“Hey. Wanna come over and play video games tonight?”
Noctis is leaning against the desk next to his, his backpack already slung over his shoulder, when Prompto looks up from putting his own things away. The word “yes” is already forming on his lips, because he would definitely like to do that, when he catches a disapproving look from their teacher. He sighs.
“Sorry, dude. Can't. Remedial class tonight.”
“Remedial class on a Friday?” Noctis scowls. “That's criminal.”
“Yeah. If only one of us could make a law against it some day...”
“It's first on my list.” Noctis huffs. His face is dangerously close to a pout, the way it always is when things don't go his way, and Prompto has to bite back a laugh. “Seriously, though. What's the class for?”
“Math.” He fiddles with his pencil, shaking it up and down. “Didn't do so hot on the trig test.”
“Eh. Trig. What is it good for?”
“You'd know that better than me since you aced that test.”
“Yeah, and I'm sure I'm going to use those skills every day.” He rolls his eyes, still pouting, and now Prompto does laugh. “Okay. What are you doing tomorrow?”
“Oh man... my schedule's pretty full... I was thinking about going to the country club, and then taking a spin around the bay in my yacht...”
Noctis's lips quirk up in a grin, and Prompto feels as happy that he could make Noctis smile as he ever does. It never gets old. “Come to my place. I'll help you with your trig homework. Ignis will make snacks.”
Prompto grins back at him. “You know I can't turn down Iggy's cooking. One sound good?”
“Noon. You can eat lunch with us.”
Prompto feels his expression waver just a little. “You don't gotta feed me lunch too, man...”
“Listen. Ignis has been up my butt lately about... crop reports, or something. If you're around, maybe he'll shut up. You'd be doing me a favor.”
Prompto laughs. “Yeah, like me being around has ever distracted Iggy.” But he nods. “Alright. Noon tomorrow.”
The teacher clears her throat, looking pointedly at Noctis. He gives her a shrug, before looking back at Prompto and holding up his fist. Prompto bumps it with his own, and watches as Noctis tosses his bag further up his shoulder and turns to leave.
“See ya,” he says, and Prompto grins after him.
The teacher clears her throat a third time, and he finally pulls out his notebook and starts to copy down the problem she's written on the board.
His free hand stays under his desk – he can, after all, text just fine with it.
already bored says the text from Prompto, and Noctis grins at it as he crosses the lawn in front of the school. It never took Prompto long to start texting in class – it was why their teachers' efforts to make them stop talking to each other by moving them apart were futile.
ill help you pass ur next one, then u won't be stuck in there
my hero noct
“Is Prompto not joining us today?” asks Ignis, distracting Noctis from his reply. He's standing by the driver's side door, looking over the car at him and his lack of blond haired tagalong.
“Remedial classes,” Noctis says by way of explanation, opening the back door to chunk his backpack unceremoniously inside before collapsing in the front seat. He immediately reaches over and switches the radio from the classical music Ignis had been enjoying to something with more bass and screaming. Ignis doesn't say anything about it. “He's coming over tomorrow to study.”
“You'll be wanting snacks, I suppose,” says Ignis as he pulls the car away from the school, sounding only vaguely put upon by the unspoken request.
“Mm...” Ignis hums, but Noctis knows he'll give in. He never turns down a request to cook for Noctis, especially since Prompto started hanging out with him the year before. He guesses it's hard to, when his friend looks like an eager and underfed puppy. “Alright.”
“Sweet,” he says, quickly typing, iggy's in for cooking, in a text to Prompto. Prompto sends back an emoji pumping its fist, followed by, tell Iggy thanks for me!
“Prompto says thanks.”
“At least someone around here does,” says Ignis, but he's smiling just a little. “Now stop texting him while he's in class.”
Noctis does not stop texting him while he's in class. For most of the ride home they text back and forth, until he gets a half formed reply that just says sh
Followed by, BUSTED.
He can't help but laugh as he gets out of the car, following Ignis into his apartment. Ignis looks at him questioningly, and he holds up the message for him to see.
