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The Eve of Our Revolution

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It was absolute failure: The treaty signings, how Noctis tried to protect Insomnia--everything. Not that he regretted trying to do his duty.

It was his capture he regretted.

And...well, it didn’t matter when the sun eventually rose over the city. Lucis still fell and Noctis found himself with chains locked around his wrists and neck, pulling and jerking him every which way his captors pleased.

His head throbbed--along with one of his legs, a hand, and a spot near the center of his back. But his head--it was foggy, not just with pain, but the after effects of whatever drug they had used to subdue him.

It made him...Noctis blinked, shaking his head. He tripped over some dusty bits rubble, the sounds echoing, while everything else was muffled.

The city around him crumbled, in shambles from the battle. It was foggy, black around the edges. Noctis blinked again, slowly, to shake it out. His neck throbbed from where the chain yanked but he still stumbled forward.

Ahead, the Citadel loomed, though a shadow had fallen over it. Smoke rose from its center and one of its towers and Noctis just looked at it and...stopped.

The rifle stock landed square at the back of his head; white flaring pain burst behind his eyes and then, mercifully, there was nothing.

 


 

The pain was worse when Noctis awoke.

He sensed almost immediately that he wasn’t alone. Noctis squinted in the darkness; a mouth set in a complacent smirk and golden eyes stared down at him, roaming over every inch. Noctis froze.

“My, my,” came the velvety voice, a purr, “What a sight this is.”

An elegant hand stretched out--Noctis jerked, the chains holding him adding to the screaming of his body, but the man’s hand stopped a scant few inches from Noctis’s face. It hovered in the air, the anticipation of it burning.

The man smiled and pulled back. “Don’t worry, there’s no reason to be alarmed. I’m only here to admire my prize.”

Prize.

The word revolted Noctis, had him recoiling, gasping as the chains rubbed against the bruises around his wrists. When the man reached out again, he didn’t stop. His fingers dug into his jaw, forcing Noctis to look up.

The man leaned forward, shadow and ice in his eyes. “I think I shall enjoy this, Prince Noctis.”

And he was gone, melting into the shadows, his steps a taunt as his words settled in Noctis.

Insomnia had fallen. His father, dead. And he--

A prize.

His chest was tight, burning and aching, and yet he couldn’t stop the heaving sobs that wracked through him.

 


 

Tethered to the wall by a long chain at his neck, wrists bound together by only a few inches--that was how they left him.

Everything was...it was nothing. It was the food they tossed him, he was sure, but it never lasted long.

When he wasn’t feeling the foggy effects of the drug, he felt pain; the sharp throbbing in his back and the rawness at his wrists and neck from the chains.

He was left with his breathing and the darkness. He remembered what happened, the events moving relentlessly through his disordered head.

He heard his friends sometimes: Gladio’s gruff assurances, Ignis’s exasperated sighs. Where...where were they now?

His father’s dying moans visited him the most and Noctis curled in on himself, his trembling hands over his ears as he tried to block out the sounds. When that didn’t work--he screamed.

 


 

They dragged him out of the cell a few days or weeks later, after everything bled together in a haze of drugged food and the pain of awareness.

Noctis let the guards lead him through the Citadel’s prison hold, past other cells containing dark figures curled in the corners, pressed as close to the walls as possible. He craned his neck, hoping to see tattooed wings or the glint of lenses, but--nothing.

Up in the Citadel proper, the evidence of the attack still littered the corridors and rooms. Shattered glass, fractured armor...streaks of blood that Noctis could only stare at. Crownsguard? Or his father’s? He trembled with the effort to push that question away.

One foot before the other, down and down the corridors, past portraits of his ancestors, their long dead eyes following him.

If his father saw him now...but he was dead. Nothing.

His guards shoved him through the massive doors of the throne room so that he landed hard on his knees. The chains clattered behind him and Noctis stared at the polished floor. From his peripheral he could see fine leather boots, robes draping to the floor--at least a dozen people, watching him.

Their eyes burned. He shouldn’t be here. Why--why did he stay behind, ignoring his father’s wishes--

“Ah, excellent,” a voice called out, chilling Noctis. “You’ve arrived just in time.”

Noctis didn’t have to look up to know who the voice belonged to. It was silky smooth, velvet, and a pair of amber eyes flashed in his mind at the sound.

Prize.

Another voice, one that Noctis recognized from the peace talks, one that he had toasted and offered alliance with, said, “What’s this, Chancellor?” The words were bored, but vague irritation coated them.

It was an effort to look up, but he did and Noctis’s stomach heaved at that cold man in his father’s place.

“Just my own curiosity,” the Chancellor--Ardyn Izunia, of course--chuckled. “Please, pay me no mind.”

The Emperor caught Noctis’s eyes, a sneer of disgust clear across his sharp features as he watched Noctis struggle to take in a breath, his body shaking with the effort. Iedolas gave an elegant roll of his eyes and looked away, ignoring Ardyn and Noctis.

“Commodore Highwind,” the Emperor called out next. “Have you completed your task?”

Heels clicked across the smooth marble, followed by a woman’s rich voice. “Yup. One ridiculously luxurious car in the Citadel garage. Swept and secured.”

Noctis’s heart sank. It was a car, it wasn’t supposed to hold any more significance than the throne before him, or the palace around him. He had been raised to protect and revere those but the car...his father’s car…

His eyes stung as he stared down at the black marble. His chest hurt from holding in that flare of grief.

“My dear boy,” the Emperor started, and Noctis froze again thinking--but no, it wasn’t him Iedolas was addressing as he rose from the throne. “You’ve certainly proved yourself during this transition.”

Noctis felt sick at that word, so callously and deliberately thrown out but he forced himself to look up, finding a young blonde standing at the side of the throne. The Emperor was smiling at him and it was probably meant to be fond, maybe even tender, but Iedolas’s overall chill overrode his intention.

And the blonde--he couldn’t be much older than Noctis. He wore a coat in the Empire’s colors, white with crimson buckles, but it was practical, more for action than ceremony. A slate gray pistol was strapped to his side in a leather holster.

A trained soldier, like any of the Emperor’s subjects but...his eyes didn’t quite meet Iedolas’s, and his mouth was curved into a slight frown, tight, like he was biting the inside of his mouth.

The wince he gave when Iedolas’s bony hand clamped on his shoulder looked involuntary, but still he said, “Thank you, Father.”

Iedolas regarded his son-- Prompto, Noctis’s mind supplied--and frowned. “It has been suggested to me that a reward might be in order.”

“A reward.” The prince’s words were flat but the question still hung. His eyes, some bright color that Noctis couldn’t quite make out, widened a fraction.

“The late King’s prized Regalia or...I hear there is an impressive armory in these basements.”

Prompto stared at his father for a moment before turning toward the back of the room and stopping. Staring. Noctis didn’t need to see who he saw. Amber eyes flashed in Noctis’s mind and--he squeezed his eyes shut.

“Anything I want?” The prince sounded cautious whereas the Emperor had apparently grown impatient.

“Yes, yes, anything.”

Noctis didn’t dare open his eyes. He heard footsteps descend the throne dais and he braced himself for the inevitable, for the prince to demand the keys of the Regalia from the Commodore, to take away that connection to his father--

The footsteps halted before Noctis and he heard a sharp intake of breath. He opened his eyes in time to see Prompto above him, his features pale as he took in the chains at Noctis’s wrists, the way the guard still held the one at his neck taut in his hands.

Noctis didn’t move, hardly dared to breathe, though his heart and blood roared.

Prompto’s voice was a near whisper but everyone in the room heard him when he said, “Him. I choose Prince Noctis.”

Silence reigned over the throne room. Noctis thought of those amber eyes in the shadows, the hand that reached out to caress his skin...

Curiosity, Izunia?” Iedolas snapped at some place behind Noctis.

“It is rather interesting,” that pleased voice replied, “Wouldn’t you agree?”

Prize.

It had been a promise and--Noctis flinched, from the other prince as he stretched a hand toward him.

Prompto’s eyes widened and his mouth popped open as Noctis tried to scramble away. One of the guards drove a boot into Noctis’s back, right in that spot he had been hit during the Fall, and pain split through his body.

Noctis staggered forward; his hands groped the air, searching for the ancient power within him, for a weapon, but the familiar flash and tingle never came. No solid weight of metal. Just empty air and delighted laughter.

Noctis grunted as another guard knocked him down with a heavy boot to his shoulder, held in a choked cry when they gave a powerful, sharp tug on the chain around his neck. He was still as he looked at the Chancellor and his growing, cruel grin.

“How amazing technology is these days,” he said, slowly moving around Noctis. “A century ago, blocking the Crystal’s power was nigh impossible, but now look what we’ve achieved.”

The words sank in, a cold trickle. No armiger. Without it he was completely--he couldn’t defend himself, not in chains. Not if he couldn’t warp or summon his sword. He was just--a prize.

