He didn’t notice it before.
But in Noctis’s defense, he was a little preoccupied.
Suddenly Talcott was steady-handed behind a wheel, going on about the rampant daemons and the refugees in Lestallum, and if that isn’t enough already, he decides to drop the bomb that Noctis had been gone for ten years — and he was never quite able to recover after that.
The evidence was right in front of his eyes; they were older. Newer scars and longer hair and everything was different, but how is that possible? He entered the crystal only yesterday.
He didn’t notice at the campfire, either. Noctis was too busy uh, bawling his eyes out, not quite ready to say how he feels, but not quite ready to die either.
And then he did die.
He was at peace with it, he thinks. Whether they understood the depth or not – Noctis said it in his own good conscience –
I love you guys.
And then a sword pierced his chest, and his head cracked back against the throne, and suddenly he felt nothing.
So why is he here?
It doesn’t feel like the crystal. Shades of purple and blue and a weird, sickly feeling, like a thousand hands skimming across his skin. No – it’s just…vacant.
He’s dead. He sees his hands, but he can’t touch them. There’s a scar branded around his middle finger, but the ring is gone.
King Of Kings.
Noctis knows that voice; it’s banging around in his head, bouncing back and forth between his ears.
“Bahamut-“ he tries to say, but he doesn’t have a throat.
The Blood Price Was Paid.
Ah. So he really is dead then. Noctis tries to look around – but he’s not capable of comprehending his surroundings. It’s not even darkness – it’s not white or black or any color at all. It just is.
A Decision Has Been Made. The Gods Will Grant One Mercy.
Something opens up. A round portal — and the sudden onslaught of light is too much all at once. The image flickers and wavers like a reflection in water – and that’s him. There, dead on the throne, head rolled along his own shoulder. Prompto is face first in his lap, shoulders shaking, and Ignis clutches his wrist, counting for a pulse that isn’t there.
Pain stabs through him. Noctis clutches for a chest that isn’t even real. But it hurts just the same. Gladio presses his palms into his eyes and Noctis wants to cry – he wants to, but he can’t. Low vibrations tremble in his mind.
A King Still Needed.
Gladio slowly peels Prompto from his lap, soft and tender-like, and Prompto is shaky on his legs. Ignis is still holding his wrist, waiting for a pulse.
I’m dead, Noctis thinks.
Not Yet. A Choice Presents Itself. Ascend To The Afterlife, Or Break The Link And Return.
The link. Noctis looks to the brand around his finger.
The portal is beginning to close, and Noctis jerks to reach out for it – Gladio gathers Ignis in his other arm, and presses his face to his hair. Slowly, they step away from the throne. Noctis feels panic electrocute through him, desperately grasping for the gateway, for the last image that fades. His fingers slip through and through.
Break the link? What does that mean?!
No Longer A King Of The Gods, Merely A Ruler Of Men. Take Your Glory And Reach Exaltation, Or Sever The Lucian Power Forever.
So that’s how it is.
Equivalent exchange; see his family again, or regain his life and lose the armiger.
Bahamut knows his decision before it’s been made, but he waits, buzzing in the back of Noctis’s mind. The portal has closed, but Noctis feels light – a determined burning inside of his soul, a thrill that he can’t contain. He proudly declares,
Take it from me!
Everything fuckin’ hurts. There’s blood rushing past his ears, and wow his knee burns – but he gasps in air, clutching his chest, his neck, feeling over skin and hair and he’s real.
The throne room is empty. Light streams through the windows. Noctis briefly closes his eyes, and smiles. He feels down his arms, and looks to the mark on his finger. He’s covered in soot and dirt and blood, but it’s his own skin and bones.
Noctis reaches inside himself, but there’s nothing to draw from – a hollow emptiness right in his chest. It’s true, his power is gone.
But he’s alive.
There’s a damp spot on his knee. It jerks him awake like cold water down his back.
Noctis jumps to his feet, and staggers like a newborn. His heart thuds fast and sudden, and Noctis fumbles down the stairs and through the hall. He can’t breathe through his anxiety, through the urge to run, run –
His legs wobble as he turns the corner. Noctis trips once, and fumbles back to his feet. His lungs are weak and his body is bruised but he runs as fast as he can limp.
Noctis spots them from the top of the staircase. He manages to stagger a few steps, knee brace clicking uncomfortably, and Ignis freezes absolutely rigid before Noctis can find it in himself to shout.
Prompto spins wicked fast. Ignis looks dead forward, nearly statuesque, and Prompto’s smile splits his face, cheeks wet with happy tears.
“No,” Gladio breathes, voice cracking. “No way.”
“The sun-“ Ignis stutters. “The sun – Gladio-“
Prompto sprints up the stairs, arms outstretched, and he pours himself into Noctis’s arms, a cry ripping from his throat. Noctis hugs him back and laughs, god, he laughs. He squeezes Prompto like he needs him to breathe.
“It’s up,” Gladio says. “He’s real.”
