did not know how he did it,” the Dawn Mother spoke as she looked down at the grass with a frown, playing with a blade of grass with long slender fingers. “You have come for help in controlling this, to keep it from overwhelming you both, but I cannot help you. I can do much, but this is the one thing in which I cannot interfere. The finalizing of the bond is a test, the apex of a pilgrimage, and it is expected that you two handle this on your own.” The sound Cor made in his throat made Prompto cringe, and he leaned towards her, a question on his tongue.

“How were we to know? Is there someone who would know what we need to do, if you can’t say anything?” he asked, and the goddess frowned.

“Those who would instruct on how the bond was managed and controlled are long dead, their bones crumbled to dust; there was once great priests that aided my chosen in the bond and their duties, but the last of these died many centuries ago. Information is scarce, because even in antiquity, there were those who exploited the bond between herald and voice to keep them under control. I always meant it to be a link of souls, familial or otherwise, as a way of bringing a sacred link between my chosen, but in my ignorance others took advantage of it. My ancient followers would often instruct them on how to utilize and protect themselves against such manipulation, but I had no direct part in it. I am afraid you will have to seek your answers for both the bond rites and your defense of your bond in the waking world,” the goddess stated, her voice guilt-ridden and sad, and Prompto slumped, but kept his hold on the increasingly tense Cor.

“Well, I guess that’s what we’ll do, then. Nyx suggested Galahd, right? We’ll go there,” he said, addressing the older man almost desperately; he realized in horror that he could feel Cor’s guilt and anger, like it was being scraped onto his own skin by a butter knife, and he didn’t want Cor to say something he would later come to regret. They could handle this. They had to. The Dawn Mother wasn’t stupid, though, and Prompto almost cringed as she looked up and met Cor’s eyes directly.

“You would hardly be the first to yell at me, herald, so if you need to say something, do so. You have more reason than most.” Cor took a deep breath, then another; Prompto let his face dig into the man’s chest, hoping that it would distract him. It sounded childish, but he didn’t want them to fight-

“Tell me, my lady. Have others died in the past due to the bond? Or, more accurately, how many? Was this always going to be our fate?” Cor ground out, his teeth bared, and Prompto finally threw decorum to the wind and threw both arms around the older man, hoping to calm him down. Eos frowned, but shook her head.

“Not as many as you suspect, Cor. But it has happened in the past, I will not lie to you,” the goddess spoke, her voice momentarily cool, but she sighed, reaching out and letting her fingers run through Prompto’s hair. “I certainly hope it is not your fate, my loves, I have every hope that you will both lead long happy lives before you join your ancestors and predecessors in the afterlife. Seek your answers, my herald, my voice; you might just be surprised at what you find.”

Prompto met Cor’s eyes, begging him without speaking to let it go; Cor brought up his free arm and pinched at the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes for a moment before letting his head drop. The Dawn Mother reached forward once more, letting her fingers trace the lines of both his and Cor’s faces before dropping her arm.

“Good luck, my chosen. I have faith in you.”

Prompto came to first, his eyes blinking at the coffee table as Cor groaned and shifted; a noise behind him got him to look up and catch a glimpse of near-black hair as Nyx rounded the sofa.

“Let me just say that you two scared the shit out of me for a moment, okay? Neither of you two would move or respond, but then I thought about it and decided to wait it out,” Nyx grumbled, but his eyes were light with relief, and Prompto nodded his thanks as he pulled himself away from Cor, stretching his arms over his head before indicating the older man with a tilt of his head.

“That...could have gone better,” he said to the Glaive, his voice tentative, and Nyx’s brow furrowed in confusion just as Cor’s eyes flew open, his face twisting into a rather epic scowl.

“You’re too damn nice sometimes, Prompto. I just wanted to say a few things, that’s all-” Cor muttered, but Prompto crossed his arms with a dubious expression.

“Is this like how you used to say a few things as a kid? Because I figured as pissed as you were, there was going to be some things said that you were gonna regret later, so forgive me if I wanted to...defuse the situation,” he said bluntly, and he could see Nyx’s eyes widen in surprise as he and Cor stared at each other for a long moment, their expressions mutually annoyed before both of them sagged and dropped their gazes. “I didn’t want you two to argue,” he said, his voice small; he heard Cor sigh before he found himself gathered into the older man’s arms, and Prompto burrowed his head into the firm chest and sighed quietly.

“You’re right. If she doesn’t know, or she can’t tell us, it is what it is. I was furious at her for not saying anything before, but I can guess what she was thinking; full disclosure and I would have turned her down all those years ago. I’m not thrilled about her secrecy, but I suppose it’s to be expected out of a goddess,” Cor said quietly, and Prompto swallowed heavily. Would he have said no? Would either of them have? No. He knew he would have still gone through with it, and despite Cor’s irritation, he was pretty sure- “Knowing what I know now, though, I would have still gone through with it. There was too much at stake. For all the irritations and inconveniences, it’s definitely been for the better.” A hand that was definitely not Cor’s landed on Prompto’s head, ruffling his hair, and he turned his face to see Nyx sitting on the coffee table with a thoughtful smile.

“So you two were arguing with the goddess, huh? Or, to be more accurate, Cor wanted to argue with her, and you turned those big eyes of yours on him and got him to chill. That was probably the better idea,” Nyx said, his tone amused, and Prompto chuckled as Cor grumbled at the both of them as he pushed Prompto off of him.

“You two don’t need to agree, in fact, feel free not to,” Cor groused, and Prompto scooted off the sofa and sat down next to Nyx, bumping the other man’s shoulder with his own.

“Too late, you’ve gotta deal with both of us now,” he said, and Cor got to his feet and walked out of the room to the chorus of he and Nyx laughing. After a minute of hearing him stomp around the apartment, Cor’s voice drifted back into the room.

“Hey Nyx, did you tell Prompto it’s your birthday today?” Cor said, his tone deceptively light, and Prompto’s eyes swiveled to the Glaive, who cringed.

“It’s your birthday?” Prompto whined, and Nyx looked away quickly, his ears turning a bit pink. “Why didn’t you say anything?” he asked, and the older man sighed and scratched at the back of his head.

“Honestly, it’s never been a big thing for me since I was younger, and combined with it falling on the day of the battle, I just kinda...forgot about it. Cor actually reminded me last night,” Nyx said sheepishly, and Prompto rolled his eyes.

“You forgot your own birthday? Really? That’s...depressing. We’ll have to remedy this later,” he said, and Nyx sighed.

“You really don’t have to, kid. Really. I appreciate the thought though-” Prompto’s dull-eyed stare cut him off handily, and he sighed. “You really are deadly with those things. Fine. Just don’t make it too crazy, alright?” the Glaive asked plaintively, and Prompto grinned and patted him on the back.

“I would never.”

Chapter Text

“So Galahd, then,” the king asked, and Cor and Prom both nodded. “I’m not really sold on the idea of sending both you and Captain Ulric on your...research trip at the same time, Cor; while you do have a valid reason beyond wanting to bring your partner along-” Noct snorted out barely controlled laughter, and Gladio had to bite his tongue to keep from joining in as Cor began to flush. “-but for both of you to leave at the same time? I’m not entirely sure about this,” the king frowned, and Nyx leaned forward.

“I know it’s unorthodox, your majesty, but I believe I am the best choice to accompany them to Galahd, and I would have said the same thing even if we weren’t...involved. I have contacts and distant family there, and people know me. Galahd had always held their secrets close, as I think you are aware, and I truly believe I’m their best option,” Nyx said with complete sincerity, and Gladio watched as the king and his father shared a weighty look before turning back to the lot of them.

“Do you think Crowe Altius is ready to lead the Kingsglaive in your absence?” Nyx’s immediate and firm nod was answer enough, and the king looked down at the table for a long moment before looking up, looking over at Gladio, Noct, and Iggy. “Very well. So it will be Cor, Captain Ulric, Prompto, and you three, because I know damn good and well that you would all borrow a car and follow them if I didn’t expressly approve, and anyone else?” Nyx nodded, and the king returned his gaze to him.

“Libertus Ostium has asked to come with us as well,” Nyx stated, and the king gave a slight shrug and a nod, and then stared at the table once more.

“So seven of you-” the king trailed off as Luna, who had been utterly silent the whole exchange, rose to her feet.

“Madam Highwind and myself would accompany them as well, your majesty, if you and the others permit us. Aranea is in agreement, we would travel with them until we reach Galahd, then we would make our way back to Tenebrae from there. I thought it might be fun to see Lucis proper in some way before heading home, and I truly wish to see if I might help Cor and Prompto in some way,” Luna said, and the king raised an eyebrow.

“Is Lady Highwind aware of the true nature of the expedition?” the king asked, and Luna wobbled a hand in the air in a rather casual response.

“She is aware that the general plan is to reach Galahd to both visit and research, but she is unaware of the reason why. While I do trust her completely, it is not my secret to tell,” Luna stated firmly, and the king, his father, and Cor all nodded in understanding. Gladio turned back towards the king, who was clearly doing a bit of counting.

“So, nine. Two cars at least, then,” the monarch looked towards his dad again, who nodded; Gladio frowned slightly and waited for the ball to drop. “Very well. I would ask that you not proceed directly to Galahd. The instant the media found out about your trip, it would be harder to disguise your intent if you all went straight there. I suggest couching it in...an exploratory trip of sorts, and while you are at it, you can note any issues and keep me informed about any areas of concern. Perhaps not the most formal survey of the country, but it would be a helpful task. Would you do this for me?” the king asked, and the whole table nodded as one. “Excellent. I’ll leave it to you all to plan your logistical matters, although I would recommend waiting at least a few more days until departure. Cor still looks a bit peaked, and it wouldn’t be good to start the trip with him sleepier than usual-” Gladio burst out laughing at the disgruntled look on Cor’s face, the others largely joining in; it was his father who took pity on the man and signalled for them to quiet down.

“Eh, you were just jealous that he could doze anywhere, Regis. Remember when he got trapped under a pile of rubble that had fallen down during a skirmish? We were convinced he had been crushed, then we realized we could hear snoring-” Cor sighed as loudly and dramatically as he had ever heard from the man, cutting his father off mid-story, but a quick glance at Nyx told him that the Glaive was dying to hear the rest.

“Must we? I was sixteen, that was thirty years ago,” Cor grumbled, but the king grinned and shook his head.

“Cor, you were covered in rubble, cut and bruised rather seriously, yet you still managed to fall asleep like you weren’t completely surrounded by sharp rocks. No, you will never live that down.” A solemn nod in agreement from his father started the whole table laughing again, and Cor finally just pinched the bridge of his nose and sagged until his head was almost resting on the table proper, Nyx patting his back in a poor show of sympathy. The king took a deep breath, letting it out slowly before forcing his smile back to something more dignified. “Before we give the marshal a heart attack, I’m afraid I have to adjourn our meeting, I have some other affairs to attend to. We will speak soon about your finalized plans.” Everyone got to their feet except for the king and his father, but just as they were about to file out with the rest, the king reached out and clasped Noct’s wrist. “You four stay behind, I want to talk to you about something.” Gladio sat back down, the other three following his lead. After the door closed behind Luna, the king turned and looked straight at Noct. “I want you to try and see if you are able to claim your armiger while you are on your trip, at least a few of the weapons if possible. I can still access mine, but with the crystal gone and the spirits of all but our willingly waiting ancestors freed, I am concerned that you may not be able to do so. This would set that fear to bed one way or the other,” the king said, and Noctis’s expression went distant for a moment, but he finally nodded.

“What do I need to do?” Noct asked, and Gladio leaned in and listened as his majesty detailed how it generally worked, the older man reaching into his shirt and pulling out a small key.

“This will get you into the locked tombs that you encounter. I would suggest starting at the tomb in northern Leide. Cor is well aware of its location, and he would be able to lead you directly there. There are also a few others that will not require a massive effort on your part, but the first is the most important.” The king handed the key to his son, then looked away from Noct and towards the rest of them, his expression firm. “Enjoy yourselves on this trip, but be cautious, and acquit yourselves properly as representatives of both the Crown and Lucis. Do not leave the borders of our land without clearing it with me, and that does include Altissia. I understand you may have heard about some resources that you might be able to utilize there, but I would ask that you exhaust your options elsewhere before that route is entertained.” The king looked down at the table, his eyes suddenly very old. “The country has not forgotten that we all but abandoned them when the wall was brought in, son, so we all must do what we must to make amends,” the king said, regaining his feet; Gladio and the others scrambled to follow his lead. “I will speak with you all later.”

A short time later found them all back in Noct’s quarters, Gladio lounging on his usual chair while Iggy puttered around the kitchen and Noct and Prom both argued over King’s Knight while draped all over each other. Like usual, in other words. Gladio stared a hole in the coffee table for longer than he was willing to admit before finally turning his head towards the kitchen.

“When are we gonna leave?” he asked, the question drawing the younger halves attention as well, and after a moment, Iggy popped his head out. “I conferred with the marshal, the captain, and Luna; we all have agreed on a week. That should give us enough time to pack for both comfortable stays and not; we are fortunate that we still have our camping supplies-” Gladio grinned, and Iggy rolled his eyes. “You always get so excited, Gladio, but there’s no guarantee that they will be used very often.”

“Camping again, huh?” Prom commented, and they all mutually ignored the grumble from Noct as he nodded to his favorite blond.

“We are going to need at least two or three more tents, the campsites are going to be pretty crowded…”

The week flew by in a flurry of packing and shopping as the two man logistics army that was Iggy and Libertus managed to wrangle funds, supplies, even some small gifts for dignitaries along the way all while the rest of them either were busy (Cor, Nyx,) technically a guest (Luna, Aranea,) sleeping (Noct,) or dragged into manual labor (himself and Prom.) But they made it work, and a week after their meeting with the king, they stood on the steps of the Citadel waiting to depart, the trusty Regalia and a large white landaulet sedan (dubbed the Auctoritas by the king, and Gladio was beginning to sense a pattern in his love of overwrought car names...) their chosen rides for the expedition. He also may have stood over the mechanics for a while during preparations to make sure the vehicles had been properly inspected, as he did not want a repeat of the start of their previous trip. He had no regrets.

“That time already.” He looked over as his father walked up to his side, a soft smile on his face; Gladio nodded and looked out at everyone assembled, watching in bemusement as Luna stuffed her last bag in the trunk of the Auctoritas (Highwind was already calling it Rita instead, and he found himself in complete agreement) rather violently before slamming it shut before it could pop out again. “How many tents did you end up getting again?” his father asked, and Gladio snorted.

“We already had the one for us, so we eventually decided on three more. We weren’t going to subject Libertus to Cor and Nyx for an entire trip, so he’s in a little tent just for him, the ladies have their own, Cor and Nyx theirs, and we have ours. The havens are going to be rather crowded, but we can make it work,” he said, and his dad laughed.

“Have fun trying to wrangle this crowd, son. You are going to get up close and personal with a whole lot of different sleeping habits, and I don’t envy you one bit.” Gladio rolled his eyes, watching as Cor took a small package from the king with a nod before turning and descending the stairs. Nyx bowed to the monarch and followed suit moments later, followed by Madame Highwind and Libertus, and he took a step back and nodded to his father.

“Looks like it’s time to go,” he said, and his father reached out and clasped his forearm.

“Stay safe, but enjoy yourself. Opportunities for an adventure like this may be less common as time goes by and the prince begins to take over duties from his father,” his dad said, letting go of his arm and stepping back. “Ah, yes, Regis wanted to speak with you four before you leave, best go up there.” Gladio looked up to see the other three waiting as the king and Luna embraced, each giving each other a kiss on the cheek before pulling away. After a few words he could not hear were exchanged, Luna turned and headed down the stairs, leaving just the six of them left. He took the stairs two at a time until he reached the others, bumping Iggy’s shoulder with his own as the king approached, a wide smile on his face.

“May the Astrals and the Dawn Mother watch over you all. Remember what we spoke of the other day, and most importantly, have fun,” the king said, and Gladio, Prom, and Iggy bowed while Noct grinned and nodded.

“Yes, dad. I’ll let you know about the one thing when we get to it,” Noct replied, then he reached out and put his hand on top of his father’s. “Stay safe here as well, hopefully things calm down now that the anniversary has passed.” The king sighed, but tilted his head and gave a shallow nod.

“I certainly hope so. Good luck, Noctis, and all of you.” Noct turned and began to walk down the steps, and Gladio bowed and smiled to the king and his father before following behind him; just as they were almost to the bottom step, the king’s voice drifted down. “I packed a little something in the Regalia for you four, you’ll find it later.” Gladio blinked at the rather jovial tone, but Noct waved his thanks as they all piled in except for Iggy, who walked over to Cor, speaking with him for a moment before returning to their car.

“So where are we headed?” Prom asked, and Ignis started the car and pulled away from the curb, Rita following in their wake; no one spoke until they merged onto the main expressway out of town.

“We are making a stop at Hammerhead for a short break and an errand, then we will decide from there,” Iggy stated, and Gladio smiled when his eyes met Iggy’s in the rear-view mirror.

“Sounds like a plan. Wake me up when we get there,” Noct muttered, curling into the side of the car seat and falling asleep almost immediately; Prom was already fiddling with his camera, from what he could see, and so he leaned over, grabbed a book out of his bag, and settled in for the ride.

After a brief stop at the checkpoint out of Insomnia, they were out in the open air; Gladio took a moment to enjoy the view as the rocky cliffs of northern Leide flew by, the scrub brush and small trees familiar as they passed them by. There was something different, though, although he couldn’t put his finger on it, and he continued looking about until an idea came to mind.

“Iggy, did they fix the power poles?” he asked, and Ignis nodded, an oddly proud smile on his face.

“Yes, they have been doing extensive work on the damaged infrastructure, as you know, and I had heard that they had started in this area shortly after our last trip, as it was not considered as critical as some other regions. Looks like it has gone well,” the man replied, and Gladio chuckled and sat back.

“You were just waiting to see if someone said anything, weren’t you?” he said, and Iggy huffed.

“I certainly was not.” Right. He returned to reading his book, occasionally glaring at Prompto, who seemed to be allergic to staying in his seat; after the fourth time he turned around and waved at Cor and Nyx, Gladio finally leaned forward and grabbed his collar.

“If you fall out of this car because you are being an idiot, I’m going to kill you. Or better yet, I’ll let Cor kill you. Siddown before you get hurt,” he grumbled, and Prom pouted at him for a moment before sliding back down into his seat. Okay, now he felt bad. “We’ll be in Hammerhead in what, thirty minutes? You can see them when we get there.” Iggy stifled a laugh in the front seat, and Prompto muttered under his breath, but took his camera back out and started taking photos again. Better. Car continued running like a champ, and soon enough, the distinctive sign demarcating Hammerhead appeared on the horizon, and he leaned over and shook Noct’s arm.

“What?” Noct yawned, and Gladio gestured towards the sign.

“Figured I’d give you a minute to wake up before we got there.” Noct turned bleary eyes on him, then back towards the sign.

“Yeah, I guess.” Gladio rolled his eyes, then stashed his book away and waited.

A few minutes later saw them turning off the road and parking, Cor and the rest coming to a stop just moments later. Iggy and Noct both got out, heading straight for the mini-mart, Prompto nearly tripped hopping out of the car and scuttling over to Rita; he felt vindicated when only seconds later, Cor got out of their car and immediately gave Prom his patented disappointed look.

“What?” Prom whined, and Cor frowned.

“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t do your level best to fall out of a moving vehicle, Prompto. While it would probably take care of our situation earlier than expected-” Prom’s jaw dropped, and even Gladio cringed at that. Okay, that was a bit harsh. Nyx, who had rounded the car while Cor was speaking, scowled.

“Cor! He’s fine. Prompto, sit your ass down before you give him a heart attack, he was this close to pulling over the fucking car so he could have one every time you dangled yourself over the car door,” Nyx growled, then Gladio watched as a strange look came over his face. “-and why am I in this position? You two, behave. I’m going to talk to Cid and pretend we never had this discussion.” The Glaive turned and stomped off, then froze for a moment and turned back to Cor. “Don’t forget that package for Cid.” Then he spun on his heel again and resumed his stomp, and Gladio would have sworn on his favorite sword that he muttered something about I’m too young to have a twenty-one year old kid as he blew past. Well, he had a point. Cor and Prompto looked at each other hesitantly, then Prom cracked first, bursting out into surprised laughter, Cor pinched the bridge of his nose, but it didn’t conceal his growing smile.

“Sorry, I was just super excited,” Prom said quietly, and Cor sighed.

“Just...be careful. Please.” After a beat, the two of them walked off together in the direction where Nyx had vanished to, and Gladio looked at the car to realize that Luna, Libertus, and Aranea were still ensconced in the back, flagrantly listening in.

“You three enjoying yourselves?” he commented, and Luna smiled winsomely, with Aranea giving a thumbs up; Libertus just looked bemused. He opened the door for them, and Luna and Libertus slid out, Aranea getting out the other side. The two women headed towards the garage as well, leaving himself and Libertus standing between the two vehicles. After a comfortable pause, the Glaive turned towards him with a fond smile.

“You know, I never imagined when I found out that Nyx was seeing the marshal that he’d ever be the voice of reason out of those two, but well, things have changed a lot since a year ago, and I think the marshal is able to...put his hair down more than he used to,” Libertus stated as he looked towards where almost all of them had gone. “Every once in awhile, it still hits me just who he and Prompto are, but then I remember that the herald is still the same guy who seems to fall asleep on Nyx’s shoulder in seconds, and Prompto is still the same kid who stared at his so-called fucking parents as they looked him dead in the eye, then turned and walked away-” Gladio’s head whipped back towards the Glaive, who froze.

“Wait, say that last bit again,” Gladio ordered, but Libertus shook his head.

“Shit, I shouldn’t have said that. I’m going to go find Nyx.” Libertus might as well have warped from the area as fast as he moved, leaving Gladio to stew. Prompto had run into his parents again at some point, and they hadn’t even acknowledged him, from the sound of it. Prom hadn’t told them. Why wouldn’t he tell them about it? It’s not like it was a surprise that his former parents were shitty people- he sighed and leaned against the Regalia. Libertus had probably found out by chance, and had until now kept his mouth shut. Prom had a little too much practice at hiding things from them, but this...wasn’t about that. He was certain. This was...this was probably Prompto letting go, and he would respect his wishes.

Besides, he was pretty sure Prom had at least talked to Cor about it, and that was good enough for him. It had to be.

Gladio joined the majority of their group at the garage, where Cor was leaning against the wall, doing his level best at trying to become one with it while Prom and Nyx were flanking Cid on the ratty old couch, listening to the old man tell some story or another, apparently about Cor, while the ladies were sitting on tool boxes and also listening in intently. Libertus had joined the marshal and was also leaning against the wall, and Gladio decided to join him as well.

“Considering swiping the car and leaving everyone here?” he said quietly, and Cor rolled his eyes and crossed his arms.

“Cid can’t help himself, because the old man is a pain in the ass-” Gladio chortled as Cor’s volume increased rapidly as he spoke, drawing the attention of the rest of the room. Cid scoffed and leaned back on the couch, a mischievous grin firmly in place.

“You just don’t want me to tell the tale of you dropping your damn clothes into the river after you bathed, leading to you doing a near-mile long streak back to the camp in your altogether-” Cid’s grin grew as Cor’s face turned his distinctive blotchy pink, and the rest of the room burst out laughing.

“When was this?” Prom asked, and Cid tapped his finger against his chin for a moment.

“I think he was around sixteen or seventeen when that case of random nudity happened-” Nyx looked like he had just been given a precious gift, and Cor actually turned and pressed his forehead against the wall with a groan.

“You mean there was more than one?” Nyx asked gleefully, and Cid nodded solemnly.

“There was a time that the kid seemed to lose his clothes on a near-monthly basis, but to be fair, some of those times were our fault-” Cor spun around and pointed a finger at the old man, who cackled. “-the girls and boys were always quite happy to see you running by buck-naked, kid; I think we were hoping you’d get some gumption and stop ignoring them.”

“By stealing my clothes?” Cor ground out, and Cid shook his head.

“Nah, that was just funny as hell. But it was really only a few times, and we always left your hat, didn’t we?” Cid grinned, and Cor pinched the bridge of his nose hard enough that Gladio knew it had to hurt. He was beginning to feel a little sorry for the guy, honestly; most of the Citadel had this view of the marshal as a stoic perfectionist, although that had mellowed a bit in the past year, and if some of them heard these…

“Because my beret was so covering, Cid,” Cor said drily, and Gladio looked between the two men in surprise as they both began to chuckle, leaving the rest of the room stumped as the marshal walked over and swiped the hat right off Cid’s head with a smirk and plopping it loosely on his own. “You never change, you old jackass. Just can’t help yourself, can you?” Prom looked flabbergasted at the whole exchange, and Gladio couldn’t help but concur. What just happened?

“I was wondering how long it was gonna take, kid. You never gave a shit about the nudity part, it was just the embarrassment of getting your crap stolen when you weren’t paying attention,” Cid stated, the old man getting to his feet with a groan and attempting to grab his hat off of Cor’s head, only for the much taller marshal to scoot back out of the way, smirk still well in place. Gladio felt a touch on his arm, and he turned his head to see that a very amused Iggy and Noct had joined the rest of them, the three relaxing against the wall as Cor walked backwards around the room, the increasingly perturbed Cid trying to get his hat back as Nyx still looked absolutely smitten with the whole affair, Luna was grinning ear to ear, and even Aranea appeared entertained. Libertus was staying quiet, but Gladio could see the humor in his eyes as the two very grown men continued acting like boys right in front of them. Prom hopped to his feet and sauntered over to join them, bumping his hip against Gladio’s as he leaned against the wall with the rest of them, his eyes engrossed in the two men in front of them. It did make for a funny scene, but then Cid stepped wrong, and Cor immediately took his arm before he could fall over.

“Okay, old man, you’ve had your exercise for the day. Here you go.” Cor put Cid’s hat back on his head, and Cid hobbled back over to the sofa with Cor at his side, the marshal helping him sit before sitting down next to him. Cid adjusted his hat and groaned, pressing his palms into his eyes before sighing.

“When did we get old?” Cid grumbled, and Cor patted him on the arm, before sighing and settling back into the cushions.

“You were always old, Cid, I don’t know where you thought it was ever otherwise-” The two began to squabble again, and Ignis turned to Gladio with a raised eyebrow.

“I think I have just figured something out,” Iggy said quietly, and the other four, Libertus included, turned and looked towards him, waiting. “Cor is Cid’s Prompto, at least to a point, although I’d say the relationship is more akin to that of an uncle and nephew than of a father and son. The age difference is also even wider than it is between the two of you, Prompto; you and Cor are almost exactly twenty-five years apart, while Cor and Cid are thirty-two years apart. It must have been a bit strange to Cid all those years ago when someone that was little more than a boy suddenly joined the rest of them on the battlefield, but it’s clear they managed to make it work,” Iggy stated, and Prompto turned towards the two men with a thoughtful expression.

“...I can’t imagine Cor being as old as Cid, for some reason. I know it’s a weird thing to say, but...I can’t. If I imagine him twenty years from now, I think I just picture him with grey hair and maybe a few more lines on his face,” Prompto said quietly, and Noct leaned over and ruffled Prom’s hair.

“Honestly, I bet you’re pretty spot on with your guess of how he’ll look. I saw dad aging so quickly for years that I generally just got used to it, but Cor has always looked young to me, and I doubt that will really change. Cid’s killed his back with years of working on cars and that sort of thing, I don’t really see that happening to Cor,” Noct assured Prom, and Gladio smiled at the lot of them and turned back towards the focus of their discussion, who appeared to have finally griped themselves out and were just relaxing next to each other, Nyx alternating between looking fondly at the marshal, or silently laughing with Luna when their eyes met.

“Wait...where’s Cindy?” Prom suddenly asked, and Cid barked out a laugh while only barely opening his eyes.

“Took you long enough. She’s out doing a tow run, busted car near Ravatogh; we don’t normally go out that far, but since it’s a regular customer, we made an exception. She won’t be back until tomorrow, and I have a feeling you lot will be moving on before then. Stop by on the way back so she can say hi,” Cid said, closing his eyes again; this time, it was clearly a dismissal. Cor patted Cid on the shoulder as he got up, then offered a hand to Nyx, who took it.

“Diner for lunch?” Nyx asked, and the others all shrugged and quietly filed out of the garage, leaving Cid to his nap. The group piled into two booths, and systematically demolished everything put in front of them (even Luna, which clearly surprised Libertus; he was probably assuming she was a light eater,) then they left, heading to the cars.

“We should say goodbye to Cid before we go, yeah?” Noct asked, and the four of them, plus Cor and Nyx, headed back to the garage. Cid was bustling about the back, and Gladio lightly knocked on one of the car lift pylons to get his attention.

“Headin’ out?” Cid said, turning around and squinting at them, and Cor took the lead and nodded.

“Yes, we need to find somewhere to stay this evening,” Cor explained, and Cid hummed, moving closer to them and crossing his arms with a frown.

“So what are you lot really up to? I can’t see Reggie letting both the head of the Guard and the head of his Kingsglaive go at the same time without a damn good reason. Is there anything I need to be worried about?” Cid said bluntly, and everyone froze, looking to Cor to answer; Cor sucked in a slow breath between his teeth, then sighed.

“This has to do with Prompto and I. We have a situation that needs to be resolved, and, well, Prompto certainly wasn’t going to be going anywhere without those three, and Nyx’s contacts may be needed,” Cor stated, his expression utterly sincere; Cid snorted and shook his head.

“So no matter where you are going, it ends at Galahd, and while you aren’t lying, I know you're not heartbroken that you have your boyfriend along for the ride, kid. This situation, it’s serious, isn’t it?” Cid asked quietly, and Cor and Prom looked at each other before facing the older man once more.

“It is,” Prom said, and Cid closed his eyes tightly for a moment, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly before reaching out and grabbing Cor’s arm.

“You aren’t allowed to die before me, kid,” Cid stated, then looked between Cor and Prom. “ -kids. So whatever the hell is going on, get it figured out. Give me a call if there’s anything I can do.” A few handshakes and an actual hug for Cor later, they were back to the cars; Gladio tried not to listen in as Prom talked to Cor for a moment, only catching a few words before Cor lightly squeezed the back of Prom’s neck and got back into his car, Prompto walking around and hopping into his usual spot. Gladio looked at the back of the blond’s head for a moment before shrugging and grabbing his book. Prompto had the right to his own secrets, and as much as he wanted to ask about Libertus’s slipped statement, he’d drop it. Prom would either tell them someday or not.

“So where to now, Iggy?” Noct asked, and Ignis adjusted his glasses and started the car, pulling out of the parking spot and exiting Hammerhead. After they had passed the point where they would turn for Galdin Quay, Iggy finally spoke up.

“We are heading to an outpost and haven near the ruins of Keycatrich, where there is an easily accessible royal tomb to start your armiger with, Noctis. It’s the one the king mentioned previously. We will stay at the haven tonight, and set off for the tomb sometime in the morning...unless you desired otherwise, of course,” Iggy said, and Noct shrugged, curling up and closing his eyes.

“As far as I’m concerned, Iggy, this is Prom and Cor’s show, we are basically along for the ride besides the armiger stuff. I’ll say something if I have any problems with anything,” Noct mumbled into his folded arms, and Gladio smirked, returning to his book. For all that Noct was the crown prince of Lucis, he was generally low-maintenance, excepting a few things, which was always nice. There was plenty of tales and historical accounts of some of his predecessors being pretty much the polar opposite, so he was forever relieved that he had ended up the shield of Noctis and not the shield of, oh, King Clodius the seventy-third, infamous for his addiction to all things rare and valuable...including people. It hadn’t been the best time to be a Lucian.

With them travelling in a new direction from their last trip, Prom had his camera back out, snapping photos of the wilds and the depressing amount of ruins scattered about the area before lowering it with a sigh that even Gladio heard from the back seat.

“Still so much destruction everywhere...Iggy, do you know of any planned work for this region?” Prom asked the other man, but Iggy shook his head.

“Focus is still on infrastructure, I’m afraid, and I understand there’s been little interest in resettling this area as of yet. Most people returning are going to more populated areas, for the most part,” Iggy said, and Prom made an understanding noise, but Gladio could see sad eyes returning to the ruined buildings for a long while before the camera was taken back up again.

The sun was beginning to sink in the sky by the time they pulled up to the outpost, and he, Cor, and Libertus immediately set off to figure out their camp setup while the others wandered off to do whatever; they worked well as a team, and somehow, they managed to fit four tents of varying sizes on the haven without sacrificing the fire ring or even too much sitting room.

“That actually worked,” Gladio commented, brushing off his hands, and Cor nodded, his approval clear in his eyes.

“I admit, I was a little concerned, but we’ve even managed to give some space around each tent. Since the havens are rather uniform, this tells me that we should be largely set for the future,” the marshal stated as he nodded his thanks to Libertus, who smiled.

“I’m used to doing this sort of thing, marshal; Nyx was always the one to wander off exploring as a kid, which he calls surveying his surroundings now. It’s mostly bullshit, of course, the last time someone tried to have him set up a tent, he managed to bend almost every pole and rip the fabric. Needless to say-” Libertus explained, and Cor’s expression took on a definitive air of amusement as he glanced around the area looking for the Glaive; Gladio noticed Aranea and Luna talking to the arms seller when he turned back towards the outpost proper, and blinked. What were they up to? He could see Prom in the distance snapping away with his camera, Noct wasn’t in view, but he had seen him just a few minutes prior. He wasn’t concerned. There was no sign of Nyx, which didn’t surprise him after Libertus’s little story, and Iggy...was walking back towards them, a small paper sack tucked under an arm. That reminded him.

“Cor, when, uh, we travel, we generally leave the cooking to Ignis, but did you guys hash out how you want to do it?” Gladio asked, just as Iggy stepped onto the haven, looking around with a raised brow.

“You managed to make everything fit, I’m impressed,” Iggy said, as he walked right up to the freshly wiped off table and set his shopping on top of it. “What did you want for dinner? I’m afraid that our supplies will change as we travel, so the menu is not always going to be very elaborate-” Gladio was just about to speak when Cor walked up to Iggy, raising a hand.

“Gladio was just telling us that you are accustomed to cooking when you are travelling, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Or, perhaps, a few of us could trade off to make it more...fair?” Cor suggested, and Iggy looked so confused for a moment that Gladio was forced to cover his mouth in an attempt to hide his laughter.

“Trade off? Oh-” Iggy started to speak, but trailed off, still flustered; Gladio finally took pity on the man and stepped forward.

“Would you rather cook everyday, Iggy? Or do you want to swap off with a few of them so you aren’t always the one doing it?” he said, and Ignis blinked a few more times before finally shrugging, probably out of lack of actual response.

“Either- either way is fine. Who else would cook, though?” That was a good question. Noct was out, if it wasn’t boiling water or microwavable, he was useless in a kitchen; Prom was actually a very good cook, even if he usually denied it. He was passable at best, he could boil water and do some basic things, but he had no skill in it. As for the others-

“I have a limited repertoire, but I can certainly pitch in occasionally,” Cor stated, and after a glance at Libertus, spoke again. “While Nyx apparently appears to be useless at setting up campsites, according to you, I do know he’s decent in the kitchen as well. As for the princess and the commodore...I am uncertain. We might wish to ask.” Libertus nodded, then indicated himself.

“I actually enjoy cooking on occasion, I can definitely make a meal here and there,” the Glaive said, and Ignis nodded a bit stiffly as Luna and Aranea reappeared, the princess holding a brand new...trident? No, it was a bident, well-made from all appearances with some minimal decoration. Why would she-

“Did I just hear someone mention food?” Aranea chimed in, and Gladio spoke up.

“We were deciding who might be able to cook in the future so it’s not all one person doing it. Are either of you two…” he trailed off, and the absolutely terrified matching expressions that appeared on both women’s faces answered his question handily. Luna actually blushed, fiddling with her new weapon and avoiding everyone’s eyes.

“I’m afraid I was never taught, it was seen as unseemly for the future Oracle, then Oracle to learn what was considered a menial task. I should have insisted, in hindsight, but-” Ignis waved away her explanation, then all eyes turned to Aranea, who just sighed.

“Look, you put me in front of any cooking apparatus that isn’t a microwave or one of those mini camp stove things with a can of soup, and you are going to have a fire on your hands. I don’t even know how I do it sometimes, I just...set things on fire,” Aranea stated bluntly, and Cor nodded and faced Ignis.

“Well, that answers that. So perhaps we can alternate between you, myself and Nyx, maybe Prompto, and Libertus? How does that sound?” Cor asked, and Iggy stared blankly at the table for a long moment before nodding.

“That sounds perfectly reasonable. In that case, I will handle our dinner, we can decide who will handle breakfast in the morning,” Iggy said firmly, and everyone assembled nodded. “Good.”

Prompto wandered back to camp a short time later, followed by Noct and Nyx, who had been exploring (Nyx) and playing darts with one of the hunters (Noct,) and everyone settled down to an excellent chili around the intentionally low campfire, all of them looking at Luna’s new weapon at least once between returning to their meal. After several minutes of this, it was finally Gladio that spoke up.

“Nice new weapon you have there, I’m guessing you have some training in lance-type weapons?” he asked, and Luna, to his bemusement, responded with a rather weak shrug.

“Well, sort of. I was expected to know how to handle the trident, although pretty much entirely in a ceremonial way, so no, nothing really practical. I have asked Aranea if she could instruct me in the basics, and she has kindly agreed. I also have a knife that my brother gifted me, as you probably saw the other day, I will probably keep that with me as well while we travel. I don’t wish to be a burden,” Luna finished, and he saw just about everyone, but especially Cor, nod in agreement.

“If you need any help or advice, Luna, feel free to ask me at any time,” Cor said, and Luna grinned at the older man.

“Thank you, Cor. I appreciate it.”

With dinner complete, everyone loafed around and chatted for a little while after clean up, but then Noct promptly dozed off on his shoulder, and it was clearly seen as a sign that it was time to go to bed. About twenty minutes later saw the four of them all curled up in their tent, Noct already asleep once more. Gladio opened his mouth several times to speak, but the familiar surroundings and comfort of his lovers sent him off to sleep between one breath and the next.

 

--------

 

Aranea was the first one up the next morning, which surprised the hell out of her. While she certainly had no expectations of the prince or Luna; the fact that neither the marshal or the captain, nor Libertus, all of whom were career soldiers, had so much as budged...well, from what she could see from the partially unzipped tent door, anyway...was a bit amusing, but hey. Maybe they wanted a lie-in. She wouldn’t judge. She had suspected that Luna would indulge, so she had taken the spot closer to the door; after a quick glance outside once more, she carefully unzipped the door enough to slide out, letting her bare feet contact the cold stone with a happy sigh. She could hear some movement from Libs’ tent, and she smiled and looked out towards the sunrise. She had always been a morning person, well, she was also a night person. As she was very good at sleeping pretty much anywhere at any time, it all worked for her.

Aranea turned around and zipped their tent back closed again, then decided to wake up with a little stroll around their campsite. Libs was definitely up, but he hadn’t emerged yet, so she passed by his tent and walked over near the marshal and captain’s. There was no sounds at all beyond some very quiet snores coming from within, and she started to continue on...until her sleepy mind processed that they hadn’t set up their rainfly, and she couldn’t help herself. Looking around one more time, she snuck a bit closer and peeked into their window, and promptly bit her tongue to keep from making any noise. The two were using a giant sleeping bag, and she could see that the marshal was curled up comfortably, his head resting on the captain’s chest with the captain’s arm curled around him, and it was an altogether adorably domestic scene. She could see why Luna had made her tongue-in-cheek comment to Ravus, because the two did make a rather striking pair. Ugh.

When Libs moved again in his tent, she quickly backed off and continued on, this time pausing by the boy’s much larger tent. While Luna had only told her about Leonis and Ulric, she had a suspicion that something was going on with at least some of the kids, although she wouldn’t pry. Much. They’d be travelling together for at least a few weeks, so she figured she’d find out one way or the other. There was no noise beyond assorted snores, so she continued on once more, making several laps of the haven just as Libertus finally emerged, followed by Luna, who was dressed in probably the plainest outfit she had ever seen the princess in. Luna was wearing her boots from before, but with a basic pair of cotton pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt. When Luna leaned over and grabbed her bident, Aranea realized just what she had in mind.

“Want to go over some basics?” she asked, and Luna nodded enthusiastically. This was something she could do, a bident was wielded in a very similar way to a spear, after all, and while she was shit at a lot of things, fighting was absolutely not one of them. She gave the princess a crooked smile and nodded. “Give me a minute to get my shoes on.”

Libertus was fussing with something over by the camp stove as she grabbed her own lance and headed down from the haven, walking over to a clearing nearby where Luna was already waiting, swinging and getting the weight of her new weapon. It was clear to Aranea that for all of Luna’s commentary on how she didn’t know what she was doing, she did know how to move with the bident, alternating between thrusts and smacks with the dull end, although she was a bit sluggish with some of the motions, and she was telegraphing her movements way too much. Probably came from the ritual use thing. Luna noticed her after a few minutes, spinning around and clutching the bident to her chest.

“Ah, I didn’t see you! I’m sorry,” Luna cried out, and Aranea waved her apology away.

“I hate to say it, princess, but you’ve gotta work on your situational awareness. While I know that in your usual settings, it’s excellent, but being out in the field is a whole different animal. If I had been an enemy soldier or some beast, you could have been in serious trouble. Not looking to lecture, but pay more attention to what’s around you if you aren’t somewhere you know to be secure. Also, if you fight alongside anyone else, as you will likely end up doing on this trip, even if it’s just hunting for dinner, you need to know where everyone else is unless you want some very unfortunate conversations,” she said bluntly, but kindly, and to her relief, Luna nodded sharply.

“You are absolutely right. I’ve let myself grow too complacent, I think; it’s fascinating that after only a year of relative peace I’m back to assuming everything will go smoothly. I certainly know better than that,” Luna stated a touch bitterly, then sighed before tightening her grip on her bident and straightening her back. “How should we start?” Okay, this she could do. Aranea strode over and stood in front of Luna, reaching out and adjusting her hands a bit before stepping back.

“Strong grip, but not so tight that your knuckles are turning white, you need to have some play in your movements, especially if you ever want to try throwing or quickly shifting grip by letting go of it for a moment,” she said, and Luna adjusted her grip accordingly. “Don’t stand so stiffly, you aren’t some infantry kid given more training at standing at attention than actual fighting. Loosen your stance a bit, you aren’t learning fighting as a large unit, you are basically learning how to defend yourself at this point. If you were in a line like the troopers always started out as in larger battles, yes, keeping yourself a bit more drawn in might be a good thing, but-” Luna nodded again, shifting her feet and bending her knees slightly; Aranea smirked. “Honestly, I think you know a good amount of this just from observation already, you’ve been surrounded by guards your whole life, from the old housecarls of House Fleuret to troopers both human and not, you’ve seen all sorts. Am I wrong?” The younger woman blinked at her for a moment, then smiled.

“No, I think you’re right. What made you think of it?” Luna asked, and Aranea gestured towards her.

“The instant I mentioned a looser stance, you fell nearly perfectly into what I was thinking of. Now we just need to make that sort of thing instinctual for you,” she said, then stepped a good distance back. “Do what you were doing when I came up, keeping in mind what I just told you.” The two of them spent a solid half hour on drills and stances together until Luna was clearly a bit wrung out, but, to her credit, she didn’t complain once. Aranea was actually pretty impressed, although she’d keep it to herself for now. She’d be more outwardly complimentary if the princess showed decent progression over the next few weeks, it was a bit premature for now. It was the prince who interrupted their session as he walked up with his hands in his pockets and a friendly smile, clearly aimed at Luna.

“Looks like it’s going well,” his highness stated, and Luna tilted her head, indicating Aranea.

“Well, Madame Highwind hasn’t had to yell at me yet, so I’ll consider it as such for now. What do you think, Aranea?” Luna asked, and Aranea snorted, waving away her question with a hand.

“She’s already got the basics largely down due to her training with the trident, so it’s going to be some refining then more practical sparring. Probably mixed in with actual fighting at some point, maybe while hunting or something,” she said, and the prince nodded.

“That sounds great. Well, I actually came to grab you guys for breakfast, if you are interested-” the princeling didn’t even get to finish his sentence before Luna took off towards their camp like a bullet, leaving Aranea and the prince behind. Well. The prince snorted a laugh and turned, meeting her eyes easily. “I’m guessing she worked up an appetite.”

“I’m just hoping Libs made enough, she eats a lot more than most people assume, your majesty,” she replied, and raised an eyebrow at the sight of the prince cringing. “What’s your damage?”

“Ah, really, if we are going to be travelling, Noctis is fine. No need for the title stuff,” Noctis mumbled, and Aranea grinned. That was more like it, she hated using all those damn titles too. She stepped forward, slapping the prince on the back, then started walking back towards camp, the younger man quickly joining her.

“So what’s for breakfast, Noctis?” she asked, and the kid laughed.

“Something about oatmeal and sausages? I didn’t actually look at it before heading over to get you two,” Noctis replied, and she shrugged.

“Well, I’m not picky, as long as it’s edible.”

Breakfast was just that, oatmeal, sausage, and fruit, which Scientia delicately nibbled on while Prompto (he had insisted on being called as such even before they left town,) Amicitia, Noctis, and Luna scarfed down like they hadn’t eaten in days, while Leonis was practically dozing between bites; Ulric and Libs were more methodical, and slowly worked their way through the meal while she did the same. She could speed through meals with the best of them, but if she didn’t need to, she took her damn time. After the marshal finally tipped over enough to start lightly snoring on Ulric’s shoulder, she finally had to say something.

“I’m guessing he’s not a morning person?” she asked, and Ulric smirked, bringing up a hand and patting his dozing partner on the head.

“Not really, although he can adjust pretty quickly, morning or not, but he’s still recovering a bit from the attack. He’ll probably be back to his normal levels of morning drowsiness in a few more days,” Ulric explained, and she pointed towards Leonis’s right arm with her chin.

“How’s the shoulder?” she said, and Ulric glanced over at the dozing man and sighed.

“It’s a little stiff, although he’ll never admit to it. He’ll be fine, he just needs to use it more. Nothing to be concerned about, thanks to modern medicine and his own...robust nature.” Right. That crazy book had basically stated that they healed faster than normal people, and the marshal had confirmed it right on television shortly after it came out. Must be nice. Leonis woke up a few minutes later on his own, and returned to his breakfast without a word as the rest of them finished up. There wasn’t a scrap left, and it was agreed that whoever made the next meal needed to make just a little more. Those who hadn’t gotten dressed yet dove into their tents and changed, and Aranea got a good laugh as she watched Luna try to wriggle into her rather fitted trousers from a very awkward angle inside the tent, not bothering to refrain from further chuckles every time the princess bonked her head into the roof. She probably deserved the dirty look she got in response, but hey.

“I’m not quite sure of the area, but I’m assuming that we are near this outpost for a reason. Do we have specific plans today?” Luna asked as they straightened up the campsite a short time later, Leonis having indicated that they would be staying one more night. Noctis and his friends exchanged looks, then faced the rest of them.

“There’s a royal tomb about a thirty minute walk from here, I need to visit it for...reasons. I’m sure you know, Luna,” Noctis said, and Aranea watched as Luna’s eyes lit with understanding, then narrowed with concern.

“His majesty is concerned, isn’t he?” Luna inquired, and Noctis’s mouth twisted.

“Yeah, he is.” Luna nodded, and gestured towards the northern path.

“Shall we go?” Aranea had no fucking clue what was going on, but off everyone went, the marshal at the lead, trudging up the mostly dirt path towards...a tomb? Why would the prince need to go to a tomb? But she knew she was the outsider of the group, and she figured it would be better to watch and learn then to ask. The path narrowed, and she ducked just as a shrieking bird attempted to remove her head from her shoulders.

“Shit!” she snarled, calling her lance and leaping into the air, running it through before it could get out of her reach as several of its friends dove for the others; Luna actually managed to use her new weapon to knock one down, even if Scientia finished it off, and the rest were swiftly brought down by the clearly talented group. Even Prompto, who she had wondered about, had fetched his pistol without hesitation and taken one down entirely on his own. It reassured her for the future as they travelled; it was clear that Luna was the weakest link combat-wise, but she had a good grasp on the basics and the willingness to learn. They could work with that.

An elegant stone gateway marked the end of the little canyon, and they proceeded inside, the narrow passage opening up to a small valley with a cleanly-wrought white and black stone structure at the end. It was all very nice and all, but why the hell were they there? A short walk up the steps, and they were standing in front of the building, the metal keyhole apparent in the door.

“Here goes,” Noctis stated quietly, and she watched as the prince pulled a chain with a key from his shirt, fitting it into the lock. The door slid open easily, which surprised her, but not a word was spoken as everyone filed in, loosely encircling the stone tomb within. A quick glance around told her that Ulric and Libs were just as confused by the whole thing, but she followed their lead and kept her mouth shut. Noctis looked over at Cor and waved a hand at the stone effigy. “So how...is this supposed to work?” Cor’s stoic expression was doing an admirable job of mirroring the dead guy’s, in Aranea’s opinion, and his stern gaze met the prince’s without hesitation.

“Your father referred to it as a bonding of souls. The spirits, or at least a shade thereof, of the ancient kings that reside within these tombs remain of their own will, and were not, if the king is correct, bound to the will of the ring. Before you ask, yes, they can gift their arms to more than one royal at a time, as long as the tomb is undisturbed. This was the first place I came to with the king when he sought his own armiger,” Leonis explained to the prince, and Noctis nodded slowly, his eyes firmly on the sword in the effigy’s grasp. It was good that the kid understood, because she as hell didn’t. But Noctis held out his hand, and the formerly normal looking blade exploded with light, turning crystalline as it floated into the air; it hovered there for a moment, suspended in time, before tilting and stabbing into the prince’s chest at full speed, causing pretty much everyone in the room except Cor and Luna to jump slightly as light danced around Noctis before vanishing altogether.

“Well, that was exciting,” Libs commented evenly, and Aranea threw back her head and laughed at the droll expression on the marshal’s face, the rest of the prince’s friends joining in. Ulric’s eyes were wide, but he gave a slight bow to the prince as the somewhat dazed young man looked around the room.

“It worked.”

They left the tomb behind, the prince locking the door behind them as they set off down the canyon again, almost immediately encountering more beasts. Figures. But they were quickly dispatched, and they returned back to the main path.

“There’s said to be another tomb in the old military installation below Keycatrich, if you wished to try for another. While we no longer have to worry about daemons, I’m sure there are at least a few creatures who have moved into the ruins,” Leonis said, and they all paused, looking to Noctis.

“Whatever you want to do, Noctis, but it would make sense to do it while we are here. Who knows when you’ll be in the area again,” Ulric stated matter-of-factly, and after looking to everyone else, including Aranea, Noctis nodded.

“Then that’s what we’ll do. Thanks, everyone.”

Luckily, the marshal’s guess on the inhabitants of the place was right on point, and they got through the trashed halls and rooms of the cave with only occasional resistance from various creatures, and after a short crawl through a low ceilinged tunnel, they found themselves yet again at a carved door. After the newest weapon speared itself into the prince’s chest (Aranea found herself flinching each time, even though it was clear it wasn’t hurting him,) they turned around and headed back out.

“This place looks like it could be fixed up, maybe used for emergency shelter or storage or something...it’s sad to leave all this stuff just ruined like this,” Prompto chimed in as they exited the trench, and Aranea watched as Leonis and Ulric’s eyes met, before returning to Prompto.

“That’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility, Prompto. Something to make note of for the king,” the marshal stated, gaining a sunny grin from the blond kid. Damn, that smile needed to come with a warning sign. Aranea turned around to make sure everyone was together, then something caught her eye above.

“What in the hell is that?” she asked, pointing to the upper half of the metal-looking statue set back from the supporting walls behind the exit, and everyone else turned and looked as well.

“I’m afraid I haven’t the slightest clue what it is, commodore-” Scientia started, only for Aranea to cut him off.

“We’ve had this discussion. Aranea. Not commodore, not madame, Aranea,” she said drily, and to his credit, Scientia nodded without comment. Good boy. Leonis shook his head, glancing over to the Galahdians, who shrugged; it was Amicitia who actually spoke up in the end.

“Maybe just a statue of the king buried there? It’s been clearly heavily damaged since, but that’s all I can think of,” the big guy stated, and it was as good an explanation as any. Worked for her.

Leonis and Ulric managed to put together a nice set of sandwiches for the group for dinner later that evening, even if they didn’t do any sides beyond some crackers from the supplies. They’d survive. They could always eat at a diner or something tomorrow. While she was finishing up her sandwich, Aranea looked over at the prince, who seemed none the worse for wear from his day of getting stabbed by magic weapons, and caught his eye.

“Well, now that you’ve been magically skewered by the mystical blades of your ancestors, do you feel any different?” she asked, and received a plethora of surprised blinks from the Insomnian crowd. What? She thought it was a decent question. Prompto tilted slightly and bumped Noctis’s arm with his own, and the princeling finally seemed to register what she had asked.

“Uh, well...maybe? It’s like a presence, I think; I know they are there, but it feels...natural? It really is hard to explain. So yeah, a little different, but in a subtle way,” Noctis finally got out, and Aranea nodded thoughtfully, her curiosity satisfied. Well, it’s not like she was going to be tripping across any sacred weapons of her own, she wasn’t even Lucian, for one, and Luna’s trident was long gone.

“Are we gonna find any more of these tombs while we are out and about on our mystery tour? I know there’s a point for this trip, and I know damn well that I’m the only one not filled in on it. That’s fine, you don’t need to tell me, as I figured if it was objectionable enough Luna wouldn’t be here, but I am curious about the tomb thing,” she commented, and smirked at the collection of slightly nervous looks and head scratches the majority of these idiots gave in response. Like several other things regarding this crowd, she figured she would find out eventually. The princess gave her an apologetic half-smile, but she waved it away. She was used to it, and as long as they warned her before really dangerous shit happened, she was content. Well, mostly. She really did want to know if any of the boys were fucking or not, because she lived for knowing that sort of random shit, but she was patient.

“The first part of our trip is largely as a tour of sorts of Lucis, so I would not be surprised if we stumble across a few more tombs while we are out and about,” Leonis explained, gesturing to Noctis. “But of course, that would be up to the prince.” Said prince gave an incredibly articulate shrug in response, but the marshal seemed to take that in stride, getting to his feet and collecting everyone’s plates. Ulric sighed and got to his feet as well, pushing up his sleeves as he headed towards the little wash bins they had set up, and Aranea blinked. Did none of this crowd follow the if you cooked, you don’t clean mentality? Letting out a dramatic groan, she got to her feet and strode over to the washbasin, hip-checking the Glaive out of her way just as Leonis was dumping the dishes in the bin.

“You cooked, boys, I’ve got this. My apologies that none of the rest of this crowd seems to know how this works-” The scramble behind her made her grin as Ulric gave her an amused half-smile, taking the clean plates from her and drying them.

“You are a devious woman, errr-” Ulric trailed off, and she had a suspicion he remembered the conversation she had with Scientia earlier.

“Aranea. No need for any of that other shit unless the situation calls for it. We’re a group of staggeringly good-looking people wandering around Lucis in two ridiculously luxurious cars with several members of royalty, nobility, and at least three divine holy messenger types, titles are quickly going to get pretty tiring if we all stick to them. Even if one of those messengers can’t change in a tent without falling over-” The sound of Luna’s strangled sigh was music to her ears, and Ulric’s half-smile widened substantially.

“Nyx, then. You know, you remind me a lot of a friend of mine, you probably spoke with her back at the Citadel,” Nyx said lightly, and Aranea thought for a moment before her mouth pursed in realization.

“Altius, right? She was my kind of lady. She’s running the Glaive while we are out and about, right?” she asked, and Nyx nodded. “Good choice.” Leonis joined them by the wash bins, taking the dry dishes from the Glaive and putting them away in their case without a word. She looked between the two men for a moment as they worked, enjoying the view; Nyx’s eyes had immediately slid towards the marshal’s when he had approached, the full lips parting seemingly of their own accord as they leaned in towards each other, oblivious to their surroundings. Were they this obvious back in Insomnia? Or was this something they only did around people who were aware of their relationship? Shaking the water off of her hands, she stepped back and left the two lovebirds to it, walking back towards her tent.

“Before you ask, they’ve gotten worse over time, and out here? I don’t think they give a shit who sees. It would be sickening if they weren’t so obviously devoted to each other,” Amicitia said quietly as she walked past him, and she stopped, meeting his eyes.

“Heh. I had wondered,” she commented, lightly slapping the large man on the back and heading into her tent. Time to get some sleep, she had no clue when they were leaving tomorrow. She sat down in the entrance and pried her boots off, shaking them out before bringing them inside and popping them on a towel in the corner. A quick glance out showed Luna chatting with the other youngins, and she gave the princess a wave before zipping up the tent door. A few minutes to peel out of her armor and clothes later, she dove into her sleeping bag and closed her eyes. At some point, she registered the door opening and closing, and Luna moving around her, but she didn’t wake fully, and drifted off back to sleep.

The next morning was an unexpectedly expedient breakdown and packing of the campsite by Leonis, Amicitia, and Libs, and they all mutually decided that they would splurge and buy a snack for now instead of waiting around and cooking. Luckily, a shop at the outpost sold some decent foodstuffs, and they all piled into the cars and set off for...Aranea rolled her eyes. She hadn’t even asked.

“Where are we going, by the way?” she asked, and Leonis, who had left the driving to his boyfriend this time, turned his head around to look at her.

“Due to us all skipping breakfast, and due to our rather light past two meals, there was a consensus among the prince and his friends to go to Galdin Quay for dinner. As I doubt anyone else in this car besides me has been there, we thought it would make for a nice evening,” the marshal explained, and Aranea gave him a thumbs up before settling back into her stupidly plush seat, enjoying the air as they drove on. Galdin, huh? She had heard that it was a pretty nice little vacation spot, and as long as they were buying, she was all over it. After far too much time staring at the increasingly boring scenery, she raised the footrest and let herself doze off to the sound of the princess typing things into her phone.

When they finally pulled into Galdin Quay, it was already nearly five in the evening, and she was starving. She hopped out of the car as soon as Libs got out of the way, staring intently at the building in the distance as her stomach grumbled.

“Please tell me there’s food in our near future,” she groused, and received a raised eyebrow from Leonis, who was flanking Nyx as they headed towards the distant building, the kids and Luna already dashing ahead. “It’s like travelling with teenagers.” Libs snorted out a laugh, and for one of the first times this trip, even the marshal’s usually stoic expression cracked a bit, amusement deepening the fine lines around his eyes.

“Well, I know for a fact that the prince wasn’t allowed to leave the city until recently, and with the princess’s prior...situation, this sort of thing is probably pretty new to her too. I know she did some travelling to do her oracle duties, but under heavy Imperial guard, if I remember correctly?” Libertus said, and Aranea tilted her head and nodded. He was entirely right on Luna, she had actually been assigned to a few of those escort missions over the years, to her current dismay. The princess had made it perfectly clear that she entirely understood and that there was no hard feelings, but sometimes-

“I suppose we better catch up with them before they empty the restaurant of their stock,” Nyx drawled, and they picked up their pace as they headed down the boardwalk to the open-air resort. The prince and company had stopped dead right near the entrance, and appeared to be talking to someone they weren’t too happy about seeing; the four of them sped up to see what was going on, approaching right as Prompto began waving his hands around.

“Do you just sleep on that bench in the back?” the blond exclaimed, his freckles more obvious in his irritation. “Why are you still here?” The focus of his vexation was a handsome silver-haired man with flashy jewelry and a somewhat smarmy look, and by the underwhelmed expressions from Noctis and Amicitia as well, they clearly knew him. Next to her, Leonis brought up a hand, pinching the bridge of his nose before giving a noticeable sigh.

“Ghiranze.” The man in question looked up, his smarmy grin actually softening for a moment at the sight of the marshal.

“Hey, it’s a whole party this time! I was just asking his majesty and his grace about what brings them back to the quay, but well, the fact that it’s all of you here...I’m extra curious now. What brings a prince, the princess oracle, and the dawnsworn to Galdin? Just another road trip?” A reporter. Of course. She knew his type, and she now fully understood why the boys looked so irritated. He was annoying her already, and he had barely started talking.

“You never change, do you?” Leonis stated, and Nyx was clearly surprised that the marshal knew the guy, his eyes narrowing as he looked between the two of them. Aranea brutally crushed the smile she could feel trying to sneak onto her face. She didn’t get the whiff of jealousy from the captain, but there was still something…

“I don’t suppose you’ll give me that interview now, would you? I’ve not asked you in at least three years-” Ghiranze asked Leonis, clearly expecting the negatory shake of the head he got in return. “Don’t suppose you’ll at least tell me what you all are up to?” the reporter asked, and the marshal shrugged, causing Ghiranze to dip his head and gaze at Leonis from underneath his eyelashes with an even wider smile. Oh. Ha. The reporter definitively had the hots for Leonis, and from the increasingly frozen expression on Nyx’s face, the Glaive was realizing this as well. The only one who clearly wasn’t noticing was Leonis, who was looking more at the building behind the reporter than Ghiranze himself. She had a sneaking suspicion that the marshal was normally rather clueless with this sort of thing, and found herself feeling more than a little sorry for Nyx as she finally just slapped Leonis on the back and pointed towards the restaurant.

“Leonis, I can only promise my continuing lack of international incidents if I get fed soon,” she commented drily, and was satisfied when the marshal blinked and looked towards the rest of them, clearly disregarding Ghiranze.

“Ah, right. Perhaps another time, Ghiranze. We came here for dinner. Have a good day.” The reporter’s grin slipped a bit, but he bowed out gracefully as the group of them proceeded into the restaurant proper, Aranea giving a sympathetic look to the mildly-annoyed Glaive walking alongside his boyfriend.

Oh boy.

The food was as excellent as she had heard, and she certainly didn’t want to know the bill from the massacre that occurred at their hands. Afterwards, Libertus and Amicitia headed to the nearby Haven to start setting up their campsite (the hotel had sounded really nice, but after she saw the prices, she wasn't surprised they didn't stay there,) while the prince and the other two wandered off to do something she didn't quite catch before they vanished. She and Luna walked slowly down the boardwalk together, enjoying the peaceful sound of the waves lapping against the pier and the sight of the moon reflecting on the water, it wasn't until Luna grabbed her arm to stop her that she noticed the two tucked against the railing in an out of the way spot. Nyx and Leonis’s foreheads were pressed together, with their lips practically touching as the two men spoke to each other quietly. Luna nudged her once more, her eyes soft and smiling as she tilted her head towards the front of the building, and Aranea nodded, turning to follow her.

She spared one last glance back towards the two after they had walked a few steps, grinning like an idiot when she saw them doing some in-depth inspection of each other's tonsils. That was more like it. The marshal definitely needed to loosen up sometimes, and if a good make out session helped on that regard, she was all for it. As she turned away once more, a flash of silver drew her eye, and she turned her most pantshittingly scariest expression on the casually spying Ghiranze, letting him know under no uncertain terms was she to hear about this in the morning paper. The paper white face and shaky nod she got in response satisfied her, and with a smirk, she left the resort with Luna.

“Time to get some rest.”

Chapter Text

A very relaxed Cor woke up draped in his usual way over Nyx, his face burrowed into the thin scar tissue arcing across the man’s chest. It wouldn’t be the first time he would have an impression on his cheek from them, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. The muted light from the sun made the fabric of their tent glow, and he grumbled and shifted, letting his head fall to the edge of Nyx’s ribs and jamming his eyes back shut. He had never minded camping all that much, but the sun could be a real bitch. There was a reason he had managed to fall asleep in a pile of stones as a teen; that rubble may have been sharp, but it had blocked out the sun. Unfortunately, his movements roused Nyx, and he got a floppy handed pat to his side as he wriggled.

“Time to get up?” the Glaive slurred, and Cor fumbled for his phone and stared at it blearily for a moment. Six in the morning. Nope. They weren’t in a rush to leave, as far as he knew…

“No, go back to sleep,” he muttered, patting Nyx’s chest with his hand and letting his eyes drift back closed. He’d just doze a bit longer…

“Are you two gonna sleep all day?” Prompto’s voice cut into his brain, and Cor groaned and opened his eyes once more, squinting in confusion towards the front of their tent, where he could see the kid’s silhouette clearly. What was Prompto on about, it was only- Cor picked up his phone and looked at the time. Oh shit.

“Nyx, it’s past nine,” Cor hissed, and Nyx sat bolt upright in shock, knocking him to the tent floor. “Ow.”

“Oh shit, sorry. We slept in that late?” Nyx said with wide eyes, and Cor could hear more than a little laughter from outside the tent. Yeah, they were going to hear about this for a good long while, he had a feeling. He used Nyx’s thigh as a brace and pushed himself up to a seated position, blinking blankly at the walls of the tent.

“Well, shit,” he muttered, crawling forward and unzipping just enough of the door to stick his head out. Prompto was sitting right outside, and shot him a sunny smile the instant their eyes met.

“Good morning, Cor! Did you two stay up late or something? Even Noct’s been up for almost an hour,” Prompto said, and Cor groaned, running his hand through his messy hair. No, they were never going to hear the end of this.

“We did, actually. We were talking.” It wasn’t a lie. Prompto seemed happy enough to take his explanation at face value, but the absolutely filthy smirk on Highwind’s face as she walked behind the blond told him she knew exactly what they had been up to. Of course. He should have known it was a bad idea, but- Cor sighed inwardly. He was not going to do that again, they were lucky they weren’t caught, and his back felt he had scrubbed it with sandpaper-

Cor felt a familiar presence at his back as the door unzipped a little further, Nyx also popping his head out alongside his. “I assume we slept through breakfast?” Prompto looked over at Ignis, who had a mildly amused look on his face as he shook his head.

“No, I set aside plates for each of you. I would suggest eating it soon, however, as the rest of us finished over a half hour ago,” the young man stated, and Cor and Nyx nodded in unison as they popped their heads back into the tent, quickly zipping it back up behind them.

“Good morning,” Nyx whispered, and Cor snorted out a laugh as he leaned in and gave him a kiss.

“Good morning. We look like something the coeurl dragged in, in case you are wondering,” he said, and Nyx reached out and ran his fingers through Cor’s hair in a vain attempt to straighten it out.

“If your short hair can look this bedraggled, I don’t even want to know how mine looks,” Nyx said wryly, and Cor reached out and tweaked one of the man’s braids. Besides needing a bit of a shave and a quick brush, Nyx looked fine. He told him so while he dug through his bag for clean underwear, and after a few minutes of changing, grooming (he’d shave later,) and packing, the two of them finally emerged from their tent and beelined for the food, which was still excellent despite having gone cold.

“Now that all the sleepyheads have risen from their lairs, what’s the plan today?” Highwind asked, and Cor looked to Prompto and Noctis for any indications of intent. Seeing none, he decided to speak up.

“I spoke to a hunter passing through shortly after dinner yesterday, she mentioned a structure that sounded a lot like another tomb to the northwest of here, if you were interested in checking it out, Noctis. We’ll be heading in that direction anyway, so…” he trailed off, and watched as the prince looked to the rest of the group in askance before nodding.

“If everyone is good with it, why not?” No one spoke against it, and after a flurry of disassembly and packing, they were back on the road, Libertus at the wheel as they headed north. Highwind sat up front with the Glaive, and Cor and Nyx sat in the back with Luna, enjoying being driven around for once.

“This place is supposedly in the Fallgrove, right? Where do you want to stop?” Libertus asked, and Cor rehashed what the hunter said in his mind.

“She said to park around the fork, and it’s a moderate walk to the southwest from there. She said there’s an old dirt path that leads right by it. There’s also a haven nearby on the east side of the fork as well, so if we decide to stop driving for the day, there’s a spot right there to camp,” he said, and Libertus grunted his understanding as they continued on north, Cor alternating between dozing and chatting with Luna (who was snapping photos of him every time he dozed off and he knew it.)

“I wonder how many of these tombs there are,” Luna asked aloud, and Cor shrugged. He honestly didn’t know, but it couldn’t have been that many; the king had hypothesized that the tombs contained the remains of those monarchs that chose to be bound to the earth for the assistance of future generations, and while he didn’t know if that was accurate or not, there was at least some form of magic there to react to Noctis’s presence. That was all that he needed to know. Besides, there was a fair amount of former rulers who were complete assholes who would never have agreed to such a thing, or that no laborer would ever have put in any real effort at making a fancy tomb for them. Cor would be shocked if there was more than twenty, they seemed far too spread apart as it was, unless there was a valley of dead kings somewhere in Lucis.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of such a thing in Galahd, but it is possible that there may be a few there; there was a few rulers with Galahdian blood through the generations, regardless of how much those zealots back in Insomnia try to stomp any record of it out of the history books,” Nyx mused bitterly, and Cor lifted his arm and wrapped it around the Glaive’s shoulders, drawing him in.

“How’s Crowe? Things going well back at home?” he asked, trying to divert Nyx’s attention to more positive topics; the raised eyebrow and narrow-eyed look he got in return told Cor that Nyx knew exactly what he was trying to do, but the other man went along with it and snorted.

“Things are fine, and as far as she can tell, it’s not reached the news yet that we’ve all left town. With us having been at a popular tourist spot yesterday, though, it’s pretty likely that will change soon, however,” Nyx said, and Cor nodded. “I have heard that they’ve gotten little out of the would-be kidnappers, only that they had been hired to take Prompto. They claim they have no idea who hired them, and so far, any information they’ve gotten out of them has led nowhere, unfortunately. Also, Monica says to check your text messages, because you are horrible about that,” Nyx drawled, and Cor sighed and pulled out his phone, scrolling through several days of missed messages from her. He really was bad about it. After a few minutes of quiet, Luna shifted in her seat and smiled.

“How much longer to this Fallgrove?” Luna inquired, and Cor looked at the scenery for a moment while mentally consulting a map.

“Not much longer, perhaps a half hour?” he said, and the princess nodded, returning to her phone. Sure enough, only a little over thirty minutes later saw them parking and getting out of their cars, giving a good stretch. He crossed the road to the west side, and immediately saw the dirt road the hunter had mentioned. “I think it’s this way,” he yelled, and the others followed suit. One look at Noctis, Gladio, and Ignis, however, and he frowned. “Is there a problem?” Gladio blinked and shook his head slowly, the others responding in similar ways. Prompto, on the other hand, seemed unconcerned, and was walking ahead with Nyx chattering with him about photography, from the sound of it.