The Chancellor vanished from sight as Prompto squeezed between them. Noctis tensed, and forced his eyes to the floor again, seeing Prompto’s hand extending toward Ardyn in the muted reflection.

“I need the keys to the chains,” Prompto murmured and in answer, the guard holding Noctis’s neck chain only tightened his grip.

Adryn didn’t say anything for a long moment but Noctis imagined his eyes boring into Prompto, the smirk, the smugness and then, “Is that wise, Your Highness?”

Prompto shifted; Noctis heard the swallow in his throat and the uncertainty in his voice as he said, “He can’t fight, right?” And then Prompto turned toward the Emperor. “I’ll watch him.”

“That you will.” Iedolas was stern but dismissive in his reply.

Noctis focused on his breathing, which had gone sharp from the tight pull of the chain. Ardyn handed over the key and Prompto moved around him...The chains all clinked together and Noctis tried not to wince as they fell and rubbed against his raw skin.

A hand fell on his shoulder, gentle and fleeting, and Noctis jerked away from it. Prompto looked hesitant, pulling his hand back, but he tried again, slower this time. “Come on. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

 


 

Prompto’s hand never left Noctis’s shoulder. The touch was light, more guiding than controlling but the tension never left Noctis’s body.

Noctis ached, his neck and wrists tingling with new freedom; his magic was locked and his mind just couldn’t…

His dad was dead. There was an emperor sitting on their throne and his friends--where were they?

In the haze of his memory, he saw himself ordering Ignis to help some refugees, heard Gladio shout at him to stay together, the sound cut off as Noctis warped ahead toward a line of MTs.

His back throbbed as he remembered the explosion of pain that came next and he gasped as he remembered tumbling out of the sky and onto unforgiving concrete.

“Where are they,” Noctis breathed, barely recognizing his own voice with how weak it was.

Prompto hesitated at the question and tightened his grip on Noctis’s shoulder so that they were moving faster toward an elevator, until they practically stumbled into one before any guards could fall into step beside them.

Once the doors closed, helped by Prompto’s incessant pressing of the button, and quiet settled over them, he asked, “Who?”

Gladio and Ignis’s echoing voices in his mind lent Noctis courage as he said, “My--retainers. What happened to them?”

The pause felt too long, long enough that Noctis’s world titled a fraction and all he could think was not them, too--but then Prompto shook his head.

“I don’t know,” and then the elevator doors pinged open and they were at his old rooms.  

It had been several years since he had moved into his own apartment and a few months since he had last visited these rooms. Even still, there wasn’t a thing out of place, not even a thin layer of dust.

Noctis heard Prompto say something to the guards at the door but couldn’t make out the words. There was a click of the door and then Prompto was standing before him.

“Um.” Prompto stopped, swallowed. “No offense, but you sort of smell. Want a shower?”

A shower. When he didn’t know where Ignis and Gladio were--when he thought they were dead seconds before and probably still could be. He stared hard at Prompto, letting the torment of his ignorance wash over him, over any physical pain he felt.

Prompto looked different now, away from everyone else. His face, long and freckled, looked open and there was definite concern in his eyes--violet, Noctis realized and vaguely familiar, though whatever Prompto found in Noctis’s stare made him look away, scratch the back of his head.

“Look, um.” This time Prompto coughed. “I don’t--I don’t think you’re, like, mine or whatever. I just...those chains…” Noctis slipped his hands behind his back when Prompto’s eyes fell on them.

“I’m going to escape.” Noctis whispered when he was sure his breathing was in check, when he felt his hands start to tremble with the need to search. “I’m going to find them.”

“Keep that to yourself,” Prompto whispered back, “they’ll use it against you.”

Noctis went cold as that kernel of truth washed over him in turn.

 


 

There wasn’t a threat in Prompto’s words, nothing that would make Noctis think he’d call the guards back to report on him.

It wasn’t reassuring.

But he kept his promise: Let Noctis shower, change into a pair of old clothes he had long forgotten about--didn’t stop him when Noctis shut himself in his old bedroom.

There was something in Prompto that wasn’t like the other Niflheim officials, something Ardyn had taken notice of. It wasn’t just curiosity that had Noctis dragged to the throne room.

Noctis wasn’t interested in figuring it out.

The Citadel was his home. He knew the passages and dead ends, the blind spots. Once he was away from the city, with his magic...He had to find the others.

Noctis waited in his old bedroom, curled in the soft sheets, his hair slowly drying on his pillow. Prompto only came in once, to offer some food that he, after Noctis hesitated, assured wasn’t drugged.

Noctis knew Prompto was in the living room though; he couldn’t hear him, whatever he was doing was quiet, but eventually, as the night descended upon Insomnia, the lights beyond the bedroom door flicked off.

The Citadel grew dark; the moon curved across the sky...and Noctis unfolded himself, slipping from the blankets.

He crept through his old rooms, from his bedroom to the living room. Prompto was curled under a pile of blankets on the couch. Noctis stopped and stared at him for a moment but the other prince didn’t move.

So Noctis moved on. Out of the window and into the night chill. A moment later, he was sliding down the support beam to the balcony below him.

His back muscles ached--everything ached, using his body after being bound in the dark, but it felt good.

 


 

Noctis managed his way to the Citadel courtyard, empty and with a still silence that made him pause.

A spark was in the air. The hairs on his arm rose and he stretched his hands, reflexively reaching for weapons that didn’t come.

And then he heard it: the unworldly groan, screeching and low, as if forcing an ancient, rusted gate open. The ground turned a sickly purple and--an enormous hand burst from the ground, raining chunks of earth and grass around the courtyard.

Noctis’s insides turned to liquid, his knees gave out as a Red Giant pulled itself into Eos. The glow of its sword seared the air, hot and flaming red as if fresh from Ifrit’s realm.

Noctis stumbled--to the side, away--face to face with a pack of gargoyles, their eyes aglow with wicked glee. Their black talons thrashed forward as Noctis threw his body out of reach.

Away--he had to get away. He needed his magic. All those times he’d dismissed Gladio’s accusations of relying on magic--shit.

Claws caught on Noctis’s shirt, tearing it and the flesh beneath, the pain worse than the chains.

He needed a weapon but there wasn’t anything, nothing, that he could use in the courtyard.

Noctis toppled over, boot snagging on a slab of marble stone lining the pathway. His hands, bloodied and slick, grappled for one of those stones as the gargoyles pounced for him, as the Red Giant turned his huge body toward them.

So many claws, sharp and merciless, tore into Noctis as he pulled at the stones. He screamed, each dig into his skin lightening hot.

There were too many of them--the gargoyles grabbed at his arms, his legs, and he thrashed against them.

The earth rumbled--or was that his heart, pounding in his ears--or was it the Red Giant, lumbering toward them?

Noctis knew what was coming. The gargoyles would tear him apart. He might be glad for it, to end this. To stop the blood. That might be nice. To be obliterated. There wouldn’t be any pain in that, he wouldn’t be a prize. Just. Absolute freedom.

But--the others.

The Red Giant bared down on them, gathered whatever energy it had. And the stone. It came loose in Noctis’s hand. Heavy and solid and straight into a gargoyle’s head. The crack against its skull was lost in its screech as it fell away. Noctis heaved the stone again, at another gargoyle.

Just a few more and he could stand. Just a few more and he could get away.

Black blood splattered over him, mixing with his own, catching in his mouth, his eyes. Noctis chanced a look at the Red Giant, at the heated energy crackling black and red around it.

Noctis kicked at a gargoyle before it could sink its teeth in his leg. Marble stone cracked into another and--he rolled out of yet another’s grasp, the skin on his arm tearing from its claws.

Noctis staggered to his knees, panting, heart a dull roar over the pain. He blinked, squeezing his eyes shut. He barely heard the gargoyles recovering, or the growing energy around the Red Giant.

There was only his breath, and the deep agony of the gashes on his arms and torso. There was a light both bright and dark, bursting from behind his eyes and gone in an instant.

Noctis opened his eyes to see the corpses of the gargoyles and Red Giant seeping back into the ground in an ooze of black bile.

And silence. Unearthly silence. And...a voice. Silky smooth and amused.

“Running so soon, are you?” Footsteps crunched through the broken bits of earth and gravel around them, stopped before Noctis. “That simply won’t do. His Highness would be devastated.”

Two fingers hooked under Noctis’s chin and lifted. Noctis flinched from Ardyn.

Ardyn tsk’d as he let his fingers drop in a soft caress and walked around Noctis, boot kicking at the pools of blood around him. “What a mess you’ve made. It’s good for His Highness that I’ve found you.”

And then Ardyn knelt, amber eyes bright with delight over a soft smile. “After all, you are his pet now, and you mustn't damage royal property.”

Noctis focused on that gods damned smirk, and spat out a mouthful of blood.

 


 

He woke up in that dark cell again and instantly regretted it.

Everything hurt. Sharp and white hot and searing. His shirt, tattered and hanging on by threads, was stiff with his own dried blood. His skin was caked with it and the dark smear of dirt and daemon blood.