Ignis sinks to his knees before Gladio can catch him. He folds into himself, hides his eyes in his arm, and shakes. Noctis’s heart shatters ten times over, so he pulls Prompto by the arm, and limps far enough so he can hear Ignis repeating, how, how, the prophesy, how –
“Bahamut said I was needed here,” Noctis says, helping Ignis to his feet. Ignis looks to him unseeing, tears crawling down one side of his face – and Noctis can’t stand the sight of it, so he wipes them away. Gladio pulls them both into a hug, and Prompto piles right on.
“You are needed,” Ignis cries, forehead against his. “I prayed, because you are.”
The sun is bright.
Noctis has no idea what to do. If he’s being honest, he really didn’t think he’d get this far.
He’s never seen Ignis cry, but he’s grateful for his strength – because while Noctis hovers with an unsaid what now? – Ignis simply wipes his eyes and says,
“Let us go to the safe house. We can regroup there.”
“Good idea,” Gladio nods. “Get our bearings, make some phone calls.”
“We have rendezvous spots throughout Lucis.” Prompto scratches his head. “We spent a lot of time apart. Most of these areas were daemon infested, so we kept a few places hidden where we could meet up.”
Some of the shock is starting to settle in. Noctis hasn’t been able to think much on what happened while he was in the crystal, partly because it hurt too much to dwell on. Something starts to cave in his chest.
“Let’s go,” Gladio says, patting Noctis on the back one more time. “Our eyes aren’t used to the sunlight. We should move before it gets too high.”
“I’ll drive,” Prompto says, and Noctis agrees. It’s better that way; his leg is really starting to give out, and his hands are shaking too bad to hold a wheel steady.
He sits in the back next to Gladio, and watches Prompto with a distant ache. Prompto now drives levelheaded and solid, confident and practiced and nothing like the guy who once drove the Regalia straight into a ditch. He’s wearing Ignis’s spare sunglasses, and for a moment, Noctis wonders if he’s still the guy who got detention for shooting spit wads at their math teacher.
Insomnia really is abandoned. Noctis stares at empty streets, deserted cars; laundry that still hangs, flipping from clotheslines. A once overcrowded city now littered with daemon carcasses and soot.
Noctis looks to Gladio. He didn’t have time to study him earlier (you know, preparing to die, end of the world crap). His hair is longer, and he’s not as tan without the sun, but he looks like a man. Mature and grown into himself. He has new scars. He keeps his left fist curled against his knee, and Noctis jumps when he looks over his way.
It’s hard. It doesn’t feel like years. It feels like yesterday.
“We’ll need to gather with the Kingsglaive,” Ignis says, breaking the silence.
“Yeah I’m gonna’ call Iris,” Gladio scratches his chin. “We need to move forward with rehabilitation, now that our King is back to stay.”
Noctis swallows. His gut sinks with a twist of guilt, because he doesn’t want to think about that yet. He doesn’t want to think about any of this. He wants to take his friends, gather them in his arms and hide away until he’s had his fill. He wants to stop time. He wants to learn everything he missed.
It’s becoming too much. Noctis shifts, and looks away.
Prompto pulls into a rocky driveway. It’s a house on the outskirts of Insomnia. You wouldn’t know it was special from any other house on the block. It’s abandoned, dusty and withered with dead plants.
Gladio immediately walks to the side of the townhouse, and begins to undo trappings; wire lines hooked to beartraps, red trigger strings lined along the front porch, spikes hidden up in the shingling. Noctis watches dazedly.
Once the traps have been disarmed, Gladio pulls on a generator, lighting up big industrial floodlights. The interior lights haven’t kicked on yet, but Ignis enters the house, obviously being none the wiser.
“We have a house near Cape Caem,” Prompto says. “And a shack outside Hammerhead. We set up some generators to keep the daemons out.” He doesn’t enter the house, but turns towards the sun, and squeezes his eyes shut happily. “Gods, Noct. None of this feels real.”
“Tell me about it,” Noctis breathes.
Prompto turns to him, and blinds him with a smile.
“I owe the Gods, today.”
Noctis’s breath is robbed from him. Prompto is so downright beautiful, less soft in the face, but grown and lovely in a sharp kind of way. Noctis stares at him, and mumbles,
Prompto grabs him around the shoulders, shakes him, and leads them inside.
It’s dusty, but Ignis has started moving things around; dishes and clothes and unpacking boxes that were tucked beneath the table for safe keeping. It smells stuffy.
Gladio shuts the door behind him. There’s a stretching, fragile silence. Prompto breaks it naturally.
“Everything’s gonna’ change,” Prompto says.
“I’d give up some Gil to see Lestallum right now,” Gladio grins, leaning up against the wall. “There’s gotta’ be the biggest party of all time.”
Noctis’s mouth feels dry.
“Was it that bad?”
Prompto and Gladio look to each other. Ignis continues to pull out dried foods. He grabs a can and lifts it wordlessly to Gladio.
“Peas,” he reads. Ignis nods and pops it open, smelling it and turning on the gas stove. It’s still so jarring to see him move so freely. The picture is still fresh in his mind; Ignis stumbling over every rock in the road, arms scuffed and bruised from his falls, fingers clutched tight around his stick. The guilt still feels heavy on his shoulders.
Prompto sniffs, and moves to sit on the couch. He pats it down a little, getting comfortable, and starts to unpack all his weapons. Two guns, a knife from his thigh, brass knuckles at his belt.