“The teacher probably took his phone,” he says, still grinning, and Ignis sighs.
“I told you to stop texting him.”
“Relax, Specs. He'll get it back after class. It's not like they can keep it from him all weekend.”
“You might be right, but I still hope you've learned your lesson.”
“Whatever.” Noctis flops on the couch, ignoring Ignis now as he wanders off into the kitchen. He texts back, get better stealth skills, man. Like me.
Then he picks up his TV remote and waits for Prompto to get his phone back.
His phone is handed back to him at the end of class. Prompto gives the teacher a grin and a little salute (she returns neither), then heads back to grab his things.
He makes a stop at his locker to put away books he won't need over the weekend and to grab his camera. Or at least, that's the idea, but when he opens his locker his stomach drops instantly.
His camera isn't there.
His hands start sweating immediately as dread washes over him. What if someone stole it? What if he dropped it somewhere and it's lying on the ground, broken? He worked a part-time job all summer to get that camera, and he's been so, so careful with it, but now it's gone.
Calm down, Prompto, he says to himself, closing his locker door as calmly as he can. Don't panic. Retrace your steps. When did you have it last?
That's easy to remember. He took it with him to lunch. It was a nice day outside, and he wanted to take some good outdoor shots in the natural light. Ostensibly he was going to take pictures of the trees and the flowers around the athletics building, but he'd mostly taken pictures of Noctis. Not that anyone had to know.
So where had he gone after that? They'd gone straight into the gym after that for PE and...
He smacks his fist in his palm, feeling relief sweep over him. He must have left it in his gym locker. It has a lock on it, so no one could have stolen it. Still feeling a little anxious but not like he's about to panic, Prompto hurries out of the building toward the gym.
Thankfully it's unlocked. He jogs across the gym floor to the locker room, making a beeline for the locker he uses. It's one of the small lockers used by students not on a sports team for their gym clothes – the tall, full body lockers are for the basketball and volleyball players.
His hands are shaking as he fiddles with his lock, and he gets the combination wrong the first time. Telling himself to calm down, he tries again – there's a satisfying click, and then, as Prompto pulls the door open, he heaves a sigh of relief. His camera is sitting right there, draped by his gym clothes.
“Hey there,” he says out loud, a nervous, relieved laugh bubbling through his lips. “Thought I'd lost you for sure.” He slips the camera strap over his head, making sure it's secure there.
He's just put the lock back on his locker and turned to leave, whistling to himself, when he hears footsteps coming toward the locker room. At first, he doesn't think all that much about it (it's probably just someone who forgot something, like he did), but as he nears the door three boys enter, and Prompto abruptly stops whistling, stomach dropping to the floor.
They're all big, part of the school's football and wrestling teams. They're all mean, too, though in Prompto's opinion there's really no need for them to be. And for some reason, they've set their sights on bullying Prompto for several weeks now, ever since the new school year started.
He's not sure why they've singled him out like this. Maybe because he's friends with Noctis. Maybe because he just oozes “easy target.” Usually, he's good at avoiding them, and the most they've been able to do so far is lob some uncreative taunts at him and one time, kick his legs out from under him in the hallway. He shouldn't be afraid of them, he tells himself.
But he's at least a little afraid.
“Well, well, well, boys,” says the biggest one, grinning. “Look what we have here.”
“If it isn't Freckles, all alone,” says the one to his left.
“All alone without his prince to protect him,” says the one to the right. They're nearly indistinguishable from each other. Prompto wonders if they coordinated their haircuts.
“Hey, guys,” he says, trying to keep his tone as unprovocative as possible. “Ready for the weekend?” He starts to edge himself towards the door, but they're effectively blocking it.
“Yeah,” says the biggest one, and the other two snicker in time. “We were thinking we could kick off this weekend with some fun.”
“Oh, well, don't let me stop you,” Prompto says, taking another small step towards the door. The boys simultaneously back up, now in the doorway.
“Wait.” The biggest one again. “Don't you want to stay and hang out with us?”
“Wish I could, but I gotta... uh... go do my homework.”
“Plenty of time to do that later,” says the one on the left.