Noctis tried to move but a familiar resistance stopped him. His arms were bound behind his back, in chains again.

Noctis slumped down on the cot, panting against the flaring pain and the ache of his shoulders. He stared at the ceiling. Tried not to think about how close he was. Tried not to give into the throb of the gashes and cuts.

Tried to keep his eyes open so that he wouldn’t have to see claws lashing at him, or the glow of the Red Giant’s sword or...his father’s face, cast in disappointment.

So close…

“Whatever would your retainers say if they saw you now?” Ardyn’s soft voice drifted from the shadows like a cold wind in the peace of night.

Noctis turned away from it, ignoring his screaming wounds.

“They swore to protect you,” Ardyn continued. His boots went down the length of the cell, then back. Pacing, taunting. “And yet they abandoned you to this fate. Can you still call them your friends?”

Yes. Ignis and Gladio were more than that. Brothers. Noctis swallowed, remembering Prompto’s words and, fuck, he was right. He bit his lip and closed his eyes to hide their desperate questions.

He should have listened to them and left the city. Shouldn’t have tried to be a hero--they could have been safe together.

“As for His Royal Highness,” Ardyn stopped pacing. “I suppose I’ll inform him his pet has been returned. He’ll be so pleased, I think.”

It wasn’t until the thump of Ardyn’s footsteps faded from the corridor, when the door of the prison hold locked into place with an echoing thud, that Noctis dared to breathe again.

 


 

Noctis hated it. He hated the darkness, the amber eyes he sometimes thought he saw. Hated the absence of blue crystalline light at his beck and call.

Hated those violet eyes that showed him a smidgen of kindness and freedom--how they also stared at him, wide and panicked as they took in his state, reached a tentative hand toward him.

The touch burned in its gentleness. Noctis flinched but also couldn’t help melting against it.

A curse and shouted instructions echoed through the cell. More hands on him; his whimpering; his limbs heavy lead.

There was more cursing, frantic, and then violet eyes appeared over him again and Noctis thought they held an apology.

 


 

When had the world become so bright?

It invaded his sleep, until he couldn’t resist it and he was blinking awake. In his own bed. Alone.

An unfamiliar white jacket was draped over a simple metal chair, Noctis himself in clothing he didn’t remember dressing himself in, bandages all along his arms and torso. Two food trays sat on the dresser, one with what looked like soup and another with the remnants of something green.

Soft footsteps padded from the living room and to his door. Noctis almost expected Ignis to step through, baring tea and some medicine...but a different shade of blonde poked his head through.

Prompto looked surprised to see him awake but relief quickly overtook him and he stepped carefully into the room. “Hey, how are you? I brought you something.”

The something was a potion, the glass sparkling in the sunlight. Prompto crossed the room, holding it out to Noctis, who flinched away, hissing at the lingering pain under his bandages.

Prompto frowned. He placed the bottle carefully on the bed and retreated to the chair, his hand falling on the jacket draped over it, and said, “I found it in the infirmary. Luna said you can use your magic to heal.”

Noctis looked up at the mention of Luna and Prompto’s lips quirked into a small smile. “She’s a friend. Father’s sent me out to Tenebrae a few times.” When Noctis didn’t say anything, he added, “She got out, you know. The Empire said she’s dead but that’s a lie.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

Prompto titled his head to the side, that small smile still playing at his lips. “Because she’s your friend, too.” Obviously was left unspoken.

“Why should I trust you?” Warm hands, tender hands...his body still remembered them pulling him from the darkness.

This time the smile slipped. “I got you out of those chains twice,” Prompto said, voice soft. “I would have gotten you sooner but no one said anything. I honestly thought you escaped, until Ardyn said some bullshit riddle and I figured it out.”

Noctis didn’t say anything. The potion lay by his feet, its cool press comforting. Noctis heard Prompto sigh and pull his jacket from the chair.

“Oh, your friends.”

Noctis’s head snapped up even as he tried to suppress the leaping hope in his heart.

“There are orders to keep an eye out for them so...the Empire doesn’t have them. It means they’re safe somewhere.”

Noctis held Prompto’s gaze but didn’t share the small optimistic smile. Hope, it turned out, hurt more than a gargoyle’s claws.

 


 

Noctis almost didn’t take the potion. It wasn’t like it would work anyway, with his magic locked away by whatever the Empire had brought into the city.

A day passed, the sun cycling overhead, the shadows in his room growing longer, bolder. Noctis forced himself up with a groan, took the glass vial, stared at the glistening liquid within.

What the hell ?

Breaking the glass was easy; the glow of the magic and the tingling of his skin knitting itself back together was familiar. Just as soothing as creeping through the palace passages.

Noctis let out a breath, the tension in his limbs fading as the pain receded, as everything suddenly, and with sharp relief, came into focus.

Noctis turned away from the window. The sunset glow of the city was gone anyway.

His breath became a choke. A sob.

With no pain to hold him together, the floodgates opened.

And he released everything.

 


 

When Noctis awoke next, daylight stretched through the room again, warming the bed.

It was quiet. Noctis pulled himself up and ripped his bandages away, revealing smooth skin. Not even a scar. It was so easy to rise from the bed, walk to the windows.

His eyes stung as they swept over his ruined city. The sparkle was still there, the sun glinting off metal and glass but now it highlighted the destruction and how horribly twisted everything had become.

He followed that trail of destruction, tracking where he had burst through the Citadel gates, where he and Ignis and Gladio had become separated, the last place he had seen that Glaive and Luna...where he had been shot down.

The old phantom ache flared in his back, and Noctis turned away.

He stared at the bedroom door, to the space Prompto had claimed.

Prompto--Noctis didn’t hear him out in the other room. It wouldn’t matter, Noctis could just stay in the bedroom, lock himself away from everything and the other prince.

I got you out of those chains twice.

Noctis crossed the room, touched the doorknob. Breathed for a second.

There was no one on the other side. The TV was off, the white jacket and boots gone. Not even the remnants of a meal. Ten quick strides to the chamber entrance and he stopped in his tracks. The door was locked but--from the inside. It was...backwards.

Noctis retreated back to the couch, let his head drop into his hands and he squeezed his eyes shut. Something was off. About Prompto. Why get him out of the chains? Why find a potion?

Why even fucking request him as his prize?

It didn’t fit with what Noctis knew about prisoners and Niflheim, didn’t fit with the cruelty the Kingsglaive battled and the scars they bore.

The lock clicked and Noctis startled, watched Prompto squeeze through the barely opened door and quickly close it again. Locking it. His face was closed off but he took a deep breath, shook his hands out and turned.

He looked as startled as Noctis felt to see him sitting there.

“I…,” Prompto started, swallowing. He gestured at the locked door. “The MTs. They’re...unsettling.”

Noctis stared at Prompto. MTs, guarding the Citadel, his room, and Prompto...didn’t like them. Seemed to be avoiding them.

MTs during the day, daemons at night. No magic to back him up...

Prompto watched him, his eyes roaming over Noctis’s bare arms. “The potion worked.”

He crossed the room in a flash of white, knelt in front of Noctis, a steady hand reaching out for Noctis’s arm.

Noctis jerked back before the other prince’s fingers could brush his skin. His back jammed painfully into the armrest of the couch; it was harsh but effective. Prompto’s hand fell back to his side and he stood.

“Sorry,” he said quietly. His eyes still raked over Noctis, though they were more thoughtful now. “Um. I’ll be right back.”

And then he was gone, the door’s lock bolting once again from the inside, from some key Prompto had found. Noctis stared after him, forcing air in his lungs slowly, deeply.

 


 

Night came again, the passage of time marked by the darkness that greeted Noctis when he awoke on the couch hours later.

Prompto was nowhere to be seen. Whatever he thought as right back fell nowhere near Noctis’s definition.

Five minutes later found Noctis in another passage, this one leading to the west side of the Citadel.

He froze the first time a squad of MTs came into view, six feet from the passage entrance in the courtyard. He waited for the wave of fear at seeing their stiff bodies and dull armor but nothing came. They didn’t move. Not even when he crept past them and toward the courtyard wall--

A blast of icy magic slammed into his back, into the same aching spot as before. The ice ripped into him in waves of pain, cold and searing--he cried out, fell to his knees, hard, while the swarm of flans surrounded him and the courtyard filled with the sounds of newly awoken MTs.

 


 

Noctis tried to open his eyes, expecting the darkness of that cell again, but he squeezed them shut, hissing at golden sun instead.

He was back in his room. No shadow in sight, no chains pulling at him. His room. Warm, and with a potion glinting in the sun on the bed. No dried blood this time, only a stinging, burning pain in his back, in that familiar place as before.

The potion’s magic was a fading whisper across his skin when he heard a voice in the front room.

“...if you don’t get that information, innocent people will die.” A woman’s voice, smooth and cool. There was no room for argument, just a simple fact that made Noctis’s stomach churn.

“He doesn’t trust me,” Prompto’s voice came next. Hesitant, after a moment’s pause.