“They don’t really call it Lestallum anymore,” Prompto says. “We just say-“
“Tent city,” Gladio sniffs. “Ain’t a whole lotta’ towns with power. Anyone with money ran to Altissia. As beat up as it was, at least ya’ could defend yer’ water boarders.”
“And – you guys?”
“We were always on the move,” Ignis says. “Floating, as you will. We spent some years apart.”
“Work to do,” Gladio grunts. Noctis’s eyes burn, and he doesn’t know why. The idea of being apart physically pains him.
“But it’s all gonna’ be better now!” Prompto grins. “Cause you’re here!”
For some reason, the words make him sick. Noctis rubs his nose.
“Um. Is there running water here?”
“Whatever’s in the tank.”
“Nah, go ahead. You’ve more than earned it.”
“Yeah. Don’t worry ‘bout us.”
Noctis doesn’t put up a fight. He limps into the bathroom and fumbles the lights. The sink is a bit rotted, and the water smells funny, but he’s not picky; Noctis splashes his face anyways.
He doesn’t look like himself. He’s too thin and scraggly. He’s thirty.
It still won’t register. The information is there in his brain, but it won’t stay. It only churns his stomach, bile burning in his throat.
Noctis splashes his face again, cleaning some of the dirt, and walks back out; Ignis is cooking a five-star meal out of some canned food and a bag of dried meat.
“Figures,” Noctis smiles. “You’re still amazing, Specs.”
Ignis smiles to himself. His eye is still a little red-rimmed, but he licks over the scar on his lip and tosses the vegetables in the pan.
“One adjusts. For such is life.”
They sit around the kitchen table. Noctis knows he’s staring, but he really can’t help it. They’re looking at him too, like he’ll disappear any moment, and his brain won’t stop – won’t relent that they’re different people now.
A memory flickers at the edges of his mind. He wonders, distantly, if they remember that night.
No. Probably not.
Gladio finishes dinner to make some phone calls. Prompto helps Ignis clean, and Noctis feels a rancid, unsettling soreness in his bones.
“There are two bedrooms,” Ignis says, cleaning dishes with a small amount of water. “Feel free to take the one on the right. Your injuries will require rest.”
“But what about you guys?”
“We’re fine,” Prompto smiles. “You fuckin’ died, dude. Take a nap. Hell, take two!”
The words rip through the air, tearing away the tension. Nobody’s really had the guts to say it outright. Leave it to Prompto.
Noctis nods dumbly; he doesn’t know the hell he’s supposed to fall asleep. His heart won’t stop thumping, and his brain keeps tripping over itself, but as soon as his head hits the mattress, he’s knocked out cold.
He wakes up to a sunrise. Bright, warm and orange.
It must be really early; but there’s already noise out in the living room.
Noctis rubs the sleep out of his eyes. It takes a while to massage the pain out of his leg. He manages to get it moving, sliding on the brace and using it to stand. He stretches out his arms and walks into the living room.
He’s not sure where they slept last night – but they look bright and bushytailed anyways. Gladio is smiling, leaning over the table to talk with Prompto, and Ignis brews tea on the stove.
“He’s awake,” Ignis smiles.
Gladio and Prompto look up, and grin.
“Mmm. How long was I out for?”
“Fifteen hours?” Prompto checks his watch. “I’m all fucked up now that the sun is back.”
Noctis sits back down on the couch and yawns, scrubbing at his hair. Gladio bridges the cards in his hand, and sets them on the table in a neat pile.
“We’ve contacted the Kingsglaive throughout the cities,” Gladio says. “Told ‘em what happened.”
“The Glaive will begin to move towards the capitol,” Ignis says. “There is going to be a mass population migration. Likely by foot – gas is a rarity, these days.”
“Hopefully not anymore,” Gladio scrubs his hair. “It’ll be a real effort to put people back to work. We might need to delegate some companies. Not that I’m against a free market, but the world needs some authority right now.”
Noctis starts to panic. He picks at his nails, breathing in deep to settle his anxiety.
“I will contact Sonia today,” Ignis says. “Begin work on the restoration of Eos’s species.”
“So um. We stay here?”
Gladio juts his chin, “That alright? What would you have us do?”
“Yeah! Did Bahamut give you any pointers?”
That’s just the thing. Noctis has no idea.
“I…” Oh shit. His eyes are burning. He wants it to stop – the constant information, the guilt and the heartache bubbling inside. “I don’t know – I don’t –“
“I don’t know!” He shouts. “Restoration? Mass migration? The world fuckin’ fell apart, and I wasn’t even here to watch it burn. What do I do?!”
What kind of King am I?
“Hey,” Gladio snaps. “Do you really have such little faith in us?”
It shocks him still.
“We’ve prepared for this day, Noct,” Ignis says, pouring tea into a chipped cup. “Believe it or not, we had work on our hands. We had no knowledge of when you’d return, but we never failed to believe that you would fulfill your duty. It was only a matter of time.”
“I traveled for two years,” Prompto grins. “I grabbed every seed, every nut, every kinda’ anything I could get my hands on. Every sun-loving plant died after the second year, but you know my totally awesome people skills. Convinced a few farmers to share from their stash. It’s all locked up in Hammerhead, now.”