“It’s nothing, marshal. Just a stray thought,” Ignis replied a little too quickly, and Cor’s brows furrowed together in disbelief before facing forward again. He believed that about as far as he could throw Gladio, but if they didn’t want to talk about it, he wouldn’t push. The walk was largely peaceful, with only a few animals and beasts that wouldn’t leave them alone. No matter, they were easily dispatched, and they had meat for the dinner table to boot. The tomb was easily spotted off a hook of the path, and they headed towards it.

“This one seems a bit...rough. I mean, the building seems fine, but the pillars are messed up,” Prompto said, and Nyx nodded as Cor caught up with them.

“I guess we’ll take a look,” Noctis said, sliding the key into the lock and opening the door; Cor and Prompto held back as the others filed in, but he could clearly see debris on the floor and some damage to the sarcophagus, and the weapon appeared to be missing. This one had been raided in some way, but- Cor blinked, turning and looking towards the northeast. There was something over there, something interesting, and he set off walking without a second thought, Prompto right at his side. There was some shouted voices behind them, but he wasn’t worried about it; that tomb had looked pretty trashed, and they probably weren’t happy-

“This area looks familiar, but I’m not sure, I wanna go look, though,” Prompto said, and without even asking, Cor wrapped his arm around the young man’s shoulder and stepped, appearing right by the car. “We really should do that more, save us some walking-” the blond trailed off, and he continued up the hill past the haven. “This is-” Cor’s eyes grew wide as the ruined tower came into view, every fiber of his being telling him to approach, to wait for the night time so they could enter-

“This...is Costlemark, isn’t it? Ignis said something about it last year, but it’s escaping me what-” Cor muttered, walking alongside Prompto as they entered the grounds of the once-mighty structure. He let his hands run along the finely cut stone of the walls as they headed towards the center of the tower’s remaining facade and substructure, stepping over debris and boulders as they reached a staircase downwards flanked by mostly intact pillars. They descended slowly together, with no sense of urgency as they approached a cleanly carved wall with a cross-like relief carved into its surface. They needed to wait, they were there too early-

“I think we- I think we should go, I promised Gladio if I felt that weird urge again to tell him, and we just left them-” Prompto whispered to him, his voice unsure; but Cor knew they needed to stay, they both needed to stay- A phone ringing caused him to blink, and Prompto fished slowly in his pocket, plucking out his phone. “Noct’s calling, I should pick up-” He barely resisted the urge to knock the device out of the younger man’s hand, which startled him enough to make him back away from the blond. What was he doing? They needed to rejoin the others, but-

“Noct? What’s...what’s wrong?” Prompto asked, his voice strange, and Cor sat down on the carved floor, leaning against the door. He would wait, it wasn’t too long to sundown. “We need to wait for night time, we both agreed-” Prompto frowned. “Leave? No, we can’t leave, we have something we need to do-” Cor surged to his feet without even thinking, ripping the phone out of the voice’s hand.

“We aren’t going anywhere until it’s time,” he growled, then ended the call, pocketing the phone and sitting back down against the wall, letting his eyes close. He heard Prompto shift in place for a moment before the younger man joined him against the door, the voice’s smaller frame leaning against his side.

“We could go find them...then come back?” Prompto asked hesitantly, and Cor scowled.

“They’ll try to make us leave, and we can’t leave. The door won’t open until nightfall,” he said firmly, even as a little voice at the back of his mind told him to go find Nyx, go find the others-

“They’ll find us soon anyway, I suppose,” the voice said, and Cor growled again, wrapping his arm around Prompto’s shoulders. They would be staying put until night, no matter who showed up. The voice relaxed into his embrace, and he let his eyes fall shut. They just needed to wait-

“Cor? Prompto! Where are you?” The prince’s voice echoed amongst the stones, and Cor’s eyes shot open. He immediately tightened his grip on the voice’s shoulder, then faltered when a beloved voice sounded just a moment later.

“Cor? Cor, come on now, at least give me a warning if you are going to run off-” Nyx’s voice had an odd tone to it, and Cor had to physically force himself to stay where he was. Why did he sound concerned...Nyx of all people should know that there were things he needed to take care of as the herald-

“They’re over here!” Cor’s head shot up at the sound of Gladio’s voice coming from far too close for his comfort, and spotted the large man standing at the top of the staircase looking down at them, a wild look in his eyes. “Hey, Prom, remember what we talked about last time we were here?” Gladio asked, and Cor snarled, pushing his back against the door and continuing his grip on the voice, who looked increasingly lost. He could see the younger Amicitia’s grimace from where he was, and it really made him resemble his father- “Shit, Cor’s completely lost it. We’ve gotta do something, guys.” A small part of him was really pissed off at the accusation, but the rest of him was oddly understanding; the boy just didn’t know what was going on, that’s all, he spoke this out of concern-

“Cor? Can you tell me what you are feeling right now?” Luna’s soft voice cut through his thoughts, and for a moment, he froze. What the hell was he doing, he’s acting like he’s gone mad- “Cor?”

“We have to go inside. We must go inside; everything in me is telling me that we need to wait until the door opens, that it’s vital we are here at the right time,” he said desperately, his eyes darting from Gladio to Luna, from Noctis to Ignis, even Libertus and Highwind; meeting a line of concerned faces before his gaze settled on Nyx, who looked drawn and pensive. “Nyx, we have to go in,” he said despondently, and the Glaive sighed.

“While I’m sure you are right, herald, don’t you think it better to come here properly prepared? You can’t tell me that the Dawn Mother wants you two scrambling and scraping about like thieves at the door,” Nyx said softly, and Cor shuddered, his grip loosening on the voice’s shoulder. Nyx was right, they couldn’t go inside like this, but they were already there...what if they left and couldn’t return? No, they would go as they were, and hope she didn’t take offense. He looked over at the voice, seeing him resolute, and took a deep breath.

“Okay, no, we aren’t letting you two go in there without more information, we have no idea what’s inside...except possibly my ancestor’s sword, but that’s unimportant. Marshal, get up, we need to go to Galahd, right? I’m sure they will know what’s going on-” Noctis stepped forward down the steps, and Cor bristled, but found himself moving slightly. His prince wanted him to get up-

“Noct, perhaps one of us should go first, he’s not quite...there at the moment,” Ignis said, and he snarled, his hand wrapping around his sword. They were trying to make them leave-

“Get back, you two,” Gladio moved around both the prince and the advisor, his hands empty. “Come on, marshal, we’ve got a trip to be on, right? Why don’t we come back after we go to Galahd-” Gladio took a few steps forward, and Cor raised his sword slightly in response; that voice inside his head was screaming at him, telling him to snap out of it, but-

“Cor, babe, is it okay if I come closer?” Nyx asked, and the voice beckoned him with a hand before Cor could even process what had been asked, and he flinched as the Glaive knelt in front of them, reaching out and lightly pushing down his sword hand. “Cor, we aren’t out to get you, we’re just concerned. This isn’t like you,” Nyx said softly, his fingers reaching out and running down Cor’s jaw, reminding Cor that he hadn’t shaved that morning-

No. No. He was trying to get them to leave, they couldn’t- Cor turned his head away from Nyx, looking down at the voice, who looked...tired. “Prompto?” The blond turned his head towards him, his eyes conflicted.

“Maybe they’re right, you know she’d want us properly prepared, like Nyx said, it’s kinda strange it’s like this, maybe this is a test-” Cor heard what he was saying, but- he tightened his grip around the hilt of his sword once more, only to hear a soft tune sink into his mind next to him; his eyelids grew heavy, and the last thing he saw before everything went black was Nyx coaxing his sword out of his hand.

When he opened his eyes, he was half-sprawled over Nyx in the back seat of their car, the younger man’s arms wrapped tight around his body. What the hell happened? He remembered something drawing him towards the ruins along with Prompto, remembered finding the closed door- but Nyx was clinging to him like he was afraid he would leave, and he knew something had happened that he couldn’t recall. He shifted, turning as much onto his back as he could manage as his favorite Glaive opened his own eyes and looked down at him owlishly, before his eyes widened and Cor suddenly found himself crushed awkwardly against Nyx’s chest.

“Cor! Are you...okay? How are you feeling?” Nyx asked, a bit breathless, then Cor felt a fine fingered hand on his knee, and he looked over to see Luna looking at him as well, her features also pinched with concern. What the hell happened?

“I’m more confused than anything, honestly. What happened? The last thing I remember is heading with Prompto to some ruins to the east of the tomb-” Nyx’s brows furrowed so fast in alarm that Cor tried to sit up, give the other man some space, but the Glaive was having none of it, and he remained stuck in his twisted position.

“You don’t remember,” Nyx said flatly, and Cor racked his brain to see if he recalled anything else. He hadn’t wanted to leave the ruins, he remembered that much, although he didn’t know why.

“I...I know I didn’t want to go? It’s all rather muddled; I just knew I needed to stay for some reason,” he said, and Nyx sighed.

“You and Prompto flattened yourselves against the door and you growled at everyone who tried to convince you to leave but me, and your patience with my presence seems to have been running out as well,” Nyx stated, and Cor’s eyes went wide with shock.

“You’re serious,” he asked, and Luna hummed next to him.

“You were not yourself, herald, although I believe you were fighting your own mind as you lingered there; Prompto seemed slightly more coherent, but only just. It was enough, though, he managed to sing you two to sleep so we could get you two out of that place,” Luna explained, and his jaw dropped. Prompto had to knock them out? Nyx sighed again, finally loosening his grip enough to let Cor sit back up, although he threaded his right hand through Cor’s left and squeezed.

“You summoned your sword when Ignis tried to approach you, and gave a half-assed attempt at raising it when Gladio stepped in front of him. As Luna says, you were clearly fighting yourself, but you still wouldn’t let anyone near you two except for me,” Nyx said quietly, and Cor choked on his own spit.

“Did I...did I try anything with you?” he gasped, his chest growing increasingly tight; the Glaive tightened his grip and shook his head.

“I'll be honest, I think you were considering it, but you didn't get the chance to go that far. How do you feel now? No urges to run back to that place?” Nyx asked, and Cor was so stunned by the whole affair that his jaw worked uselessly for a long moment before he managed to speak again.

“No, I feel fine now, I really don't remember any of this beyond not wanting to leave. I'm so sorry,” he choked out, his heart still racing as both Nyx and Luna tightened their grips on his hand and knee respectively.

“Hopefully we find something in Galahd that explains what just happened, because I'll be honest Cor, I don't want to let you within a fifty mile radius of that place again until we figure it out. I think you're going out of your way to give me a heart attack before I turn thirty-five, babe. I don't appreciate it,” Nyx grumbled, but his thumb was stroking the top of Cor’s hand as he spoke, and Cor took a deep breath, letting the air out in a shuddering sigh.

“Where...where are we headed?” he asked, and this time, it was Libertus who spoke from the front seat.

“There’s a haven not two minutes away, we’ll be stopping there for the night. You two shook everyone up, marshal, the whole thing was completely out of nowhere,” the Glaive said, and Cor groaned, leaning forward and resting his forehead on his free hand. He needed to apologize to Gladio and the others, his behavior was beyond the pale-

“So I’m guessing you going off the rails and refusing to leave giant ominous ruined temple complexes isn’t a common thing for you and the kid? I’ll be honest, if you had raised that sword of yours a few more inches, I was planning to dive behind and knock you out. Luckily, my first in-person witnessing of Prompto’s magic music, and it’s him singing you both to sleep. Well, good call from the kid, anyway. Don’t suppose there’s any other abandoned temples or worse that we need to avoid? Your skill with that katana of yours is pretty legendary, and I’d hate to have to fight you because you and Prompto are about to walk off a sacred ravine or some shit, marshal,” Highwind said bluntly, and Cor sat back up, clenching his free hand into a too-tight fist in response, his short nails digging into his palms.  

“I certainly hope not, because hearing about what I did or could have done scares the shit out of me.”

No one else spoke again as Libertus parked the car right behind the Regalia, and Cor could see Prompto get out of the car slowly, Gladio hovering right behind him. Nyx squeezed his hand one more time, then let go, bringing the same hand up to his cheek and running the back of his hand down it slowly before turning away and opening the car door.

“Why don’t we have a nice quiet evening far away from that place in...I don’t even know where the hell we are besides the fact we are near the Disc,” Nyx commented as he slid out of the car, Cor following in his wake. “Hey, Ignis, where are we exactly?” Cor took the opportunity to walk over to Gladio and Prompto, only to freeze when he met the taller man’s eyes. He had no idea what to say to the man, he didn’t even really remember what happened.

“You doing okay, marshal? You and Prom really had us worried there for a while,” Gladio said, and Cor sagged with relief as he nodded.

“I’m fine. Gladio, I apologize for anything I may have done back there, I-” Gladio shook his head, cutting him off.

“You don’t remember, do you?” Gladio asked, and Cor sighed, giving a slight shake of his head.

“Only a few things, Nyx and Luna filled me in on what happened,” he muttered as he looked over at Prompto. “Are you alright, Prompto? I understand you weren’t quite as...addled as I was.” The blond gave a rather self-deprecating smirk, then shrugged.

“I think I was only a little better because I had been there before, but don’t get me wrong, I wanted everyone to leave us alone so we could go in too. But I do remember most of it, and yeah, I’m glad I did what I did, because I was about to lose it, and you were pretty much there,” Prompto said, and Cor closed his eyes in sheer mortification; he had thought sleeping in excessively late was embarrassing, but it didn’t even scratch the surface- “It was only Nyx pointing out that the Dawn Mother wouldn’t...how did you put it, Nyx?” Cor turned slightly as the Glaive walked up next to him, a familiar warm hand coming to rest at the base of his spine. Nyx’s expression was serious, and Cor found himself focusing entirely on the other man.

“I said that there was no way the Dawn Mother would want you scraping and scrambling like thieves at the door, and I know I’m right. If you two end up going back there at some point, and I have a serious suspicion that’s going to happen, you two are going to be prepared. Ignis stated that the place appears to open at night, which both of you seemed to instinctually know. I’m hoping we find something in Galahd that might explain what’s going on, because let’s be honest, letting you two into a creepy building that seems to rob you both of your senses is not the first on my list,” Nyx frowned, and Cor was suddenly incredibly happy that at least one of them had their shit together, because it was becoming rather obvious that he sure as hell didn’t when it came to his and Prompto’s...peculiarities. If he and Prompto had come on this trip on their own...Cor shook his head, bringing his hands up and running them roughly down his face. He knew exactly what would have happened; the two of them would still be sitting there waiting for the door to that place to open even now, and from there-

“Cor, you okay?” Prompto interjected, and Cor let his hands drop to his sides.

“I’m just- I’m tired. Physically I feel fine, but my brain wants a damn nap. How about you?” he asked, and Prompto gave a rather half-assed smirk before he dropped the act with a groan.

“Pretty much the same, but it’s like three pm, it’s way too early to go to bed,” Prompto grumbled, only for the prince to slap both of them on the back and keep walking, holding a duffle over his shoulder.

“Naps are appropriate at all times, Prom, you should know this! Knowing how fast Gladio is, he’s probably got the tent already set up. Why don’t you two rest for a little while, it’s been kind of a weird day for you guys,” Noctis commented as he walked away, and Cor found himself being coaxed along by Nyx’s hand on his back.

“That sounds perfect. Cor, naptime. It’s not like you don’t crash everywhere on your lazy days as it is.”

Nyx had a point. Once they arrived at the campsite, Cor and Prompto were ushered into the big tent together, and told to rest. When Gladio zipped up the door behind them, Cor sat down on the closest sleeping bag with a grunt, scrubbing a hand through his hair.

“I suddenly feel like I’m five again,” he grumbled, but when Prompto reached out and patted him on the arm in mock-sympathy, he snorted out a laugh. “Fine, naptime it is.” It was decently warm, and Cor used the sleeping bag as a mattress as he curled onto his side. Prompto laid down on the sleeping bag next to him, and they looked at each other silently for a long while before Prompto closed his eyes with a sigh.  

“They’re just worried about us, you know. I know you’re used to being the one worrying about everyone and everything else, but it may be a good time to let someone else help out for a change. I know you kept all this to yourself for so long, and I was starting to do the same thing, but-” Prompto spoke without opening his eyes, but Cor could feel his meaning cut straight to his heart. Prompto was right. They didn’t have to do this alone anymore. He let his mind wander, and soon enough, everything faded away.

Cor’s scattered dreams were suddenly washed away by a familiar meadow, and the goddess’s smile seemed a bit sad as she turned towards the two of them. Cor actually was dizzy for a moment as he tried to get his bearings, Prompto not looking any more stable next to him as they both looked at her in confusion.

“My lady?”

The Dawn Mother didn’t speak at first, but reached out and cupped both of their faces in her hands for a long moment before lowering her arms to her side.

“Are you two well?” the goddess asked, and Cor looked over at Prompto in confusion before nodding slowly.

“Yes, my lady, just a little tired now.” Eos nodded as well, her expression still not something Cor was used to seeing on her face as yet another long pause went by without a word. “Is everything...alright?”

“You must resist until you are ready, my loves. Do not rush towards your destiny, but enjoy your travel to its destination, wherever it may lead,” the goddess said cryptically, and Prompto and Cor both blinked.

“Dawn Mother?” Prompto said, his voice raised in a question, and Eos shook her head, reaching out and drawing both of them into a hug.

“Remember that there is a whole world out there to be a part of, do not let yourself be locked away from it.”

“They only asked me to stay in the Citadel for safety reasons, you know that, right? I haven’t been asked to stay in otherwise-” Prompto started to say, but was cut off by the goddess shaking her head once again.

“While that concerned me for a little while, that is not of what I speak. What you do now, enjoy it. Embrace it. It is wonderful to my eyes.” Cor frowned in confusion, and was forced to crane his head to see her face.

“Forgive us if we are a bit confused, is there something you wish of us?” he asked, and the Dawn Mother hugged them tighter, then let them go.

“Enjoy your travels, my chosen.”

When the meadow faded away from under their feet, he gave one last look of confusion to both the goddess and Prompto before sleep overtook him once more.

When he woke some time later, he could feel warmth on his chest and a breeze against his side; craning his head revealed that Prompto had curled up to his side at some point and was using his stomach as a pillow, and the tent door was partially open while several of his esteemed travel companions were gleefully taking photos of the two of them. After giving a rather lazy stinkeye to whoever was in the doorway (Luna, who giggled but didn’t stop,) Cor let his head drop back down. He’d glare at them later. He closed his eyes again, and the next time he woke up, it was to Noctis poking him in the shoulder, telling him to go back to his own tent.

“What time is it?” he yawned, and Noctis’s half-glare quickly transformed to a laugh.

“It’s nine at night, you slept through dinner. If you want something, though, there should be something still left-” Cor waved off his concern, crawling to the tent door and grabbing his shoes.

“I’m not hungry, but thank you anyway. I’ll get out of your hair now,” he said, sliding his boots back on; just as he was about to exit the tent, he was stopped by a hand on his shoulder, and he turned back to face the suddenly pensive Noctis. “Your highness?” Noctis shook his head, then patted his shoulder.

“Just like we told Prom, Cor, if you feel weird, or get an urge to wander off that doesn’t feel like an ordinary one, tell us, okay? I’ve known you my whole life, you know, I worry about you too,” Noctis said quietly, and Cor could actually feel warmth in his cheeks as he beheld the prince of the realm. He felt both old and proud, which was a strange sensation; a thought came to him as he slid out of the tent, turning to face Noctis head on. Maybe that’s a tiny bit what it feels like to have children.

“I will, Noctis. Thank you.”

Now if only he could figure out what the goddess had been talking about.

Chapter Text

The events of the previous day had scared the shit out of everyone, as much as they all tried to tone it down around the marshal and the kid. Libertus could probably take a rather educated guess that the Immortal going crazy is pretty much in the Citadel’s top three of things that no one ever wanted to see happen, because between his skill and his special abilities, it would be very difficult to keep him from going anywhere he wanted to go. So when they all ran up to see Cor with his back to a door that apparently only opens at night, growling and barely able to speak, there was probably a moment where the lot of them had tiny heart attacks before getting their shit together.

Luckily, Prompto had enough awareness to realize that the situation was going downhill quickly (they had all seen Cor grip his sword tighter as Nyx tried once last time to get him to calm down, and Libertus had been legitimately about to panic that he was about to watch his best friend get killed by his own boyfriend) and knocked both of them out with a short song. He had seen Nyx shaking as he had gathered both men into his arms after pushing Cor’s famous katana out of the way, whether out of fear or adrenaline, he didn’t know, but that was not a look he liked to see on Nyx. Twice was enough. So he joked around a bit as they hauled Cor’s dead weight back to the car, even as the prince said something about his worries of them never coming out of that place that almost caused Nyx to freak out again.

Thanks, your highness. Your timing, as always, was impeccable.

Once in the car, Nyx clung to Cor like he was afraid he would vanish, and to be fair, that was a valid concern; when the marshal woke up confused and apparently remembering very little of what had just occurred, it was actually a relief. Well, to the rest of them, at least. Cor had looked horrified when they told him more or less what had happened, but the older man seemed to keep it together...for the most part.

Prompto and Cor had looked so tired when they got to the haven that they were easily convinced to have a lie-down in the prince’s tent, and as soon as Amicitia got Nyx and Cor’s tent up, Libertus grabbed his friend’s arm and dragged him inside it.

“What?” Nyx griped as he was hauled inside, but Libertus ignored him as he pulled his boots off, zipping the door up behind them as soon as Nyx had done the same. “I’m not really in the mood for games, Libertus-” He cut Nyx off with a finger to the man’s lips; the two of them looked wearily at each other for awhile before Libertus sighed.

“Look, Nyx. I’ve known you most of my life, and there’s something that I was well aware of even as a kid. You love. You love with your whole damn heart. You hold on to that love even past the point that many others would have let go,” he said quietly, watching Nyx go pale. “When we first got to Insomnia, you were a mess. You hid it well enough, but I know you. You had your flings, your one night stands, even some short-lived girl and boyfriends, but you hadn’t looked at anyone like you look at him since we left Galahd. He...and the kid too, let’s be honest, you’ve adopted them. Wholeheartedly. Because only you could have ended up with the dawnsworn as your new family-” Nyx voiced a choked off laugh that was a lot more watery sounding then he would have ever admitted to, and Libertus wrapped his arm around Nyx’s shoulders and pulled him in until their temples bumped together.

“Libs-”

“I really like them, Nyx. Prompto is a sweetheart, a kid who’s had a ton of shit thrown at him for most of his life, and he never lets it get him down for long, which amazes the hell out of me. That kid deserves the world on a silver platter, and I’d say that even if he wasn’t the voice of the Dawn Mother. Then you have the marshal...Cor, he’s-” he chuckled, then shook his head. “You know what? He’s everything and nothing his reputation said he was; the Citadel still mostly thinks he’s mysterious and solitary, while I generally agree with Elshett, she thinks he’s incredibly skilled, the best person to have on your side in a fight, and a complete dork that could have used some normal socialization growing up. I’ll add personally oblivious and slightly narcoleptic from the amount he seems to sleep-” he huffed a laugh, then continued. “Some say he’s a stone-cold killer in service to the crown, others that he had been a prodigy who grew up to be the youngest-ever head of the Crownsguard, and, most importantly, the king and Lord Amicitia have both said that he’s a good man who had been a precocious little shit as a kid-” Libertus grinned as Nyx snorted out a laugh at the last one, then shook his head.

“Actually, if you listen to them, they’ll say he hasn’t changed much, he’s just more willing to actually hear out some of these assholes before punching their lights out than he used to be,” Nyx commented, and Libertus grinned.

“Sounds about right.” No one spoke for a long, awkward minute, then he sighed. “Nyx, you’re dating the Herald of the Dawn Mother. Your near-stepkid is the Voice. If Prompto hadn’t knocked them both out, I was scared to death that Cor was going to kill you, or at the least, hurt you. There’s so much going on here that part of me is afraid you’ll be collected in it.” Nyx pulled away from him, his eyes wide; Libertus scratched at his nose and frowned. “I heard him in the car, you know; the instant he found out he had summoned his sword, he asked if he had done anything to you. Combined with the fact that he only let you approach when he was steadily losing it proves to me...not that I didn’t know already, but still- it proves that he’s utterly devoted to you, and that’s a powerful thing.” Nyx looked lost, but managed to speak.

“Libertus-”

“Fuck, I’ve completely lost my train of thought. I- just be careful, Nyx. There’s more than a few sad stories of the partners of the dawnsworn, legends or not, and I don’t want you to be included among them,” he finally mumbled out, his face on fire, and Nyx stared at him completely poleaxed.

“You’re worried about me,” Nyx’s voice was barely above a whisper, and it took Libertus a moment to parse what he had said, scowling as it clicked.

“We’ve been friends since we were tearing around the canyons around home ditching class, you dipshit. I think I have the right to be. I’m not trying to accuse anyone of anything, I just want you to be careful...and maybe we might want to avoid old looking ruins for now. We probably shouldn’t risk it,” he said, and Nyx pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. Libertus gave him a knowing look at the gesture, and the other Glaive whipped his hand down with a glare before slumping.

“Thanks, Libertus. Even if you are an ass,” Nyx said under his breath, and Libertus grinned.

“You wouldn’t have me any other way, Nyx. You wouldn’t know what to do.”

A light knock on the frame of the tent got them both looking up, and he crawled over and unzipped the door to see Aranea standing there, a hand on her hip.

“The others are all having way too much fun snapping photos of your boyfriend, Nyx, figured you’d want to know,” Aranea said, a smirk on her pale features, and Libertus and Nyx exchanged a confused look before they both scrambled for the door. The princess had her phone out snapping away as they approached, and Libertus peeked around her to see Cor conked out flat on his back, snoring quietly, with Prompto partially sprawled on top of him. The kid’s face was resting comfortably in the marshal’s upper abdomen, and Libertus was pretty sure that he wasn’t imagining the little puddle of drool slowly soaking into Cor’s shirt. A camera click to his right drew his attention, and he rolled his eyes at the sight of Nyx snapping a photo with his phone.

“Just couldn’t help yourself, could you?”

Nyx’s corresponding grin was reassuring, and he thumped his old friend on the back and decided to wander over and see if Ignis needed any help with dinner. A few hours later saw them all fed except Cor, Prompto having woke up and joined them, and Libertus decided to retire to his own tent and start getting ready for bed. He only zipped up the door part of the way closed as he wrestled out of his shirt, then wetted a washcloth and wiped down his face and torso with a grimace. He hadn’t expected to have to run several miles flat out, nor haul a two-hundred plus pound marshal a mile back to the car, and he was really starting to feel it. Just as he was about to close his door the rest of the way, he could hear the prince talking, and he paused.

“He’s still out,” the prince hissed to someone, and the answering giggle told Libertus that he was speaking with Prompto.

“I can go wake him up, you know, there’s no need to grump about it-” the kid replied, but the prince sighed.

“No, I’ve got this. I need to tell him something anyway. Give me a minute.” Libertus couldn’t hear anything beyond muffled talking for a moment, but he peeked out in time to see Cor climbing out, a thoughtful look on his face as he went back to he and Nyx’s tent. Besides looking a little ruffled (and he wouldn’t mention the suspicious stain in the middle of Cor’s shirt) he looked more...together than he had when they had first arrived. He waited until the marshal was safely ensconced in his tent then finally zipped up his own. Hopefully tomorrow would be a much calmer day.  

The new day dawned clear and warm, and to Libertus’s relief, the marshal seemed pretty much back to normal. He and Nyx were definitely sitting a little closer than they probably would have been otherwise, but no one was going to begrudge them that. He looked down at his phone out of habit, then remembered something. Raising a hand to get everyone’s attention, Libertus glanced down at his phone again and began to speak.

“Crowe shot me a text this morning, the cat’s out of the bag, so to speak. The media is aware that we are not in Insomnia; there’s some pictures of everyone at Galdin Quay, mainly from when we were eating at the restaurant. The only nighttime photo is one of the princess and Aranea walking on the pier, before any specific people are concerned. The king came out and stated that we were on an exploratory trip, but according to Crowe, he also implied it was a bit of a vacation of sorts as well. Officially hoped we were all enjoying ourselves, you know, the usual fluff talk,” he said, and the prince nodded.

“Well, we knew it was going to happen eventually. Did she say anything about a response?” the prince asked, and Libertus nodded in reply.

“Not a lot, I guess it really only leaked yesterday evening, but supposedly some concerns over both the marshal and captain being gone simultaneously, but with the collection of people that went, many are pretty much assuming that the trip has a greater purpose that the crown isn’t revealing. Nothing else from her yet, but she said she would keep up informed.“ The rest of them responded with a collection of nods and quiet grunts, and Libertus reached up and took the bowls that Ignis was passing out, distributing them to everyone else. Breakfast time.

I meant to ask yesterday, but I assume that’s some sort of military installation out there?” Prompto inquired to everyone as they munched on their morning oatmeal, and Libertus, Cor, Nyx, and even Aranea all nodded. Everyone turned towards the former Imperial with a collection of questioning looks, and the dragoon raised her hands in a pacifying motion.

“Hey, I spent like five minutes in this area, they generally didn’t trust me enough for actual missions. We were usually assigned to defend strategic out of the way places. I had a few short stints at some of the garrisons, but they pulled my squad out and sent us back to Gralea about a week before everything went down last year. Good thing, too, I was able to hop in my ship and haul ass to Tenebrae while everything was still chaotic,” Aranea said, and the princess smiled next to her.

“And all of Tenebrae thanks you for it,” the princess said, a tiny thread of steel in her voice, thankfully ending any awkward tension before it could start. It was Ignis who spoke next, his expression thoughtful as he finished up the last few bites of his meal.

“Should we investigate? We are very close to it, we might be able to pass on some information to his majesty-” Ignis was cut off by the marshal shaking his head, and Libertus turned towards Cor and Nyx as they both got to their feet.

“It’s a sound idea, Ignis, but the captain and I will do a short trip inside to make sure there isn’t anything we need to worry about in the near future. I’m assuming not, as it’s laid dormant for over a year now, but it’s probably best to double-check. No need for a major expedition, we’ll be back shortly.” Libertus met Nyx’s eyes for a moment while pointing at himself, but his friend shook his head.

“We’ll be back in less than an hour,” Nyx announced, and the marshal and Nyx looked at each other for a moment as Cor placed his hand on Nyx’s shoulder, the two vanishing into thin air. Aranea actually jerked with surprise, and Libertus turned towards her with a raised brow.

“I thought you were aware of his...abilities?” he asked, and the woman nodded. “Then-”

“It’s the first time I’ve seen it in person, I had only seen it on TV before. I missed it yesterday,” Aranea explained, and he nodded. That made sense. The rest of them cleaned up and started packing everything back into the cars and armiger, waiting for Cor and Nyx to return. About five minutes before their hour was going to be up, Prompto suddenly jumped to his feet, eyes wide and face pale, and before anyone could ask what was wrong, a giant explosion from the direction of the base knocked the lot of them clean off their feet, and Libertus’s heart fell into his stomach. No. He leapt back to his feet, ready to run towards whatever was left, only to hear a wheezing laugh not ten feet away from him. Did they- he turned around to see an ash-covered Nyx and Cor staggering towards them, and he actually had to close his eyes and take a deep, calming breath. Fucking hell, and Nyx was just bitching about how Cor was trying to drive him to a heart attack!

“So, booby trap,” Nyx coughed out, and Libertus watched stupidly as Cor tried to brush the man off rather ineffectively, the debris falling off of both of them in tiny clouds. Just as he was about to say something, Noctis and Prompto stomped up to them in near matching poses, complete with crossed arms. It would have been funny had it not come right after those two idiots had just apparently leveled a damn military base.

“You know, Cor, when I told you that last night, I didn’t think you’d run out and get yourself blown up the next morning,” Noctis scowled, and Cor had the grace to look a bit embarrassed as he continued to try and knock the ash off of him and Nyx.

“Turns out they left a sizable trap for us; I didn’t see any paperwork or other material of importance, and just as we were going to shut off the power, as it’s probably been siphoning from the grid this whole time, we apparently triggered some sort of doomsday mode. I’m actually quite relieved that it was only us that went. If you had all gone, it would have been very difficult to get us all out in time. We barely made it out as is. I’m going to immediately recommend to the king that any unexplored bases be left alone for now, as we’ll need to make sure there isn’t more...surprises for us,” Cor stated, then started to cough; Prompto and Libertus both sighed in unison before he turned and started walking back towards the car.

“Where are you going, Libs?” Nyx yelled between coughs, and he rolled his eyes.

“I’m getting your fucking bags so you two can go jump in that little lake back there and clean yourselves off,” he yelled back. Idiots, both of them.

An hour later saw the two washed and dressed in clean clothes, and Libertus glared at both of them until they were firmly settled in the back seat with the princess, who seemed thoroughly amused at the whole affair.

“I’ll drive today, thank you,” he grumbled, and waited for the Regalia to take off before throwing Rita into gear and following.

“Where are we going today? Hopefully no ancient ruins, no explosions?” Aranea asked, and he huffed out a laugh.

“Hopefully none of the above. Another tomb, supposedly, Gladio asked a group of hunters that passed near our campsite last night,” he replied, and he could see Cor nod in the rear-view mirror.

“Where is it?” the marshal inquired, and Libertus pointed his finger almost straight ahead.

“Almost dead west of where we camped last night, but we’ll have to follow the roads. Shouldn’t be more than an hour.”

This time, the tomb was in good shape, easily accessible, and there was no sign of worrisome ruins anywhere in sight. After the sight of a giant glowing shield plowing its way into their prince’s chest caused more than a few intakes of breath, they all staggered back out into the sunshine.

“Where to now?” he asked, and everyone looked towards Cor and the prince, waiting. His highness shifted on his feet for a minute, then looked at the group of them with an unsure expression.

“Well, I heard from that same group of hunters that there might be a tomb on the Rock of Ravatogh…”

Climbing. Libertus sighed internally, then dug up a little smile for the prince.

“We follow your lead, your highness.”

 

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Just be careful. Libertus’s words resonated in Nyx’s mind as they hiked up Ravatogh, Cor at his side; back in Insomnia, it was usually easy to...not forget, but put the fact of who Cor and Prompto were to the back of his mind, but out in the real world, with its dangers and ominous magical ruins to seemed to compel them to near-madness, it was swiftly moving back out front and center. Cor had sworn to him that he would let him know the instant he felt anything like he had the other day, but Nyx knew that was only going to work to a point. If they stumbled across something that called to the twosome too strongly, Cor probably wouldn’t be able to indicate anything in time. But there wasn’t anything to be done except keep an eye out for anything unusual and hope for the best. After an exhausting period of hiking, climbing, and hopping over lava, they reached a haven, which his overheated feet were thrilled about. While some of their camping stuff was stashed in the royal armigers, they decided to just relax and have a light snack for an hour before continuing. No one really wanted to stay overnight on an active volcano.

Nyx sat near the edge of the haven munching on an energy bar of unknown origin as he admired the view, Cor and Prompto at his side as they did the same. While it had been horrifically hot just a quarter-mile down the volcano, the stone of the haven was cool to the touch and the breeze was pleasant. He’d enjoy it while he could. After Prompto finished his snack, he rose to his feet, walking over and standing at the very edge of the cliff; Nyx tensed slightly, but forced himself to stay put. Prompto was an adult, and he knew he was just being somewhat...oversensitive at the moment.

“His presence lingers here,” Prompto said, and Nyx stiffened. “You can feel him too, right Cor?” Nyx scrambled to his feet as Cor stood up, the older man walking over to join the blond by the cliff. What in the world was he talking about?

“I can, although it’s faint. He’s died since, as we know, and the power in his bones has faded in his second passing,” Cor responded, and a quick glance to the rest of the group revealed confusion except for Luna, who nodded and walked up to the two men.

“There is power in the bones of an astral, after all, I’m not surprised you can sense him. Ifrit has been twice thrown down, and while his bones were turned to dust in his recent defeat, he was buried here intact after his first demise. Oracles of the past have mentioned feeling his presence here before,” the princess said, and Nyx breathed a silent sigh of relief. This wasn’t anything like the other day, not if Luna was joining in as well. Luna dithered for a moment before looking directly at Cor and Prompto, a thoughtful expression on her face. “What does he feel like to you two?” Nyx watched as the two men exchanged a solemn look, before facing Luna again.

“Anger, wrath, and sadness,” Prompto said, and Cor nodded. “It’s faint, but it’s there. I don’t think I wanna spend very long here.” Luna nodded once more, turning towards the rest of the group.

“No, I don’t think we should. While it would take longer to effect the others, none of the oracles would stay here beyond re-sanctifying this haven due to his presence here. It’s not a pleasant one,” Luna said, and Prompto walked back over to Noctis and his friends, while Cor returned to Nyx.

“We should probably press on, then, so we can be done and off the mountain before it gets too late,” the prince announced, and everyone nodded in agreement. After another period of climbing and slogging through ash and stone, they came across the familiar sight of a royal tomb, this time formed within a divot within the mountain.

“I’ve come to the determination that there must be a standard set of tomb blueprints stashed somewhere within the Citadel,” Ignis stated out of nowhere as they followed the prince inside, and Nyx snorted. Of all the things-

“You are probably right, Ignis. These are all far too alike to be otherwise,” Cor responded, and Nyx and Prompto shared an amused glance as Noctis held his hand out over the massive mace, and Nyx braced for that eternally alarming vision of a giant weapon slamming into their prince’s chest. He was not disappointed, and the additional sight of the four weapons Noctis had collected spinning around him was actually quite beautiful to watch, even if he had seen the king’s armiger before. A sign of a new era on the horizon.

A few minutes later, and they stepped out of the tomb, looking over the edge of the cliff with more than a little trepidation.

“I suppose we’ve gotta work our way down now,” Aranea sighed. “I should have called my ride and they could have taken us down-” Nyx watched as Prompto’s eyes suddenly lit up, and after whispering to Cor for a moment, the younger man reached out and grabbed Nyx’s hand.

“Everybody join up!” the blond chirped, and Nyx watched as Gladio grinned and grabbed Ignis and Noctis, Luna reached out and took Aranea’s hand, then Noctis’s, Libertus took Aranea’s, and he reached out and took Cor’s with an amused sigh.

“It’s not too much, right?” he said quietly in the older man’s ear, and Cor shook his head.

“It’s fine.” Fine, he says. If Cor passed out as soon as they got down to the ground, he was going to kick him in his stupid head.

...and patch him up after, but still. Point stands.

“Everyone good?” Prompto said, and after receiving a (somewhat concerned, in Aranea’s case) chorus of agreements, the younger man turned to Cor with a grin. “Whenever you’re ready.” Cor looked around at everyone, then nodded, closing his eyes and taking a step forward. A stomach-churning moment of disorientation later, and they were standing not thirty feet from their car at the base of the volcano. Cor staggered, Nyx tightening his grip on his hand in response, but the other man regained his balance and stood up straight with a slight groan.

“Still fine?” he asked, and Cor huffed out a quiet laugh.

“Yes. It’s just a bit draining with that many people,” Cor replied, meeting his eyes with a slight smile. “You know me too well.” Nyx raised an eyebrow at his hopeless other half, then leaned in and gave him a quick kiss.

“I try.”

“That’s a hell of a ride, marshal. I’m guessing you’ve long gotten used to it,” Aranea wandered into view, her face slightly pale; she looked a lot better than Nyx would have expected, though, and told her so. “I specialize in jumping, captain. I jump all over the damn place, out of dropships, off buildings...while that was a trip, it felt rather similar if I get a little too fancy with the flips and spins from a high jump,” Aranea explained, a smirk on her face. “That’s handy as hell, though. I wish I could do that.” A scoff from behind them got them spinning on their heels, and Luna was standing there, her arms crossed and a equally naughty smirk on her face.

“You’d just use it to sneak up on Ravus all the time, Aranea, I’ve already heard about some of your pranks,” the princess said, and the former commodore’s smirk grew absolutely incandescent with glee; Nyx saw Noctis laughing like a madman over by them, and his jaw dropped a bit when the former Imperial and the prince of Lucis high-fived each other with complete abandon.

“So, Aranea, tell me all about everything you’ve ever done to Ravus, I find myself in great need of this knowledge-” Noctis asked, and Aranea threw her arm around the royal’s shoulders as they started walking towards the car, leaving the rest of them behind. Nyx just looked between Noctis’s shrinking form and Luna with a tilt of his head, and the oracle brought up a hand and giggled behind it.

“Noctis and Ravus have never gotten along, even before the empire took over Fenestala Manor. I never quite figured out why, but I think it mainly had to do with the fact that Ravus was convinced that I would end up marrying him,” Luna stated, then her eyes grew shifty. “And as I think we all know that’s not happening…” Nyx barked out a laugh as Prompto, who had walked up with Ignis a few moments earlier, turned bright red, his freckles standing out starkly against his face, and even Ignis pinkened a bit. It was a great look on the two of them. “Wait, are we still pretending we don’t all know except for Aranea? Because surely by now-” Luna was cut off by Libertus raising his hand, and Nyx could see her pale a bit. Oh shit, did Libs know? He honestly wasn’t sure-

“Er, Libs? What’s up?” he asked tentatively, and his friend scratched his cheek and chuckled nervously.

“Okay, I knew that at least Prompto and the prince were together, and honestly, I kinda expected Amicitia to be part of it too...but it’s the full pack of you, isn’t it?” Libertus asked, and Luna looked about ready to throw herself into the volcano out of sheer mortification while Cor and Ignis had near-matching looks of resignation on their faces. Prompto swallowed heavily, still flushing rather brilliantly, and nodded. Nyx looked at his friend to see if he saw any misgivings, but Libertus just laughed, reaching out and slapping Prompto on the back. “Well, good for you, kid. You did know that historically, it wasn’t uncommon for the dawnsworn to have a harem-” Cor cleared his throat so loudly and deliberately that everyone but Cor broke down laughing, even Luna, who looked so apologetic that Nyx watched Ignis actually lean in and whisper something in her ear. Whatever he said seemed to do the trick, however, and the princess's shoulders finally lowered from the vicinity of her ears.

“Well, to totally change the subject,” Prompto burst out, his freckles still brilliant against his cheeks. “Where are we off to now? Look for another tomb? Go be tourists and get pictures of the disc? Hit up Lestallum? Let Cor and Nyx loose into another abandoned base for them to blow up? The possibilities seem to be endless at this point,” the kid said, his grin bright and happy, and Nyx shrugged.

“I have no clue, Prompto. Cor? Anything you know about?” he asked, and when Cor seemed unsure, he looked at the kid with a smile. “We passed a haven on the road to here, why don’t we crash there for the night, and we’ll figure it out? I’m pretty sure we are all a little grimy at this point, we can at least shake our clothes out,” he said, and Cor sighed.

“Some of the fanciest cars in the world, and they are going to be absolutely filthy by the time we are done with them,” his sulky boyfriend grumbled, and Nyx patted him on the arm, then started walking.

“The cars can be cleaned, old man. Stop grumping.”

The whole dusty lot of them made their way back to the haven, which unfortunately was surrounded by still more volcanic sand. The rocks had some plants and flowers clinging to them, however, which was nice, and it broke up the grey monotony. The flowers were supposedly a favorite of Gladio’s sister, but short of pressing them, there was no real way for them to get them to her, much to the shield’s chagrin, and they were left alone. The haven was larger than usual, which was a pleasant surprise; they were able to spread their tents out further than usual, and after a quick wipedown, Nyx happily flopped onto their sleeping bag with a sigh, burrowing his face into his pillow.

“I’m sick of being covered in ash, soot, or whatever else fucking comes from fire. Please tell me we aren’t blowing anything up for awhile,” he griped, and Cor sat down next to him on the sleeping bag and put his hand on his back, slowly rubbing up and down his spine, eliciting a groan. Okay, that was nice. He could keep doing that.

“As long as we have no need to return to this area, we should be fine. As I’ve already recommended to Regis about keeping the remaining bases off limits for now, we should be set there as well. I’m assuming a few more stops, then we’ll actually be on our way to Galahd,” Cor said quietly, and Nyx happily settled in as the backrub turned into a proper massage, every press of Cor’s thumbs into the muscle of his back causing him to moan. “Enjoying yourself, Nyx?” Cor commented, even as he dug his thumbs into the base of Nyx’s neck and pressed, and Nyx just melted.

“I’m dead. I’m not moving anymore. Dump me in the car when we leave tomorrow,” he mumbled, and his masseuse laughed, then patted his back and laid down beside him.

“Sorry if I worried you earlier,” Cor said as Nyx rolled onto his side facing him, and Nyx frowned.

“I have no idea why you would be apologizing,” he said in confusion, and Cor sighed.

“Back on the volcano, about the Infernian.” Oh. Well, he had been concerned for a moment, but it was more because they were sounding cryptic while standing on the edge of a cliff. He shook his head and reached up to run his fingers through Cor’s hair, then cradling the back of the other man’s head and pulling him in for a kiss; after several minutes of an increasingly intense makeout session, Nyx (who had rolled on top of Cor at some point,) broke away panting, shifting so he was sitting on the older man’s hips, his hands braced on Cor’s chest.

“I...I was more worried about you two talking about mysterious things while standing inches from a cliff, but...look. It’s fine. When we got together, I knew there would be some things you would be a part of and things you would be able to do that I would never understand. I’m just a little jittery over the other day, babe. I’ll get over it,” he whispered, and Cor reached up and pulled him down into another kiss, and Nyx happily let his hands wander until his favorite Crownsguard jerked under him with an aroused hiss.

“We’ll have to be quiet,” Cor muttered, and Nyx grinned at the older man.

“Then I better find you a sock.”

Early the next morning saw Nyx taking care of a few things from the night before while he was answering the call of nature, quickly throwing some dirt over the evidence before hurrying back to the campsite. Cor was still completely sacked out in the tent, as expected, and he laid back down beside the man with a content sigh, but not before setting an alarm on his phone. Probably best they don’t sleep in super late again, Aranea’s smug knowing looks made Cor incredibly flustered (though he’d deny it to the grave,) and Nyx figured it would be best to spare him. This time.

An hour and a half later saw them cooking eggs and frying onions that Ignis pulled from nowhere, while Prompto chopped potatoes to go with said onions. It was relaxing work, and Nyx let his mind wander as he scrambled the eggs. When the plan of Cor and Prompto traveling to Galahd had been settled on, he had been excited; after all, he hadn’t been home in over ten years, but as they traveled, hiked, camped, and even explored, he found himself realizing that he was in no great hurry to get back to his homeland. While he loved Galahd, and always would, he knew there would be no mother and sister waiting for him at the end of his travels, and while it would be nice to catch up with any old friends and distant family still living, it wasn’t the same. It was still his homeland, and he’d fight for them until his dying breath, but, perhaps...it wasn’t quite home anymore.

Nyx glanced over at the stern, thoughtful profile of his lover, his partner, and smiled. Home had taken on a very different definition for him over the last year. A soft touch to his arm knocked him out of his thoughts, and he turned towards Prompto, who looked concerned.

“You alright? You seemed...distant,” the voice said, and Nyx gave a slight nod.

“I was just thinking about home,” he whispered, and Prompto opened his mouth to speak, but he shook his head. “I was thinking about how the meaning of that word has changed so much for me in the recent past,” he said, and gave the younger man a smile as he leaned in to whisper in his ear. “I think that’s true for you, too.” Prompto flushed the slightest amount, but nodded firmly. “Okay, let’s get breakfast done before we overcook everything. Cor, how’s the potatoes coming?” Cor gave him a knowing look, but didn’t say anything as he finished up the rest of the breakfast. A half-hour later, and everyone was sitting around the campsite digesting as Libertus and Noctis cleaned up the dishes.

“Good job, you three. Sometimes nothing beats a nice egg breakfast,” Aranea said, leaning back impossibly far in her chair, and everyone else nodded in agreement. Nyx was just glad he hadn’t burned the eggs daydreaming, but they didn’t need to know that.

“So where are we off to today?” Gladio asked, and this time, it was Luna that spoke up.

“If you all are amenable, I would like to travel to the disc. I want to do some personal...confirmation of my own,” the princess stated, and Nyx leaned back and waited for someone to speak up. The disc of Cauthess...not the first place on his list, but-

“The disc, huh? I don’t see why not. Prom, didn’t you want to get some photos from up there anyway?” Noctis announced, and Nyx was not surprised when the blond blinked in confusion before scrambling for a response.

“Yes! Totally! The view must be amazing from there, I figured it would be a great photo-op,” Prompto hastily chimed in, and Nyx barely hid his smile as Cor rolled his eyes at Prompto’s antics. Luna either pretended not to notice or didn’t, and clasped her hands in front of her chest and smiled wide.

“Thank you, Noctis! I appreciate your help.”

Nyx just hoped there wasn’t any ash, soot, or anything that otherwise could stick all over them there, because he was thoroughly sick of it.

The actual drive to the disc was a long one, and when they finally arrived in the area in the early evening, the decision was made to camp to a haven that sat at the base of the only road up to the center of the crater and wait for the morning. Luna was polite but distant most of the day, and it was clear that Cor (and pretty much everyone else) was unsure of the wisdom of going up to the great crater, but Noctis seemed unconcerned, and well, they would follow his lead. If things got rocky, Cor had already stated he would get them all out.

“So what do you think of the disc?” Nyx asked Cor as he was pulling off his shirt, and the older man paused for a moment before continuing onto his pants. “Cor?”

“We all know who rests there,” Cor replied, and Nyx sighed.

“Yeah, we do. Do you think she’s hoping for a response? I know she’s been concerned over the fact that she no longer has the Draconian’s favor. And then there’s you and the kid...I’d almost say that she should go up herself, but...no. We need to go with her. We can’t do that to her, she’s accompanied us to all of our wacky errands,” he said, flopping onto the sleeping bag. “Does the Dawn Mother...get along with the Archaean? I’d prefer you and Prompto not go up there if he’s going to wake up and spear you with one of those crystals.” There was no response, and Nyx rolled onto his back to look at Cor, sucking in a breath at the sight. Cor’s eyes were shimmering with an inner light, and Nyx slowly pushed himself back to a sitting position and reached out to him, wrapping a hand around the older man’s wrist and waiting. Only a moment later, the light receded, and Cor shook his head as if to clear it, then shrugged.

“She actually does get along with him, from what I could see. The other astrals have let his physical form remain where it is without so much as an offer of aid, and I got the impression that he’s a little bitter about it. She has visited him here before,” Cor said quietly, and Nyx looked at him with a thoughtful frown as the herald shifted closer, then laid down on the sleeping bag. “I may be wrong, but if he does emerge, it may not be a disaster.” Nyx snorted at the last line, then laid back down beside the other man.

May not be. Well, as endorsements go, I’ve heard worse. We’ll all just have keep our eyes open tomorrow,” he said wryly, and Cor hmmed an agreement as he wriggled into his usual sleeping position, resting his head on Nyx’s chest. “Good night, Cor.”

“Good night, Nyx.”

The general mood of the group was still somewhat anxious the next morning as they worked through the excellent breakfast Ignis had put together, and Luna was pretty much silent beyond basic pleasantries and greetings, but Cor’s newly-acquired calm went a long way to sooth Nyx and the rest of them, Prompto especially. Aranea seemed concerned about Luna going to confront an astral, but kept it to herself for the most part (well, besides the slightly-panicked if she gets hurt doing this, Ravus is going to kill me line she said to everyone but Luna, but did not otherwise bring it up.) They all had to trust that the oracle, even if she no longer had trident in hand, knew what she was doing.

“Do we leave the camp set up?” Ignis inquired, and after some thoughtful looks, both Noctis and Cor answered in the affirmative.

“We’ll just come back here this evening, we can always travel on after that,” the prince stated, and there was no arguments. It was clear that everyone expected this pilgrimage to last the majority of the day, and if it didn’t? Well, they could always use the downtime.

They were able to drive about three-quarters of the way up the path, bumpy roads and all, but it reached the point they were forced to get out and walk, and Nyx looked at the path ahead with no small amount of trepidation. There were ruins all around them, but neither Cor nor Prompto were showing any sign of strangeness, and he could only hope that these ruins were too new to be anything that might call to them. After about ten minutes of walking, Ignis spoke up as they continued along, Luna and Noctis at the front of their group.

“These ruins appear very similar to the royal tombs, I would wager that the marble is of the same quarry as the others. Perhaps-” Ignis trailed off, and now that the younger man pointed it out, Nyx could see the similarities in the broken tile and framework that lined the path. Would a king truly have put their tomb practically at the meteor- at Titan’s doorstep? He and Libertus locked gazes as they walked, but neither could do more than shrug. They would find out soon.

The narrow path suddenly opened out in front of them, and before them was a great tiled overlook, with more of the tile intact than the rest of the path, and near the end-

“That’s a tomb,” Gladio said slowly, surprise clear in his voice, and the prince turned towards Luna, who smiled and waved him on. “The ground doesn’t look very stable, Noct, be careful,” Gladio spoke as he followed Noctis towards the sinking tomb, and Nyx had to concur. He stopped shy of the main part of the crumbling tomb, and to his relief, everyone else, including the princess, followed suit. While the ground underneath it was slowly crumbling away, the tomb itself was still intact, and they all watched as the prince’s armiger armory increased to five, crystalline weapons spinning about Noctis until vanishing in a burst of light.

“Well, that was unexpected, but very cool,” Prompto commented as the two walked back towards the rest of them, his highness grinning and grabbing the blond’s shoulder in reply.

“Yeah, definitely didn’t expect it,” Noctis said, then he turned towards Luna. “Do you want us to wait here?” The oracle closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then nodded.

“For now, at any rate. Thank you again for accompanying me here, Noctis, everyone; I know most of you were uncertain that this was a good idea, and you may be right. But...I must know. I’ve spent the last year wondering if I was no longer what I had been born and trained to be, and while I will forever believe that the sacrifices made that day were entirely the right thing to do, it’s still-” Luna paused, crushing her lips together in dismay; Prompto broke away from Noctis and walked over to her, raising a hand and putting it on her shoulder, his eyes distant and thoughtful.

“...it still lingers. In your thoughts, your heart; you wonder if you are still good enough, whether you were good enough in the first place- even though logically you know that you were right to do what you did, there’s a part of you that wants closure,” Prompto said softly, and Nyx could have hugged the kid right then and there. Luna smiled, then leaned forward and pressed her forehead against Prompto’s, a subtle golden light appearing on their touching skin.

“We are both good enough, Prompto. And no matter what has happened, or what will happen, we are what we need to be.” The oracle stepped away from the voice with a firm expression, then looked about, meeting everyone's eyes before giving a firm nod. “Wish me luck.” Luna turned and walked carefully over the cracked tile past the tomb, standing on the edge of the overlook and facing the center of the crater, the glowing meteor standing tall, then, to Nyx’s complete surprise, opened her mouth and began to sing. There was no words in her song, but the melody was deliberate and clear, the sound enveloping the air around them, and he couldn’t help but look over at Prompto, was grinning. Did the song mean something to him? Or did it just sound lovely like it did to the rest of them? After several minutes of singing, her song came to an end, and she bowed towards the meteor. Time seemed to crawl by as nothing happened, and he glanced over at Cor, who was staring straight ahead, his jaw taut. Wait.

The strange sounds that came from the area of the disc were incomprehensible to him, but from Luna’s sudden straightening, and Prompto and Cor both taking a step forward unbidden before stopping, it was clear they could make something of it. With a rumble, the meteor began to rise, and Nyx’s mouth went dry at the sight of what was coming up from underneath it.

Titan.

The name was apropos, of course, and the astral was so massive that his mind was having problems just comprehending its size as it stood up, meteor on its shoulders, and looked down at them; Nyx swallowed heavily, but managed to stand firm.

“We must look like ants to him,” he muttered under his breath, drawing Libertus and Aranea’s eyes for a moment; Libs looked pale, and even the usually unflappable dragoon looked a little unsettled, but they stood together with the rest and waited as the massive being focused on the oracle, his single golden eye narrowing as he looked at her. Luna’s posture was still straight and sure, showing no sign of concern or fear, and Nyx found himself seriously impressed.

“Oh Archaean, I am Lunafreya, blood of the Oracle, and I have come like many of my ancestors before me to greet you and thank you for your help all those many years ago,” Luna stated loudly, bowing again to the great being. Titan leaned in even closer, his massive head filling their vision, then opened his mouth. The same alien tongue as before came from his lips, and Nyx was not surprised to see Cor and Prompto staring straight at the Archaean, understanding in what he could see of their eyes.

“What is he saying?” Noctis said quietly, and Prompto blinked, then looked back towards the prince, his expression distracted.

“He has greeted the oracle, acknowledged her visit-” Titan began to speak once more, and Prompto’s head shot back around. Cor’s stance stiffened, and Nyx found himself taking a few steps forward, hand inching back to the hilt of one of his kukris. Astral or not, he wasn’t going to let anyone get hurt-

“I am aware of that, oh Archaean. While I and my line will always be thankful for the Draconian for his support for all these years, I could not countenance a world where most living beings, human or not, would perish in the dark before it could be saved. The chosen king was in agreement, and we…” Luna trailed off, and Noctis also moved closer, his expression as regal as Nyx had ever seen it, showing him, if just for a moment, the shape of the king Noctis would eventually be. It was a good look on him. The oracle turned towards the prince with a smile and a nod, before returning her gaze to Titan. “...we found another way.” Prompto turned back towards the rest of them, his eyes still distant.

“He pointed out that the oracle and the king have lost the favor of the Draconian due to their...rebellion, and you heard Luna’s answer,” the blond said, then he immediately returned to his former position as the Archaean began to answer. This time, the great being’s gaze traveled, and Nyx knew that he wasn’t imagining that giant golden eye focusing on the dawnsworn this time. He finally moved until he was just a few steps away from Cor, Libertus following, noticing that the others had done the same for Prompto. While Titan probably could care less about the ants swirling about, Nyx wanted to make it clear that they had support anyway. There wasn’t really anything else he could do. The astral continued to speak, his gaze travelling between oracle and prince, herald and voice, then the ground shook as Titan shifted, moving away from them and looking down at them once more from on high.

“Do we need to worry yet?” Aranea commented tightly, and all eyes turned to the three at the center of this and waited, tension seeping into their bones. Prompto broke ranks and walked up Luna, standing beside her and bowing as well.

“I’m honored to meet you, oh Archaean,” Prompto said, then stood upright and grinned as he turned and beckoned Cor closer. Nyx’s stomach was still churning as the older man joined the other two speaking with the astral, but there was no sign of anything worrisome quite yet, not if the kid was smiling like that. Cor bowed to the astral from the waist, formal and sharp, then straightened.

“I too am honored, Archaean; the Dawn Mother sends her friendship, and her regards,” Cor stated, and the ground shuddered under their feet once more as Titan leaned in with a monstrous grin on his face, the strange language coming forth as he addressed them. After several minutes of mild earthquakes that did not help their heart rhythms while the astral shifted and spoke, Prompto gave the ancient being a jaunty wave as Luna and Cor bowed once more. The sound that came from the Archaean’s throat was surreal, a deep, gravelly laughter that echoed from every surface as he lowered himself back into the crater, disappearing beneath the giant stone.

“Hey, he’s pretty cool!” Prompto said as he turned and walked back over to the rest of them, Ignis (and his other two boyfriends, let’s be honest) giving the blond a once-over as he brushed at imaginary dust on Prompto’s shoulders. Nyx looked over as Cor came up to his side, a slight flush on his cheeks, and raised an eyebrow.

“Well, we aren’t fleeing for our lives, so I’m guessing we’ll call this a win?” he said, and Cor nodded a bit absently before Nyx finally rolled his eyes and nudged his shoulder. “Okay, what did the giant imposing astral say? You look distracted,” he said, and Cor blinked, then shook his head rapidly before walking off back down the path.

“Nothing, everything’s fine, I’ll meet you back at the car,” Cor said, already fading into the distance, and Nyx stared at his receding back with wide eyes. What in the world-

“Titan was actually quite happy to see the dawnsworn, the oracle, and the blood of Lucis together, he said that he believed it symbolized a new age. The part that Cor seems to be taking oddly is that as he was departing, he addressed Prompto and wished him and his father safe travels. It was clear who the Archaean was referring to, and it certainly doesn’t bother Prompto, but you know Cor…” Luna’s explanation was light-hearted and jovial, and Nyx grinned, leaning over and giving the transcendently happy oracle a kiss on the cheek without even thinking about it, the woman blushing prettily as he backed away.

“You look like the weight of the world has been safely lifted from your shoulders, princess, and I’m happy for it. Did you find what you were looking for?” Nyx asked, and Luna’s smile could have powered Lestallum.

“Yes, I believe I did.”

They ended up returning to the haven from the night before, Cor still distracted and quiet, and Nyx decided to let him be for awhile. It wasn’t every day that an actual god-type being pointed out that you really do think of someone as your child, especially when Nyx knew damn good and well that Cor had spent close to twenty years denying and feeling guilty about the whole thing. Prompto was alternating between his I spoke with an astral and he was nice high and shooting concerned looks at Cor, who was sitting quietly off to the side polishing his katana. The older man was prone to periods of time when he just wanted to be left alone, and Nyx had learned to keep an eye out for them when they came around. Was Titan’s comment finally the straw that broke the chocobo’s back regarding his relationship with Prompto? All he could do is hope that Cor didn’t do something stupid in response, but he honestly didn’t think the man would. He just needed some time to process. Luna was standing off to the side of the haven speaking quietly with Gentiana, who had appeared out of nowhere shortly after they had returned from the disc. He would never get used to being in a position where semi-divine beings and actual astrals were just...around.

“Should I say something to him?” Prompto asked as he sat down next to him on the edge of the haven, and Nyx shook his head, throwing his arm around the blond and giving him a hug.

“No, he does this sometimes. Just let him work it out. I’ve learned to give him some space if he gets like this, he’s not really used to having people around constantly,” he said, and Prompto snorted.

“Tell me about it, I grew up in a house where I was almost the sole occupant from about ten years old, it’s been strange living with people, multiple people, all the time. But we’ve found our stride, I think, and if I want some alone time, they usually give it to me,” Prompto said, turning and looking Nyx in the eye. “How about you?” Nyx smiled wistfully, letting out a quiet sigh.

“When I was young, it was my parents and my sister and I. Then dad passed when I was eight, and it was mom, sis, and me. Our house was usually pretty active, with friends and neighbors popping in at all hours, which honestly, I wasn’t always fond of. But as time passed, and I started working...I was gone a lot. Then the fucking empire showed up, and things were never the same. Things were in a limbo of sorts for about two years, then they reached our town. My sister died in the initial attack, and mom was injured. I heard about the Kingsglaive around that time, and mom convinced me that I should go. I managed to send her funds for years, but she never really recovered from her injuries. She died about three years ago,” he said, then shook his head. “Sorry, you didn’t even ask about that. I mean-” Prompto’s head bumped his jaw, and he shut up.

“I’m sorry, Nyx. I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories,” the blond said quietly, and Nyx huffed out a humorless chuckle.

“It was horrible, don’t get me wrong, but I suppose the point I was getting at was that I was used to people around. Well, at least until I got to the city. For the first seven years, I was sending as much money as I could spare back for my mother, so I could only afford this beat up studio apartment in the most tired apartment complex in Little Galahd. Then even after she died and I stopped sending money, I just never bothered to move. Until the king offered me the captain position, and I was given quarters in the Citadel. Which, while they aren’t massive, they make my old place look like I’m sleeping in the king’s quarters every night,” he commented, and Prompto grinned.

“Are you even spending much time there anymore?” the kid asked, his expression sly, and Nyx barked out a laugh. “Well?”

“If my hours are crazy or I get the impression he wants some alone time, I go back. But fair enough, I’m probably only spending a night there every two to three weeks these days...if not less. After we get back, I may ask if he wants me to just move in officially, I feel bad taking a room I’m not even using,” Nyx stated, glancing back at Cor, who was still slowly working at his sword on the other side of the haven, oblivious to the world, and smiled. “I’ll figure it out later.” Nyx looked back down at Prompto, who was staring absently at the terrain in front of him. “Is...everything going alright with you lot? I know it’s hard to talk about when you’ve got to keep it under wraps, but if you ever need to vent, or something-” he said quietly, and Prompto turned towards him once more, wistful smile on his face.

“Everything is fine, but I appreciate the offer. I mean, we argue and stuff sometimes, but nothing out of hand. It’s just been strange, going from that solitary world to being so...cared for.”

There was nothing Nyx could say to that. Nothing that didn’t make him want to cry or punch something, at any rate. They all slowly worked their way to bed after that, Nyx saying nothing as Cor entered the tent and got undressed, choosing instead to crawl into the sleeping bag and doze. After a few minutes, Cor joined him in their bed, the older man leaning over him and giving him a lingering kiss before lying down in his usual favored position, head resting on Nyx’s chest. Nyx ran his hand up and down Cor’s side for a few minutes before he finally got the urge to speak.

“Everything good?” he asked, and Cor shifted, burrowing his face into his scars. “You’re gonna have marks on your face again if you do that,” Nyx warned, and was finally awarded with a snorted laugh from the column of heat he snuggled with every night.

“Sorry, I just needed some time,” Cor mumbled into his chest, and Nyx let his fingers dance up Cor’s neck, awarding him with a shiver.

“I suppose it’s too soon to call you papa?” Nyx commented lightly, and the disgruntled sound Cor made in reply would have made half the Citadel lose control of their bladders on the spot. Luckily for Nyx, he was long immune, and patted his grumpier half on the head and closed his eyes. He really hoped they would get a break from any epic quests to tombs or astrals, even if it was just for a day. Lestallum sounded nice...

Chapter Text

 

Prompto woke up flopped over Gladio’s chest with the larger man’s arms wrapped around him, with someone’s head firmly embedded at the base of his spine and a hand holding his foot. From the feeling of the hair, it was Noct lying on his back, and he could probably guess that it was Ignis giving him a massage in his sleep, a firm thumb rubbing soothingly along the arch of his foot. He was melting in the early June heat sandwiched between all of them, but at the same time, it was really nice. He had been entirely truthful to Nyx, they did argue sometimes, they even avoided each other on occasion if they had a disagreement, but things truly were great.

Well, unless he was tangled in a pile of them, and he really needed to go to pee. Extracting himself from Gladio’s arms took work, as the man was prone to just readjusting his grip and squeezing even tighter than before, and it was a good five minutes before he finally managed to grab his shoes and stumble out of the tent, jogging over to the clump of bushes that had been chosen for the purpose and taking care of matters with a relieved sigh. The temperature in that tent was far higher than the outside, and he could blame three normal people and Gladio for that. The big man was great to snuggle with in the winter, but in the summer? Maybe a smidge less appealing. But he’d power through. He might sweat away ten pounds over the summer at this rate, but he would make it work. After he was done, he headed back to the campsite, taking a quick glance at his phone. It was only six in the morning, and after the day they had yesterday, he would be surprised if Luna actually roused to drill and spar with Aranea that morning.

Prompto sat down on the edge of the haven once more, looking out towards the military installation that was practically across the street, and sighed. They had talked to an astral, Noct had been able to absorb the magic weapons of five of his ancestors, which was both awesome and a little scary to watch, and they still weren’t anywhere near Galahd. He’ll conveniently forget the whole mess at Costlemark for now, as seeing Cor (and himself) nearly lose it was not on his favorite list of events from this trip. After sitting there and dithering for several minutes, Prompto took a deep, refreshing breath, then got back to his feet and walked over to their ice chest. If he was going to be up, he might as well figure out breakfast for everyone.

“Good morning, Prompto. How long have you been up?” Ignis’s voice got him looking up from his potato chopping, and he grinned at him as the older man came up to him and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before stepping back.

“About an hour, I think. Had to go, then I figured I’d just stay up,” he replied, and Iggy hummed his understanding before he walked around Prompto and looked down at the diced peppers and the carton of eggs.

“Do you need any assistance?” Iggy asked, and while he didn’t need any, Iggy always made anything better (especially food.)

“Sure! I’m just keeping it simple for today…”

An hour later saw everyone up, including Luna, who staggered out in her pajamas looking like she needed three days more sleep (but had partied long and hard anyway,) Cor and Nyx, neither of whom bothered to put a shirt on before they joined them for breakfast, Aranea, who appeared to be wearing a tanktop and a pair of boxer shorts, and Gladio.

Well, Gladio rarely wore a shirt as it was, so he didn’t count.

“I see we’ve hit that moment in our friendship where we all just sit around in our underwear. Good show. We are all pretty fabulous looking, after all,” Aranea commented with a smirk, and Prompto giggled at the sight of Cor rolling his eyes before he returned to his breakfast. Prompto knew he wasn’t imagining the slight smile on the older man’s face, however, and snorted as he handed Aranea her plate of food. Nyx just grinned in response, feigning a dramatic flick of his hair before he too went back to eating; Luna looked down at what she was wearing before shrugging and attempting to unknot the tangled mess that was her hair. It really was rather domestic. Prompto loved every minute of it.

“So what’s the plan today?” Nyx asked, and after a few minutes of exchanged looks and not a single concrete comment, Prompto finally raised his hand.

“We’ve been running around all over the place, how about we take a break and go to Lestallum? We can have some fun, and have a real shower, because while lakes and ponds are nice and all, I like warm water on occasion,” he commented, and the excited sound Luna made in response caused everyone to laugh.

“Well, I guess the princess concurs. Anyone against a few days in Lestallum to relax and regroup?” Gladio asked the group, and when no one else spoke up, Noct nodded and leaned back in his chair.

“Lestallum it is! Hopefully the people are as chill as they were last time, they pretty much left us alone after the first few hours,” Noct commented, and Prompto froze for a moment before sighing internally. Well, there was nothing to be done about it now. Either they would luck out, or they wouldn’t.

The campsite was cleaned up and packed away easy enough, and as much as he tried to convince Iggy to let him drive the Regalia, it was clear that Iggy wasn’t going to budge.

“Oh come on, I know how to drive!” he whined, and was awarded with a pat on the head from Gladio as he closed the trunk.

“We know you do, Prom, but one, Iggy’s kinda possessive of the Regalia, if you didn’t notice-”

“But Noct’s driven a few times!” he whined quietly, but he knew that was different. The Regalia was the king’s car, after all. Gladio just gave him a look, and he knew he was stuck. “Fine. I wanna drive someday, though. Maybe on the way home,” he said, and Gladio shrugged as he got into the car.