The woman didn’t share it. “Then make him.” Footsteps, steady and clicking, and then a door slamming.

It was quite again. Prompto sighed and Noctis braced himself as he watched the shadow move from under the door until it opened. Prompto glanced at the broken potion glass, and the glare clear across Noctis’s eyes.

“I’m not helping your Nif soldiers,” Noctis deadpanned before Prompto could even open his mouth.

Prompto’s brow furrowed and his mouth pinched but then he was shaking his head. “We just need to know where you stock piled your potions. The ones in the castle infirmary are limited.”

And wasted on him, which Noctis definitely appreciated.

“Do the robots even feel pain?” Noctis turned toward the window, hoping the brightness of the sun could burn out the glow of the red eyes in his mind. “Maybe they’re better off.”

“It’s for the refugees,” Prompto cut in. “Many were injured in the Fall and they need help to escape.”

It was the last thing Noctis expected Prompto to say. His stomach churned again.

But he looked at Prompto, took in the white Niflheim jacket and weapons. Prince Prompto. Straight from Niflheim with the Emperor himself. Deemed worthy by the Emperor. Soft hands that kept bringing him back.

“You’re right,” Noctis said, “I don’t trust you. I’m just your prize.

Prompto’s face was too open for politics. He bit his lip, fidgeted with the cuffs of his jacket, shuffled on his feet. He looked earnest, guilty, when he asked, “What do I have to do?”

“Let me go.”

 


 

Prompto didn’t. Instead night fell once again and once again Noctis found himself slipping through a series of passages.

He was ready for the daemons this time, with an iron bar he had torn from a stairwell.

The MT sentinels still didn’t move when Noctis crept into the courtyard or when the ground molted into dark sludge and the daemons groaned and shrieked into the world. The imps chattered wickedly at each other, their sharp fangs and claws glinting dangerously in the unworldly threads of magic swirling around them.

Noctis was ready for them as they surged toward him. The crack of the iron bar against their spindly bodies filled the courtyard. He swung and parried; he forced a path through the imps, their black blood oozing in vulgar splotches over the courtyard, and on Noctis himself.

When the last one fell, its shriek fading into nothing, Noctis stood in the center of it all. The hot rage faded from him, leaving only the cool whisper of night, and the creeping demand to move, to get out of the city and find--

Noctis whirled around when he heard footsteps behind him, crunching the gravel of the garden paths. At first Noctis didn’t recognize the gray jacket, but then he caught sight of blonde hair.

“Hey, are you,” Prompto began but didn’t get to finish because Noctis surged forward and tackled him to the ground.

Prompto grunted and tried pushing Noctis off but all he managed was to flip them around.

“Noctis, dude, stop,” Prompto wheezed, choking when Noctis elbowed his throat.

Stone gravel dug into Noctis’s back, sharp and biting. But Noctis still thrashed, throwing out his fists in blows that Prompto blocked.

He didn’t notice Prompto reaching for the gun at his waist, didn’t notice him raise it and fire into the night. Blinding light burst into the courtyard; Noctis cried out, his hands moving to cover his eyes while Prompto shoved him hard enough that he stumbled over.

“Luna wasn’t kidding,” Prompto said through heavy breaths. “You really can fight.” He sounded pleased by this fact but then he coughed, voice sobering. “I need to show you something.”

“I’m not going back in that cell again,” Noctis heard himself say, as amber eyes instantly flashed in his mind. The light had faded and he lowered his hands, found Prompto frowning at him.

“Never,” Prompto agreed.

Noctis heard something--leather, metal--unclasp, and he blinked. A second later, Prompto held out a gun, still in its sturdy leather holster. The weapon’s metal was dull, muting every bit of light that touched it.

“I need to show you something,” Prompto said again, looking directly at Noctis as he said it. “But the city is overrun with daemons, in case you haven’t noticed--you need a weapon. You can use this, right?”

Noctis stared at the gun, and at Prompto. He waited for the spring of the trap, for the MTs to rattle and spark to life and descend on him, for other daemons to surge from the dark sickness of the earth.

Prompto swallowed, placed the gun on the ground for Noctis, then a potion. “I’m not going to hurt you, dude.”

“And if I shoot you?” His words were hollow, raw, and speaking them, that possibility, felt better than he wanted to admit.

“You won’t,” Prompto said. “Luna’s vouched for you.”

Luna again. And, fuck, Noctis hated how his edges thawed a bit at the mention of her name, how a...curiosity grew in him, wanting to know what else Luna had told Prompto.

“Come on,” Prompto said, and stood, brushing off his clothing. He wasn’t facing the Citadel. “No one will stop you with me. And I won’t stop you if you run off but...you need to see something first.”

Prompto took a few cautious steps backwards, toward the courtyard gate and Noctis asked, “What is it?”

Prompto opened his mouth but then closed it and looked up at the towering Citadel. His eyes narrowed as they swept over the place, over the darkened windows and the damaged areas and then, where the MT guards still stood in eerie silence by the entrances.

“Not here,” he said, hushed, “someone might be listening. But...You asked why you should trust me, this is it.”

The possibility of using Prompto’s own gun against him and then using it to get out of the city seemed more likely to come to pass than trusting him.

But the way Prompto was looking at him, brows furrowed together, violet eyes narrowed in a solemn plea...that’s not how he was supposed to look. The realization was a wind gust through his memories. He’d seen those eyes before, seen them bright with barely contained happiness. Only once, tucked in the thick pages of a red leather notebook.

I made a friend, Luna had written, her words somehow bearing the same joy as she did in the picture.

Noctis swallowed. Luna had more reason to hate the Empire than he did but she still befriended Prompto. Seen something in him. Trusted him.

..The gun was heavy in hand, the potion smooth and cool.

 


 

The city was worse than Noctis had imagined or seen from his rooms in the Citadel. Worse than appearances, he could hear the daemons roaming the wide streets, but Prompto wove them through a path that avoided them.

More than once, Noctis found himself staring up at the night sky, eyes burning at the lack of glimmering Wall high above. More than once, his hands twitched at his side, searching for that same magic, but coming up empty.

And more than once, he felt an itch, pulling at him to leave Prompto, to continue on his own, to find the others.

The gun was a solid weight at his side, a deadly promise that the daemons would no longer be a problem.

But he followed Prompto, deeper and deeper into the city, over fallen buildings, shattered glass, dark stains of blood, until finally, they reached a department store. The inside was black, the displays in complete disorder.

Prompto led him through racks of clothing, makeup, home goods, until they reached a stairwell with a trail of splotchy red, as if someone had tried to clean the blood but was too hurried. A stone dropped in Noctis’s stomach at the sight but he didn’t stop, following Prompto into the basement.

Everything echoed--their breathing, the tread of their boots, the soft whimpering from a janitor’s closet whose door was slightly ajar…

Noctis’s steps faltered but Prompto paused outside of the door, rapped on it twice with his knuckles, and then slipped inside. Noctis heard something like sighs, audible relief, and then Prompto’s voice, muffled by the door, murmured something. It sounded comforting.

Still, all evidence--the whimpering, the safe and hidden place, Prompto’s caution--did not prepare him for when he finally stepped through the door.

Two men and three women were crammed into the back of the small room, as far from the door as they could manage. All of them were wide eyed, all of them encrusted with grime. All of them exhausted and skittish. Noctis had to uncanny impression of someone holding up a mirror to him.

But one woman--the source of the whimpering.

She lay on her back, her skin pale and waxy, her brow furrowed in pain while her eyes stared at nothing. Her leg lay limp and something oozed from the bandages that wrapped around it.

Prompto was at her side, on his knees, his fingers a light touch in her hair. “Hey, gorgeous,” he said, his voice brighter than their surroundings, soothing, “I brought help. You’ll be up and breaking hearts in Lestallum in no time.”

The woman smiled around her obvious pain while Prompto pulled something out of his pocket, liquid sloshing inside the glass container. A potion, Noctis realized, his heart thudding.

Prompto turned to Noctis but he didn’t have to--Noctis took the five steps over to them and dropped to his knees, took the potion in his own hands. He remembered the surprise when Prompto had seen his healed wounds the first time, the argument he heard outside his door, Prompto’s mention of refugees.

Why should I trust you, Noctis had asked, the concept an impossible feat after enduring the hell that rained down on Insomnia.

For that question, Prompto had brought him here.

Innocent people will die, that Niflheim commander had insisted, sharp and certain as a sword.

No. That wasn’t why he stayed in Insomnia.   

Prompto carefully unwrapped the woman’s bandage, apologizing with every twitch of pain she made. One of the men took the woman’s other hand. They all watched Noctis.

Noctis shattered the potion’s glass and let the glowing liquid spill over the woman’s exposed leg, the inflamed skin around a deep gash in the center of her thigh. The relief on the woman’s face was almost instant--she let out surprised and pained cry that slowly settled into a whimper again, until only her breathing remained, easy and soft.