“Procrastinate 'til Sunday,” says the one on the right. It's weirding Prompto out.
“I want to get a head start,” he says, giving them a nervous smile. “So if you'll just let me-”
“Hey, let me see the camera,” says the biggest one, and Prompto's veins run cold.
“Wh-what for?” he stammers, holding it closer to his chest. There's no way he's letting these guys take his camera from him. He worked too hard for it.
The biggest one holds out his hand. “Just wanna see your pictures, Freckles,” he says, grinning in a way that is anything but friendly.
“These are still raw shots,” he says, taking a step back, clutching the camera so hard his knuckles turn white. “I haven't done any cropping or touched them up, and I, you know, like to have them all done before I show them off-”
“Got pictures you don't want us to see?” the biggest one asks, leaving the other two behind to step closer. “Been taking pictures of your boyfriend?”
Prompto's face flushes involuntarily, and he curses himself and all six of the gods in his head. “Boyfriend? Wh-what are you talking about?”
The biggest one rolls his eyes and takes another step forward. “Everyone knows you're screwing the prince...” A pause while his eyes rove up and down Prompto's face, and then he grins wide, menacing. “Or at least you want to be.”
Prompto swallows hard, and steels himself. He's back up towards the end of a row of lockers. There are three rows of lockers, and the door is at the other side of them. If he can just get the guys away from the door...
“Nah, no pictures of Noct,” he says, and his voice comes out more confident than he feels. “A whole lot of pictures of your mom, though.”
It's hardly his best line, but it works. The biggest one scowls, and lunges, and the other two advance, and Prompto runs.
He's small, but he's fast, and hopefully more agile than these guys. He rounds the corner of the lockers and shoots straight for the now open doorway, hearing the squeak of shoes on the ground as the three boys fight to swivel their weight around and run the other way. He puts all the speed he can into his legs, thinks of his morning jogs and all the work he's put in. He's fast. He can escape-
Something hits him in the back of the head just as he enters the gym, and he falls with a shout, doing everything he can to protect his camera as he smacks onto the floor. He lands on his wrist weird, and hopes he didn't break it or something. His book bag goes flying, skidding across the gym floor. His books fall everywhere.
Scrambling, he tries to pull himself up, but he can already hear footsteps gaining on him. In the corner of his eye he sees what hit him (a dodgeball – he almost wants to laugh) and realizes there was a fourth one, waiting right outside the door. So they aren't as dumb as he was hoping.
Before he can get to his feet, there are suddenly rough hands grabbing him under the shoulders and roughly dragging him up. He's lifted completely off the ground, feet dangling, and walked back into the locker room.
“Hey, guys, can't we talk about this?” he says, getting more nervous by the second. “What do you gain out of this? Do you want money? I can get you money!”
He doesn't have any money, but he hopes they take the bait anyway. Maybe he can get a loan from Noctis later.
But they don't put him down. Instead, the one from outside the door comes in, twirling something around his finger.
Duct tape. Prompto suddenly feels faint.
“H-hey, buddy,” he says, laughing nervously as he watches the guy with the tape approach him. “Whatcha gonna do with that?”
“We're going to help you have a nice weekend,” says the biggest one with a grin, taking the tape from the other boy, then motioning for the other two to turn him around. He's set down, and he tries to break free, but their grips are too strong on his arms. His hands are roughly thrust behind his back, and he hears a long length of the tape being ripped off.
He realizes what's about to happen, and starts fighting, twisting and straining against the boys restraining him. But they hang on, too tight; he's going to have bruises there later, he's sure. Still, he fights and kicks and squirms and starts yelling, “Help me! Somebody help!”
There's a thud against his head, and suddenly he's stunned, no more cries coming out of his mouth. His vision clouds over for a second, and it takes him that time to realize what happened. The other boy must have hit him with the dodgeball again, but closer this time. Harder. Hard enough that he's seeing spots.
He's so still that the biggest one easily tapes his hands together behind his back. His bony wrists rub together. It's a painful, awkward position on his arms. They rip off another strip, and do it again. And again. And again. And again. He can feel multiple layers weighing on his skin.