“That might be a possibility, as I doubt our trip home will be as meandering as our trip to Galahd has been,” Gladio stated, and Prompto sighed. Yeah, that makes sense. He took his usual seat in the front, giving a pout on principle to Ignis before he settled back firmly in his seat. No more hanging out the side, getting yelled at by three different people had been a bit embarrassing. Iggy fired up the car and headed north, Rita in their wake, and Prompto pulled out his camera and took shots of the military base, the craters, the rock formations...anything that caught his eye. He was just glad he had bought extra storage for it before they had left Insomnia; while modern tech was being released and introduced in the rest of Lucis and the world, many things were still hard to find. The road to Lestallum was curvy and rather strange, as he really didn’t understand why they didn’t just build a bridge or two over the crag to cut the drive way down, but he was no engineer. Maybe they did have a good reason for it.

After a good amount of daydreaming and picture taking, Prompto pulled out his phone and started texting Luna and Nyx as they passed under the unusual tunnel that marked the eastern entrance to the city, enjoying the play of light on the walls as they headed through the brick passage.

“So what do you want to do when we get there, Prom?” Noctis asked, slapping the back of his seat, and that was probably the easiest question to answer. He was pretty sure he could clear rooms with his stench, and none of the others were very rosy either. Not that he would mention it.

“A room and a hot shower. After that, I have some ideas, but we can talk about it later,” he replied, and Noct chuckled, letting go of Prompto’s seat.

“Hopefully the shower is of a decent size,” Noct commented slyly, and the answering bark of laughter from Gladio and indulgent sigh from Iggy was to be expected, but Prompto still grinned. While they were positive that Nyx and Cor had managed some...personal time, although he really didn’t want to think too much on that, it felt like he was wondering about his parents’ sex life- and yes, Dawn Mother, Archaean, everyone, he understood. Honestly. He had already almost called Cor dad at least once or twice during their trip, but had held his tongue. While Cor’s eternal guilt complex appeared to be fraying at the edges over time, he was pretty sure he’d cause a mental meltdown if he tried it now. Maybe at some point, but not yet.

Anyway. Besides some fooling around, they really hadn’t had much opportunity to do anything else as the tents were just too close together. While he was pretty sure Gladio didn’t care all that much, Ignis certainly had shown no interest in going for it while surrounded by so many people, and Noct definitely hadn’t. While he was a surprisingly mellow prince, Noct definitely had a certain understanding of propriety that reared its head on occasion, and in that case, Prompto really didn’t mind.

“...you know, we’ve stayed there before, Noct. You know exactly how big the showers are at the Leville.”

“We could use the reminder.” Prompto couldn’t help but blush a bit at that.

Ignis parked the car in the public lot, with Cor backing Rita in right next to them, and everyone hopped out. After a short scuffle at the car trunks pulling out their duffles and bags, they all headed straight for the Leville without so much as a discussion. They drew the public's eye as they moved together towards the hotel, but thankfully, besides some pointed fingers and interested gazes, they were left alone. Prompto was pretty sure it was because they looked like they hadn’t seen civilization in a week, but well, didn’t Iggy tell him that if you looked like you were walking with a purpose, you were more likely to be left alone? Even though they were all in plain clothes, or what passed for them in Cor’s case (really, he had just lost his jacket. The undershirt he was wearing under his black long-sleeved shirt was a deep blue, but he might as well have been in his uniform,) they definitely stood out among the lightly-dressed populace of humid Lestallum. They had been so frugal with their funds that it was nothing to book four rooms for at least two nights, and after waving to the others, Prompto stumbled into the room, pulled the curtains shut, and started shedding his clothing so rapidly that all three of his roommates burst out laughing as he flipped them off and walked straight into the bathroom completely naked, toiletry bag in hand.

“Want some company, Prompto?” Gladio asked, coming up behind him and running one of his large hands down his bare back, settling it on his rear; Prompto looked at the size of the shower with a discerning eye, then looked skeptically back up at the man.

“We won’t all fit in there,” he pointed out, and it was Noct who answered, blatantly ogling him before waving them towards the shower with a loose hand.

“You two have fun, we can talk about things after your shower,” the prince said indulgently before closing the door behind him, leaving Prompto and Gladio alone in the bathroom, Gladio’s hands sliding up and down his torso as he came in for a kiss.

“I’m washing my hair first,” he stated bluntly, and the larger man grinned and kissed him once more on the side of his neck, causing him to shiver.

“Whatever you want, Prom.”

A few hours later saw the four of them quite comfortably wrapped around each other in one of the beds in the room, with Prompto completely and wonderfully wrung out from their activities. As far as he was concerned, he could stay in bed for the rest of the day, but his stomach had a very different opinion on the matter, grumbling with some volume and causing the lot of them to laugh.

“I do suppose we are nearing dinnertime,” Iggy stated as he ran his hand down Prompto’s stomach, his long fingers stroking over the stretch marks that he had long tried to hide, and he groaned and smushed his face against Noct’s chest.

“I don’t wanna get up,” he whined, but his stomach promptly reiterated its protest, and he sighed. “Okay, we’ve gotta get up. Where do you guys want to eat?” Gladio rolled out of bed, walking over to the window and peeking through the curtains as Prompto enjoyed the view, then turned and sat back down on the edge of the bed, reaching out and running a hand through his and Noct’s hair.

“Why don’t we keep it simple and go to that grill we went to last time? Their food was good, and it’s not a place we’ll need to dress up at,” Gladio suggested, and Prompto thought that sounded good to him. Noct patted his head and wiggled out of their pile, leaving him to readjust by snuggling back into Iggy’s arms. He watched lazily as Noct walked over to his duffle and rifled around it, only to freeze and pull out a smallish box.

“Iggy? Did you put this in my bag?” Noct asked, holding up the plain package, and Iggy reached out and grabbed his glasses, slipping them on while letting his fingers run over the top of Prompto’s head.

“No, I don’t recognize it. Perhaps you should open it? You probably just forgot about it,” Ignis stated, and Prompto was finally forced to get up, sitting up in bed next to Gladio and Iggy as Noct brought the little box back over to the bed and set it on the sheets.

“I’ll open it,” Gladio said, and used a thumbnail to slit the tape holding the lid on, then peeked inside, his eyes growing wide. “It’s…a joke. It’s gotta be. But Iris wouldn’t do something like this, it’s too tacky for her-” Ignis rolled his eyes and plucked the box out of Gladio’s hands, looking inside as well and raising an eyebrow.

“Oh. Well, obviously someone thought the gift was appropriate, and considering our recent activities, they may had a point,” Iggy said, putting the box down on the bed in front of Prompto and Noct. Prompto looked down to see what was clearly a box of condoms and bottle of lubricant, and bit back a laugh as Noct blinked at the box.

“Yeah, uh, this doesn’t look like something Iris would do, and while Nyx strikes me as someone who could pull the occasional prank, this doesn’t sound like him either,” Noct stated, and Prompto thought about it for a moment.

“Luna?” he mentioned, but all three of the others shook their heads in almost perfect sync, and he laughed. “Okay, fair enough.” He reached over and grabbed the condoms out of the box, then noticed something underneath. “Uh, guys? There’s a note here, I think. Want me to read it?” Without waiting for an answer, he grabbed the little piece of paper out of the box and looked it over. Then read it over again. The near-heart attack followed immediately in its wake. “Oh shit, I’m never going to be able to look either of them in the eye again-” he squeaked, and Noct’s eyebrows drew together as he shakily held the note so he could read it.

“To our dear sons and their companions, we were quite uncertain whether that section in the Book about pregnancy was accurate, so we both thought it prudent to provide some practical supplies for your trip ahead. Do use them wisely. Also, we wish to congratulate the four of you on the advent of your evolved relationship. Please kindly do us a favor and not advertise your commitment to each other outside of personal circles as of yet, as neither of us have any desire to have to clean up the carnage that will inevitably occur among the council without you four here to take part in such joy.

We do wish you all the best, and have a safe and fruitful journey. Insomnia will be waiting for your return.

With all of our love, Regis and Clarus

PS: Please do remember to lock your door in the future, Noctis. Do you truly want all and sundry to just waltz in when you are otherwise occupied?

Prompto’s voice trailed off to dead silence as all three of his bedmates went ghost pale, even the swarthier Gladio, and he looked between them as he worried his bottom lip. “Well, they don’t sound angry?” he commented hesitantly, and the gurgling sound that erupted from Noct’s throat was truly one for the ages.

“How long have they known?” Iggy finally got out, and Prompto looked over the note again, but there was no sign of any reference beside the postscript.

“They don’t say...but I think it’s pretty obvious how they found out,” he replied, and Gladio groaned and slumped.

“That fucking door. Cor even warned us, but no, we kept forgetting to engage the privacy lock-” Gladio grumbled, and Noct made another inarticulate noise as Prompto could feel laughter bubbling to the surface. The king knew. Lord Amicitia knew. And they didn’t care.

“Okay, while this is insanely embarrassing, and I can tell they had way too much fun putting this together for us, but guys, this is pretty much the best case scenario here. You do see that, right? They’ve clearly known at least for a little while-” Noct still hadn’t regained the ability to speak, but Prompto was cut off by Ignis taking the note from him and reading it over once more. After a long, tense pause, the bespeckled man huffed out a laugh and handed the note over to Gladio.

“I think you are...absolutely correct, Prompto. While there’s a great deal of sarcasm in their note, it’s clearly done with humor. Noctis, do calm down. I think we can interpret this as approval, even if their method of informing us was...unorthodox,” Iggy agreed, and Prompto snorted out a laugh as Noct finally fell over onto the sheets with a dramatic groan.

“Dad just can’t fucking help himself, holy shit. I can’t believe they actually did that to us. I may never get over this,” Noct moaned, moving until his head was resting on Prompto’s thigh. “Gladio, can you believe our fathers bought condoms for us?” Noct finally commented, and the shield finally broke, wrapping his arms around Prompto and Iggy and laughing so hard that he cried, the others gradually joining in. After they finally ended up back in a red-faced and wheezing pile several minutes later, Prompto’s stomach grumbled even louder than before, and they started laughing all over again.

“Let’s get dressed and get something to eat before Prompto shrivels up and starves to death,” Gladio said, and they finally got to their feet and got dressed, still laughing as they exited their room, Noct very deliberately making sure the door was locked behind them as they left. There was no sign of any of the others, and they all headed out into the still-sticky evening air. The restaurant was as laid-back as it was before, and they all enjoyed an excellent meal with minimal interruption as the sun set fully on the scenic city, the brilliant lights flickering on with a distinctive buzz.

They ran into Libertus on the way back to the hotel, and at the sight of the friendly Glaive, an idea suddenly came to Prompto. He turned to the others with a smile.

“I need to talk to Libs for a bit, can I meet you guys back at the room?” he asked, and after a minute, he and the older man were alone. Libertus seemed bemused at the whole affair, but patiently waited until Prompto returned his attention back to him. “So, I found out on the day of the whole anniversary thing that Nyx’s birthday is the same day?” he commented, and Libertus nodded. “So, I think it’s messed up the dude forgot his own birthday, which he totally admitted to me after Cor snitched on him, and I want to do something for him. I know it’s a few weeks late now, but still-” Libertus grinned, slapping Prompto lightly on the arm.

“Well, look at you. I’ll be honest, Nyx hasn’t really wanted to do much with his birthday since...everything, but I think he’d enjoy it if it was coming from you. You have that effect on him...hell, you have that effect on everyone. So what were you thinking?” Libertus asked, and that was the problem. Would Nyx like a nice dinner at one of the swankier restaurants? Skewers and running around the marketplace? Wait.

“Does he like music? Clubs? That sort of thing?” he asked, and Libertus crossed his arms and looked down at him with a smile.

“He’s not gone in awhile, but he used to actually enjoy dancing to whatever silly pop tune was popular at the local clubs back in Insomnia. It’s not really my thing, but I tagged along a few times. It’s usually him and Pelna that tear up the dance floor, Crowe and I just sit back with a drink and enjoy the show,” the Glaive explained, and Prompto knew exactly what he wanted to do. Giving Libertus a thankful thump on the shoulder, he turned and dashed back towards the hotel, yelling at the older man over his shoulder.

“Thank you! Keep your schedule clear tomorrow night!”

He needed to talk to Cor about his idea, but their door was firmly shut, and there was no response when he knocked. He’d just have to talk to him in the morning. By the time he got back in, Gladio was dozing with a magazine over his face on the sofa while Iggy was preparing for bed. Noct was out on the balcony playing King’s Knight, and Prompto took a moment to just soak in the atmosphere before stripping down to his tank top and underwear and burrowing into bed. Noct joined him soon after, and he listened to the muffled bustle of the city below as he drifted off to sleep.

While the public had pretty much left them alone on the first day, it became clear that now that they were freshly clean and fit for civilized society, it was open season; all nine of them stepped out the front door of the hotel as a group, planning to secure some breakfast, only to be confronted by a veritable mob of people.

“Well, shit,” Noct muttered under his breath, and Prompto watched as Noct transformed into the prince, his posture straight and regal, and his smile immediately turning friendly, but distant. Cor had gone full-on stoic marshal, uniform or not, and even Nyx had straightened up and splashed that same media-appropriate expression on his face as Noct waved slightly to the crowd. Prompto joined the rest of them in proper posture and polite smiles as they began to weave through the throng, only for something to grab his belt and send him stumbling backwards into several people, letting out an involuntary cry as he found himself being grabbed by a very large man who was looking at him with a dark expression he didn’t like in the slightest.

“Let go of me-” Prompto didn’t even have a chance to finish what he was saying before he was ripped away from the man by Cor, who held him around the waist as he glared at the man with an intensity that would have caused most of the Citadel to pass out on the spot.

“Back off,” Cor said, his voice colder than the snows of Niflheim, and the man did just that, paling as he stumbled back through the crowd. Whatever the hell the guy had been trying to do, the commotion seemed to calm the hordes that were still surrounding the lot of them, and Cor loosened his grip, but didn’t fully let go as the people parted to let them through.

“Prompto, are you alright?” Ignis asked, his eyes hurriedly scanning him as they rejoined the others, Cor’s hand still resting at the base of his spine as Nyx and Gladio moved around to block the crowd’s view and give them a little privacy.

“Yeah, I’m fine, it just surprised me. What in the hell did he want?” Prompto said, his voice still shaky from the adrenaline, and Cor’s expression twisted.

“I don’t know, but I intend to find out,” the older man growled. “Go get breakfast, we’ll join you in a few minutes.” Before Prompto could argue, Cor grabbed Nyx and split, cutting through the crowd and disappearing around a corner. The rest of them stood around for a beat too long before Ignis pushed his glasses up his nose and began to walk, spurring the others along as well. Prompto looked behind himself, only to discover that both Gladio and Libertus had taken the rear, the Glaive giving him a nod as their eyes met. He faced forward again, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly before dredging up a smile and continuing on.

They were well into their meal by the time Cor and Nyx finally reappeared, the twosome snagging seats at their long table and sitting down with a sigh. Cor looked irritated, and Nyx just looked annoyed, but the Glaive managed to flash Prompto a feeble smirk before running his hands through his hair and sighing again. Gladio signaled the waiter to come over, and after their orders were taken, everyone’s attention returned to the two once more as Gladio leaned in towards them.

“What did you find out?” Gladio asked, and the two looked at each other once more before rolling their eyes in almost perfect sync. Prompto blinked at their reaction, but held his tongue as Nyx finally answered.

“Recent Insomnian expat, one of those who actually believes the whole sex magic controlling the monarchy tabloid thing has some merit,” Nyx stated blandly, Noct snorting a laugh from next to Prompto. “From the sound of it, he was just planning on dragging you off and beating you up a bit in a lame attempt of convincing you to leave the prince alone. When Cor pointed out that he had supposedly been doing the same thing for thirty years, our local moron lost his nerve and apologized before running away like I had toasted his ass. Which, admittedly, I had been considering,” Nyx said as he scratched absently at his scruff, and Prompto grinned.

“Thanks, Cor, both of you. I’m sorry I froze up, but it happened so fast and I didn’t want to do something stupid in front of all those people-” Luna shook her head from across the table and smiled, which never ceased to be a calming sight.

“That wasn’t your fault, Prompto, I would have done much the same in your position. Without cause, it would, as you just suggested, have reflected poorly to do something drastic,” Luna explained, and he scratched at his nose and nodded. Cor nodded as well, but he could see some reluctance in the movement and chuckled.

“Let me guess, Cor, I should have popped him in the nose,” he said, and while the older man didn’t smile per se, Prompto grinned at the clear twinkle he could see come into Cor’s eyes. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.” He looked at everyone sitting at the table for a moment before taking a deep breath. “Does anyone have set plans for the evening yet?” he asked, and to his relief, not a single person spoke up. “Awesome. So, I found out a few weeks ago that someone here shares his birthday with the whole battle anniversary thing-” he trailed off as Nyx closed his eyes with a grimace, and Cor’s eyebrows flew up in surprise as he looked between Prompto and the Glaive. “-and I was thinking, maybe we can do something special for him while we are here in town! I asked around a bit, and I think I’ve figured out what to do. What do you think?” he asked the table, and it was Luna who spoke up first.

“Sounds lovely! Nyx, I’m appalled, why didn’t you say something? I would have brought a gift-” Nyx sighed, but it was good humored, and Luna closed her mouth, seeming to realize that something else was going on. The Glaive looked at him with a somewhat-exacerbated smile, but his eyes gave away a fondness that made Prompto grin.

“Kid, you are a perfect pain in the ass, but...thank you. I suppose I should have expected it after Cor threw me under the bus the other day-” Cor snorted, stabbing a bite of eggs with his fork.

“You deserved it,” Cor commented as he set back to eating, and the withering look from Nyx made the lot of them burst out laughing.

“So what’s your plan, Prompto? Do I need to do anything special?” Nyx asked, and Prompto shook his head.

“Somewhere of your choice for dinner, then it’s a secret. Dress decently,” he replied, getting a suspicious look from the Glaive. “Please?” Prompto looked up wide-eyed through his eyelashes at Nyx, who buckled in about two seconds, slapping a hand over his eyes.

“Okay, okay, you win. Damn, kid, those things are deadly. What time?” Prompto cheered, then looked at his phone.

“How’s seven sound?”

They split up after breakfast, but not before Cor said a quiet word in Prompto’s ear about keeping an eye on his surroundings, which he agreed entirely with. While he hadn’t wanted to make a big deal of it, that whole incident had scared the shit out of him. What if no one had been around? He couldn’t let that happen again.

“You alright, Prompto?” Noct asked as he worried his bottom lip for a moment, then nodded.

“Yeah, just thinking. I’m good,” he replied, and while the prince’s expression was skeptical at best, he dropped it. The four of them and Luna spent several hours walking around the marketplace, sampling spices, buying a few souvenirs, even convincing Noct to try a grilled vegetable or two, which...went as well as expected. When five in the afternoon rolled around, it was decided that they should head back to the hotel and start getting ready for their evening adventure, which he still hadn’t told them anything about.

“What are we doing, Prom? He’s picking dinner, then…” Gladio trailed off deliberately, looking at Prompto in expectation.

“Lestallum has a nightclub! You know, dancing, loud music, all that stuff? Libertus said that Nyx used to go to them sometimes back in Insomnia, and I thought it would be fun for something totally different than the usual,” he explained, his voice dropping off as he saw everyone’s dubious expressions. Oh. “I- I thought it was a good idea, but maybe-” Luna waved away his concerns with a flick of her wrist.

“No, that’s not it, Prompto. I’ve never been to a club before, that’s all. I’m sure it will be quite the experience,” the princess said, and Prompto was shocked when everyone but Gladio nodded in agreement.

“I’ve been to some smaller clubs that preferred more...mellow music, but never to a nightclub. As Luna states, I’m sure it will be interesting. Your idea is sound, Prompto, don’t worry so much,” Iggy replied, patting him on the shoulder, and he sighed.

“You guys sure? I can always figure out something else-”

“Prom. Club’s fine. If Libertus said that Nyx likes them, I’m sure he’s right. Let’s go get ready. Luna, you might want to let Aranea know,” Gladio said, and Luna nodded as they entered the lobby of the Leville and headed up the stairs.

“See you all in an hour or so,” Luna said, heading into her room and closing the door.

“Well, Prom, let’s go get dolled up,” Noct smirked as they entered their own room, and Prompto rolled his eyes as he headed towards his bag.

Nyx chose the skewer dish that the grill in the marketplace served for dinner, commenting on how they reminded him a little of Galahdian skewers, but far more spicy; after they were done, Prompto led the march to the club, Nyx clearly realizing what they were getting into when they walked up to the entrance. The bouncer looked the lot of them over with a bemused expression before letting them inside without a word.

“This is going to be in the news tomorrow,” Nyx drawled as they entered, but before Prompto could start worrying again, the older man leaned over and gave him a proper hug. “Thanks, Prompto. I really do appreciate it. I’m guessing you talked to Libs?” Prompto nodded, and the Glaive smiled. “Well, let’s see if we can show these newbies what clubs are all about.” They were there pretty early, and they were luckily able to procure a large half-circle shaped booth off to the side of the dance floor. Cor’s expression as he slid in was classic, and Nyx leaned over to Prompto one more time. “A little mild scandalizing of the old man wouldn’t go astray this evening, kid. Whether it’s from you or me, but he needs a good poke in the head.”

“Gotcha.”

The first few songs were oldies that Prompto wasn’t feeling, and he sat and relaxed as they watched the dancers take to the dancefloor in ever greater numbers as time went on. They were approached a few times by varying people asking for a dance, but the only person who accepted was Aranea, who rolled her eyes at rest of them as she moved into the mass of people with a cocky smile.

Then a song he knew quite well came on, and Prompto excitedly turned to Nyx. “Do you know this one?” he asked, and Nyx grinned and nodded, the two scooting out of the booth without looking back. “Then let’s go have some fun.” He was out of practice, but he had enjoyed occasionally going dancing in Insomnia before everything went crazy, and it only took a few minutes before he was well into the swing of things. Nyx actually knew one of the dances that went with the song, which helped him remember, and the two of them spun and bounced their way around the dance floor, collecting Aranea along the way.

Prompto was very glad that the weakness he had in his legs after the events of last year had finally straightened itself out, and after several songs-worth of the best workout ever, he and Nyx returned to their booth, the Glaive sliding in just in time for him to flop down on the seat next to him with a happy groan. Silence greeted them, and after a minute of mopping up his sweat with a convenient napkin, he finally looked up and faced everyone.

“Do I have something on my face or something?” he said, but he couldn’t keep the grin off his face as Noctis finally gathered the wherewithal to speak, the others still mostly boggling at him with wide eyes and loose jaws.

“Have you always known how to do that?” Noct said, his voice barely audible over the din of the club, and Prompto cackled, leaning over the table to poke his favorite prince in the forehead.

“I know I mentioned that I liked to go to the club sometimes back in the day, Noct. This shouldn’t be a big surprise-” Noct pushed his hand away and glowered.

“Yeah, but going to a club and actually knowing how to dance are two different things,” Noct yelled over the sudden swell of noise as another song got underway, and his grin grew even wider.

“You thought I couldn’t do it, could you?” he shouted back, the expected look of panic flashing across the prince’s face; Nyx was laughing like mad next to him as Gladio finally just covered Noct’s mouth with a hand to shut him up. Prompto looked over to see Cor’s reaction, and was relieved (for some reason he couldn’t explain) to find more bemusement than anything else. Nyx had followed his eyes, and the Glaive raised an arm and draped it around Cor’s shoulders with a smirk.

“Not your scene, old man?” Nyx said, and Cor raised his eyebrows in a hilariously dubious expression that made Prompto and Nyx laugh with delight.

“I wasn’t aware that it was your scene, Nyx. I’m feeling very-” Nyx popped his hand over Cor’s mouth, meeting Prompto’s expression with an eyeroll.

“Figured I’d stop him now before he got too into his I’m so old bullshit again,” the Glaive explained politely to everyone else, and even Luna could no longer resist a good laugh as Cor’s completely unimpressed gaze peeked out from behind Nyx’s palm. “To answer your question, not so much anymore, this is the first club I’ve stepped into in almost two years. But I always enjoyed it on occasion, as Libs knew and obviously told Prompto,” Nyx explained, and after a pat on Cor’s cheek, he lowered his arm to his side again. Cor opened his mouth to speak, but then a song came on that Prompto absolutely loved, a completely silly tune that was more than a little raunchy, and grinned. Well, Nyx did say he wanted Cor at least a little scandalized by the end of the evening… A short glance at Nyx and the others showed that none of them knew the tune, and he hopped from the booth and eyed up the biggest person on the dancefloor who seemed to know what they were doing.

Perfect.

The next morning found Prompto in a rather overheated pile of his boyfriends, somehow perfectly balanced in a queen-sized bed, with not a stitch of clothing to be found between them. The rest of the night after his solo dance had been a bit of a blur, and even the rather enjoyable aftermath was a little fuzzy, but he hadn’t had so much concentrated fun in a long time. It was awesome.

If only his bladder didn’t want him to get up. But there was nothing to be done about it, and he attempted to wiggle out of Gladio’s arms, only to get crushed to his chest. Shit.

“Gladio, I’ve gotta go!” he grumbled quietly, but the only response he received was a grumble and an even tighter squeeze, which made his situation even more...urgent. After a few more seconds of squirming, he couldn’t take it anymore; he folded himself pretty much in half as he brought his legs to his face, hooked his feet under Gladio’s arms, and pushed. The sensation clearly confused the big man, who let go immediately and sat up, the momentum sending Prompto’s legs smashing into poor Iggy, who startled and shoved Noct, who tumbled out of bed, Iggy falling out right after. Prompto really wanted to laugh, but the call of nature won that fight, and he bolted into the bathroom, slamming the door behind himself.

“Prompto!”

He couldn’t help the grin that followed Noct’s irritated yell.

“Sorry!”

 

--------------------

 

Noctis had learned many things over the years about Prompto: his zest for life, his sunny disposition, his love of photography, his irritating tendency to keep important things secret if he thought it would inconvenience anyone, and his status as an apparent semi-divine being, with the pipes to match. Apparently his ability to completely tear up a dance floor needed to go onto the list. When Prom and Nyx had taken to the dance floor together, it had been for a series of fun, energetic dances that the two of them were plainly well practiced in, and it was almost as much fun observing Cor as he watched them as it had been watching the two of them himself.

Then Prom got up for that dance only he knew, and Noctis was...never going to get over it. When the bright red high heeled shoes came out, they all just kinda forgot how to breathe. Cor kept looking away and back to Prom, which was probably the most flustered Noctis had ever seen the man, and honestly, Cor had never looked more fatherly in his life. It was probably the only thing that had kept himself, Gladio, and Iggy from just openly drooling, because that would have been really fucking awkward with Cor sitting just a few feet away at his most adorably paternal. Nyx had alternated between looking completely impressed with Prom’s skill and a mixture of sympathy and barely concealed glee when it came to Cor’s reaction, which was just as awesome. Libertus, Luna, and Aranea had just looked dazzled, and they cheered him on (especially the dragoon) the whole time. By the time Prom had staggered back to the booth, Noctis was bright red, Gladio’s eyebrows had practically merged with his hairline, Iggy was wide-eyed and blinking incredibly slowly, Cor looked two seconds from a brain aneurysm, and Aranea...gave Prom a high five and all but threw him at Gladio, her grin absolutely devilish.

If the local press didn’t comment on the whole adventure, he’d be shocked.

Iggy walked back in with what looked like the morning paper tucked under his arm, and Noctis held out a hand, the older man passing it over without a word.

“Well? Do we need to call the king and apologize?” Gladio asked, and Noctis read through the article quickly, looking for anything he needed to be worried about. It mentioned that they were all there in Lestallum, mentioned that someone had harassed Prom but Cor had intervened and nothing had come of it, and it also mentioned that they had gone to the club. However, besides a few comments about how the group was friendly and comfortable with each other and the Voice showed some significant skill at dancing, there was no unfortunate pictures, no accusations of any type. It was perfect. He flipped through the rest of the paper to be certain, but besides a gossip column piece wondering about Cor and Nyx, and how the marshal and captain seemed to be very cozy with each other (who were they fooling at this point? He had no clue why the news hadn’t officially broken months ago,) there wasn’t another mention of them. Again, it was pretty much ideal. He looked up at the three of them and smiled, giving them a thumbs up.

“No, this is about as good as it gets for us. There’s a gossip piece about Cor and Nyx, but even that one is pretty restrained. We probably should think about heading out before we wear out our welcome,” Noctis stated, and was pleased when the others nodded in agreement.

“That is an excellent idea, Noct. Did you have any idea of where you would like to go next?” Iggy asked, and Noctis crossed his arms and slumped as he let himself think.

“I think I heard something about a marble building tucked back into the wilds in the Myrlwood? Up by the Vesperpool? Could be another tomb...then we probably should head on to Galahd, it’s not fair to Prom or Cor that we drag this out much longer,” he said, and Prom opened his mouth to speak, only for Ignis to cut him off.

“Noct is right, while we’ve had a mostly smooth trip, we do have a goal that we need to return to. The old road to Galahd is near the Vesperpool, I assume that’s what you were thinking?” Iggy asked, and Noct nodded. He carefully didn’t admit that he had only figured that out by looking at an old map when they first got into town, but well, they didn’t need to know.

“I’ll go knock on Cor and Nyx’s door and see if they are up yet,” Prom said as he jumped to his feet and sped from the room, letting the door bang shut behind him. Noct met Iggy and Gladio’s eyes with a shrug as Ignis got to his feet and headed over to their luggage, packing in the last few items.

“I’m curious, Noct, Gladio; how do you two feel? How did you two feel the other day?” Iggy asked, and Noct looked at Gladio in confusion. What was Iggy going on about, he felt great- oh. His shield got to his feet and stretched with his arms over his head, and Noct could hear the clicks as the large man’s spine settled into place.

“You noticed too, huh? It still feels weird to acknowledge, but, well, shit. He’s special. It’s something we just have to get used to if we want to keep going the way we have been,” Gladio commented, and Noct grimaced for a moment before also getting up.

“I think part of me was still imagining it, but no, I always feel like I could leap over the Citadel after we’ve...had fun. No aches, no fatigue- it’s almost like a drug,” he said quietly, and wasn’t surprised when both Ignis and Gladio nodded in agreement. “-and while I wasn’t all that experienced before, I know that’s not the usual reaction to having sex with someone.” Ignis zipped his bag closed with a sigh.

“I was concerned at first, as it did seem to create temporary effects that mimicked an almost drug-like feeling; but after thorough readings of the Book and a conversation that ended up only being mildly awkward with the captain, it appears there was no cause for concern. I will double-check should the opportunity arise, but I’ve seen no signs of change from any of us-” Gladio put his hands on his hips, and stared in disbelief at Iggy.

“Iggy, were you worried that we would get- get addicted or something? I mean, I feel great, but I’m not raring to go right away again or anything,” Gladio said dubiously, and Noctis watched as Ignis colored slightly, but did not back off.

“After our first prolonged encounter on New Year’s Eve, I may have been a bit overzealous in my concern, not so much for ourselves, but for Prompto. Perhaps it was more for my peace of mind than anything else-” Iggy cut himself off as Prom popped back into the room, his grin brightening Noct’s day just from the sight of it.

“The two of them were still snoring away, but Nyx is up now. He answered the door in a sheet!” Prom’s gleeful laughter was infectious, and Noct found himself laughing along with him as they checked the room one last time for stray items.

“Let’s get out of here, we’ll let the oldies find us later.”

After packing their luggage in the car, getting some breakfast, and doing a little food shopping with Ignis, they returned to the cars to find everyone else over by Rita packing away their own luggage. Luna noticed them first as they approached, and raised a hand in greeting.

“Noctis, everyone! Good morning!” Noctis smiled and nodded to Luna, then looked over the rest of them with a critical eye. Aranea looked half-awake, Luna looked wonderful, Libertus seemed to have a permanent smile on his face, Nyx looked a bit sleepy, but otherwise in good humor, and Cor? Cor looked like all he wanted to do is go back to bed, but he would muscle through either way. Every once in awhile he would glance over at Prom, who was chatting with Luna, and the tiniest little smile would peek out, only for him to school his features flat a second later as he finished up what he was doing in the car. It was cute.

“So I hear you are thinking of checking out the Myrlwood? I assume you heard something about a possible tomb?” Cor asked, and Noctis turned to him with a nod.

“I heard a story of a white and black marble structure deep in the forest; considering we are heading that way anyway for the old road, thought it would be worth a shot,” he said, and Cor tilted his head in understanding.

“It sounds like this might be our final stop before heading through to Galahd, then,” the marshal stated, and Noctis shrugged and gave a half nod.

“I’ve been holding us up long enough, figured it was time.” Cor’s eyes narrowed, but he dipped his head in acquiescence and headed towards Rita’s driver door, only to be intercepted by Libertus.

“Eh, no. You look like you want to take a nap, and I’d prefer to actually reach Galahd in one piece. You two relax, I’ve got this,” the Glaive stated bluntly, and Cor’s brows furrowed together in consternation, but Libertus held firm. With a sigh, Cor backed up to the rear passenger door and slid in, closing the door behind him. Noctis met Libs’ eyes for a moment, and both men grinned before he waved and went to his usual spot in the Regalia, Iggy already in the driver’s seat and ready to go as the rest of them piled into their respective rides.

“North it is. Perhaps you can do a little fishing before we depart through the mountains after our investigation,” Iggy said, and Noctis smirked, settling back into the plush leather seat.

“Sounds good to me!” The air cooled as they gained elevation as they headed north, and Noctis enjoyed every moment of reprieve from the warm June air. He let himself doze as the road meandered up the slope, Ignis carefully negotiating switchbacks with the bulky Regalia while the equally large Rita followed right behind them; at one point, Noctis looked back at the other car while they were opposite each other, and saw that Cor had, as Libs commented, conked out in the back seat. What was slightly unusual was that it also appeared that the rest of the car had joined him, as Nyx was slumped over onto Cor’s shoulder, and Luna onto Nyx...even Aranea was out for the count, although it had taken him a second to tell the way she was sitting. Libertus looked completely relaxed about his quiet car, though, and Noctis turned and settled his own head into his arms with a chuckle. Napping sounded like a good plan to him.

“We’re stopping in a minute, they want to top off the cars and ask around about the condition of the roads up north,” Gladio’s voice woke him up from a pleasant dream, and he automatically frowned before shaking himself awake. The dark looming walls of a tunnel were flying by, and he squinted at them for a moment before sitting up and looking out to the front.

“Where are we?”

“According to Cor, we are coming up on the headquarters of the hunter organization. Supposedly they are tucked into a small canyon up ahead, as it’s easy to defend from beasts and daemons...not that they need to worry about the latter anymore,” Iggy explained, his voice pitched loud so he could be heard amongst the reverb from the tunnel, and Noctis tilted his head as the light in the distance grew larger, opening out onto just that, a small valley surrounded on both sides by tunnels and steep canyon walls that wrapped up and over parts of it, and grimaced.

“What if there’s an earthquake or the tunnels collapse? They’d be trapped,” he commented, and Gladio clasped his shoulder.

“Pretty much what I thought, but I’m sure they understand the risks. Good observation, though,” Gladio commented approvingly as Iggy steered the Regalia off the road onto the gravel, Rita pulling in right behind them. Before he could even get out of the car, Noctis could see the eyes turning in their direction, sizing up both their cars and them. He wasn’t surprised. Their trip was common knowledge, and even though there were more cars from the city out on the roads these days, to see two clearly high-end models together stood out, especially in a place like this. A few of the curious looks from the older hunters turned more understanding, and he glanced back to see Cor getting out of the car, Nyx at his back. Ah, that makes sense.

“Leonis! Haven’t seen you around here in years! Enjoying your vacation? We’ve heard some things from both the news and some hunters you’ve all spoken with.” The man that spoke was dressed in what Noctis had come to recognize as the usual hunter style, practical sturdy clothing with light body armor, and was probably similar in age to Cor, which was made more obvious with the two men standing near each other shaking hands. The marshal waved everyone over, and Noctis walked up and stood next to Nyx.

“Everyone, Dave Auburnbrie. He’s the second in command of the hunters. We’ve worked together a few times on some matters in the past,” Cor said, and Noctis watched as the hunter surveyed the lot of them with a raised eyebrow before returning to Cor.

“Hanging out with a pretty fancy group these days, marshal. I recognize the prince and princess, of course, and I’ve heard a lot about the blond kid with you, but who are the others?” Dave asked, and Cor gave a quick introduction of everyone present, ending with Nyx, who also reached out and shook the man’s hand. “So what are you lot up to after this?” Dave had addressed Cor specifically with his last question, and Noctis took the opportunity to wander off and look around the area, Prom, Gladio, and Luna in his wake. The canyon was a surreal place, with the rock surrounding them from all sides, and after walking around for a little while, he drifted back over to the cars, leaning against the Regalia and enjoying the breeze.

“Strange place, but it works.” He looked up to see Nyx walking up to him, joining him in leaning against the side of the car, a oddly distant smile on his face. “Auburnbrie says the old road is rough, but passable, he went up it a month ago to hunt a mutated coeurl who was threatening a frontier village,” Nyx said, and Noctis smiled.

“Looking forward to going home?” he asked, and the Glaive’s expression grew wistful, the man looking down at his hands before dropping them to his sides with a sigh.

“Yes, but in some ways, no. We’ve not been back since we left, Libs and I, and there’s a certain amount of...trepidation there. Libertus still has a living aunt and uncle, I think the closest relation I have left is a second cousin. We all lost people during the war up there,” Nyx stated, and Noctis pursed his lips and looked at the ground. Of course. Galahd was one of the hardest hit regions, while the rest of them in Insomnia just sat back and bitched about refugees as people’s homes were being destroyed and their families slaughtered. He wouldn’t be surprised if there was some lobbed vegetables in his future at the minimum when they got there. He looked up at the Glaive, apology in his eyes.

“Shit, I’m sorry, I didn’t even think-” Nyx put a hand on his shoulder, forestalling his reply.

“There’s nothing to be sorry over, your highness. While yes, more boots on the ground would have been nice, they just weren’t there. Can’t bring up troops if there is none. The king came up personally several times with defense and strike forces when he was younger, one of those trips being why I’m still here, so don’t think me angry with you or anyone specific, because those who could help, did. Yes, there will be those in Galahd who will not be thrilled with your presence, but considering that you were one of the people who helped bring down both the Scourge and the empire, you’ll probably find that it’s a pretty small minority.” Noctis blinked as Nyx finished, the older man giving him a smile and a pat on the shoulder. The others were still exploring, but after a quick look around, there was one conspicuous absence.

“Where’s Cor?” he asked, and Nyx snorted.

“Everyone just assumes that I know where he is these days. It’s pretty funny,” Nyx said, then pointed with his chin towards the house with the old woman sitting on the front stoop. “Auburnbrie wanted to talk to him alone for a few minutes, he said he’d be right out.” Nyx seemed curious, but unconcerned, and Noctis raised an eyebrow, but mentally shrugged it off. Cor had been doing all sorts of crazy shit for the crown since long before he was born, the man knew what he was doing. Sure enough, the two men emerged from the house just a few minutes later, Dave clapping Cor on the back before giving him a wave in farewell, and Cor walked up to Noctis and Nyx, a somewhat shellshocked look on his face.

“Ready to go?” Noctis asked the older man, and there was a beat as Cor blinked a few times and shook his head to clear it, leading Noctis to look over at Nyx, who was looking at his boyfriend with some concern. Definitely a little strange, especially coming from Cor.

“Yes, let’s,” Cor said absently, and Noctis looked at the marshal for a moment before shrugging and waving the others over. Prompto beelined straight to Cor, looking askance at him, and that finally seemed to jar the marshal out of his fugue. “Ah, it’s nothing, just surprised by something.” Cor opened the door and he and Nyx slid in, Nyx giving Prom and Noctis one last look before he closed the door.

“Let’s get out of here.” The rest of the drive wasn’t too long, but Noctis did what he did best and dozed until the road suddenly got rough, and soon enough, both cars were parked on the side of the dirt road near the entrance to the woods.

“Bit of a walk from here to the northwest, if the old lady back at Meldacio was right. Well, at least the weather’s nice,” Aranea chimed in as she stretched and shook off the drive, the others following her lead. “Hey marshal, you up to this? You seemed a little out of it earlier,” the dragoon asked, and Cor shook his head.

“I’m fine, madame-” Noctis watched with glee as Aranea spun around and pointed a sharp-nailed finger at Cor’s nose, her whole countenance the picture of irritation.

“Okay, this has gone on long enough. I’ll keep calling you marshal or Leonis if you want me to, but just call me Aranea. It’s ridiculous that we are the only two that are still doing this to each other.” The woman had a point, and Noctis met Luna’s equally amused face with a smile as Cor sighed deeply, bringing a hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose.

“You do have a point. Cor is fine, Aranea. My apologies for not being clear about it earlier,” Cor said, looking rather sheepish, and Aranea’s returning smile was the friendliest Noctis had seen from her towards him.

“Looks like we have a forest to adventure into, Cor. Let’s go.” Before Cor could react, the former commodore grabbed his arm and started walking, a smirking Nyx and Libertus following in their wake. A thought came to Noctis, and he turned to Prom, who was grinning as he watched them leave.

“Hey, I have a question,” he asked, and Prom looked over at him. “Can you kinda feel his...hell, what would you even call it...his mental state? He was really thrown earlier, and that’s not really like him,” he said, and Prom bit his bottom lip for a moment before bobbing his head from side to side.

“Kinda? I went over to him earlier because I could tell he was super stunned about something, but as you saw, he didn’t explain. I could tell when he calmed down about it, though. Whatever it was, it does appear it was more a shock than anything serious,” Prom explained, and Noctis hummed. As long as Prom wasn’t too worried, then he wouldn’t be either.

“Thanks, I was wondering. I suppose we should go before they wonder where we went. Guys, Luna, everyone ready?” Luna hefted her bident in silent agreement, and the others nodded. “Then to Myrlwood it is.”

They rejoined the others, and together, they pressed into the forest, the creatures a pain, but no match for any of them for long. Even Luna, who had been practicing with Aranea the whole trip, was showing serious improvement, and he was increasingly comfortable not always keeping an eye on her mid-fight. While the walk up to the forest entrance had been a slog, the forest itself was smaller than he thought it would be, and soon enough, they found themselves near a haven with-

“Fishing,” he gasped, and conveniently ignored the mixture of sighs and groans behind him. “Why don’t we stay here for the night? We don’t have our tents, but the weather is great and it is getting dark-” Gladio snorted.

“You just wanna fish, be honest.” Gladio’s tone was dry, but his indulgent expression told a different story, and with another sigh, the others all marched up to the haven as Noctis scooted over to the pond with delight.

“If you give me a little while, I should be able to catch us dinner,” he announced, and both Ignis and Libertus answered, their own tone dubious at best.

“Then you better hurry up!”

Mission accepted. He pulled out his pole and supplies from his armiger, and set to work; within a few minutes, he was casting his first line. Then another. Then another. At one point, Prom patted him on the shoulder and walked back to camp, leaving Gladio and Luna as his only audience. Traitor. A few minutes later, however, and the line went taut. Yes! After a several minute long fight, he came up with a sizable Lambent trout, Luna clapping as he held it up.

“Thanks, Luna. Hey, Gladio, do you think this is enough?” he asked, and Gladio took the fish from him with a smirk before walking off to camp with it, returning a minute later.

“The cooks said it’s probably enough, but if you can catch something else, it would be certain,” Gladio stated, and Noctis tied on the new lure and got to his feet.

“Got it.” The next one, caught just a few minutes later, was only about half the size as the first, but it was more than enough for the evening. With a fond sigh, he packed away his tackle and fishing rod, returning to the camp with Luna still cheering him on.

“I’ve never actually seen anyone fishing in person, it’s a very calming activity, isn’t it?” Luna said, her tone radiating sincerity, and Noctis chose to take the statement at face value.

“It can be, to be honest. As much as I like people to hang out with me while I’m fishing, it can be a little...dry. I get it,” he said, and Luna laughed behind her hand. “Doesn’t mean I don’t grumble when everyone ditches me.”

“Perhaps I’ll try it sometime, it looks like a good way of meditating while hopefully ending up with dinner,” Luna stated, and Noctis smiled, reaching over and brushing some dirt off her shoulder.

“I’ll have to show you the ropes before you head home. Maybe Nyx knows some fishing spots,” he commented, and Luna smiled and nodded as they stepped back onto the haven to the scent of grilling fish. “That smells great!” Iggy and Libertus both looked up from the little grill over the campfire, Iggy giving Noctis a smile while Libertus huffed out a laugh.

“Well, considering you held up your end of the bargain, I suppose we better do our best with what we have,” Libertus said, and Noctis nodded in agreement.

“Dinner will be ready in about ten minutes, Noct. I believe Prompto already laid out the sleeping bags, if you want to relax until then,” Iggy stated.

“Sounds good,” he said, then wandered around the campsite, noting the collection of sleeping bags set up roughly in the same positions their tents would have been. While they had been camping for weeks, this would be the first time they would be out sleeping under the stars. The night was clear and the weather cool and mild, and as much as he liked everyone, he really wished it was just the four of them. Another time. Gladio and Prom were sitting on their bags chatting, Cor and Nyx was were cleaning and polishing their respective weapons while also sitting on their giant sleeping bag (which honestly looked awesome, but Noctis was pretty sure they didn’t make one big enough for four people,) and Aranea was apparently texting someone on her phone, a thoughtful expression on her face. “Anything exciting going on?” he asked, and the woman looked up with a smirk.

“Ravus was just being Ravus, he’s complaining that we aren’t back yet, but when I told him to take it up with Luna, he refuses. He’s just whining. Besides that, there’s has been some minor border incursions, but nothing he can’t handle,” Aranea said bluntly, and Noctis snorted, throwing himself to the ground next to her.

“Why won’t he bring it up to Luna?” he asked, and Aranea’s smirk dimmed a bit, the older woman looking down at her phone.

“Think about it, princeling, what did Ravus have to do for years?” Aranea said, and the two of them looked over at the princess, who was speaking with Libertus; Noctis slammed his mouth shut, and Aranea nodded approvingly. “He became less her brother and more her jailer. While he was thrilled, and yes, Noctis, we all know thrilled for him involves an involuntary mouth twitch at the best- while he was definitely happy to not have to do that to her anymore, there’s still the protective older brother trying to peek through, along with his residual guilt over the whole shebang,” the dragoon stated, tucking her phone away. “-and trust me, I’ve heard it all. I seem to have a face that screams tell me your life story please, so...yep. He doesn’t want to be the bad guy again without a good reason, so griping at me instead it is.” Noctis looked back towards his old friend again, who had moved on to chatting with Ignis as he was plating their dinner, and sighed. He liked ragging on about Ravus, but he knew the guy had been in a difficult situation. The fact they hadn’t just killed him during the invasion was a miracle in and of itself, and while he knew that Ravus had channeled all that anger towards his dad instead of the real cause of all that pain, Noctis could recognize that it was a survival mechanism.

He could respect that, even if he still thought Ravus was a complete asshole.

Dinner was excellent, considering that it was mostly pieced together out of the small stash of groceries that Ignis kept in the armiger and the fish he had caught, and after clean up was done, they all seemed to decide to just call it a day, even though it wasn’t all that late. While Noctis knew that meant an early start, he didn’t feel like just staying up to stay up. Slithering into his sleeping bag (he was too lazy to unzip it) he looked over at Prom, who was already sound asleep next to him, and reached out and ran a hand down the man’s face, letting his fingers trace the familiar lips before pulling his hand away.

Galahd soon, then they would hopefully figure out how to make sure Prom and Cor were...safe? Protected from themselves? He didn’t even know how they were going about this, but he figured that they would make it work somehow. As long as they didn’t stumble across another place that made them lose it, he would be happy. That had scared the shit out of him. Prom had actually been slightly more aware than the previous time, but Cor? Cor was as scary as fuck when he was completely nuts. Not something he wanted to see again.

Noctis closed his eyes and tried to sleep, but it wouldn’t come. After a little while, he couldn’t help himself, and sat up just enough to look at everyone else. Prom, Iggy, and Gladio were all solidly asleep, as was Luna and Aranea, the latter of whom appeared to be mouthing something in her sleep. A glance across the fire pit made him realize that Libertus was still awake, and appeared to be texting someone on his phone. He looked away so it didn’t look like he was snooping on him, then started to lay back down, only for curiosity to rear its head one more time. Shifting in his sleeping bag, he looked over Gladio’s large form to peek at Cor and Nyx, not sure what to expect. Cor was older, taller, and came off as more of the authority figure than Nyx did, at least on the surface, but...Noctis was pretty sure that was bullshit. Stereotypes were stupid anyway. He pushed himself up a little more, and finally could see the two men properly. Nyx was flat on his back, with the front flap of the sleeping bag only up to around his waist, which made sense as Cor was curled into him quite comfortably with his head resting on the Glaive’s chest and his leg thrown over his legs. Nyx’s hand was moving slowly up and down the line of Cor’s spine, occasionally reaching up and running his fingers through his partner’s hair, before starting the motion all over again. It was, quite possibly, one of the cutest things Noctis had ever seen, and he slept in the same bed as Prompto on a daily basis.

A noise to his right startled him, and he jerked as Prom sat up next to him, propping his chin on his shoulder and looking towards Cor and Nyx as well, only to gasp and sit up the rest of the way.

“Cute, aren’t they?” Noctis said under his breath, and Prom’s answering grin was wide and happy as he nodded.

“I’m so happy for him. Well, I’m happy for them both, but really, as time goes on, I’ve kinda realized that Cor expected to be the gloomy hermit loner the rest of his life, and we all just pretty much showed up and fucked that plan completely up. No remorse,” Prompto stated softly, grin still in place, and Noctis barely forced down a laugh. “Before one of them realizes we are totally staring at them, we should go to bed,” the blond said, and Noctis conceded the point. After a few wiggles, he was back down on the ground again, his head resting on his little pillow as Prompto curled into him. “Night, Noct.”

“Night, Prom.”

The strangest scuffling and scratching sound awoke him the next morning, and he lifted his head from his pillow of Gladio’s chest to see Iggy struggling to get of his sleeping bag as an actual chocobo was backing away from them, Ignis’s glasses clutched delicately in its beak.

What. The black-feathered thief fled the scene far faster than any of them could, and Noctis looked around to see Aranea very much awake, looking far too amused with the whole affair. The smirk on the dragoon’s face was lethal as he met her eyes, and when she flicked her gaze down to encompass the lot of them, he realized what they had just admitted to. She hadn’t known. Well, to be fair, he was pretty sure she had suspected something before, but-

Considering he was still laying on Gladio, with Prompto’s arms firmly around his waist, he supposed it was pointless to deny anything at this point. Iggy had been similarly wrapped around Prom, and his favorite blond was groaning as the suddenly spectacle-less man jostled him as he finally worked out of his sleeping bag.

“Noct! We must go after that bird!” Iggy hissed, and Noctis sighed. Did he have to? This early? The sun was barely peeking through the trees, and it was entirely way too early to be awake, but-

“Is that a black chocobo? Aren’t they rare?” Prom muttered sleepily as the bird reappeared sans glasses, its sharp gaze darting around looking for something. It clearly noticed that some of them were awake, but didn’t seem to care; it walked deliberately past the still-sleeping Libertus, only to stop and look down at the ground right next to Cor and Nyx. Noctis started to work his way out of the sleeping bag, trying to decide if he should shout to wake them up, but then the bird suddenly snapped downwards, coming up with one of the Glaive’s kukris clutched in its beak. The silver beads hanging from the hilt were glinting in the early morning sun, and Noctis winced. This was bad. Iggy’s specs (one of at least several pairs) were one thing, but one of Nyx’s famous kukris-

“What the fuck is going on?” Nyx barked, his hand shooting out to find an empty sheath, and he (remarkably delicately, considering) pushed the apparently still asleep Cor off of him to face off with the large black bird, who was slowly backing away with his new prize. “Get back here with that, you feathered nuisance-” Prom got to his feet, moving gradually towards the bird.

“Let me try, the chocobos at Wiz’s liked me, maybe I can work with this one-” Prom got close as he hummed a jaunty tune, but the bird wasn’t having any part of him, kicking lightly in his direction before backing away some more, beads still shining as they swayed from the blade. “Or not. Maybe it doesn’t work on the wild ones?” Prom mumbled, and Nyx was getting to his feet to start chasing after the chocobo when another voice suddenly joined the party.

“What in the world-” Cor sat up, his eyes taking in the strange scene, and Noctis could see the moment he realized what he was looking at. “You like the beads, don’t you?” Cor said lightly to the chocobo as he pushed back the sleeping bag and rose to his feet, stepping off the fabric and onto the cold stone without the slightest reaction. “I’m afraid we need that back, I’ll never hear the end of it if a chocobo ran off with one of his precious blades-” Cor stepped towards the bird with measured steps, and to Noctis’s amazement, the bird fluffed its feathers and moved closer to the marshal, who actually quirked a smile. “That’s it,” Cor said quietly, and to the complete shock of the whole lot of them, the bird opened its mouth and let Cor delicately lift the blade from its beak, the man quickly thrusting it behind his back hilt-first for Nyx to reclaim. “Maybe I have some coins you can have instead.” The chocobo leaned over and lightly headbutted Cor, who reached up and scratched the back of the bird’s neck.

“I hate to ask, marshal, but I don’t suppose you can convince your new friend to return my glasses? He took them before he returned for the kukri,” Iggy asked, and Cor patted the chocobo one more time before quickly donning his shoes.

“Why do I have a feeling you have a whole collection of stuff around here? Let’s go look,” Cor rested his hand on the back of the chocobo’s neck, and the two walked off together, disappearing around the hillside. No one actually managed to speak for a good long minute until Gladio started chuckling.

“Well, Prom, you said that the goddess explained that chocobos were her creations, right?” Gladio commented, and Prompto nodded slowly. “Maybe you get the sunny-feathered ones flocking to you, while Cor gets the dark and wily ones for him.” Nyx was just standing there blinking and staring in the direction Cor had gone as he clutched his reclaimed weapon, and Noctis couldn’t help but laugh, meeting Prom’s growing open-mouthed smile with one of his own and shrugging.

“Gladio may have a point, Prom. The yellow chocobos at the ranch loved you, they chased after you like you were the most amazing thing they had ever seen, but this black chocobo sized you up and found you lacking, but immediately submitted to Cor. I think it’s an entirely appropriate assumption-”

“You’re a chocobo whisperer too? Damn, why didn’t we go to the stables? I would have loved to have seen that!” Aranea interjected, and Luna actually pouted for a moment before nodding in agreement.

“Yes, that would have been lovely. Perhaps next time?” Luna suggested, and Prom scratched at his cheek and grinned just as Cor’s voice came back into range, a suspicious rattling noise following in his wake.

“You’ve been lifting things from travelers for years, haven’t you? You know, you are lucky that most people wouldn’t go after a chocobo, because I’m sure you’ve probably pissed off more than a few over the years,” Cor was saying to the chocobo as they came into view. The marshal’s shirt was off and apparently being used as a sack as the two moved back closer to the haven, and Iggy sighed in relief as Cor extended a hand with a familiar set of glasses in it without a word.

“Thank you, marshal,” Iggy said as Cor and his new friend walked up by the fire pit, both taking a seat. Nyx still looked somewhat floored by the events unfolding in front of him, but scooted a little closer to the twosome, only to get a half-lifted wing blocking his path. Noctis was going to die. The bird was looking at Nyx like a jealous lover, and while the whole affair was completely hilarious, if the chocobo decided to get mean about it, it could do some real damage-

“Be nice to Nyx,” Cor told the chocobo firmly, and the kwehing response was far more petulant than Noctis ever thought a bird could get, but the chocobo lowered its wing and settled for glaring as Nyx carefully sat down next to Cor on the opposite side. They all moved a little closer as Cor opened the impromptu sack, revealing a collection of everything from jewelry, dog tags, at least one cell phone, an assortment of knives, beads, two more pairs of glasses, and other baubles. Cor reached in and plucked out a multi-level necklace, reminding him heavily of the one that Libertus wore, and handed it over to Nyx. “I thought you might find that interesting.” Nyx wiped at the dirt for a few moments before inspecting it, a soft smile creeping onto his face. The chocobo kwehed unhappily again, but Cor scratched its neck for a moment and it quieted down.

“It’s actually silver...this was a Galahdian’s prized possession. Most in this style are...not. Precious metals get very expensive, and these necklaces use larger beads, as you know, so it’s quite the splurge to get something like this. Maybe I can figure out who made it...” Nyx returned to his inspection, and Cor reached in once more and took out two necklaces, one with a crescent moon with little stars dangling around it, which he handed to Luna, and a simple silver necklace with dark red stones set spaced along the chain which he gave to Aranea, who looked impressed.

“Just something I saw, there’s no markings indicating past owners, so consider it a souvenir,” Cor said, and Noctis watched as he meticulously picked out all of the dog tags and set them aside, then returned to the pile. “The phone is a lost cause, I’ll let you have it back,” Cor told the chocobo, then looked up at the others. “If you see anything interesting, let me know now, otherwise I’m just going to add a few coins to her collection and put this stuff back.” A few minutes of careful sorting later, and everyone had picked out a little momento from the chocobo’s hard-fought collection. Cor reached over to his daypack and took out some loose gil coins, adding them to the stack before closing the shirt back up once more. “Let’s go put your things back.” Cor and the chocobo got back to their feet, and Cor set off ahead; the bird glared at Nyx one more time before spinning on her claws and nearly knocking the Glaive flat with her rear end as she sounded the most mocking call Noctis had ever heard. After another glare, she trotted off after the marshal.

“I think she’s jealous, Nyx,” Libertus said unhelpfully, and Noctis (and the rest of them,) burst out laughing at the tetchy look on the man in question’s face.

“No shit.”

The chocobo stayed with them as they entered the glade with the tomb, and even helped out as they fought the waiting treant that blocked their path, using her sharp claws skillfully; they did keep her from entering the crypt while Noctis claimed the massive shuriken that waited for him inside, but that was only to keep her from trying to reclaim the shiny thing from his chest. She followed alongside Cor all the way out, but stopped when they left the forest proper, the keening noises actually painful to listen to as the older man sighed fondly and went over to speak with the chocobo.

“Remember what we were talking about last night, Prom?” Noctis said, and Prom looked at him, his brow furrowed.

“Yeah…?” Prom said, and Noctis smirked.

“I thought that was the cutest thing ever, but this may have taken the cake.” Prompto choked on his own spit, and by the time Cor rejoined them, a depressed looking chocobo watching them go, they were both red from laughing, and the marshal raised an eyebrow at the sight of them.

“Do I want to know?” Cor asked, and everyone shook their heads. “Ah, alright then.”

“Time to head north,” Luna stated, and the mood grew more contemplative.

“Here’s hoping the road isn’t that bad,” Noctis grumbled, and Gladio patted his shoulder as they headed back to the cars.

Time to head to Galahd.

Chapter Text

Luna had been to Galahd a few times during the imperial occupation as part of her oracle duties, but only to a few carefully controlled locations near the coast with very little freedom to move around. Luckily, the people had seemed to understand that she was limited in what she was able to do, and she never got any serious blowback during the tours. The fact that Galahd was still quite dedicated to the Dawn Mother had made things interesting as well, and she had taken the small slivers of free time she had to ask those who had been allowed to approach her about the goddess, which had at first drawn suspicion, but then respect; they had feared that she was asking only to slight their beliefs, but she had assured them that wasn’t the case at all. A sizeable part of her had wanted to tell them that the goddess had chosen her new Herald and Voice, that their stalwart faith had been true all these centuries, but she had known that to reveal their existence could have ruined everything. She had held her tongue.

The half-hour or so she had spent in Galahd with Cor while fleeing Tenebrae to Insomnia didn’t count, she had seen only the docks, a few minutes of walking into an alley not far from the docks, and a minute or two here and there as they had stepped across the region and into the frontier areas. So as they bumped their way up a road in serious need of maintenance, the asphalt missing in many areas and heavily pitted in others, she took the time to take in her surroundings, even though they were keeping the top up on the car due to the constant dust and dirt being thrown up. The northwest region of Lucis was far more mountainous than the majority of the territory they had travelled through over the past few weeks, and the road alternated between hugging the side of the mountains precariously as they navigated up what felt like endless switchbacks, or threaded its way through tight canyons and valleys between the hills; they passed several tiny towns and villages as they travelled, and if parts of the southern half of Lucis were still somewhat behind Insomnia in modernity, they made parts of the frontier look like they were rooted in the post-apocalypse after Solheim.

It was honestly depressing, and she would be shocked if these people even had a radio...she saw no repeaters on the mountains nearby, and she seriously doubted they would have signal all the way out there. They probably got their news from travelers and travelling themselves, but with Galahd and the frontier only recently liberated, she wouldn’t be surprised if most of their news was months, if not years old. Prompto was constantly pointing out things that needed to be repaired and improved in Lucis, and she was staring at a giant one as they passed on through. Hopefully he noticed it too.

After several hours of slow, methodical driving, Noctis called for a stop to stretch and take care of personal matters, and they pulled into the first thing resembling a store she had seen the whole trip. It was a small building made of the trunks of what was certainly local lumber, left round instead of smoothing them out. There was several other cars around, but they were old even by greater Lucian standards, and she was again not surprised when a small group of curious locals emerged and began creeping forward towards their far more modern vehicles as they got out of their vehicles. Luna smiled to the people approaching, weaving her fingers together in front of her stomach as Cor closed the driver’s door and leaned against the car, hooking his thumbs on his pockets and trying not to look too intimidating while the others got out of their respective cars and headed towards the little shop.

“You can go inside if you want, Luna, I’ve got this,” Cor said under his breath, and Luna gave a minute shake of her head in response.

“I’m fine, it’s probably best I stay out here for a while, they are more likely to recognize me than most of you,” she answered, and Cor hummed in reply as a middle-aged woman stepped forward from the group, looking at both cars in a mix of suspicion and awe before focusing her attention on the two of them.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen cars this fancy up here, not in many a year,” the woman said, walking up to Luna and stopping a few feet away. “Pardon if I’m being a bit forward, but you look a lot like the oracle, miss.” Luna raised a hand to her chest and bowed delicately, and the woman smiled. “What in the world is the oracle doing up in our astralforsaken little village? With quite the group with you as well.” The woman sized up Cor, who was doing his best to look stoic yet generally non-threatening (he wasn’t all that good at the latter, but he was trying his best) and frowned. “You look familiar too. Why do you look familiar?” the woman said, and Luna and Cor’s eyes met. Should he identify himself? These people were so remote that she half-wondered if they knew about anything regarding the final defeat of the Starscourge-

“I am Cor Leonis, Marshal of the Crownsguard,” Cor stated politely, and the woman squinted at him before looking over as the majority of their companions left the little store, apparently holding a variety of homemade looking snacks and treats.

“Isn’t that the prince?” A man standing a few feet behind the woman asked, and the woman’s head snapped over to look at Noctis, then her eyes moved further back until she focused on Prompto, squinting further until she returned the full force of her surprisingly intense attention back on Cor. Luna barely kept from frowning as the woman’s features began to twist as she stared at the older man, but her heart began to beat faster. Something was wrong here.

“You. You’re the heretic who killed an astral last year, who claims to be some sort of divine messenger- you and that blond boy. There’s been tales of how you’ve warped the minds of the royal family, and now we see you with the oracle as well, apparently as happy as a clam,” the woman hissed, grabbing the front of Cor’s shirt and yanking on him to little effect. “How dare you come here, we are pious folk who honor the astrals, not heathens and murderers-” Luna maneuvered her way between the two, clasping her hands together as she looked at the angry crowd.

“Madame, please, I believe your information is incorrect. One, it is impossible to actually kill an astral, two, the Infernian was trying to kill all of us, and finally, the marshal did not kill Ifrit,” she said quickly, hoping to forestall the woman’s ire. “What did you hear? We might be able to tell you ourselves, as most of us were present at the time.” The woman scowled as she looked between the two of them, and Luna could see the others carefully approach out for the corner of her eye, but she did not look. Better to keep the crowd’s attention on her. After a long, strained pause, the woman sighed and met Luna’s eyes.

“As you probably can guess, we get whatever floats up here. Radio doesn’t work, those phone things don’t work, so what we get is what we are told by those who pass on through and old newspapers. We all noticed when the daemons disappeared, although we never had many to begin with, but it was weeks before we heard anything about what had happened. As you can probably guess, we got beat up old newspapers and insane stories here and there talking about divine messengers, dead astrals, and the destruction of the crystal. They all said the Starscourge had been eradicated, and that the empire had lost most of its army in one fell swoop, but also that there had been two people who supposedly caused a lot of this that were messengers of...we never got that clarified, and we feared that you had been forcibly removed from your rightful place,” the woman said, looking at their whole group. “Are you here willingly, my lady? We may not be warriors, but we will help if needed-” Luna shook her head, then bowed her head to her clasped hands for a moment before looking up again.

“Perhaps we should start over? Allow me to introduce my friends and companions to you all-” Luna started with Noctis, as per his right of rank, and worked through all of them before ending with an unembarrassed Libertus, who nodded like the rest. “What you heard of divine messengers was accurate, Marshal Leonis and Crownsguard Argentum are the chosen of the Dawn Mother; you may have seen them addressed as the herald and voice,” she said, only for one of the locals to approach with a dubious expression.

“Wasn’t the Dawn Mother the one who abandoned the world long before Solheim fell? The one those Galahdians still cling to, forsaking the astrals?” Luna watched as both Nyx and Libertus bristled visibly at the man’s words, and unfortunately, the man noticed as well. “Oh, you have some of them with you. Your people don’t come down here too often, you usually take the main road,” the local said blandly, and finally Luna couldn’t take the ridiculousness of the whole encounter any longer.

“Look, my friends, I do not know what else to tell you. The goddess chose them as her champions, and with the Glacian’s help, we managed to defeat the Infernian. The Glacian struck the final blow herself. The empire had schemed to slaughter all of Insomnia, from the king down to the poorest citizen, and steal the crystal and corrupt its power; their actions had raised the infection rate of the Scourge to astronomical levels, and with the Dawnsworn’s help, we saved millions of lives and eradicated the Starscourge. We all worked together.”

The crowd dithered, and most seemed to take her words to heart, albeit reluctantly in a few cases, but the one who had commented on Galahdians seemed underwhelmed, looking back at Nyx and Libertus with a sneer.

“That doesn’t explain why those two are part of your group. Couldn’t there have been some other Kingsglaives you could have brought for your trip? You’ll be lucky if you get there in one piece with their type around-” Aranea actually had to grab Libertus’s arm to keep him from doing something that he’d probably regret, and after a stern look at the local, Cor, Nyx, and Libertus all climbed into Rita, leaving the rest of them to patch up the situation.

“Eh, don’t mind Marcus, he’s just an asshole. The girl he was after ran off with a Galahdian decades ago, and he’s hated them ever since,” an old woman came to the fore, thwacking her cane against said Marcus’s shins and forcing him back. “We appreciate the clarification on current events, my lady, as you can see, news is hard to get out in these old towns. How fares Tenebrae? We hear that it’s been liberated from the Niffs, and that your line presides over the whole of the land once more. Your presence here tells me that there is truth in that, yes?” Luna could have kissed the matron, but instead, nodded and smiled her agreement with the woman’s statement. “Excellent. Did you all get enough to eat before we showed up and made you all uncomfortable? I probably have some sandwiches at my house I could fetch-”

“We are all quite well, madam, although we appreciate the offer,” Noctis cut in, and Luna again nodded. “Now that the threat of aerial bombardment has seriously lessened, I will try and see if it would be possible to at least have some radio repeaters installed in the mountains so you all are no longer so isolated from the rest of Lucis. Perhaps eventually we can manage cell phone towers…”

A few more minutes of decent political maneuvering by Noctis and Luna thanking everyone for their support later, the rest of them finally got into their respective vehicles again and set off down the road. Libertus was sitting next to Luna in the back seat, his expression still grim, and she hesitated for a moment before wrapping her fingers around his forearm gently, drawing his gaze.

“You may not have heard, but the old woman we spoke with last apologized for him, called him an…” Aranea chuckled from the opposite seat.

“She called him an asshole,” the dragoon commented, and Luna smiled and nodded.

“-she said that he had been bitter ever since the woman he liked fell in love with a Galahdian instead. But regardless, please don’t take such things to heart, Libertus, Nyx. I confess to not understanding much of the regional differences beyond history here in Lucis, but I find those who say such cruel things ridiculous. I thought the same during those protests back in Insomnia,” she said, and was gladdened when Libertus quirked a smile.

“Thanks, princess. It just pisses me off sometimes.”

The road seemed never ending, and after pulling off and consulting multiple maps, they determined that there was a haven that used to be set off the road on the remote outskirts near what was considered Galahd, and after several hours of driving into the night, they found the place; unlike the havens they had been to in the past, the glow of the protective spell runes was barely visible even in the dark, and the concern was palpable as they stood on the stone.

“Why do I have a feeling that this haven hasn’t seen the touch of an oracle in a long time?” Gladio stated as Luna walked around the perimeter of the haven with her arms crossed, looking down at the feeble glow. No one else spoke as she walked around it several times, her brow creased in thought. Could she fix it? She had never personally reenergized a haven, as the power in them had held though her mother’s passing to her, but the ritual called for the trident, which was gone. But she had managed to wake the Archaean without it, so perhaps-

“Would everyone do me a favor and step off the haven for a moment? I’m going to try something,” she asked, and thankfully, everyone followed her request without question. She moved to the center, noting the minute brightening of the light as she stood over the firepit. There was still power there, which actually lessened her worry, she just hoped that her blessings would strengthen it. Kneeling and putting her hands to the edge of the closest runes, she began to call for the blessings of the astrals, from Shiva to Ramuh, from Leviathan to Titan, she invoked their names; she found herself skipping Ifrit and Bahamut, which was a corruption of the ritual, but she feared speaking their names might bring down their scorn and ruin everything, as she knew she held no favor with them. But the runes only glowed a bit brighter as she tried, and after several repetitions of her shortened invocation with the slightest gain, she finally swallowed her nerves and did the ritual in its entirety, Bahamut and all as she rose to her feet and danced around the haven, letting her feet brush every ancient sigil as she went before working her way back to the center. Lacking the trident, which was normally speared into the center of the haven at the end of the ritual, she fell to her knees and slammed her hands into the fire ring; she was awarded by blue flames darting around her hands and arms, and the runes of the haven exploding into brilliant life as she closed her eyes against the sudden brightness.