“A devoted gaggle of scientists were able to gather species up by the Niflheim boarder,” Ignis says. “It’s a secluded mountainside. Populations are low, but enough to keep for the sun’s return.”
“They call it the Arc.”
“Iris and I grew the Kingsglaive.” Gladio shuffles the cards pointlessly, for something to do in his hands. “Devoted ourselves to the people. To the culture. It was hard, but we didn’t give up. We couldn’t let things fall into anarchy.”
Noctis sits numbly. His stomach is still churning, and he can’t quite breathe right, but some of the edge bleeds from him. He wants to smile. He tries to.
“I’m sorry…” he starts. Noctis fiddles with the knee brace, picking at the gold edge. “I don’t – feel like myself.”
“You did your part,” Gladio smiles. “Now let us do ours.”
“Hey, Costa-del-Cation my dude,” Prompto takes the outstretched cup from Ignis, and passes it to Gladio. “Chill out for a minute. You can play King when the civilians get here.”
In a brief sigh of relief, Noctis bends forward, so his face is pressed into his knees.
“Hey, maybe I can get the radio tower working,” Gladio says, standing up.
“Please don’t fall again,” Prompto sighs.
“It was one time!”
“Yeah! One time on me!”
Prompto follows Gladio out on the roof, and Noctis smiles after them. Ignis isn’t looking at anything in particular, but Noctis can tell he’s listening.
He wants to reach out. He wants to take his hand. He wants to do so much, it boils him from the inside.
Noctis leans his head back against the couch instead. Ignis works to clean the kitchen.
The migration is nearly immediate. Populations are low, but people dwindle back towards the cities, hopeful of what might’ve been their homes. Many houses are ransacked and broken, but structures still stand (for the most part). It’ll be slow, but Noctis isn’t alone, and right now? That’s his crutch.
He sleeps for most of the day. There’s this overhanging feeling of dread that he just can’t shake. Like his body is blazing with a shock that just won’t wear off. It might be the whole death thing. Probably not.
Ignis is unsettled. Noctis can tell, but he won’t say anything. He just cleans and cleans and cleans, and soon the house no longer feels like a dusty shack, but an actual house. Gladio works all day at hooking up to the watermain again, and Prompto jabs his ear off, twirling a wrench around his finger, and for the first time in a long time, it feels like everything is gonna’ be okay.
He starts to observe more. Like the three earrings Gladio has, and the barcode Prompto wears without shame, and the rings on Ignis’s fingers.
Noctis stops himself.
He’s back up against the countertop, watching as Ignis fiddles to get a signal on the radio, and his brain screeches to a freezing, 100% complete and utter stop.
Iggy has always had nice hands. So it’s hard not to notice the jewelry.
A ring sits on his middle finger. Two more black bands curl around his fourth; one slightly larger than the other, set-in stones sparkling neatly. They’re not precious metals or made of diamonds, but Noctis knows a wedding ring when he sees one, and it’s like ice down his spine.
“Iggy…” he starts.
Ignis turns, head tipping to listen.
“What is that?”
His tone is tight. Gladio turns too, from where he’s reading a book on the couch. There’s a long silence.
“I cannot see what you are pointing to,” Ignis says. Noctis shakily inhales.
Ignis thumbs over it. He doesn’t respond right away, and it only makes the pain worse. Noctis whips his head over – and yeah. Yeah. There’s a matching set on Gladio’s finger.
“We got married,” Gladio says, when Ignis still can’t speak.
This shaky ground he’s built – this little semblance of peace – it crumbles out from beneath his feet. The world just falls, and falls, and falls, but Noctis stays where he stands.
Prompto shoves his hands in his pockets and grins, “There was a huge party. Got crashed by some daemons, but what’s better foreplay than a little monster hunting?”
“Prompto,” Ignis chides, but smiles fondly, as if the memory is still fresh in his mind.
Noctis can’t breathe. He really – his lungs – they’re shrinking and wallowing and is he drowning?
“Cool,” Noctis says, and runs right out the front door.
He doesn’t know where his legs have taken him. But it’s a neighborhood after all, so he finds the rotted remains of a children’s playground and sits himself high up on the hill, where grass used to be.
Knees to his chest, he tucks his chin down and stares. The elevation is high here; he can see the Citadel in the distance, with all the towers and office buildings far behind it. This used to be home, but now it feels like a busted shell.
Noctis presses his eyes into his knees, and grits his teeth through the sting. Fuck.
They got married.
Gladio and Ignis got married.
They bought rings and kissed at the alter and danced down the aisle and Noctis wasn’t even there.
This heartbreak is so stupid. What was he holding on to? One night? One stupid night where maybe…he had hopes for something impossible.
Fuck, ten years, right? It can’t be. It was only yesterday – please, it was only yesterday.
Maybe they do remember. Maybe it was all in his head.
The memories burn, so he pushes them away.
He hears footsteps in the sand, and he knows who it is long before a body plops down beside him.
Prompto is full of fidgety energy, and it grounds him. Reminds Noctis that maybe, not everything is so different.
“I’m sorry,” Prompto says. “We were going to tell you the right way.”
He pulls out his hand. There are rings on his hand too.
Nope, nevermind. Noctis hides his face and bites his tongue until it burns.