They spin him around, and before he can do or say anything, the biggest one puts a long strip of tape over his mouth.
His heart starts beating faster, his breath coming out in short, pained bursts. His eyes are wide, looking between the four of them, wondering what they're going to do to him now. He tries to scream, but the tape keeps him from opening his lips, and the sound comes out muffled and choked at the back of his throat.
“That's better,” says the biggest one. “Now we don't have to hear your dumb voice.”
Then he reaches over, grabs the camera hanging from its strap around Prompto's head, and pulls it up and off him. Prompto tries to scream, but nothing happens again. He feels tears welling in his eyes.
Give it back, he wants to beg. Please give it back.
The two on either side of him suddenly force him to the ground, hard. His head knocks into the lockers on the way down, and he swears he's going to have brain damage after this. Once he's able to focus again, he realizes the one who threw the dodgeball at him has the camera now, looking through the viewfinder and fiddling with the lens focus.
“Damn,” he says. “This thing is fancy.”
“How the hell'd you get something like this?” asks the biggest one, giving Prompto a nudge with his foot. “Did the prince give it to you? Is he like, your sugar daddy or something?”
“Gross,” says the one on the biggest one's right. He laughs.
Prompto wants to say that he bought it himself, that he worked and saved and earned it all himself, but he can't say anything. All he can do is throw muffled sobs into the tape and hope something reaches ears outside the locker room.
“This thing has so many buttons,” the one holding his camera is saying. He flips it around in his hands, examining it, and Prompto wants to tell him to be careful. “I don't even know what half of these do.”
I could teach you if you'd let me go, he tries to say, but all that comes out is garbled noise.
“Who cares?” says the biggest one dismissively. “Just point it at him and push the big button.”
The other one sighs, though he does raise the viewfinder to his eye again. “You have no appreciation for art,” he says, and then he snaps a photo.
One, two, three, four. All of them of Prompto lying on the ground, tears rolling down his face, trying as hard as he can to sink into the wall so no one can have pictures of him like this. He wants this to stop. He wants to go home.
Now they have what they want, he tells himself. They wanted humiliating pictures, now they have them. Now they'll let me go.
“So what do we do with him now?” asks one of the boys Prompto can't tell apart.
“Hm. We can't just leave him laying here,” says the one holding his camera, and Prompto's heart leaps. Yes, that's right. He can't stay here in the floor, so they have to let him go now. He can go home, and crawl into bed, and forget this ever happened.
But then the biggest one says, “We should put him somewhere where no one will find him,” and his heart sinks again.
He can't believe it's escalating like this. Are they going to kill him? What did he do to deserve that? Is it because he's friends with Noctis? Is it because they think they're dating? How can they go so far over something so petty?
He doesn't understand. He wants to go home. They pick him up and he fights again, twists and turns and kicks and squirms and breaks out of one of their hands, but then the biggest one yanks him so hard by the collar that he chokes, breathing hard through his nose to compensate for his blocked mouth.
“Let's put him in a locker,” says the biggest one, and Prompto nearly passes out.
They drag him over to one of the full body lockers, his feet off the ground like before. It's empty currently, but there's a lock hanging off it, indicating it must belong to someone. He struggles the whole time while they fight to get him into the locker, but he can't stop the inevitable – they stuff him in, and shut the door.
Then there's a click, and he realizes they've locked it.
Prompto thrashes with everything he has, slamming his body off the sides, back, and door of the locker. It makes a cacophony of noise, but if the boys are intimidated, they aren't showing it. He can hear them outside over his own racket, laughing as he tries to somehow escape his tiny prison. He can see them through the tiny slats in the door, pointing and giving each other high fives.
“Sorry,” calls the biggest one, still snickering. “This isn't my locker – no clue what the combination is!”
Prompto's head swims. He has to be lying. Has to. There's no way they would really lock him in here with no way to get him out. That would imply that they really do mean to trap him here. That they're going to leave him here.