“Luna, you did it!” Prompto’s excited voice pried her eyes back open, and she looked around to see the brilliant glow calming to more of what she would have expected, a pleasant aura that radiated safety. It had worked, even with the invocation of Bahamut. What did that mean? Had the Draconian forgiven her? Or was it just due to the ritual and whatever power she still possessed? Perhaps she would have an opportunity to test the theory- A large hand came to rest on the base of her neck, disrupting her musings, and she looked up to see Cor dropping to one knee next to her.

“Luna, are you well?” the older man asked as he kept his hand on the back of her neck, and she took comfort in the soothing weight of it for a moment before finally nodding.

“Yes, I am well. I was just thinking,” she replied, and Cor looked at her face closely before squeezing her neck lightly and letting her go, getting to his feet easily.

“I suppose we should set up camp now?” Libertus asked, and everyone looked to her; she visually inspected the runes from her perch on the ground in front of the fire pit before giving a thumbs up. Cor offered his hand and she took it, rising to her feet and brushing off the front of her clothes as Prompto came up to her, his happy grin the first thing she could see as he took her hand and wrapped his own around it.

“That was amazing, Luna! Have you ever done that before?” Prompto asked, and Luna shook her head, looking upon the haven in ever-increasing glee. She had done it. She had truly done it. Pulling her hand from Prompto’s, she threw her arms around her fellow blond, giving him a tight squeeze which he easily returned.

“It worked!” she exclaimed, giving the younger man a kiss on the cheek before disengaging and all but jumping on Cor, who had remained at her side, gaining a rare laugh as his strong arms wrapped around her back. “I was so worried,” she whispered, and she could feel his grip stiffen slightly. “After all, I destroyed the crystal, and the Draconian punished me with the loss of the trident and my death, no matter how short it was; I feared that it would mean an end to everything I considered part of myself, but I have healed the injured, summoned an astral, and even done rituals I had accepted I would no longer be able to do...while I am uncertain what this means for the future, I find myself utterly relieved,” she managed to say, coming to the realization that there were far more hands resting on her back than she expected, and she twisted in Cor’s arms to see Noctis and his crew, as well as Aranea all standing behind and around her; while Nyx and Libertus was not part of the touching group, they were both flanking Cor and smiling.

“You really were concerned, weren’t you?” Noctis said from behind her, and Luna rose on her tiptoes and gave Cor a kiss on his cheek before stepping away from the older man with a thankful smile.

“I was, although I didn’t want to make a big issue of it, I mean, how could I be so selfish after what our actions wrought?” she said, and she could see several of them open their mouths to speak, but she cut them off with a raised hand. “I know, I know, the king even told me as such when we spoke about it when I first woke up after everything, but I couldn’t entirely put it behind me. It was what I was raised to all these years, after all.” An even larger hand than Cor’s landed on her upper back, giving her a firm pat.

“You’ve got this, Luna. Hell, you have this more than the rest of us, considering most of us didn’t return home afterwards to help reconstruct a country. No regrets,” Gladio said, and she spun around and gave him a quick hug before working her way down the line, hugging Noctis and Ignis before surprising Nyx and Libertus with one as well, finally ending with Aranea, who raised an eyebrow before barking out a laugh and letting her hug her as well.

“No regrets, eh princess?” Aranea said, and she looked towards everyone and smiled.

“No regrets.”

With her emotional happy meltdown done, they all worked together to set up the campsite. Well, everyone except Nyx, who nearly broke one of the tents and was sent over to help figure out something for dinner instead.

“Tent poles are not meant to be bent like that, Ulric, seriously, how did you survive camping in the past?” Aranea asked, and Luna giggled as Nyx pointed at Libertus, who was pointing at himself. “Ah. Libs, you need to stop babying this idiot, what if he’s gotta go out without you?” Aranea commented, and Nyx smirked and turned his pointing finger towards Cor, who gave him a bleak look in return. “I suppose that one is a lost cause then,” Aranea said to Cor, who quirked a smile.

“He has his uses,” Cor stated more than a little fondly, and Luna continued to laugh as the older woman waggled her eyebrows lasciviously.

“I’ll bet.” Cor flushed a mottled shade of red so brilliant that it was visible even in the firelight, and the night was filled with uproarious laughter as Nyx got to his feet and wrapped his arm around his partner’s waist.

“You walked right into that one, Cor,” Nyx said with clear amusement, and the rough and tough marshal of the Crownsguard groaned in embarrassment and tried to leave the area, only to be restrained by a still laughing Glaive. “Aw, babe, don’t be like this, you were telling the truth after all-” Cor squirmed and tried to pry the man off, but to no avail. The rest of their group by this point had stopped and were watching the two very grown men scuffle like children, and Luna was not surprised when Prompto scooted over by her with a mix of amusement and vague embarrassment on his face.

“It’s both funny and awkward for me to watch all at the same time, and I don’t even know why,” Prompto stated with some confusion, and Luna hooked her arm around his elbow and let her chin set on his shoulder, an indulgent smile on her face.

“Oh, you know why.” Prompto’s blinking expression told her that he wasn’t following, and Luna poked her elbow lightly into his side.

“I used to think much the same way when my mother would goof around, Prompto. Does that help?” she said quietly, and she watched patiently as a myriad of emotions flickered across the younger man’s face, ending in a pensive hope.

“Do you think he really wants to be...that? He seems so conflicted whenever it comes up that I really wonder sometimes, as much as everyone seems to bring it up,” Prompto muttered under his breath, and Luna finally couldn’t take it anymore. Pulling on his arm, she led him away from the others and to the edge of the haven, where she coaxed him to sit down.

“You know why he’s conflicted, I know you do,” she commented, and Prompto brought his knees up to his chest and propped his chin on his folded arms.

“He feels guilty for not adopting me in the first place,” he mumbled into his arms, and Luna sighed.

“He cares for you deeply, Prompto, we all know he does. Even the Dawn Mother and the Archaean know this. If you had grown up with loving, attentive parents who were still invested in your life and well being, I think he would have ended up more of a mentor figure to you, but…”

“I didn’t. Not after I entered middle school,” Prompto cut in, and she nodded.

“Right, and he feels guilty for that as well, as you well know-”

“I’ve told him several times to knock that off, he did what he thought was best, and I do know he was away on missions a lot in what would have been my elementary school years, so he probably had a point,” Prompto said grumpily, and Luna patted his arm.

“I’m also certain he said he would have made it work, am I correct?” Luna asked, and Prompto groaned.

“Yes, cuz he’s an idiot,” the other blond grumbled as he stuffed his face in his arms, and Luna grinned.

“You already sound like a proper son, you know. Have you two truly discussed it since the weeks or so after you awoke last year?” she inquired, and Prompto shook his head.

“Not really.” Luna reached up and ruffled his hair, and he squirmed. “Not the hair!”

“We’ll soon be in Galahd, where you should have some time to rest and discuss matters whilst you two do your research. I’m certainly not telling you to do so, but I think it would be beneficial for the two of you to speak about it,” she pointed out, and Prompto gave a tiny sigh and nodded into his arms. “Good. Unless something comes up, Aranea and I won’t be leaving right away, I wanted to see a bit of Galahd first. If you need my help for anything, you only need ask.” Prompto leaned over and let his head rest on her shoulder for a moment, and Luna let her head rest on top of his.

“Thank you, Luna. You’re an awesome friend, I’m glad I’ve gotten the chance to know you properly,” Prompto said quietly, and she smiled.

“Same to you, Prompto.”

Nyx finally managed a simple dinner after he finally let poor Cor dive into their tent and hide for awhile (in truth, Cor eventually just used his longer limbs to trap him, and Luna was pretty sure Nyx gave up because they had a rather observant audience and he didn’t want to cause the poor man’s head to explode,) and after sandwiches and some vegetable soup, Luna bid the others good night and adjourned to her tent. Aranea joined her a few minutes later as she was brushing out her hair, the older woman working off her boots and crawling over to her sleeping bag.

“What were you talking with the kid about?” Aranea asked quietly as she wiggled out of her traveling clothes, and Luna stopped mid-stroke and huffed out a laugh.

“You’ve seen how he and Cor are together, right?” she asked, and Aranea grinned.

“You mean the whole I’m totally your daddy but I’m not acknowledging it because of lameass reasons vibe? Cor looks at that kid with more of a paternal air than my own father ever did for me, but they both kinda skirt around the issue. I’m guessing you know the real story,” Aranea said as she pulled on a tank top, and Luna tilted her head.

“I can’t say much, but I met Cor and Prompto when they were…” she paused and thought for a moment. “...when they were twenty-eight and three respectively, they were travelling together. I thought at the time that Cor would take him in permanently, but he ended up convincing himself not to, and Prompto was adopted by a couple in Insomnia, who turned out to be mediocre parents at best. From what I understand, Prompto basically raised himself from about ten on. Cor had intentionally cut himself out of Prompto’s life as he felt that he would do better with a more normal family life, not realizing that the Argentums had basically left the poor boy out to dry. So they reunite at some point when Prompto starts going to the Citadel with Noctis, from what I understand, and Cor started to realize that maybe Prompto’s normal upbringing didn’t go so well. But Prompto doesn’t remember him, so Cor kept his distance, until, well, they both got outed as the Dawnsworn, and the marshal was forced to explain some things. They’ve been getting closer ever since, but Cor’s guilt is so palpable I can taste it sometimes, while Prompto doesn’t want to push even though he looks at the marshal like he hung the stars in the sky. It’s both sweet, and sad,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper, and Aranea sighed.

“...and you said you couldn’t say much,” the dragoon commented lightly, but before Luna could respond, she waved a hand towards the direction of Prompto’s tent. “The kid’s a sweetheart, and honestly, underneath the easily-flustered stoic grump persona, I can see that Leonis is too. They’ll figure it out, Luna, it may just take a little longer.” Luna groaned and let her brush drop to the floor of the tent as she flopped onto her sleeping bag.

“I just hope it’s not too much longer. When even the astrals are chiming in-”

“Is that what Cor was acting so strangely about after your chat with Titan?”

Luna woke up a few hours later to a familiar feeling, and after a quick glance at Aranea’s sleeping form, she carefully unzipped the door and stepped out onto the cold stone, suppressing a shiver as she closed it again behind her.

“For all of his anger, oracle, he has not abandoned you. The Draconian believes himself above the concerns of the mortals, but long has he been invested in your bloodline. He showed his displeasure with the destruction of the trident, he is not so cruel to strip you of everything that you are, not when you truly believed you were doing the right thing.” Luna smiled at the soft voice, and walked to the edge of the haven up to Gentiana, who was looking at the sigils below their feet with a keen gaze.

“I would ask why you never told me, but perhaps-” Gentiana smiled, slight and mysterious, and reached out and took Luna’s hands.

“You needed to discover your own heart, oracle. My words alone would not have sufficed,” Gentiana explained, and Luna, as much as she wanted to disagree, knew she was right. “Your heart is true and your strength is vast, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, Queen of Tenebrae and chosen Oracle of the Astrals, and may that spirit within carry you into the future that you have helped to build.” Luna’s jaw dropped at the astral’s words, and a few tears escaped down her cheeks before she could blink them away.

“Gentiana-” Luna was forced to blink away a few more rogue teardrops, heaving a shaky breath before smiling. “No matter how long I live, or if you stop coming to visit with me, you will always be one of my dearest friends. I would not be the woman I am today without your help and guidance, Gentiana, and I will forever be in your debt,” she said, and Gentiana’s smile grew as broad as she had ever seen it, her chest warm at the sight of it.

“I will be by your side until you have departed this world, oracle, and not a second before.” Gentiana raised their joined hands, giving a gentle kiss to Luna’s knuckles before letting go; Luna grinned and wiped away another tear as the astral took a single step back, then looked at a point beyond Luna’s shoulder with a touch of amusement before vanishing. Luna gave herself a moment to let the tears dry before she turned, only to discover that Cor was peeking out of his tent in not-so veiled concern.

“Is everything alright, Luna?” Cor asked quietly, and Luna turned her head once more to where Gentiana had been standing before meeting his gaze easily.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been better,” she said truthfully, and Cor’s mouth quirked up at the edges.

“I can tell.” Cor popped his head back into his and Nyx’s tent, and Luna started back towards her and Aranea’s when he spoke once more. “Good night, oracle.” She beamed and faced him once more.

“Good night, herald.”

The next morning featured Ignis pulling off another fantastic meal with apparently little more than some leftover herbs and magic, and the continuing expulsion of Nyx away from the tents so they could be broken down properly without being broken down. Luna found it absolutely hilarious that they had travelled for several weeks together and he had managed to dodge the majority of campsite breakdown every time until they were isolated in a cliffside haven with little room to easily wander off. It was clear Libertus was used to it, as he would just hand Nyx bags and he would know exactly what to do with them without a word; while she knew that back in Insomnia, Nyx was technically his boss, this spoke to an older, stronger dynamic between them. Libertus had told her that they had been friends since they were children, and she could see it easily during quiet moments such as those.

“Is anyone aware of how much longer it might be until we reach a populated area?” Ignis spoke aloud as he finished packing up the cooking supplies, and after some shared looks, it was Nyx who spoke.

“I’ve not been on this road before, but there was some tiny villages on the downward slopes of these mountains, and it’s already been nearly a full day. I doubt we’ll be up here another night,” Nyx stated, but it was clear he wasn’t certain. Ignis seemed to take the non-answer well, though, closing up the cooking utensil satchel and nodding his understanding.

“Our supplies of anything beyond canned goods and cup noodle are running a bit thin, so that was my primary concern. We are stocked well enough, but our sodium levels don’t need extended exposure to our backup supplies, as much as you disagree, Gladio,” Ignis stated drily as Gladio pouted and looked like he was about to complain, but Noctis and Prompto grabbed the older man’s arms and dragged him off towards the car just as he started to extol the virtues of cup noodle, and Luna was amused by the very quiet, relieved sigh from Cor.

“That boy’s been addicted to those things for years, and it’s entirely his father’s fault. I’m pretty sure if I asked Clarus about his sodium levels, he’d punch me in the face,” Cor mused as Nyx walked by with the last of the bags, patting him on the back as he passed.

“Try to avoid getting punched in the face. I like it how it is,” the Glaive commented matter-of-factly, and Cor rolled his eyes as he followed his partner, leaving Luna, Aranea, and Libertus standing on the haven watching the rest of their party in bemusement.

“It’s like travelling with a circus,” Libertus commented, but his amusement was plain as they too headed down from their former campsite. Luna smiled at both of her current companions, then looked towards the road.

“...and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

In the end, Nyx ended up being correct. About five more hours of driving later, passing a few hamlets here and there that they chose not to stop in on, and soon the steep cliffs and tight canyons opened suddenly onto a beautiful vista, the view so clear that Luna swore, if just for a moment, that she could see clear to the ocean.

“It’s beautiful!” she exclaimed, noting Nyx’s answering grin from the driver’s seat.

“Hell yeah, it is,” Nyx answered breathlessly, and there was little else to be said as both the Regalia and Rita began to descend through another dizzying corridor of switchbacks, passing more little towns on the way; the road began to improve as they neared the foothills, and she breathed a sigh of relief as the constant vibrations began to smooth. While the excellent shocks on the cars had held back the worst of it, it still hadn’t been the most comfortable ride she had ever been on.

“Are we actually in Galahd yet?” Aranea asked, and Libertus shook his head.

“These are considered frontier towns, but honestly, there’s a lot of shared background with these people the closer we get to the formal borders. I do recognize the area a little bit now, though; we could power through and reach Galeas by late evening, I think,” Libertus commented, leaning over and patting the back of the driver’s seat. “Nyx, what do you think? It’ll be a bit of a slog, but I know the town’s still standing, they’ve been patching it up since the Niffs were driven out.” Luna looked down at her phone, noting that she had a tiny bit of signal.

“Phones work out here?” she asked, and everyone but Nyx dug out their phones and looked at the screens.

“I do know that there was some modernization projects ongoing along with the infrastructure repairs, but I was unaware of how far it had gotten. I’m sure Ignis knows all the details,” Cor replied, and Luna grinned and flicked her screen.

“I’ll text Noctis, suggest we stop soon and discuss what our plan of action is,” she said, and after several agreeable grunts, she did just that, and soon, they pulled off near a meadow and went over their options. After some discussion, it was decided to press forward to the border town of Galeas, and after Ignis distributed some of their remaining snacks to tide them over, they piled back into their cars and headed out once more, Nyx in the lead in Rita, as he and Libertus had some memory of the area.

“I think I’ll call Ravus when we stop for the night, tell him we’ve made it to Galahd. I know he’s been...griping at you, Aranea, and for that, you have my apologies,” she said, and the dragoon laughed.

“I’m used to him, princess, don’t worry too much about it. But it’s a good idea, it’ll shut him up for a little while,” Aranea replied, and Luna made herself a mental note to do just that when they arrived in Galeas before hunkering down and letting herself take a nap.

Sometimes Noctis really did have the best ideas.

She slept solidly into the evening, barely rousing when Aranea had also dropped off to sleep next to her, her head falling to Luna’s shoulder. It took Cor reaching back and gently tapping her on the knee to wake her up, and she opened her eyes to brilliant lights and construction as they drove through what was clearly a proper town, and she nudged Aranea so she could see as well; the older woman yawned and stretched as they continued through the town, and the two of them watched the buildings as they passed on by.

“This is Galeas?” she asked, and Libertus nodded.

“Yup, I haven’t been here in years, but it’s good to see it’s still more or less intact. From what I remember, it really got pounded during the invasion, which explains a lot of the obvious construction we’ve seen,” Libertus commented, and Luna returned to looking out the window. The construction was a mix of styles, from buildings she had seen the like of in Lestallum, to newer more modern buildings that were largely still under construction, as well as much older structures with a distinct style she could not name, which she was certain was indigenous to the area. She looked over at Libertus, and found herself smiling at the wistful expression on the older man’s face as they turned off the main road, pulling into a dirt lot next to a...hotel?

“Are we seeing if we can stay in a hotel for tonight? That does sound lovely, I won’t lie-” Nyx chuckled from the driver’s seat as he parked the car and killed the engine.

“I’m going to go in and see if it’s still in business and if they have room, but I’ll be honest, it looks promising. I’m just happy I remembered this place,” Nyx said as he opened the door and stepped out, closing the door behind him as he departed. Luna was mildly surprised when Cor remained firmly in the front passenger seat instead of going with him, and leaned in so she could see his face.

“You aren’t going in?” she asked, and Cor gave a rapid shake of his head.

“We’re in Galahd now, Luna. Nyx thought it best that he go alone at first for several reasons, and I agreed,” Cor stated, and Luna paused. What reasons could those be?

“Distrust of outsiders?” she thought aloud, and Cor shrugged.

“That might be a small amount, but-” Libertus cut in on the marshal, his expression apologetic.

“Princess, think of how well known you are- sorry sir- and think about him and Prompto here in Galahd, where we’ve already passed one shrine to the goddess that I know of just on the way into town,” Libertus commented, and Luna’s mouth dropped into an o.

Oh, of course, how foolish of me. That does make perfect sense, forgive me,” she said awkwardly, and Cor huffed what sounded suspiciously like a laugh.

“Don’t worry about it, Luna. I knew that once we got here that both myself and Prompto would need to be a little more...circumspect in our actions; we got a little taste of that in just the few interactions we’ve had with Galahdian majorities. I’m just relieved that Prompto is all healed from his walking issues from last year. That would have made this entire trip far more complicated,” the marshal said quietly, and Luna nodded.

“I’m glad as well, it was painful to watch him like that, it didn’t suit him at all.”

“No, it didn’t.”

Aranea had been silent during the whole exchange, and Luna looked to her as she watched Nyx come back out of the building and head towards their car.

“Everything well, Aranea?” she asked, and the dragoon blinked, then shook her head to clear it.

“Yes, just fine. Just woolgathering,” Aranea responded, and something came to Luna that made ice shoot down her spine.

“Aranea, were you ever...stationed here?” she asked, and she could see the approving look in the older woman’s eyes.

“Took you long enough. Yeah, I was here off and on for several years, but again, they rarely used us as an invasion force, they preferred us more as an occupying one. They claimed that because we were all...human that we were more valuable, but we started as sellswords, so we knew damn good and well it was about trust. I don’t find myself minding in hindsight, although I wasn’t happy about it at the time,” the former commodore stated blandly, and Luna was not surprised when both Cor and Libertus turned to look at Aranea directly.

“Just tell me that your presence isn’t going to cause issues, and I’ll be content. Otherwise, we need to figure something out,” Cor said, his tone a bit sharper than she had heard it in awhile, and Aranea shrugged, but her expression was serious as she leaned forward, propping her elbows on her knees.

“Probably won’t be any problem, they usually had us guarding military camps and installations here in Galahd, same as the rest of Lucis. On occasion they sent me out separately, but only if there was a specific target to go after. I certainly wasn’t an angel, marshal, but I wasn’t part of the rampaging hordes either,” Aranea said firmly, and Cor looked at the dragoon for several seconds as Nyx reached the door before nodding once.

“Alright. Here’s hoping,” he commented, and Libertus actually snorted a laugh as Nyx opened the driver’s door and leaned in, looking at the lot of them.

“Did I miss something?” the Glaive asked, and Cor shook his head as he turned back towards his partner.

“No, we were just talking. What’s the word?” Cor asked, and Nyx jabbed his thumb towards the building with a grin, then held up several keys.

“Got us three rooms, not four, they are booked up otherwise. Libs, you’ll have to bunk with us, I’m afraid,” Nyx said, and Libertus shrugged next to her as he opened his car door.

“As long as you two behave yourselves, I’m good,” Libertus said slyly, and both Luna and Aranea laughed as Cor got out of the car with a bone-rattling sigh, the rest of them following immediately after.

“Did you tell them who you have with you?” Cor asked, and Nyx grimaced.

“I told him that I’m with some dignitaries, I didn’t give specifics. They didn’t seem too concerned, but well, we’ll see how it goes.” Nyx walked over to the Regalia and filled them in as well, and a few minutes later, all nine of them, luggage in hand, strolled into the lobby of the small hotel, trying desperately not to draw attention to themselves as they headed for the stairwell. To Luna’s shock, while there was several curious gazes following them, no one said anything or spoke to them as they headed up to their rooms, which were luckily all right next to each other.

“Try not to wander until we are all ready to go in the morning, our luck won’t hold for long,” Cor announced, and everyone nodded in agreement and adjourned to their respective rooms. As soon as the door closed behind them, Luna walked into the room, which was plainer than she thought it would be, and put her bag on one of the beds before walking towards the little balcony, fishing out her phone.

“Mind if I shower first? I’m thinking of seeing if they do room service after that.” Aranea asked, and Luna turned and shook her head.

“No, go right ahead, I’m going to call Ravus and update him as I said I would,” she answered, and the older woman smirked as she walked into the bathroom.

“Good luck!” Luna huffed out a laugh as she heard the water turn on, then dialed and lifted her phone to her ear.

“Fleuret.” Luna and her brother may have their issues, but she still smiled at the sound of his voice.

“Ravus, good evening from Galahd,” she replied, and she heard his sudden intake of breath, telling her that he had answered the phone without seeing who had called.

“Lunafreya, it is good to hear your voice. I trust your travel through the mountains went smoothly?” Luna leaned against the doorframe, closing her eyes.

“Yes, it was a long trip, but the scenery was lovely, and my companions continue to be a great joy to travel with. How is Tenebrae?” she asked, and Ravus immediately launched into an important, if dry, update of all things she had missed since the last time she had spoken with him, and after several minutes, he finally trailed off, his tone going hesitant.

“Sister...I’m not trying to rush you, but do you know how much longer you will be travelling? It has been over a month since you left-” Luna smiled as her brother tried to say without telling her that he wanted her home, letting him fumble around for a few words before finally chuckling. “Luna?”

“Ravus, I know you want me home, and I promise that it will not be too much longer. I want to actually explore the area for a little while and assist Cor and Prompto in what they need to attend to, then Aranea and I will return home. Perhaps another week?” she told him, and she rolled her eyes at the aborted sigh on the other end of the line.

“That- that sounds excellent, Luna. I look forward to seeing you soon,” Ravus responded, his voice more than a little disappointed, but she couldn’t help but smile. He was trying, and that’s all she could ask.

“I do miss you, brother. I won’t be gone much longer,” she said softly, and this time, she could hear the smile in Ravus’s voice as he replied.

“Until then, Luna.”

 

-----------------------------------------------

 

Cor woke up with a start, his eyes flying open as he looked out towards...a balcony. Not a tent. That’s right. He sighed, and turned his face into Nyx’s familiar chest, letting his eyes drift closed. If Nyx was still asleep, it was too early to get up. Another noise roused him a few minutes later, and he shifted once again to see Libertus get out of the other bed and head to the bathroom, and he lifted his head and squinted at the old clock on the nightstand. Eight in the morning. They hadn’t gotten to bed until around eleven the night before, but that was still a wholly respectable night’s sleep. He should get up. He rested his head back down onto Nyx’s still-sleeping chest with a grumble, and let himself drift as he listened to the other Glaive thump around the bathroom in his morning ablutions, not used to having a third person in the room. He was getting old, he used to stay in overcrowded rooms with Regis and the gang all the time, but now-

“You know, I can always tell when you are doing your morning stewing,” Nyx’s voice startled him out of his daze, and he snorted and lifted his head.

“I’m not stewing,” he muttered, scooting up he could give Nyx a quick kiss before Libertus came out of the bathroom; Nyx obliged, but the look he gave him after told Cor that Nyx didn’t buy it.

“Uh huh. Totally happy as a clam. No grumbling about anything here-” Cor cut Nyx off with another kiss, only to hear a polite throat clearing from behind him; his face immediately felt warm, and he dropped his head to the bend of Nyx’s neck with a groan. “Damnit Libs, couldn’t you have let me have a proper good morning kiss before you cut us off?” Nyx whined at his friend, and Cor heard a sigh and the bathroom door close once more. “Okay, he’s gone,” Nyx said with amusement, and Cor kept his face planted exactly where it was. “You are so easy to fluster, babe, seriously. I can’t decide if I find it cute or annoying.” Cor grumbled inarticulately, and Nyx snorted, shoving him off of him. “Oh, get up, you big baby.” Cor looked up at the ceiling with a frown (Nyx would have called it a pout, but it was absolutely a frown,) but got up and recaptured his Glaive’s lips once more before slowly disengaging.

“Better?” he asked, and Nyx smiled, his eyes meeting Cor’s before he leaned in and kissed his cheek.

“Better.”

“Are you two done canoodling yet? I want to actually finish getting ready for the day,” Libertus griped from the bathroom, and Cor couldn’t help but laugh, which surprised himself more than anything else.

“It’s fine, Libertus. My apologies,” he said, and the other man opened the door to the bathroom comically slowly, peering out at the room before opening the door the rest of the way with a skeptical eye.

“Forgive me if I don’t believe you two,” Libertus commented drily, and Cor reached up and ran his fingers through Nyx’s bedhead before sliding out from under the sheets and heading towards the bathroom, a little smile still on his face. Nyx was too damn observant for his own good sometimes, and he had a sneaking suspicion that his countrymen were going to be much the same. Cor frowned at his reflection as he started to brush his teeth. They may have gotten in under cover of darkness, but they no longer had that luxury; he would need to keep an eye on the prince and Prompto as they ventured out into public from here on out.

“Okay, you’ve moved on from stewing to planning, I can tell. What are you thinking about?” Nyx said from behind him as he entered the bathroom, giving him a light shove with his hip as he started to comb his hair.

“There’s no way they aren’t going to recognize us in the daytime, if we were in smaller groups, it might be one thing, but as a large group? No. I was just thinking I need to keep an eye on Noctis and Prompto, and perhaps Luna as well. I know all three of them can handle themselves just fine, but...” Cor leaned over and splashed some water on his face as Nyx hummed his agreement, adjusting the wrapping on one of his braids as he propped his hip against the counter and faced him.

“We’ll all keep an eye on everyone, Cor. I’m worried more about overly excited people than anything more concrete at this point, but I’ll let you know what I hear,” Nyx said, and Cor nodded.

“I hope that’s all we have to deal with,” he commented with a deep sigh, then grabbed his own comb and fought his hair back into its proper alignment. “I assume we are heading towards the city, correct? How much longer until we get there, provided we don’t get held up?” he asked, and Nyx tapped his finger on the counter.

“We could make it today, but we’d be in the car all day again. I’m going to say two to three days, just to factor in outside...issues,” Nyx stated, and Cor nodded once more before he turned to leave, his few toiletries in his hands.

“I’ll go get dressed and see if everyone else is up,” he said, Nyx replying with a smile that seemed just a touch too devious, and the instant he moved, he found himself on the receiving end of a noisy slap to his backend, causing him to stumble out of the room and nearly drop his toothbrush. “Nyx!”

“My hand slipped,” Nyx said with the fakest tone of innocence Cor had ever heard, and he had basically grown up watching Regis bullshit his way through things. Before he could respond, though, Libertus popped back up in his vision, looking like he’d rather be fighting a behemoth than be anywhere near either of them.

“Knew I couldn’t believe either of you,” the Glaive groaned, but politely waited as both Cor and Nyx repacked their bags, taking all three of them into his arms. “I’ll run these down ahead of time, that way, if we get a little...sidetracked, we don’t have to worry about them.”

Thankfully, Libertus and Ignis had the same idea, and by the time Cor knocked on the boy’s door, they were all dressed and ready to depart as well; he slipped in and closed the door behind him, sizing up the four of them before looking at Noctis.

“Morning, Cor,” Noctis said with a yawn, and Cor nodded to the prince before looking over at Prompto. The blond looked excited at first glance, but he could see the worry in  Prompto’s eyes, and he moved closer to the young man.

“You ready?” he asked, and Prompto nodded, but the smile looked strained; he placed his hand on Prompto’s shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. “Worried about reactions?” Cor head some shuffling, and looked up to see the other three nod to them and leave the room, leaving him and Prompto alone. “I’ll be right here with you, Prompto. I promise,” he said quietly, and Prompto shuffled forward, biting his bottom lip as he stood with his arms slightly extended and hesitant; Cor quirked a fond little smile and drew the young man into his arms, setting his chin on the riotous yellow locks as he felt Prompto dig his face into his chest with a sigh.

“Thanks,” Prompto mumbled, and Cor huffed.

“I think we’ve talked about this before, Prompto. Whatever you need.” Prompto hummed and nodded, and he swallowed a chuckle at the sensation of the kid’s nose moving up and down his shirt.

“I don’t even really know what to expect. Is it going to be like a celebrity thing? Is it going to be more like I remember seeing in footage of Luna doing oracle stuff...you know, solemn and kinda strange?” Prompto asked, and Cor’s brow furrowed. He honestly didn’t know. When he had first approached the Galahdian population when the younger man was still...asleep, they had been a mix of reverent and joyous; but they were in the heartland of Galahd now, and he could feel the touch of their devotion around him, and he was certain that Prompto could as well. He could close his eyes and walk without aid to that shrine Libertus had mentioned the previous evening, and he was pretty certain there were several more within walking distance as well. It was a whole new experience, one that was only now truly starting to settle in. The goddess had told them that Galahd had not forgotten her, and while there was plenty of signs of the hexatheon around, there was just as many of her, if not more. He placed a kiss on top of Prompto’s head without even thinking about it.

“I honestly don’t know, Prompto, but we’ll weather it together. You know the others will be right there with us should we both get overwhelmed,” he said, leaning back slightly so he could see the younger man’s face; Prompto’s eyes were wide and suspiciously shiny, and he tightened his arms around the young man once more. “You know that, right?” he said, and this time he couldn’t help the chuckle as Prompto’s nose dug back into his chest.

“You know, you’re getting better at this,” the blond commented, and Cor suddenly felt his face (and chest) getting a lot warmer as he let his face fall back into Prompto’s hair.

“I’m glad.”

The others were waiting for them as he and Prompto exited the room, more than a few knowing and fond smiles on their faces, and Cor moved his shoulders back and stood up straight as he approached Nyx and Libertus, who were standing next to each other. Nyx looked at him, an eyebrow crooked.

“Time to go?” Nyx asked, and Cor looked over at Prompto and then the others before finally returning his gaze to the Glaive.

“Best we follow your lead, I think,” he replied, and Nyx nodded sharply, then turned and walked towards the stairs, Libertus behind him; Cor followed them down the stairs, the rest of their party falling in behind as well as they reached the lobby.

Which was far more crowded than the lobby of a small hotel should have been, even with the little cafe they had attached to the side. Shit. There was so many eyes on them that he had to force himself not to summon his sword on impulse, instead focusing on the back of Nyx’s head as they walked towards the exit.

“Dignitaries, huh?” A strangled-sounding voice sounded to his right, and he had to admire the way that Libertus kept walking, even as he turned his head and shrugged.

“Hey, we weren’t lying. ‘fraid we are on a schedule, sir, thanks for the last minute rooms. Much appreciated…” The lobby felt like it was a mile long as they moved through the nearly-silent room, and just as they were about to reach the doors, the comment Cor had been waiting for came from behind.

“That’s them, right? We’ve seen them in the papers, on the television...we even heard the recordings of him singing both right after the battle and at the traitor’s execution-”

“That’s the prince and the oracle with them too-”

Nyx had already stepped through the door ahead, although Cor could see that he had just moved to the side to wait for them all to exit, and he took a deep breath and put his foot on the threshold-

“Your grace! A moment of your time, your graces!” Cor stopped so suddenly in the doorway that Prompto ran into the back of him with a rather undignified little snort, and he took another breath and let the air flow slowly out his nose as he continued to block the doorway.

He couldn’t just leave, now that they had been addressed directly. He turned enough to catch Prompto’s resigned eye, and then he stepped out of the doorway and faced the room entire, giving a slight bow in acknowledgement.

“It is them!” A younger woman moved out of the crowd and closer to the two of them, awe uncomfortably laced through her tone, and Cor looked to Prompto before nodding ever so slightly. “Headed to the city, your graces? We are honored to have you here in our little town...if you had sent word, we could have secured you more appropriate accommodations, this place is fine, of course, but to someone of your stature-” It was Prompto that cut her off with a kind smile and a quick shake of the head.

“Ma’am, we’ve been tent camping all over Lucis these past few weeks, the rooms were entirely what we needed. We appreciate your concern, it is very nice of you,” Prompto said lightly, and the woman actually flushed at being addressed directly, which clearly threw the blond; even Cor had to school his expression to keep from reacting, even as his stomach was beginning to let him know exactly what it thought of the situation. Most of the room was still just looking at them like the astrals themselves walked among them, and he swallowed heavily. He needed to say something. After swallowing down his nerves for a few seconds, he stood up straight and opened his mouth.

“We are all very happy to be in Galahd, we look forward to seeing the rest of these lands during the course of our stay,” Cor paused, looking out to the people slowly inching forward to hear him better, and felt a smile inch onto his face. He could do this. “The Dawn Mother has not forgotten your devotion, people of Galahd, and she hopes that she will someday be equal to it. You have her thanks, and ours,” he said, and he and Prompto gave another small bow before taking a step back. “We hope to see you again in the future.”

This time, they were able to leave without being stopped, and they all headed to the cars silently, trying to pretend that there wasn’t at least a hundred people staring at their every move. Libertus took the driver’s seat, and Cor nodded to Prompto as the boys piled into the Regalia, leaving the top closed. Probably best. Nyx held the door open, waiting for him to slide in, but the shrine he had sensed earlier was calling him-

“Cor?” Nyx whispered, and Cor shook his head, holding up a hand before walking over to the Regalia, knocking on the front passenger window and waiting for Prompto to lower it. Before he could speak, the blond looked at him knowingly.

“You feel it too, huh?” Prompto said, and he nodded. “You wanna stop in?” Cor nodded once more, and Prompto smiled. “It’s what, about a mile away? We can be lazy. Meet you there.” Cor headed back to Rita as Nyx frowned in confusion.

“What’s going on?” Nyx asked, and Cor patted his shoulder and slid into the car, Nyx following immediately after. “Cor?”

“That shrine approximately a mile northwest of here, can you stop by it?” Cor asked Libertus, and the Glaive’s brow furrowed in surprise, but he nodded.

“Sure, one goddess shrine coming up,” Libertus announced, and together, Rita and the Regalia left the parking lot and headed slowly up the main road. Cor looked over as Nyx wound his right hand around Cor’s left, giving him a reassuring squeeze.

“Curiosity or impulse?” his Glaive asked, and Cor shrugged.

“A bit of both, I think. I can feel every one dedicated to her in the area, it’s a completely new sensation,” he said, his eyes closing as he chased that feeling; it was both beckoning and soothing, a welcoming warmth that settled into his bones, and it was actually...rather nice. He really didn’t know how to feel about that, the fact that something just there could affect him so, but it was just another thing on the list. At least this one was pleasant.

“You alright? Nothing I need to worry about?” Nyx asked softly, and Cor opened his eyes and leaned to the side, letting his temple bump gently into the other man’s head.

“I’m just fine. It’s all just...different. That’s all,” he said, and closed his eyes again as Nyx wrapped a hand around the far side of his neck, the warmth relaxing as he felt the car turn. “Should be just ahead, Libertus,” he said, receiving a grunt in reply as he shamelessly rested against Nyx. A soft laugh to his right made him pry open an eye, and Luna’s eyes sparkled as she looked at them. “What did I do now, Luna?” he muttered, and the princess grinned.

“You two always look so comfortable together. It’s a heartening sight to see, especially what I knew of your general reputation, Cor,” Luna said, and Cor rolled his eyes. Reputation. What reputation? That of a grumpy hermit who knew how to swing a sword, basically- “I think utterly amazing, altogether fair, but somewhat distant is pretty much how I heard you summarized as before all of this came to light.” Nyx huffed out a laugh, and the princess smirked. “Nyx, I admit I have heard little of yours, but I do know that you are seen as a bit of a daredevil-type. I haven’t seen that myself yet, so I don’t know if being around the drowsiest man in Lucis has calmed you down-”

“Hey.”

“-or you just haven’t had the right time to show that part of yourself off yet,” Luna finished, ignoring Cor’s feeble interjection as the car pulled off onto a dirt lot and came to a stop. “But you two seem to fit together incredibly well, and that’s what we would all wish for in the end, isn’t it?” the princess said, reaching out and patting where Nyx’s hand still rested on the side of his neck.

“Thanks, Luna,” Nyx replied, and Cor nodded in agreement as she pulled her hand away. “Galahd is fascinating, though; it feels a lot like Tenebrae, but in a different way,” Luna said as she opened her door, and Cor followed as Nyx did the same, everyone getting out of the car and looking over at the little shrine. “Tenebrae is radiant with millennia of faith and worship of the astrals, I can feel it in every cell of my body; Lucis varies widely based on location, some areas calm and little touched by the astral’s influence, some areas like the Duscae region focused almost solely on the Archaeon. In contrast, Insomnia has an odd feeling to it, it has a little bit of everything, astrals and the goddess alike, but nothing is overwhelming the other. Even before the events of last year, the public’s conscious faith in any of them had been waning in ever increasing numbers. Here, however…” the oracle took a few steps forward towards the small installation, a wistful smile on her face. “While I can feel the astral’s influence, and can tell that they are respected here, the whole land feels like how yours and Prompto’s power does, Cor. Like the scent of the earth after the rain, the feel of the sun against cool skin, the sound of the autumn leaves rustling in the breeze, the taste of fresh fruit ripe off the tree; every time you or Prompto use your abilities for something...positive, it feels like coming home.” Prompto had walked up while she was speaking, and he and Cor stared at Luna together as the woman flushed. “Ah, forgive me, I-” Prompto shook his head and moved closer, wrapping his hand around Cor’s bicep as he looked at her in wonder.

“That’s really what it feels like to you?” the blond asked, and the princess nodded. “That’s...really-” Prompto trailed off, looking stunned; Cor didn’t feel much differently himself. He was so used to doing what he could do that he had never really looked at how it felt to him, but to hear such words from Luna-

“You said positive, what does it feel like when it’s not?” Cor couldn’t help but ask, and Luna’s smile darkened a bit.

“That’s a little harder to describe, unfortunately; I wasn’t present for the execution, which I have a feeling would have been a clear cut way to formulate a more detailed opinion, but when Prompto sang of death to the chancellor, or of anger to Glauca last year, it felt... old. Like a forest gone to swamp, or perhaps stepping onto the remnants of a battlefield a few weeks after the fight was over- it wasn’t pleasant, but it was powerful. The feelings I described from before were still there, but mired in that old sensation. I would probably guess that Noctis and the king can probably sense it if they tried to,” the princess explained, and a quick glance at the prince revealed him shrugging and nodding.

“Yeah, it feels totally different to our magic, it’s actually really interesting. I doubt I could describe it so poetically though,” Noctis commented, and Prompto snorted.

“You’ve never really been the poetry type, Noct,” the younger man commented, and it took Cor being jerked around a bit to realize that Prompto was still holding onto his arm, and without even thinking about it, he reached over with his other arm and patted the blond on the head.

“Oh, sorry!” Prompto exclaimed as he let go, but Cor just shook his head, the slightest smile on his face.

“Quite alright. Shall we?” A small group of locals had converged on their general area as they had stood there chatting, and the rest of their party formed a subtle barrier to keep them back as he and Prompto approached the little shrine. There was a dark stone effigy of a female figure that was easily centuries old, details worn down by the elements and covered in moss, nestled in the center of a probably occasionally replaced circular frame in the shape of a multi-arched wall that was open on one side, with that frame surrounded by another of a similar style with larger arches. The whole set piece rested on a carved stone with an eerily familiar cross-shaped carving in the center under the statuette’s form, and Cor found himself sucking in a breath as his brain registered exactly where he had seen its like before.

“Cor?” Prompto whispered, and he tore his eyes away from the sight in front of him to look over at a slightly-pale Prompto.

“Yes?”

“Is it just me, or does she look like she’s sitting on a tiny copy of Costlemark?” Prompto asked, and Cor turned his head back towards the shrine, his head beginning to buzz. It did, at least partially; there was a statue instead of a tower, and the whole shrine was level, but the similarity was obvious enough.

“I was thinking the same thing,” he said, his hand reaching out to brush the offering of seeds left at the base of the statue, a jolt running up his arm. “Prompto?” Prompto nodded next to him.

“Yeah,” the younger man said, reaching out, grabbing a single seed from one of the little piles and popping it in his mouth; Cor followed suit, leaving the seed under his tongue as he took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as Prompto opened his mouth and began to sing.

There was no words at first, only vocalizations, and he could see the spirits appear around the shrine as Prompto began to glow; he could hear gasps behind him as the otherworldly choir sang along, and Cor found himself taking yet another deep breath. He knew what to do. Cor reached out and took the younger man’s hand, facing the shrine once more as Prompto began to sing in words, nostalgic and lonely; when he reached a certain point, Cor opened his mouth and joined in as well, the shrine shimmering and glowing brighter and brighter as they progressed. In a bit of a switch, he actually finished the song, swallowing the seed with his voice pitched as low as he could manage as he brought it to a close. Brilliant red light radiated from the statue and the carvings on the base of the shrine even after they finished, the spirits fading away with a smile, and the two of them stood there silently as it slowly faded to a luminous effect that reminded Cor strongly of the light of the havens, if a different color. It was beautiful, and he had the satisfaction of a job well done running through his mind, even if he wasn’t quite sure what they had just done.

“I think we just...recharged it? Kinda like the haven the other day with Luna?” Prompto said sotto voce, and Cor blinked. He was right. The words rang completely true in his heart, and he found himself bowing to the shrine before taking a step back, spinning on his heel to look on the rest of their party, who, along with the locals that had gathered, were utterly silent as they looked up on the two of them. Their expressions ran the gamut in a mixture of awe, amazement, or in Luna’s case, absolute fascination. It was a bit unnerving, but then Gladio sneezed, and Prompto snorted out a laugh as the unusual tension bled away, leaving his friends and family once more in front of him instead of spectators.

“Done with what you needed to do?” Noctis asked, his voice a bit strangled, and Cor looked over to Prompto, who nodded.

“We’re good. Sorry about the delay,” he replied, and the group turned and headed back towards the cars; while he expected the locals to start moving closer, they stayed put, watching he and Prompto with intense gazes as they got into their respective cars.

“On to Galath,” Libertus stated as he fired up Rita and started carefully backing up, thankfully, the spectators moved out of their way as they reentered the road, the Regalia following in their wake. Cor couldn’t help but turn and look at the shrine as they departed, blinking in surprise as the crowd rushed in to surround it, blocking it from his view. Was the rest of their stay in Galahd going to be like this? He settled back into his seat, bringing his hands up and rubbing at his temples for a moment as he decompressed from what he and Prompto had just done. It wasn’t anything like this in Insomnia, Little Galahd or not, and outside of the debacle at Costlemark, it was much the same in the majority of Lucis. Cauthess and Ravatogh were probably the major exceptions, although the feel of the rock was that of anger and death, not like it felt in Galahd or even at the disc. Luna had been pretty much spot on with her assessment of Lucis and Tenebrae.

“You okay?” Nyx’s quiet voice cut in on his rambling thoughts, and he looked over at the Glaive. Nyx’s expression was a bit dazed, but his concern was obvious, and Cor reached out and wrapped his fingers around the other man’s hand.

“I’m alright. It’s just a lot to take in,” he said, and the serious look on Nyx’s face encouraged him to continue. “From the moment she contacted me to the day of the battle, my only concern was using my abilities to help end the war, to save everyone and avert the fate she had warned me might happen if everything was left unchecked. While she alluded that there was usually far more involved with the position, she told me very little of it. She admitted later, which I think I told you, that she was pretty sure we wouldn’t make it, and figured it would be pointless to go into great depth about things I would never need to engage in,” he said, a bit wryly; Nyx snorted out a disbelieving laugh as his thumb began to move back and forth across the back of Cor’s hand.

“Was the goddess so...blunt about it?” Nyx asked, and Cor shrugged.

“Maybe not that blunt, but she made it clear enough. She was apologetic, and her happiness at our survival was plain enough through both her words and body language-” he trailed off with a cough. “Well, as much as any mortal could read a goddess’s body language, anyway, but she was honest,” he said, looking over at Luna, who was clearly listening to their conversation. “The fact that Shiva sided with her efforts was a shock to her; I got the impression that she had not asked because she had not expected support from any of the astrals. I’m glad that you agreed with the Glacian’s assessment of the situation, Luna. The events of last May may not have worked without your support.” The princess flushed prettily (looked far better on her than it did on him) and tilted her head.

“I did my part, but I still name you and Prompto as the catalyst for all this. I have no doubt that some or all of us would not be here today without your efforts,” Luna stated, and it was Aranea who piped up in reply, her tone amused, but there was a thread of steel in it that made Cor immediately turn his head to face her as she turned in her seat to speak.

“Okay, you all saved the world, we know this, now it’s time for the...what are you two actually addressed as? The Dawnsworn? Anyway. Now it’s time for you two to figure out what to do with the rest of your lives as these people...I think you are well aware that you aren’t going to be able to just drop everything and go back to your old lives. Not entirely, anyway. Besides, as I know you have to be conscious of, the war isn’t really over, it’s just on a slightly stuttery pause. While there’s no more Starscourge, I have no doubt that Besithia and the emperor are trying to figure out how to proceed, regain at least some of what they lost. While I’m sure Tenebrae will be the first target, I think we all know that even if it’s simply outta revenge, they are going to try for Lucis again,” Aranea said, her voice firm. “Whether it’s a year from now or ten, they will be back. The question at that time will be, do we all band together, as we didn’t when Tenebrae proper was overtaken hundreds of years ago, or do we let the fucking empire carve chunks out of the territories of Eos before we are back to where we started?” Aranea’s voice had grown far louder by the time she was done, the whole car gone silent, and Cor was shocked that Libertus just hadn’t driven off the road with the strength of her sudden tirade. The former imperial commodore definitely had a point, however, and they continued along the road in silence and in thought. Nyx’s hand had tightened around his to the point of discomfort during her speech, and Cor reached over with his right and covered their entwined fingers, rubbing his hand over the warm skin until Nyx loosened his grip with a slightly sheepish quirk of his lips.

“I’ve not forgotten, Aranea. It is something that we know we will have to deal with sooner rather than later, and we will need to face it together or your portent of the future might become all too accurate,” Cor said, his tone a bit bitter, and the dragoon huffed out a laugh as she sat back forward in her seat.

“Yeah, sorry about that, but my point holds. We aren’t getting rid of each other so easily, marshal, captain- we are all in this together. Right, princess?” Aranea asked, and Luna smiled broadly.

“I do believe we are all quite stuck with each other. After all, we all sat around a campsite in little more than our underwear just a few days ago, how did you say it, Aranea? We’ve reached that point in our friendship?” Luna said jovially, and Nyx and Libertus both barked out a laugh as Cor rolled his eyes.

“Yup, it’s a sign of true friendship when we are willing to show each other what we look like after we just crawled out of bed,” Aranea drawled, and Cor had to nod in agreement; Regis had once said much the same thing about the lot of them as they travelled, so the dragoon wasn’t too far off the mark.

They fell into a companionable quiet as Libertus steered the car down the long road, and Cor watched little towns and settlements in the distance as they passed; the scars of the long, protracted conflict were everywhere, from craters to debris, and while it was clear the road had been repaired recently, he could see areas off the beaten path that were far down the list. Someday. Sadly, main infrastructure was always the priority, and it was the countryside that suffered.

They stopped at several more shrines at he and Prompto’s request, all similar in appearance to the first one although in varying degrees of condition, and also like that first one, they accepted a single seed from the offerings and sang as they reactivated- Cor wasn’t entirely sure what they were doing, but it felt right- each one. With each successive shrine, he felt more comfortable in what he was doing, and he could tell that Prompto was feeling much the same. It truly was a whole new world from what he really knew before.

Galath was a larger town than Galeas, but even though they again arrived after sunset, it was clear the word had gotten out; people lined the streets and cheered as they passed through, and Cor was quickly coming to the realization that while he might get used to some of the ritual duties, he was never going to be accustomed to the attention. Ever. Someone official-looking flagged down their little convoy, and after a conversation that involved Libertus, Nyx and what appeared to be the mayor of Galath arguing with each other (Cor had tried to intervene, but Nyx had planted a hand on his thigh and squeezed it just a tad too tight, and he had kept his mouth shut,) both cars were escorted to a hotel that had clearly just undergone recent renovation, the elegant facade somewhat out of place in an otherwise old and careworn city.

“Well damn, I suppose you are good for something after all, Prom,” Gladio commented as they all met up in front of the hotel, waiting for whoever was going to escort them in, and Prompto scowled in response.

“Hey, not cool, man, I’m not supposed to be part of all this kind of stuff, I’m just a pleb-”

“You are not, nor ever will be a pleb, Prompto. Even if the whole affair with the Dawn Mother wasn’t in the picture, that would not change my answer. You are wonderful in every way.” Ignis’s impassioned reply from out of nowhere stopped the lot of them dead, and Prompto turned so red that when the mayor, an older man with steel grey braids in his hair, walked up a moment later, Cor subtly stepped in front of the younger man so he could compose himself, shaking the mayor’s hand and trying his best to accept being offered a pile of hotel rooms for free gracefully.

“We only need four rooms, sir. Your offer is much appreciated, although I want to reiterate that we are willing to pay-” The mayor’s brow furrowed as he looked between the lot of them, and the man shook his head.

“But there should be one each for yourself, the voice, his highness, and the princess, of course; then perhaps two more for your escorts-” Cor shook his head firmly, and the older man’s jaw snapped shut.

“While I again appreciate your kind offer, we only need four rooms. We have specific sleeping arrangements we prefer,” he spoke politely, but he made sure his tone brooked no argument. The mayor finally got the hint and nodded, beckoning them inside. As Cor passed Aranea, he could hear her leaning in towards Luna, mischief on her face.

“Well, we know who’s definitely getting laid tonight. Wowzers, I felt like I was at a wedding after he was done with that little speech,” the dragoon drawled, and Cor pinched the bridge of his nose and groaned. As much as he hated to admit it, Aranea had a point. He had no intention of being anywhere near those fours room tonight. When the woman looked over at him knowingly, he scowled and continued on.

He was too old for this shit.

“Your graces, your highnesses, welcome to Galath! We are honored to host such esteemed guests here in our humble hotel, newly renovated just in time for such an auspicious occasion. It must have been providence that guided our hand, to have our work so recently done just in time for your arrival.” Oh goddess, people like this drove him mad; all the posturing and bootlicking- “I understand you only need four rooms? That must be incorrect, considering there are nine in your party-” Cor had had it.

“Four rooms.”

“...yes, your grace.” Thankfully, Luna, Noctis, and Prompto took the lead before he could piss off the guy giving them a free place to stay, and after some more fawning, the owner finally released them to a waiting bellhop, who escorted them all up to their rooms, which were all on one side of the hallway. Thankfully, Prompto and the boys ended up on the far end away from he and Nyx, and after quietly tipping the bellhop (who tried to refuse) Cor nodded to the others and entered, his eyebrows shooting up almost immediately. Next to him, Nyx’s eyes had gone wide, the younger man looking around him in surprise.

“I feel like I stepped into a Galahdian-inspired version of the Caelum Via. Since when does Galahd have such a flashy hotel? And more importantly, where in the hell did they find the funds to build this?” Nyx said, and Cor had to agree. They had been given a room with two beds, each bed large and beautifully carved in motifs that he had seen the like of as they had travelled through Galahd, the walls were covered in silk wallpaper, the artwork was outstanding, and even the drapes looked skillfully handmade. He hadn’t even looked at the bathroom yet. It was undeniably stunning, but what the Glaive had said was an excellent point. The countryside was still a bomb-crater ridden cesspool in areas, even parts of the town they were currently in were still in clear need of repairs, and yet...there they were. He sighed and looked around the room, noting that the bathroom was quite spectacular, with a shower more than big enough for the two of them. Always nice- “Nice shower, huh?” Nyx said right behind him, and he quivered involuntarily as the man’s breath tickled his ear. “Mmm, I like that response. But honestly, I’m going to risk sounding old and say we need some rest; while you look...well-settled, you also look wiped. Probably because you’ve been trying out your pipes again,” the Glaive commented, and Cor snorted, turning around and leaning in, claiming Nyx’s lips with his own. A few seconds or minutes later, he certainly couldn’t tell, he pulled back and rested his forehead against the other man’s, letting his eyes drift closed.

“Each time we did that...ritual? It felt more natural each time, even though we had been largely running on instinct. You are right, though, I’m exhausted.” He lifted his head once more, his lips quirking up as he looked at his Glaive. “I forgot my bag in the car, I’ll be right back,” he said, and Nyx nodded, heading towards the balcony as Cor stepped, ending up back outside by Rita. A few moments of rifling through the trunk later, and he found his bag; he shut the trunk and was just about to step back to the room when the mayor came up to him once more, the older man’s smile broad and friendly.

“Your grace! How in the world did you get out here so quickly? I didn’t even see you walk by-” Cor shouldered his bag and shook his head.

“I took a shortcut. It’s hardly a secret-” The mayor’s eyes went wide, and he nodded rapidly.

“Of course! How could I forget about your ability to move great distances instantly, I remember seeing footage of it when we received television out here a few months back,” the man said, sidling closer to Cor, who did his level best not to scowl. He just wanted to curl up with Nyx and go to sleep, not chat with a damn politician. But the mayor wasn’t to be deterred, and when the man asked if he could experience stepping for himself, Cor obliged, moving the two of them from the parking lot to the lobby without a sound. The man was clearly a bit disoriented, but shook it off quickly and grinned. “Amazing! I must confess that it was a bit dizzying, but regardless, thank you,” the mayor said as Cor met his eyes; the man froze as they looked at each other, and Cor realized that his damn eyes were probably glowing again. The mayor whispered something under his breath that sounded almost chant-like before he looked away, beckoning to the stairs. “Allow me to escort you to your room, your grace.” He didn’t want to be escorted, he wanted to go right back to his room and pass out, but he again swallowed his irritation and allowed himself to be guided up the stairs, the mayor, who he really should remember the name of, but he had been too busy listening to Nyx and Libertus squabble with the man to notice when he had first introduced himself. No matter. He could bullshit through. Not even ten feet from his hotel room door, the mayor reached out and clasped Cor’s arm with a broad fingered hand, which Cor just kept himself from shaking off.

“Is there something you need?” he asked bluntly, and the smile that the mayor had been shooting at him shifted slightly, and Cor felt his stomach start to twist. What did the man want?

“This might be rather forward of me, your grace, but do you have company for the evening?” The man’s voice was low and silky, and Cor swallowed heavily as he tried to move towards his room door. Was he joking? Was this really happening to him? “Nothing serious, of course, but I thought perhaps you might be interested in some fun? I’d be happy to show you the hospitality of Galahd-”

“Since when is the hospitality of Galahd to proposition honored guests, Mayor Sulla?” Relief at the sound of Nyx’s irritated voice rushed over Cor, and he took the moment and moved over to the other man’s side with a near-silent sigh, Nyx’s hand coming to rest comfortably at the base of his spine as the mayor went pale, the man’s jaw working as he tried to formulate a reply. Cor just felt done with the whole situation; he should have told the man to fuck off ten minutes ago. Too late now.

“It’s a perfectly acceptable question between adults, cub, not that you’d know,” Sulla spat out, and Cor and Nyx looked at each other with a blink before returning their attention to the obviously embarrassed man.

“Well, that’s a term I haven’t heard since I moved to Insomnia twelve years ago,” Nyx said with bemusement. “Cor, do I really look that young? I don’t think I do-” No, definitely not. While the man was obviously younger than him, there was a maturity and dignity to his features that spoke to a life that had seen much over time, and a strength that bespoke of great experience. Nyx was no fresh-faced boy out wandering the world for the first time-

“No, you don’t. Mayor, as you can see, I’m not interested-”

“How dare you address the herald in such familiar terms, cub? Did your mother teach you nothing?” Nyx’s hand tensed against his back, and Cor finally held up a hand to forestall any future commentary. Definitely should have just told him to fuck off.

“Enough. I’m not interested, and it is not your place to presume anything regarding my personal relations between myself and my companions. I would also appreciate if you stopped trying to insult Captain Ulric, it’s in poor taste and unbecoming of someone of your position,” he said, and Sulla’s eyes widened in shock, then his gaze flicked down to the area of Cor’s waist. Damn, he was hoping the man wouldn’t notice-

“Ah. I see you have other arrangements made. Enjoy your...acolyte, your grace, and remember that the offer stands should you wish more experience of your companions.” Sulla spun on his heel and departed in a huff, leaving Cor and Nyx standing in the hallway.

“Back inside,” Nyx said blandly, and Cor followed the Glaive through the door, shutting and locking it behind them as they moved to the center of the large room, Cor finally dropping his bag on the floor by one of the beds. Nyx looked torn between anger and amusement, and Cor shifted closer and threaded an arm around Nyx’s waist. “You know what he meant, right?” Nyx’s voice was a bit odd, and he thought over what Sulla had last said.

“He called you an acolyte?” he asked, and Nyx grinned.

“Acolytes are those who assist the Dawnsworn during rituals and other holy matters, at the surface, but Sulla’s tone gave away what he meant in this situation. He basically said that I was your personal sex toy or prostitute,” Nyx said, his tone growing more amused as he spoke, and Cor’s eyebrows flew up. “It was not unheard of for acolytes to assist with everything, if you get my drift. Many Dawnsworn never took spouses or permanent lovers due to the nature of the job back in the days of Solheim, so in many cases, the acolytes that traveled with them functioned as a harem of sorts as well,” Nyx leaned in and kissed the skin at the bend of Cor’s neck, eliciting a shiver. “So yes, he called me your prostitute. I’d be pissed if I didn’t find it so funny-”

“You would,” Cor said breathlessly, and Nyx laughed, kissing him once more before stepping back.

“We should get some sleep, and maybe when we wake up, we can test out the shower quality of this crazy place, hmm?” the Glaive asked, and Cor smirked. Sounded good to him.

“Are you enjoying your travels, my heart?” the goddess asked, and Cor looked up from where he laid in the grass and blinked in confusion as she leaned over and offered him a hand, helping him to his feet. “You have reached Galahd, you and Prompto, and you are surrounded by those who would worship at your feet, who would give you gems and gold if you asked if you only granted them a boon; tell me, how do you feel about this?” Her question was strange to him, and he needed no time in answering.

“I’m being reminded why I never got the appeal of being a celebrity, my lady. I have no need for people to treat me any differently, although I know they will; I have no need for luxuries, and while I am currently staying in a hotel that was offered to us, which I have no intention of making a habit of, I certainly have no desire for precious goods or other services that would be offered for my favor. If you fear corruption from me, my lady, I tell you truthfully that I have no interest in allowing myself to be turned in such a way. I have seen similar pursue the king’s blessing in ways that are not...appropriate, and I know that even the oracle has had a few cases where she has been courted for her abilities and influence, just as the king. It is not my way, and I can tell you that Prompto wants no part of it either. He just wants to make people happy, and I…” Cor trailed off, and Eos’s smile gained a bit of an amused edge.

“...and you?”

“I just want my family and friends to be healthy and content, and for the world to actually be at peace some day,” he whispered, and the Dawn Mother nodded, and he wasn’t sure, but he thought he could see a touch of relief in her eyes.

“I can ask for nothing more.”

Chapter Text

Even before they had left Galahd after everything had gone sideways, Libertus had always been able to tell when Nyx had a good evening, to put it bluntly; the man had always been more relaxed and a bit more tractable the following day, which had led to him rarely seeking out company before a battle, unlike some of their fellow Glaives. So when they met up outside the hotel (which was way too swanky for a town that was still partially destroyed from the war, but what the fuck did he know) and he focused on Nyx and Cor, he barely restrained a facepalm. It was like seeing it in stereo; the two were incredibly relaxed as they leaned against Rita, with even a little smile pulling at the corner of the marshal’s mouth. Oh boy. After a quick glance at Prompto and his boyfriends, he came to the somewhat unfortunate conclusion that he was the only male of the group who didn’t have himself a good night. That wasn’t that big of an issue, but he really didn’t want to herd a bunch of far too mellow men around all day. At least the princess was calm and pleasant as per usual, and Aranea just kept giving most of the others rather knowing looks when they weren’t paying attention. He was going to drive just so he didn’t have to look at them. Any of them.

“How was your stay?” Mayor Sulla approached the group, looking over the lot of them with a congenial enough look until his gaze fell on Nyx and Cor, who had not budged from their slouch against the car; the man’s expression went tight and sour instantly, and Libertus frowned, moving a little forward towards his friends and hooking his fingers on his belt to keep from crossing his arms. What the hell was that about? Luna seemed to realize the change in the mood, and she stepped forward, clasped her hands together, and dipped her head politely.

“Everything was lovely, mayor. We thank you again for your hospitality,” the princess said kindly, and Sulla faced her and dredged up a smile for Luna.

“You are welcome back any time to Galath, your graces, your highnesses, we were honored to host you, even if just for a night. I wish you all a safe trip.” The mayor bowed then departed after one more dirty look at...Nyx? He had definitely missed something there. After a surprised shrug or two, they all piled back into their respective cars and set off. They stopped by a few shrines as they progressed through the town, the herald and voice doing their revitalization ceremony surrounded by large respectful crowds, then departed. After a few hours of driving and a few more stops, the rolling hills and farms began to give way to the forests that he had so loved growing up, and he finally couldn’t resist any longer, glancing in his rearview mirror to see Cor conked out on Nyx’s shoulder and Nyx alternating between looking at his phone, the scenery, or resting his eyes, often within just a few seconds of each other.

“Okay, Nyx, so what happened with the mayor? He was glaring daggers at you before we left,” he asked, and Nyx responded with a sheepish grin and a pinch at the bridge of his nose, a habit he had picked up from his boyfriend at some point along the way that Libertus never got tired of pointing out to him.

“Yes, I admit I was curious as well; Aranea, didn’t you say much the same?” Luna chimed in, and Aranea nodded. Nyx huffed out a laugh as he ran his left hand up and down Cor’s arm, the older man still sleeping soundly against him.

“The mayor ran into Cor when he went to grab his bag from the car, flirted with him for close to ten minutes, then propositioned him only feet from our door,” Nyx said blandly, and Libertus almost had to pull over the car from choking on his own spit. What? “When I overheard and called him out on it, he basically called me a whore. He also almost insulted my mother. It was a very interesting little conversation.” Luna and Aranea’s jaws had dropped as well, and his fellow Glaive smirked. “Well, actually, he called me his acolyte, but the tone of voice and context made it entirely clear what he meant. It was all very classy, remind me not to visit again while he’s mayor.” Libertus actually worked his jaw for a moment before dredging up an answer.

“Nyx, why didn’t you say anything? We could have done something-” Nyx’s headshake was immediate, and Libertus sighed. “Yeah, I don’t suppose much would have helped. But still, that’s really fucking tacky.” Nyx huffed and nodded, but looked relatively unscathed.

“To be honest, Cor’s been obliviously and not-so obliviously dodging those who wanted to do much the same thing for decades, but from what I gather, most generally didn’t come up to him and all but ask if he wants to fuck-”

“Nyx!” Libertus interrupted, his eyes flicking in the mirror towards the princess, who started to laugh.

“Libertus, while your concern is heartwarming, I’ve heard far worse in my lifetime. A good amount of it during the past year from Aranea, but still-” Aranea scoffed, waving a hand.

“You would not believe how stodgy the Tenebraen court can be, Libs. It was my duty to inject a little life into it, especially if it leads to Ravus getting that constipated look on his face. It’s a solemn duty, but I think I’m equal to the task,” the dragoon said with a smirk, and Libertus and Nyx both laughed as Luna nodded with a comical frown.

“You are, madame. Your excellence of service has been well-noted over the past year,” the oracle said with great pomp, and Aranea gave a thumbs up as Cor yawned loud enough to draw attention. “Sleep well, marshal?” Libertus watched Cor’s eyes slide open slowly as he yawned once more, and Nyx patted him on the arm.

“You’ve been out for at least an hour, Cor. We’ve reached the outer forests that surround the Major Galahd river, it’s actually pretty lovely. It’s nice to see them again,” Nyx said, and Libertus hummed his agreement as the drowsy marshal sat up and wiped at his eyes before looking around.

“Quite the difference from just an hour ago,” Cor said with yet another yawn. “Do you mind stopping up ahead?” the marshal asked, and Libertus nodded.

“Another shrine?” he asked, and when nothing came from the back, he looked in his rearview mirror again. “Herald?” Cor’s expression was thoughtful, and several moments passed before the older man finally nodded slowly.

“I...believe so?” Cor stated, but the uncertainty in his voice was obvious, and Libertus and Nyx shared a slightly concerned look before the marshal pointed at a small structure off the road, mostly hidden in a copse of Galahd Blue Maple. “Over there.” Libertus met Nyx’s eyes once more before carefully pulling off the road, steering to a flat area nearby and coming to a stop, the Regalia doing the same right behind them. Cor got out of the car before he had even killed the engine, and from the Regalia, Prompto did much the same, and the other seven of them scurried after the two as they went to investigate.

The structure was in the same general style as Costlemark and the shrines had been, but big enough for three or four people to stand inside; the double-layered walls were present, with the center platform raised about four feet from the ground, an altar offset near the open front. The broken cross shaped carving was still there, but surrounding a delicately-carved brass disc set into the center. It was in slightly better shape than the walls surrounding Costlemark, but not much; the stones of the decorative walls were covered in moss, and were worn down by weather and tree roots growing underneath them. Several stones had toppled over, but the outer structure was more or less intact. The raised platform was a different matter. The moss covered the steps, but the platform itself was untouched and the disc shone in the dappled light, and Libertus found himself very uncertain about what he was looking at, if mainly for the marshal and the kid’s sake. Cor and Prompto both approached the large shrine slowly, letting their hands run over the moss-covered walls as they circled the structure. Libertus and Nyx stood next to each other as they all watched the Dawnsworn’s methodical procession with growing unease, and even a quick glance at Luna showed that she was just as concerned as the two men finished their circling and walked up the steps together. They both avoided the disc, moving around the perimeter of the small platform before stopping in front of the altar, looking at each other before looking down at the largely plain column.

“Gladio-” he heard the prince whisper, and he watched as the large man shifted his feet, and when Libertus turned his head, he realized that Nyx had done much the same thing, and grimaced. They were both preparing to grab them if something went sideways, but would that really work-

“What do we use?” Prompto asked Cor, his voice odd and remote, and everyone flinched as the marshal summoned his sidearm, unsheathing it and holding it up to the light.

“While the other is more...pleasant, this isn’t the place nor time for it,” Cor stated, his tone also a bit strange, and before anyone could even utter a sound, the herald slashed his left hand with the blade and held it towards Prompto, who followed suit, the two men slapping their bleeding palms down on the altar as Cor recalled the blade back into the armiger. The altar flared to life, light shimmering down the small amount of carvings it had as it appeared to move-

“What the hell?” Aranea hissed as the column slid downwards, merging with the platform as the carvings on both the stone and disc came alive, red and blue light surrounding the two men’s feet as they stood there staring outwards from where the altar had been, their eyes and skin continuing to glow brighter as they remained, and Libertus was unsurprised when pretty much everyone inched forward in preparation to intercept. The two stood there for a good long minute before both suddenly turned on their heels and stepped onto the disc, vanishing in a burst of red light. Oh fuck.

“Cor!”

“Prompto!”

Nyx was the first up the platform, throwing himself onto the still-glowing disc, but nothing happened; Libertus dragged him back as the prince and his band pretty much followed suit, also with no success. Luna managed to retain her composure, but the oracle also ascended the steps and placed her hands on the illuminated metal, Aranea’s hand on her shoulder in case it worked, but...nothing.

“What do we do?” the prince choked out, his eyes wide and worried, and Libertus kept a firm grip on Nyx’s waist as his friend looked two seconds from destroying the shrine with his bare hands, and he was pretty sure that wouldn’t help the situation.

“We wait.” All of them turned towards Luna, whose eyes were wide, but determined. “If they are in possession of even some of their faculties, they will return to us. I have faith in them,” the princess stated, and the prince looked at her desperately before sighing and nodding.

“You’re right. We’ll set up camp here, hopefully wherever they’ve gone, they aren’t gone for long.”

That...was that. Nyx basically parked himself against a tree and stared at the still-radiant shrine unceasingly while the rest of them slowly set up camp around the site like usual, although Libertus could definitely see that their speed just wasn’t there, taking at least twice the time for setup as it normally would have. There was little talking as the sun began to set, the lot of them tensing and dropping whatever they were doing whenever anything out of place sounded, but nothing. Ignis did make them sandwiches, keeping two aside for their wandering friends, but worry made their appetites weak at best, and most of them nibbled on the otherwise excellent meal before setting it aside.