“What the fuck,” he grits. “How?”
Prompto breathes in, and out. He spins the ring on his finger, and waits until Noctis tips his head to meet his eye.
“It was a long time…” Prompto swallows, voice wavering. He starts again, stronger. “Noctis, you were gone. It hurt so fuckin’ bad, and we were always at each other’s throats. We were broken and hurt and everything was falling apart.”
Noctis lifts his head. Prompto bites his lip. He has freckles that Noctis doesn’t remember.
“But we – all we had was each other, you know? And it took a long time but…we just…” Prompto scratches his head. “We wanted a way to be connected, no matter what. Who knew when we’d die! Every day was a goddamn diceroll, dude.”
Prompto grins, “I’m gonna’ punch you. Literally, ‘Savior of The World’. Shut up.”
“No – “ Noctis scrubs his face. “I – you got married. And I wasn’t – “
I wasn’t there.
“I love them,” Prompto says, smile soft and hair in his eyes. “Through everything…it made us strong.”
Noctis should be happy. But it stabs into his chest and carves out his heart.
“I’m glad,” Noctis smiles. “How’d you pull it off?”
“We danced around each other for a long time,” Prompto hums. “Who marries who? How do we even do this? How would this work? But Cid grabbed us by the fuckin’ neck and said I’m marryin’ all threes of yas, now shudda fuck up! And that was that.”
Noctis barks a laugh. His voice sounds distant even to himself.
“Good ol’ Cid.”
Prompto laughs and it’s wonderful. It’s exactly the same. Bubbly and bright, and Noctis’s mind fills with it, overflowing like a glass of champagne.
He knows what that laugh tastes like against his lips. Only once. But he knows.
Everything hurts in the worst kind of way.
How can he blame them? Noctis was gone, and they moved on. He has no right to feel left behind.
Prompto reads the look on his face, setting a hand at his back.
“Are you mad?”
Noctis digs his shoes in the dirt, and smiles despite himself.
“Oh, I’m livid,” he grins. “How dare you be happy. You owe me thirty Gil.”
Prompto laughs, “I’m trying to be serious! Appreciate it!”
Noctis bumps his shoulder against him, and sighs.
“It’s just…a lot.”
He thinks about the three of them sharing that room. He never even thought twice. Dammit.
“I know.” Prompto retracts his hand, and Noctis misses it immediately. “We’ll fill you in on everything. Anything you want to know.”
That’s the thing. Noctis isn’t sure if he can handle it.
He offers a half smile, “Thanks bud.”
Prompto slaps him once between the shoulder blades.
“Let’s go before Ignis has a heart attack. You know he can’t handle it when you’re out of earshot.”
Noctis’s heart pounds hard. He takes Prompto’s hand, and tries to peel the sick feeling away.
Nothing is the same, now that he knows.
Kingsglaive start to arrive at the house, and Noctis feels a renewed energy from the spark of their souls.
They’re going to rebuild the world. Bit by bit, piece by piece. He’s determined to be strong in their eyes, to be the King that defied death.
Rumors have spread by now. The caravans spill into town, people looking for work. Gladio can’t quite convince the rich in Altissia to move their businesses. It’ll happen in due time. It just takes patience.
Noctis’s mind is a speeding train. People putting together work unions and construction orders — assembling what’s left of the King’s court and appointing new people to office. The Citadel is pretty much intact? But Noctis only returns for business; he can’t stand to sleep there, and the throne gives him a sense of dread that stands his hair on end. It’s fine, because they’re more than enthusiastic about staying together as four. For now.
Noctis wonders how long it’ll last. It’s not the same as before; they’re uh, hello, married. They wear three rings proudly – and not a single soul is surprised. It seems like everyone in the world knew, but him.
They’re more open, now.
Gladio kisses Ignis good morning. Prompto falls asleep at his side, reports scattered at his lap. Ignis pets his hair in passing, and they retire to that second bedroom, quiet as a mouse.
They’re gorgeous together. They have this connection – this tangible red string that ties them by the pinky, something that’s been hurt and torn and broken, and repaired stronger than ever.
Noctis doesn’t know them anymore. He doesn’t know who they are or what they’ve done. He’s ten steps behind, and fuck, it hurts.
They regard him softly. Hesitant, sometimes, like they still can’t believe he’s here. Pats on the back, hands through his hair, shoulder bumps and jokes and it’s the same, but it’s not, is it? Because Noctis is the outsider now.
Maybe Bahamut made a mistake.
He looks to the younger female Kingsglaive on their couch, fast asleep from a long-night’s work.
No. Noctis can’t afford to think like that. He’ll push forward.
People are flocking to Insomnia like birds. Radio stations are popping back up again, and they’re starting to print newspapers, so Noctis figures it’s time to clean up a little bit.
He stares in the mirror, angry enough to spit fire. There’s a clean line down his cheek – only one, because his hands won’t stop shaking. He lifts the razor once more, but it jitters and shakes, and Noctis throws it to the sink with an angry shout.
He grips the sink, and stares at his reflection. His complexion is better now that Ignis has been feeding him regular meals, but his hair is way too long, and even his nails have grown out too far.
The door creaks open. Ignis gently pushes it open, and blinks his one eye.