He thrashes more, but the boys are quickly growing bored by this game. After a few more minutes taunting Prompto through the door, one of them says, “Let's get out of here,” and they turn to go.
They're really going.
No, no, no, they can't really be going! They can't really leave him here! One of them must be about to turn around, laugh at the sound of his tears, and let him out. Right? Right?
They don't. He listens to their footsteps as they leave the locker room.
He leans his forehead against the door of the locker and sobs.
“So wait, are we actually going to leave him there?” asks one of the boys nervously as they leave the gym. He's fidgeting, looking back over his shoulder. What if something happens to him, and the school finds out they locked him in there?
“Are you wimping out on me now?” the ringleader asks, glaring at him. “Do you want to go join Freckles?”
“N-no, I'm good.”
“Good.” The ringleader's smile returns. “Don't freak. The janitor will be there soon. He'll let Freckles out.”
“What if he tells him we put him in there?”
“Don't worry about it. My dad's on the school board, remember?”
“What do I do with the camera?” asks one of the others, still holding it in his hands. The biggest one shrugs.
“Toss it, I guess.”
“Alright,” he answers, and tosses it over his shoulder. There's the sound of glass breaking as the lens meets the concrete path.
They don't stop. They leave the school.
“You'll get more work done quickly if you stop staring at your phone.”
Noctis rolls his eyes and tries to set the phone down and concentrate on the documents Ignis has put in front of him. Some sort of explanation on proper etiquette when dealing with diplomats from Accordo. He keeps his eyes on it for less than thirty seconds before he's looking at his phone again.
“It's just weird, okay?” he says, like he's already said once this evening. His last text to Prompto had been at three forty five. It was after seven now. He should have gotten his phone back after his class, which was usually over at five or five thirty. Why hasn't he answered, then?
“Have you considered that Prompto simply doesn't want to talk to you right now?” Ignis asks, and Noctis makes a face at his phone.
“Prompto always wants to talk,” he says, and then flinches when he realizes he sounds like a petulant kid. When he glances up, Ignis isn't laughing, but Noctis knows from the look on his face that he might as well be.
“He might be otherwise indisposed. Maybe he's actually doing his work, unlike you.”
“Doubt it,” says Noctis, and he picks up his phone again. Types, dude, did you get your phone back? and hits send.
No reply comes immediately. After a few more minutes, he sighs and bends back over his documents. Might as well get as much done as he can.
“Relax,” says Ignis. “You'll see him tomorrow. You can talk plenty then.”
There's a buzz in his pocket that finally shakes Prompto out of his stupor. He doesn't know how long he's been leaning against the door, sobbing and occasionally screaming, hoping to be heard. He lifts his head off the door and realizes with a hopeful beat of his heart that he has his phone in his front pants pocket.
Now, if he can just get to it...
His hands are behind his back, and the tape is tight around him. It's a strong kind too, and after several minutes of wrenching his hands against it he starts to doubt he's going to be able to rip it off.
Maybe he can just... stretch the tape, and pull one of his hands out that way. He starts working on it, moving his hands back and forth. But there isn't much give, because of all the layers. Still, he doesn't give up immediately. He tells himself that he just has to keep at it, and eventually he'll get his hands free.
He can't be sure how long he does that, working his hands back and forth and breathing heavily through his nose. There's two more buzzes in his pocket while he works, most likely Noctis, wanting to know why he isn't answering his texts.
Don't worry, buddy, he thinks, and isn't sure whether it's to himself or Noctis. I'll text back soon.
But the tape isn't giving. There's so much of it, and it's thick, and the way it's bound around his wrists makes it hard for his hands to do much stretching. Finally, his wrists start to get unbearably sore, and he knows he has to stop, at least rest for awhile.
So he starts trying to twist his hands around to grab his phone.
That quickly proves even more impossible. Maybe, if he was in a large enough space to twist his body, he could make it, but in the tiny locker he can barely move his shoulders. They scrape against the sides, and he has to stand at a bit of a diagonal to keep himself from being uncomfortably wedged. Not that there isn't anything about the situation that's comfortable to begin with.