The man holding the woman’s hand gave a great sigh and then his face crumbled behind his own hand as he wiped at heavy tears. The other women helped ease their friend off the ground. Noctis stared at the remnants of the broken glass on the floor, felt the tingle of magic fade into nothing again, and tried to savior every bit of it.

He heard Prompto rustle something from his pocket, the click of a dial, and then white static filled the room, interrupted by Prompto saying, “Six Star department store basement, Crystal Plaza. Five, one injured.”

A confirmation followed, wholly human, and Noctis looked at Prompto who was already staring back.

“There’s an armory in the south side of the city. Underground. Full of curatives,” Noctis heard himself whisper, decision settling thick in his stomach.

 


 

It was the right thing to do, he told himself, making his way back through Insomnia’s streets and under the witness of the stars.

It was the right thing to do, he thought, as Ignis and Gladio’s faces flashed in his mind. As his father smiled at him with heartache.

The right thing to do, as the Citadel rose high above him, and he followed Prompto through the front gate, the grand corridors, and back to his old apartments, where he heaved his stomach into the toilet.

Chapter Text

The streets of Insomnia were a hellscape.

In the past two weeks, the fires had calmed, the air clearing of heavy smoke. Left behind, the buildings still crumbled, daemons still shrieked and groaned to life in the pitch black of night.

Once a vibrant city, full of happy, prosperous life--snuffed out.

Traces of that peace, the peace Noctis himself had enjoyed, still lined the streets--clothing stores boasting the season’s latest trends; coffee shops with the best Altissian brews; bookstores promising signings with Insomnian Times Bestselling authors. Toys. Notebooks. Bikes.

Everywhere Noctis looked, the world bore evidence of the war that had forced its way through the city’s Wall and the fall its people had suffered.

It made the cheerful voice beside him all the more jarring. “You even listening, dude?”

No, Noctis had not been listening. His focus over the past few weeks had been...scattered. Listening for the pleading cries of surviving refugees. Cries that grew fewer and fewer with each passing day. Trying not to think about Gladio and Ignis, about his father. Prompto’s stories were a beam of sunshine breaking through a storm cloud. A reminder of what he’d lost.

But...they were nice. An occasional distraction, when he remembered to listen.

Noctis looked sideways at Prompto, blinking, trying to put some interest in his eyes in a silent encouragement for him to continue.

Prompto’s responding look was soft, understanding even, and he picked up where he left off. “So yeah. Ravus wasn’t happy. I mean, who would be if their closet was full of dog shit? He refused to help Luna train the dogs after--it was a really, uh, shitty week.”

Prompto let out a short laugh at his joke and even Noctis’s lips twitched into the smallest of smiles.

Prompto, this Niflheim prince, his enemy who invaded his city--he didn’t have to share these stories. He also didn’t have to let Noctis out of their shared quarters or let him wander these streets with him.

He didn’t have to help Noctis’s people and yet...Noctis didn’t understand why.

“They’ve found her,” Prompto said, voice soft as he toed away a bit of concrete. “She’s traveling, healing anyone who needs it, but they haven’t caught up to her.”

“Good,” Noctis replied, trying to put some of his gratitude for this morsel of information into his own voice, though it still rang hollow in his ears.

Noctis could go to her, or find Ignis and Gladio, whenever he wished. Prompto had made that clear from the beginning but...Noctis had made his choice. He didn’t question why Prompto would do these things for him but...Noctis flexed his hand, uselessly hoping for a flash of crystal, and feeling the pit in his stomach open wider when nothing happened.

Noctis understood the price he had to pay to help his fallen city.

And so when a pack of imps exploded from an abandoned shop beside them, autopilot took over. Taking up Prompto’s flank was easy, the rush of moving his body, pushing it to slash at any and all daemons felt--good.

And still, even as he struggled to move without warping, to remember what Gladio had taught him sans magic, even as the daemon’s shrieks pierced his ears, he listened for the cries hidden among the rubble.

 


 

Dusty pink dawn had descended upon Insomnia by the time the two princes returned to the Citadel.

Through overbearing wrought iron gates--one hanging off its hinges--and Noctis was back to his cage.

MTs lined the courtyard, dormant sentinels ready to defend at a moment’s notice of danger to their masters. Not the daemons, though. Not the true danger that lurked these corridors. Called Prompto son and Noctis prize.

Noctis shivered but let his feet carry him through the courtyard. Prompto jogged, feet light, to catch up and--slipped a hand into Noctis’s, eyes staring straight ahead, seemingly oblivious to the dozens of dark windows looming down on them.

Two weeks of listening to stories, of sharing quarters and rescuing refugees--Prompto had only ever made small claims, only with in the walls of the Citadel.

Noctis recognized it for what it was. Prompto’s hand was only ever guiding, never lingering. Just an act, for whoever might be watching.

And yet...when they reached their rooms and Prompto let go...Noctis tried not to notice how cold and large the world felt. How...shadowed.

Prompto went to work preparing for sleep: cleaning his guns, showering off daemon grime, fixing the blankets on the couch.

All the while, Noctis sat in the seperate bedroom, listening until the outer room quieted, when Prompto’s breath turned heavy and deep.

Noctis watched the door, watched for shadows and what lurked within them. Watched for flashing gold eyes, an oily smile...hours of this, anticipation keeping him rigid as the sun stretched over the city.

 


 

Prompto had duties.

He never shared what they were and was always gone from their shared quarters before midday but he always ordered some food for Noctis before he went.

Noctis couldn’t think of what those duties might be. Fundraising for charities and making appearances at local scholarship programs was currently out. He was also pretty certain their impromptu refugee program wasn’t sanctioned by the empire, either…

But still Prompto left, clearing his face of anything--humor, annoyance, sleep--straightening his uniform.

Noctis knew better than to try and leave alone. No magic, MTs everywhere and daemons at night...he’d made that mistake too many times already. And the refugees…

Noctis could never sleep though. Not alone, not with every clanking MT passing by his door, wondering if they would stop this time. He didn’t have a phone. His old gaming systems had been cleared out sometime after his first escape attempt--not that the network servers were still working, not with the city…

Exhaustion on top of exhaustion was a great way to pass the time, he learned. Noctis practiced with the sword Prompto had given him--everything Gladio had taught him, minus magic.

Tried to remember how Ignis and Gladio had fought without warping.

Tried to forget the drying blood on the Citadel walls, the whimpering of the refugees, the glow of crimson machine eyes…

He practiced, until his body begged for rest and his lungs greedily gulped down air, and he fell to his knees.

 


 

Metal clanked. Wood exploded.

Noctis snapped his eyes open as cold hands, strong and unyielding, latched onto his arms and hauled him up from the bed.

Noctis thrashed, mind frantically trying to catch up. Raw, breathless air escaped his throat in silent yells. Wood splinters cut into his bare feet and he stumbled over the obstacles, over the pain.

Fear, both familiar and new, flooded his body.

Corridor after corridor, he tripped, the MTs holding him upright, merciless in their pace. Noctis lifted his head and blinked at the daylight streaming in through the windows, tried to catch sight of a white jacket, blonde hair.

They took him to the throne room. Threw him on the marble floor, where he caught himself with his palms, clenching his teeth at the flashing pain that ran through his wrists. The MTs stopped behind him and formed a wall, their joints hissing as they shut down, waiting for new orders. Noctis looked up.

Emperor Iedolas sat on his throne again, legs crossed and relaxed as he surveyed the vast hall. Still that irritation on his pinched face, still that sneer of disdain as he regarded Noctis.

Noctis let his own be seen, let his hands clench at his sides and eyes go cold as he glared at the Emperor. This man, this disgusting excuse for a ruler, was the reason for everything. A shimmering blade would be a great complement to those flowing white robes…

Another pair of boots rushed into the hall--Prompto stopped short at the sight that greeted him: Noctis on his knees, his father on the throne, MTs lining Noctis, and all up and down the stairs leading to the throne.

“Father?” Prompto took slow steps to Noctis, crouching down and--slipping a hand into Noctis’s. He looked at Noctis with furrowed brows and then back at the Emperor; his hand squeezed hard.

An anchor--Prompto was an anchor against the rage that threatened to crash over Noctis like a tsunami. A reassurance.

“My son.” Iedolas said with much less fondness than that first day in the throne room, when he deemed Prompto worthy of a gift. “It seems we have a refugee problem.”

“Do we,” replied Prompto slowly, like he didn’t heal and personally escort refugees away night after night.

Iedolas didn’t respond, not verbally anyway. He lifted a bony wrist and gestured toward something unseen and--more clanking armor, followed by a short commotion and frightened cries.

A family of three--mother, father, child--emerged from a side door, pulled by chains by MTs.

Heavy and thick, Noctis’s breath caught on the fear rising in his chest.

Those chains--his limbs ached from their phantom memory and--Prompto squeezed his hand again, grounding him. It was enough for him to blink and look again.

He remembered this family. Remembered the child, barely five years old, whimpering thanks to him and Prompto as they were taken to an escape tunnel.