Noctis closes his eyes, and breathes in.
An unconvinced noise from Ignis. He leans his shoulder in the doorway and waits. He looks handsome, dressed down in a t-shirt and jeans. Noctis stares at the razor in the sink.
“I can’t shave,” Noctis says.
“My fuckin-“ Noctis lowers his voice. “My hands. They haven’t stopped shaking.”
Ignis’s eyebrows push together. He steps forward, and reaches for his fingers. True to fortition, they tremble in his hands.
“I don’t know why,” Noctis sighs. “I think, maybe…the armiger…”
Ignis dips into the sink and feels for the razor. He runs it under the (now clean) water and brings his free hand up to Noctis’s face. He skims over his lips, feels up his cheek, and then brings the razor to the spot Noctis shaved.
“What about the armiger?”
Noctis swallows. Ignis is so close, he can see the white of his eye. That beauty mark is still on his chin, and his hair is up and out of his face, only a little longer. Maybe it is still him.
“I made a deal,” Noctis says, trying not to speak too loudly. Ignis runs the blade under the water, shakes it, and shaves another line down his cheek. “With Bahamut.”
Ignis pauses. He inclines his head, panic falling across his face.
“What did you give?”
“My link.” He sniffs. “To the Lucii. The power is gone, Ignis.”
Ignis is staring forward so intently, for a moment his heart squeezes. It feels like he can see him. It really feels like it.
“Good,” Ignis says, and continues to shave above his lip.
“Don’t move-” he commands, and feels beneath his nose, swiping the blade methodically. Rinse, shake, repeat. Ignis’s fingers are cold and gentle, and Noctis ignores the goosebumps. When Ignis has moved to his other cheek, he says, “Noct. I would have given anything to keep you. Anything I could have possibly offered. Power is a small sacrifice in a line of possibility.”
Fuck. What a shitty thing to say to the guy who went blind for him.
“I- I didn’t mean – “
“What does it feel like?” Ignis asks, unbothered.
“Um.” Noctis exhales. “Empty. Like. Something is missing.” He clutches one of his trembling hands in the other, but they refuse to still.
Feather light, Ignis traces over his bottom lip. It’s slow, memorizing, and Ignis breathes a short little sigh, and Noctis remembers all the reasons why he fell in love with him. Every single one.
“I spent many years preparing myself for the day you’d die,” Ignis says. “And yet, none of it came close to seeing you on that throne.” He finishes the last swipe, and sets the razor on the sink. “So I was never, ever prepared for the hopeful possibility that you might live.”
Words betray him. Noctis wants to grab Ignis and hold on until his fingers bleed.
“Please allow my selfishness. If you are ill, confide in us. If you are tired, let us carry you.” Ignis reaches for his trembling fingers. “If you are shaking, please tell me.”
Noctis rips his hands out of his grip, and throws them over his shoulders. He squeezes him, face in his neck, and Ignis squeezes him back. The comfort is instantaneous.
“Everything is different,” Noctis muffles, voice tight.
“We’ll get through it together,” Ignis says, and holds him. It twists the knife deeper, but it’s a pain that’s worth it. A pain that’s addicting in the worst way possible. Noctis breathes him in; and that’s different too. Muskier. A mixture of Gladio and Prompto. His stomach drops.
But Ignis clutches him tight, and Noctis mumbles amid the frog in his throat.
“Can you cut my hair too?”
He looks more like himself now. A little younger (sort of), but it helps to wade off the panic whenever he sees his reflection in the mirror. It’s starting to feel like his own skin again, even if the ache in his knee is super fucking annoying.
Noctis kicks over another rock. This side of the citadel has collapsed, unfortunately. The one side they actually needed, cool.
Gladio uses his shoulder to flip over a boulder, and god, it’s still hot. It’s never going to stop being hot.
Prompto holds up a rock.
“Hey! This one looks like a butt!”
“Kinda’ looks like your face,” Gladio says, and laughs when Prompto throws it his way.
Ignis is walking around with a stick this time. But he’s tapping it against everything – the walls, the floor, the rocks; and he snaps his fingers, and the other two shut up. He thumps his stick again, and pauses.
“I believe this is it.”
Noctis blinks, “Really?”
The other Glaive members pause as well, standing up from where they were hunched over, digging in the debris.
Ignis smacks it once more, and Noctis realizes that there’s a very feint echo.
“Darling, can you remove this boulder?”
“Sure thing,” Gladio says, hopping over a fallen column. Noctis looks down at his feet.
“Hey, not bad,” Prompto peers over. “Only two hours later.”
Ignis huffs, “I would have been quicker, if not for your jabbering.”
“Love you,” Prompto jokes, and Ignis makes a show of rolling his eye – and they both laugh.
Gladio moves the boulder, and Ignis clicks his tongue. Gladio smiles.
“Is that it?” He dusts off his hands. Noctis makes his way over.
“I dunno’. Someone text a picture to Cor.”
“That’s totally it,” Prompto squats. “It looks like a door. Do your power thing, Noct.”
“I already told you I can’t.”
“Then how do you open it?”
“I don’t know!”
“The Gods didn’t take your DNA,” Ignis says. He squats as well, and feels over the door on the floor. He traces the outline, and falls upon a circular spot. “Here. Bring me your hand.”
