It wasn’t customary, Cor knew, for small children to come with their own instruction manuals. Most children came into the world screaming, small and red and vaguely hideous, in that strange, wrinkled way that turned ordinary adults into doe-eyed dreamers. It happened to Regis that way, grinning wide as Noctis Lucis Caelum, born far too soon and delivered almost too late, squirmed and squinted against the tubes keeping him alive.
“Look at him,” Regis had said, scrubbing a gloved hand over his eyes. “He’s beautiful.”
Cor couldn’t really see it, but he nodded anyways. Regis told him that he’d understand himself, one day, but Cor quietly resolved that this was one of those mysteries that came wholesale with a family, with true love and townhouses and other impossible dreams.
Three years later, during a midnight raid on an unregistered wizard’s warehouse, Cor found Prompto.
It was a routine operation: The Crownsguard-Kingsglaive offensive against unlicensed, illegal wizardry was a new creature, but Cor had been unofficially conducting raids with Regis and Clarus since before the war ended. Their job was to rout magic-users whose idea of a good time was splicing people and daemons together to see what stuck, and for the most part, they’d managed to put most of them behind bars. Except, it seemed, for Verstael Besithia, who had a nasty habit of leaving town the moment he so much as caught a glimpse of a Crownsguard’s shadow.
The warehouse was empty, save for the few experiments Verstael could stand to leave behind. They turned on Cor’s soldiers as soon as the doors opened, and Cor drew his sword, the silver edge of the blade glinting, only to take two steps forward and disappear into a black pit that yawned open in the polished floorboards.
He landed hard on his side, and his sword went skittering off into the darkness. He was alone—whatever had caught him didn’t seem to care much about bringing the others along—and the dim light of a monitor illuminated a patch of dusty floor a few feet away. Cor pulled a stone out of his pocket and drew it to his eye, squinting through the hole worn in the middle, but he could only see the etching of runes for silence, for secrecy, for keeping things hidden.
If he didn’t escape this on his own, he’d die there.
A cool wind blew past, stirring up dust like the sigh of a massive creature. Then, before Cor could even pull himself to his feet, a three-ring binder fell out of thin air to crash to the floor at his side.
On the front, in neat, spidery print, were the words:
On the Care and Keeping of Prompto
A Comprehensive Guide
Slowly, Cor levered himself to a sitting position. He gently lifted the front of the binder, revealing a veritable mountain of looseleaf paper covered in that same distinct handwriting.
Congratulations! said the first page. You have been chosen to ensure the well-being of PROMPTO, who is:
1. An absolute darling.
2. Of more intrinsic value than you, your significant other, your ancestors, and the world at large.
3. Two years and four months old
3a. This is very important to remember
4. Behind you.
Cor scrambled around, struggling to rise to his feet, as something scuffled in the dark at his back.
“Go on,” said a low, almost sing-song voice. “Say hello.”
“lo,” whispered a smaller, higher voice. And, as Cor’s hands grasped for a sword that lay out of his reach, the shadows coalesced into the small, stumbling form of a toddler.
The boy was drowning in a shirt far too large for him, pudgy hands peeking out of accordion sleeves and his feet tripping up in the dragging folds. His hair was a smudged sort of blond, and his cheeks were damp in that inexplicably sticky way of all toddlers left alone for more than half a minute. He saw Cor, broke into a wide, guileless grin, and ran full-tilt towards him.
He immediately went tumbling forward, but before he could land on his face, a pair of hands appeared from the empty air to catch him round the middle. Whoop, breathed that low voice from before, and the boy giggled as he was lifted a good two feet in the air. He was set down with exceeding care just before Cor, where the boy took the opportunity to latch his arms around Cor’s legs.
“He likes you,” said the voice. “Well, there’s no accounting for taste.”
Cor bent down, and the boy raised his hands in the universal sign for up. He heaved him into his arms, where the boy sighed and nuzzled against his chest.
“So,” Cor said, in the awkward way he spoke to all small children. “What’s your name, then?”
“It’s Prompto,” said the voice. “Really, you can read, can’t you?”
Cor reached for the beads that hung at his waist, which could be used for the binding of a demon in a pinch. They were tugged out of his fingers with a jerk, disappearing into the formless dark with a tinkling clatter.
“Let’s not be rude,” the voice said. “I’m here to help, you know.”