Grime coated their faces and their clothes hung like rags on their trembling bodies.They stared at Noctis, eyes wide in alarm, but he was frozen to the marble floor. How could he help with his magic stunted, with so many MTs and those chains and dammit--they had been so careful…

“Who are they?” Wide eyed himself, Prompto looked from the refugees to his father, confusion coating his voice, showing no signs of knowing this family. Shoulders relaxed, weight settled on one foot...still the imperial prince.

Iedolas drummed his fingers on the armrest of the throne and watched Prompto for a moment. “Caught in the city outskirts, escorted by four guards. Traitors, all of them.” Iedolas spat the word.

Some of the color bleached from Prompto’s face. He looked at the family. “The traitors?”

“Dealt with.”

Noctis had never seen them--they’d always been shrouded in shadow when he and Prompto brought refugees to them. They’d always been crackling voices on the radio. Iedolas’s voice held no room for misunderstanding their fate.

Prompto nodded and took a breath, let go of Noctis’s hand as he straightened, clasping his hands behind his back. A soldier ready for orders. But Noctis saw how tight his hands clenched, the slight tremor that shook them. “How can I help you, Father?”

Waiting for Iedolas to speak felt like awaiting a death sentence. Soft crying filled the room, a chorus to Noctis’s pounding heart.

“I tasked you with securing the city,” the Emperor drawled out, narrowing his eyes at Prompto. “It seems you’ve left your duties wanting, which should now make your new ones easier.”

Iedolas gestured agian and the MTs dragged the family away, back crying and screaming through the side door. Armor and fear echoed through the passage, until the following silence rang throughout the hall.

“Find the others,” the Emperor ordered. “Bring them here, where they can be guarded until they are shipped away.” And then that hateful gaze, empty silver eyes, lowered to Noctis. “He knows the city. If he wants a bounty kept off the families of his retainers, he will help you.”

Ice surged through Noctis. He clenched his teeth and imagined one of Ignis’s daggers piercing the old man’s gut.

Prompto took a step back to Noctis and brought a gentle hand onto his shoulder, grasping it with a strength that was both caution and support. “Where will the refugees be taken?”

“Where they may be useful,” Iedolas snapped. “Now get out of my sight.”

Prompto bowed once and then slipped an arm through Noctis’s and led they both away.

 


 

A grunt filled the elevator as Noctis tore his arm away and shoved Prompto against the wall. The other prince didn’t fight it, didn’t even flinch as the air was slammed from his lungs.

“Where is he sending them?”

Noctis didn’t recognize his own voice, the raw anger it held and overtook him. His strength, arm pressing into the curve of Prompto’s neck--that was familiar.

Prompto’s body, lean and strong, was rigid under Noctis’s, their harsh breath mingling, filling the small space around them. So close, Noctis could see every freckle that dotted Prompto’s face and the flecks of violet in his blue eyes. He could count the lashes fanning over them if he wanted.

“Noctis,” Prompto gasped, panic lacing that one word as he pulled at Noctis’s arm with his own hands.

Noctis flicked his eyes up to Prompto’s as a sharp ping rang out, announcing their floor. The sound sliced through Noctis’s anger.

He blinked, eyes widening, body freezing as it realized...as he felt the bob of Prompto’s throat beneath his arm, the air he was pushing out. Noctis stepped back, his own breathing just as ragged, as the tide of rage ebbed and he was left with something hollow.

Dude,” Prompto gulped down air around the word. “Uncalled for.”

“Where is he sending them?” Softer this time, none of the fight from before.

Prompto pushed himself off the elevator wall, his uniform a little ruffled, but he seemed unconcerned, holding the elevator door open for Noctis instead, quiet urgency in his eyes.

Broken bits of door littered their shared room and Prompto kicked at them, sighing and moving larger ones out of the way, motioning for Noctis to follow him into the bedroom.

Hesitation ran through Noctis, his feet unmoving for just a moment as Prompto’s white coat disappeared into his space.

Prize, prize, prize--Noctis shoved Ardyn’s phantom voice away and forced his feet forward.

Inside the bedroom, door locked, the two princes stared at each other; Prompto looked weary and somehow thoughtful.

“My father...he’s playing a dangerous game.”

“No shit.”

Prompto glanced at Noctis from beneath his fringe, face stark pale in the sunlight and blue eyes sharp beneath the blonde wisps. “Where ever my father is taking them...they won’t get there.”

“But you do know where.”

“Yeah.” Soft, the fear there and gone in a flash. “I...it’s not good. Trust me, you don’t want the details.”

Yeah, he did, and he’d force that out of the imperials first chance he got but...he glanced at the bed. Noctis felt so tired now. “How are they useful?” That word, above any others, bothered him most.

Prompto swallowed, nervousness in the very sound, and shook his head. “They...Aranea has done a few missions for Father and...well, have you ever wondered where the MTs came from?”

Ice trickled through Noctis’s veins. “That family--they...they’ll be like them?”

Prompto dipped his head, one spot of the carpet practically burning from the heat of his stare. Hot with anger, with...guilt. “I don’t know. Maybe. Or something else. Like I said, Aranea…” He sucked in a breath and glanced at Noctis. “We need to talk to her.”

 


 

Drooping from their own weight, pages fanning out, newspapers and magazines still proudly declared Noctis’s engagement with Luna. Framed by large, bold headlines, the smiles they sported in their photos were jarring in the dark convenient store.

Just as jarring--King Regis, an imposing but proud figure beside Noctis in many of the photos.

Noctis looked away. Clenched his jaw, his hands, until they turned white, until he felt something quake inside of him and--

Creaking on its hinges, the door opened. Prompto pushed himself off the counter he leaned against, hand brushing the gun holster at his side. He relaxed when a silver haired woman walked in.

The woman saw Noctis first, her steel eyes noting his shaking hands. Her expression softened when she turned to Prompto.

“I heard what happened,” she said by way of greeting. The owner of the voice in the throne room. The same one reminding Prompto the need for more potions. The Commodore. Aranea Highwind.

Concern coated her words, shadowed her face, as she regarded Prompto. “You okay, Highness?”

The snort Prompto let out was surprisingly loaded and he waved the question away. “What now?”

Aranea shrugged. “Keeping finding people. My men will pick them up but they’ll leave in my drop ship when the time comes. I’m sure the hunters will help find a safe place for them and...keep an eye out for your retainers and their families."

Noctis could only nod, eyes stinging, as she directed those words to him.

Prompto swallowed and nodded his head again as he considered the details. He sighed and toed the floor with a boot. “We won’t be able to hide this one.”

The world would see...Noctis’s eyes widened and he threw out a hand against the wall for support as he realized...They defied the Empire, but now...

Aranea crossed her arms, leaned her weight on one foot, like betraying the Empire was just a day in the life. Looking at the two, their faces relaxed but resolved, secreted away in this abandoned store and in shadows...maybe it was. “So you need to be ready when it’s time. Until then, keep your head down. Don’t do anything stupid.”

“I would never,” Prompto winked at her.

The look Aranea threw him could freeze Ifrit’s realm but the responding grin from Prompto melted it. It was an exchange Noctis was intimately familiar with. One akin to siblings and one that dropped a stone into that hollow place in his heart.

Aranea rolled her eyes a moment later and threw a disgusted look toward the store’s door. “One more thing. The court are all sitting high and mighty in their shiny new palace. Gloating in their victory but they’ll get bored soon. Possibly turn their attentions to prettier things. Don’t be goaded.”

Prompto’s back straightened and his mouth pinched into a frown as he followed Aranea’s glare.

Even Noctis picked up the warning in those words. Aranea’s features softened once more, back to concerned, and she looked at Prompto...and then Noctis. “Be careful, kid.”

Prompto flashed a thumb’s up, his smile brittle in the gloom.

 


 

They didn’t find anyone that night, only daemons reeking of rotting death. Noctis wiped his sword of their black blood, a pair of flans sizzling as they melted back into the earth.

Prompto stood off to the side, reloading his guns, his concentration alternating between that task and, “so yeah, she may look sweet, but Luna will absolutely own you in any card game.”

Secure the city; that was the duty Prompto had busied himself with during the day with a few trusted others, away from the prying eyes of the court.

Subdued, with hesitant words and tense body--but only around Iedolas and the rest of the Imperial Court. Thoughtful, considering, with the edges of his mouth curved downward as he chewed the inside of a cheek, though ready for a smile--only around Aranea and Noctis.

Prompto could have the world at his fingertips, revel in the destruction his father inflicted and yet--he disregarded it all to help the innocent.

Prompto remained grim faced. This prince, with his wispy blonde hair and summer eyes, the shining white prince in most fairy tales--how had no one guessed what he’d done? What else was he capable of?

Story finished, Prompto cast a glance at the sky, noting its lighter shade, and sighed. “What a clusterfuck, huh?”

Noctis’s anger from earlier, the rage that took itself out on Prompto, was gone. They had a plan and yet he still felt the hollowness of defeat. Of shame...he glanced at Prompto’s neck, the skin exposed by his collar. He couldn’t see if there are any lingering marks there but...the feeling of Prompto gasping for breath...fuck.