Noctis bends down, “And then what?”
Ignis grabs his wrist, and shoves his hand flat against the circle. It lights up blue, and suddenly a pillar in the wall begins to drop into the floor. Gladio startles, shoving Prompto behind him – but the ground only shakes for a moment, before the hole in the floor reveals a staircase.
Noctis’s jaw drops. He smacks Ignis’s shoulder.
“How’d you know that?!”
“I know everything,” Ignis says flippantly, making them laugh. He stands, reaching out for Gladio to lead him through the rubble. “Come, I’m anxious to know if the rumors are true.”
Noctis is slightly stunned. Gladio hooks an arm around his waist, and Ignis holds him likewise. Ignis used to be so bristly when he couldn’t do something on his own – but they’re so integrated into each other’s lives, so insanely in-step, it’s kind of brilliant in a soul wrenching way.
“Let’s goooo!” Prompto pushes his shoulders. “I’m ready to feel like a real pirate!”
“We don’t even know if there’s anything in there,” Noctis stumbles, nearly tripping down the stairs. “It was probably ransacked years ago-“
He stops. Oh. Okay, nice.
The room is full of gold. Piles and piles of it. There’s Gil stacked in dollar bills, but more gold than you can possibly count.
Awesome, nice to know his ancestors were sitting on a dragon horde.
Gladio is standing amid the room, jaw slack, as Ignis walks around to see for himself. Prompto shoves his arms up and shouts.
“We’re pirates, lads!”
Some of the other Glaive members follow behind. There’s muffled gasps and chatter.
“Well this is good,” Noctis says.
“No shit,” Gladio laughs, slapping him on the back.
“What do we do, your Highness?”
“Put it towards the people,” Noctis says, immediately. The Glaive members stand at attention. “Restoration efforts only. Get the city power back on and paid staff at the water district.”
“Yes, your Majesty,” they bow, and begin to climb back up the staircase.
Prompto hugs him, suddenly. His hair is feather soft against his cheek, fingers rough and calloused at Noctis’s lower back, where his shirt rides up.
“You could behead me for this, but I don’t even care dude, this is awesome,” Prompto smiles into his shoulder. “I still think I’m gonna’ wake up any moment and you won’t be here anymore.”
Noctis sucks in a breath. He hugs him back, and Prompto bounces in his arms, vibrating away to look at all the gold. Noctis feels a bit winded, so he stands back and lets Prompto flounder.
Ignis folds his hand in Gladio’s. They look... emotional.
Noctis is struck with the thought of how much they struggled. How much they fought tooth and nail for things like food and shelter – and Noctis slept through it all.
Ignis sways into him, and Gladio brings his hand up to kiss the back of his knuckles, quick and seamless, and Noctis feels embarrassment down to his toes.
How dare he feel pity for himself, when their love is stunningly beautiful.
Gladio looks at Ignis with a fond tenderness – something Noctis only caught between short, stolen moments – and now they’re free to be as they are.
Ignis catches Prompto by the arm as he runs by, yanking him in for a kiss – and shit. Prompto melts into him – utterly boneless, mouth going slack against his, humming happily when fingers press into his adam’s apple.
Noctis looks away. He can’t comprehend how they’ve struggled, so he has no right to watch them celebrate.
Gladio and Prompto spend the majority of their time on the porch. Reading, making phone calls, wildling sticks, directing Glaive members – you name it, they’re doing it. Noctis hasn’t seen Ignis wear his sunglasses in a while, because Gladio and Prom still can’t go outside without them. Their eyes are tender to the light, but they sit out and bask like two sun-loving cats, and Noctis thinks it’s cute.
Prompto and Ignis left to direct Glaive members at the wall, so today it’s just Gladio.
There’s a water-damaged porch swing with rotting paint and rusted chains, and Gladio swings on it slowly, rocking one way, and then twisting his ankle and gently pushing it the other. He’s wearing Ignis’s visor, and he isn’t really looking at anything in particular.
Noctis debates sitting next to him. Gladio has been...distant. It feels like there’s a line drawn between them, and it bruises and stings because they’ve never been distant ever. They’ve never had boundaries.
Noctis decidedly flops down next to him. Gladio regards him with a turn of his head, and looks back out across the neighborhood. Noctis’s feet don’t quite reach the ground, so he lets Gladio continue to gently rock the swing.
He’s never been one for breaking silences. Gladio, Prompto, Ignis – they’re all good at this stuff. Noctis feels like there’s a sixty-pound dumbbell on his chest, and he doesn’t know how to push it off. Noctis clears his throat, and tries for nonchalant,
“What did…Cor say?”
“Recovering well. Major burns down the front of his chest, but they’re using fishscale wraps to speed up the healing.”
“I remember hearing about that once,” Noctis says. He rubs his arm. “I’m glad he’s okay.”
Look at me.
Gladio fingers at the hole on his jeans. He’s making it worse.
Noctis used to be able to lean his head on his shoulder. Take his hand, maybe. Sit on his lap, if Gladio was feeling gracious enough.
He can’t do any of that now.
Please, look at me.
He doesn’t. The swing rocks a little, with a push of his foot.