“Yeah?” Cor looked Prompto over. The boy showed no outward signs of demonic possession: No striations to the skin, no reddened eyes or overlong nails. He carefully pushed up the boy’s lip, making him laugh, and saw no fangs or spots on his tongue. Human, then. Or mostly human. What was a boy doing in a wizard’s hideout?
“Was Verstael planning something with him?” Cor asked. There was the suggestion of movement beside him, the flicker of a darker shadow against the others.
“Maybe. He lost him before he could get the chance.” The voice chuckled. “It’s remarkable what a wizard can overlook.”
“I need to get him out, then,” Cor said. “We need to run tests, make sure he’s—“
“No.” The shape shifted, and Prompto made a curious noise in his throat, twisting round to look. “No tests.”
“If something’s been altered,” Cor began.
Cor looked to the darkness around him, recalling the runes for protection and silence. “Alright,” he said. “But I can’t help him here. He needs a home. Proper care. A guardian.”
“Precisely,” said the voice. “And you will do nicely, I believe.”
“Wait. Wait, hold on…”
“Or,” the voice said, and Cor could almost hear the smile in his tone, “I can leave you here to die, and find someone else. It’s all the same to me. You have, oh… ten seconds to decide.”
“What?” Cor stepped towards the figure, and a harsh wind blew him back. The boy giggled again.
“Dyn!” the boy shouted. “Dyn!”
“Five seconds,” said the voice.
Cor felt the boy’s fingers curl on the cloth of his jacket.
“Fine,” Cor said. “Fine, I’ll look after him.”
He felt a spell twist around him as he spoke, a binding made real with the strength only a demon could possess. Prompto looked up at him with wide, blue eyes, lifted a hand, and gently patted him on the face.
And that’s when Cor appeared, without so much as a warning tickle of magic in the air, in the small living room of his apartment on the other side of town, holding a small child in one arm and an instructional binder in the other.
Sustenance (Preparation and Presentation)
Small human beings need to eat at an alarming rate. Prompto has learned how to sign using the Eldritch Daemonic Alphabet (diagram, p. 215) and prefers to use the symbol “To Eat/Rend the Flesh of thy Enemies” to indicate that he is once again starving to death. He does so at least sixteen times per day.
It took the demon three days to materialize.
The first day, he chose to remain nothing more than a disembodied voice. He kept up a less than helpful commentary as Cor raced to the store for diapers, some haphazardly-grabbed clothes off the rack, and an armload of food that Prompto could probably keep down. Prompto, it seemed, had a bit of an uneasy start to life: He didn’t care much for diapers, had no clue what a toilet was for, protested at the top of his small, apparently healthy lungs when Cor tried to shove him into pajama pants, and looked at the banana Cor sliced up for him with a deep, wounded expression of distrust.
“No,” he said. Cor sighed and pushed the fruit a little closer. “No!”
“What have you done to him?” asked the demon, when Prompto started to hiccup in banana-induced misery. Cor held back a shudder as Prompto’s hair was smoothed down by an unseen hand. “Did you read Chapter Seven? Subsection E? He likes eggs. Do you have any eggs, or will I have to conjure some myself?”
“Oh my god,” Cor whispered.
On the second day, the demon took to scrawling notes on the bathroom mirror.
His diaper needs changing, he wrote, when Cor dragged himself to the bathroom to stare blearily at his own haggard face. The letters were written in a black, viscous liquid, which oozed down the mirror like drops of blood.
“Thanks,” Cor said.
On the third day, Cor woke to find a full-grown man sitting next to the bed, holding Prompto in his lap. He had dark red hair, an oddly familiar set to his jaw and mouth, and eyes that glowed gold with the light of a Class A, subcategory 12 demon. The kind of demon that Cor’s squad was ordered to kill on sight, the kind of demon that could level a city with a plague or trigger a tsunami just for the hell of it. Cor stiffened, and Prompto squealed and slapped the demon’s forehead with both hands.
“Make puppy!” he cried, and the demon smiled.
“Oh, very well,” he said. A white puppy appeared on his shoulder, ears first, and leapt off to go bounding across the bedroom. Prompto ran after it, arms out, and the demon glanced over his shoulder at Cor.
“So,” Cor said.
“So,” said the demon.
Prompto’s hands passed through the puppy’s fur, and he let out an aggrieved sigh.