“We should rest,” Ignis finally stated as the time inched towards eleven at night, and received a variety of grumbles that pretty much added up to no way in hell. “Look, perhaps we can take shifts, but we won’t be of any use to ourselves or anyone else if we stay up all night.” The prince’s advisor had a point, and after some more grumbling and muttered discussion, everyone but Nyx (who had moved from the tree to the chairs, but hadn’t eaten a bite,) and Gladio, who shooed the other two into their tent then sat down in one of the chairs as well, went to bed, leaving both men staring at the shrine as their fire flickered in the broken moonlight. Libertus squeezed his best friend’s shoulder, gaining a sad, tired nod in reply, then retreated to his tent. He’d wake up in a few hours and convince Nyx to get some sleep.

His phone’s light buzz woke him up around two, and after a moment to lightly slap himself awake, he crawled back out of his tent to see what was going on. When he reached Nyx, it was clear the man had dozed off, his head awkwardly tilted off the chair as he snored quietly, and a quick glance at Gladio revealed that the younger man had also fallen asleep. Considering they were camped outside a haven in an area that coeurls are known to prowl, that wasn’t the best thing, but he wasn’t going to make an issue of it. It hadn’t been the best of evenings. Leaving them alone, he turned and approached the shrine, still beautiful and luminous, and looked at the markings carved in the stone, letting his fingers trace the ones he could reach from the ground.

Goddess, please allow them to return, we aren’t the same without them.

He didn’t expect anything, of course, and after a few minutes, he stepped away and started to head back towards the chairs, only for the red glow to exponentially increase behind him; he spun and ran back to the shrine just in time to see both Cor and Prompto materialize into being a solid six feet above the ground, the marshal crashing down on his back onto the platform as he cradled the voice to his chest.

“Argh, damn, you alright, Prompto?” Cor managed to get out before he groaned, and Prompto scrambled off of him, his features horrified as he patted wildly at Cor’s head and shoulders; Libertus stared at the two for a moment before yelling for the others, then rushing up the steps and falling to his knees by the two men. They were both covered in rapidly melting snow, which was even more alarming, but-

“You two gave us the biggest fucking scare of our lives, holy shit. Where did you go?” he said, looking over Prompto, who seemed fine minus the cut on his hand at first glance, then Cor, who was definitely in some pain. “Can you sit up, marshal?” Cor nodded through an exhausted grimace as Libertus and Prompto got him upright, just in time for Nyx and Gladio to leap onto the platform, Gladio immediately throwing his arms around Prompto while Nyx remained standing, his hands opening and closing like he was torn between punching Cor or grabbing him. “Forgive my forwardness, herald, but that was a pretty nasty fall,” he commented, pulling up the back of the man’s shirt to see an unpleasant line of redness and what looked suspiciously like swelling already starting down the right side of Cor’s back. “Ah, this is already looking pretty bad. We should find you a potion before it gets even worse,” he commented, letting go of the man’s shirt and glaring at Nyx until he also lowered himself down to the stone. “Can you get up?” The marshal shifted forward and groaned, but nodded.

“I think so. I’m going to be feeling this later, potion or no potion,” Cor muttered, but Libertus and Nyx, who was still silent and scowling, managed to get the tall man to his feet, with Gladio simply picking up a protesting Prompto as they carefully went around the disc, which had finally stopped glowing. The rest of the shrine was still illuminated, but they were taking no chances. The others, all looking half-awake at best, crowded around them as they worked their way towards the campsite, Cor luckily able to move under his own power, albeit incredibly stiffly.

“Prompto, are you well? You gave us quite the shock, both of you just vanishing like that,” Ignis stated, and Prompto nodded, looking around in confusion.

“Yeah, I’m fine! That was crazy, one minute we were here, then we were over by Insomnia, then we were over on one of those islands to the east of the city, then in southern Leide; we were trying to get back, but we ended up somewhere else every time we stepped on the transporter disc thing,” Prompto said, finally wiggling out of Gladio’s arms and going over to Cor, who was definitely uncomfortable. “You okay, Cor? That last one wasn’t-” Cor shook his head, reaching out and patting the youngest of their group on the shoulder.

“A potion and a decent night’s sleep will do me wonders, Prompto. Don’t worry about me.” Nyx had yet to make a sound, and Libertus hoped that he calmed down a bit before attempting to strangle Cor; the man was moving around like he was eighty already, he didn’t need the extra strain. “What time is it? We kept moving around trying to figure out how to return, but there didn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to the damn teleporter things, we ended up in the middle of a Gralean blizzard for the last one before tumbling through back here,” Cor said, and Libertus was pretty much positive that the grinding sound he was hearing was Nyx gnashing his teeth together. Ah shit.

“It’s a bit after two in the morning, you two have been missing for around ten hours. Do you need medical attention, Cor? You seem…” Luna trailed off, and Gladio turned and headed into their tent, coming out with a familiar bottle.

“I suggest this get partially poured out on your back, then drink the rest. You know the drill, marshal,” Gladio stated firmly, and Cor sighed and nodded.

“Thank you, Gladio. I’m sorry for all the fuss, it wasn’t our intent-”

“Then why the hell did you step on the fucking thing?” Nyx growled, his teeth bared and clenched, and Cor, who was barely standing, looked like someone had just stabbed him in the fucking gut at Nyx’s tone. Libertus was done. Glaring at his idiot friend, he helped Cor to his and the idiot’s tent and helped him lay down on their enormous sleeping bag before grabbing the potion from Aranea, who had brought it over.

“Thanks, Aranea,” he said, then sat down next to the marshal, who still looked utterly exhausted and a little devastated, and sighed. “Look, Cor, Nyx gets angry when he feels helpless, and well, it did scare the shit out of all of us when you two just vanished. He stared at that damn shrine for probably eight hours straight before finally passing out in a chair. While he’s being an idiot, don’t take his tone too much to heart right now, he’ll calm down now that you are back. I’d suggest you not even think about walking back over to that thing, though, he may just clothesline you to keep you away from it if you try again,” he said quietly, and the marshal nodded the tiniest amount into his pillow. “I’m gonna hitch your shirt up again and pour part of this on your soon to be epic bruise before it gets any worse, then you’ll need to drink the rest.”

“Right,” Cor muttered, and Libertus set to work over the rapidly-swelling area, pouring the potion directly on it and watching in relief as the injury immediately began to recede. He then handed the half-empty bottle to Cor, who pushed himself up enough to down the contents before slumping back to his bedding.

“I’m going to talk to a few people then go back to bed. Get some rest, marshal, we can talk about all this shit in the morning,” he said, then turned and scooted to the tent door, working his shoes back on.

“Thank you, Libertus,” Cor said, his voice groggy, and Libertus shook his head.

“Don’t worry about it, marshal. We’ve got you.” With that, he left the tent, noting with relief that the boys had all retired to their tent, leaving him, Aranea, and the princess left outside. Nyx was nowhere to be seen. Shit.

“Well, shit, I’m glad they made it back, but this smacked a little too much of Costlemark for my taste. Why else would they just step on the mysteriously glowing thing without even thinking about it?” Aranea frowned, and next to her, Luna’s expression grew thoughtful.

“It’s a sort of ingrained faith, I think. I have much the same with...most of the astrals, the faith that it will all be alright, even if intellectually I realize that there’s a serious issue. In this case, I think this was actually a form of infrastructure failure, as strange as it sounds. I have no doubt that in antiquity, there were those who could use these shrines as ways to travel great distances, definitely the Dawnsworn, perhaps high-ranking priests and similar as well, and I’m sure that they had more control over them. But as they just said, they just went randomly from one place to another without any direction for hours, only apparently eventually lucking out and returning here. I would almost guarantee there’s a focal point to control the magic, and it’s not functioning correctly,” the oracle stated, and Libertus’s jaw dropped in awe at her conclusion. It made perfect sense. But focal point-

“Why do I suddenly have a sneaking suspicion I know exactly what the damn focal point it?” he grumbled, and Luna’s mouth grew pinched.

“Yes, I suspect that Costlemark is involved, at the very least, and I would not be shocked to find out that it is central to much that Cor and Prompto will need to know and resolve. But we are here now, and I suspect Galahd has more to teach them, and us as well.” Luna turned and looked towards the shrine, her eyes tired, but kind. “He’s over there. He needed a moment to calm down, I think he surprised himself when he snapped at the marshal,” Luna said softly, her eyes radiating warmth. She wasn’t wrong.

“Yeah, he’s never handled not being able to fix things well, he’s been like that his whole life,” he said, even quieter, and Luna reached up and cupped the back of his neck with a warm hand.

“He doesn’t need to fix Cor, he simply needs to be there for him. I think he knows this, but something like this happening has forced the point a little more harshly, unfortunately. Thankfully, while Noctis and the others are also perturbed by what is going on, they are perhaps a little more used to adapting quickly to Prompto’s various...issues? That isn’t the right word I’d use for it, but I think you understand.” Luna gave the back of his neck a slight squeeze then let go and stepped back. “We’ll keep watch, you go do what you need to do.” He nodded in thanks then walked towards the shrine, circling around to the far side before finding Nyx sitting on the ground leaning against the stone, his knees hitched up and his head in his folded arms. Libertus could almost taste the misery coming off his friend, and he let himself slide down to the ground with a grunt.

“He’s gonna be fine, he just took a nasty spill. While it looked like he only fell a few feet, I get the impression that he was falling even before the portal thing brought them back here,” he said, then sighed. “Wanna tell me what that was all about?” Nyx made some inarticulate noises before finally lifting his head, his eyes a little redder than usual. Ah.

“I didn’t mean to go off like that, but I couldn’t- I- fuck. I sat there trying to convince myself for those ten hours or whatever it was that he wasn’t dead, but Luna seemed so sure that they would be back, and she was right…” Nyx broke off, running his hands through his hair before yanking at a few of his braids. “Why did they step on it? They can’t have known what it would do.” Libertus remembered what the princess had just said, and smiled.

“Luna calls it faith. She said it’s like her and the astrals, she has an inborn faith that things will just work out in the end, that they wouldn’t steer her false, even if she knows in her mind that perhaps that isn’t always true. She thinks it’s much the same with them and the Dawn Mother,” he explained, watching as a myriad of emotions flowed across Nyx’s expressive features. “She also thinks she figured out what went wrong in this case, based on what the two of them said, and honestly, I think she’s spot on.” Nyx looked over with his brows furrowed.

“They stepped on some old magic teleporter shrine, that’s what’s wrong-” Nyx grumbled, and Libertus reached up and lightly smacked the back of his fellow Glaive’s head. “Ow, okay. But really, Libs, what did she say?”

“She thinks there’s a focal point that controls the magic, makes those things manageable, because let’s be honest, there would be little point for a teleporter thing that just randomly dumped you somewhere different each time. She’s positive it’s malfunctioning,” he said, his mouth turning down. “Unfortunately, we all have a feeling that said focal point is probably that fucking tower, unless something better comes along.” Nyx leaned back at that, letting his head thump against the stone.

“Damn. They don’t get a break, do they?” Nyx whispered, then sighed and clapped his hands on his knees as he pushed himself to his feet. “Thanks, Libs.” Libertus took the hand offered, and let himself be pulled to his feet, the two of them turning and walking back towards camp.

“You two don’t argue too much, do you? Not seriously, anyway?” he asked, and Nyx snorted, a fond smile inching onto his face.

“That obvious, huh? No, not really,” Nyx stated, his smile turning a bit sour. “I definitely could have picked a better time to gripe at him, I know. He looked completely wiped already, and my stupid ass self just couldn’t keep my mouth shut-” Libertus held up a hand.

“This is the point where I tell you to talk to him, not me. Get some rest, asshole, you are probably going to need it. I doubt he’ll be feeling all that great when he wakes up, potion or not, and it’s your partnerly duty to help him out,” he stated bluntly, then pointed towards their tent. “Good night, idiot.”

“Good night, Libertus. Thanks.” Libertus watched Nyx return to his tent, carefully removing his boots before sliding over to Cor’s side; the marshal was out, as expected, and when Nyx started gently running his hand down the sleeping man’s face, Libertus turned and went back to his own tent with a relieved sigh.

At least they were back. The last thought before his eyes slid closed was that if they came across another one of those fucking portal things, they weren’t letting either of them anywhere near them. Not until they were fixed, if they were ever fixed. He’d tie them both up like a recalcitrant chocobo himself if he had to.

The next (late) morning was pretty much as Libertus expected it would go. Prompto was fine, if looking rather sheepish and a bit stiff, and Cor was barely able to crawl out of his tent for breakfast. The fact neither he, Prompto, or Nyx had eaten anything the night before had caught up with them, and Ignis whipped up a sizeable meal, giving the three men extra-large portions they demolished in record time. Luna explained her theory to everyone over breakfast, and both Cor and Prompto nodded instantly in agreement.

“Yeah, we both felt like we should have been able to tell it where we wanted to go, but it wasn’t working,” Prompto explained, biting on his bottom lip. “You said the same thing, right?” the younger man said as he looked over at the marshal, and Cor nodded gently.

“Yes, I agree. It was very disconcerting. Before anyone says anything, I have no intention of going near another one of those until the time comes where we are positive that it’s repaired. I did not appreciate appearing in what I believe was western Niflheim near Gralea, as the whole place is a damn snowdrift,” Cor muttered, grimacing as he moved his back. “We are just lucky the magic still managed to move us, the whole shrine there was unstable, and we and it fell off the side of a small cliff from our weight less than thirty seconds after we landed there.” Libertus watched as Nyx, the prince, Gladio, and Ignis’s faces all got very unhappy almost in perfect sync, and he cringed. The marshal had fully planned to cushion Prompto from what would have probably been a back-breaking fall, which didn’t surprise him in the slightest. Thankfully, they had reappeared here, and Cor had just a nasty tumble in exchange. That was too close.

“We probably should stay here another day, I don’t think it would be good for you to spend all day in the car when you are barely sitting up as is-” the prince said, only to be cut off by Cor sending the young man a rather impressive scowl.

“I’m fine.” Cor’s answer was patently false, of course, and Nyx’s own frown grew deeper, if that was possible; he reached up and lightly smacked his boyfriend on the lower back, Cor immediately curling in on himself like an insect with a hiss.

“Yeah, you’re fine. No, I think that’s a wonderful idea, Noctis. At least one more day,” Nyx replied as he pulled the protesting marshal to his feet with another pained hiss coming from the man, and snorted. “Back to bed, Cor. You need to rest.”

“It’s just a car ride, I’ll be fine-”

“You say that one more time, old man-”

Libertus and the others watched with bemusement as Nyx gently shoved Cor back into their tent, the clearly sore man ending up face down into his pillow as Nyx promptly straddled the older man and began to massage his back, leading to a throaty groan that made them all turn away from the two rapidly.

“How about we go for a walk? The river is nearby, right? You mentioned it the other day?” Prompto said a little too quickly, and the others all sprang to their feet, except Luna, who looked like she wanted to laugh at the lot of them.

“I will remain here, just in case. Enjoy your walk,” the princess said, even as she deliberately moved a chair as far away from Cor and Nyx’s tent as possible without leaving the area, and after a few more exchanged looks (and at least one more moan from the direction of the tent, and Libertus knew his face was already burning) they left Luna behind and set off into the forest. It became clear within ten minutes that something wasn’t quite right with Prompto, the young man frowning, and walking slowly as he stretched his back, and they all surrounded him, realization coming to Libertus as Gladio placed one of those big hands on the kid’s back.

“How bad is it?” Amicitia asked, and Prompto stretched his arms over his head and tilted back, wincing as his spine popped.

“It’s like a shadow, he’s not one to complain, so I know it’s bad, mine feels like it was a few weeks ago. I can tell that the massage is helping, though, as I’m feeling little twinges of release already-” Libertus could see the moment that realization hit Aranea, her eyes growing wide as she looked at Prompto.

“This is what I wasn’t told before, isn’t it? After Cor got shot, you were nowhere to be seen for days-” the former commodore trailed off, her eyes narrowing. “That’s the reason for this whole trip, isn’t it? You two are connected in some way?” The others exchanged a look, but they hadn’t really bothered to hide it, and Prompto nodded.

“We’ve always had a connection, but it’s getting stronger; I-” Prompto sighed and looked down at the ground. “I thought I was dying when he got shot, and I had no idea what was going on.” Aranea hissed, her face sympathetic.

“That’s one hell of a situation, kiddo. Damn. I’m guessing we are here so you two can figure out how to deal with it before it gets you two killed,” the dragoon stated, and the group flinch answered that question rather neatly. “Well, count me in. It’s hard to tease you two if you get yourselves dead, and I can tease the marshal until I die of old age. He’s too fucking endearing for words.” Libertus gave the woman a relieved smile, and received a clap on the arm in reply.

“Well, now you know everything. I hope you understand why you weren't originally let in on the true reason for our trip, madame, it wasn’t out of any malicious-” Ignis was cut off sharply by Aranea, who turned and thwacked him on the shoulder.

“Relax, specs. I understand completely, I’m the outsider of the group. I knew there was something I was out of the loop of, and as long as it didn’t get Luna or me killed, I was fine with it,” Aranea said, before turning and facing Prompto, scrutinizing him with a frown. “How are you feeling?” Prompto shrugged, but Libertus could see the strain in his eyes. What a mess.

“I’m...okay. I’ve certainly felt worse, but I’m worried about Cor, he kinda made it sound like we were zapped away almost immediately after we fell, but we probably fell at least the equivalent of-” Prompto looked up at the trees surrounding him, then pointed to one of the taller ones. “-at least that far. The potion, it fixes bones, right? I’m pretty sure I heard a crunch when we landed on the platform-” Libertus sighed as he ran a hand roughly down his face.

“The fact that he was able to sit up and move on his own is a good sign, he probably just cracked a rib or two. He’s a pretty sturdy guy, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. I’m pretty sure a potion would take care of that…?” he looked at the others, finally receiving a nod from Gladio.

“Yeah, it’ll handle minor breaks pretty well. He’ll just be sore for a few days, especially if you two really fell that far. Damn,” Gladio sighed, and Prompto looked two seconds from crying, those giant eyes of his almost luminescent in the late morning sun.

“He would have died if we had fallen the rest of the way, I just know it, but he didn’t even hesitate,” the kid said quietly, and all three of his companions managed to get their arms around him as Prompto’s lip quivered, the young man biting it instead. “While I certainly don’t want to die, I still don’t like how he just does these things, he’s so important to so many people-” Libertus reached out before he even thought about it and took the blond’s face in his hands, cupping the freckled cheeks in his palms.

“Kid, that’s what parents do, or at least, what they are supposed to do. I know you aren’t used to it, but for a guy who didn’t actually raise you, from what I can see, he’s doing a bang-up job taking over for those fools who squandered the right to call themselves parents. The only issue I see here is that if we are guessing correctly about your connection, it probably would have been for nothing if what you just described had happened,” he said, then crushed his eyes shut in mortification. Why would he tell the kid that? In what world was that helpful? “Ignore that last part, I’m an idiot. But anyway, stop thinking about it so much. I know your relationship is a little different due to your bond, but you’ve got yourself a good dad, Prompto. Here’s hoping we can get this shit straightened out so you can enjoy having one for a long time,” he finally got out, patting the kid’s cheeks one more time before withdrawing; then he realized everyone was staring at him, and he could feel his cheeks grow warm. “What?” Aranea grinned, then reached out and slapped him playfully on the cheek.

“Listen to you! A fucking fount of wisdom, you are,” the dragoon drawled, and he huffed as the boys all burst out laughing.

“Not exactly what I was going to say, but hey, sounds good to me. Hear that, Prom? We are all in agreement that you two are not dying anytime soon, and if that means chaining you both to the damn car to keep you guys from wandering off to another shrine or whatever else we stumble across, we’ll do it,” the prince said with a laugh, before his expression sobered. “While I think he didn’t plan to say it, Libertus has a point. If you two had tumbled all the way down and Cor had broken his back or worse, I’m also pretty sure that we wouldn’t be talking to either of you. So yeah, priority one is figuring your bond thing out before it causes more...issues. Right, guys?” Gladio and Ignis both nodded as Prompto continued gnawing at his bottom lip before finally nodding.

“Right.”

“Why don’t we walk around for a little longer and enjoy the scenery before returning, just in case-” Ignis started to say, only to be cut off by Gladio throwing an arm over his shoulder as they all started to walk again; Libertus could hear water in the distance, and he sped up to take a closer look. Insomnia was fine, and there was plenty of rivers in other parts of Lucis, but nothing was like the rivers of Galahd. Nothing.

“Don’t even think of jumping in, Glaive, I can see you mentally caressing the water, and it’s not even in sight yet,” Gladio commented, and Libertus waved away his concerns with a bark of laughter.

“As tempting as it is, I don’t feel like being soggy for the rest of the day, and considering the marshal’s current state, it’s probably best I stay dry,” he replied, but as the river came into view, he couldn’t help but jog up to the bank, then kneel and dip his hand into the cool water with a happy sigh. “Now this is a river, none of your dams or concrete flood control channels, just a good old river. Silt, rocks, moss-”

“He sounds like Noct when he’s reminiscing about fishing,” Prompto whispered to someone, and he snorted.

“There’s fish here too, although it’s best to fish at the wider bends where they tend to gather.”

“...fishing?” the prince said, his voice hopeful, and he grinned as he flicked his fingers through the water one last time before getting back to his feet.

“Fishing. I think we can find a better spot closer to the city, I know a few,” he explained, and was a bit thrown when the prince threaded his arm through his with a grin.

“Lead on, Glaive. Royal orders.”

“Yes, yes, your highness.”

Cor was sound asleep when they returned to camp, with what looked like a wet towel draped over his back, and Nyx was talking with the princess over by the still-lit campfire.

“He doing better?” Libertus asked, and his friend nodded,

“Yeah, I think he’ll be fine in a few days. I like how you all cleared out the instant I got to work on him,” Nyx commented, and Libertus crossed his arms, an unimpressed look on his face.

“Remember the bit in the Book about happy voices? Yeah, I don’t think it differentiates between sex and a nice massage-”

Nyx’s sudden coughing fit was a nice, satisfying moment.

 

-------------------------------

 

When the first truly-familiar towns on the distant outskirts of Galahd City began to appear on the horizon, some largely intact, others little more but blast craters, Nyx found himself apprehensive; while he was happy to be back, there was a part of him that truly thought that he never should have returned, as crazy as that sounded in his own mind. His mother and sister were long returned to the earth, his little hometown was probably one of those craters off in the distance, and, to top it all off, it was proving a little more hazardous to Cor and Prompto’s health than they expected.

While Cor was mostly back to normal, and Prompto was his usual generally perky self, they had stumbled across another one of those large shrines only a day after they had finally continued on, and even with Cor still largely moving about like an arthritic eighty year old, it had taken him, Libertus, and Gladio to keep the man from it; the only reason they had succeeded was that Cor himself was clearly fighting the impulse to approach it, and thankfully didn’t seem to remember in the heat of the moment that he could do his teleporting thing. Prompto had been somewhat more tractable; he too had tried to go up to the shrine, but had not fought the arms holding him back once Ignis and Noctis had reminded him of what had happened last time.

It was fucking disconcerting, that’s what it was. Once they had managed to stuff both men back into their respective cars and speed out of the area, they seemed unphased, but Nyx was going to need to buy antacids for himself in Galahd City the way things were going. From then on out, when Cor asked them to stop, Libertus or Aranea took the initiative to see why they were stopping before either of their divinely touched companions were let out of the cars; the little shrines were fine, but they wanted to make sure they avoided any other varieties for the time being, just in case. The Dawnsworn nearly dying in a fucking avalanche a thousand miles away was still at the forefront of his mind, and he’d channel every bit of magic he could muster to blow the next shrine up that tried to entice his damn boyfriend away.

Okay, so he talked big, but his point still held. He’d argue with the goddess himself if he had to, because he wasn’t good at handling things he couldn’t at least try to help with.

“You glare out the windshield any longer, and we are going to find little holes drilled in it. You thinking deep thoughts up there, Nyx?” Aranea cut in on his stewing, and he barely resisted banging his head against the steering wheel.

“Just...thinking. About the last few days. That’s all,” he muttered, and Luna leaned over so he could see her in the rearview mirror.

“Well, we are almost to the city now, so we will hopefully be able to do some proper research in earnest, preferably without anything luring either of them away, because yes, it’s rather discombobulating. They have all of these instincts that they were given, but without knowledge to back them up, they are, quite literally, travelling blind. I had the benefit of a mostly complete oracle education before my mother passed, and the records were intact for me to finish it afterwards. They have had no such luxury, unfortunately, beyond training in general skills given by the Dawn Mother herself. While the messengers helped me with all sort of things, they certainly didn’t instruct me on how rituals were to be conducted or anything of the like. The two of them simply don’t have the support base they would have had, say, twenty-five hundred years ago, and they’ve been forced to stagger along regardless. But that’s where we all come in, right? Even if our only contribution is keeping those wild instincts of theirs from getting themselves killed for now,” Luna said, tone drier than he had ever heard her, and he couldn’t help the wry laugh as he looked over to the passenger seat to see Cor shifting and trying to find a comfortable position as he slept, the older man’s expression still a bit pinched from his sore back.

“Yeah, I think you are pretty much spot on, princess,” he replied, then looked off to the right and sucked in a breath. His old village was five miles down that road, if there was anything left of it. He honestly didn’t want to know. With his mother and sister dead, there was nothing for him there.

“Nyx?” Aranea inquired, and he shook his head and turned his eyes firmly forward, tightening his hands around the steering wheel.

“Nothing. Just memories.” Libertus too was silent, his expression closed off as Nyx looked in the mirror, and the dragoon thankfully didn’t press further as they continued down the road, watching the endless interspersed forests and meadows fly by. Even with the rubble, shattered tree trunks, and obvious scars on the land, it was still beautiful in Galahd.

They stopped at a few more roadside shrines of the small variety as they neared the city, Cor staying awake as the city lights, while no Insomnia or even Lestallum, became plain enough against the early evening sky.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been here for more than a half-hour,” Cor said, grunting softly as he stretched his back. “It’ll be nice to be able to actually look around for a change.”

“When were you here last for any real amount of time?” Libertus chimed in, and Nyx glanced over as Cor was obviously mulling the question over in his head.

“Well, the first time I came here, it was as a goodwill tour of sorts with then- Prince Regis; I would have been around seventeen? We only stayed for a few days, we were recalled south to rejoin the fight against the Niffs, who were concentrating on the southern half of the continent at the time. We came again about five years later, technically another tour, but it was also to see how prepared the locals would be if the empire shifted their focus, as sadly, we all know they eventually did. We stayed around two weeks at that time, though, but it was a pretty tight schedule, and I was usually the one driving. We came a few times with the king later, but-” Cor trailed off with a sigh. “There was no time for sightseeing.” Nyx couldn’t help the rush of sadness that seemed to pervade his every cell from that simple statement, and it took all he had to not pull over and fall apart for a few minutes. Fuck. Cor, even with all the craziness in his life, was rather observant about some things, and Nyx was not surprised when familiar fingers wrapped around his shoulder. “You alright?” Cor asked, his voice soft, and several deep breaths later, Nyx finally managed to nod.

“I’ve been better, but- I’m fine. Just more memories.”

The conversation died out after that, and it was a mostly silent car that entered Galahd City proper, the Regalia on their tail as they passed down the main road under mostly new streetlights. At first, it looked like their presence would be unmarked by the crowds that had appeared in Galath, but after several blocks, it was clear that people were congregating on the sidewalks in ever increasing numbers as they passed by, and a few more blocks later, some of them began to shout, luckily, it seemed to generally comprise of well-wishes and other accolades.

“I suppose it’s not a surprise that the news beat us here,” Cor said, even as he kept his eyes firmly forward, his nervousness actually rather endearing, and Nyx laughed.

“Honestly, I would have been shocked if it hadn’t, if Galahdians are good at one thing, it’s being able to pass along all sorts of info quietly and at the speed of light. It actually came to an advantage back during the invasion,” he commented, and Cor hummed, twitching as someone popped off a firecracker near the car. “Really?” he sighed, then met Libertus’s eyes in the mirror. “Where are you thinking, Libs? If it’s still there, there’s the old hotel over by the library-”

“If it still stands, that sounds ideal, does it not? After all, we are here to try and research…” Luna cut in gracefully, and like usual, her point was solid. Libertus nodded in agreement, and Nyx signalled to turn, only for the crowd to take the opening and immediately swarm around the car.

“Well, shit,” he grumbled, then reached out and grabbed Cor’s arm the instant his hand went towards the door handle. “Don’t even think about it, you’ll get swept away in seconds. Would you have let the king get out in a crowd like this?” The older man tensed for a moment, then sagged in his seat.

“No, absolutely not. I-” Cor cut himself off with a sigh. “Never mind. You’re doing exactly what I’d have done with the king. Apologies.” Nyx couldn’t help his own sigh, even as he slid his hand down Cor’s arm and grasped his hand for a moment before returning his full attention to driving. Nyx understood his frustration. It was one thing when you were doing the protecting, and quite another when you were the one being protected.

They inched forward, and the crowd slowly seemed to get the hint, backing off enough to let them turn; after making sure the Regalia had managed it as well, they were able to progress down the road at an almost normal pace, coming up to a slightly older building that Nyx squinted at.

“It looks clean enough, hey Libs, can you hop out and see if it’s still open? It’s been ages since we’ve been here-” Libertus had the door open even before he finished speaking, and Nyx settled back in his seat as his friend walked up to the front of the building. “Hopefully this works, because I’m not looking forward to asking the crowd if they know a place,” he snorted, reaching over and taking Cor’s hand, running a thumb over the man’s knuckles. “You used to being a celebrity yet?” The older man barked out a rough laugh as he reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“I can safely say that will never happen. It’s all mad, I don’t understand it at all,” Cor said quietly, and it was Aranea, of all people, who replied first.

“While I’ve always been skeptical of faith and religion in general, I know how powerful it can be to people who truly believe. These people here, life’s taken a serious shit on most of them the past fifteen years, and to suddenly discover that the goddess they had so faithfully held to for all these years did remember them, that she had called her chosen representatives to service, as it were-” Aranea smiled wistfully. “It’s a hell of a thing. They see you and the kid as a sign of something better to come, at the very least,” the dragoon smirked. “Even if he is a too-sweet kid with giant purply-blue eyes and you are an almost middle-aged grump who looks way too adorable when you blush-” Nyx laughed at the completely unimpressed look on Cor’s face at her last comment, then turned in his seat and gave the woman a thumbs up. “So yeah, as crazy as it sounds, you two are serious celebrities here. I hate to tell you to suck it up and deal with it, but...suck it up and deal with it. It seems like half of you guys are royalty or whatever anyway, you’ve got plenty of examples to work off of-” Cor sighed incredibly noisily, and the whole car minus the grump burst into laughter as Libertus came back over and knocked on Nyx’s window.

“You guys look like you are having too much fun,” Libertus commented with a grin, then tipped his head towards the building. “The outside is a bit plain, but the inside looks pretty damn nice, he’s got enough rooms for us too. I didn’t tell him who we were, but I’m pretty sure he suspected,” Libs shrugged, and Nyx nodded.

“Sounds good. Tell the others?” Libertus walked over to the Regalia without a word, and Nyx turned to the rest of the car. “Well, guess we have a place to stay.”

A few minutes later of luggage and shuffling, the nine of them walked into the hotel, which, as Libs had stated, was much nicer on the inside. There was a handful of guests milling about, but no one approached them as they headed to the counter. The man behind the counter stared unblinking at them for a long, increasingly uncomfortable moment, before shaking his head and giving them a friendly smile.

“Welcome to Galahd and the Siege Peril Hotel-” Prompto opened his mouth to speak, and the man stopped. “Yes, your grace?”

“Isn’t that kinda an...ominous name?” Prompto asked, and Nyx and several of the others couldn’t stifle their laughter in time. Nyx took pity on the kid, reaching out and patting him on the shoulder.

“It’s actually based on an old story, Prompto, but yes, it’s a pretty odd name,” he commented, and Prompto blinked before nodding slowly. The concierge smiled at the kid indulgently before addressing the rest of them.

“I was told only four rooms, but I have more available if needed, your graces, your highnesses-”

“Four is fine. We are used to specific sleeping arrangements,” Cor cut in immediately, same as before, and the man seemed to know when it was best not to ask. He nodded and wrote something down before pulling out a stack of keys.

“Here are your keys, I’ll show you all to your rooms.” The concierge held onto the keys as they headed up two flights of stairs, ending at a hallway with two rooms on either side. “The two suites on the left are single king-sized beds, the two on the right are double queens...will this work for you all?” Nyx nodded, accepting the keys for one of the king rooms from the man, who was obviously curious who was going to be staying with him; before any of the others could collect their own keys, he grabbed Cor’s arm (ignoring the scandalized expression on the concierge’s face) and entered the room, closing the door behind him.

“Nice place,” Cor commented, and Nyx looked around the room in agreement. While less ostentatious than the hotel they had stayed at in Galath, it was well-maintained and clean with quality furnishings. Sounded perfect to him.

“They keep the outside drab out of habit, you know that, right?” he said, putting his bag down at the foot of the bed, Cor following suit.

“Less of a target during bombings, as it blends in with the surrounding buildings,” the older man stated, and Nyx nodded.

“Yeah, I doubt that will change anytime soon, too. The empire was beaten pretty soundly, but they aren’t completely out of the fight yet,” he said, stripping off his shirt and throwing it onto the bed. “We probably should find some dinner, we didn’t stop to make anything-” Strong arms suddenly wrapped around his waist from behind, and he found himself being pulled against a familiar chest. “Hey, you.” Cor kissed the side of his neck, and he sighed in contentment before forcing himself to turn around, the older man’s arms remaining in place as he leaned in closer. “I’m sorry about snapping at you the other day. I just-” Nyx swallowed heavily, and nuzzled at Cor’s jaw. “I had been this close to convincing myself you two had died, even with Luna trying to calm us all down. I shouldn’t have said that, though. You didn’t deserve it.” Cor said nothing at first, and Nyx laid gentle kisses down his partner’s jaw and neck, and was finally relieved when he felt Cor kiss the top of his head.

“It scares the shit out of me, too,” Cor said quietly, and Nyx’s head shot up. “Like at Costlemark or at the shrines, both the big and little ones, when it’s in front of me, I’m moving without even thinking about it-” Cor closed his eyes, and Nyx leaned in and kissed his cheek to encourage him to continue. “While I get used to it, and it makes more sense after I’ve done this thing I somehow magically know how to do, the initial loss of control is terrifying. When I approached that shrine with the teleporter disc, I seemed to know what to do, but I didn’t know what would happen. Prompto said much the same thing, every part of us was drawn to it, same as with Costlemark, but we keep being pulled towards these things without knowing what the consequences will be-” Cor crushed his lips together before letting his head drop to his chest; Nyx lifted his arms and let his hands thread through the older man’s short hair as they stood there together.

“Then we’ll see if we can figure all this shit out together. If they are still alive, I have some acquaintances and elders I can contact, and of course, the old library is right down the road. We’re going to do our best to figure out as much of this as we can, as it would be nice for you to be able to do whatever you need to do without being uncontrollably lured to it, or going a bit crazy. Neither option is ideal,” he stated as he coaxed up Cor’s head with his fingers, letting his thumbs run lightly across the man’s lips. “All of this links closely to the original reason for the expedition, of course, so Cor?” he smiled, and Cor blinked.

“Yes?”

“It’s time to go back to school.” The consternated look that immediately overtook the man’s expression was both classic and a bit alarming.

“I haven’t been to school since I was twelve, I finished high school doing a form of home-schooling with Regis and Weskham as my primary teachers while we bounced from battlefield to battlefield. I can barely remember what going to school even means-” Nyx leaned in and cut him off with a kiss, which extended for a few pleasant moments before they both pulled away.

“You know, I always wondered; I knew there was no way you were doing regular schooling with you already in the Crownsguard so young. Good to know.” Nyx stepped out of Cor’s arms and dug through his bag, fishing out a clean shirt. “Why don’t we see if anyone else wants dinner?” Cor nodded, relief plain on his face as he too changed his shirt; just as they were about to step out of the hotel room, that last statement from Cor replayed in his mind. “Wait, what did you mean by primary teachers?” Cor’s mouth instantly curled into a tiny smirk.

“Feel free to imagine what Cid or Clarus were like as teachers,” Cor drawled, and Nyx blinked; while he had a sneaking suspicion that Cid wasn’t the greatest teacher outside of maybe car-related things, Clarus usually seemed pretty upstanding and on top of things-

“Cid I can probably guess, but what was wrong with Clarus?” he asked, and the other man huffed out a laugh.

“Oh, he can instruct a fitness or fighting class all day long and be absolutely perfect at it, but have him try to impart book learning to an antsy brat who would have much rather been chasing after the Niffs and smacking them over their evil heads, and his patience would run out approximately five minutes in. Then he would start yelling, which would cause said brat to start yelling back-” Nyx found himself grinning like an idiot as Cor wrapped up his little tale.

“Don’t think I’ve ever heard you refer to yourself in the third person before.” The mischievously boyish little smile that worked its way onto Cor’s face in reply was quite possibly the most endearing thing he had ever seen from the man in his life. He had no idea what he had done to deserve Cor Leonis, but he was going to enjoy every damn minute with him. Dawnsworn craziness or not.

The rest of the evening was actually quite peaceful. Cor and Prompto were both approached a few times while they were dining in the hotel’s attached restaurant, but the people simply imparted welcome and hope they would remain for awhile before departing, which was straightforward enough. Nyx just hoped it would stay that mellow for the duration.

“So how are we going about this?” Prompto asked, his voice pitched low, and Nyx met Libertus’s eyes. While the others would probably start with the library, they needed to try and network, provided their contacts were still alive. Of course, simply letting it be known that they were accompanying the Dawnsworn would open doors, but better that people thought they were here to visit and sightsee than anything else. It would leave them open to questions they didn’t want to answer.

“I’d strongly suggest you guys hit up the library first. Libs and I will be doing a little footwork, seeing if there’s anyone who might have access or knowledge of specific info,” he stated, and thankfully, everyone nodded in agreement. “At least at first, we’ll go without you or Cor, as I figured it best to not advertise that we are looking for information.” Prompto smiled, his eyes moving towards Ignis.

“It’s a good thing we have Iggy, I doubt there’s anyone better at research here...well, except maybe Luna,” the kid stated, and Ignis scoffed, but the slight red tinge to the man’s ears told Nyx that he was rather proud of the recognition; Luna waved a hand and shook her head.

“I’m quite sure that Ignis is the expert here,” the princess smiled, and after a bit more banter that left Scientia looking increasingly flustered, it was Cor who finally spoke up before the poor man finally exploded.

“We certainly aren’t forcing anyone to help, so feel free to go sight-seeing if you’d much rather do that instead. This is Prompto and I’s...dilemma, not any of yours, so don’t feel obligated-”

“Cor, you’re awesome, shut up,” Noctis drawled, and Nyx couldn’t hold back his grin as the rest of the table burst into laughter, Cor’s answering pinch to the bridge of his nose was entirely expected, and he patted the man’s thigh under the table in sympathy.

“Yes, your highness.”

As much as Nyx wanted to drag Cor into the shower with him, he resisted the temptation, if only because they had work to do in the morning and he’d want to sleep in if they decided on that course of action. They’d probably be in town for a week or two at least unless they figured out what they needed to know in record time, which he doubted. Things were never that easy. They had time. That didn’t mean he couldn’t curl up with his warm and relaxed boyfriend in bed, however, and he ran his fingers up and down Cor’s head and back before he finally dozed off.

They were awakened next morning by someone knocking on their door, and when Cor predictably didn’t budge (he envied the man’s amazing ability to sleep through almost anything sometimes) he slid him off his chest and walked over to the door, cracking it open to reveal a hotel employee, who immediately looked scandalized, as Cor’s sleeping form was perfectly visible from the doorway. Or maybe it was the fact he answered the door in his underwear, but really. Nyx barely restrained a sigh. Did he just look that disreputable? Was it jealousy? Or was everyone just assuming he was a prostitute, because while it had been funny at first, it was going to to get real old rather quickly.

“Can I help you?” he said flatly, which seemed to knock the employee out of her disapproving daze.

“I have a series of messages for the herald that have been left at the front desk...sir. It would be best if I delivered them in person,” the older woman stated, looking past Nyx like he wasn’t even there as she sidled closer. Nyx calmly put up an arm and blocked her progress.

“As you can see, his grace is still very much asleep. I will take anything you have and give them to him when he awakes,” he replied, and the woman immediately backed away, her expression nervous, and Nyx felt a thread of tension shoot up his spine.

“No, I think not, I’m sure he’d like his messages kept private. You couldn’t just wake him for me?” the woman asked quickly as she tried to push through, and that was enough for Nyx to bodily move her back, maneuvering her against the far wall.

“You aren’t a hotel employee. Who are you?” Nyx hissed, and she immediately tried to break away; but Nyx had faced down a real immortal and an astral and survived, he could handle a suspicious woman. “Answer me!” The fake employee spat in his face, and he barely resisted wiping it away. Lovely.

“I just need to see him, I want to ask him something, let go of me!”

“What in the hell is going on?” Cor’s voice was sharp with concern, and the woman managed to land a kick on Nyx’s kneecap that was definitely going to sting later, but he didn’t release her. “Nyx?”

“She showed up, claiming to be a hotel employee with messages for you, but insisted on speaking to you in person and tried to push past me,” he explained, and he could hear the other doors opening at the commotion as Cor flanked him, inspecting the woman directly.

“Were you seriously trying to muscle past the captain of the Kingsglaive? As you can see, it’s a losing proposition-” Cor commented as he crossed his arms as Prompto’s head popped around the doorframe, his usual sunny featured dimmed with a frown.

“Everything okay?” The woman turned her head towards Prompto, her mouth open, then tried to thrash again; the hallway was quickly filling both with their group and people from the other hallway, and Gladio wisely positioned himself so no one else could shove their way through.

“Your graces! Please, tell your attack dog to leave me alone, I mean no harm-”

“Okay, that’s it.” Cor’s hand wrapped around Nyx’s arm, and he got the hint, letting go of the woman and stepping back. Now freed, the woman tried to throw her arms around Cor, but he caught her wrists in his hand and kept her against the wall. “Ma’am, I don’t care what you want at this point. If I hear another person call my partner anything but by his proper name and title, I’m going to be seriously angry. He’s not an acolyte, he’s not a damn prostitute, and he’s certainly not my attack dog. Do you understand me?” Cor growled, and Nyx almost felt sorry for the woman as a look of sheer devastation emerged.

“Your...partner?” the woman gasped, and Nyx could see the moment that Cor realized what he had just said, the man’s eyes slamming closed with a soft groan before he looked apologetically over at him. “Him? He’s too young for you, you need someone mature-” Cor finally just let go of her and stepped back, and Nyx huffed as he wound an arm around the older man’s waist.

“I still don’t think I look that young,” he commented lightly as the woman began to cry angrily, and Cor wound his own arm around Nyx’s waist and snorted.

“You don’t. Ma’am, were you planning to just jump me in bed or something? Because honestly, that’s exactly what it sounds like-” The woman shook her head energetically, and Nyx just looked at her in complete confusion. What in the hell was she trying to do, then-

“No, I was going to petition to become one of either yours or the voice’s acolytes, but if you already have a single partner, I assume you have abandoned the old ways.” Nyx, Cor, and Libertus promptly choked on their own spit, and Aranea, who was also wearing little more than underwear and obviously didn’t care, burst out laughing.

“You were really hoping for those side benefits, weren’t you?” the dragoon said drily, and their intruder scowled.

“That was certainly not my intent-” Luna, who was in a nightgown, folded her arms and raised an eyebrow.

“So you hold vast knowledge of the practices and rituals of the Dawnsworn?” the oracle asked seriously, and the would-be acolyte flushed.

“No, but I could learn-” Aranea’s eyeroll was so perfectly executed that Nyx couldn’t help but laugh.

“You were hoping to get knocked up by the herald or the voice. That’s why you are here, and yes, you were totally planning to jump him in bed, to keep it family-friendly for our ever expanding audience, and got unpleasantly surprised when you realized that the herald already has a fantastically good-looking bedmate. You wouldn’t have gotten anywhere with the voice, either, so...yeah. Give it up, lady, you just look pathetic. I’m also quite positive that the Dawnsworn had spouses and partners in the past, so don’t even start with your abandoned the old ways bullshit-” The intermixed shiftiness and resignation on the intruder’s face told Nyx that Aranea had hit the nail right on the head, just as several hotel employees, including the concierge from the previous evening, ran up to their hallway, horrified looks on every one of their faces.

“Your graces, your highnesses, we’ve received reports of a disturbance-” Gladio, who had remained silent throughout the entire exchange, pointed at the intruder with a thumb.

“She posed as a hotel employee and tried to force her way into the herald’s room, apparently for nefarious purposes. As we all would like to get some more sleep, we’d appreciate if she was removed from the premises,” Gladio asked, and the concierge nodded.

“Certainly, sir, our apologies for the disturbance, it won’t happen again,” the man said, and thankfully, the intruder left without further complaint, leaving them and a sizable audience all standing in the hallway. Nyx turned towards Aranea with a grin.

“Fantastically good looking, huh?” he commented, and Aranea tossed her head back and smiled.

“Oh please, we all are, don’t get too full of yourself. I’m going back to bed, try not to let any other random people in…” Luna nodded and followed the dragoon back into their quarters, their door clicking shut; Nyx turned at a touch on his arm, and Prompto’s big eyes were close enough to make him twitch. Damn, those things were deadly.

“Yes, Prompto?” The kid glanced down at his knee, then back up at his face (and Nyx gave him credit on trying to not make the fact that he and Cor were standing around in their underwear awkward.)

“You okay?” Nyx shrugged and nodded. He was more annoyed than anything, but-

“I’m fine. Unfortunately this has showed us all an example of the not-so nice side of things, though, so keep an eye out on your surroundings when you are out and about, okay?” Nyx waited until he got a nod from the blond, then nodded to the others. “I’m going to stop standing around in the hallway in my underwear now, see you all later.” Nyx re-entered their room through their still-open door, and after Cor spoke for a moment with the boys, he followed suit, closing and locking the door behind them. Nyx washed his hands and arms in the sink, then scrubbed the shoeprint off his knee, wincing a bit as he wiped off the dirt. He’d have a nice bruise later. Cor was loitering around the bathroom doorway, saying nothing as he finished cleaning up. Nyx just grabbed his hand on the way out and pulled him back towards the bed, nudging Cor until he crawled back under the covers, Nyx happily regaining his usual spot. “Before you say anything, I know, I should have ignored the door-” he began, only for Cor’s hand to cover his mouth without warning. “Mmm?”

“Sorry about..that, it just came out, I was tired of people here treating you like crap-” Cor said, even as he laid his head down in his usual spot, and Nyx huffed out a laugh.

“It was two, maybe three people, Cor, and two of the three were because they wanted into your fine Duscaean cotton undies. To be fair, I expected you both to get some attention of that kind, but I didn’t expect it so quickly, or for people to be that blatant about it,” he said, letting his fingers trace down the center of Cor’s face. “Well, I assume it’ll be all over the place within a few hours, so let’s enjoy a little more peace and quiet before we attempt to go outside.” Cor hmmed an inarticulate reply, and Nyx closed his eyes. Welcome to Galahd indeed.

After a later-than-planned breakfast, he and Libertus bid the rest of the group farewell, and after fishing out a hoodie he had buried in his bag (Prompto had done much the same, which was probably smart) he felt reasonably anonymous as they headed back towards the main road on foot.

“Where are you thinking of going?” he asked Libs, who pointed vaguely easterly with his chin.

“I’m going to stop by my uncle’s and hope he hasn’t moved, he’ll be able to fill me in on who’s still around and not. How about you?” Nyx considered the question, but he already knew the answer.

“Elder Drusilla’s sister lives nearby, she gave me her information before we left Insomnia. I’m going to start there,” he replied, and Libertus clapped him on the shoulder as they hit the main road.

“Good luck, Nyx, see you this evening.”

“Same to you, say hello to your uncle for me.” With a nod, Libertus headed off east, and Nyx threaded through the daytime crowds towards an area he hadn’t been in a long time, nodding respectfully to some elders as he passed them. Unlike Insomnia, where the sight of Galahdian tattoos and hair jewelry marked them out as something other, he was surrounded by his countrymen again, where he could see tattoos announcing lineage, personal loss, love, wins in battle, even the amount of times the person cheated death. Some villages in Galahd practiced certain designs, while others had other traditions; women’s tattoos were rarely on the face...unless they came from the barrier islands to the west, anyway, and as for braids and hair accoutrements? He had finally given up trying to explain all the variations to Cor, as honestly, he couldn’t keep all of them straight either. Not everything had a meaning, though. A decent amount of it was just fashion.

Not that most Galahdians would ever admit that to an outsider.

The air was full of discussion on the newly arrived Dawnsworn, and to a lesser extent the arrival of the prince and oracle, and Nyx found himself listening in as he moved through the crowds. As he figured, the news that the herald had directly mentioned that he had a lover had already spread, but he almost laughed when he realized that all they knew was that said lover was Galahdian, younger than the herald, and something about being a captain. Nyx knew it would probably be only a few more hours or days at the most until someone finally made the connection, but it was still amusing. The fact that Cor had just blurted it out was far more romantic than it should have been, considering the circumstances, but well, they were a strange pair anyway.

Reaching the street he was looking for, he turned and left the main road, leaving the bustle and noise behind him. Elder Leontia was the elder sister of one of the most respected women to have left Galahd during the fighting, and Elder Drusilla had basically stated to him that if they needed to know anything about the Dawnsworn that wasn’t common knowledge, Leontia would be the person to contact. If she didn’t know it, she would figure it out. Nyx had a good feeling about the woman, and he hadn’t even met her yet. Besides, he liked her name.

A few minutes of walking later, and he reached a small house in a nondescript row of small houses, and after double checking the address on his phone, he walked up and knocked. There was no response at first, and he tried not to fidget, counting to ten slowly before rapping once more on the door.

“Hold on, let an old lady walk!” The reedy voice got Nyx to lift his hand away, and a few moments later, the door opened to a old woman that was at least ninety, but he had no doubt she’d still be able to box his ears if he misbehaved. The elder looked him up and down with a skeptical eye, then raised an eyebrow. “What brings a farseeker to my door?” Nyx actually froze at her words for a moment before recovering. The term farseeker was old, referring to Galahdians who moved away, and it had gone solidly out of fashion after the invasion forced so many to leave or perish. But as old as she was-

“I have come to seek your wisdom, Elder Leontia. Your sister Elder Drusilla stated you would be ideal to contact once we arrived here in Galahd, as our mission is not one we want advertised,” he stated, glancing around the street; the old woman squinted at him for a moment for before moving back away from the doorway.

“Better come in, then,” the woman spoke, and he stepped in, immediately setting to removing his shoes as she closed the door. “So, you spoke with my sister. What’s your name, cub?” From Sulla, it had been insulting, but from an elder of her advanced age, it was expected.

“Nyx Ulric, son of Theia Ulric, elder,” he said, and twitched as the old woman grabbed the hood of his jacket and pulled it back with a satisfied smirk.

“The captain of the Kingsglaive, back here among his people. You accompanied the Dawnsworn and their highnesses in last night, correct?” He nodded, and the woman huffed, walking slowly past him; he finally got his boots off and followed her. “I heard something a little more interesting on the wind this morning, though-” the elder said, amusement threading its way into her tone as she pointed him to a chair. “How long have you been sharing the herald’s bed, Nyx Ulric?” Nyx facepalmed before he could stop himself.

“Word travels quickly as ever, I see,” he muttered, then chuckled quietly. “We’ve been together about eight months now,” he answered truthfully, and the woman nodded.

“Still young, then. Do you think of the end, Nyx, or do you think of the duration?” The question was vague, but he understood her completely, and he leaned in and smiled.

“The duration, of course. My mother and sister would bully the voice into letting them come to see me if I did anything else.” The elder barked out a laugh, then reached out and patted him on the knee.

“I like you, Nyx. So tell me, captain, what brings you and such an esteemed party to Galahd, and what drives you to seek me out specifically?” Elder Leontia asked, and Nyx looked down at his hands, trying to figure out where to begin. “This has to do with the Dawnsworn, am I correct?” He nodded. “It was dire enough to drive you all here so suddenly...the assassination attempt on the king? The herald was grievously injured, and not two weeks later, you all were on the road. What has happened?” Nyx could see why Elder Drusilla had recommended her sister, the old woman was as sharp as a knife. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, then forced himself to look up.

“The Dawn Mother imparted much about their talents as her Dawnsworn, but her tutelage was targeted to destroying the Starscourge and saving the world, not so much for what would happen with the rest of their lives. There is no more great priests or temples full of acolytes and disciples to teach them what they need to know, and things are starting to blow up in their faces. Proverbially, for the most part, but the point still holds,” he said quietly, and the elder waved a thin hand.

“Go on.”

“They have a connection, which is common knowledge, but what isn’t is the growing depth of that connection. When Cor was shot, Prompto collapsed as well, and it took his friends and the oracle to stabilize him. This, as you might guess, didn’t go over well with anyone in the know, but particularly with Cor, who-”

“The herald sees the voice as his child, it was plain enough on the television, even if neither of them call it that. No parent wants to be the cause of their child’s pain,” the woman said, and Nyx could only nod. “So you seek to break the bond? No, of course not. You are here to understand it.” Nyx met her sharp eyes with a tired frown.

“Cor fears that if he died, through malice or accident, he’ll take Prompto with him. And honestly, there must be some way for them to control it...they had some success with more of the mental side of their link some months back, but there seems to be no protection against the physical. If one of them was taken and tortured, it could hurt the other-” he sighed. “It’s a liability, at the least. The histories would be full of sad ends of Dawnsworn if they never had figured it out, so we are pretty sure there is a way. Unfortunately, the goddess told them that she cannot help with this, as it is part of an ancient test, and that they must seek their own answers. So here we are,” he finished weakly, and the elder nodded.

“So basically, you are all here to give the Dawnsworn a full course in their own abilities outside of the teleporting, truth speaking, and singing, correct?” the woman said, and he couldn’t help a laugh.

“Well, considering the two of them almost died again not eight hours from here from another issue of instinct versus training, as it were, yes, we are all rather motivated.” Elder Leontia got to her feet slowly, then put her hands on her hips.

“I suppose you would be. Well, let an old woman do some research for a night, cub, and come see me tomorrow after breakfast. Bring them with you, if they’ll come,” the woman stated, and Nyx got to his feet as well, reaching out and clasping the thin hand between his much larger ones.

“Yes, elder. Thank you for your help-” The look in her eyes shut him up cold. He knew not to mess with that look.

“Don’t thank me yet. I’ve got work to do.”

The library had yielded some ideas, but no concrete results; Ignis seemed to take it as a personal affront that he hadn’t found the smoking gun that they needed, but he (and Luna, who was almost as irritated) was settling in for a fight. Nyx had never been one to be a serious bookworm, but it was good they had one with them, as he had no doubt that Ignis would have everything even vaguely related indexed and cataloged within a matter of days. Between ancient knowledge from equally ancient people, or books of crumbling parchment, he hoped they would find something.

“Elder Leontia wants to see you two tomorrow, if you are willing,” he asked, and Prompto shrugged.

“Of course! Cor?” Cor nodded easily, and Nyx smiled.

“Then we’ll go together.”

Elder Leontia liked both of them, but she took Prompto under her skinny wing almost immediately, extolling his various virtues and generally treating him like a grandson; when the large lunch seemed to emerge from nowhere after they had been discussing research for several hours, Nyx wasn’t surprised. Prompto had a face that made the most stodgy of people crumble, and the largely genial elder looked delighted to find some mouths to feed. Prompto, freed from trying to look cool in front of his boyfriends (not that they would have cared, but still,) was soaking up the maternal affection in droves, and Nyx and Cor shared more than a few fond looks at the scene. It was a near comatose threesome that returned to the elder’s sitting room (she, of course, was unaffected,) and that was when the first true possible breakthrough finally came about.

“Sarras,” the elder spoke as she looked in an old scroll, and Nyx blinked.

“Sarras?”

“The temple of temples, a great tower that housed even greater treasures below; it was supposedly the seat of the Dawn Mother’s priests and her chosen, and was a great place of pilgrimage to all the peoples of the world. At the height of its usage, it was a city into itself, and was possibly inhabited all the way until the end of Solheim. If there was no Dawnsworn, the priests acted more as caretakers, as it was said that they could not utilize most of Sarras’s secrets. But if the goddess’s chosen were in attendance, the great structure would come to life, and the blessings of the goddess would flow throughout the world,” Elder Leontia read, and Nyx, Prompto, and Cor all stared at each other. Well, they had suspected- “What’s with the faces?”

“Elder, do you think that this tower had other names?” Cor asked, and the old woman tilted her head.

“Oh, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest, so much was changed and lost after the fall of Solheim. You have an idea of the whereabouts of this place, then?” Nyx knew he probably looked the most resigned out of the bunch, but things were looking more and more like it was that place.

“In southern Lucis, near an area called the Fallgrove, there is the ruins of what was once a large, elaborate tower complex. On maps, it’s called Costlemark now. The aboveground part of the structure is largely destroyed, with only parts of the outer walls still standing, however, there’s definitely signs that there is something below,” he said, and Elder Leontia’s eyes narrowed.

“What aren’t you telling me?” the woman asked, and Cor patted Nyx on the thigh and leaned towards the elder.

“What he didn’t mention is that if either myself or Prompto go anywhere near the blasted place, we go completely crazy. I haven’t gone separately, but you went with Noctis and the others last fall, and-” Prompto nodded, and Cor gave him the floor.

“It’s entrancing, basically...when I first saw it, I knew it was incredibly important, knew I needed to go inside, but I understand I was pretty much insensible to the outside world as I tried to approach it, the others pulled me away. I know when I sang to it as I fought them, parts of it lit up,” Prompto stated, and Cor frowned.

“When we saw it together...we actually didn’t need to be in visual range, we were several miles away and it called to us, I stepped us over and we basically sat down at the entrance and refused to move, no matter how much the others tried to convince us to come away from the building. Thankfully, Prompto had more possession of his wits than I did, and when I started getting...aggressive about staying, he managed to sing us both to sleep. I still don’t remember the whole thing,” Cor stated quietly, gently squeezing Nyx’s thigh. Nyx really didn’t want to think about that whole debacle again, but the roads all appeared to be heading that direction…

“I assume your companions took you away from there because no one knew what was happening?” the elder asked, and Nyx nodded.

“Basically. They were both acting incredibly out of character, and we knew nothing about why the building was causing such a reaction. It was obvious it had to do with them being the Dawnsworn, but to just let them go in without any intel would have been a bad idea. If Costlemark is truly this former great temple city, we need to try and find out more of what to expect, because it was...really concerning. I don’t know how else to put it, but-” His hands suddenly stung, and he looked down to see that he had dug his fingertips in so deeply into his palms that they were bleeding, and he stared at them blankly as blood pooled in the cuts.

“Nyx,” Cor said softly, the older man moving and kneeling in front of him, carefully taking his hands in his own. “Elder, I don’t suppose you have a wet cloth I could use?” Nyx just stared at his hands as people moved around him, an arm wrapping around his shoulders from behind as Cor wiped his hands off carefully.

“First we go crazy on you all, then we vanish for hours on end...I think I’m sometimes surprised that you all stick around, I know it’s not been easy-” Prompto mumbled in Nyx’s ear, and that finally jarred him out of his malaise, forcing himself to look up at Cor, before turning his head to see Prompto’s chin propped on his shoulder. He took a deep breath, letting it out before summoning up a weak smile.

“What was that line from that old play? The course of true love never runs smooth? While it’s nice when things are easy, Prompto, it’s naive to hope that it’s always so. I know that, you know that, Cor knows that, the boys all know that. It just all hit me at once, kid, don’t worry too much. This just told me I need to trim my fingernails,” he tried to dig up a light tone as he finished speaking, but he had a feeling he wasn’t selling it to the others.

“Nyx,” Cor said flatly, and Nyx sighed.

“It’s fine, Cor. I just had a moment.” The look on Cor’s face promised later conversation, but thankfully, he said nothing as he took one more look at Nyx’s palms before letting go and getting back to his feet. Elder Leontia gave him a solid gimlet eye, but she too didn’t pursue his moment of weakness, and after returning to their previous topic, it quickly became clear that the scroll she had been reading from was exhausted of information.

“I’ll keep looking into it. Why don’t you all join the rest of your friends and have a nice dinner, come by tomorrow after lunch,” the elder said, and well, her advice sounded good to him. They ate at the hotel restaurant again, where they were largely left alone, and reported what they had discovered to the others.

“Luna and I also found mention of Sarras as well, but it sounds like your source was a little more informative. It is truly sounding like all roads lead back to the Fallgrove. It’s unfortunate we have found little in way of concrete information, though, but we have some time. We will keep searching,” Ignis said, and Gladio and Noctis nodded in agreement, even if it was pretty obvious they weren’t quite as enthused about the whole affair. Right as they were about to call it a night, Aranea got their attention.

“Heads up on a few things, one, I’m afraid Luna and I will need to leave decently soon. Ravus told us last night that the Niffs seem to be more active near the borders, and he thinks it’s probably best we get ready to depart. Also, on that vein, I’ve heard some unconfirmed reports that there’s been some scouting missions and or a skirmish or two on one of the islands to the west. It sounds like the empire is up to something,” Aranea sighed, and Nyx met Cor’s eyes and asked the unspoken question, only to get a slight headshake. He hadn’t heard anything either, but perhaps it hadn’t reached the king yet. Hm.

The next few days proceeded much the same, they went through old documents and papers with Elder Leontia, while Ignis and Luna did more research while Noctis and Gladio helped (generally, anyway, Noctis was mostly confined to fetching so he didn’t mess up Ignis’s system, from the sound of it.) Aranea did her own thing most of the time, and unfortunately, she was able to confirm that there had been landings on the outer islands, although all were quickly repelled by the local militias. No sign of movement on the mainland yet, but the mood of the city, even with the Dawnsworn walking among them, was turning rapidly dark. Both Cor and Nyx had been in contact with the king and their staff, but until something happened that forced his hand, it would be up to the locals to keep on top of things. They simply didn’t have the manpower to send unless they absolutely had to.

Fucking empire.

After almost a week of slogging through old manuscripts and scraping together a profile of Sarras that seemed to say that they would hopefully be able to fix just about everything if they returned there, with there almost definitively meaning Costlemark, as nothing else in old maps or otherwise they had located had indicated any other possibility, Nyx made the executive decision that it was time for a day off. Luna and Aranea would be leaving soon, their airship already cleared to land by the local government, and it sounded like the perfect time to actually do some sightseeing. Even Cor and Ignis, who had both looked like they were ready to stay the course with research, agreed handily.

Nyx woke up the morning of their planned break day to Cor pretty much flopped entirely on top of him, which probably explained why he was awake in the first place. The marshal was many things, but a lightweight was not one of them. Then Nyx made the mistake of trying to move.

“Cor, let me up,” he grumbled, but the instant he tried to slide him off like usual, he found himself being thoroughly entangled, with Cor’s long limbs wrapping around him bodily, and Nyx found himself completely pinned. Was Cor dreaming? This was not something the older man usually did, and as much as he loved him, this was not a position that he found appealing. After a few more failed attempts to work his way out, he finally snapped. “Cor!” he barked, and again received no reply. After a few more tries at getting him off, Nyx managed to reach a hand up and gently opened one of the man’s eyes, and sagged when he saw the faint glow in them. The goddess was probably speaking with him. Nyx took as deep of a breath as he could pull off and forced himself to relax for a moment. He’d give him a few more minutes before trying again. When his bladder began to complain about ten minutes or so later, he squirmed around a little more and grumbled. “Cor!” He barely missed being knocked right back out again from the other man’s head nearly snapping up into his.

“Wha- what, what’s wrong?” Cor murmured sleepily, then he seemed to realize their relative positions, swiftly unwinding himself from Nyx, who sighed in relief. “Sorry, I don’t know why I did that.” Nyx sat up and stretched, pretending not to notice his bedmate taking a good look while he did so.

“Everything okay? No dreams or anything? Had the Dawn Mother dropped in for a chat?” Cor leaned in and nuzzled the side of his neck as he spoke, his beard tickling at his shoulder until Nyx could no longer hold back a laugh. “I’ll take that as a no? Just wanted to be sure-” Nyx jumped when Cor bit at his earlobe, and let his hands run down the older man’s back. “It’s gonna be like that, huh? Why don’t we take a shower? Wake up before we go out?” Cor pulled away, and Nyx cackled at the dubious look on his face before leaning in and claiming his lips for a long, pleasant interlude before pressing his forehead against the other man’s. “Well?”

“We better finish this shower with cold water,” Cor said drily, and Nyx grinned.

“Sounds like a plan.” It took several more minutes for them to actually work their way out of bed, the two of them nearly tripping over the sheets that were wrapped around them as they tried to head to the bathroom, but they managed it without killing themselves.

The cold water was definitely needed at the end.

After they both had shaved and Nyx had redone his braids, Cor was long dressed by the time Nyx wriggled into his pants and threw on a t-shirt, and Nyx looked over to see the older man sitting on the bed looking down at the floor with a thoughtful expression.

“What’s up?” Cor looked up, his eyes meeting Nyx’s with a touch of apprehension.

“I was thinking of taking Prompto out for a little while, just the two of us,” Cor stated, and Nyx blinked, then smiled. If Cor wanted some bonding time with the kid, he certainly wasn’t going to suggest otherwise; there was plenty of time for them to explore after Luna and Aranea left.

“So what are you thinking? We could meet for lunch somewhere?” he replied, and by the flash of surprise on Cor’s face, he didn’t expect the easy response, but the man quickly smothered it as he rose to his feet.

“That sounds perfect,” Cor said, and Nyx gave him a peck on the cheek.

“How about I meet you two at the Corbenic market around one, it’s about a half-mile north-west from here. Sound good?” Cor nodded, then turned for the door. Just as he was about to open it, he turned back to Nyx.

“How about you?” Nyx smiled, then pointed in the vague direction of Luna and Aranea’s room.

“I’ll see if the ladies would like a Galahdian to show them around for awhile, even if he’s a little rusty,” he replied. “Enjoy your adventure.” Cor’s lip twitched up as he gave him a wave as he left, the door shutting behind him. “Well, let’s see if Luna and Aranea want to be shown around.”

The ladies were actually quite happy to go with him, and for several hours, he took them to everywhere he could think of within a reasonable distance, from old markets to monuments that survived the war to architectural sights; while it was clear the princess found certain things interesting that Aranea did not, and vice versa, Nyx thought he did a pretty good job as an out of practice tour guide. Ending their walk only about five minutes away from where he was supposed to meet up with Cor and Prompto worked out perfectly, and after a smile and a nod from the dragoon, and a kiss on the cheek from Luna, he headed off to go find the wayward Dawnsworn.

Corbenic Market was a series of long narrow streets, barely wider than an alleyway, split like dashes with more modern, drivable roads. It had been one of the popular markets in Galahd for at least a century, established after the old market a few blocks away had burned down in a fire, and it was full of everything from street vendors to fancy restaurants, from little streetside shops set up on blankets to expensive jewelry stores, all within feet of each other. Nyx realized with a smack to the face that he hadn’t told Cor where in the market to meet up, and resigned himself to wandering around until he found them. Cor was crap at answering his phone, and it wasn’t like he was in a rush anyway. He walked down the first street, passing little shops and storefronts that invoked more than a few memories of days gone by, but did not see any sign of either man. He had much the same luck on the second section, and Nyx sighed, turning at the end of the market area on that street and headed through one of the small alleyways cross sections towards another, and began walking down towards the main road again.

After a few streets of browsing, the market could get somewhat monotonous if there wasn’t a particular destination in mind, and Nyx continued to walk, the crowds thinner than before as he finally spied what looked like a partially-hoodie covered head of bright blond hair in the distance, followed by a very familiar tall, lean darker-haired form looking into a store window near the end of the market near the main road. Nyx smiled, and picked up his pace to intercept before they moved away. At the end of the street, a white van pulled up, a few people hopping out and going around to the back, and Nyx didn’t even think about it until another van pulled up immediately behind the first, than another, effectively blocking the exit off as people started to pour out of the vehicles.

What the-

Prompto was holding onto Cor’s arm and showing him something in another window, and Nyx found himself walking faster as even some of the locals started to notice the odd collection of vehicles, the people who had gotten out of them coming down the street in small groups that made ice shoot down Nyx’s spine. There was something very wrong with this picture.

“Cor-” Nyx shouted as he broke into a run, but he was just a little too far away as he saw a person with the first of those groups turn and run very deliberately into Cor, bumping him hard enough to make him stagger a step. The older man turned to see what had hit him, only for several other people to grab Prompto, who flailed and tried to escape before going suddenly and alarmingly limp; Cor and Nyx summoned their respective blades as the mass of people surrounded the two of them, and he finally just threw caution to the wind and threw his kukri at one of the assailant’s backs, warping in behind it as he took the man to the ground. Cor had successfully taken down several of the attackers, but between the narrow marketplace and the mostly-fleeing locals, it was a horrible place to fight. Nyx managed to slice his way through most of the way towards Cor, who was trying to keep them back from Prompto, only for a loud bang to cut through the commotion, and Nyx found himself stumbling to the ground with a shout before he could stop himself, his hand going to his burning thigh.

Fuck!

The split second of distraction from both of them was apparently what the attackers were looking for, and as Nyx forced himself back to his feet, another shot rang out, slamming into his back and sending him back to the ground while Cor staggered back, dropping his sword as he slapped a hand to his neck; his vision was blurring as he forced himself upright once more, meeting Cor’s horrified gaze as he looked directly at him, then down at Prompto, then back to him before Cor’s eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed.