After minutes of this, he gives a frustrated sob and slams his whole body against the door again. That isn't going to work. He has to get his hands loose from the tape, but he's not sure if he's going to be able to do that either.
He leans against the door and closes his eyes, and tries to breathe. He can smell a lemony scent from somewhere. It's not bad, though it does have a chemical tinge. He breathes it in and lets it soothe him.
Okay, Prompto. Calm down and think about this logically.
Logically, he's going to die. No, that thought is unhelpful. Think more helpful logical thoughts.
Prompto's eyes snap open, and relief floods his chest. Of course! The janitor! When the janitor comes, Prompto can cry out, throw himself against the locker door like he's been doing. The janitor will be able to figure out how to get him out of here. He'll be saved!
With that comforting thought in mind, he decides to see if he can get more comfortable in the locker for the time being.
As established, there's very little room for him to move his shoulders. Also, while Prompto is hardly the tallest kid in his class, the locker still isn't designed to actually fit a human his height, so he has to bend slightly at the knees. They're already starting to ache, and he wonders if he can sit down.
He starts trying to wiggle himself into a sitting position, but the lower he goes, the more he starts to get stuck. Even if he makes it all the way down, he's suddenly unsure if he'll be able to get back up again.
The idea of sitting, wedged in place, with no way to move at all is more frightening than anything. Prompto wiggles back up until he's standing, feeling his heart rate slow.
He decides he can stand, until the janitor comes.
He's not sure how long he stays like that, leaning against the side of the locker, hands occasionally working at the tape again, but suddenly there's a click, and the lights coming through the slats on the door go off.
Prompto's stomach twists in fearful hope, and he starts yelling as best he can through the tape, slamming his body against the door. He does that until his shoulders and hips start to ache, until his throat is sore, but no one comes. No one comes.
Prompto doesn't understand. If the lights went off, that means someone had to turn them off, right? That means someone came to the locker room, or at least right outside it. Surely they didn't walk away that quickly, right? Surely they were able to hear him. He was making as much noise as he possibly could. If someone was there, they couldn't have missed it.
If someone was there...
Suddenly, a terrible thought occurs to Prompto. What if no one turned the light off? What if the light itself is on a timer?
It makes perfect sense. The lights are on a timer, in case a kid or someone else leaves one on. Most of the lights are also motion activated, but he's not outside, moving around the locker room, so there's no reason for it to come on. No one is moving around out there.
But if the lights are going off, it must be pretty late. So where is the janitor, he wonders. Surely he must be coming by by now. Surely he can't be skipping the locker rooms.
Prompto breathes the lemony scent again, and suddenly gasps.
He knows what it is now. It's lemon-scented toilet bowl cleaner.
Which means the janitor has already been here tonight. He probably came in and cleaned it while Prompto was in his remedial class. Before he ever even came here, looking for his camera.
But if the janitor isn't coming tonight, then no one is. No one will be here all weekend. No one will be here until... until...
Prompto's head suddenly feels heavy. Everything is spinning. There's a ringing in his ears. He can't think.
He passes out.
Noctis looks at his messages one more time, hoping he just missed something. He turns the phone off and turns it back on again, wondering if it's glitching on him, but nothing changes.
There's the text from Prompto that says BUSTED, and then his own texts, and then nothing.
It's weird. It's only been a little over a year since Prompto bounded up to him, all big smiles and friendly hands, pretending they'd never met before, but in that time they'd grown close. There were few things he didn't tell Prompto, and he was pretty sure Prompto told him almost everything too. Prompto was always willing to talk to him, even when he was down and mopey. He'd never gone this long without answering a text, not without at least a quick, can't talk, tell u l8r.
And he'd seemed fine when Noctis left school. Other than the extra classwork, he'd seemed happy. Noctis replays the interaction in his head, trying to pinpoint anything he'd said that might have offended Prompto, but he can't think of anything.
Finally, with a sigh, he sets his alarm and lies down in bed. Tomorrow, Prompto is supposed to come over. Hopefully, he'll explain it then.
Noctis closes his eyes, and tries to sleep.