“He wants a real one,” the demon said.
“One thing at a time.” Cor swung his legs over the side of the bed. “First. What the hell are you doing with a child?”
The demon shrugged. “Bound to him,” he said. “Like you, but with blood.”
“Can you hurt him?” Cor asked. Prompto lay on his belly, beckoning the illusory puppy with both hands. The puppy danced in and out of range, shaking their floppy ears, and Prompto smiled fondly.
“Why on earth would I want to harm him?” the demon asked. “No, thank you. Quite the opposite.”
The demon’s face revealed nothing but a bland, impenetrable smile. “Cute little goblin, isn't he?”
Prompto rolled onto his back and scrunched up his face, which was Cor’s cue to get to his feet. “No you don't, little guy,” he said, sweeping Prompto up. “Bathroom. Bathroom.”
“Ar-dyn,” Prompto wailed, twisting in Cor’s grip to stare at the demon.
“Sorry, pet,” the demon said. “At some point in your life, you do have to learn not to shit yourself.”
Cor snorted. Prompto sobbed. And Ardyn, the demon who had bound them all together, rose to walk serenely at their heels, trailing an imaginary puppy that disappeared in a puff of light and smoke.
Acceptable Nursery Rhymes
It is customary for human children to prefer to be read to sleep. Prompto’s bedtime (Never, see chapter 3, graph A) should include at least one rhyme in either AB or ABBA format. His favorite, which must be done with the Voices(footnote iii) is as follows:
Behold the blood of the grave, my child
Behold the hands that skitter and claw
At the flesh, the flesh, of the weak, my child
Behold the cursed one’s pitiless maw!
Please remember to pretend to eat him afterwards, with snarling motions (see attached illustration) as the thought of being brutally cannibalized makes him laugh.
“He seems normal enough to me,” Regis said. He was sitting in his second floor office at the Caelum townhouse, sipping from what Cor suspected was an endless supply of jasmine tea. Prompto and Noctis were separated for being unable to share, and Prompto was currently sulking in Cor’s lap, angrily flipping through a board book about chocobos.
Ardyn, of course, was sitting on the windowsill, but Regis didn’t seem to notice him. It was unsettling to say the least: Regis was the scion of an old family of licensed wizards who worked on all levels of the local and national government. In fact, the photo behind him featured his grandmother, who was governor during the Hedgewitch Wars of 690. Regis could sniff out a single spell in a ruin of a wizard’s workshop if needed, and to have Ardyn cheerily making shapes on the window with his finger while Regis cast a searching spell over Prompto was…distressing.
“You’re sure you don’t want to give him over to foster care?” Regis asked. Ardyn looked sharply at Cor. “He’s a charming fellow, but, forgive me Cor, you’ve never shown an interest in being a father.”
Cor looked down at Prompto, who was trying to pet the illustrated chocobo on the back of the book. Prompto craned his neck to meet his gaze, smiled, and lifted the book in both hands.
“I’d better hang onto him,” Cor said, and Ardyn settled back in the windowsill, shoulders slumping. “He was found in a wizard’s warehouse. I’d feel like an asshole, throwing him out for anyone to find. But I could use a birth certificate.”
“Cor.” Regis pulled open his desk drawer, riffling through the papers. “You know that’s illegal.”
“You sound like your father,” Cor said, and risked a small smile when Regis’ eyes narrowed. “Don’t deny it.”
“Oh, fight dirty, why don’t you,” Regis grumbled, and fished out a spell. It was a plain, premade spell-sheet, waiting for the right runes to come to life. “Give me a few minutes, and you’ll be the proud adopted father of a true Lucian citizen.”
“Read,” Prompto said again, shoving the book in Cor’s face. Ardyn smirked.
“Get to it, dad,” he said, and laughed as Cor turned his chair away, back to the demon as he opened the book to the first page.
Prompto has shown none of the early signs of the magically-inclined(whirlwinds, telekinesis, an aversion to electricity), but the possibility must be taken into account. What follows is a list of illnesses a magic-user is more susceptible to contracting, accompanied by another on how they may be prevented. Failure to memorize this list will result in no less than four weeks of hauntings and the loss of half your matching socks.
"Prompto," Cor said, at five in the goddamn morning on a weekday. "Can you tell me why you made a death rune out of cereal, or is this some kind of performance art I'm unaware of?"