“Shit!” Nyx snarled, realizing what Cor had just asked; several of the men were already dragging the unconscious Cor away, and Nyx knew he couldn’t rescue Cor and keep Prompto, who was also unconscious or close to on the ground, safe. Not when several of the other assailants were also pulling out guns to take him down and more were running towards the fallen voice. Getting one last look at his partner, the fucking love of his life as they carried him into their van and away from him, Nyx threw one of his kukri, managing to take down one of the gunman before the other fired, the newest shot hitting only inches away from the first in his thigh and sending him back to the ground. The locals had, as far as he could tell through the growing haze of pain, entirely evacuated, and he was entirely alone. He just had to keep Prompto safe-

His vision was getting worse and worse, but he managed to drag himself to his feet and throw his knife at one of the bastards as they were leaning over to grab Prompto, taking off his head; he threw the other one at yet another as they raised their gun again, hitting them in the chest and dropping them. “Prompto! Wake up!” he shouted in desperation, realizing that he was weaponless, but the young man didn’t budge. He had managed to dispatch the gunmen, but there were still a few assailants around, and he was quickly beginning to realize that he was running out of options.

Nyx’s abdomen and thigh were on fire, and he was finding it hard to breathe, but he scrambled to find a dropped gun, a knife, anything as he tried to keep the last few kidnappers away from the downed voice, only for his hand to wrap around the hilt of a very familiar sword. He had never been one for the long blades, preferring the maneuverability of smaller weapons, but Cor’s katana was a work of art. He had watched the man polish and care for it meticulously for their entire relationship, only for it to end up abandoned on the broken asphalt of a city market, its owner fuck knows where. Not today. Using the sword to leverage himself to his feet, he ignored the ever-worsening pain and lunged forward, catching one of them across the back, then spun and got the other’s arm, the limb falling to the ground as the attacker staggered back with a scream, collapsing soon after. There was still one or two more around, he knew there was, and he forced himself closer to Prompto as he tried to get his body to obey-

“Nyx!” He could hear a woman shouting as something slammed into the back of his head, sending him to the ground next to Prompto, the katana clattering to the pavement next to him.  The last thing he saw was a lance cutting through the air overhead before everything went black.

Chapter Text

The ship rumbled to life around him, and Loqi found himself pacing in his small quarters on-board the airship. He had not appreciated being ordered to accompany General Ulldor on a secret mission when they had refused to read him in on the details, and he had barely snapped out a vaguely acceptable reply before he had withdrawn to his room.

Things had been very different in the empire since the day of the failed signing, and Loqi had considered more than once resigning his commission and returning to his ancestral home. He couldn’t make himself do it, though. House Tummelt had been a military-focused house for generations, a fact that had given them great favor with the royal house, and for him to abandon that so young? He’d be lucky to make it in the door before his grandmother killed him. Loqi sighed, crossing his arms tightly before letting go, his arms falling limp to his sides as he sat back down on the bunk.

He had no idea what the empire was trying to do anymore. While the emperor had tried to issue a draft in the wake of the defeat, the vast majority of able-bodied people were already working in essential services that could not be neglected, and the armies numbers had not improved in the way they had hoped for. It had made it abundantly clear that their recent success had been built entirely on the backs of the MTs, which hadn’t helped public morale when they realized that the MTs had pretty much been leashed daemons. There had been enough people that had put together the fact that much of the rising infection rates of Starscourge had been directly linked to where large groups of the troopers had been stationed, which had made more than enough of the population actually happy that Lucis had carried the day, at least in the matter of the scourge. While Loqi had been outwardly furious with any hints of relief in Lucis’s victory, he inwardly did not entirely disagree. The empire would find another way without Besithia’s perversions of nature, as handy as they had been.

In what he suspected was an attempt to look like they were still fighting, the emperor had ordered a slow, but steady bombardment and incursion of Tenebrae, but with their vastly reduced numbers, they had gained no ground, and it was quickly being seen as a waste of manpower.

It certainly didn’t stop the cries of stop the war! While the press had been monitored in Niflheim for decades, and such commentary wasn’t legally allowed to reach print, the sentiment was clearly growing regardless, and Loqi was beginning to think that not even the emperor would be able to stop the growing tide if things didn’t change soon. The last week had seen sudden incursions into the western islands of Lucis, an order that had come down incredibly abruptly, and while they had all ended in failure, they still continued.

None of it made sense. It was a waste of resources-

“General Tummelt report to the brig.” Loqi got to his feet, adjusted his armor, and left his quarters. The brig. What had this mission been about that they needed to use the brig-

Realization actually made him stumble for a second, thankfully with no one around. Capture. The empire almost never took prisoners, they were a waste of space and it was rare that they could get useful information out of them. But with the situation as dire as it was, perhaps the emperor was hoping there would be something that would indicate an opening, something they could use…but who would be important enough to take? While the prince had been a vital part of the fight against their former chancellor and the astral, he otherwise appeared to be little more than a spoiled brat who hung around their palace all day with his little court; the empire would never consider ransom, it was beneath them, especially when they were negotiating from a place of weakness. But if not the prince, then who?

Loqi stepped out of the lift, only to be intercepted by General Ulldor, who looked generally pleased with himself as they headed towards the brig.

“I know you weren’t happy to be left out of the loop, Tummelt, but it was the emperor’s orders. We were...fifty percent successful with our mission, but this was within mission parameters. And now that’s when you come in,” Ulldor stated, and Loqi frowned.

“Only fifty percent was within parameters?” he asked, and Ulldor tilted his head.

“We had two targets, we achieved one. Both would have been excellent, but we suspected it was going to be one or the other.” Ulldor placed a hand on Loqi’s shoulder, stopping them about ten feet before the brig. “We brought you along because you are the only one who has experience with our target, Tummelt. Your job is to keep the prisoner sedated and in generally good condition. If you want to amuse yourself with the prisoner before we reach our destination, that’s fine, but leave nothing that won’t heal in a day or two. The emperor wants him in good shape.” Loqi’s anger was already boiling before the man even finished speaking, and he didn’t even really register the last few lines that had been spoken as he turned on Ulldor with a hiss.

“You brought me along to babysit a prisoner? Have you all forgotten who I am-” A finger in his face cut him off, and he looked to the side with a snarl.

“What you are is a well-heeled boy that has skill with magitek armor, but who has also been defeated a considerable amount of times. The emperor is fond of you, Tummelt, but even he has limits. I suggest you do your damn job, and maybe you’ll not be assigned to babysitting duty again,” Ulldor stated coldly, and Loqi tensed. A boy. Was that what the emperor thought of him- “Consider this a bit of a treat, Tummelt. As I said, you were specifically chosen for this, you might just enjoy it.” Ulldor took a small briefcase from a waiting soldier and laid it flat in his palms, hitting the latches on the front to reveal a syringe and several lines of vials. “Every two hours in the prisoner’s thigh. Without fail. Do not screw this up, and we’ll all be golden. Understand?” Ulldor snapped the case back shut again, handing it over to Loqi. “His last shot was at three-thirty on the dot, so remember, two hours.” Ulldor stepped back, an almost mischievous smile on his face. “Have fun, Tummelt. Remember, nothing that won’t heal in a day or two...”

Loqi watched in complete confusion as Ulldor gave a jaunty wave and departed, leaving him and the soldier who had been holding the briefcase before. Just who was in the cell?

“Are you staying for a reason?” he snapped at the soldier, who stiffened.

“Sir, just wanted to inform you that the cell is unlocked, you can go right in. Because he’s being sedated, locking it isn’t ness-” Loqi waved a hand in dismissal, and the soldier got the message, saluting then also departing, leaving him alone. Still holding the briefcase, he took a deep breath, then let it out in a muffled whistle as he approached the brig, reaching out and opening the door.

“Who in the hell could they capture that they specifically fetched me to watch-” Loqi’s gaze fixed on the form lying on the bunk, and he choked. “I’m seeing things.” He looked away at the corner for a moment, blinking harshly, then looked back to the bed. Still the same. “How did they-” He approached the bunk slowly, looking down at the man lying unconscious on the mattress. Cor Leonis had a few superficial cuts on his face and neck, but they had clearly been cleaned, and Loqi found himself sitting down next to him, reaching out and carefully touching the usually stoic features. He looked so much younger in his sleep. His short brown hair was a mess, and he found himself fixing a few of the unruly strands before jerking his hand away. Long eyelashes fanned out across mildly tan cheeks with a touch of the telltale red tones of sun damage, his mouth slightly open, leaving his usual serious expression smoothed away by his unconsciousness. The unusual picture was expounded upon by the fact that the man was only wearing a t-shirt, and remembering what Ulldor had said, he pulled down the thin sheet over his legs to discover that they had stripped him to his underwear, his long legs bent to fit on the too-short bed. Loqi dropped the sheet back over him and frowned, examining the man once more. Until the events of the signing, Leonis would have never been considered important enough to do more than interrogate then kill, even in his status as the effective commander of the Crownsguard. Amicitia may hold the actual title of the head, but it was the marshal that actually did most of the work, and Loqi had found that out on more than a few occasions on the battlefield. He sighed, crossing his arms and shifting slightly on the bunk’s edge.

How Ulldor’s troops had captured him, he had no idea. The emphasis on keeping him sedated made far more sense, however; with the discoveries of last year, what Leonis was had made him far more interesting than before. How else could they keep a man who could teleport significant distances with a thought in their custody? Sedation was their only choice. Loqi had seen the footage, lifted from Insomnian airwaves, both of the battle and of his personal appearances afterwards, and had been utterly fascinated. It was too bad that some of his special abilities appeared to be tied to that freckle-faced kid- Loqi blinked. The mission had been a fifty percent success. They had been trying to capture both of the so-called Dawnsworn . Considering they apparently had been the impetus for much of the events of that day in Insomnia, he was aware that the emperor was holding a grudge, but he had figured that he would just try to have them assassinated.

What were they trying to do? Loqi was pretty certain that the man’s abilities were not transferrable, so-

His eyes, which had been casually scanning the interior of the cell, focused in on a little box and bottle sitting in the far corner, and he saw red.

No. No, we are not like this. But then he remembered the sly comments from Ulldor, and he jumped to his feet away from Leonis, his breath coming in harsh pants. They had picked him for this. They expected him to- Loqi shook his head and stomped over to the corner, reaching down and picking up the little bottle with a scowl before slamming it back down. Nothing that won’t heal. Amuse yourself with the prisoner. It had taken a few days after its release, but the contents of that book on Eos and her chosen had eventually found its way into Niflheim, and it had been a sensation. Most of the high-ranking army types had made endless jokes about the raunchier side of the book, and he had honestly had a hard time imagining Leonis to be able to any of those things. But then that television interview happened, showing a kinder and far more human side of the man, and he had been forced to at least partially reevaluate. The only thing they were all certain of was that Leonis wasn’t sleeping with the so-called voice.

...but what if all those ridiculous things about their...prowess were true? Loqi walked back to the bunk and sat back down, looking at Leonis once more. The man was handsome, that was for certain, and he felt his cheeks warm as he let his eyes scan the length of his neck, the firm chest accentuated by the plain shirt- His eyes focused in on a little mark near Leonis’s collarbone, mostly obscured by his shirt, and before he could stop himself, he reached out and pulled the collar down.

“A bitemark?” he said aloud, then he let go of the shirt like it had burned his hand, before reaching down and pulling up the bottom hem to observe several more marks of a similar shape on the man’s chest before pulling the clothing back down into place with an almost amused huff. Cor the Immortal was no ascetic, and not only that, the lovebites were fresh. Even with the revelations of that book, Loqi would have sold one of his armors for scrap if the man had ever hired a prostitute, so...he had a partner. One that was probably wondering what happened to him. He turned away from Leonis and rested his elbows on his legs, leaning forward with a sigh. Ulldor practically expected him to assault the man, had even left tools to help him along. It made him sick. Had the empire stooped so low as to encourage such actions for the sake of amusement? Loqi frowned. Well, in Leonis’s case, probably amusement and research.

He looked at his phone, noting the time, then sighed, grabbing the briefcase and assembling the syringe. While he would not stoop to assaulting Leonis, he would follow his orders and keep him sedated. The emperor wanted him, and that was that, even if Loqi wasn’t entirely fond of the tactics. After pulling the sheet down and injecting the man in the thigh as instructed, he cleaned off the needle and set the used vial back in the case before covering him back up. He had two hours.

“Curious on how the mission went?” Ulldor asked as he emerged on the bridge, and Loqi nodded. “Surprised, weren’t you? It wasn’t easy getting him, let me tell you-” Ulldor handed him a disk, and Loqi nodded his thanks. “I’m surprised you aren’t still in there,” the man said, and Loqi forced himself to not react as he turned to leave. “Remember, every two hours.”

If Ulldor fell off the launch deck tomorrow, it wouldn’t be soon enough.

Returning to his quarters, he loaded up the disk into his computer, then began to read. After about ten minutes, Loqi sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. Leonis had been touring Lucis for at least several weeks with the prince, his retinue, the voice, the oracle, Highwind, the Glaive that had replaced Glauca, and another Glaive, although they didn’t have a perfect grasp on the timeline or why they had been doing so in the first place. Eventually, they made it to Galahd, where they had been for about a week, and when a report from a spy on the ground had come in that both Leonis and Argentum had been spotted doing some sightseeing together without the rest of their party, they figured it was their best time to strike.

Waiting until the two men were in the tight quarters of one of the market streets, they had blockaded the main exit with their vans and struck, managing to drop Argentum with the sedative almost immediately. Leonis was the marshal of the Crownsguard for a reason, however, and took out multiple soldiers trying to defend Argentum, when support in the form of the new captain of the Kingsglaive arrived, who also managed several casualties before getting shot in the leg, which only phased him for a moment, then in the stomach, which distracted Leonis enough for them to sedate him and get him out of there. From there, the report was based on their spy’s account, as Ulric managed to take down all but the last two of the remaining soldiers trying to collect Argentum single handedly, despite getting shot a third time. Their second to last agent managed to knock the man unconscious with a blow to the head, only for Aranea Highwind to show, along with the oracle, and swiftly dispatch the remaining two, keeping Argentum out of their grasp. According to the spy, Ulric had fought like a man possessed up until the moment he was knocked out.

Loqi realized that the disk also had scans of pertinent articles from the local Galahdian newspapers, and he read through several of them until he reached a silly little one entitled The Herald’s Partner? and scanned down the short article before raising his eyebrows. Leonis had words with a woman that tried to force himself into his quarters, telling her to use his partner’s proper title? Said partner was said to be Galahdian? Loqi thought back on the comment regarding Ulric, and gave a small sigh before getting to his feet and retrieving the disk. Leonis’s partner, if he had survived, was quite aware that he had been taken. He had no doubt that there would be a furious Lucian contingent chasing after them, but once they made it to the heart of imperial territory, they didn’t stand a chance.

Loqi realized rather quickly that the biggest minus of his assignment was that he wasn’t able to sleep more than about an hour and a half at a time, and he took to sleeping on the floor of Leonis’s cell with a few pillows pilfered from his quarters. He had done far more uncomfortable things in the field, he would manage. Luckily, a pair of privates had been assigned to making sure Leonis was otherwise cared for, because while he could feasibly accept being the one to make sure he remained drugged, he was not going to help the man with his personal needs. He refused. Ulldor seemed to have a few brain cells in his head, though, and had not tried to make him. After almost a day of travel, he stretched his legs by walking up to the bridge, where thankfully Ulldor wasn’t in attendance.

“How much longer to Gralea?” he asked the pilot, only to get a head shake in reply.

“We were given new orders, Besithia gets the prisoner first. We’ll remain at the facility until he’s done with him, then we’ll transport him to Gralea for whatever his majesty wants to do with him. Poor bastard,” the pilot muttered the last two words so quietly that Loqi pretended he didn’t hear them, nodding and leaving the bridge, heading back towards the brig.

Besithia wanted him first. Loqi wasn’t surprised, but he had hoped that Leonis would at least get a more dignified fate then to be poked at by that crazy old man; genius he may be, Besithia gave him the creeps. Supposedly almost all the MTs had actually been clones of him, which was a concept that had actually given Loqi nightmares when he had first heard about it. Could he send troops into the field, corrupted by the scourge or not, when they all shared the same face? Reaching the bottom deck, he shook his head rapidly. No, he couldn’t have. But clearly it didn’t bother the researcher, which just made him even more demented, as far as Loqi was concerned.

Approaching the cell, he noticed a large shadow that definitely didn’t belong, and he sped up to see two of the lower-ranking officers standing over Leonis, one of whom had pulled back the sheet and was leaning over the prone man in a way that made Loqi want to break their nose. Just because he refused to assault the man didn’t mean he was going to let anyone else near him either. Moving into the cell, he crossed his arms and glared.

“And just what do you think you are doing?” he barked out, and the two, a man and a woman, both jumped and moved away from the bed as nonchalantly as they could manage in the small cell, their hands tucked behind their back. “Well?”

“We just wanted a closer look, I mean, wouldn’t you after all the crazy things we heard?” the male corporal said, and the woman major nodded in agreement.

“Supposedly they can go for hours on end, too, I wouldn’t mind testing that claim-” Loqi pointed to the door without a word, and the two scuttled out, not even bothering to hide their disappointment.

“Remind me where in the officer’s conduct handbook does it state feel free to sexually assault prisoners? Any of you?” Loqi asked, and the two shuffled and wouldn’t meet his eyes. “That’s what I thought. Get out of here,” he snapped, and the two all but ran down the hallway and out of view. “Damned idiots.” He took a deep breath, then returned to Leonis’s side, doing a quick visual inspection before pulling the sheet back up to the man’s waist.

What a mess.

He didn’t leave the cell again except to eat and shower, increasingly afraid that if he left Leonis alone too long, something unfortunate would happen. He was doing his best to try and not think of what Besithia wanted him for, but while he could keep curious soldiers away from him, Besithia, while his standing with the emperor had taken a hit after the loss of the magitek armies, was still probably in the top five of most influential people in the empire. He had no pull with a man like that. The emperor was rumored to have ordered the researcher to try and figure out another way to replace their lost army, but with the chancellor and the scourge itself gone, where else could the old man go? Loqi looked over at Leonis and frowned. Did Besithia think that these Dawnsworn could hold some sort of promise?

In what felt like no time at all, the airship was coming in to land at the facility, and Loqi remained with Leonis instead of greeting Besithia, who he had no doubt would be coming to him in a matter of minutes anyway.

“I’m sorry, Leonis, that’s it’s ended like this; you should have been able to have a proper soldier’s end with a weapon in hand, not handed over to be experimented on,” he muttered, then snapped his mouth shut as footsteps sounded down the hallway. Besithia entered the cell without a word, nodded absently to Loqi, then moved over to Leonis’s bed and looked down at him.

“So this is one of these Dawnsworn, hmm? He looks like an ordinary man at first glance, but between the video footage and the emperor’s own observations, it appears that he is so much more,” the researcher said, then Loqi moved out of the way as he signalled to his employees. “Take him to observation room one.” The small group nodded in near-unison, and both Loqi and the old man were forced to move out of the cell as they wheeled a gurney into the room, transferring him smoothly than departing. “Well, the emperor doesn’t want me to keep him for too long, so I suppose I should get to work,” Besithia stated, glancing towards Loqi once more as he began to walk away. “If you are curious, feel free to stop by.”

After taking a short nap in his quarters to try and recover from his odd sleep schedule, Loqi donned his armor and prepared to leave. He felt it appropriate that someone who thought of the man as a person and not an experiment be there for at least a short time, even if it was just to witness. He left the airship, which had thankfully parked inside the facility and not out in the eternal snowstorm, and managed to wrangle one of Besithia’s junior researchers into showing him where to go. After a solid fifteen minutes of walking through a maze of corridors and rooms, he finally reached the observation rooms. He steeled himself, then opened the door and entered.

To his surprise, Leonis was still mostly dressed, the t-shirt and underwear switched out for no shirt and a pair of scrub pants, and he could see a collection of sensors and tubes winding all over the man’s torso, but nothing below the navel. Loqi couldn’t even articulate why he was so relieved, but...he was.

“You seem surprised, general,” Besithia’s voice from behind him made him almost jump, but the weight of his armor had its advantages, and he turned and faced the man with just a tilt of his head.

“No, I’m not surprised, I assume you are recording his vitals and testing his blood? That sort of thing?” Loqi asked. The man snorted delicately and walked over to Leonis, checking the lines before turning back to him.

“That sort of thing. Ha. You soldier types barely know how to write complete sentences, I shouldn’t be shocked when you ask me foolish questions. Yes, I’m testing samples from the usual things, hair, blood, skin to start. I’ve already had to keep one of my staff from venturing to the other bodily fluids, there’s an order to this sort of thing, and I’ll not have a bunch of people who read a ridiculous book of stories disturb that order until we are good and ready to get there. Tell me, general, was he fed at all onboard the ship?” the researcher asked as he walked over to a clipboard, and Loqi found himself almost dazed at the sudden change of topic, but managed a nod.

“Yes, a few meal bars, they were able to coax him to eat normally,” he replied, and Besithia grunted, writing a few things on his clipboard before putting it back down.

“So have you ever observed Leonis using his abilities on the battlefield, general? I understand you two have clashed several times,” the old man asked, and Loqi actually took a moment to think about it. While Leonis had been very careful to not reveal any of his other identity, even to his own king, from the reports, there was one thing-

“While I never saw anything definitive, one thing he was known for was his inexplicable ability to apparently be in multiple places on the battlefield, which is most certainly explained by the teleportation ability that was clearly observed and noted upon. He probably used the chaos of the fighting to his benefit in that regard,” he mused, and Besithia’s expression was almost respectful.

“I’m sure he did. What do you think of the claims of that book?” Besithia asked conversationally, and Loqi couldn’t stop the scowl that overtook his face.

“It depends on which ones you are referring to.” The old man actually cackled a bit at his expression, walking back over to Leonis and looking at his feet, of all things.

“You know what I’m talking about. But I’ll not pry, it’s clear you find it distasteful. Do you know which part interested me, young man?” Besithia questioned, and Loqi’s brows furrowed together as he thought. He had no curiosity or desire to know the old man’s inclinations, but- he honestly didn’t know. What would someone like Besithia find interesting?

“You obviously can’t figure it out. After the salacious collection of so-called fertility-based abilities, there’s a section on those who would petition them for a sacred gift. While I care little for that, the part that claims that the offspring of Dawnsworn are as perfect as humanity can get is entirely fascinating. Their children are supposedly highly resistant to disease, they are born hale and uncorrupted, and apparently free of genetic defect. While the Scourge was certainly a useful tool, unfortunately, as it became apparent, it had a fatal weakness. But to be able to breed a line of perfect children…” Besithia’s voice trailed off in a dreamy tone that made Loqi feel sick to his stomach. “If it’s true, perhaps I can convince the emperor that the ultimate revenge is to make him the source of our future armies. An army of divinely sired children has quite the ring to it, don’t you think? I would have preferred the other one, as he’s significantly younger, among other reasons, but I can still work with Leonis-” Without a backwards look, Besithia left the room, leaving Loqi alone with the still-unconscious marshal as he took deep, slow breathes to keep from vomiting.

He couldn’t do this. The instant the researcher even brought up the possibility to the emperor, his radiance would be all over it. Loqi was positive that the emperor of even ten years ago would have turned the man down, but his majesty now? No, he knew what the emperor would say, and he couldn’t be a part of it. The empire was his home, and he had no interest in betraying it, but he’d kill Leonis himself before letting it get to that point. Loqi walked over to the man’s bed and placed his hand on the hilt of his sword. He could do it right now. He would take the fall for it, claim that he hated the man so much that he couldn’t bear him to live anymore; he’d be busted down to private or worse, but then Leonis would at least be able to die with dignity, he deserved that much-

Leonis groaned slightly, shifting on the bed they had him strapped to, and he stepped back. No. There had to be another way. Loqi took another look at the man, then turned on his heel and left. He had to think about this.

Back in his quarters on the airship, he paced back and forth, trying to decide his course of action. He couldn’t be seen to helping Leonis escape, it would be the end of both his life and the reputation of his house. No, he needed someone to do the work for him, and do it willingly. He couldn’t trust anyone in this wretched place, they were generally loyal to Besithia, and if there was any Lucian spies, he certainly didn’t know about them- Loqi froze mid-step. Spies. Who had been ostensibly loyal to the empire until that day last May? Highwind and Nox Fleuret. Fleuret had even been tentatively selected to take over Glauca’s position when it had become clear he had been found out, only to defect on the spot to help his sister, and convince Commodore Highwind to defect as well to retake Tenebrae. Which, to be fair, hadn’t been a giant shock, the woman clearly stayed around for the paycheck and little else, and was incredibly blunt about it. The very fact that a mercenary leader had been given a rank, even as talented as she was, showed how desperate the empire had been for live non-magitek soldiers…

Loqi gnashed his teeth together as he sat on his bunk. As far as he knew, neither of them had been to the magitek facilities before, but...he could make it work. A vague message, sent out with the usual propaganda transmissions that were on permanent loop, something that either Fleuret or Highwind would understand but no one else would. If he was going to do this, he was going to have to do it quickly. It was only a matter of days or hours until their explorations of Leonis would delve to the point of investigating Besithia’s main interest, and from there- he shook his head and swept his room once again for bugs and cameras. While there wasn’t supposed to be any in officer quarters, he didn’t trust that Ulldor wouldn’t try something to make himself look better. After satisfying himself that there was nothing, he sat down at his computer and did a little trickery to cover his tracks until he was looking at the master list of propaganda messages, which were transmitted in a variety of ways. Just as he lifted his hands to start typing, he froze.

Why was he doing this? Leonis was his enemy, he had defeated him on several occasions in the past, both in his armors and out, and a decently loud voice in his head was telling him to let the man suffer, that he deserved it for being a Lucian, let alone for defeating him-

Loqi sighed, grabbing at his hair. No, Leonis didn’t deserve what Besithia was planning for him. No one did. Revenge was always lovely, but he would face the man on the battlefield like a true soldier, not look down at him as an enslaved captive. Loqi returned his hands to the keyboard and started typing.

He had done some horrible things in the name of the empire, as Leonis had certainly done in the name of Lucis; but Loqi knew, somehow, that if the tables were turned, the Immortal wouldn’t stand for such actions either. He didn’t particularly want to live in an empire that had lost any sense of honor. So...he would help remove the temptation. After a few minutes of thought and drafting, he inserted several messages that would run for a single day in the propaganda transmissions before self-deleting, messages that he hoped reached the intended audience.

It was up to Fleuret and Highwind now.

 

--------------------------------

 

Prompto folded his arms and rested them on the edge of the bed, shoving his face into them with a sniffle. Everything was his fault. He had been showing Cor something in a store window, something stupid that he had already forgotten, when he heard someone shout; that was followed by someone running smack into Cor, then hands grabbing at him that he tried to fight off and then a pinch, and the next thing he knew, he was on the ground watching the older man summon his sword before everything went black.

When he awoke, he was in the hospital feeling strange with worried faces surrounding him, and then he found out about Nyx, who was fighting for his life in surgery two rooms down. He had been shot three times, had several serious blade wounds, and had taken a serious blow to the back of the head. He had almost bled out before he had reached the hospital. At first, he thought Cor was waiting for Nyx, but the looks on everyone’s faces when he had asked made him realize that something was seriously wrong, even more so than Nyx’s condition, and he had made the mistake of trying to reach out to the man though their bond. After he woke back up again, his head swimming even more, Aranea had been quick to tell him that Nyx was the only reason he hadn’t been taken too, and that Cor would be pleased he was okay, but-

Prompto lifted his head and looked at Nyx, still bandaged around the stomach and leg and looking far too pale as he lay in bed unconscious, and blinked back more tears. If he had just been paying attention to his surroundings, he could have helped, not been a liability, but he had fucked everything up. Now Cor was in the empire’s custody, a kidnapping that clearly was supposed to have been of the both of them, and all they knew was that the ship had been heading back towards imperial territory. Aranea’s ship was supposed to be there soon, but someone would need to stay behind with Nyx, which left them with even less manpower- Prompto shoved his head back into his arms and closed his eyes. This was all his fucking fault.

The next thing he knew was a familiar voice yelling his name, and he jerked up to see Nyx sitting straight up in bed, his face pinched as he looked down at him. Prompto couldn’t stop himself.

“Oh goddess, Nyx, I’m so sorry, it’s all my fault-” he said as he threw his arms around the man, realizing at the sudden hiss of pain that maybe that hadn’t been the best idea, but the tears were already coming; he sobbed into the older man’s shoulder while Nyx’s hands moved slowly over his back.

“Cor?” Nyx rasped out, and Prompto froze; he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t bring himself to tell him- “Prompto, someone caught up with them, right?” Nyx’s voice was as small and plaintive as he had ever heard it; he looked up and met the man’s exhausted gaze, but couldn’t make himself speak without crying. He could see the moment it truly sunk in with the Glaive, his eyes growing wide and horrified as his skin lost every bit of color it had left, and Prompto held on for a moment longer before hopping to his feet and moving to the table nearby, grabbing an elixir that had been kept out specifically for Nyx.

“They’ve dosed you up with several potions and elixirs, you were in pretty bad shape but luckily they were able to patch you up in surgery-” Prompto babbled as he tried to open the bottle, but his hands just wouldn’t stop shaking. “They said they could give you one more after you woke up.” He fought with the bottle some more as he looked everywhere but Nyx’s face.

“Prompto-”

“Aranea’s airship will be here in less than an hour. Luna’s already called her brother, they’ve got every spy and contact between here and Gralea on alert. They got Cor onto one of their ships and out before I was even awake,” Prompto explained, finally popping the top of the elixir off and handing it to Nyx, who took it and swigged it down without hesitation, gasping as the lines of pain on his face seemed to fade on the spot. At least for small favors, Nyx had saved his life, he had no doubt about it, the last thing he wanted to see was the man in pain- “Noct’s already called the king, basically told him that we are going after Cor no matter what he said, and the king luckily didn’t try to stop us.” Nyx’s eyes were wide and staring blankly into space, and he could see the man’s jaw working as he tried to speak.

“So it’s the empire, then,” Nyx finally said, his voice distant and cold, and Prompto gave a tiny nod. “How are they keeping him in check? Can you tell?” He nodded again, and brutally suppressed the urge to either burst out crying again or punch a wall. Neither was going to be helpful here.

“Like they got both of us, they are keeping him drugged. If I reach out to him, I instantly feel like passing out. They seem to have a regular schedule for it,” he stated, and Nyx nodded once more before shifting in his bed, pulling back the blankets and turning his legs slowly towards the side. “Nyx, you just had surgery, elixir or not, you need to rest-” The Glaive growled, harsh and angry, and Prompto shrunk back involuntarily.

“You all were going to leave me here while you went off to go find him, weren’t you?” Nyx bit out, and Prompto could feel tears coming back to his eyes again. Why couldn’t he stop crying? He swallowed heavily, but forced himself to nod. It was the truth.

“We don’t want you to get hurt any more, it’s already all my fault, and if you died, I don’t know what-” Prompto took another step back as Nyx managed to put his feet on the ground and stand up. Nyx’s injured leg almost buckled under him, and Prompto could see pain flash through the older man’s features, but Nyx kept his balance as he moved towards Prompto with intent, his face still twisted with anger. “I’ve gotta fix this, I know, I’m sorry-” he closed his eyes when Nyx reached him, convinced that the man was going to strike him, only for strong, firm arms to wrap around his shoulders and back, pulling him into a proper hug.

“It’s not your fault. Don’t even start to think it’s your fault. The fucking empire had obviously been looking for a moment to strike, and it almost worked out for them,” Nyx said quietly in his ear, and he was shaking his head even before the man had finished speaking.

“If I hadn’t been so distracted, I could have helped, but instead-” A finger flicked his ear, and he shut up.

“When he got hit with the drug during the fight, he knew that there was no way in hell I was going to be able to take down all of them in time to keep you both safe,” Nyx stated, and Prompto sucked in a breath as Nyx’s arms tightened just a bit more. “Kiddo, he told me to save you.” No. No. He knew Nyx wasn’t lying, but- He couldn’t stop the tears this time, his breaths quickly degenerating into sobs as he clung to the older man.

“Why?” he wailed, and the Glaive actually chuckled hoarsely in his ear.

“Prompto, he’s your fucking dad, what did you think he was gonna do?” Nyx held him as he sobbed his heart out all over again, but he wasn’t so far gone to not feel a few water drops on the back of his own shirt as he soaked the Glaive’s bare shoulder. After a few minutes, Nyx slowly but firmly pushed him away, looking down at him with glossy red-tinged eyes that still held an expression that Prompto didn’t want to cross. “I’m going with you. If he’s going to pretty much anywhere in the empire, that’s another day that I’ve got to down more potions and rest. I’ll be fine. I’ve gotta be there to help rescue my boyfriend after all, how else will I be able to lord it over him for the next fifty years?” Prompto snuffled, but didn’t argue. Nyx had a right to be there, and who was he to take that from him?

“That’s the important takeaway from this, I suppose,” he managed to rasp out between sniffs, and Nyx reached up and patted him on the cheek.

“Don’t you forget it.” They both jerked when the door opened just a little too hard, and Ignis and Noct both entered, freezing at the sight of him and Nyx standing there together. Prompto knew he looked like a mess, all redfaced and snotty, but he didn’t bother hiding it. They had seen him looking far worse. Iggy and Noct shot him such soft smiles as they walked towards them that he had to suck in a breath to keep his eyes from trying to squeeze out a few more tears.

“Hey guys,” he said quietly, and Iggy nodded to him, weaving an arm around his waist.

“How are you feeling, captain? You were in a very poor state when you were brought into here, it’s good to see you looking so…” Iggy trailed off, and Nyx snorted, wiping at his eyes with a thumb as he limped back over to the bed.

“Alive? Awake? Both work, I suppose,” the Glaive groaned as he tried to stretch his hurt leg, and Prompto cringed. Nyx had the chance to try and save one of them, by his own admission, and he had saved Prompto. He could have ignored Cor, tried to save his boyfriend instead, but he had helped out the idiot who had gotten himself taken out immediately. He didn’t deserve any of them-

“Knock it off,” Noctis said with an accentuating poke to the ribs, and Prompto sagged. They knew him too well. “Nyx, I’m guessing you are going to be an idiot like the rest of us and hop on Aranea’s airship when it gets here?” The Glaive looked up through his eyelashes as he bent over, still stretching, and gave a thin smile that still carried more than a little pain behind it.

“You aren’t leaving me behind unless you knock me back out,” Nyx said bluntly, and Noct nodded firmly.

“That’s what I thought. Libertus went ahead and packed up your room from the hotel, and Gladio recovered, cleaned, and polished yours and Cor’s blades and put Cor’s katana back in the armiger. We have your kukris. Galahd is up in arms, to put it bluntly, and the amount of people who have left flowers and tokens for Cor, Prompto, and you is completely crazy. People are apologizing for running instead of fighting the assailants. For those who hadn’t connected the dots between you and Cor, it’s one hundred percent public now. Dad told me the news has gone a little crazy in Insomnia, too, between that revelation and the fact that the empire was audacious enough to pull this on our soil. Some of the nastier talking heads in Insomnia are blaming you and or Prom, but they can go fuck themselves. Officially, the king is deliberating a course of action, but he knows we are going after Cor, he just told us to not die. He’s not feeling particularly merciful either. If we blow up a few installations on the way out, he won’t be heartbroken. It’s not like they haven’t re-escalated the conflict with their actions already or anything…” Noct explained to Nyx, who was already looking like he was ready to leave, even though he was just in hospital pants and socks. Prompto bumped his hip against Iggy’s, trying to get his point across without saying anything. Luckily, Iggy hadn’t gotten as far as he had without being very observant.

“Nyx, we’ll go retrieve you some proper clothing, and then we’ll all head to the rendezvous point. Aranea’s ship is expected in around thirty minutes,” Iggy stated to the room, and Prompto met Nyx’s eyes, summoning up a shaky smile.

“Sounds like a plan.”

The crowds that lined the streets as they left the hospital were possibly bigger than they had been when they had first arrived, but this time the mood was subdued; a few threw flowers towards the cars as they travelled to the edge of town, where Prompto could already see Aranea’s distinctive ship in the distance. After they parked, Aranea walked up to him with a grimace, even as she waved at the incoming vessel.

“You doing okay, kid? The others were really worried about you, and you still aren’t looking real stable on your feet,” she said flatly, and Prompto sighed, running a jittery hand through his hair. “It’s Cor, isn’t it? Is it bad?” He gnawed on his bottom lip for a moment before shrugging.

“I’m not really getting pain from him, it’s just...they’re drugging him. Considering what he can do isn’t a secret anymore, it’s not a surprise, or he’d already be back here. I’m trying to block off the feeling, but, as you know, that’s why we were here in Galahd in the first place, we were trying to figure out how to manage our connection. So I kinda feel like I’m getting a small dose of whatever they are giving him. It’s...kinda disorienting,” he admitted, and Aranea sighed, reaching up and gently running her fingers through his hair. It felt nice.

“I hate to say this, Prompto, but it might be best you remain in Tenebrae when we get there, I don’t think any of the others would be happy-” he cut her off with a shake of his head, and she pinched the bridge of her nose in reply. It was almost nostalgic to see. “Give me a good reason why, and I won’t bring it up again.” Prompto chewed on his lip some more as he tried to figure out how to phrase what he needed to say. He had to go, there wasn’t an option-

“I’m not as good at it as he is, but I can tell when Cor is in a certain area. If I really focus, I might even be able to narrow it down more. You might not even find him without me there. I’ve gotta be there,” he said, wincing at the pleading tone he could hear in his voice, but he was telling the truth. He needed to go. The dragoon’s sharp eyes met his, narrowing as she looked for something in him that he wasn’t sure of, before she nodded.

“Fine. But in return, if you start feeling strange...er, or if something drastically changes, let us know, okay?” Aranea said, and he took a deep breath and nodded as well. He could do that. “Then we’ve got work to do.” The ship’s engines shifted as it came overhead, and Aranea stepped away to guide it down.

“Prom, ready to go?” Gladio came up to his side holding several bags, followed by Iggy and Noct, both holding luggage as well, and Prompto looked up at his favorite giant and smiled.

“Yeah, let’s go get him back.”

When they had been in the air about an hour, Luna received a phone call, and everyone instantly turned towards her, holding their breath.

“Lunafreya speaking. Ravus, good to hear from you! Have you any news?” Prompto watched as Luna got to her feet, walking from one end of the room to the other, occasionally nodding and making understanding sounds into her phone. After a minute, she hung up, lowering her phone back to her side. Prompto looked over at Nyx, who was sound asleep stretched out on one of the bench seats and hadn’t even twitched at the phone, then over to Noct, who met his eye then nodded.

“Luna, anything new?” Noct asked, and Luna nodded.

“The ship was observed heading towards the Volgliupe, but then the eternal snows that have blanketed the region thwarted further viewing. Unless they were travelling in such a way to throw off pursuit, which is of course entirely possible, it did not appear that their destination was Gralea,” Luna explained, and Prompto frowned. If not the capital, then-

“There’s a bunch of both military and research facilities stashed over that whole area. Some were built in secret pre-giant Glacian, some they managed to construct after. If they aren’t heading to Gralea, they are probably taking him to one of those,” Aranea chimed in, and that? That was even worse. If they had no information, no idea of which of possibly many places he could have been taken to, how would they find him? Prompto could sense him over a range, but they had never tested that with anything beyond Insomnia. They probably should have, in hindsight, but it was too late now.

“Ravus is utilizing every resource we have, Prompto, we will find him. I promise. I owe him a rescue anyway,” Luna stated with a tired smile, and Prompto reached out and took her hand, squeezing it gently before letting go.

“Thank you.” Gladio’s arm, which had been around his waist the whole time, tightened a little.

“Why don’t you rest as well, Prom, we’ve got at least eight hours to Tenebrae. Might help with the echo you are getting from him that you aren’t mentioning to us,” Gladio said wryly, and Prompto actually laughed.

“It’s really not bad, I didn’t want to make a fuss-” Noct’s arm wound around his waist as well, the prince giving him a dull look.

“You never want to make a fuss, Prom, and that’s often the problem,” Noct said, but before Prompto could argue, a dark head of hair came down to rest on his shoulder. “Sleep.” He really felt like being contrary, but a kind (yet expectant) look from Iggy took the wind out of his sails.

“Fine.” He closed his eyes, and let the sounds of the engine carry him away.

Iggy woke them all up as they were flying over Tenebrae, and the deep forests that seemed to go on forever got him looking out the little window in the room in wonder, the other three all surrounding him and looking out as well.

“Isn’t it pretty? I remember thinking the same when I was here last,” Noct said, and Prompto could hear the touch of sadness in his voice. “Someday, I’ll come here when something isn’t the matter.”

“You will, Noctis, have no fear. Even if Ravus gripes about it, you will someday have a nice, normal visit,” Luna said from behind them, and they all shifted towards the princess, Noct’s face splitting into a smile.

“I’ll hold you to that, Luna.” Prompto looked past Luna’s shoulder to see Nyx still asleep on the bench, Libertus sitting next to him, silent and dour, and frowned.

“Luna, has he woken up once?” he asked, and Luna turned and looked over at Nyx as well, before shaking her head.

“No, he has slept soundly the entire time,” Luna said, shaking her head. “He really should have remained behind, but we all know he would do no such thing. I will personally heal him if necessary, but he may just need a few more elixirs and potions to get him mostly back to rights. We will see his condition when he awakes.” The princess clasped his arm for a moment, her eyes understanding, then walked over to Aranea, leaving the four of them alone.

“Prom-”

“He saved my life,” he said, cutting off Gladio, then turned and looked back out the window. “He said Cor had told him to save me, not him.” He heard at least two of them suck in a breath around him, before a long-fingered hand came to rest on the back of his neck.

“That’s what you two were talking about when we came in, wasn’t it?” Iggy asked softly in his ear, and Prompto took a deep breath, feeling his eyes prickle.

“Cor’s really my dad, isn’t he? He- you can’t just do something like this and not…” he blinked back a few rogue tears, then bit his bottom lip. “He’s not gonna just leave me like my other parents did,” he said quietly, hesitantly, and Iggy kissed the side of his head.

“Yes, Prompto, I rather think he is.”

“And no, once we get him back, I suspect you’ll have a hell of a time getting rid of him at all,” Gladio said with a laugh, and Prompto could feel a smile work his way onto his face at the thought.

“Sounds pretty awesome, actually.”

Tenebrae was as beautiful on the ground as it was from the air, the majestic palace complex clinging to the rock out of sheer magic, as far as he could tell, and he took a deep breath, taking in the scent of the omnipresent trees before exhaling. Noct had a point, he definitely wanted to visit when things were better as well, and he had only been there for a minute. Greeting them at the landing point was a small collection of important-looking people, along with Prince Ravus, who he had only seen at the banquet and the battle itself over a year prior, looking very...severe. Prompto had a feeling that was normal for him. The man was certainly striking enough with his elaborate dress, tall form, and sharp features, but that pinched expression seemed so natural just at a glance that he suddenly found himself understanding all of Aranea and Noct’s comments. Had the man ever smiled a day in his life? Luna moved forward, bowing slightly to the other dignitaries before extending her hands to her brother, who stepped towards her and took them in his own.

“I welcome you home, my dear sister, although I wish the circumstances were different,” Ravus spoke in a rather subdued greeting, and Luna nodded once before releasing his hands and beckoning Prompto and Noctis forward. Prompto had no clue of Tenebraean formal customs, so he stood up straight and bowed slightly when the man’s eyes passed over him with vague curiosity before settling firmly on Noct, who executed a neat formal bow, tilting slightly at the waist. “Prince Noctis, I bid you welcome to Tenebrae. May your visit this time be less...eventful, at least within our borders.” Prompto had to bite back a smile at the offended hisses from several of the people surrounding Prince Ravus, but Noct took the greeting with good grace, nodding gracefully and extending a hand to his fellow prince, who took it and gave what looked like a firm shake before releasing it.

“Thank you for welcoming us, your highness, and yes, I am in complete agreement. I’m afraid we will not be staying long, as you know, as something has come up,” Noct said politely, then indicated Prompto with a hand. “Your highness, may I introduce Prompto Argentum, Voice of the Dawn Mother. You two met briefly last year.” Yeah, that was a way of putting it. Prompto managed a slight smile, bowing to the much taller man before also extending a hand; he may have been imagining things, but Ravus seemed to pause for a moment before taking it, giving him a firm handshake.

“Honored, your grace. My sister has spoken of you in glowing terms, and any friend of the princess is welcome here in Tenebrae,” Ravus stated, his voice pitched enough to make it clear that the rest of the statement was meant for their entire group, and Prompto nodded.

“Thank you for having us, your highness.” Luna beckoned everyone else forward with a smile, and Prompto felt much better to have Iggy and Gladio at their side. Nyx was clearly trying not to limp, but Libertus just gave an exasperated sigh and let his friend use his arm for balance as they also moved closer.

“Brother, I think we should adjourn to the manor. Captain Ulric needs to rest, regardless of whatever expression of denial he is inevitably giving from behind me, and we have much to discuss,” Luna stated firmly, and Ravus tilted his head in agreement, turning smoothly on his heels and walking towards the manor, Luna following in his wake. Prompto looked back at Nyx in concern as they began to move as well, but the Glaive raised an annoyed eyebrow and pointed his chin towards the manor with a jerk. Fine, he’ll try not to fuss. Prompto couldn’t help a pout until they proceeded onto the manor grounds proper, and then he let himself get distracted by the lovely scenery as they entered the white stone and marble halls, regal and beautiful and entirely a different feel to the Citadel, as great as it was. This was a place he could imagine both Luna and Ravus growing up in, with its high art-covered walls wrought with elegant carvings that made him itch for his camera, with just a touch of the organic blended in with trees and flowers actually planted indoors in key spots.

Prompto saw a painting of an ancient warrior holding a katana, and grinned, only for it to slip off his face only seconds later. If only Cor was here to see it. Any joy he had at his surroundings withered and died on the spot, and he ignored the concerned looks from the others as they were ushered into a sitting room and shown to a series of chairs and settees. He sat down at the first settee he came across, Noct sitting next to him on one side and Gladio on the other, while Iggy chose to remain standing, leaning against the back. Nyx was walking pretty normally by the time he too took one of the sofas, but Prompto could see the relief in his eyes when he settled onto the cushions, Libertus at his side. The others all took a seat, and a pall fell over the group as they looked to Ravus.

“I am afraid I have nothing new to report, beyond that my contacts are moderately certain they did not go to Gralea, as no ships with even the partial designation number that they recorded have been seen entering the city. Unfortunately, that means they are down in the wastes, and there are many installations down there they could have the marshal. I do have a few contacts that work at several of these facilities that I feel are reasonably trustworthy, so I have reached out to them, and expect word back at any time,” Ravus stood, looking at the lot of them before tilting his head towards the door. “I have arranged rooms, I would suggest taking a few hours to rest and refresh yourselves, and I will call for you all shortly.” While it was clear that Nyx and Noct both wanted to argue, if the man had no information, he had no information. Prompto was quite sure that if Luna thought he was leaving something out, she’d speak up, so he wasn’t too concerned about that being an issue.

The real issue was that they didn’t have a clue where Cor could be in what was a very large area. Prompto stared at the fancy carpet as everyone else got back to their feet. He just knew they had a limited period of time to get him. He couldn’t put his finger on why he knew that, but he did-

“Prom? You alright?” Noct’s voice jarred him from his thoughts, and he looked up to see his other halves? Quarters? standing around him. Prompto blinked, then smiled inwardly. Instead of dwelling on how he didn’t deserve all these wonderful people (although…) he was going to try and think of it from a different angle. He had awesome friends, amazing boyfriends, and a wonderful dad who really was the father he should have had all along. He was a seriously lucky guy. “Prom?” He shook his head and got to his feet.

“I’m good, just thinking. We need to figure this out fast, I have a feeling that we’ve got a limited time window here,” he said, and Iggy’s eyes narrowed.

“A feeling?” the other man asked, and Prompto nodded. “Nothing more detailed, I’m guessing?” Iggy inquired, and Prompto sighed.

“No, not really. It’s just...a feeling.” Gladio’s hand came to rest at the base of his spine, and he leaned against the larger man’s warmth. “Did I hear something about a room we can relax in?”

Understandably (considering their relationship wasn’t public,) the four of them had been assigned three rooms, one for Noct, one for him, and a shared one for Gladio and Iggy, but they all congregated in Noct’s larger room, Prompto flopping onto the opulent bed with a sigh.

“Why do you think the emperor wanted us? Is it just a revenge thing? Or-” Prompto trailed off as Gladio and Iggy both sat down next to him, Noct sitting on Gladio’s lap without a word as they all seemed to sigh in unison.

“I don’t really want to know why, to be honest, but I think we are going to find out. Any...change?” Gladio asked, his tone a bit hesitant, and Prompto concentrated, feeling the swimming sensation start to creep in, then pulled back and shook his head.

“Still drugging him, they pretty much have to...otherwise he’d just poof out of there. I’m not getting anything that says they are hurting him, thankfully. But why wouldn’t they go to Gralea? Isn’t that the capital?” he said, and Noct leaned over and patted him on the stomach.

“It is, and no, I don’t like this either. If this was going to be a see us execute this villain sort of thing, they should have taken him directly there. There’s something else going on here,” Noct stated, and Iggy nodded in agreement as well.

“Well, shit,” Prompto grumbled, then looked around. “I’m thinking a shower, because I have a feeling it’s going to be awhile until our next one.” No one disagreed, and after a quick reconnaissance of the room, they discovered a delightful bath that was more like a jacuzzi, with room to spare for the lot of them. “Hey Noct?” Noctis turned around, already half-undressed.

“Yeah?”

“Lock the door.”

Even Noct’s fancy shower didn’t compare to the fantastic bath that laid before them, the four of them settling into it with a relieved sigh as the warm, scented water lapped at their bodies. It felt wonderful. After a few minutes of soaking, Prompto surprised himself when he grabbed Gladio’s hair and yanked him down into a kiss that quickly turned heated as he slid into the larger man’s lap, and the water sloshed around them as the other two also moved in as well, Noct’s mouth on the back of his neck as Iggy’s hands slid down his legs. He needed this, and thankfully, the others seemed more than happy to go along with it. They were all quite pruny by the time they finally emerged from the tub on shaking feet, drying each other off and falling into the bed with a happy groan.

Then someone knocked on the door.

“Ah shit, already? I just wanted to relax a few minutes after that-” Prompto whined, Gladio patting his arm in commiseration.

“Caelum, I need to speak with you, we’ve received new information,” Ravis said through the door, and they all scrambled to find clothes; once everyone had underwear on, however, Noct went to the door and opened it, admitting Ravus, who started speaking immediately. “A former colleague of mine has sent a coded message from within the main magitek research facility-” Ravus trailed off at the sight of all them, half-dressed, tousled, and definitely looking way too relaxed, and his jaw dropped. “So that’s what Luna was hiding from me last December,” the man said, his voice lilting in a way that made Prompto freeze. “Is your father aware of this?” Noct nodded firmly, and for the first time, Prompto saw the man actually smile. Not a nasty I’m-tattling-on-you smile, but a legit, if small, smile, eyes softening at the edges and everything. He was surprised the man’s cheeks didn’t crack. “Congratulations. We’ll meet in the room we were in before in ten minutes.” Ravus, still looking lighter of mood than Prompto had ever seen, spun and left, closing the door quietly behind him.

“Noct-” he began, only to be cut off by an irate Ignis.

“You let him in intentionally-” Noct clapped Iggy on the back, a cocky grin on his face that made Prompto almost swallow his tongue.

“Damn straight I did. That, Iggy, is what I call improving international relations. Feel free to take notes,” Noct drawled, returning to dressing; Iggy stood flabbergasted for a good thirty seconds as Prompto blinked. He didn’t understand, what did Noct mean-

Then Gladio started to laugh, a deep, full-bodied laugh that echoed around the room, Noct joining in as he pulled on his shirt. Prompto was still really fucking confused.

“Noct?” he asked, and his favorite prince finally took pity on him.

“Look, Prom, at least fifty percent of Ravus’s dislike of me specifically is based in his solemn belief that Luna and I would get married at some point. What better way of making it abundantly clear that isn’t going to happen than have him walk in on my half-naked boyfriends clearly trying to hide the fact that they were all-”

“Noctis.” Iggy’s tone made ice run down Prompto’s spine, and he threw on his vest and grabbed Gladio, who had also just finished getting dressed, and headed to the door.

“We’ll meet you guys there!” he said, and winced as Iggy started in on Noct as the door closed behind them. Gladio shrugged, still chuckling under his breath, then patted him on the shoulder.

“They’ll catch up in a minute, let’s go.” The two of them headed back to the sitting room, where the others were already waiting; Prompto nodded to Gladio then plopped himself down next to Nyx, giving the wet-haired man a quick smile. Nyx, who was looking far better than just a few hours prior, raised his eyebrows and looked so amused that Prompto wondered if he chose poorly with his seatmate. Before he could wiggle away, the Glaive was ruffling his equally-damp hair, and Prompto whined in response, combing at his hair with his fingers.

“Rare to see you without your usual gallon of gel in it, kid,” Nyx stated, and Prompto pouted at the older man.

“Well, we were surprised before we could get ready, so…” he paused, remembering what Nyx said. “Hey, I don’t use a gallon, I just use enough to make sure it’s in proper position-” Libertus, who was sitting on Nyx’s other side, snorted, and Prompto shot him a dirty look. “I don’t!”

“Keep telling yourself that, Prompto,” Libertus drawled, and Prompto folded his arms and sighed. Traitors, all of them. A moment later, a rather chastised looking Noct and overly calm looking Iggy walked in the door, which in his observations of Iggy throughout the years was never a good sign, and after they took their seats, Ravus and Aranea stood up. Before speaking, Ravus walked over to the door, and locked it, then turned and walked back to the center of the room.

“We have received coded messages from a former colleague of ours, a young brigadier general in the imperial army. He left them in the propaganda broadcast, messages that would make no sense to anyone but us, based on conversations we had in the past. He has indicated that the marshal is being held in the main magitek research facility, which is...concerning,” Ravus said, and Aranea sighed and nodded.

“Loqi, that’s his name, and don’t say it outside of this room, is a little like you, Gladio. Long noble lineage, served the imperial house in battle for generations, well off-” Aranea smirked. “Smart kid, he’s only twenty-one now, I think- kinda an asshole, probably the best magitek armor pilot in the imperial army. Was considered a prodigy, was out in the field by thirteen, and if that reminds you of a certain other person, it should. A bit too full of himself sometimes, but well, that happens. He’ll hopefully live to get over it.”

“Aranea-” Nyx interrupted, and the dragoon held up a finger.

“Loqi got his first real defeat in battle when the armor he was in was single-handedly taken down by Cor the Immortal when he was fourteen.” Aranea paused, looking at everyone before glancing at the ceiling. “Cor spared his life when he saw how young he was. They tangled on the battlefield at least three more times after that, and every time Cor destroyed his armor, but didn’t kill him,” Aranea huffed out a laugh. “Loqi liked to say that the Immortal was his rival. It was pretty childish, but well, he was a child until recently. He knew Cor’s history, and I think he’s always compared himself to the marshal in some way… not that he’d ever admit it.” Aranea looked over at Nyx, her smirk growing wider. “And, by the time he was eighteen, if the man had been so inclined, I have no doubt Loqi would have ripped off his own armor and thrown himself on the man’s-” A dark look from Ravus cut her off, and she coughed. “Look, I know myself a hatecrush when I see them.” Prompto actually bit his lip hard enough to hurt as Nyx slapped both hands against his face with a groan.

“You aren’t joking, are you?” Iggy asked, and Aranea shook her head.

“No, I’m not. But most importantly, for all the crushes, both literal and not, and defeats, Loqi respects Cor. That was clear early on, and I sincerely doubt that’s changed. So him reaching out to us, risking exposure and possibly his own life to send us these? That tells me something rather specific. One, death is not the empire’s final goal for the marshal, because if this was a gloat and execute situation, Loqi wouldn’t have let us know. He’s quite loyal, and he would see that as an acceptable way for a soldier to go. I’m sure revenge is involved, of course, but not death. Two, something is happening or is going to happen that Loqi sees as distasteful, or worse; something that he does not consider an acceptable thing to happen to the marshal,” the dragoon paused, looking over at Ravus before turning back towards the rest of the room with a grimace. “So, if Cor’s being held at the research facility, that means he’s in Besithia’s territory now, and that...scares the fuck out of me.” Prompto had no clue who Besithia was, but if Aranea was that worried, he was swiftly heading towards horrified. Before he could ask, though, it was Luna who untied her tongue first.

“Besithia- as in Verstael Besithia, head of imperial research?” Luna inquired, and Ravus nodded once, sharply.

“Yes. The man is a genius, but his sanity has, in my opinion, taken a serious downturn as he continued in his research of the Starscourge, and I didn’t meet him until I was seventeen. I understand he didn’t take its loss well, considering he’s the creator of the MTs that so plagued Lucis and the world, although I understand Izunia had given him some assistance with the project, which makes sense in hindsight. I fear that he seeks something to replace his lost armies, whether it be some sort of new power, or a new technology,” Ravus finished, meeting Prompto’s eyes with a frown. “-and with Leonis’s capture, I suspect he’s looking to you and the marshal’s unique abilities in some form to help him do it.”

It actually took Prompto a few minutes to recover from Prince Ravus’s assessment, with Nyx patting his back and telling him to breathe as Noct and the others immediately ran to his side, running their fingers through his hair and generally trying to calm him. By the time he felt able to think again, he was so embarrassed that he tried to hide his face behind Nyx’s back, only for Ravus to actually walk over and kneel in front of him, jarring him from his freak-out.

“My apologies, Argentum, it was not my intent to cause you harm,” Ravus said quietly, and Prompto shook his head wildly in denial.

“No, it’s fine, I just, when you said-” he took a deep breath. “The idea of someone experimenting on me without my okay is just...and if this guy has Cor-” Prompto was cut off by Nyx getting to his feet, his eyes cold and focused as he looked between Aranea and Ravus, who got back to his feet and met the Glaive’s eyes.

“So where is this research facility, and when the hell are we leaving?” Nyx growled, and that was when Prompto realized what the real problem was. He got to his feet and crossed his arms, taking another shuddering breath and slowly letting it out.

“You don’t know, do you? That’s the issue, you know what, but you don’t know where,” he said, his tone probably more accusing than he meant it to be, but well, he was pissed, and he had a right to be. He’d give Ravus credit, though, the man met his angry gaze without hesitation.

“Unfortunately, neither of us ever went there; Besithia was always rather closed-lipped about his operations outside of Izunia and the emperor. We’ve narrowed it down to about a fifty mile radius in the southwestern area of the Vogliupe, but that’s still quite the area to search when we’d have to stay high-” Aranea came up and hip checked Ravus to the side without warning, grabbing Prompto’s shirt and staring at him with an intense expression.

“Prompto, what we talked about before we got here,” the dragoon said, and realization flowed over him like water.

“Yeah,” he gasped, and Aranea’s smile was all teeth.

“Can you do it?” His answering grin was a bit strained, but he nodded.

There was no other choice. He’d probably have the headache of a lifetime, but he’d do it.

It took about a half hour, but the manor staff managed to scrape up winter clothing for the lot of them, plus an extra outfit for Cor just in case, and after a short packing session, they were all scrambling back aboard Aranea’s airship, her crew already starting their pre-flight checklists. Nyx and Libertus had switched to their Kingsglaive battle uniforms, the only mark of Nyx’s rank as captain a miniaturized version of the gold link engraved neckchain the king often wore, only in silver and laid around the outer collar. From what Prompto had understood, Nyx had absolutely no interest in the badges of rank that Drautos had chosen to adorn himself with, and had to be convinced by the king himself into wearing the simple token he finally ended up with. Prompto didn’t blame him, if he had been following after a man like Drautos, he’d want an entirely different look too. They appeared to have winter coats at hand, but had not yet put them on. They’d probably do so right before they arrived.

   “Uh oh, sibling argument alert,” Noct commented next to him, and he turned to see Luna, holding her bident and wearing a full set of winter gear, arguing with her brother, who looked about two seconds away from grabbing her weapon from her and attempting to order her to her room like a child.

“Should we intervene?” Iggy asked, his voice more than a little hesitant, and Noct stared at the two for a long moment before shaking his head.

“No, she’s got this. Ravus is concerned, and to be fair, this isn’t a jaunt around a relatively safe place like our road trip was, this is going to be a straight up mission. We don’t even really have experience with this sort of thing, with Cor gone, it falls to Nyx and Libertus,” Noct explained, and Gladio tilted his head towards Aranea, who had started towards the siblings with a sour look on her face.

“Don’t forget her, she’s not that old, but she’s a straight up veteran as well at this sort of thing. Once we find the place, it’s probably going to be her that helps us get through there, as she’s at least got experience in their organizational systems,” Gladio pointed out, and they all watched as Aranea approached the two, crossing her arms and standing there silently until Ravus finally sagged, pointing a finger at the two women before leaning forward and giving Luna a kiss on the forehead and withdrawing.

“Told you,” Noct smiled as Luna and Aranea boarded the craft, and Prompto looked back one last time to meet the prince of Tenebrae’s eyes; Ravus nodded, and he smiled and waved before he turned, the hatch closing as they all headed further into the ship.

The ship shot to a high altitude once they cleared the manorlands, and Prompto and the rest of them settled in for another long trip as they headed south. After about twenty minutes, Aranea popped in and addressed the lot of them.

“We’ll reach the general area we identified as our target range in about three hours, everyone, so feel free to rest until we get there. Prompto, whatever you need to do, do it.” Aranea was back out of the room they were all in before anyone could speak up, and Nyx walked over to him, his limp still there, but even milder than before, and Prompto really hoped that held up for the rest of their...adventure.

“If you need any help, Prompto, I’m here. I know I’m not your boys or Cor, but-” Prompto reached out and took Nyx’s hand between his own, squeezing it gently.

“I think I wanted to offer you the same thing,” he said softly, and Nyx brought his other hand up and covered his, a sad smile on his handsome features.

“Prompto, I’m pissed. Don’t get me wrong. When we get to that facility, I have every intention of seeing it burned to the ground with everyone in it, or as close to as I can manage. The idea that Cor, and you, if they had gotten you, could be used for some fucker’s experiments is more than enough to make me want to stab people, and honestly, even if Cor and I had stayed friends and not made that leap, that would still be my answer,” Nyx said, his voice growing increasingly firm as he spoke, and Prompto kept hold of his hand and listened. “We are going to go in there, take care of anything and everyone that gets in our way, and get our Cor back. Got those guns of yours ready to go?” Nyx asked, a dark smile creeping onto his face, and Prompto leaned in and bumped his forehead into the Glaive’s jaw with a snort.

“Yeah, they are good to go. So fire and explosions are on the menu, huh? Sounds like a plan,” he replied, and Nyx gave him a scratchy kiss against his forehead, then lightly pushed him away with his hands on his shoulders.

“Do you need any help with what you need to do to find him?” the older man inquired, and Prompto was about to decline, then froze. Wait. With Cor still being drugged-

“I may need help staying awake, as weird as it sounds; with him still being kept unconscious, every time I really try to reach out, it makes me want to keel over as well. Obviously, I can’t be doing that if I’m trying to find him,” he explained, and Nyx nodded sternly.

“Think a pinch would work?” the Glaive asked, and he groaned, resigning himself to getting new bruises.

“I hope.”

Prompto let himself doze next to Noct on one of the bunks for a while, and before he knew it, the world faded away, and he found himself stumbling over nothing as grass flowed into existence around him.

“What you do now, Prompto, will mean everything. Cor must be found, and soon; what is planned for him is a perversion of everything I represent, of every ability and skill that you two possess, and if he falls, I fear you both will fall together.” Prompto looked up in shock as the goddess actually picked him up, bringing him to her bosom with a sigh. “I know I have been largely silent throughout your pilgrimage, my heart, but I knew I needed to reach out to you in this before it was too late.” Prompto rested his face against her collarbone and tried to just breathe; the fact that even the Dawn Mother felt she had to speak up alarmed him even more than he had been before, if that was possible, and it took him some time to scrape up a response.

“Will you tell me?” he asked, and the goddess shook her head.

“No, I will not. I have no doubt you will discover what is being planned when you find him, but I would not cloud your focus with such knowledge now. You must concentrate all your efforts on finding the herald,” the goddess said, and Prompto frowned. She may have had a point, but-

“Can you call him here?” he asked, but he was honestly uncertain; the Dawn Mother actually lifted him higher into her arms like a child, and met his eyes directly.

“I believe so, but the concoction they are keeping him unconscious with is powerful, and I fear for his mind if I were to forcibly drag him here. It will be a last resort measure, only if you fail in your search. I do not think it will go so far, though. You and your companions are powerful, and I have faith you will see this through successfully.” Prompto gave her a weak smile, and she leaned in and rested her forehead against his.

“Is there anything you can recommend?” he whispered, and the goddess tilted her head and kissed his forehead.

“What you have planned is sound, my heart, keep your mind clear and your heart open, and you will be able to achieve what you set out to do this day. Remember that there are so many who love you and support you, and thus you can change the world.”

At about the hour and a half mark, Prompto stole Gladio’s new winter jacket and folded it into a cushion shape, plopping it then himself on the floor against the wall; he looked at everyone else in the room with a shaky smile, receiving a plethora of reassuring smiles back. He could do this. He lowered himself to the ground on top of the jacket, then looked up at Nyx, who patted him on the head and slid to the floor next to him, and closed his eyes.

The first thing he noticed was that they were definitely getting closer, although if someone asked him to name a specific direction, he’d be hard-pressed to do so. He concentrated some more, hoping to feel that warm presence that was always there, and got the pale shade of it that he had been feeling instead, the swimming sensation already starting to overtake his mind. Maybe just a little rest…

A sharp pinch to his thigh snapped him out of it, and he cracked open an eye to see an unapologetic Nyx smiling next to him. Ow. Well, he had asked. He forced himself to sit up straight again, and let his eyes close again. After a few stops and starts and a few more pinches, he finally figured out pretty much the perfect level of reach he could do before he started feeling like he was going to pass out, and settled in, feeling with growing confidence that they were getting closer.

“Prom?” Noct asked, and Prompto grinned without opening his eyes.

“We are definitely going in the right direction, and quite fast, too. Have we reached the area that Aranea said we were headed to yet?” he asked, and he heard shuffling as someone got to their feet.

“I will go ask,” Iggy stated, and Prompto listened to his even footsteps as he headed from the room. Someone else walked up with a heavier step that reminded him somewhat of Gladio, but not quite-

“Doing okay, kid? Need a drink or a snack?” Libertus’s voice was low and rumbling, a soothing tone that made him smile unbidden. “Well? A smile doesn’t tell me anything, Prompto-”

“Some water?” he cut in, and the Glaive snorted.

“That’s better. Give me a minute.” Libertus’s walk was definitely different to Gladio’s, with a slight slide to one foot that spoke to an old injury. He had never noticed before. While he waited, Prompto focused in on Cor once more, only to suddenly gasp.

“Prom?”

“Prompto?”

While they were still keeping him under, someone was hurting him; nothing major, but something like cuts with a sharp knife on his arms and chest, and Prompto started rubbing his own without even thinking about it, twitching as he felt each one. They needed to hurry.

“Prompto, what’s wrong?” Nyx’s sharp tone forced him to open his eyes, even as he felt another cut on the inside of his arm. “Prompto, come on, speak to us.” Prompto looked up to see everyone grouped around him, even Iggy and Libertus, who held out an opened water bottle; he grabbed it and glugged down half the bottle just to give himself a moment to think. They were testing something...healing speed? He honestly didn’t know, but-

A far deeper cut than before caused him to flinch, sending the bottle splashing to the ground, and Nyx grabbed it before it could all spill out.

“Prompto.” The Glaive snapped, and Prompto took a shaky breath and let it out slowly, wincing again at another cut.

“They are...I think they are seeing how fast he heals,” he said with a hiss at yet another incision. “They are using a knife or something and giving him little cuts on the chest and arms, not big cuts, but-” Nyx looked two seconds from killing something, the older man passing back the water bottle before he could crush it in his hands; Prompto quickly finished the rest of it and handed it back, just when one dug in even deeper. “Whoever is doing it is cutting deeper as he goes, though,” he groaned, rubbing at the phantom cuts. He hated this, he hated the thought of Cor having to go through this, even if he was at least unconscious for this part-

“Fuck.” Nyx and Noct both said with feeling as Gladio punched the wall with the side of his hand.

“Iggy, what did Aranea say?” Gladio asked with a growl, and Ignis nodded.

“That we were only minutes away from it, and that was at least five minutes ago,” Iggy reported, and Prompto nodded.

“We are definitely getting closer, and…” he trailed off, causing everyone to lean in a little closer. “...we need to hurry. I’ve got a really bad feeling about this,” he said quietly, and Luna reached out and touched his forehead with a glowing hand.

“Does this help?” the oracle asked, and Prompto let his head sag against her palm for a moment, feeling the warmth trickle through his veins.

“Yes. Thank you.” No one spoke as she kept her hand in place for a few minutes, eventually withdrawing when Prompto forced himself to sit back up straight. “Okay, I’m going to try and reach out again, I think they’ve stopped the cutting for now.” Nyx retook his seat at his right and Gladio at his left, and he comforted himself with their closeness for a moment before closing his eyes once again.

Thankfully, there was no more cutting, although the phantom pain was quickly replaced by stinging and itching instead, which was possibly even more annoying. Cor’s presence, while still muted, was definitely getting closer, and Aranea took to sitting with them as well, communicating change of course through a radio as Prompto made comments.

“Lady A, we can see a building set against one of the mountains! What’s the kid say?” The pilot’s voice crackled through Aranea’s radio, and everyone looked over at Prompto, who had already opened his eyes.

“I think-” Prompto reached out one final time, so strongly that Nyx was forced to give him another pinch. “I think that’s it. I feel him the most strongly here,” he said, and Aranea gave a sharp nod and got back to her feet.

“That’s it, park nearby, but try to not make it obvious,” the dragoon ordered.

“Aye aye, Lady A!” Nyx got to his feet as well, reaching out a hand to Prompto, who took it gladly.

“You good to go?” the Glaive asked, and Prompto nodded, looking Nyx over deliberately.

“Are you?” he replied, and Nyx rolled his eyes.

“Just a little achy, I’ve fought in far worse shape,” Nyx stated, and Prompto groaned.

“I don’t think that’s a good thing, you know…”

The airship set down in a little canyon about a half mile from the facility, and everyone bundled up the rest of the way, with Luna and Noct going out of their way to cover their faces. Nyx took lead along with Aranea, the two gathering everyone together near the loading bay with crossed arms and stern expressions.

