There is a child in front of Ardyn. A child with a sword and baby fat still clinging to round cheeks. There is a child looking up at Ardyn with fear and determination and sorrow in his eyes.
There is a child with a sword in front of Ardyn. The child, the Chosen King, a man made of myth and legend, is nothing more than a boy.
Noctis looks like Somnus; his face an echo of Ardyn’s younger brother and something in Ardyn rages. Not at the boy; not at the child the gods saw fit to play king, but at the gods themselves. At the beings who dared to place the burden of self-sacrifice onto a child who hadn’t even seen his sixteenth winter yet. Ardyn rages at those who saw fit to send a child to war, who saw fit to crown a child and cloak him a kingdom's worth of responsibilities. Ardyn rages for Noctis’ lost childhood and the way no one, no one saw it fit to question the gods.
(What people forget; Ardyn was an older brother once. He cared for, loved his brother so much he would have stormed the heavens for him. They forget that Ardyn had loved once; and that he has not forgotten how. He had loved Somnus as a brother loves a brother and hadn’t stopped when he had become a Healer.
It was after the denouncement after Ardyn was sentenced to burn and die on the cross that Ardyn’s love, a passionate, all-consuming thing, turned to hate. But Ardyn himself remembers what it felt like to care for Somnus’ to want the best and more for the brother he helped raise.
He has not forgotten it.)
The child takes a step toward Ardyn, then another, then another and walks toward Ardyn like a man going to his execution.
Ardyn doesn’t move until the child is in front of, Noctis raises the sword to strike at Ardyn, the Ring of Lucii burning brightly on his ring finger and just as the sword comes down Ardyn steps out of the way. He steps to the side of Noctis, grabs the boys wrist and presses down on it to get Noctis to release the sword.
The sword falls to the ground with a loud ‘clang’. Noctis tries to free his wrist from Ardyn’s grip, but it’s futile, and the effort Noctis puts into it minimal until it isn’t. Ardyn can see the moment it occurs to Noctis that he’s going to die, can see the moment Noctis’ half-hearted struggles become real ones. The boy begins thrashing in Ardyn’s grip like he’s scared and the rage Ardyn feels at the Astrals and Kings of Old renews itself tenfold.
Ardyn was expecting a man, a king with a crown of light and roses. He was expecting a man who would have the strength to kill him; not a child frightened of death and sent out to kill a man when he hadn’t reached his teen years yet.
Here, in the ruins of Insomnia, in the ashes of a once great city that houses the bodies of Noctis’ father and friends. Here in what was the jewel of the Lucian Kingdom, the Accursed pulls Noctis close to him the way a father would a child and begins rocking them.
He can feel Noctis stiffen, can feel the boy stop thrashing and go stock still as he tries to process what is happening. Ardyn stops his movements and kneels down in front of the boy king.
“Child,” Ardyn says, his hands on Noctis’ shoulders and his gold eyes gazing into the red and puffy blue eyes that Noctis has, “Child, you have nothing to fear from me.”
Noctis shakes his head; as if to deny that claim. “They said you would hurt me,” Noctis says, voice young and fragile and cracking, “They said you would hurt me and I would kill you and that I would die-” Noctis’ voice breaks off into a sob and Ardyn feels something in his chest clench at the sound.
“Child,” Ardyn says, his voice soft; the same voice he used when he was younger and helping raise Somnus’, “Nephew,” Ardyn says and watches as Noctis’ head whips up to look at him with wide eyes, “Nephew I would never harm you.” Not now, he amends, not now that I know you are a child; that you are as much as a victim as I in all this.
“I’m not your nephew,” Noctis says, voice shaking, “They would have told me-”
Ardyn raises an eyebrow. “Would they have told you of your last living relative?” Ardyn asks, “Would they have told you of me when they wished for you to kill me? When they wished for my death so much they tried to hurry you to yours?”
“I’m supposed to kill you,” Noctis says, “You can’t be my uncle, it wouldn’t be fair.”
“Somnus was my brother,” Ardyn disagrees, “I have been alive for many years, have learned many things. Among them the knowledge that life is rarely fair.”
“It should be,” comes Noctis’ small voice, “It should be.”
“It isn’t,” Ardyn says, “But we could make it so it is. Tell me, what did they tell you Noctis? What did they tell you, you had to do to end the Scourge.”
“I’m supposed to die,” Noctis says, his voice miserable, “I’m supposed to kill you and then die,” quietly, in the softest voice Ardyn has ever heard, Noctis adds, “I don’t want to die.”
“You don’t have to,” Ardyn assures, “Come with me and I will ensure that nothing will ever harm you again.”
“How?” Noctis asks, voice desperate. Ardyn removes a hand from the boy's shoulder and conjures his own magic, red and dark and unyielding. He watches as Noctis’ eyes widen with the realization that Ardyn was telling the truth.
“The daemons listen to me,” Ardyn says, “As do many others. You would be safe by my side; I swear this by the Scourge and night that rests in me.” The words echo around them; ringing with an air of finality and Ardyn’s magic dissipates into the air.
“I won’t have to fight?” Noctis asks, “I’m tired of fighting.”
“You will not fight unless you wish too,” Ardyn says. You should not have had to fight, goes unsaid.
Noctis, hesitantly and carefully, slides his hand into the one Ardyn removed from his shoulder moments ago. “Alright,” Noctis says, voice shaking but becoming more steady, “Alright,” then, more quietly, “You’ll stay with me?”
“As long as I am able,” Ardyn says, removing his other hand from Noctis’ should but never losing the grip his other hand has on Noctis’ own hand, “I will not leave unless made to.” Standing in one fluid motion, Ardyn smiles at his nephew.
Noctis gives a small, sad and teary smile back.
“Come, Nephew,” Ardyn says, “We should leave this place.”
Noctis nods, and together they step softly into the night.