"Protection," Prompto said, placing a wheat puff directly in the center of the rune. As far as magical symbols went, it wasn't half bad: A bit wobbly in the middle, but the form was good enough to make someone violently ill at least, if there was any magic in it. Cor drew a line through it with his finger, and Prompto scowled.
"No," Cor told him. "No death runes."
"Oh, it won't hurt anyone," Ardyn said, from where he was clattering around in the kitchen. "It's to scare people off, isn't it, pet?"
Prompto nodded. "Dad needs it," he said, and replaced the scattered wheat puffs. "Protection."
Cor reached over to ruffle Prompto's hair. The transition from Cor to Dad, from stranger to guardian, wasn't a revelatory thing. It didn't happen suddenly, or with any sort of deliberation; It just was. It happened the same way Cor took on any major change in his life, like his entry into the Crownsguard at thirteen, his friendship with Regis, the day he held Mors Caelum's hand as Mors' body, collapsing under the strain of too much magic at once, finally gave out. He'd known, then, that he'd always loved Mors, always loved Regis, Aulea, that strange, half unreal family that accepted him without a second thought. The same could be said for Prompto, in his own way.
The jury was still out on Ardyn, though.
"Here." Cor changed the rune, adding four lines of wheat puffs framing it in a box. "That's real protection. Wizards call it a ward."
Prompto stared at the rune with all the unwavering focus of a three-year-old.
"And if you make it out of salt," Ardyn said, "you can use it to bind a demon to your will."
Cor shot Ardyn a dark look, and Ardyn chuckled, digging through the cabinets for coffee.
"No demon binding, either," Cor said, and Prompto nodded. "One is more than enough."
"I'm all anyone ever needs," Ardyn cooed, but Cor just ignored him, sweeping a hand over the makeshift ward.
Ardyn officially revealed himself to Cor's friends that summer, appearing in a long-sleeved jacket, a full scarf, two belts, and thick black boots in the middle of a public park. Regis and Clarus gave Cor sideways looks when Prompto flung himself into Ardyn's arms, squealing.
"I'm his godfather," Ardyn said, smiling. His eyes were a light brown, cast over with a clever illusion, and he jiggled Prompto on his hip.
"Cornelius and I are great friends," Ardyn added, and Cor nearly choked on his lemonade. Even Regis never called him that. "I look after dear Prompto here when he's away at work, hunting down vicious," he poked Prompto, who laughed. "Terrible. Wizards!"
Regis gave Cor a dubious look. Cor shrugged. "Prompto likes him," he whispered.
"Cornelius?" Regis whispered back.
"I call him Neil for short," Ardyn said, in the face of Cor's rapidly mounting horror. "When we're feeling chummy."
It is imperative that Prompto receive the highest quality education that can be provided for a human of his skills(see footnote iii) and talent(iv). To that end, Ardyn Izunia(v), his godfather(vi), is to personally inspect all suggested schools before a final choice is agreed upon. Refusal to concede to his demands will fall under the category of a Mortal Sin(vii).
“Excuse me, Helen,” said the absolute monster sitting in the front row of Insomnia Elementary All-Stars’ drama classroom, “but you’ll find that the lack of an art program always leads to an overall downturn in student productivity. And while you may be fine letting your child breeze by with a D average…”
“I beg your pardon?” Helen asked.
“You are forgiven,” said Ardyn. He adjusted his horrible hat and leaned back in his chair. “In any case, if you choose to cut funding to the arts, I have no choice but to pull my boy from the school.”
Georgia, the head of the All-Stars PTA, looked to her fellow board-members. Prompto Leonis was an agreeable child, fairly unremarkable in most subjects except science and art, but his father was a formidable member in the community, and his godfather… Well, his godfather’s brownies at the last PTA bake sale caused a minor riot, and earned them all twice what they’d brought in the last four years running. They couldn't afford to lose his support, particularly not with the swim team regional championships fast approaching.
“We’ll… take your thoughts into consideration,” she said.
Ardyn smiled. There was something off about his smile, Georgia realized. There always had been.
When the PTA meeting was over and the other parents, guardians, and victims staggered out, Ardyn strode across the small courtyard to the jungle gym, which Prompto was currently occupying. At six years old, Prompto was still rather small for his age, but he made up for it with a deliberate recklessness that he certainly didn't get from Ardyn. It was Leonis behavior through and through, and Ardyn sighed when he saw Prompto balancing precariously on the bars of the jungle gym, arms outstretched.