Noctis swallowed. “Why are you doing this?”

Prompto let out a puff of air, like a chuckle. “Noct,” he said, the nickname brushing against Noctis like a caress. “Haven’t you seen?”

Bitterness seeped from Prompto and pooled at both their feet. He gestured out in a broad sweep of his arm; Noctis looked out on his devastated city.

“Father is fucking insane.”

Barely a whisper and yet the words slammed into Noctis like a truck.

 


 

“Fuck.”

Prompto kicked at wooden shards littering the floor. His lips were pinched in a half frown, half smile, and he look at Noctis. “See? A clusterfuck.”

Noctis swept his eyes over his rooms. So many memories took up residence here, ghosts of them coming to life between the gray dawn shadows that settled over it.

Ignis had helped him set up his first gaming system in this living room...Gladio had smuggled in countless beers that Ignis pretended he knew nothing about. His dad comforted him after each nightmare in that bedroom. His sanctuary until his first apartment.

When Prompto suggested a new room, it felt like a betrayal to say yes.

They ended up in a guest suite a few wings down, one once given to visiting diplomats. A sitting area, one bed, and an attached bathroom.

The two princes stared at the bed, large and plush, until Prompto sucked in a breath and started toward the couch.

Watching Prompto settle into the cushions, position one against the arm as a pillow and then drape his legs over the other, half of him hanging off...Noctis snorted.

“That always fucked up my back,” he said quietly, flinching at the phantom pain that flared at the memory. “Ignis...he always berated me for it. Said princes had no business sleeping on couches anyway.”

Prompto stared at him, like he’d grown a new head. Maybe he had. But...fuck. Prompto hadn’t been sick by his decision to stay in the city and help the innocents trapped here--had done so without question, bore the brunt of Noctis’s anger, and now…

Now, he was planning a rebellion while the emperor slept a few floors away.

Fuck .

Maybe he’d grown a new head, maybe he’d regret the decision later but now...Noctis narrowed his eyes at Prompto so his intent wasn’t misunderstood and gestured at the bed. “Don’t make stupid decisions, remember?”

Prompto nodded after a moment, eyes still wide, and as he made to get up, Noctis said, “...sorry for earlier.”

 


 

Afternoon sun washed over Insomnia, rousing Noctis who groaned and turned over. And froze.

Curled up at his back, hands tucked up to his to his chin, Prompto still slept. Freckles trailed over his relaxed face, his cheeks flushed from sleep’s warmth, and he let out a soft whimper as Noctis inched onto his back.

Despite his invitation, it’d taken Noctis several hours to fall asleep with Prompto beside him.

Noctis pinched his brow, his mind foggy, still too full of lingering nightmares and…

He focused back on Prompto, on the even sounds of breath, on how they fluttered against Noctis’s hair, tickling his face.

So close, so still. Peaceful, somehow, everything about this prince gentle.

Something ached in Noctis, watching Prompto. The press of a body beside him; warmth seeped through the blankets, tingling at Noctis’s side. A tether, an anchor. His throat tightened and his hand twitched, wanting to draw Prompto closer--

Knocking sounded on the locked door. Prompto snapped his eyes open. Noctis froze.

Prompto’s eyes, too alert, flickered from Noctis to the door. More knocking, insistent--and then Prompto pushed away the blankets with a rustle and rose from the bed. Noctis stared at the now empty spot behind him, the indent where Prompto’s body had been.

The door hardly made a sound as Prompto cracked it open an inch and peered outside.

A hand, small and pale as Prompto’s, shot out immediately and forced the door open wider. Noctis looked up. Blonde hair appeared at Prompto’s shoulder, followed by a sneer of a face, eyes narrowed in cold delight as they took in Noctis glaring at him from the bed.

“Sorry to disturb you, Highness,” came a mocking voice. The man turned his attention back to Prompto, delight turned to amusement. “But your presence has been requested tonight.”

“I’m unavailable, Loqi,” Prompto answered, and made to slam the door closed but the other man caught it with his boot.

“Your father, the Emperor, has requested for us all to attend,” Loqi insisted. And again, his eyes slid to Noctis. “Even your...pet. We’re all curious to see if you’ve tamed him.”

When he looked back at Prompto, whatever he saw made him smirk, and only then did he slip away from the door and give a bow that held no sincerity. “Until tonight, Highness.”

His steps faded from the living room but Prompto kept watch at the door. When he seemed satisfied that Loqi was gone, he slammed the door shut.

“Fucking prick.” Prompto flopped back on to the bed and squeezed his eyes shut. “I don’t know how Caligo stands him...or how anyone stands the both of them.”

“Funny,” Noctis dead panned,  fighting off that new word, pet, “I don’t know how the world stands Niflheim.”

Prompto sighed, unbothered by Loqi's implication. “Now I see why Aranea warned us. Hope you’re ready.”

“I’m not.”

Absolute truth, punctuated by the icy dread that spread through him, curdled his stomach, at the thought of dinner. He didn’t have names but it was clear in Loqi’s words--all meant those closest to the Emperor. The people who captured him and murdered his father, together at one table.

Fuck.” Noctis rolled off the bed and barely made it to the toilet in time.

 


 

A nightmare.

That was what Noctis walked into with Prompto.

Emperor Iedolas, flanked by his trusted advisors, some of whom Noctis recognized--Aranea, Loqi. Ardyn.

All eyes turned toward them and Noctis felt the edges of his world blur, go dark. Felt the ice in his veins with each step he took to the two empty chairs at the end opposite Iedolas. The same place he would have taken during a dinner with his father.

Reaching for the chair, his hand seemed to move in slow motion, like his mind was delaying the moment he’d actually sit with these murderers.

Prompto’s hand covered his, bringing them both onto the chair back and then, Prompto’s breath brushed against his cheek, tickled the hairs there as he leaned in close.

Noctis froze against Prompto, against the hot touch of his body, and the other hand that came to press against his hip, holding him in place.

“They have the chains,” Prompto whispered, as if it were a lover’s confession. “Chains I can’t unlock. Don’t do anything stupid.”

“No shit.” Noctis hissed back and gently pushed Prompto away with a hand flush against his chest.

Stepping back, Prompto transformed into cool deference. “Father.” A slight bow. “Thank you for the invitation.”

Iedolas made an impatient gesture for them to sit. As they did, Noctis felt the prickling of each continued stare--only the energy changed. Hunger--and not for the meal displayed on the table before them.

Someone cleared their throat; Noctis looked up, caught Aranea’s sympathetic eye as she nodded toward them. “Glad you could join us--catch up on your beauty sleep, Highness?”

Loqi smirked, clearly remembering catching the tail end of Prompto’s beauty sleep. Prompto looked at Noctis, his eyes filled with something like warmth, fondness, while his lips tilted into a lazy smile. “You could say that.”

Everyone at the table, except Aranea and Iedolas, smiled at Prompto’s demure, all swamping knowing glances that turned Noctis’s stomach. A knife lay inches from Noctis’s hand, meant for the delicately cooked steak and yet he was pretty certain it’d easily pierce all of these men’s skin.

“Truly a luxury,” an older man said from his end of the table, “to be given such a pretty reward.”

“Indeed,” a woman, a silver hilted sword at her side, chimed in and the abhorrence she threw Noctis boiled his blood. “What a mercy, to sit in the emperor’s presence, while his blood should have warmed the ground beside his father’s. Our emperor’s graciousness is truly commendable.”

The edges of Noctis’s vision blurred, went red with molten rage; his hands twitched, everything tunneling on the knife on the table and the woman’s hateful face. Prompto’s hand descended, wrapped itself around Noctis’s, squeezing, anchoring.

“Yes, quite a privilege for Noctis,” Ardyn’s voice purred over his wine glass. “And Your Majesty, so generous, but our dear Prompto--now that deserves our praise. Beautiful, isn’t it? Glauca betraying his beloved Kingsglaive with a sword through King Regis’s heart and then His Highness, securing himself a prince with one expert shot.”

Well aimed words, though they flew straight past Noctis, and after a moment under Ardyn’s coy smirk he turned to Prompto who’d gone bone white.

“Oh, you don’t know?” Ardyn’s lips curled. “Why don’t you tell him, Highness, about the countless hours spent perfecting your marksmanship?”

“What is he talking about,” Noctis hissed at Prompto who sat frozen in his seat. Even Aranea glared at Ardyn. And Iedolas, who hadn’t uttered a word, remained impassive, bored even, like all of this was beneath him.

“He shot you down,” Loqi said with near glee. “While you tried to defend your beloved city, Prince Prompto brought pride to his country with one, lucky shot.”

“A fallen prince in our grasp.” The another woman sighed. “Beautiful, indeed, Chancellor.”

Noctis’s hand trembled beneath Prompto’s--the other prince’s grip weakened and Noctis tore away. Blood, his breathing, roared in his ears as he stared at Prompto, waiting for the other prince to deny everything but it was Iedolas who delivered the final confirmation.