“Well, except for Libs, you guys are all pretty much new to this sort of thing. Until we reach the facility, we need to just stay together and keep our eyes open. I’ll admit, I’m not used to this much snow, so Aranea is probably the expert on this sort of terrain,” Nyx said wryly, and the dragoon waggled a hand in the air in a sort of response. “Once we make it inside, we need to move as fast as possible, we don’t want to risk that they either try to move him out or-” Nyx swallowed heavily, but his determined expression only got stronger. “-or worse. Any questions?” Everyone shook their heads, and Nyx looked to Aranea, who nodded firmly. “Then let’s get Cor back and blow some shit up.”

By the time they had slogged through the perpetual snowstorm to the facility, Prompto was quite certain that if he ever walked in more than a foot of snow again in his life, it would be too soon. Thankfully, Lucis tended to not have heavy snowstorms most of the time, so he was hopeful this would be a one-time affair.

“Aranea, please tell me you know where a door is,” Libertus said desperately, and Aranea stalked around the perimeter and scowled.

“I told you all, I’ve never been here, it looks a little like the training facility to the west of Gralea, though-” They followed close behind the dragoon as she moved along the wall, the snowstorm making visibility near zero. It was horrible, and Prompto hated every moment of it. “Wait, this looks promising.” Aranea brushed some snow off a panel, and started pressing buttons; a burst of harsh wind nearly took Prompto off his feet, and he ended up pressed against Gladio’s chest.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, and Gladio just patted his head. Well, he made a decent windblock at least. A chime sounded, barely audible over the constant snow, and with a hiss, the door opened.

“Hell yeah, everyone in!” Aranea crowed, and they all stumbled into the structure, which was apparently metal from top to bottom, lit with stark industrial lighting, and was actually kind of a mess, but most importantly, it was out of the snow. After everyone took a moment to brush themselves off, they fanned out across the room, looking at everything from the ominous looking glass and metal tubes, which made Prompto nervous just looking at them, to random piles of paper and what appeared to be research notes.

“This addresses what sounds like the early development of the MTs,” Iggy said, holding up a dusty file. “I suppose it’s not a surprise that these notes and files have been sidelined, considering what kept them running was the Scourge.” Noct groaned at his explanation, and Prompto watched him pace the room a few more times before sighing.

“That’s nice and all, Specs, but how the hell do we get out of here?” Noct asked, and they all looked at the tightly sealed door with a variety of frowns, before Libertus pointed out a panel off to the right.

“Any more of those hacking skills, Aranea?” the Glaive asked, only for the woman to give it a once-over and a prompt shake of the head.

“This apparently is meant to be a MT storage room of sorts, it’s asking for unit ID, which none of us have-” Only a year ago, Prompto would have hidden in the back and dithered, but now? They didn’t have the time. Before Aranea was even finished talking, he popped off his wristband and slammed his hand down on the panel, grimacing as the light passed over his arm.

Unit 00100004 confirmed. Warning, this unit number is compromised, standby for retrieval. The voice sounded around the room, and everyone fell silent. He could feel everyone’s eyes on his back, but he straightened his spine and watched as the door opened with a hiss.

“We should go,” he said, and set through the open door without waiting for any reply, a second later, he could hear the others scrambling to follow, and sighed inwardly. Even though they had all known he was from Gralea, it was still probably a lot to swallow-

“Prompto, wait up,” Nyx’s voice came from behind him as he moved, and he forced himself to slow down. “Cor wasn’t joking when he said he took you from a really bad situation, was he?” the Glaive said as he came up beside him, and he shook his head.

“No, he told me later that I was clearly meant to become an MT, that’s why the goddess was so insistent that he retrieve me as soon as possible. A few more years and there wouldn’t have been anything to save,” he said quietly, and was relieved when Nyx reached up and squeezed his shoulder.

“I’m glad he got you out, kid. We wouldn’t be the same without you around being...you,” Nyx’s smile wasn’t his best, but it had been a trying few days. He braved a look back at the others, and was surprised when even Aranea nodded her agreement along with the rest.

“I don’t know the story, but I’m glad Cor got you out of here, Prompto. Definitely not a good place to grow up,” the former imperial commodore stated, and Prompto flashed her and everyone a grateful grin as they passed through several abandoned looking corridors, paperwork and leftover equipment scattered everywhere.

“I think this whole area was part of their MT operations, looks like they just left it after they were all destroyed with the Scourge,” Gladio commented, and Prompto had to agree. It felt strange being there, with notes and documents talking about what he was originally meant to be just thrown in boxes and loosely filed on long abandoned bookshelves, and he shivered. He wanted out of this place.

“Prom?” Noct asked, and he forced himself to meet the prince’s concerned eyes.

“Just...it’s weird. Being here, I mean. I don’t know who my birth parents even were, I suppose there’s a shot that some scrap of paper here would answer that, but-” he bit at his bottom lip as they passed through a windowed hallway that looked out onto a great hall that was mostly empty, except for some long disabled equipment and actual people walking through without stopping, their plain outfits identifying them as probably Verstael’s staff, not soldiers. “He’s definitely here. I want to get him back, and get the hell out of this horrible place.”

Noctis reached out and took his left hand for a moment, giving it a tight, reassuring squeeze that he felt even through his gloves before releasing with a nod.

“Yeah, let’s move.”

Hallways and rooms filled with clutter seemed to be their lot in life, but after a good ten minutes, they finally entered a dark room with a series of more of those glass and metal tubes, and after a quick look from Aranea, a control room of sorts upstairs.

“I think we are almost out of this section, we should go-” An uncharacteristic gasp from Luna cut the dragoon off, and they all turned to see the princess staring at a folder she had picked up from the floor, confusion written all over her fine features.

“Luna, what’s wrong?” Noct asked, and she extended the file to Noct with a shaking hand.

“I don’t know, but look at the photo attached to the file,” Luna said, and Prompto watched as Noct’s face turned white as he looked between the file and...him. “Prompto, could you come over for a moment?” He really didn’t want to, but he headed over anyway, his heart pounding in his chest, and he didn’t even know why. Noct said nothing, but held out the file, Prompto hesitantly taking it from him.

“This is-” he gasped, looking at the memo attached then back to the picture. “There’s no freckles, and the hair is different, but-” The man in the picture could have been his twin. But how, he always thought he was some street orphan or abandoned baby that had been taken in to be turned- Gladio came up behind him, grabbing the file from his increasingly limp fingers and looked at it as well.

“Holy shit. What the hell does this mean?” Gladio’s shocked tone finally brought the rest of them over, and Prompto folded in on himself as they all looked at the photo.

“I do not know, but I’m afraid this isn’t the time. Whoever this poor soul was, they have long since departed, and we are here to make sure the marshal doesn’t join them,” Ignis intervened, and Prompto barely kept himself from kissing the man in gratitude. Not the time. Definitely not the time. He never wanted it to be the time. The file was, with hesitation from a few of them, left behind, and they passed through the control room into a large circular room with a giant machine and even more of those tubes. “I think...this is where they started the intentional exposure to the Scourge,” Iggy said, his mouth twisted with an emotion that Prompto couldn’t pin down. “We should press on.”

Iggy’s advice was, as always, sound, and they cleared out of the area into the greater part of the facility, which was clearly still being used; the unorganized clutter was gone, and what little paperwork was visible was little more than employee memos, from the look of it, and also-

“Soldiers,” Nyx hissed, stopping them with a raised hand. “We’ve finally reached the point where we are going to have to take everything down, or try to avoid them. We aren’t going to have much luck with the latter, so-” The Glaive turned towards Prompto, his expression entirely focused on the task at hand. “Do you have any idea on direction?” Prompto let his eyes close, and reached out as he turned in place, only to suddenly feel very unsteady on his feet; Gladio caught him before he hit the floor, and he shook his head desperately to clear it.

“Shit, I wasn’t trying to do that. I think they’ve upped his dose of whatever they are drugging him with, either that or it’s the fact I’m a lot closer now,” he groaned, letting Gladio help him upright. “He’s off in that direction, that’s all I can give you.” Nyx nodded.

“Then we go that way.”

Chapter Text

Ignis shook the blood off his knives as he scanned the room one last time on principle. He was hesitant to call it a bloodbath, but it wasn’t far off; with Noctis and Nyx warping simultaneously at the soldiers, they were able to take the whole room down in less than a minute. Some were clearly dead, some injured and unconscious, and they had managed it without an alarm being raised. He didn’t expect that to last long. They made it through a solid five minutes of hallways and two more rooms before the alarm was finally raised, and with that, they all knew their time to find the marshal was limited.

“There’s two ways we can go!” Libertus announced, and sure enough, there was a fork in the hallways, both leading in the same vague direction of over there that Prompto had been able to give them.

“Prom?” Gladio asked, but after at least thirty seconds of the younger man looking between the two halls desperately, it was clear he didn’t know. “We’ve gotta split up, we don’t have the time to comb each one at a time.” No, they didn’t, and after a few fraught looks, Prompto, Nyx, Luna, and Ignis went down one hallway, with Noctis, Libertus, Gladio, and Aranea heading down the other. The facility was not heavily staffed, and the further in they pressed, the more Ignis found himself hoping that this wasn’t an elaborate trap; both Prince Ravus and Aranea seemed certain of their intel, though, and Prompto was positive the marshal was here. So they would just have to face whatever they came across, and continue pressing ahead.

“Lucians? Here? How did you find this place?” A man of some clear rank, dressed in elaborate armor, came in the door flanked by three soldiers, and they all froze. A moment later, however, the man’s eyes travelled to Prompto, and Ignis could see when realization hit him. “You can sense the other one, can you? Well, you escaped us in Galahd, I suppose I should thank you for delivering yourself to us-” Nyx’s kukri was embedded in the man’s shoulder before he finished speaking, the Glaive warping in behind it driving the officer to the ground; Ignis scrambled to intercept the other soldiers before Nyx ended up with a sword in his back, but before he could even reach them, two quick shots from Prompto took two of them down, with Luna’s rather frightening pitchfork taking care of the last. Ignis was impressed, but he shook it off and ran to the captain’s side, looking down at their new prisoner.

“Where is the marshal?” he asked flatly, and got little more than a pained smirk in reply. Nyx drove his blade in deeper, making the officer shout.

“I managed to keep your cronies away from Prompto, and as you can see, I’m already back to take care of the rest. I suggest you answer my friend’s question, and I might let you die quickly,” Nyx said, his voice low and dark; Ignis knew that as a Glaive, the man had been part of many a battle, but he realized that he might just be seeing the other side of Nyx for the first time. He wasn’t sure he liked it, but it was what it was, and if any time was going to call for it, it was then.

“I am General Ulldor, commander of the occupation forces that almost took over your whole benighted continent, before you did your trickery and ruined my army. You must be the Glaive that managed to take out almost my entire special unit trying to fetch these magical freaks,” Ulldor said with a hiss, then, to Ignis’s shock, he actually pulled himself up a bit, the kukri sliding in deeper. “I’m not telling you shit. I hope Besithia has killed your precious marshal before you find him-” Luna’s bident was framing his head, and he choked.

“Yes, I remember you, General. I still can sometimes feel the bruises that you gave me when you felt I wasn’t falling in line.” Ulldor’s eyes widened, and Luna hitched down the bandana covering her face. “Forgive me if I’m not feeling very merciful.” Luna signalled something with her hand that clearly meant something to Nyx, who pulled his blade out of the general’s shoulder and stepped away. “You’ll bleed out soon from that injury alone, but well, just in case-” Ignis really didn’t want to see her go this route, the oracle was not really meant for this sort of violence, but to his surprise, she spun her weapon around and smashed the blunt end against the side of Ulldor’s head, knocking him unconscious. “Let’s go.”

Ignis exchanged a stunned look with Prompto, then followed the princess, who re-covered her face as they ran; just as they came to a line of labeled rooms, however, Prompto staggered and collapsed to the ground with a pained yell.

“Prompto!” Ignis pulled him into his arms, feeling the young man shake in his arms as Luna and Nyx both knelt at his side.

“Prompto, what’s wrong?” Luna asked, the earlier harshness in her voice gone, and the youngest member of their team clutched at his left arm and hissed.

“I don’t know, but Cor’s not responding well to it, whatever it is. I think-” Ignis helped him back to his feet, and Prompto looked between the doors and pointed. “He’s in the far room.” As much as it was clear that Prompto and Nyx especially wanted to barrel right in, they all took a deep breath and listened at the door first; he couldn’t really make anything out at first, but then a thin tenor voice with a tremor of age behind it spoke, and Ignis was positive they were hearing Verstael Besithia.

“Did you see how quickly even the deep cuts on the upper-left torso heal? He’s quite extraordinary, I can see why Lucis kept him to themselves all these years-” the voice faded out as he moved away from the door, only to be replaced by a woman’s higher tones.

“When did you want to move on to the next stage of collection, Chief Besithia? We’ve tested his blood, his saliva, his skin cells-” The woman sounded far too excited, which was ghastly to think about, and Nyx reached towards the door handle with a near-silent growl.

“Once the results of our final incision test have healed, we will discuss the next step-” Nyx tilted his head and met everyone’s eyes, his message clear; they all took a hold of their weapons as the captain opened the door. Although Nyx tried to do so slowly, the door shrieked on its hinges, and he finally just swung it open so they could all enter quickly instead. Ignis looked around the room as the door shut behind them, and barely resisted a grimace.

Cor was shirtless, covered in all sorts of sensors and other medical equipment, and his left arm was resting on a side table covered with white fabric, which, considering Prompto’s reaction just a few moments earlier, was somewhat alarming. However, the marshal was there and very much alive, from the look of it, and Ignis was not imagining the abject look on relief on both Prompto and Nyx’s faces before they both stifled it with prejudice. There were three people in the room, two dressed in average dress paired with standard lab coats, one of which was certainly the woman they had just heard, then...there was Besithia. There was no other possibility. Dressed in the elaborate attire of the Niflheim elite, his one concession to any sort of typical lab procedure was the fact he was wearing rubber gloves...over his leather ones, but well-

“Ah, I thought I had heard the alarm earlier,” Besithia stated, looking over the four of them like they were little more than an inconvenient rat infestation, until his eyes focused on Prompto, his aged mouth curling into a smile. “Excellent, the one I especially wanted has come to me himself.” Besithia walked a few steps closer to Prompto, and Ignis and Nyx immediately flanked the younger man as the imperial looked him over very deliberately. “It proved rather difficult to take you from Insomnia; the quality of individuals we were able to hire seemed to vary rather widely,” the man stated, and Ignis’s eyes narrowed. “You know, if this meeting had been before May sixteenth of last year, I would have seen you as little more than a wayward failure, Prompto Argentum, but now, you are both the oldest and most unique of my many children,” the researcher said, and Prompto stiffened. “Of your many siblings, why did the Dawn Mother choose you? She could have just as easily chosen your elder brother 00100003, for example...” Prompto’s face was completely devoid of color, his freckles standing out like beacons on his soft features as Besithia inched even closer, and Ignis found himself thinking over what the man had just said, even as he drew his knives. Is his terminology true? Or was he just using a turn of phrase? But then he remembered that photo paper clipped to the outside of that abandoned file, and his chest tightened in horror.

“You aren’t speaking of...average children, you are speaking of clones,” Ignis breathed, and Besithia’s expression was actually rather proud, which didn’t help his discomfort. Nyx looked two seconds from just beheading the man, and Luna’s eyes were tight with barely concealed rage.

“Ah, someone with brains among you, I see. Yes, as it became difficult to find enough abandoned children and runaways, I realized I needed to figure out another way to create the infants needed for the MT program, and what greater honor could there be than to be formed from my own flesh and blood? It took a little while to get it right, unfortunately, and your aforementioned elder brother was the first stable one of my children,” the man said, his eyes bright with pride and something akin to madness, and Ignis shifted, raising his knives and frowning. “But then, there was you. Stolen from your nursery in Gralea, along with a group of others that never got to experience the glories of becoming an MT, and I was furious. Only my second, and you had been taken from me. But to find out that you were different, chosen by a long-forgotten goddess to have special abilities-” Besithia was faster than expected, and both Nyx and Ignis grabbed at Prompto as the man grabbed the younger man by the collar of his coat, yanking him towards him. “Your guard dogs needn’t worry, you are possibly the last person on the planet I wish to harm right now. Between you and Leonis, I will finally be able to rebuild the armies that Niflheim so needs to restore proper peace to the world, sired by those who once were the darlings of Solheim itself. While it seems that my children are no longer to be the vanguard, I am more than pleased to settle for my grandchildren to take their place, the perfect offspring of divinely chosen fathers.”

Ignis’s heart actually stopped for a moment. Besithia was telling the truth, he was sure of it, and the very thought of what that truly meant- then the researcher took advantage of their distraction, yanking Prompto from their grasp as a great glass wall slammed down between them not even a second later.

“No!” Nyx shouted, the man immediately trying to punch then slice through the glass, only for the blade to bounce off. They had screwed up horribly; they had been so distracted by Besithia’s horrific tale that they- Ignis shook his head inwardly as he began to quickly examine the wall. It was clearly meant to separate observers from the workers, and after a few seconds of checking the seams, he scowled. Why would an observation area wall be built to such strength? A breath later, and only his barely restrained panic caused him to resist the eyeroll at the realization. What was Besithia clearly a master of? Daemons. These were made to protect the observers from daemons, but now, it was keeping them away from their friends, their lovers-

The other researchers they had all but ignored were already reaching for tools and restraints as Prompto managed to pull himself out of Besithia’s grip, summoning his gun and pointing it at the man’s head.

“You don’t want to do that, Prompto, while I would prefer to keep both of you, I’m sure you would be more than enough to do what I need to do,” Besithia said, his voice far too calm for a man who had a pistol pointed at him from only several feet away, and Ignis realized that one of the researchers had brought a knife to Cor’s throat, the blade already drawing a thin line of blood. Nyx made a noise like a trapped behemoth next to him as all three of them scrambled again to try and get through the barrier, but to no avail; Besithia held up a hand, and the whole room seemed to pause.

“Don’t even think about it,” Prompto snarled, but his hands were starting to shake, and Ignis was never going to forgive himself if something happened to either of them. But what could he do? Besithia smiled, and he could actually see a shadow of Prompto’s sunny grin in it, that simple truth driving home the horror of the situation. He wasn’t one for dramatics, but he was going to be very happy to burn the whole place to the ground after they got out of there, Besithia and all of those old records included.

“Can’t a father be happy to see his son? It has been many years, after all, we should get better acquainted-” Prompto’s response was swift.

“You are not my father, you murdering sack of shit!” Prompto shouted, and with a slight twitch to the side, he fired his weapon; the researcher holding the knife hit the ground, the offending blade falling harmlessly to the floor as Prompto opened his mouth and screamed. The other researcher also hit the ground pawing at their ears as Besithia’s hands flew to cover his own, and Ignis, Nyx, and Luna all recoiled away from the glass as it began to crack under the onslaught. Their own ears were ringing, but they held on as the barrier continued to fracture; Prompto’s skin glowed brighter and brighter as the scream turned more tonal, and Ignis could see blood dripping from Besithia’s ears as the glass finally collapsed under its own weight with a mighty crash that shook the whole room. The three of them jumped over the mess, and Luna broke away and ran to the marshal’s side, inspecting the various devices and sensors attached to the man as Nyx bodily grabbed the still-alight Prompto and carried him away from his...biological donor, who was twitching in pain on the ground.

“Good job, Prompto,” Nyx said as he knocked the other researcher out with a boot to the head, then set Prompto down next to Cor’s bed. Ignis joined him, putting a hand against the base of his spine and feeling him shake.

“Prompto-” The pleading look the glowing man shot him shut him up, and they stood silently together as Luna and Nyx managed to get Cor untangled, leaving the covered arm for last as the princess delicately removed the IV from the marshal’s right arm, wiping away the drop of blood with a finger.

“Be careful with his left arm,” Prompto announced, and Nyx looked down at the stained fabric covering it and frowned, then gently peeled it back and instantly hissed.

“What in the hell did they do to it?” Nyx bit out, and Prompto clutched at his own in reflex as Luna came around the bed and sighed.

“Looks like they wanted to see if his more acute healing abilities would even work on heavily damaged tissue, so they poured-” Ignis saw a small bottle to the side and shook his head in disgust.

“They poured acid into the wound,” he snapped, before taking a deep breath and facing the princess. “Luna, is there anything you can do to aid him? We need to get him up, and all I have is a potion, which I fear might cause the incision to heal poorly and lead to future problems. I loathe to keep it open if there’s another way-” Ignis entreated the oracle, and Luna squared her jaw and nodded.

“I’ll do what I can,” Luna stated, and Ignis couldn’t bear to watch. He kept an eye on the door and the still semi-conscious Besithia, who had not budged from the floor, Cor moaning in pain behind him as Luna got to work. Seizing the moment, he texted Noctis and Gladio to let them know that they had found the marshal before taking a deep breath, looking over at Besithia one last time before turning back around. Nyx’s face was near Cor’s, whispering in his ear as he ran a hand through the unconscious man’s hair trying to calm him; it appeared to be working, however, and Ignis finally looked down at the marshal’s afflicted arm to see-

“Your highness, I am forever in awe of your work,” he breathed out, and he meant it. While the wound was still inflamed, it no longer had the unnaturally burned appearance it had only a minute prior; it now looked like something that would heal without serious consequences. He could ask for no better in the circumstances. “Is there any bandages? We should wrap it and go.” Prompto shifted around the contents of the table and produced a roll of clean gauze, and Ignis took it and hastily bound the injury before catching Nyx’s eye. “You and I will have to trade off carrying him, captain, the others are simply too...compact to do so easily.” Luna rolled her eyes, and Prompto’s grin was a shade of its usual self, but it gladdened Ignis to see it as he and Nyx slowly got Cor upright. Nyx shrugged out of his winter jacket and stuffed Cor into it, carefully threading the man’s injured arm through a slightly too-short sleeve.

“Well, it’s going to have to do. It’s either that or he freezes his-” Nyx looked over at Prompto, whose smile lit up just a little bit more, and cut himself off with a somewhat manic grin. “I’ll carry him first.” After a bit of shuffling, Nyx had the marshal slung over his shoulders in a fireman's carry, and just as they were about to leave the room, Ignis got a message from Noct, saying they were headed back towards the old MT part of the facility, and that they should meet there. He quickly texted back his agreement, and with one last glance at Besithia, they fled.

They encountered only a few stray troops during their dash back through the facility, which were quickly removed from the battle in one way or another by the three of them. Nyx was managing to maneuver the marshal far better than Ignis expected, but by the time they reached the last hallway before they reentered the old facility, the captain was lagging behind, his fatigue plain on his face as he held on tight to his unconscious lover and forced himself to keep moving.

“Captain, let me carry him for a little while before you hurt yourself,” Ignis said, and the man’s face grew tight with desperation, then determination as he continued to shuffle down the hallway. “Nyx, please. I understand, but think of what Cor would say if you hurt yourself getting him out of here,” he appealed to Nyx’s common sense, and Prompto and Luna nodded as Nyx finally gave a shaky sigh and leaned over slightly, allowing Ignis to take the marshal’s dead weight onto his own shoulders. Ow. Gladio was far more suited for this, but needs must; after a few moments of adjustment, Ignis pressed forward and into the ominous chamber he had disliked the first time, the looming machinery and glass tubes that he now imagined once contained a line of young men with Prompto’s face, and his stomach rolled as they cut through the room.

“Guys, is that you?” Noct’s voice came from the room below, and Ignis sped up, Luna and Nyx entering the lounge by the control room ahead of him with Prompto behind when suddenly his burden threw himself from his grasp, sending both of them crashing to the ground as the door slammed shut between them again.

“Fuck, your timing sucks, Cor!” Nyx howled as they tried to get back in, and after several failed attempts, they ran around to the control room and the observation windows, trying to get through, this time they were joined by Noct and the others, who thankfully realized what had happened and also tried to break the glass, but same as before, they were having no effect. Even Aranea’s strongest strike left no mark. They were stuck.

“Prompto, you need to break the glass again!” Luna banged on the glass with a fist as she yelled, but there was no reaction, which didn’t surprise Ignis when he saw what the blond was having to deal with. Cor had regained consciousness, but he appeared to be confused, which wasn’t really surprising considering the man had spent a considerable amount of time under sedation. Prompto was bodily wrapped around him trying to calm him down as his shouts echoed through the area, and Nyx once again looked like he wanted to kill everything as he started using magic on the windows, causing them to have to back away.

“Iggy, what does Luna mean by again?” Gladio asked, and Ignis sighed as they dodged a stray lick of flame.

“Better save that for later, but I fear we made a mistake by not killing Besithia,” he stated, avoiding yet another burst of flame as the captain raged against the unfortunately far too sturdy windows. “Ulric, stop. It’s not working. Let me look at the controls, perhaps there is something there instead.” Nyx did stop, much to his relief, but Ignis could tell that the man’s patience was held by a decaying thread as Libertus moved in and managed to draw him off to the side as Ignis stepped forward to inspect the long row of switches and buttons, hoping to see something that made sense-

“Cor, I’m fine, Nyx is fine, we are here to get you, just calm down!” Prompto said, his voice desperate, and for a moment, ringing silence took over as heavy, gasping breaths became the only audible reply.

“Prom- Prompto?” the marshal’s voice was weak and he started coughing almost immediately, but they all sagged a bit in relief when Prompto smiled and nodded.

“I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere. We are all here to save you,” Prompto explained, helping Cor up to a proper sitting position on the floor. “See? They are right over there, and once I break through another stupid window-”

“I think not. I have no intention of letting either of you two leave.” Besithia, dried blood still framing the sides of his jaw, stalked into the room with what appeared to be every soldier left alive in the facility at his back, close to two dozen, and the blood drained out of Ignis’s face so swiftly that he felt momentarily faint. It was all up to Prompto, they couldn’t get in- “Did I not tell you, son? It’s time for a proper family reunion, and this time, I will not be letting your friends get in the way.” The researcher signaled to the soldiers, and they began to slowly approach, guns and pikes at the ready; Cor tried to get to his feet and failed, settling instead for summoning his sword and wielding it with a shaking hand before Prompto set a hand on his shoulder.

“Prompto? What is he talking about?” Cor asked, his normally deep voice pitched higher with stress and confusion, and the blond shook his head and smiled.

“It’s nothing important. He’s just a crazy old asshole that needs to drop dead already,” Prompto said, getting to his feet and standing in front of Cor as the soldiers continued to loosely surround them, his eyes bright with something that both worried and relieved Ignis.

“You know what, Besithia?” Prompto said as he summoned his gun. “I’ve had way more parents than most people can ever claim to have, and many might see that as a good thing. But you know what? I’ve got my biological donor, which is apparently you, I had my adoptive parents, who gave a shit for about seven years before treating me more like their lodger than their son, and then-” Prompto cut himself off, and raised his gun smoothly. “I suppose I should thank you, because your indirect actions finally got me to stop being an idiot about who my real dad is here, and it’s definitely not you, you rampaging murderous psycho.” Prompto spun and fired so quickly that Ignis barely saw him move, the soldiers closest to him dropping, and Prompto lunged and took one of their automatics before it even hit the ground. “And if one of you bastards get one step closer to him, I’m going to show you all just how good I am at shooting things.”

It was one of those moments that really would have been better when it wasn’t right on the cusp of possible death, but Ignis looked over at the expression on Cor’s face, and he found himself blinking rapidly at the sight; the marshal was still holding onto his katana, but his arms were shaking so badly that he had it braced on his legs, tears running down his cheeks as he looked up at Prompto, his son (finally, the two had been ridiculous) like he was seeing him for the first time. It was heartwarming and endearing and everything you didn’t want when you were surrounded by enemy soldiers. Ignis forced himself to look back at the control panel, moved down to the next set, then looked again, a smile curling his mouth. Jackpot. Now they just need to get Cor and Prompto out of there, and if Prompto won’t scream again-

“I think I’ve just found out a way to break the glass!” Libertus called out from below before appearing with a device that appeared to be a pole with a suction cup on one end and a small metal piece on the other; Ignis and the others all blinked at it before the Glaive gave a disgusted sigh and stuck the suction cup part to the window, then grabbed the metal piece and spun the whole contraption in a circle. “I worked construction for a summer back when I was still in school, this was in a case labeled for emergency only down there, and while it might be meant for those tubes, I don’t see any fucking reason why it wouldn’t work on this.” Libertus continued to rotate the arm with some force, and when the scoring became obvious, Ignis looked back over at Prompto and Cor, neither of whom had moved. The whole room was apparently at a standoff, with Besithia looking hesitant to order what soldiers he had left to move in, and Libertus continued to work at the glass as Ignis looked once more at the control panel.

“Everyone, once we get them out of here, I think I’ve figured out how to overload the machinery,” he said, looking at the size of the circle that was being cut into the window. “Gladio, we’ll need you to help Cor, he doesn’t look very ambulatory right now. Libertus, he’s going to be hardpressed to fit through that, do you think it will be easier-” With a quiet crunch, Libertus brought the perfectly cut piece of glass away, setting it on the floor under the control panel before quickly setting to work right next to the first cut, overlapping enough to make a hole big enough for both men to fit. Prompto was slowly backing towards Cor, who made another valiant effort to get to his feet, failed, and finally dismissed his katana and tried once more, managing to keep upright. When the second piece came loose, Ignis leaned over and yelled. “You two! Over here, now!”

It must have been adrenaline that let Prompto drag the much larger marshal to the window, Gladio reaching out and pulling him through with a rough yank before swinging him onto his back with a grunt. Prompto scrambled through right behind them, and Ignis toggled several switches and buttons before slapping the console and pointing to the stairs.

“Run!” Gladio was definitely the better choice to carry Cor, and the marshal just held on for dear life as they fled the control room, bullets just missing them as the remaining soldiers started to fire on them through their jury rigged exit. They didn’t stop even when they reached the outside, the snow immediately buffeting them as Aranea shouted into her phone, calling her crew to fire up the ship. About thirty seconds after they cleared the building, the facility exploded, the force of the blast sending them all to the ground as snow slammed into them, and Ignis curled into a ball and covered his head. After the rumbling ceased, Ignis had to dig his way out of the snow he found himself under, waiting with tensed breath as one by one, his companions popped out of the snow as well, Cor with a little help from Gladio.

“Everyone breathing?” Aranea said, and after she received a collection of shaky nods, she grinned. “Congratulations, you just blew up one of the most important installations in the empire. Good job, everyone. Hopefully that bastard died with it.” Iggy followed her gaze as she looked up, a distinctive red airship appearing through the white haze that permeated the whole area. “Let’s get onboard before the marshal passes back out again.” The fact that Cor didn’t even make a sound of denial told Ignis that she was entirely accurate on her assessment of his condition, and sure enough, not thirty seconds after the bay door closed behind them, Cor’s eyes rolled to the back of his head, and Nyx and Prompto caught him before he could hit the floor. Aranea smirked, but Ignis couldn’t help but notice the soft look in her eyes as she crossed her arms and looked down. “Called it. Let’s get him to a bunk so he can rest, he’s had a pretty shitty few days.” While Nyx was already gearing up to carry him, two of Aranea’s crew produced a stretcher, and they were able to transfer the once again unconscious man to a bunk in no time, Prompto slumping to the floor next to it with a groan before raising a hand and setting it on Cor’s for a moment before withdrawing.

“He’ll be okay. I can tell. He just needs time to rest and heal.” Prompto looked back at Cor then back at the floor of the ship, his face pinched and tired. “I can’t believe we actually pulled this off. If we go anywhere near anywhere on this continent outside of Tenebrae, it’ll be too soon,” the blond whined, and Ignis, Noct, and Gladio all joined Prompto on the floor, Nyx sliding to the ground as well by the the head of the bunk as he reached up and took Cor’s hand in his.

“Prompto, I agree with you one hundred percent,” Nyx groaned, leaning his head against the side of the bunk and letting his eyes close. “What a shitshow.” Ignis folded his arms and let himself sag.

“It certainly was,” he sighed, lifting his arm as Prompto slumped against his side. “How are you doing, Prompto?” The blond under his arm grumbled and shifted.

“Pooped, sore, angry, tired, a little freaked out...but I’m okay. I’m hoping that place went boom in time so he can’t re-emerge later, because...yeah. Don’t even want to think about that guy,” Prompto stated flatly, and Ignis certainly agreed with the younger man, tilting his head down and giving him a kiss on the top of his head.

“Lady A, there’s an imperial airship not far from us.” The intercom crackled, and Aranea, who had been sitting on one of the other bunks in the room, looked up sharply, before grabbing her radio.

“Are they on approach?” Aranea asked, and the whole room held their breath until the crackling answer came through.

“No, Biggs thinks that they took off a few seconds before the explosion like we did from the far side of the base from where you came out of, looks like they are turning towards Gralea.” Ignis frowned, but there was no way that Besithia could have made it all the way over there in less than two minutes. Ulldor, perhaps? The dragoon smirked.

“Good, keep an eye on them until we are out of range, but I’m pretty sure I know who’s on that ship,” Aranea ordered, and after a confirmation, the line went silent. “For those who weren’t there, we ran into Loqi near the landing bay of the facility. We fought, but just enough where it looked like we really wanted to before I knocked him out as lightly as I could manage. I’m positive that’s him escaping. Considering the guy did us a solid, I figured it was best to give him a sporting chance and all.”

“So what happened to you guys?” Libertus asked from his sprawl on the floor, and Ignis met Luna’s eyes from across the room.

“We ran into an imperial general who I was previously acquainted with, and from the sound of it, he was the one who planned the kidnapping plot. I doubt he’s alive, he was quite injured when we left him,” Luna said, and the coldness in her voice garnered several concerned looks from the rest of the room. “We then found Cor and Besithia, who appears to have hired the people for that attempted kidnapping back in Insomnia, by the way. Besithia managed to distract us and grab Prompto, he had this observation wall that he brought down to separate us-” Luna took a deep breath and let it out in a whistle. “After a...situation, Prompto managed to break the glass, and we were able to finally get to Cor and get out. You pretty much saw the rest.” Ignis blinked at her rather vague explanation of affairs, but he realized that she was trying to let Prompto decide if he wanted to explain anything, and smiled softly.

“Did Besithia explain why he wanted the Dawnsworn to begin with?” Libertus asked, sitting up properly, and Nyx let out a strangled hiss that concisely let the room know his thoughts on the matter. Ignis looked askance down at Prompto, who gave a deep sigh and shrugged.

“It...appears that Besithia had been seeking a way to recreate the army he lost when the Scourge was removed from the world,” he said, grimacing. “Besithia grew fixated on the tenet that the children of the Dawnsworn were supposed to be as close to perfection as humanity could get, and…” he sighed, ignoring the nausea he was getting from just thinking about it. “From all appearances, he wanted the both of them as captive stud to breed his new army. Thankfully, from the bit of discussion we heard through the door, it appears we got there shortly before they were going to start pursuing that line of research in earnest.” Ignis took off his glasses, cleaned them robotically, then put them back on. “I have a feeling that this might have been at least part of the cause for your feeling that we were on a very limited time frame to rescue him, Prompto.” The looks on the faces of the four who hadn’t gone with them were absolutely horrified, and Prompto nodded so slightly it was almost impossible to see. Aranea shifted forward with a look of complete understanding warring with disgust.

“-and that explains why Loqi had been so willing to put his neck out to help him. Remember what we said about distasteful? I bet that Besithia made clear his plans for Cor, and Loqi, who definitely respects the marshal, as we said, was probably horrified by the whole idea. And lo, we got the help we needed. Fuck, that’s messed up,” the dragoon snapped, then ran her hands through her hair and shook her head. “Well, we got him back, and the place is a smoking crater. Hopefully along with Besithia. Unless it comes up again, you might not want to make the reason he really got taken public, just in case more people get ideas.”

Ignis thought that was excellent advice. Conversation died off as everyone took the opportunity to doze, even Aranea, whose light snoring was audible across the room. After a few hours of off and on dozing, they got the word that they were only thirty minutes out, and Ignis carefully dislodged the slowly-waking Prompto from his side and stood and stretched. They had made it. Clandestine mission into the heart of imperial territory, and they had managed to finish it successfully. It was a good feeling. He never wanted to do it again. About fifteen minutes out, the bulk of the room was up and shaking off their nap, leaving only Cor and Nyx still asleep.

“Nyx, we are almost in Tenebrae, you’ll be able to get a proper bed in a bit,” Libertus commented as he stretched, but received no reply. “Hey, Nyx, wake up.” Still nothing, and Ignis felt a sudden tightening in his chest as Libertus walked over and patted the captain on the shoulder. “Nyx, come on, you can sleep again in a little while-” Another pat, and Nyx slumped to the side. “Nyx?” The room scrambled to the Glaive’s side as Libertus took Nyx’s pulse with hurried hands, and Ignis could see just how pale the captain was close up. Something wasn’t right. “He’s breathing, but it’s weak and his pulse is way too slow-”

“Let me see,” Luna said, and Libertus didn’t let go of the other man, but shifted to let her through. She ran her glowing hands over Nyx’s face, then down his torso, stopping when she reached the lower abdomen. “You know how flesh is always more fragile for a while after being repaired by either surgery or potions, right? I think he’s re-injured himself around where he was shot,” Luna frowned. “Probably when he insisted on carrying Cor out of the facility.” Of course. He should have insisted he take over earlier than he did, but what was done is done. Luna got to her feet and looked over at Aranea. “Please call ahead, tell them to have two gurneys ready.”

“Gotcha.”

The mood, already a bit somber from the realization of what Besithia had wanted to do, took a definitive nosedive as they left the ship following Cor and Nyx’s gurneys, Ravus realizing that it was not the time to speak. At Prompto’s insistence, the two men were placed in the same room as doctors and nurses swarmed about, and everyone besides Luna found themselves ejected from the room. Prompto stood outside looking lost, until Noct took the man’s hand and pulled him away.

“Let’s go back to our quarters for now, Luna’s got this.”

The four of them found themselves back in that giant bath, but there was no reprise of their earlier activities, only careful touches as they helped each other undress and enter the water, all of them making sure to help Prompto with washing his hair and his back as he sat stone-faced in the tub.

“I’m a clone,” Prompto whispered, and Ignis looked at the other two as they stiffened in shock. “One of the first, supposedly. My biological donor is Verstael Besithia, which should explain what you guys heard in that last room. All my siblings became MTs, from the sound of it, which means…” Prompto bit his bottom lip and sighed. “He also made it sound like it’s just me left, and straight up told me that he had actually wanted me over Cor because that way he could claim that his grandchildren were the new army of Niflheim.” Gladio found his tongue first, leaning in and cupping Prompto’s jaw in his hand.

“Biological donor or not, clone or not, Prom, that fucker isn’t you, and had no claim to you. The very thought of what he wanted to do to the two of you makes me want to march into Gralea and punch out the emperor for allowing him to do anything. The only positive thing that bastard did in his life is give us you, as far as I’m concerned. You got me?” Gladio stated firmly, and Prompto gave a rather watery sounding sniff before nodding. “Good. Noct, I assume you feel the same?” Noct reached up and ruffled Prompto’s wet hair, sending droplets everywhere.

“Hell yeah, Gladio’s pretty much right on the money there. You are you, Prom. You are our blond chocobo-head with cute freckles and an eye for photography, not to mention a good shot, and do you know what’s most important?” Noct said, and Prompto tilted his head. “You aren’t a clone.”

“Actually, I’m pretty sure I am-” Noct shook his head with a grin, before gently running a finger down the center of Prompto’s throat.

“Were any of your...siblings able to sing like you can? Were any of them able to call spirits and recharge shrines and activate creepy ruins like you can?” Ignis started to grin as Noctis spoke, and Gladio brought up another hand and ran it down Noct’s back, a smile on his tanned face. “No? Then regardless of how you were born, no matter the method, you aren’t a clone. You are entirely unique, and nothing is ever going to take that away from you,” Noct leaned in and kissed Prompto softly before withdrawing. “Now, no more dwelling on dumb shit, royal orders. You’ve got a great dad and three hot boyfriends who would probably jump off the top of the Citadel for you-” Prompto snorted and started to laugh, and Noct flashed a thumbs up as he messed with the blond’s hair one more time. “Right Iggy?” Ignis also leaned in and gave both Prompto and Noctis a kiss, before leaning back against the side of the tub and nodding.

“Quite right...well, unless you try to organize another dodgeball game again. I categorically refuse to do another one of those,” he stated bluntly, and was awarded with a proper whine from Prompto.

“But Iggy-”

“No. Besides, I think the general consensus was to ban you as well from playing, no one wanted to hit you with the ball,” he replied, and Prompto’s smile turned naughty.

“Well, it’s not my fault I’m just that adorable-” the younger man sing-songed, and Gladio burst out laughing as Ignis leaned in and ran his fingers down the side of Prompto’s face.

“No, it most certainly isn’t.”

They soaked a little longer in the tub before finally drying off and getting dressed in clean clothes, just in time for a knock at the door. Gladio went over and answered it, admitting a servant who bowed to Noctis before addressing the lot of them.

“The marshal has awakened, the princess has sent me to fetch you.” Noctis nodded to the man in thanks, who then backed out and left the room.

“Well Prom, let’s go see how he’s doing.” The four of them left the room and returned to the infirmary, where Luna met them outside the door with a tired smile.

“Cor is awake, and the doctors were able to clean and heal his arm wound properly before he regained consciousness. They said until the rest of the drugs are out of his system, however, he’ll remain groggy and will fall asleep easily,” Luna said, then she looked around and dropped her voice. “They did a basic physical examination, but there’s no sign that their experiments wandered lower than waist-level, thankfully. We got there in time. It has not been brought up to him what their intentions were, although it probably should be at some point,” the princess conveyed, and all four of them nodded with relief.

“I think maybe Nyx might be a better choice to let him know about that-” Prompto said, then Ignis could see when memory kicked in. “Nyx! How is he doing?”

“The captain had partially reopened his stomach wound, however, it probably didn’t actually hurt that much, according to the doctors. He was, however, slowly bleeding internally; if we had not noticed, say if he had gone to sleep in his quarters alone, for example, there...may have been a more serious situation on our hands. This time, he’ll be kept here until he’s past that danger zone, just in case, as it’s clear he’s one to get himself in trouble if left to his own devices with this sort of thing,” the oracle said, her tone dry, and Ignis met her eyes with a smile before she nodded. “Right, let us go say hello to the marshal before he falls asleep again.”

They followed Luna into the spacious room, passing where Nyx was sound asleep, bandages around his bare torso and an IV in his arm, then onto Cor, who was staring at the Glaive with worry from his own bed as they approached.

“Hey Cor, how are you feeling?” Noct asked, drawing the marshal’s eyes towards him; Cor was definitely not at full power, but he managed to sit up slowly in bed and face the lot of them properly.

“I’ve...been better, but I’m not in a Niflheimian military facility and I’m conscious, so I’ll take what I can get. I understand they kept me drugged for well over a day?” Cor asked, and Prompto nodded as he sat down on the edge of the marshal’s bed, the older man immediately reaching out and wrapping a hand around Prompto’s wrist. “Are you alright, Prompto? You were taken down before I was, and then Nyx-” Cor looked over at the sleeping Glaive, then sighed. “Nyx showed up, but they managed to shoot him twice…”

“Three times, he got hit one more time in the leg after you were dragged away,” Gladio cut in, then grimaced toothily. “Sorry.” Cor’s frown deepened, but he sighed and nodded.

“-but I’m guessing he succeeded then, because you didn’t get taken,” Cor said to Prompto, whose face fell on the spot. Oh damn, that’s right. Ignis signaled to the others and tilted his head towards the door.

“We’ll leave you two to talk, marshal, Prompto. We’ll return in a little while,” he said, and the others smiled and nodded as they filed towards the exit, receiving little more than distracted nods from Cor and Prompto in return as the two were entirely focused on the other.

“Nyx said you asked him to save me instead of you,” Prompto said quietly as they were filing out of the room, and they all paused to wait for Cor’s response. When it came, it took everything Ignis had in him to not make a sound.

“I know I’m just an old fool who is trying to make amends, but...I wasn’t going to let the fine young man I consider my son get hurt, and if it took me being taken to do it-” There was no response as the moment dragged on; they heard some shifting, and then a sigh. “Forget I said anything-”

“Don’t even start. You’ve done so much for me, taken care of me, saved my life more than once, and straight up just told your own boyfriend to save me over you. I think I’ve been in denial about the whole thing for months, but...you know what? Everyone was right, Dad.” The sharp intake of breath from Cor was audible even where they huddled by the open door, and they all exchanged a grin. “Get used to hearing it, because trust me, nothing makes the point that a guy has an awesome dad better than having him sacrifice himself for him, and nothing makes that point even better than to have biodad show up and be a complete crazy person who only wants to use you, so...dad. Cor. I can call you whichever you prefer, but I’ve finally realized what’s been standing right in front of me with a big heart, a dorky smile, and an even sillier looking blush-”

“Hey now.”

“-and he’s easily the best father I’ve ever had. If...you want me.” The four of them in the doorway all leaned around the corner precariously, shamelessly hoping to see; Ignis watched as a suspiciously glassy eyed marshal reached out and took Prompto into his arms, resting his head on his shoulder and closing his eyes tightly as the blond began to sniffle. Finally. They all began to back up again, only for Ignis to notice that Nyx too had woken up, the man’s head tilted just enough to the side for him to watch the proceedings silently with a soft smile. Excellent. Nyx noticed them peeking around the corner, and waved them out with a twitch of his hand and a quality eyeroll, and they took his advice, tiptoeing out of the room and carefully shutting the door behind them.

“It only took a few near-death experiences to finally see what was right in front of them, but they finally figured it out,” Gladio drawled, and Noct and Luna nodded as Ignis looked back at the door before huffing a laugh.

“Is it truly such a surprise with either of those two?” he commented, and Noct threw back his head and started laughing.

“Especially Cor, shit, he’s always been a bit clueless on human interaction, and that’s coming from me,” Noct commented, and Luna began to laugh as well, trying in vain to cover her mouth with a hand as Prince Ravus came up to them, his expression far more welcoming than it had been when they first got there. Ignis gave a slight bow to the man, who gave him a nod. Noctis made have had a point with his little stunt, but it didn’t mean Ignis wasn’t going to exact some revenge at a later date. There were lines, and Noct crossed them.

There would be beans involved.

“I presume that considering your levity that the marshal and captain are both recovering well?” the prince asked, and Luna smiled at her brother and nodded.

“Yes, both have awakened, although Nyx looked like he would be returning to his rest again at any moment. Cor and Prompto are having a personal talk right now, so we’ve stepped out to give them some space,” Luna said, and Ravus blinked and looked between them for a moment before speaking again.

“I hear that the magitek research facility was leveled and Besithia probably died within?” Ravus inquired, and Ignis nodded.

“Caligo Ulldor is probably deceased as well, he attempted to stop us when we were near Cor’s location,” Luna stated, her smile turning a bit dark; the prince met his sister’s eyes for a long moment before looking away.

“The man was a brute and a louse, although he hid it well in front of the emperor. There’s no great loss there,” Ravus spoke plainly, then tilted his head. “You have all managed to disrupt the greater workings of the empire once again, Noctis. You certainly have a talent for it.” Noct’s answering smile had just a bit too much teeth.

“That we do.”

Prompto joined them a few minutes later, his face still a bit blotchy from crying, but his eyes were clear and his smile was radiant as he slapped Ignis and Noctis on the back.

“Cor and Nyx conked back out again. Let’s go get a snack and some sleep, yeah?” the blond asked, and Ignis wrapped an arm around Prompto’s shoulders and smiled.

“Sounds like a good plan, Prompto.”

As they followed the Fleuret siblings towards what was hopefully the kitchens, Noctis suddenly stopped in the middle of the hallway, the others pausing as well.

“Noct?” Ignis asked, and Noct laughed nervously.

“Just remembered I’ve given dad no updates since we left Galahd, I suppose I should do that...” Ignis closed his eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out in an equally deep sigh.

“Immediately.”

 

-------------------------

 

Aranea watched silently as Cor and Nyx nodded one final time to Luna and Ravus before boarding the ship, thankfully moving much better than they had been just a few days earlier, leaving her alone with the siblings. Aranea stepped away and waved to the princess before looking around and moving back in for a hug; Ravus sighed and crossed his arms, but did not speak.

“Sure you don’t want to come with, Luna? Leave this grump here?” she asked, but she knew the answer before she even asked. Luna shook her head and sighed, her expression bittersweet.

“No, as much as I would like to accompany you all once more, I have been away too long. Perhaps when Cor and Prompto are ready to move on Sarras, I think I would like to be there for that,” the princess stated, and Aranea smiled.

“We probably need to be there for that, let’s not kid ourselves,” she replied, and Luna’s answering grin was broad and happy.

“This is very true,” Luna stepped back and tilted her head. “Safe travels, madame, we will see you when you work your way back home.” Aranea nodded to her, then turned to Ravus, the smirk already entrenched on her face.

“Enjoy your peace and quiet a little longer, Ravus, because I’ll be back before you know it,” she said, and Ravus uncrossed his arms and huffed out a laugh.

“Do not worry, I will. Make sure to keep your passengers under control, they seem to be an ornery bunch. Especially the marshal, the man seems to be unwilling to rest and it’s clear whatever they drugged him with is still affecting his system at least a small amount,” Ravus said, and Aranea barked out a laugh and shook her head.

“Tall order, your highness, he and his boyfriend deserve each other sometimes,” she drawled, and Ravus actually laughed.

“None of them are how I expected them to be,” Ravus mused, and Luna nudged his arm with a smile.

“Even Noctis?” Luna asked, her voice lilting, and Ravus rolled his eyes, but to Aranea’s surprise, actually nodded.

“Yes, even Noctis,” Ravus admitted, and Aranea met Luna’s surprised eyes with a shrug. Well, whatever keeps war from breaking out between the two of them worked for her, and she had a suspicion it worked for Luna, too. “Argentum is waving wildly from the ship, I assume that means that it is time for you to go.” She glanced back to see that, yes, Prompto was waving like an adorable idiot, and snorted.

“Yep, looks like.” She stepped away once more, and nodded firmly. “Keep me apprised on matters here, empire probably isn’t too happy right now,” she commented, then turned and walked towards the ship. “Luna, make sure Ravus doesn’t do anything stupid while I’m gone!” she shouted, and she grinned at the answering growl.

“I’ll do my best!” Luna yelled merrily, and Aranea gave a half-wave before stepping onto the ship, grabbing Prompto’s belt with a quick motion and dragging him behind her.

“Time to go, chocobohead.” Prompto scrambled to get loose as she pulled him along, but it didn’t stop him from continuing to wave.

“Bye Luna! See you soon!” the blond shouted as the bay door closed behind them, Aranea finally letting him go as they passed by Noctis and Gladio, who were clearly waiting for him. “You’re pushy, you know that?” Prompto grumbled, but there was no heat in it, and she ruffled his hair shamelessly as she continued further into the ship, nodding to the others as she passed them before reaching the bridge.

“Got our clearance?” she asked Wedge, who gave her a thumbs up.

“Of course, Lady A! Ready when you are!” She nodded and crossed her arms.

“Then let’s get out of here.”

After the ship safely departed the manor and cleared the wider area, she patted the backs of Biggs and Wedge’s seats and left, heading to the bunkroom to check on her companions. Nyx was splayed out on one of the bunks, Gladio, Noctis, and Ignis were all sitting next to each other on another one, Libertus was lounging on his own, and Cor and Prompto were sitting on the floor next to each other, looking very thoughtful? Concentrated? She couldn’t quite pin down the look on their faces, and she shoved Libs over slightly and sat down next to him on his bunk.

“Did I miss something?” she asked, and Libertus shrugged.

“They just sat down a moment before you got in, I have no clue what they are doing,” the Glaive said, and Aranea’s brows furrowed as she looked down at the two men.

“Guys? Cor, you feeling alright?” she asked, but got no response, and she could feel her forehead start to twitch on the spot. No matter how much time she spent with oracles and dawnsworn and magical princes, she never got used to all of their magical nonsense; although it was clear that both Luna and Noctis seemed more aware of what they were doing, which...had been the point of this whole damn trip. “Guys?” No response once again, and Nyx sat up and looked at the two as well, his expression concerned as the moment stretched on.

“Cor? Prompto?” Nyx said softly, then Aranea heard...humming? Oh.

Everyone sat spellbound as specters appeared around them, more than one of them with Prompto’s features as the voice looked over and met the herald’s eyes, his expression distant and thoughtful as he opened his mouth and began to sing, the herald joining in almost immediately as the eerie tone was echoed by their spectral backup singers; the words were melancholy at first, then contemplative as they slowly began to shimmer and glow-

“The walls are starting to glow,” Libs whispered in her ear, and she looked around in shock as the song continued to grow more powerful in word and volume, and just as the song was coming to a close, the two men seemed to explode with light, blinding her instantly; she felt herself falling backwards on top of Libertus and she knew no more.

Aranea opened her eyes to see a beautiful blue sky overhead, and green grass to either side of her; she sat up slowly to see Libertus sitting up next to her, and Nyx doing the same a few feet away. Noctis was already sitting up, his expression somewhat dazed as both Gladio and Ignis joined him, and Aranea looked around to see grass as far as the eye could see, interspersed with the occasional flower.

“Where in the hell are we?” she muttered under her breath, drawing both Glaive’s gazes as she got to her feet, rotating in place until her eyes fixed on the backs of two familiar people standing in front of what was easily the tallest woman she had ever seen, Cor bowing deeply as Prompto did a silly little half-bow followed by a hug. “Holy shit.”

The Dawn Mother was swarthy and stout, with long cascading waves of hair that reminded her of the deep red fall leaves of the sourwood trees of the Piztala region, and she stood at least eight feet tall in a simple dress that looked straight out of a history book. If someone had asked Aranea how she would describe the Dawn Mother, it would not have been who stood before them, but then she remembered the weathered statues at the shrines in Galahd and found herself reevaluating. The six of them approached slowly, only for the spell to be broken by a little blue fox-like creature with enormous ears running at full speed towards Noctis, jumping into the already laughing prince’s arms.

“Carbuncle!” Noctis exclaimed, and Prompto and Cor turned away from the goddess, seeming to notice for the first time that they were all there as well. Nyx’s exasperated glare at Cor was a thing of beauty, and the marshal actually flushed. Prompto stared stupidly at Noctis for a long while before finally finding his tongue.

“We thought you guys were illusions...I think. You’re actually here,” Prompto fumbled his words, and the blue creature...Carbuncle, squealed something that made no sense to her, but Prompto groaned and Cor sighed at the sound, and for some odd reason, Noctis dug in his pocket and pulled out his phone. After a quick glance, he smirked.

“I think you’re right, Carbuncle,” the prince said, and the creature ran around Noctis’s shoulders in obvious glee before just jumping on top of his head and squeaking something else, another look at his phone and his smile turned boyish and sweet, a look she had never seen on his face. It suited him. “I’m happy to see you again too.”

“He just arrived shortly before you all did, your highness, I think he was keeping an eye on you all.” The whole lot of them jumped, even Cor and Prompto (although they recovered faster,) and Nyx and Libertus immediately dropped to a kneel before the goddess while the rest of them did a variety of bows and awkward glances at the ground, and what was someone supposed to do before a goddess anyway? When they were in front of Titan, she had been more concerned in not being squished to do any real genuflecting, but to stand in front of this woman felt more...intimate. “Peace, children. Any friend of my chosen is welcome here; it has been many centuries since so many have visited me thus.” She bade the Glaives rise with a sweep of her hand, and they all stood still as her eyes swept over them slowly. “Your work in Galahd has enabled me to permit so many into my domain, dearhearts, and I thank you for it,” the goddess said as her eyes returned to Cor and Prompto, both men blinking in confusion. “The shrines, my dears, you have reconnected them back to my heart, my spirit; while I could feel them before, without the touch of my chosen for so many centuries, their strength had waned to near-extinction. It has been a long time.” Cor crossed his arms, then raised a hand and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“More things you forgot to mention?” the marshal muttered, and Aranea’s eyebrows shot up as Nyx and Libertus boggled at him. Of all the people who she would have thought would get lippy with a god-

“It was part of your journey, Cor, and you both knew what to do when you came across them, so all is well that ends well, yes?” The Dawn Mother’s smile was winsome, and Aranea found herself liking the woman...goddess even more as Cor sighed and nodded begrudgingly. “Join me,” the goddess said, lowering herself to the grass, and Prompto was on the ground practically before she finished speaking, sitting by her left knee and looking quite content as Noctis and Carbuncle sat down next to him. Cor lowered himself to the ground by her right, and Nyx maneuvered himself next to his boyfriend, still looking a bit overwhelmed by the whole experience. Aranea and the rest of them finished the little circle, and there was a long pause as both Prompto and Cor seemed a bit thrown by the fact it wasn’t just them there with the goddess, their eyes moving between the rest of them and the Dawn Mother awkwardly.

“You two are the ones who brought us here, you know. Hopefully you didn’t cause Biggs and Wedge to crash the ship-” Cor and Prompto suddenly looked very alarmed, and Carbuncle, who had moved to Noctis’s thigh, squeaked and jumped into the air, vanishing in a little puff of smoke. “Where’d he go?” The Dawn Mother actually chuckled, hiding her smile behind a hand.

“Your companions on your ship came to ascertain your status after my chosen had finished singing and have discovered you all unconscious, Carbuncle is headed there to reassure them that you are all quite well,”  the goddess stated, and Aranea raised an eyebrow.

“No offense meant, your...my lady, but the little furry guy isn’t going to bring a lot of confidence on that point-” Noctis actually smiled reassuringly in her direction, and she shut up.

“Eh, he’s pretty good at it, Aranea, he’s just going to tell them the truth,” the prince said, and she looked at the younger man like he had grown a second head.

“Noctis, he speaks squeak, how is he supposed to talk to them?” she asked dubiously, and squinted when Noctis held up his phone.

“He sends messages. Although it sounds like Cor and Prom understand him, though. I wish I could,” Noctis said softly, and she smiled when Prompto reached over and let his fingers run down his boyfriend’s (well, one of them) face in apology. A moment later, the little blue dude reappeared in a flourish of tail and fur, and nodded to Aranea deliberately before returning to Noctis’s lap with a tiny noise. The Dawn Mother nodded in thanks to the creature, then raised her hands and laid them on Prompto and Cor’s shoulders, giving them both a friendly squeeze before putting her hands back in her lap and giving them all a maternal smile that even made Aranea feel a little squishy inside.

“So you have gone on this great adventure, dearhearts, have encountered both obstacle and aid, and have faced great peril, but tell me, did you find what you sought?” The question was clearly for her chosen, and Aranea watched a parade of expressions flash across both of their faces before Prompto turned and met the goddess’s eyes.

“Well, we found out about an old temple that sounded really important-” The Dawn Mother did not shake her head, but it was clear by her expression his answer wasn’t what she was looking for. Prompto chewed on his bottom lip for a moment before he looked over at Cor, realization lighting up his features. “I found myself a father, one who really cares about me, who won’t abandon me because I’m weird, or if he gets tired of me-” Cor’s own face softened, and he huffed out a laugh.

“-and I found myself a son, one who lights up the world wherever he goes, and has the heart of a lion.” Cor paused for a moment, then smirked. “A lion with the personality of a chocobo, but it surprisingly works-” Prompto squawked indignantly, but Aranea noted he didn’t exactly argue against the description as the goddess smiled at the two of them indulgently.

“Throughout the eons, I have never had a herald and voice that were so very close, that were so similar, and yes, while you both seem to forever deny it, you two share many qualities that have brought you close together...while I did not set out to see you two become thus, I can only be happy for you both that it has happened. And for you two to be surrounded by such wonderful friends, lovers, and companions, both present and not, only makes my joy ever more complete,” the goddess said, rising to her feet as she signalled for them to remain seated. They all watched in some bemusement as the Dawn Mother actually paced a small amount without speaking before facing them once more. “The institution that had grown around my chosen over the millennia had become overly bureaucratic and controlled, with both the elites of Solheim and even the Astrals to a lesser extent latching ahold of it over time, and while I loved every one of my chosen, they had reached a point where they rarely reached out to the people, and no, Cor, I do not mean just in those rituals that so concerned you, but at all. They would often be swept away by some king hoping to curry favor, or priests that claimed to do my work but just as often sought only their own ends, and they would be cloistered away. They turned into figureheads that would often only be seen once a year or so to make an appearance, to sing a song or two, then they would retreat back into solitude or splendid isolation, depending on the circumstances. While your journey is not yet complete, I hope you do not lock yourselves away once you are done, my chosen.” The Dawn Mother looked at all of them, both her chosen and the rest of them, and Aranea felt herself straightening automatically when her gaze swept over her. She was not one you wanted to disappoint, that was for sure. Prompto looked up at her with concern, and the goddess smiled down at him. “Yes, my heart?”

“What of Costlemark...er, Sarras? I’m guessing the whole thing about us being drawn there is important, right? We found old stories on how it was your...temple? Were we right to leave when we were there the other times?” Prompto asked, his teeth worrying his bottom lip, and Aranea immediately looked up to see what the goddess’s response was. Of all the questions that needed answering, that one was right near the top of the list, and she knew that she was dying to know as well. The Dawn Mother smiled at Prompto, giving him a slow, deliberate nod.

“The call to Sarras is something that happens to all of the Dawnsworn, it has happened since the time when it was little more than a deep cave under the earth, long before the great temple complex was built atop of it. It is not evil, or even truly something to be worried about, but it is a call that can be answered too quickly. The great sorcerers and priests of Solheim could use their magic to find my chosen almost as soon as I summoned them, and while that was important for their training and protection, it also forced them along a path that did not often allow them to reach their full potential, such as I have stated before. What you two have done is far better. To face one’s destiny when you are ready is far better than to be cast into it unprepared.” The goddess stood tall, gazing past them to a place Aranea knew they could not see before her head swivelled to focus directly on Cor. “ Oh herald, I beg your wisdom.” Cor got to his feet and faced her, his expression equally focused on her.

“Yes, my lady.” The Dawn Mother looked at him for a long while without blinking, then lowered her gaze.

“You are not the only one who stands at a crossroads, my herald. Tell me, should I continue on as I have? Once you two have returned to the earth, I was unsure whether I should choose once more or let it lie, but, perhaps-” The goddess never looked more human than she did at that moment, and Aranea couldn’t help a pang of sympathy for the woman. “Do I even have a place in this world? I have have been apart from it for so long...” Cor stood silent for a long moment as he looked at her, then his eyes softened as they began to glow with a soft light.

“You are ancient, my lady, and your long-term motivations are beyond anything I could ever hope to comprehend. But while it might take some time, I think you want to be more than just remembered. I believe you wish to rejoin the world the same as most of the other Astrals, the same as the guardian spirit that is here with us now. While you may not have liked the way things were going with your chosen near the end of Solheim, and yes, I did notice that you had stopped calling them several hundred years before everything crumbled, I think you enjoyed that connection with the world you helped build so many years ago. Whether it is us that help you regain that, or perhaps our successors somewhere down the line, but you do have a place in this world, my lady, and you will discover it once more,” Cor spoke, his voice resonating across the meadow and in Aranea’s heart, and she knew from a glance that she was not alone in her feeling. The Dawn Mother walked up to him with tears in her fathomless eyes, then cupped his face in her hands and gave him a kiss on the forehead, then beckoned to Prompto, doing the same for him.

“Did you know that I cannot remember the last time both voice and herald could sing together like you two? I do not speak of the little bit of harmonizing that is commonly done at the shrines and the like, but what you two just did to bring your companions here. It is a talent that your closeness has nurtured, my hearts, and I am in awe of it.” The goddess looked over at the rest of them, and gave them a broad grin. “I would ask that you go to Sarras, all of you together; join your friends and loved ones and escort my chosen to the culmination of their shared destiny, and to the shared destiny of us all. Thank you for your support of them, all of you, and please convey my blessings to those who are not among us right now. It is unlikely I will see any of you again in this way, but do not forget I think of you often, and hope for your continued health and success.” The ground seemed to fade away from under them, and only Cor and Prompto’s lack of concern kept Aranea from panicking. “Ah, yes, do make sure they take care of themselves, and that includes all of you as well. My chosen and at least one of their companions seem to be so haphazard about it-” The last thing she remembered doing before everything washed away in blue was giving Nyx a very pointed look.

“So, that happened,” she groaned, dragging herself off of Libertus, who she had sprawled on when the song magic or whatever the fuck that was kicked in, and a chorus of groans met her statement as she opened her eyes. The only ones not moving still were Cor and Prompto, who were curled around each other on the floor, and she figured that the three of them were finishing up their conversation before coming back.

“Lady A, are you alright? A strange blue creature that talked through text messages told us that you were talking with the Dawn Mother, but, well, you know, we were a bit skeptical,” Wedge asked as he held out a hand, helping her to her feet.

“Funny enough, Carbuncle was telling the exact truth. Those two decided to take us all to visit instead of just themselves, I just wish they had given us a little warning first.” She looked around the room, watching as Nyx slid to the floor and crawled over to where the two laid, Noctis, Gladio, and Ignis following suit just as Cor grumbled inarticulately under his breath and rolled onto his back. Nyx patted him on the belly as he opened his eyes.

“We would have appreciated a heads up, babe. I would have liked to have been a little more prepared before going in front of the Dawn Mother,” Nyx said drily, and Cor rolled his eyes as Prompto did much the same as Cor had just done, groaning and also flopping onto his back.

“She doesn’t care, Nyx. I know she’s seen me far worse, I don’t know about Cor-” The marshal snorted as he sat up, running a hand through his hair before reaching over and hauling Prompto upright as well, Gladio moving behind the blond and drawing him into his arms.

“Oh, she’s seen me looking like shit too. Don’t worry about it,” Cor commented, and Aranea got to her feet and walked over to the collection of men on the floor, putting her hands on her hips and glaring down at the lot of them.

“You two are lucky your magic only grabbed us in this room, what if it had grabbed the whole ship? We’d be a smoking crater on the far side of Tenebrae right now. That’s the main thing I’m a little peeved about,” she grumbled, and Prompto giggled nervously from his tallest boyfriend’s arms. “Also, why didn’t we do this when Luna was here? I’m sure she would have loved to meet the Dawn Mother-” Cor and Prompto’s headshakes were immediate, and Aranea frowned, feeling a bit hurt for her friend. “But why? Is it because she’s the oracle?” Cor sighed, but a tiny nod answered the question for her.

“It’s more the concern that the Astrals might get a bit territorial if the Dawn Mother brought her to her sanctuary,” Cor said, and well, that made sense, but- Aranea looked over at Noctis, who was leaning against Gladio and Prompto, and raised her eyebrows and pointed to him with a thumb. Prompto laughed, then shrugged, almost dislodging the prince.

“I think we risked it with him because the goddess and the Draconian aren’t really on speaking terms, so hey, why not?” Prompto turned his head towards Noctis and smiled. “After all, his awesome pal was there waiting for him too, which I had no clue about, before anyone asks, so it worked out.” Noctis smiled wistfully, then settled against Prompto more firmly.

“It was great to see him again, too. Maybe he can come visit in the future,” the prince said quietly, and Aranea knew there was a serious story there she wasn’t party to, but she didn’t ask.

“Well, I better make sure the magic light show didn’t rattle any feathers. Behave yourselves back here, no more shenanigans without warning me first.” Libertus met her eyes as she began to leave, a pointed look on his features.

“With this crowd?” Libs commented, and Aranea laughed and waved as she left the room.

“Yeah, I know, I try.”

Much to her surprise, the ship made it to Insomnian airspace without another incident. It helped that everyone finally just curled up and took a nap, and Aranea had been quite happy to blatantly amuse herself with the sight of Nyx and Cor curled together, which she had seen a few times, but something in her chest could tell that they were holding each other just a little tighter than before...although that might just have been because they looked two seconds away from falling off the bunk. The foursome hadn’t even bothered with the bunk and had just stolen all the pillows and blankets from the unused ones and nested together on the floor in a giant puppy pile; considering they were returning to Insomnia, a place where their relationship was still very much under wraps, they might have wanted to use a little more discretion. But then Ignis gave Prompto a kiss on the side of his head in his sleep, while Noctis was basically sprawled over all three of his boyfriends and Gladio was nuzzling into the prince’s neck, and it was all too cute for her. She’d wake them when they got close. Libertus was on his own bunk, of course, but a quick glance told her that he wasn’t asleep. She wasn’t surprised. His eyes met hers when she was stepping back out of the room, giving her a little smile as she closed the door.

Someone had to keep an eye on them, after all.

When there was no sign of any of them by twenty minutes before landing, however, she knew she was going to have to be the bad guy. Striding back into the bunkroom, she summoned her lance and banged it on the floor a few times, which worked...almost perfectly. The boys on the floor all groaned, but Ignis was upright almost immediately, the others shifting and rising at varying intervals after him. Libertus had been awake when she had come in, so he just sat up and stretched.

Then there was the other two. Nyx’s eyes had flown open immediately, but Cor was still dead to the world, from the look of it, and the two of them were so intertwined that Aranea simply raised an eyebrow at Nyx, waiting to see what he would do.

“Hate to be the meanie, but we are about fifteen minutes away from landing. I’d suggest you all stretch and splash some water on your face so you don’t all look like you slept in a giant pile,” she stated, still watching Nyx and Cor with amusement as Nyx started whispering in Cor’s ear. It didn’t work. Nyx tried bodily unpeeling the man off of him, only for the larger man to curl around him even tighter. “Need some help over there?” she asked as Prompto came to join her in observing the spectacle, a silly smile on his face.

“No, I’m fine. He’ll wake up soon,” Nyx said ruefully, just as the ship hit an updraft unexpectedly; Aranea grabbed Prompto to keep him from falling, the others managed to grab onto a nearby bunk, and Nyx and Cor bounced right off their bunk and crashed to the floor.

“Ow.” Cor groaned, finally letting go of the now-wincing Glaive as they both dragged themselves upright.

“Well, that worked, even if it wasn’t intentional. Just an updraft, everyone. We’re descending now,” she said, then met Cor’s eyes with a smirk. “It’s amazing how hard you sleep sometimes, old man.” The marshal sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose as she left the room once more to check on landing, smirk still firmly in place. Ten minutes found them waiting with luggage in hand in the loading bay, Prompto bouncing in place as the ship neared the ground. “You okay, Prompto?” she asked, and the blond nodded immediately, but-

“I can’t believe I just remembered, but the cars are still in Galahd! Are we going back for them later?” Prompto asked, and that...was a good question. Cor was the one who spoke up after sharing a glance with Ignis.