"Prompto," he said. "What does it take for a demon to raise the dead?"
Prompto rolled his eyes. "I'm not gonna die."
A gusty sigh. "The bones of a sage. Hair from a king. Lightning from Ramuh."
"And blood of a beast," Ardyn continued. "How many of those items do I have on hand?"
"Noct's dad doesn't threaten him with resurrection," Prompto said, taking another careful step along the bars.
"Noct's father doesn't have the power for it," Ardyn said. "You have three seconds. One."
"I can do it."
"No, I mean it."
"Three." Ardyn snapped his fingers, and a wind whirled around Prompto, lifting him off his feet. He laughed as he went tipping backwards, and Ardyn caught him in his arms, narrowly avoiding a sneaker to the face.
"Nice try at rebellion," Ardyn said, as Prompto rolled and squirmed out of his grip, "but not very creative. Do you want to stop by Cor's work on the way home? I can tell you what I plan to do to Helen tonight."
Prompto gave Ardyn a look so like Cor at his most disapproving that Ardyn had to hide a smile. "That isn't nice," he said.
"Of course it isn't," Ardyn said. "But that doesn't mean it can't be fun."
That night, while Cor helped Prompto with his homework in their small apartment, Helen Freemarch heard a sound in the oven.
She hadn't used the stove to cook that afternoon. It couldn't have been settling with the chill of the evening, and it wasn't as though it had given her problems before. She stepped into her pristine kitchen and hovered by the counter, watching the stove carefully.
The handle rattled.
It was probably nothing.
Helen inched forward. She gripped the door handle and slowly pulled it down, peering into the belly of the stove.
From the darkness, something else peered back.
Helen's family's sudden move to the far side of town was a hotly debated subject during the next PTA meeting, as Helen had apparently packed up her family's things, abandoned her house, and moved in with her mother all in the course of one evening. Her name was reluctantly crossed off the PTA roster, and the other parents whispered rumors and speculation, hushed admissions that she'd been under a great deal of stress lately, poor thing, it was only a matter of time.
Only Ardyn, sitting in the back with a bland smile on his face and a tray of brownies in his lap, said nothing at all.
Section One: Acceptable Partners, Their Character Traits, Income, And Magical Ability.
Subsection A: The Date At Which Prompto May Begin Human Courting Rituals:
Cor almost missed Prompto's eighth birthday. He was on an extended mission out of town, sharing a room with Clarus and Monica while they waited for their contact, one of Wizard Besithia's assistants, to call. Besithia was in town, that much was certain, but it was only a matter of time before he caught on to their presence and ran for it.
"Have a question for you," Clarus said, when Cor got up to pace the room for the thousandth time. "That babysitter of yours. The tall one, with the magic."
Cor grunted. Ardyn had woven a tight, almost impenetrable spell over his demonic nature when the others were around, and had pretty much inserted himself into all aspects of Cor's life. Cor had a hard time trying to explain who he really was. He doubted his friends would understand if Cor said that the worst he'd done was curse the chocobo ranger club leader last year. And honestly? That guy kind of deserved it.
Well, maybe he didn't deserve the feathers.
"Is he living with you?" Clarus asked. Cor glanced up. "Cause the way Gladio talks, he's been sleeping on the couch for years."
Cor shrugged. "Maybe."
"Cor. He isn't just Prompto's babysitter, is he?"
"Maybe not," Cor said, thinking of the scrawled daemonic symbols Ardyn had written on the mirror a week ago, reminding Cor to pack lunches for a picnic. "But it's hard to explain."
"Does Prompto know?" Clarus asked.
Cor blinked. "Know what?"
"About you and Ardyn," Clarus said, and Cor felt his mouth drop open, heat rising to the back of his neck.
"We aren't... It isn't like that," Cor said.
"Yeah? You go to the farmer's market together. Prompto practically calls him Dad, and Ardyn calls you dear and darling and moon of my heart..."
"He does that to everyone," Cor said, but Clarus seemed unconvinced.
Thankfully, the phone rang at last, saving Cor from having to dig himself a deeper hole, and Clarus lunged for the receiver. He picked up the phone, eyes wide, jaw tight, and fixed an accusing stare on Cor.