“Well done, boy.”

Noctis bolted up, his chair falling backward with a crash. Prompto followed, reaching out with a hesitant hand but Noctis ignored it as he staggered toward the door. His lungs didn’t work properly--he gulped down air but none of it was enough. Heat, black vision. Prompto said something but it was muffled beneath his fury, the betrayal that bubbled its way into his veins.

But one person’s words cut through, oily, feeding the fire Noctis felt. “Won’t you indulge us, before we leave?” Ardyn put down his wine glass and folded his hands before him. “A kiss--just one, to keep us warm in Niflheim?”

Prompto whipped his head back to them. “What?”

“We depart in the morning, boy,” Iedolas said. “I’m leaving Caligo in command of the city. Do not disappoint me.”

Prompto blinked, at his father and then the other man at the table. “Of course.” And then he bowed and turned toward Noctis.

Ardyn cut in, before before Noctis’s hand swatted Prompto’s reaching hand away. “The kiss?”

The two princes froze, Noctis in disbelief that any of this was happening, and Prompto like a trapped animal. Noctis backed away, one step toward the door, and Prompto gulped.

“Get on with it, boy,” Iedolas snapped.

“I…” Prompto looked at his father, and then at Noctis. Guilt, uncertainty, apologizes--they all swam in his blue eyes.

Noctis clenched his hands. That charge in the air was back, accompanied by Ardyn’s whispering voice, prize, prize, prize. Here it was, their act come into play. Prompto reached out, his fingers brushing through Noctis’s hair first, and then clasping at the back of his head.

When he leaned in, when Prompto’s lips were a breath away, he whispered, “I’m sorry.” And then his lips were upon Noctis’s.

Stiff, rigid, Noctis sucked in a breath at the gentle pressure on his mouth. At the sweet taste left over from Prompto’s wine, at the hand that pulled him closer.

It barely lasted a second but Noctis felt something shift in him. His body, hollow for weeks, starved for kindness, drank it in--the softness of Prompto’s lips, the hand that played at his hair.

He ripped himself away, chest heaving, whole body trembling with a sudden chill over the realization of what he’d done. Noctis stared at Prompto--noted the light flush dusting his cheeks and--stormed out of the room.

 


 

Prompto didn’t follow Noctis. No one stopped him, not even the cold, empty line of MTs. Not even Iedolas.

Mind racing, Noctis walked. Just let his feet carry him through the familiar halls palace halls. Once imposing, they now hummed with comfort, pulling him--not out, but in. To the elevator, down a corridor that once dripped with opulence, lined with portraits of his ancestors.

Slashes marred the beautiful paintings, long and clean, like a someone took a gleeful sword through them--the hateful woman from the dinner flashed in his mind and he hurried his steps.

The window at the end of the corridor was once one of his favorites; where he could sit and watch the city. Twinkling, shimmering--like a sea of stars below him. Almost better than the stars in the sky, he told his dad once, because he could see them. No walls blocked the wondrous view.

All was black below now. Nothing shimmered, nothing except the ghostly glow of a daemon on the prowl.

From here, Noctis found it. Could see the exact spot where he had fallen from the sky. Where splitting, earth shattering pain shot through his side. Just barely missing his old scar.

Faint throbbing pulsed through him now. Wherever Prompto had made that shot…

Expert marksman...he’d seen it, down there, each night. Had never put the pieces together--why Iedolas praised him, why Ardyn bothered to haul Noctis to the throne room that day. He never…

All of those stories with him and Luna; all those nights searching through the rubble, cutting down daemons. Plotting. Healing. Building Noctis’s trust.

Just a prize. Ardyn’s words ringing true as all eyes from that dinner table burned through him. They had known. They revelled in it. Thirsted for it. Prompto’s act, giving into Ardyn’s demand. A foolish betrayal.

Noctis’s hands curled until they trembled. All his anger surged forward and he drove a fist through the beautiful window, raining glass on the city.

 


 

Two hours couldn’t numb Noctis.

When the door clicked open, when Prompto entered with his imperial whites and wide summer blue eyes, Noctis was ready.

He stood and Prompto stopped, faced him fully.

Prompto spoke first. “Noctis…”

The sound of his voice, beseeching, broke something in Noctis. He took the six steps forward, arms reaching out and slamming Prompto against the closed door.

Only the sounds of their breathing filled the room, as Noctis sneered down Prompto, as he conjured up the same hate he felt for Iedolas and all those people at the dinner table.

Voice empty, a husk, he said, “Is that what they say? That Prince Prompto shot himself a prize? A pretty prince to spread his legs at night?”

“Noctis...I didn’t…”

Summer blue eyes, violet like the sylleblossoms he and Luna got to pick--they were pleading, fragile as those petals. Noctis’s throat, his chest, tightened. Unable to look, he dipped his head forward so that it rested on the wooden door.

Prompto’s scent washed over him. Gunpowder and citrus, all at once sweet and tangy. “They would have killed you, Noctis,” Prompto said. “Those daemons, they--I was on those front lines, I saw what Verstael wanted to do…”

“Your mercy, then? You could have had anything…

“They would have shipped you to Niflheim,” Prompto replied. “With the refugees and I...I’ve seen what they’ve done. I know what they’ll do still and I can’t…”

Noctis turned his head and breathed Prompto in. So much like the Citadel but so new. Warm and so very still as Noctis brought a hand up to brush at feather soft hair, the gold in it glinting delicately under the room’s crystal light.

“Sometimes...don’t you think about what if...” Prompto whispered, a confession as he also turned his head, lips so close to Noctis’s, eyes longing. “What if...there was no war.”

If they could have been friends, swapping stories in daylight, maybe even in one of the arcades Noctis had often stood outside of once upon a time, never going in. He knew that longing.

They could have chased the shift that awakened in him during their kiss, that hung between them when Prompto took his hand. The warmth he felt and could feel again, now, with Prompto’s body shifting to meet his, to press against, turning and slowly, leaning forward. He stopped, so that his lips were a whisper against Noctis’s, in a silent request.

Prize, Ardyn had taunted him, but...fuck.

Fuck those shadows, the cold numbness he felt everyday.

He kissed Prompto, bunching fist fulls of his uniform and dragging them away from the door. Further into the room, until the backs of his calves hit the hard edge of the bed and they fell into the sheets.

Rustling filled the room as each divested the other of their clothing as, slowly, they revealed themselves to each other.

Noctis reached out and ran a hand down the smooth, silky expanse of Prompto’s chest and in response, Prompto took that hand and trailed tingling kisses from palm to wrist to arm, up and up until he reached Noctis’s neck.

“Noct,” Prompto sighed in the curve there, as he nipped at the skin.

Noctis gasped as sparkes, heat, ignited within him and built from Prompto’s mouth and--that nickname. Tossed out between breathy sighs and kissing. It felt impossibly intimate.

Don’t you think about...Prompto had asked him and now Noctis cried out, “yes”--he flipped them over, his neck cool, bare, as he straddled Prompto. Staring up at Noctis, he bit his lip, swollen and pink, and arched into Noctis’s hands.

Noctis’s fingers caught on Prompto’s nipples as they budded under his caressing touch. Prompto’s hands came up to rest on Noctis’s thighs. So simple, these touches and yet they seared through him. Made him seek more. More.

Noctis dipped his head to taste Prompto’s skin--moaning as a hand slipped between them and grabbed hold of his cock, stroking and teasing at the tip, playing with the pre-cum already beading there.

Noctis shuddered and rutted his hips forward, pressing against Prompto’s steady hand--a guiding hand, now leading Noctis to his pleasure.

“Noct,” Prompto whispered, using his other hand to pull him up, to steal a kiss. “Do you have--”

“Maybe,” Noctis pushed himself to up, reached for the side table and dug around. Sure enough, he found some supplies. Before, he’d rolled his eyes in slight disgust over those visiting diplomats but now…

Now he slicked his fingers with the forgotten lube and reached between Prompto’s open legs, opening him more intimately with one finger, then another, until Noctis couldn’t ignore his own need, wrapped himself in a condom, and he pushed inside.

They moved together, sighing, kissing--lips, jaws, necks--nipping, caressing. Prompto held Noctis, hands running up and down his back, as he thrust in and out, the pace quick, chasing, desperate.

All too soon, Prompto arched upward, spilling out between them and that building fire in Noctis’s core twisted and tightened and he also came with a cry into Prompto’s neck. He dropped onto Prompto, uncaring of the sticky mess on both of them, and tried to catch his breath.

A long time--who knows how long, Noctis lay there, on top of Prompto, then beside, just breathing. Waiting for his heartbeat to settle, listening to Prompto’s do the same. Prompto’s arms still wrapped around him and Noctis was--grateful he didn’t move away.

Night wore on and Noctis closed his eyes, breathing in Prompto’s gunpowder and citrus scent, listening to their heartbeats as he wondered over and over: what if.