“We’ve arranged for them to be driven to Lestallum, where Cid and Cindy will take possession and probably hold them for ransom until the king goes and visits the old man himself,” Cor said with a hint of amusement, and Prompto grinned, sidling over to the marshal and bumping his shoulder against his arm, leading to the older man wrapping said arm around blondie’s shoulders. Aranea scratched absentmindedly at her cheek and smiled at the sight. They looked good together.

“Standby for landing.” The ship shuddered for a moment then settled down with a light thud. “Standby for bay door opening.” The door opened up to the sight of the king himself, as well as Lord Amicitia, Crownsguard Elshett, and Glaive Altius, all of whom glared almost in sync at the marshal and captain.

“Aw shit,” Nyx muttered under his breath, and Cor twitched, but did not move.

“Are you hoping that keeping me here will divert the inevitable lecture?” Prompto said with more than a little amusement, and the marshal...said nothing. Aranea saw his mouth twitch up at the ends, though, so she was positive the kid was right on the money.

“Welcome home, everyone, even if it’s not exactly how I pictured you returning. I trust you are all well?” the king said, then paused and gave a long-suffering look at Cor. “All of you but the marshal and captain, from the sound of it.” Cor raised his free arm and pinched at the bridge of his nose again, and Aranea sighed.

“Cor, get down there with the captain and face the fucking music. I don’t want to stand here all day,” she said flatly, and everyone else, king included, started to laugh as Prompto leaned over, gave the marshal a quick hug, then dove behind him and started pushing him down the ramp. Nyx groaned, but followed suit after a poke from Libertus.

“Come on, dad, you know how this works,” Prompto said, and everyone coming off the ship paused for a moment before grinning and continuing on. The king’s eyes glittered with amusement while Lord Amicitia’s mouth actually dropped for a moment before he recovered; Elshett and Altius just smiled knowingly as Prompto all but frogmarched his dad over and parked him in front of the four who had come to greet them, before grabbing Nyx’s arm and doing much the same.

“Marshal,” the king said, and Cor took a deep breath and stood up straight.

“Yes, your majesty.” His majesty looked over both marshal and captain for a long moment before returning his gaze to Cor’s face.

“When I gave you both clearance to go on this...expedition, I certainly wasn’t expecting to get a call almost a month later saying you had been kidnapped by imperial troops, with Captain Ulric almost dying trying to stop the belligerents, and my own son basically telling me that they were all going to rescue you, and tough shit if I had told him no,” the king said wryly, and Aranea couldn’t hold back a bark of laughter as Noctis preened and crossed his arms.

“That is pretty much how that went, wasn’t it?” she said, and the king smiled at her knowingly before addressing Cor once more.

“I understand that the rescue mission went surprisingly well, with the only casualties you, who I am given to understand may still be working off some residual sedation, and the captain, who refused to stay behind and managed to retear a stomach wound he had sustained in the original fight, which promptly landed him back in the infirmary upon your return to Tenebrae. Does that sound correct?” the king commented, and Nyx sighed quietly and nodded.

“Yes, your majesty.” The king looked transcendently calm for some reason, and had appeared so since the doors had opened, which Aranea did not understand, but she had a feeling they would be finding out shortly.

“Even managed to blow up the primary magitek research facility on the way out, taking out both Besithia and General Ulldor, from what I hear.” Ignis stepped forward and gave a quick bow.

“Yes, your majesty, we do believe they perished in the explosion,” Ignis reported, and the king hummed in acknowledgement, looking past the lot of them towards the Citadel.

“I received word from Tenebrae not thirty minutes before you arrived. It’s as of yet unconfirmed, but there are reports that the emperor has died.” Everyone’s head, except for Amicitia’s, snapped towards the king in shock, and the man nodded again absently. “Supposedly either in his sleep or from a heart attack. But again, it’s unconfirmed at the moment. The timing is...auspicious, at any rate.” Aranea’s jaw worked for a long while before she finally found her tongue.

“Holy shit.” The king met her eyes with thinly veiled mirth. “Well, that’s...convenient.” The king didn’t respond to her statement, but he looked away from the Citadel to the outside, his mirth fading to a neutral expression as the rest of them looked on.

“It’s not public, so keep it to yourselves for now.” His majesty turned around and smiled once more. “Well, it’s foolish to keep you all standing around with your luggage, let’s get you back home. Also, I think Dr. Domitia would like to have a look at you two.” Cor and Nyx both slumped slightly as the king indicated them, and with that, they all walked back to the Citadel, Elshett and Altius occasionally poking Cor and Nyx respectively in the back as they moved.  Once they were inside and away from the lobby, the king gave his son a hug, then backed away and looked him over. “Well, let’s see them.” Everyone looked a bit lost for a moment before Noctis grinned and stepped back, a shimmer of blue exploding into a spinning display of crystalline weapons that dazzled the eye. The king’s expression was joy mixed with stark relief, and she could see a bit of tension bleed away from the man on the spot. “I know you had told me, but forgive an old man if he wanted to see it in person.” The king looked between them all with a smile, then indicated Cor and Nyx once again. “You two, to the infirmary, Deputy Elshett, Glaive Altius, feel free to make sure they make it there. Madame Highwind, if I might speak with you for a moment, please. Everyone else, welcome home, we’ll discuss your trip at a later time after you’ve all rested.” Ignis and Gladio both bowed before grabbing Prompto and Noctis and heading off, the two oldies gave equally long-suffering looks before they were marched off by their respective deputies, and Libertus bowed to the king, flashed her a smile and left. When it was just her, the king, and Amicitia, he met her eyes and tilted his head. “Walk with me.”

The walk took them to an office, elegant and and just a bit cluttered with all sorts of antiques and other knickknacks, nothing really matching in the way the homes of people with old money often didn’t after centuries of use. The king rounded a large desk and sat down, indicating a seat across from him for her as Amicitia took a well-practiced perch at his own.

“Forgive me if I’m a bit confused as to why I’m here,” she stated as she sat, and the king leaned in and rested his forearms on his desk.

“I wanted to hear what happened to the marshal, Captain Ulric, and Prompto and why from someone that is, perhaps, a little less emotionally involved. I am not saying you aren’t friends, as it appears you all get along splendidly, but...you know what I mean.” Aranea nodded, looking at her nails before sighing.

“Besithia wanted Cor and Prompto. He really wanted Prompto, for reasons that became clear later, but he wanted both of them. It was him, and possibly the emperor, considering the attempt on your life, but definitely him who hired the failed kidnappers. It appears Ulldor was assigned to fetch them for him for the second try, and he made his attempt when it was decided to take a break from the endless reading and researching they were doing. Cor and Prompto had gone off to explore, and Nyx, Luna, and I all did much the same. Nyx split with us to go meet up with them, and from what I understand, caught up with them just as Ulldor’s team was attacking; they nailed Prompto immediately with some sort of sedative, then Cor fought them until he too was sedated, and from what I understand, the old man told Nyx to help Prompto, not him, and Nyx nearly killed himself doing just that. I heard the commotion and chased after them, I got there just as one of the last attackers managed to knock the thrice-shot Nyx out. It was a big fucking mess. We didn’t let him know, but if Luna hadn’t been right behind me, I don’t know if Nyx would have made it. He was bleeding all over the damn place, and the knock on the head wasn’t too shabby either. Prompto got off with only a few scratches, and Cor was toted straight to the magitek research facility,” she reported, and watched as the king and Amicitia locked gazes for a long, significant moment before returning to her.

“You answered the buildup, but why did Besithia want them?” Well, damn, she was hoping he wouldn’t ask that, but she knew that had been a stretch-

“As you can probably guess, Besithia was pissed when the Scourge was eliminated, and he was, along with the emperor, I suspect, trying to figure out a replacement,” she said, and for the first time since they had arrived, Amicitia spoke up.

“But why would they want Cor and Prompto-” Amicitia’s eyes went very wide, and he reached over and grabbed a very familiar book off a nearby bookshelf and began to flip rapidly through it, before settling on a page and reading it before handing the book to her, pointing at a specific section. “Please tell me I’m wrong. I want to be wrong.” A quick glance at the indicated section made her close her eyes and sigh, and Amicitia sucked in a breath. “Damn.” The king looked quizzically at the two of them.

“Feel free to enlighten me at any time.” Amicitia took the book back and handed it to the king, who read over the section at least twice, horror beginning to dawn in his eyes. “They would go so far?” the man gasped, and Aranea nodded solemnly.

“Besithia straight up said that was what he was planning, apparently. I have no knowledge of the way he was intending to go about that, but I sure as fuck don’t want to know or think about it. We actually got some help from the inside in finding Leonis, a young general who fancies himself a rival of sorts to Cor sent us a few coded messages hidden in the propaganda feed they transmit to Tenebrae. We never would have found him in time otherwise.” That got their attention, and Amicitia raised an eyebrow.

“Does this general have a name?” the lord asked, and Aranea frowned.

“Don’t think this is a sign he’s willing to defect, he’s very loyal to the empire. But it’s Loqi Tummelt, of House Tummelt. Old Niflheimian aristocracy.” Amicitia nodded with clear recognition, then the king leaned in once more.

“Now, why would Besithia want Prompto over Cor?” the man asked, and that was where she clocked out of the conversation. Shaking her head, she sat up in the chair and sighed.

“That’s between you and Prompto, I’m afraid. There’s some things that just aren’t my place to say, and that’s probably the biggest one. I’m just glad the bastard is dead,” she said bluntly, and the king gave her a long look before tilting his head.

“Very well, Madame. Thank you for your insight, my son is not always the best to get clear information out of, and I’ve largely been relying on his reports,” the king huffed out a laugh, and Aranea snorted.

“Doesn’t Ignis contact you occasionally?” she asked, and to her surprise, the king shrugged slightly.

“I fully expect to see an entirely unasked for novel-length report on everything that’s occurred since you all left Insomnia in a week or two, but he’s generally not one for on the spot updates unless instructed. He sent a few, but largely left it to Noctis.” The king leaned back in his chair, resting his arms on his stomach and drumming his fingertips together. “There were two main objectives to this whole adventure, and Noctis pursuing his armiger was tacked on for convenience more than anything. I assume that you now know the primary reason?” Aranea nodded, and the king raised an eyebrow. “Well, did they figure it out?”

Aranea got to her feet, then sat back down again, this time straddling the armrest; Lord Amicitia did not look amused, but he kept his mouth shut as she crossed her arms and smirked.

“They figured a lot of things out, your majesty, as you probably observed, but as for that? You know what? I think they did, even if they aren’t entirely sure themselves,” she said, her eyes fixing on the painting behind the king. “She looks like you.” The king blinked.

“Pardon?”

“You heard me. She’s got your eyes. Noctis has them too.”

“Madame, I-”

“The last legitimate member of the Aldercapt dynasty just died, if your intel is correct. The old man was so obsessed with taking over the world before he croaked that he forgot to make any heirs to inherit it. I’m sure some bastard third cousin is going to come out of the woodwork and try, but...I think Niflheim is tired. If you were going to extend a graceful offer of reconciliation and officially end the damn war, this might just be the time to do it. Of course, I’m no politician, but it’s something to consider. Take it from an old mercenary born on the slums of Gralea who wouldn’t mind switching careers one of these days.” The king got to his feet as soon as she finished, moving around his desk until he was standing directly in front of her. She met his gaze calmly as a smile slowly emerged on his dignified face, and she could finally see a real resemblance between Noctis and his father as his eyes lit up.

“I’ve found I’ve often gotten far better advice from those born in places that many in the upper echelons of society would consider...lesser, whether it be an ornery boy from the west side of town to a kind young man brought from some Gralean lab, or even an farseeker from Galahd-” The older man reached out a hand, and she reached up and clasped it with a smile. “I don’t see how a soon-to-be former mercenary from the rough side of Gralea would be any different.”

After she left his office, she worked her way down to the infirmary, wanting to at least check on the two hopeless ones before she crashed in her room for the night, only to walk in and discover that a whole damn party appeared to have sprung up in the waiting room without her. She nodded to Noctis and Gladio as she headed inside, smiled at Libertus, blinked at several Glaives and Crownsguards she didn’t recognize, then finally turned to a reliable source of information.

“Where the hell are they?” she asked Ignis, who tilted his head towards the back where the actual rooms certainly were. “Am I going to get murdered for peeking in on them?”

“It should be fine, as long as you don’t anger Dr. Domitia,” the advisor said, and Aranea nodded slowly before quietly slipping through the doors, walking the hallway until she heard several familiar voices outside what looked like the largest room, and she gave a single knock and entered. Cor was sitting up on one of the beds with an IV in his arm and looking thoroughly disgruntled while Nyx was clearly trying to get out of his own bed, only for a rather sturdy looking old woman to shove him right back down with some real force as Prompto, who was sitting in a chair in the corner, giggled.

“That never works, Nyx, you know this by now. Just accept your fate,” Prompto commented as he looked up at Aranea. “Hey! Finish your talk with the king?” Aranea nodded, grabbing an empty chair, spinning it around, and straddling it.

“He wanted a general what the hell happened, I gave him the gist, but I left elaborating on certain details up to you. Not my place,” she assured him, and got a relieved smile in return. “I did tell him why they wanted you two, though.” Cor groaned from his bed and Aranea paused. “Wait, someone told you, right?” she said hesitantly, and Nyx grumbled from his bed.

“Yes, as apparently you all left it to me to have the awkward conversation. Thank you, I think,” Nyx sighed, turning his head towards Cor. “I think we mutually decided to never bring it up again unless it’s absolutely necessary for some damn reason.” Cor nodded silently and firmly in agreement, and Aranea couldn’t blame either of them one bit.

“Fair enough,” she stated, and mimed zipping her lips before sighing. “I assume you two are okay, just getting a checkup?” Cor plucked at his IV, earning an impressive glare from the old doctor, and Nyx just muttered under his breath.

“If they stopped acting like children for another 10 minutes, I’d be done with them, but-” the doctor snapped, and Prompto and Aranea started laughing as two grown ass men both grumbled in impressive synchronization, and moments later, the door opened to Noctis, Gladio, and Ignis all peeking in before Prompto just waved them inside, followed by Elshett and Altius, who both gave their so-called bosses a glare that almost rivaled the doctor’s.

“Is Dr. Domitia still telling you two to lay still and shut up?” Altius said, and Aranea met her eye and gave her a nod. “Then stop being stupid and listen to her, you big babies.” Elshett just looked at Cor without speaking until the marshal finally flopped back onto the bed and sighed. Aranea raised an eyebrow.

“Impressive.” Elshett winked, then walked over to Cor’s bed and patted him on the arm.

“I’ve known him for almost thirty years, it’s pretty much second nature at this point,” Elshett said, looking over at Noctis. “Your highness, I assume the rest of you are in good shape from your adventure?” The prince nodded, and Elshett huffed. “Good, at least some of you manage to rest when you need it.” Cor opened his mouth like he was going to speak, only to get a look from Prompto this time, the young man having gotten up and wandered over to the marshal’s bedside. “Oh good, Cor, you’ve netted yourself a kid that knows when to shut you up. Sounds like the beginning of an excellent relationship.” The whole room erupted into laughter once more, with even the doctor and Nyx joining in; Aranea watched with a smile as Cor reached out and took Prompto’s hand in his own, his whole expression softening as he looked up at the blond.

“You know, Monica? I think you’re right.”

 

Chapter Text

When the media reported that the king was intending on leaving Insomnia to go on an vaguely explained trip, the public was uneasy at best. The last time the king had left the city was to retrieve the prince from Tenebrae, which had ended poorly, so they had a reason for their trepidation. The empire was still in a state of transition after the death of Iedolas Aldercapt, however, and even the occasional border bombardments of Tenebrae had some to an end, so there was hope that there would be no more threats coming from that front for the foreseeable future. Then it was reported that the prince, Marshal Leonis, Captain Ulric, and Prompto Argentum would be also departing with the king as well, and people started to get suspicious. Then rumors that the oracle would be present as well began to spread, and the public had finally had enough.

“Your majesty, we are receiving some significant public blowback from the rather...cryptic nature of your trip, are you willing to allow us a basic explanation we might release to the press?” Sulpicia, the head of the Media Bureau asked as they sat in Regis’s office, Clarus to his left like usual, and he looked over and met his friend’s eyes. They really didn’t want to come out and explain that they were going to what was effectively a religious ceremony of sorts, or what was probably going to be...basically because they were dying of curiousity. While the existence of the Dawn Mother was being acknowledged pretty commonly these days, the fact that the Citadel housed her semi-divine chosen was still an odd point to some of the population, and Regis had worried that it might anger the greater population to appear too involved with their affairs, however… Regis barely throttled back his sigh before he looked back towards Sulpicia.

“Do you have some idea of what we are doing?” he asked, and the woman gave a tiny smile.

“Rumors, your majesty, nothing more,” Sulpicia replied, and Regis leaned back in his chair.

“Indulge me.”

“The Dawnsworn are going to do some sort of ritual somewhere here in Lucis, and you are either involved or just going to watch. There’s some hardliners worried that you may actually anger the Astrals if that’s the case, a surprising amount of people want to know if it’s something they can come watch, and basically everyone just wants to know if that’s even what’s going on at all,” Sulpicia reported, her expression curious as she finished speaking. Regis looked expectantly at Clarus, who rolled his eyes and leaned forward to answer.

“Good to know that the Insomnian rumor mill is still nice and active. To answer your question, yes and the latter, for your first two points. The presence of the oracle should assuage the hardliner’s worries, and if it doesn’t, they can deal. As for the watching, technically, I understand it was once a public spectacle, but due to the lack of concrete information about how it will fully proceed, we aren’t announcing where we are going. We don’t expect it to be anything seriously dangerous, but the site is a ruin, which carries its own dangers for those not used to anything outside the city. That being said, we fully expect some to divine where we are going or otherwise follow us there,” Clarus stated, then sighed. “We were uncertain how to broach this with the public due to the unusual nature of the whole affair. Do you have any ideas?” Regis watched the woman as she sat back in her chair and crossed her arms, her whole countenance deep in thought. After a minute, she nodded to herself and met the king’s eyes.

“We tell the truth, but perhaps a bit more...general. The king and the oracle are observing a ritual being performed by the Dawnsworn here in Lucis as a matter of curiosity and due diligence, and-” Sulpicia looked between the both of them. “-if this is in your plans, of course, while perhaps touring part of the country and meeting the citizenry.” Regis hummed under his breath and glanced over at Clarus.

“Sounds like a solid plan to me, what do you think, Clarus?” he inquired, and Clarus pursed his lips and looked down at the table for a moment.

“Make sure the presence of the oracle is clearly stated. While things have once again calmed down following the news of the emperor’s demise, it would be best to try and not invite any further trouble, especially with those who would use any opportunity to stir up such things again,” Clarus stated to Sulpicia, and Regis inclined his head in agreement.

“Understood, your majesty, my lord. We’ll issue it first thing in the morning, I’ll forward the proof for final approval this evening,” Sulpicia said as she rose to her feet, Regis and Clarus both rising as well. “Enjoy your vacation, your majesty, my lord,” the woman said with a bow and a smile, and Regis chuckled.

“Much appreciated. Thank you for your hard work, madame.”

The release was basic and to the point, as they had discussed, and while there was some grumbling in the press, it stayed mostly calm. With all of the activity and talk swirling about Cor and Prompto growing ever greater after they successfully returned from Niflheim, they were beginning to find far more supporters than detractors, which helped quell the tide. The exact dates of their trip were not announced, but Regis was not surprised when there was reports of car rentals skyrocketing and various areas, especially the so-called immigrant areas, starting to look like they were packing up for a trip. It was going to be an odd expedition.

Cid and his granddaughter had delivered their cars back in person after Cor had secretly delivered himself, Regis, and Clarus directly to Cid’s garage, where the old coot had immediately shut the door and yelled at the two of them (Cor just sat quietly off to the side) for what felt like an age before they cried a bit and officially made up. After at least an hour or two of catching up, Cid had turned on Cor and yelled at him for getting captured, then lectured him for getting hurt on principle (Cor pointed out that Nyx had gotten far more injured than him, which just led to the old grump yelling at Cor for trying to change the subject.) By the end of the evening, Cid had literally shouted himself asleep, and the three of them left him a note and went back to the Citadel, where thankfully no one had noticed their absence. They didn’t hear a damn thing from Cid until three weeks after that, when he showed up with both cars looking like they had just rolled off the showroom floor and promptly extracted a promise that they would inform him when they headed out for their trip before bullying Cor into taking them back to Hammerhead. Cid never changed.

The day before they were all to depart, Luna and Madame Highwind having gotten in the day before, Regis decided to go visit Cor in his quarters, only to enter and discover that pretty much everyone else had the same idea. Cor, Nyx, and Prompto were all sprawled on the sofa, with Luna and Noctis in the armchairs, Ostium, Khara, Elshett, and Altius had swiped Cor’s barstools, and pretty much everyone else was on the floor. Even young Iris was present, a broad smile on her face as she leaned again Gladiolus, and Regis resigned himself to having the entire extended Citadel family on this trip. It was going to be a logistical nightmare, but he was going to enjoy it; he hadn’t been out of the city in over twelve years, and this time, it was for something he was just going to watch. While Cor hadn’t guaranteed no disasters, he seemed pretty settled with what was going to happen. Regis could work with that. The fact there was so many gathered in the marshal’s quarters didn’t escape him either. The Cor of even five years prior would have been stunned to see himself now, so surrounded by friends and family; Regis had no doubt of this, and it brought a smile to his face.

“I’m quite sure I’ve never seen this many people in here, Cor,” he said as he closed the door behind him, and chuckled when half the room jumped to their feet. “No need for that, I’m just visiting as a friend.” Noctis silently relinquished his seat, and Regis sat down with a sigh. “So we all caravan to the Fallgrove area, camping overnight at the Killiam haven while at least some of you sneak off to Wiz’s Chocobo Post, then we pretend we weren’t followed by who knows how many people as we approach Costlemark. I’ve actually been there before, if only for a very short time in my youth, it will be interesting to see it again. What did you say it was called in antiquity, Cor?” he asked, and Cor scooted back until he was seated somewhat straight and met his eyes.

“Sarras. Once upon a time, it was a temple-city filled with the faithful to the Dawn Mother, from what we’ve discovered, and from what I can...glean, this feels right. It was also seen as a defensive structure, as while the above ground part lies in total ruins, we have strong reason to believe that it extends very far underground,” Cor replied, and Regis nodded. While he wouldn’t be going in, considering Clarus had put his foot down, and so had Cor, maybe someday…

“Are you worried about what you told me happened last time?” he inquired, and Cor and Prompto both sighed.

“We think it was a test. She wasn’t real forthcoming with us, so the fact that we didn’t stay may have actually been a good thing. But she seemed to think it was the right time now, so we are hoping that approaching Sarras intentionally and prepared will be far better this time, versus just being lured in. It wasn’t…pleasant.” Cor’s expression was brooding, and Prompto’s wasn’t much better; Regis watched with a slight smile as Nyx wrapped his arm around Cor’s shoulders, giving Prompto a poke in the shoulder to knock both of them out of their growing stew.

“Then we shall hope that everything goes smoothly. You aren’t expecting any sort of catastrophic issues with this, are we? If this is going to level half of the Duscae region, I’m going to have to call it off ahead of time for obvious reasons,” he commented, but he knew damn good and well it would have never come up at all if Cor or Prompto foresaw anything like that happening, and sure enough, they both shook their heads.

“No, if it’s gonna hurt anyone, it’s going to be us, but we are hoping not, of course,” Prompto said, and Regis (and most of the room, for that matter) frowned.

“I’m really hoping that’s not a major concern?” Elshett stated from her perch, and Prompto shrugged.

“I doubt it; it would be weird for something that’s supposed to be this sacred place for the goddess to be too dangerous, considering...although it’s very likely there are creatures and stuff in there that will need to be removed,” the blond commented, and Altius laughed.

“Well, no worries about daemons anymore, at least,” the Glaive stated, and everyone heaved a frighteningly synchronized sigh of relief. Regis watched as Highwind snorted out a laugh, leaning brazenly against Luna’s legs as she stretched.

“And we thought our previous camping crew was pretty good sized, this is going to be wild,” the dragoon said drily, and Regis couldn’t argue that.

They all set out the next morning, Regis regretfully relinquishing the Regalia to the boys and Iris as they led the procession out of town, Cor driving the Auctoritas with the same passengers as his previous trip while Glaive Khara drove the newest addition to the royal fleet, Novum Terrae, already nicknamed Nova, and Noctis had already told him to knock it off with the old overwrought names (but he liked them though,) with him, Clarus, Deputy Elshett, and Glaive Altius all in the car with them. The council had been beside themselves when they were told that both heads and deputies for both the Guard and Glaive were going with them, but Ackers was an old hand at running things, and the Glaive had no planned activities during their absence beyond the ones who were coming with them as extra security. Their six car fleet departed Insomnia without a hitch, and Regis pretended not to notice when a rather sizeable convoy of both newer and older vehicles began to join in behind them as they drove down through the outer checkpoint and out into the arid Leide region. He couldn’t stop smiling as they continued along, and even Clarus looked a bit nostalgic as they passed the cliffs and scrub of the area.

“It’s nice to get out again, even if it’s just for a week or so, isn’t it, Clarus?” he mused, and his old friend nodded.

“It’s been a long time, Regis. It’ll be good to see at least a little of the rest of Lucis for once. Insomnia is wonderful, but there’s only so many high-rise buildings you can see before you just get tired of the whole thing,” Clarus replied, and Regis had to agree. After a long, quiet, pleasant ride down the main road, it was Elshett who spoke next.

“Are we stopping by Hammerhead? I believe I heard that if we didn’t...err, pick up Mr. Sophiar, we would live to regret it,” the Guard said, and he and Clarus both huffed out a laugh.

“That’s a way of putting it. Yes, we’ll be making a brief stop for them. I believe they will be following in their own vehicle, however,” he explained, and Elshett smiled in understanding. Another ten minutes later, the whole massive convoy, both official vehicles and not, pulled off the side of the road next to Hammerhead, and Regis, Clarus, and Cor all got out and walked not ten feet onto the grounds before they could all hear Cid grouching at them from clear across the lot.

“Did j’all empty out the damn city or something? What’s with all these cars?” Cid grumbled as he walked up, his granddaughter following in a truck, and Regis extended a hand without a word, the old grump taking it with a sigh. “Well?”

“Including yours, the first seven cars are officially part of our caravan, the rest are following because they are curious about what we are going to do. We expected some, but-” Cid squinted up at him dubiously.

“Reggie, there’s probably a hundred cars parked on the side of the damn road out there, is this thing a ritual or a festival?” Cid asked, and Cor pinched the bridge of his nose before running his hand through his hair with a sigh.

“At this point, probably both. I certainly didn’t expect this many, but there’s not much we can do about it now, as long as they behave themselves.” Cor stepped away and turned towards the cab of the truck. “Good afternoon, Cindy, are you sure about this?” the marshal said wryly, and Regis couldn’t help but smile as the blonde waved his concerns away.

“Ah, don’t worry about it, marshal! Looks like fun!” Cindy exclaimed, and Cor snorted and waved before turning back towards the rest of them.

“Well, let’s get out of here before the rest of our...entourage decides to join us,” Clarus commented, and Regis looked out towards the line of cars and forced down a sigh.

“Probably best. Cid, we’ll leave a gap so you and Cindy can file in behind us,” he said, and Cid nodded.

“Sounds good. See you there.” Everyone filed back to their respective vehicles, and thankfully, no one tried to hop the line when they let Cid and Cindy’s truck in, and off they went. There was something patently ridiculous about the whole affair, with the long train of vehicles snaking through Leide towards Duscae, and Regis had a feeling the line was only getting longer as they continued. He couldn’t think of any time where something like this had occurred in Lucis offhand; he knew that King Commodus LVII had held gladiatorial games in a pop-up stadium in Duscae which drew large crowds, but that was many centuries ago. This was something altogether different. The council was probably already getting reports, and they hadn’t even stopped for the night. He fully expected a very polite (ha) lecture when he returned.

He didn’t care.

After a few hours, they pulled up to the haven they had chosen to stop for the night, set away from the road near Fociaugh Hollow, a cave he had travelled to as a young man, and the Glaives and Guards who had accompanied them poured out of their vehicles to alert the rest of the convoy that they were stopping for the night and to not block the road. Regis watched with complete amusement as Gladiolus and Cor set up his tent (he would be sharing with Clarus,) his son’s tent, Cor’s tent, and Luna’s tent; somehow managing to both finish setup in record time and make all these damn tents fit on the haven. The rest of the crowd, both official and not, were soon set up in a tent city that seemed to spread out in almost all directions on every scrap of vaguely level ground. Some were little more than sheets tacked to the side of their vehicles, some were elaborate affairs that made his own tent look rather underwhelming. It was utterly surreal, and against all recommendation, he began to walk around a bit, a somewhat tense Clarus at his side as he weaved through tents and spoke with his people one on one like he hadn’t truly done in many years. It was refreshing, even if the Guards and Glaives were looking somewhat strained as they kept an eye on him.

After about thirty minutes of chatting with the pilgrims and sightseers, he watched Prompto dash on by, and smiled.

“Prompto, are you going to the chocobo farm?” he asked, stifling a chuckle as the blond stopped so quickly he nearly tripped over his own feet.

“Your majesty! Would you...like to come with us?” Prompto asked hesitantly, and Regis locked eyes with Clarus, who sighed with a tone of pure resignation.

“You know what, Prompto? That sounds lovely. How long is the walk from here?” he asked, and the younger man grinned, falling in beside him and waving an arm.

“Probably around thirty minutes? We could probably take a car, if you prefer-” Regis cut him off with a shake of his head, and Prompto nodded. “Alright, we are meeting over by the roadway…” The three of them, plus a ever-shifting crew of bodyguards walked over to the road, where the usual suspects were already waiting, including a bemused Cor and oddly excited looking Highwind and Luna along with his son, his companions, Cid, Cindy, and several of the Glaives.

“Well, this doesn’t look suspicious or anything. Are you expecting something interesting to happen at the chocobo farm?” Regis asked with a smirk, and the look on his son’s face was enough to answer that. “Well, I’ve been invited along, so hopefully I’ll get to see what has Noctis so amused,” he said, and it was Prompto who giggled in response, so he had no doubt it involved him. Without further ado, they set off to the southwest, most of the guards staying behind as they walked at a leisurely pace, Regis listening with amusement to the conversations around him. They passed other groups of pilgrims and the curious as they walked, most bowing to him, Cor, and Prompto, which he could tell they were still unaccustomed to, occasionally Noctis, and to Luna as well. At some point, Luna came alongside him and offered him her arm, and the two walked together as they proceeded down the side of the road, the few cars that passed slowing down to a snail’s pace as they tried to see what in the world was going on. By the gawking faces he could see staring out car windows, at least some of them were recognized, and Regis was half surprised that some of the cars didn’t just join in the fun just from the strangeness of it all.

When Regis could see the chocobo farm up ahead, Prompto suddenly split from the group and dashed forward, the others barely restraining themselves from following as he all but skipped to within view of the feathered creatures.

“Here they come,” Gladio commented with clear amusement, and before he could inquire, the farm seemed to explode with activity, the birds leaping out of their pens and away from their handlers as they ran straight for the blond, who stopped dead as the stampede actually caused Clarus to step partially in front of Regis out of concern.

“It’s fine, dad, Clarus, Prom is a yellow chocobo magnet. Supposedly the goddess’s creatures, they did this and scared the shit out of us the first time we visited,” Noctis explained, and they all watched as Prompto disappeared in a cloud of feathers, the sound of kwehing and laughter ringing from the mass. Regis blinked at the sight and tilted his head.

“Are you sure he’s alright?” he asked aloud, and then it registered what Noctis had said. “What do you mean yellow chocobo magnet?” A single, tiny cry came from much closer, and he looked down to see a single black chocobo chick walk solemnly past them, stopping in front of Cor before jumping on his boot; the marshal looked down with soft eyes before leaning over and picking the little bird up, where it promptly got comfortable in his arms and rested its little beak on his shoulder. It was unbearably cute, and he exchanged an amazed look with both Clarus and Cid before turning back to soak in the scene. “Never knew you to be a chocobo aficionado, Cor,” Regis said slowly, and watched with glee as the younger man’s cheeks actually colored for a moment before he turned towards them as stately as a grown man could look while holding a baby chocobo.

“During our trip, it became clear that the black chocobos seem to have an...affinity for me. There was an adult black chocobo we came across in the Myrlwood while we were looking for another arm for his highness, and she was-”

“Utterly in love with you? She was so jealous of Nyx, it was hysterical,” Aranea chimed in helpfully, and both Cor and Nyx sighed.

“...it was pretty funny, in hindsight,” Nyx commented as he gently reached out towards the chick. “Even if she did knock me on my ass.” They all watched as Nyx let the little bird sniff at his hand before he started to pet it, and Luna tittered next to Regis.

“This one seems to tolerate you, at least,” the princess said to Nyx, and the captain huffed out a laugh as he stroked the bird’s little head, Cor standing perfectly still as Regis could no longer resist, reaching out and petting the chick’s side a few times before withdrawing.

“I hate to say this, everyone, but perhaps the owner of these fine birds might be a bit put out that his entire flock has run off?” he pointed out, but Ignis, who had come up close to him, actually shook his head.

“They did this last time, and I’m sure he’s well aware of our presence in the area-” Ignis started, only to be cut off as a somewhat portly middle-aged man dressed in practical working clothes approached, stopping about ten feet away from Regis and giving a light bow to him before turning towards Cor.

“Did I hear someone mention an adult black near the Myrlwood?” the man asked, and Ignis nodded, reaching out a hand for the other man to shake.

“It is good to see you again, sir. Yes, she followed us, and by us, I mean the marshal, around while we were taking care of an errand. Why do you ask?” Ignis said, and the man frowned thoughtfully as he watched Cor with the chick.

“The egg was found abandoned and harassed by predators by a hunter up there, who rescued it and brought it to me. Perhaps it’s from the adult you interacted with.” Regis watched as Cor frowned, shifting the chick in his arms and then approaching the stable owner.

“Apologies for the ruckus, Mr. Forlane. It’s a rather unusual expedition we are on,” Cor said, but Forlane waved away his statement almost immediately.

“Sir, you’ve brought a month’s worth of business my way in a night, it’s fine. I’ve got to head back and continue cooking, but I wanted to say hi after my birds all ran off. It’s probably a good thing I only have the one black one, or you would be smothered like Mr. Argentum is right now. Not that he seems to mind,” Forlane chuckled, and sure enough, Prompto’s head popped out of the mass of yellow and grinned.

“Hey Wiz! I see your flock has grown, time without the daemons has probably helped, yeah?” Prompto shouted to be heard over the omnipresent cries of the birds, and Wiz nodded as they all started to walk again, Prompto escorted by what looked like several dozen chocobos while Cor quietly kept hold of the one black chocobo as they approached a small area with tables crammed with people; everyone turned and gawked as they headed up to the building, Wiz breaking away and talking with someone before turning back to them.

“It’s probably not what you are used to, but I’d be happy to whip up some dinner for you all, my supplies are still holding steady even with the rush. How’s some of my club sandwiches sound?” the man offered, and Regis looked to the others before tilting his head with a smile.

“That sounds perfect, Mr. Forlane, thank you.” Without so much as asking, several of the tables emptied out, and for the first time in a very long time, Regis sat at a small outside table and enjoyed a nice, hearty meal with family, friends, and comrades, the chocobos withdrawing enough for them to eat undisturbed. Well, except one. Cor stood a few steps away from the table, still holding the black chocobo chick; his expression was bittersweet as he absently ran his hand up and down the little feathered back.

“You think your feathered girlfriend has...departed, don’t you?” Ostium asked gently, and Cor sighed.

“Very possibly, unless she thought the egg was already a loss and fled. It’s unfortunate. At least this little one will survive here,” Cor said quietly, before leaning over and carefully placing the chick on the ground, much to its noisy chagrin. “Hopefully she made it, though.” Without another word, Cor sat down next to Prompto and made a half-hearted attempt to wipe his hands off before digging into his own sandwich, leading to a grimace from Cid.

“I see your table manners haven’t improved any, kid,” Cid drawled, and Regis settled in for the next act in the evening’s entertainment as Cor’s head spun around indignantly.

“This coming from the man who once toasted his bread on a truck engine. Clarus, am I remembering wrong, or have I not forgotten him once eating a burger with so much automotive oil on his hands, and dirty oil at that, that someone came up to him and asked if the black bun was a special recipe?” Cor countered, and Regis met Clarus’s eyes with a smile as his oldest friend rested his elbows on the little table and propped his chin up on his hands with a grin.

“No, you do remember correctly, Cor. I also remember being served a beer that had so much grime on it that I had to find the cleanest rag Cid had sitting around just to be able to drink it without getting a mouthful of transmission fluid and dirt. Although to be fair, I think I remember a few more things with you, too-” Clarus smirked as both Cid and Cor rolled their eyes, and Regis could see the engrossed amusement on everyone from Prompto to Nyx as they waited for more. He couldn’t help but chime in.

“Clarus, I seem to remember a time where you actually ate your dinner off your sword...which you hadn’t cleaned off after helping with a hunt. Although to be fair, that was probably your worst offense in that vein,” Regis commented, and Gladio and Iris began to laugh as Clarus closed his eyes in irritation for a moment before turning his gaze on him. Oh dear.

“Regis, this is from the same man who thought the skewers in Lestallum weren’t spicy enough after you had drunk a few too many beers, so you asked them to make them stronger, and stronger, and stronger, and by the time they brought them out, I’m pretty sure they just coated the things in those ghost pepper things before handing them over to you.” Regis groaned, his hand flying to his stomach out of impulse, and his son snorted.

“That bad, huh?” Noctis asked, and Regis couldn’t even bring himself to speak as he remembered the horrors of that meal.

“Let’s just say I don’t think I’ve seen the king have a single anything that resembles a Lestallum skewer since. I don’t think you ate for at least a full day after that-” Cor started, and Regis glared at him until Cor huffed, barely disguising the smile on his face as he closed his mouth. Conversation dried up as they set back to finishing their sandwiches, the chocobo chicks getting progressively braver and pushier as time went by, with the black chick all but sitting on Cor’s feet. After staring at the setting sun in the distance for a few minutes, Regis fixed his gaze on Prompto and Cor, both men stiffening slightly in response.

“Are you two prepared for whatever awaits you tomorrow?” Regis asked, and the two looked at each other before taking deep breaths and nodding, Prompto perhaps a bit firmer than Cor, surprisingly.

“Yes, I couldn’t tell you what we expect, but whatever it is, we’ve got this,” the blond said with complete confidence, and Cor looked admiringly down at his son (Regis was still getting used to that, but he couldn’t be happier for the two men. He always thought Cor would have been a wonderful father) before sighing and nodding one more.

“I second what Prompto just said,” Cor said bluntly, and Regis looked around to see a mix of slightly concerned and rather worried expressions all sitting up straight and meeting his eyes.

“You all intend to go inside with them?” he asked, and all of Cor and Prompto’s companions from their previous trip nodded, even Luna, which shocked him. “Luna, are you certain? Are you not concerned about a...conflict of interest?” he inquired, but the oracle only smiled.

“No, I’m sure I will be fine. Gentiana said that it was once a great spectacle, the blessing of the Dawnsworn and the rebirth of the tower of Sarras at their hands, and that she had personally attended several of these back in the days of Solheim. Well, not in so many words, but I’ve leaved to extrapolate with her over the years,” Luna said with amusement, and Regis tilted his head in acknowledgement as Prompto stepped away to hug several of the chocobos. “Shall we head back to camp? Probably best we not move around after dark with such a large group of people travelling alongside us.” Ostium nodded immediately and rose to his feet, and the others got the hint and followed suit shortly thereafter. Regis watched with a smile as Cor leaned over and petted the black chocobo for a few seconds before standing upright and moving towards Prompto to collect him.

“Your friends aren’t going to try and follow us all the way back, are they?” Clarus asked, and Iris pouted as both Dawnsworn shook their heads.

“No, they’ll stay here, they may follow us for a few minutes, but they’ll not go that far from here,” Prompto said as he gave the largest chocobo a final pat before beginning to walk.

“We can’t just take one? They’re so cute!” Iris exclaimed, and Gladio shook his head and patted his sister on the head as they thanked Wiz and departed the chocobo post together.

“We’ll come back, sis. You can ride them then.” Iris sighed in disappointment, but she nodded her agreement as they started down the road, the chocobos, as Prompto had explained, walked along with them for a few minutes before kwehing their farewells and remaining behind. Cid came up alongside him, already holding his back as they walked.

“Are you well, Cid? We can always ask someone to bring a car-” The old man scoffed and shook his head.

“I’m fine, Reggie. Just gettin’ old,” Cid stated, then looked up at him and snorted. “Speaking of getting old, is your decrepit ass going to be able to handle sleeping in a tent?”

Regis decided he wouldn’t mention that they had brought inflatable mattresses.

They all turned in relatively early, not quite sure what to expect when they arrived at the ruins of Costlemark, not when Cor and Prompto had already had several unnerving encounters there before. Regis hadn’t exactly been enthused when Noctis had relayed what had happened during both events, firstly with the enthralled Prompto, then the half-mad manic Cor (he had seen Cor near incandescent with fury a few times over the years, which was scary enough, but the description of what he had been like at Costlemark had chilled him to the bone,) and while they had all come along, the fact they were going somewhat blind into this was a bit disconcerting. But as Regis laid down on the air mattress and stared at the blue fabric ceiling of the tent, Clarus already snoring away next to him, the Guards and Glaives taking rotating shifts for the interim of their trip, he couldn’t help but feel excited for what could happen tomorrow. When Noctis had told him about how they literally met Titan, and the mighty astral had been approving of all of them, from the oracle to the dawnsworn, Regis had felt much better about the situation. If at least two of the astrals approved of what Cor and Prompto were outright, then that could only be a good thing.

 After several hours of dozing and not really reaching a full slumber, Regis sighed and quietly pulled back the covers of the sleeping bag, taking a quick look at his friend before heading out of the tent, nodding to the Glaive off in the shadows before allowing himself to stretch. He hadn’t probably been seen in public in clothes as plain as he was wearing in decades, but he certainly wasn’t going to wear silk pajamas to what was effectively a camping trip. A basic pair of linen pants and a light shirt would suffice for sleeping. The area was still somewhat alive with the sight of little lights decorating the terrain, and the sounds of quiet talking carrying up the hill to where the haven was, faintly glowing under his feet. He hadn’t seen the stars so clearly in at least ten years, if not longer, as the constant light pollution from Insomnia blocked all but the brightest from view. It was a joy to see once more. Especially because he could enjoy them without having to worry about daemons spawning, which would have certainly taken the shine off the whole gathering.

The sounds of light snoring reached him from Cor and Nyx’s tent, and he couldn’t help the smile that lifted up the corners of his mouth as he snuck closer hoping to peek in on the two men (not that he would admit it, but after everyone commented how cute they were sleeping together, he couldn’t help but be curious.) Sadly, they had put up their rainfly, and Regis snorted to himself before sighing. He was being a silly old fool, but after it had come out in Insomnia, there had been a surprising amount of blowback about the two being together, some political, but plenty along the same vein as the xenophobic protests. He had been forced to publicly acknowledge his approval of their relationship, and had also addressed that it had only helped, not hindered operations of both the Crownsguard and the Kingsglaive, a statement which both of their deputies also backed up immediately. The Council hadn’t been happy, and there had been some calls for one of the two to stand down from their leadership positions (to the surprise of nobody, these calls were almost always focused on Captain Ulric) but Regis refused to budge. Yes, the fact that the two heads of his military were in a relationship was a bit unorthodox, but, well, the fact he was the king had to account for something, and if he used a little muscle to get a few malcontents to quiet down when he knew damn good and well they were the best men for the job? It was worth it.

Then a nurse from the hospital that Cor had been treated at did a little interview with one of the Galahdian papers, talking about how devoted the two clearly were to each other, and slowly, slowly, public opinion turned. By the time they were seen in public together in Insomnia a full three weeks after the news broke (which was also a full three weeks after Cor got abducted, but well-) they were greeted with more cheers than boos, and the fact that people were beginning to assume that whatever had happened in Niflheim during the rescue had led to the emperor’s death, well…

It had been fortuitous, that’s for certain.

He had a feeling that when his son and his...partners slipped in public eventually, it wouldn’t blow over quite so quickly.

“Everything alright, your majesty?” Glaive Ostium said quietly as he moved in from the edge of the haven where he had been standing, and Regis nodded.

“Yes, I’m fine. Just thinking about recent events, that’s all,” he said, then something came to mind, and he directly met Ostium’s eyes. “I have a question I would ask, if I may.” Ostium blinked in surprise, but nodded. “How has Captain Ulric....Nyx, handling everything? Cor, much to my dismay, has managed to have multiple dire encounters over less than a three month period, and I am sadly well aware how draining that might be on a partner. Even though they are both soldiers, per se, there’s still that exhaustion that can come with it,” he asked softly, and Ostium’s eyebrows were quite far up his forehead by the time he finished speaking.

“Huh. Well, to be honest, your majesty, I didn’t expect to be asked that, but-” Ostium trailed off, looking at a place over Regis’s shoulder as he scratched at his jaw for a moment without speaking. “He’s doing okay. Things aren’t always perfect, of course, and there was a few times I could tell that the strain was getting to him a bit, but Nyx is a strong man, your majesty, and so is Cor. I think the two suit each other very well.” Ostium’s response was honest, if vague, and Regis knew he wasn’t entitled to personal details, but what the man had said worked for him. He nodded absently and smiled.

“That’s what I wanted to hear, Glaive Ostium. Thank you. My apologies for the sudden question,” he replied, taking a step back toward his tent before pausing. He shouldn't, and there was too many ears around, but- “How-” he sighed, and Ostium moved a bit closer.

“Your majesty?” Ostium inquired, and Regis ran his hand through his beard for a minute before he spoke once more.

“The four...what do you think of them? How do you think they are doing?” he all but whispered, and Ostium’s eyes widened before he actually smiled.

“I was wondering if you were going to ask. I'll be honest, I didn't know for sure until about a week into the trip, but-” Ostium huffed. “They are very subtle, which is definitely important in their situation, but they seem to be very close. When we got to the hospital after the marshal was taken, they were utterly distraught over the kid’s condition, and they were nothing but supportive when we headed off to Niflheim. They largely work together like a well-oiled machine, battlefield or not, which might just be indicative of how they are together. But I'm probably not the one to talk to, your majesty,” Ostium said a bit knowingly, and Regis huffed out a near silent laugh.

“Fair enough. Thank you, Ostium. I appreciate your help. I think I'll try to get some more sleep now.” Regis nodded to the Glaive as he went to open the tent door, and the man put a fist to his chest and bowed.

“Sleep well, your majesty.”

Clarus half-awoke when he reentered the tent, his oldest friend squinting blearily at him as he closed the tent door behind him.

“Everything okay, Regis?” Clarus mumbled, and Regis patted the man on his shoulder as he returned to his own bed.

“Just looking at the stars.”

The next morning saw their tent city pull up stakes in a refreshingly calm manner, with no real issues that Regis could see (and that the others reported.) Gladiolus and Ignis were out early, helping to make everyone breakfast, with Prompto, Cor, and Nyx joining in about a half hour later. Regis tried to help, but both Cor and Clarus pointed silently to a chair with that look on their faces, and he resigned himself to his fate. Okay, maybe cooking isn’t his strong suit, but must they? In true fashion, Noctis wasn’t seen until their morning meal was ready, with Ignis rolling his eyes and cajoling Regis’s sleepy son out of the tent before they all sat down and ate.

“So what’s the plan, everyone?” Clarus asked, and Prompto and Cor’s eyes met before they spoke.

“The tower will open at sundown, but we think we need to approach it perhaps an hour before that,” Cor stated, and Regis couldn’t help the sigh that followed.

“You think. More instinct, I assume?” Regis said a bit drily, and Cor shrugged and sighed while Prompto gave a nervous giggle and refused to meet his eyes. Well, he expected it, but still- “Do you think it best we keep everyone at least a little back from the ruin? If I remember correctly, it sits up on a slope, which will probably lead to the crowds attempting to swarm around the front so they can see whatever might happen...I’m actually more concerned about a stampede if they get spooked then by anything you two might be up to,” Regis explained, and everyone nodded. “Well?”

“That is an excellent point, your majesty. I’ll talk to the Glaive about it,” Nyx replied, and Cor started to nod as well until Clarus fixed him with a flat look.

“Cor, I’ll take care of it, as you’ll probably be rather busy, yes?” Clarus commented, and Regis smiled as Cor scratched at his nose and sighed once more. “That’s what I thought.”

It took another hour to finish breaking down everything else after their breakfast, and Regis even managed to help a little before being shooed away by one of the others. He’d call it a win. The time came for them to get on the road, and they all walked back to their cars, the rest of their extended entourage following suit as Regis looked back towards the campsite once more.

“Everyone ready to go?” Highwind asked, and Regis gave a single nod. “Then let’s go back to the giant spooky ruin.”

“Aranea!” Prompto whined as Nyx nodded firmly in complete agreement, and Regis stifled a laugh.

“Then shall we?” he said, and just as they were all starting to get into their vehicles, he heard an oddly-strained groan from his son.

“Not him again,” Noctis grumbled, and Regis turned around to see a small car parked on the opposite side of the road with a young man with a cocky smile and rather sparkly accessories waving to them. Despite the earlier protest coming from Noctis, it was Cor who sighed and walked around their vehicle, Nyx immediately behind him.

“Ghiranze, figured you’d try for a story?” Cor said bluntly, and Regis’s mouth dropped a fraction in understanding. A reporter, apparently, and one that his son and Cor were apparently acquainted with.

“Ah, just wanted to see if we could talk for a moment, because if I’m understanding what I’m hearing from your sizable caravan, you and the voice will probably be busy in a few hours,” Ghiranze replied, and Cor sighed once more.

“I make no promises to answer. You have ninety seconds,” Cor stated, and Ghiranze lit up, walking up to the marshal with a pleased and unbelievably flirty smile. Clarus choked back a laugh next to him as Highwind walked over with a full eyeroll already in progress.

“Cor doesn’t notice, before you ask. Dino did this last time, and if Nyx had needed a reminder of how much of a oblivious dip the marshal can be, he got it in spades. If I hadn’t put the fear of-” Highwind cut herself off, coughing, and Regis raised an eyebrow. “He actually caught Cor and Nyx getting rather...er, comfortable with each other at Galdin Quay before it officially leaked, but I convinced him to not say anything,” Highwind finished a bit rapidly, and Regis was quite certain that the first thing she had been about to say was far more accurate than a simply convincing, but well-

“A ritual, huh? I’m hearing the Costlemark ruins, is that where you all are headed?” Ghiranze asked, and Cor nodded sharply. “Okay, easy enough, so what’s so important about them?” Cor took a deep breath and sighed, crossing his arms.

“We believe they are the remains of the ancient temple city of Sarras, the center of the worship of the Dawn Mother; supposedly the seat of the Dawnsworn and the priests of the Dawn back in antiquity. They...” Cor trailed off, and the reporter tried to sidle a little closer, only for Nyx to calmly insert himself in-between the two men.

“They what?” Ghiranze asked, and Regis watched as Cor looked back at Prompto, then down at his hands. “Is this something the public needs to worry about?” Cor looked up instantly at the man’s words, immediately shaking his head. “Then what?”

“The ruins call to us, we are simply responding properly this time. We’ve been there for short intervals before, but now that we know what they are, we are returning to handle things as they should be done,” Cor said, his voice quiet, and Ghiranze huffed.

“As they should be done, huh? Well, considering the king is here, I’m assuming that it’s not going to end in a giant crater, so I’ll wish you luck, marshal,” Ghiranze said as he shot another heavy-lidded gaze and smile at Cor, who, as far as Regis could tell, didn’t even notice.

“Thanks. Well, we need to go, so if you are coming along, you’ll have to join the line,” Cor stated as he stepped away, and just as he was about to turn around, Ghiranze cleared his throat.

“Certainly. Thanks, I just have one more question; have you heard the reports of the little magic gardens?” Cor froze, confusion plain on his face, and he slowly turned back towards Ghiranze, who looked like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. Oh dear. Regis leaned against the car as much as he could manage to make sure he could hear them properly.

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Cor said honestly, and the reporter smiled winsomely. Regis had a bad feeling about this all of a sudden.

“There’s one in the hills by Galdin Quay, another one near the haven on the road to Ravatogh, at least one or two in Galahd. A little garden of improbably beautiful local foliage that apparently appeared overnight and seems to be rather resilient. There’s little more than scrub able to cling to either of those places, yet there’s a beautiful little garden, just there. I’ve seen the one in Galdin myself, and anything you pluck or pull, regrows within a few hours-” It was Nyx who reacted first, his eyes going extraordinarily wide in what looked all too much like understanding, the man thankfully having already been looking away from Ghiranze when he was speaking, and Regis (and by the choking sound, Highwind) was pretty sure what the implication was that Ghiranze was getting at. Oh Cor. You just had to get yourself a younger, apparently more adventurous partner- Regis could see the moment that Clarus understood where this was probably going as well, his oldest friend actually turning towards the car so he could die of silent laughter in peace. As for Cor-

“I...have no idea of what you are talking about, Ghiranze. Excuse me.” Cor moved so quickly back to his car that Regis barely had time to blink, and unfortunately, that probably gave the reporter the real answer, the man actually flushing slightly as his smile turned absolutely gleeful. Regis could see when Ghiranze got the idea of talking to the rest of them, and with far less grace than usual, they all scrambled back into their vehicles.

“Let us get out of here before he tries to talk to us, too,” Clarus commented, and Glaive Khara nodded, starting the car and pulling away with the rest of them as Ghiranze, still smirking, returned to his own vehicle. When the convoy was safely underway once more, Clarus started to laugh, a full-belly production that Regis hadn’t heard since...them finding out about Noct and the boys, and it sent him into his own gales of laughter, the rest of the car following suit as they headed down the road.

“So let me get this straight, Nyx, and I’m blaming Nyx for that one and no one is telling me otherwise, convinced the marshal to sneak off to the cliffs by Galdin to have a little alone time, probably because they were traveling with a group and didn’t want to be overheard, and because the marshal...herald has super magical unnamed body fluids, they’ve managed to create a damn garden? Maybe he can help with the drought-ruined soil at the edge of the Leide area,” Altius commented between laughs, and Regis finally just slapped his hands against his face with a groan.

“I’ve known Cor since he was twelve, and if someone had told me then about this whole situation, I would have thought them mad. But here we are, off to watch them face their destiny, as it were. They just needed a little levity in there as well, clearly,” Regis said in-between deep breaths, before finally sagging against the leather seat as another thought came to mind. It wasn’t so funny when he remembered what Besithia had planned to do with Cor and Prompto, but this was at least the consequence of an entirely consensual relationship. As for Altius’s statement-

There was only so much amused pondering he could do about the whole situation before he remembered that whatever was true for Cor, was true for young Prompto, and his mind certainly didn’t want to go down that route. Clarus, from the expression that had just flashed across his face, had also remembered much the same. Definitely made things a bit more awkward.

“Was the marshal driving?” Elshett asked as she turned in her seat, and snorted. “Oh, good. Ostium’s driving, Cor can have his silent meltdown in peace while Ulric tries to calm him down. Of all the people in the world to have such...abilities, it goes to the one that is both rather private and easily embarrassed about such things.” Elshett paused, then grimaced. “Well, there’s two of them, but I’m not letting my brain go down that rabbithole. I’ve got enough to deal with than to ponder the sex lives of young men less than half my age.”

Regis barely avoided choking on his own spit.

The rest of the drive went thankfully calmly, and as they approached the Fallgrove, a tension fell upon them as Regis remembered what Cor and Noctis had told them about their previous two visits to the area, and he couldn’t help but peek at the car behind them to make sure he could still see Cor’s brown-haired head before leaning forward and doing the same for Prompto before settling back with a sigh. They didn’t seem quite as concerned this time, but still-

“Where are we going to park? The sides are fenced in, we’ll have to partially block the road with this group,” Khara asked, and Clarus nodded.

“Then that’s what we will do. Only one side, though, so people can still get through. If, for some reason, this becomes more of a destination in the future, then we’ll have to consider something like a parking lot or widening the road in this area,” Clarus stated, and Regis nodded slightly in agreement.

“So we’ll park at the small actual parking area by the haven, and have the Guard and Glaive direct the rest of the crowd into parking along the side of the road before there’s confusion. Then we have to consider camp-” Elshett trailed off, looking over at Altius before nodding to Regis. “The area is heavily wooded immediately around the ruins, but I believe it does open up, especially to the north and northwest of the area. We probably should strongly suggest people camp over there, but at least at some distance away from any obvious ruins,” Elshett said, and the rest of them nodded in agreement.

“Your majesty, you said you had been there before, right?” Altius asked, and Regis hummed.

“Only for a short time, I didn’t even go into the central tower area, as there was some concern over the condition of the bridge. I do know that the complex clearly spread over a large area before it was destroyed, as there are ruins starting over a mile north of the main tower stretching all the way to the primary buildings. I seem to remember a fishing pond with what looked like a henge or altar of sorts in the middle, and that was the furthest point, I think. Clarus was with me on that trip, so he can probably confirm what I remember. Have any of you three been there?” he asked, and received understandable headshakes in reply. Hard to do much traveling in the middle of a war, and what travelling was often done didn’t leave time for sightseeing.

“Everything I know of the area is based on photos and maps, your majesty, so hopefully what I’ve researched is correct,” Elshett explained, and Clarus nodded.

“Sounds right to me. Lead on, Glaive Khara.”

As planned, the official cars, minus Cid and Cindy’s, managed to squish themselves into the little parking area, with Cid’s truck starting the line of regular vehicles parked as far off the road as they could manage. The line of cars stretched out of sight, it was so long, and Regis couldn’t help but boggle at it for a moment before taking a deep breath and approaching Cor and Prompto, who were looking a bit...squirrely. Cor’s hands were clenching and unclenching, while the blond looked two seconds from bouncing into orbit. His son, Ignis, Gladiolus, Nyx, Luna, Highwind, and Ostium were all standing around looking concerned, but none of them were touching them. Interesting.  

“Are you two...alright?” he asked gently, and it took a beat longer than usual for either of them to respond to even the sound of him talking, Cor slowly turning towards him with his eyes focused on something that certainly wasn’t him, and he frowned as he shifted a bit closer to the two men. Clarus made an aggrieved sound next to him that told Regis that he wasn’t seeing things, and Regis hesitated for a moment before reaching out and clasping his old friend’s arm. “Cor?” Another pause, then Cor and Prompto shuddered, taking deep breaths almost in perfect sync before Cor’s eyes finally focused on him.

“I’m fine. I think we can resist the feeling now,” Cor muttered, and Prompto nodded.

“Yeah, I think so...as long as we don’t get any closer until it’s time. It’s hard to describe, it’s not a voice or anything, it’s just an overwhelming sensation of welcoming, but welcoming to the extent of abandoning all else. It’s...strange,” Prompto explained quietly, and Regis could see the others all sag a bit in relief around them as they finally got articulate answers out of the two of them.

“Shall we set up the campsite so you all can relax for a few hours until it is time for you to begin?” Regis asked, and Cor took another deep breath and nodded. Regis followed behind as the rest of their party walked over to the haven, everyone keeping an eye on the Dawnsworn as they set about assembling tents and chatting quietly amongst themselves. After their campsite was set up, Cor and Nyx sat down inside their open tent, and Regis watched as Cor shifted until he was facing the Glaive before leaning in and setting his forehead on the younger man’s shoulder, Nyx’s arms coming around his back instantly as they spoke to each other. Regis watched as the Glaive’s hands started to run up and down Cor’s back in a clear attempt to soothe the man, and he finally forced himself to look away and give them some privacy. He was glad that Cor had found someone like Ulric, who, while he could be a little cocky, was from all appearances a genuinely kind and loving man; the kind of person Cor could lean on when he needed to. Regis was truly happy for both of them.

“I know we’ve talked about this before, but Cor’s really found himself a keeper, hasn’t he?” Clarus whispered as Cid blatantly stared at the two men in question, and Regis smiled his response. “I wonder how the kid is doing…” Clarus got to his feet, and Regis immediately followed. The two of them walked casually around the campsite until they stopped off to the side of Noctis and his...partners’ tent, discovering that they too had not fully closed the door; they both froze as they tried to peek in without being noticed, which was probably horribly obvious from the outside.

Inside the tent sat Prompto, his head resting on Noctis’s shoulder while Gladiolus sat behind the two of them, his arms wrapped around them both; Ignis sat to Prompto’s left, holding his hand while slowly stroking his other hand down Prompto’s arm. Regis remembered what Ostium had said, how they just seemed to fit together, and he had to agree as he watched the four men all talk to each other softly as they tried to relax the youngest of their group. Regis swallowed heavily as he watched them, his eyes prickling as he held back an ill-advised bark of laughter. They were alive. They were all alive. Noctis would never need to become the final, so-called chosen king, fated to die young; Prompto would have a hopefully full life surrounded by people who loved him, even Gladiolus and Ignis would be able to have long healthy lives untainted by extreme loss. Luna wouldn’t need to whittle her life away summoning the astrals for Noctis, and hell, even relations with the empire were looking more like they could, at the very least, be patched up enough to call the war finished. As Highwind had prophesied, at least four distant cousins of the emperor had all staked their claims within days of Iedolas’s death, but also, as she had stated, the people of Niflheim were tired of war. While things had not yet stabilized there, the fighting had completely stopped on all fronts, and it was looking less and less likely that anyone with the name of Aldercapt would be taking over the leadership of the country.

What a change from just a little over a year ago.

“You’re getting maudlin, old man. I know that look on your face,” Clarus whispered in his ear, and Regis huffed, smoothing a hand through his beard.

“Just thinking on the future.”

“-and?”

“All the promise that lies ahead.”

At about forty five minutes before sundown, Cor and Prompto emerged from their tents, backs straight and eyes distant, and Regis approached them like he was addressing the council, stern and formal; the seven that would be accompanying them stood silently behind them, waiting for their next move.

“I am not certain as to the appropriate words for this situation, as you two are about to do something that has not been done since before the fall of Solheim, but I wish you good luck, and safe travels. We will see you all when you return,” Regis stated, and both men nodded stately, far more stately than Prompto usually pulled off, at any rate, and he, Clarus, Cid, Cindy, and Iris moved to the side as the group descended the haven and began to walk up the hill. They followed at a few paces back from them, their massive audience realizing that whatever was going to happen was starting, and Regis was forced to keep an eye on the mass of people as they began to surge forward, the Glaives and Guards swiftly moving to keep them from getting too close; he had a feeling that would only hold for long, though. There was at least several hundred people, far more than they expected to follow them out of Insomnia, and two dozen soldiers certainly wouldn’t be able to hold them back if they got too riled up. By Clarus’s concerned glances back at the crowd, he was thinking much the same, and Regis resisted a sigh as the Dawnsworn breached the ruins of the outer walls, stopping before the outer entrance arch, which was decorated with metal plates attached to the stone to resemble rays. It was a subtle, yet stunning design, and it was a miracle that it had survived whatever had taken out the majority of the rest of the structure.

“We, the chosen of the Dawn Mother, have come to the holy city of Sarras to seek the rebirth of its halls, the revitalizing of its stones and the resanctifying of its vast estates; to repair the damage done by the ancient war and the meteor, and to, alongside the blessed of the astrals, help to move the world forward to a brighter future,” Cor announced, his voice formal and strange as the words traveled unnaturally far as all fell silent around the area. Moments passed and nothing seemed to happen; just when people were beginning to look uncertain, however, the sun began to dip below the horizon, the metal design on the arch beginning to shimmer, and Regis startled slightly as the ground began to rumble under his feet. Not strongly, but more than enough to feel, and he shared worried looks with Clarus and Cid before returning his gaze to Cor and Prompto. The sun continued to set as they began to move, and Regis followed as they ascended the stairs and stopped just before the bridge that crossed over what had appeared to be a fathomless chasm, the very bridge he had been barred from crossing for safety reasons so many years ago. Clarus moved slightly in front of him, just enough to make it clear that he didn’t want him going any further, and Regis settled in to see what would happen next. It didn’t take long.

Prompto took a few steps onto the bridge, Cor following suit as their honor guard of sorts remained where they were. No one spoke as the sky began to darken, the last rays of the sun climbing the walls as the voice turned slowly in place, his eyes beginning to glow as the shaking under their feet seemed to waver, rumbling then stopping in rolling waves, and once the last of the sun’s light faded, Regis could hear the sound of stone moving in the distance as the tower came to life, the oddly geometric decorations glowing with a reddish light as Prompto looked to the sky and opened his mouth, and a song that Regis could still hear in his dreams came forth, one that he had last heard as Izunia was waiting for death-

The words still made no sense, clearly of a language long lost, but the melody was as haunting and beautiful as it had been the first time, the spirits materializing into view as the voice sang, the reddish glow of the stones growing brighter and brighter before finally exploding with light from both above and below, spiraling into the darkening sky like a great beacon; Regis and the others all staggered back a few steps as the light blinded them for a moment, Cor and Prompto standing unaffected and emanating their own blue glow as the great columns of light surged around them for sometime before they began to calm. The light didn’t vanish, only softened, but it was enough for Regis to be able to focus on them once more without his eyes watering.

“Those outside might wish to step away from the stones,” Cor said, his voice still odd, and Regis turned to see people jump off the rocks and rubble around the site just as the ground began to shake once more; then a great tearing sound startled everyone as rubble flew out of the ground, flying into the air and shooting across the earth to slot themselves back into their former locations. Regis was utterly speechless at the sight, and while it was clear that pieces were missing, probably scavenged throughout the ages, the tower’s both inner and outer walls reassembled themselves at impossible speed, the seams from the joining pieces vanishing as they settled into place.

“Astrals-” Cid commented from next to him, and before Regis could respond, a soft voice came from behind them.

“This is the work of the Dawnsworn and the Dawn Mother, not of the astrals, Cid Sophiar. Long has her power been all but dormant upon the land,” Gentiana spoke, her eyes open and shimmering with reflected light as she watched the glow still emanating from the tower; Regis couldn’t help a smile as Cid jumped, then stared at the messenger in suspicion.

“Who the hell are you?” Cid hissed, and Gentiana gave the old man an almost-amused smile as she turned back towards the show, which was coming to an apparent end as the amount of stone flying over their heads was sharply decreasing.

“Merely an observer, Cid Sophiar. It has been many lifetimes since I have watched the ritual of rebirth here at Sarras, and while by necessity it is much changed, as the Great War of Old and the fall of the meteor did much to destroy the great tower and the surrounding area, the power and potential within is still here, ready to be resurrected. This was always a symbol of the Dawn Mother’s faith in the beings of this world, an emblem of their progress and hope of the future. Unlike the Infernian, who chose to become lord over all who roamed the land, demanding their obeisance, she chose to watch and guide through her chosen, allowing them to choose their own path. However, when she grew weary of the games of the mortals and their machinations involving her chosen, her children, she stopped calling them; the once mighty temple city of Sarras fell to neglect, and by the time of the meteor, there was few who still dwelled within its once desired walls.” Everyone was listening to the astral, even Cor and Prompto, and she tilted her head regally to them. “The last of the Dawnsworn departed our world twenty five centuries to the day before she first reached out to you, oh Herald. Enter the great tower and follow the ritual to its conclusion, oh Dawnsworn, and let her heart be reborn once more.” Gentiana disappeared between one blink and the next, and Regis huffed out a laugh before turning once more to Cor and Prompto, who were still glowing, but their gaze was clear and present.

“Good luck, all of you. We will wait until your return.” Cor nodded to them, before turning towards Prompto, who grinned and began to walk into the inner courtyard, the marshal at his side; Regis met the rest of the parties’ eyes one by one met his and either smiled, nodded, or in the case of Noctis, reached out and clasped his arm before they all turned and followed, disappearing within a minute into the building below. Regis stood there silent with Clarus and the rest for several long minutes before he finally took a deep breath, looking up at the beam of light still shooting into the sky, and smiling.

“Regis?” Clarus said, drawing his attention away from the beautiful light show.

“Yes?” His oldest friend chuckled, waving a hand towards where his son and party had vanished.

“You want to go down there, don’t you?” Clarus said, and Regis snorted, but ended up giving a tiny nod.

“I’m sure it’s fascinating, and also, I promised...Ezma…” Horror suddenly overtook Regis, and he actually dashed forward a good ten feet across the bridge before being dragged back by Clarus, Altius and Elshett at his sides.

“Regis, what in the world-” Clarus gasped, and Regis spun and grabbed Clarus’s jacket lapels, his heart racing.

“Clarus, remember Ezma, head of the hunters? Told us about the seals that kept in great beasts, creatures ancient and powerful that were too strong to be allowed free? Isn’t one supposed to be down there?” Regis said quickly, and Clarus’s eyes widened comically.

“Oh astrals , how did we forget? We must go-” A smack to their arms cut Clarus off, and they both turned to see Cid with his arms crossed and rolling his eyes.

“You idiots, don’t you remember? She said she would give you the key when you were ready. And unless they got that damn key, they probably can’t access that part, right?” Cid commented, and Regis felt the pressure in his chest start to lighten. That’s right, there was a special key-

“But what if Cor and Prompto’s abilities let them through without it?” Elshett commented, her expression concerned, and Regis was going to have heartburn from the emotional whiplash.

“Now, I think y’all need to calm down. I’m totally new to all this, but whatever’s down there, I’m figuring that the group that helped take out an astral and is making this whole dang place glow like the lights of Lestallum has probably got this. Trust in them, alright?” Cindy interjected, her hands on her hips; they all paused awkwardly until Altius, who had remained quiet the whole time, started to laugh.

“Lady has a point. Cindy, right? Good job,” Altius chuckled, and reached a hand out and clasped Cindy’s hand, giving it a firm shake before releasing it. “I hate to be blunt, but it might be best that we withdraw for now. We’ll leave some guards here to keep an eye on things, but this could go on for hours, if not longer. Probably best you get some rest.” Altius had an excellent point, and without further discussion, they descended the steps and returned to the main exit, finally getting a clear look at the massive audience that were mostly sitting or standing in the grass and staring in awe at the tower. Not a one had tried to approach further, from the looks of it, and he turned once more to the tower, looking at the column of red light for a moment before spinning on his heel and heading towards the haven.

Cindy was right, they had to trust in them. There was no other alternative.