"What's up?" Monica asked, coming in from the bathroom.
"Cor told his babysitter where we'll be staying," Clarus said.
"What? No." Cor grabbed the phone. "I never said a wor--"
"Hello, precious," said Ardyn. In the background, Cor could hear the rush of running water and the clink of cutlery. "You're late."
"Ardyn, this is supposed to be a secure lo--"
"--cation," Cor finished. He was standing in the kitchen of his apartment, hand to his ear, blinking rapidly in the overhead light. Ardyn leaned on the counter, setting down his phone with a smirk.
"Dad!" Prompto scrambled up from the dining room table, which groaned under the weight of a cake too massive to be wholly unmagical. He collided with Cor's chest, making him stagger back a step. "He really brought you!"
"Yes," Cor said, glowering at Ardyn. "He sure did."
"Can't miss our little man's birthday," Ardyn said, and his voice rang in Cor's ears, enchanted for him alone. "You're contractually obligated."
"I'd come on my own if I could," Cor pointed out, but Ardyn just summoned a slice of cake, daintily spearing a piece with a fork.
So Cor let himself be dragged to the table, where he sat awkwardly while Ardyn leaned over his shoulder, smiling down at Prompto. Ardyn's hand brushed Cor's neck, and Cor realized, as Prompto cried out at the sight of a new camera, that this lack of personal space wasn't exactly unusual. Ardyn was always crowding him, draping his arms over him, chuckling into his ear while they watched that shitty historical drama Ardyn liked so much...
"This is the best," Prompto said, pulling out a stack of rune cards from Ardyn. "You sure none of em are bad?"
"Oh, well," Ardyn said, putting more weight on Cor's shoulder. "It depends on how you use them. They're limited, though, so you'll need me or that little friend of yours to recharge them soon enough." His fingers scratched at Cor's collarbone just the way he... the way he always liked it...
"Illegal, though," Cor said, and glanced at Ardyn. Ardyn smiled, and heat seemed to bloom from where he was running a thumb under the line of Cor's jaw. "So don't show Noctis."
"Goodness," Ardyn said. "I do believe I have corrupted you."
"Dad," Prompto said. "Gross. Tone it down."
Ardyn and Cor both looked at Prompto at once. "Cor never tones it up, my pet," Ardyn said.
Prompto flushed pink, clutching his plate of cake in both hands. "Uh."
"Unless," Cor said, slowly. "I wasn't the dad you were talking to."
There was a long, heavy silence.
"I think I'm gonna show my camera to Noct," Prompto squeaked, dropping his plate on the table. "Thanks for coming home, Dad. Um. Dad-Dad. Not that you aren't Dad-Dad," he told Ardyn, a desperate edge to his voice. "Anyways."
He fled, camera hugged to his chest, into his small bedroom in the adjacent hall.
"Ardyn," Cor said, in the stark, empty stillness that remained. "Are we married?"
"Darling, I believe I'd remember," Ardyn said, but his smile wasn't as steady any longer. When Cor turned his head, their noses were barely inches apart.
"I think it might've snuck up on us," Cor said.
Ardyn stared at him. After a moment, he let his hand trail upwards, crossing over a tiny scar on Cor's cheekbone. His eyes burned, gold and red as molten metal, as a sunset dripping into the ocean, as the gleam of Cor's spell-nets and binding charms.
"See you soon," he said, and Cor was back in the hotel, holding the phone, watching Clarus and Monica squint and stare at him.
"So?" Monica said. "What is it?"
The line was dead. Cor let the phone drop, then sank to the bed with a groan that made Clarus rise in alarm.
The nature of Prompto's birth is irrelevant. Whether the blood of a demon was used to bind his soul to mine, or my heart was unearthed from a cave in a distant mountain and fed to his mother during labor, or I was bound by salt to a squalling infant Besithia saw fit to use as a tool, the end result should not have been affection. There was no logic in the child's trust in me, no reason in the speed with which he became something precious. Love does not come easy to a demon, but when it does, it will not waver.
A demon who loves is infinitely more dangerous than a demon who cares for naught. Remember this, and consider yourself duly warned.
Prompto sat up in bed, fiddling with a homemade spell-net Noctis gave him for his birthday. It was crudely done, but worked well enough; If Prompto hung it up over his bed, he could poke his fingers in the holes and they'd light up, letting out faint chimes like a warbling piano. He twisted his thumb around one, and a low note rang through the room, over and over.
"Dad's fighting the monster," he said. He didn't need to raise his voice. Ardyn always heard him, anyways--And sure enough, there he was, choosing to walk in the room rather than appear from the corner like a reluctant spider, already more human than he let on.
"I know, darling," he said.
Prompto sighed. "Think he'll get him this time?"
He could barely remember the monster, most days. Just flashes, bits and pieces of memory that made no sense. A face. Surgical gloves. Fear. And Ardyn, snatching him out of Verstael Besithia's grip, holding him, keeping him safe.
"He might." Ardyn sat on the corner of Prompto's bed. "But there's a good chance the weasel may slip through the cracks again."
"Maybe I'll become a Crownsguard, then," Prompto said. "Like Dad.
Then I'll take him out myself."
Ardyn laughed. "That would be a delightful wrench in his operations, my dear. No doubt you would."
He pet Prompto's hair, his glowing eyes bright in the dim light of Prompto's bedside lamp.
"Are you worried about him?" Prompto asked. Ardyn raised an eyebrow. "I heard you pacing. You always pace when you're worried."
Ardyn said nothing, but then, Prompto didn't expect him to. For an adult and an ancient demon, sometimes his dads could be really dense.
"You should tell him," he said, but Ardyn was already fading, avoiding his problems the only way he knew how. Prompto sighed. He was probably gonna write on the walls for the next week, the way things were going. Adults, he decided, were pretty terrible at facing the truth.
Even when they were technically demons.
Cor came home three days later, bruised and dripping with the shredded remains of protection spells, which he peeled off his jacket one by one at the door. Then he flashed Prompto a grimace, which said enough to make Prompto scowl into his cereal.
"Sorry, Prom. Next time."
"It's cool." It wasn't, and they both knew it, but Cor walked over to Prompto's side, dropping to a knee.
"Come on," he said, and Prompto hugged him, breathing in the scent of old magic. Cor held him for a minute, and it struck Prompto how tired he always was after a raid, how the bags under his eyes took weeks to go away. Prompto squeezed his shoulders tight.
"You're a good kid," Cor said.
"Love you too," Prompto said.
Cor took a few more seconds to let go, and his eyes looked suspiciously damp when he pulled away. "Where's the demon?"
"The demon," Ardyn said, appearing in the hallway in his ridiculous accordion shirt and high-waisted pants, "has been cleaning the bedroom. At great personal cost, I might add."
"Which means you've been eating the magic out of my spells again," Cor said, pulling the face that meant he was actually amused, but didn't want anyone else to know.
Ardyn examined his nails. "Then you shouldn't have left them lying around."
"In a locked safe."
Ardyn smiled. "Always good to have you back, dear," he said.
Like always, there was one of those strange, tense little silences. Prompto looked from one of his guardians to the other, then slammed his hand on the table in disgust.
"Oh my god," he said. He scooted his chair back and got up. "Can you guys just kiss already?"
"Prompto!" Ardyn said.
"Don't be rude," Cor added.
"I'm sending myself to my room," Prompto said. "I can't watch."
But after he shoved past Ardyn and marched down the hall, Prompto paused at his bedroom door, craning back to take a closer look. Ardyn was speaking, using that magical whisper again, his hand crooked in the sign for silence and secrecy. Cor's footsteps sounded on the carpet, and Ardyn fell back a step as Cor gripped him by the shoulders, like he was bracing him for some kind of training exercise. Then Ardyn kissed him, slow and soft, and Cor, after a second of shocked silence, leaned in to kiss him back.
Prompto closed the door. He turned on the radio hanging on his bedpost and collapsed on the mattress as synthetic pop drowned out the footsteps staggering towards his dads' bedroom. He pulled out a handheld video game and booted it up, his face illuminated by the flashing screen, and smiled.
"Still super gross," he said to himself, "but at least that's over with."
Then he turned his game volume to the highest setting and lost himself in the tinny music and hopping sprites. Somewhere beyond him, in a dark room where Ardyn's hands were curled tight in Cor's hair, his dads were laughing. And so Prompto Leonis played his game, Ardyn made his terrible jokes, Cor's elusive smile didn't fade, and the world kept spinning. Same as always.