“Look at me,” he says, finally out loud. Gladio does, as if under an order. His shoulders are tense, and Noctis knows the clench in his jaw. Knows it like the back of his hand. “What’s wrong?”
Gladio’s eyes waver behind the visor. But he sets himself right, and jokes, “Didn’t think I was so transparent.”
“Crystal clear,” Noctis says, and makes a circle with his fingers, lifting it to his eye.
Gladio snorts, and turns to look back to the lawn.
“I like stupid,” Noctis says. That earns him an odd look, but Noctis explains, “Everything is so political. I could use a little stupid right now.”
“I’ve failed you,” Gladio says, wiping the smile clean off Noctis’s face.
“Don’t,” Gladio holds up a hand. “I know. I know you’re alive and I know you were like, handpicked by the gods or whatever. But dammit — I was born to protect you! And…” He clenches his fist, “It fuckin’ sickens me that you were raised for slaughter.”
“I’m alive,” Noctis says, dumbly.
Gladio looks at him, as if checking that it’s true.
“Yeah – only ‘cause you were willing to sacrifice a piece of your soul. Iggy told me.”
Noctis presses a hand to his chest.
“It doesn’t feel so bad,” he says.
I would’ve given up way more to be with you.
“I never apologized for that day on the train,” Gladio says.
Noctis snorts. “Are we really going to bring this up now?”
“Well – it wasn’t that long ago for you, was it?”
No. But Noctis doesn’t answer.
Gladio nudges him with his elbow.
“It was hard for everyone. I was too messed up to see that,” Noctis says, looking up at the sky. White clouds and yellow sun, it’s a picture-perfect day. “I want to move past all this.”
The swing creaks with their combined weight. Noctis realizes that Gladio is looking at him – finally really looking at him, with that narrowed, honey-brown focused stare that makes you feel like the only man in the world.
“You give a lot of people hope. I don’t know if you know that.”
Yeah, Noctis isn’t sure if he deserves it. He leans his head on Gladio’s shoulder, hoping maybe he can get away with it one last time. Gladio doesn’t push him off, so Noctis considers it a success. It’s selfish. But Noctis isn’t sure if he’s capable of moving on, so he’ll take this moment and cling to it.
He mumbles quietly, before he falls asleep,
“You could never, ever fail me.”
A hand presses firm to hold at his waist, and that’s all he remembers.
“Shit,” Gladio and Noctis say together.
“I have a bad hand!” Prompto cries, picking up another card. “You two have to stop him!”
“I got nothin’,” Noctis sighs, and sets down a green four. Ignis feels over it, and shows no expression. Gladio stares at his cards with intent.
“Come on baby,” Prompto breathes. “We can’t let him win again.”
“This is the best I can do.” Gladio sets down a reverse. Noctis and Prompto cry out in frustration. Ignis feels across the card and smirks.
When Ignis suggested playing a card game after dinner, Noctis really thought he’d grown a second head. But Ignis showed him the deck of cards; there’s little bubble stickers on each one, and fuck if Noctis knows how he tells the stickers apart, but he’s not going to be the dumbshit that asks.
Noctis frowns, and sets down a green eight. Prompto flops back on the floor.
“Why?! I’ve got every fuckin’ yellow on planet Eos, but no goddamn greens.”
“Hey, I don’t have any yellows,” Noctis defends.
“That’s because I have the piss hand from hell!” Prompto sits up, draws from the pile, and groans. “Alright, lets pray he doesn’t have a yellow or an eight.”
Gladio presses his hands together, and Noctis mirrors him. Prompto sets down his card, Ignis feels over the stickers, and then toothlessly smiles.
“Your fretting was all for naught, my dears.”
He sets down his last card. It’s a draw four.
The room bursts into madness.
“God damn it!”
Noctis can’t help but laugh.
“Every time!” Prompto slaps the floor. “Every. Fucking. Time.”
“Glad to see he’s still a cheater,” Noctis grins.
“Mere luck,” Ignis says, gathering the cards to shuffle them, and Prompto makes a face, silently mouthing mere luck mere luck with a stuck-up nose.
Gladio smacks him with a laugh, and Ignis bridges the cards, and then shoots them all over Prompto.
“Our next game,” Ignis says coolly. “Fifty-two card pickup.”
Gladio is hollering, and Prompto crosses his arms and steams, only melting once Ignis has crossed over to kiss his temple; and for a moment, Noctis wonders if he’s the third wheel here.
Gladio’s phone rings.
He rolls to his side, and digs his phone out of his back pocket. His hair is tied up in a bun, which is already distracting enough, but Gladio presses the answer button and answers roughly.
Prompto and Ignis work at picking the cards back up again. Noctis helps, sorta, but he’s trying to listen in on the other end of the call.
“Mm. Kay. Yeah, we’ll see what we can do. Mmhmm. Stay safe. See ya.”
He hangs up, and Prompto jumps to it,
“Yeap,” Gladio crosses his legs. “They need us in Tent City.”
Noctis blinks, “Oh?”
“Yeah. Just a lot of chaos right now. The roads are a mess – people are startin’ fights in all the upheaval.”
“Should we go?” Prompto gestures between the two of them.
“No,” Noctis says, too quickly. They look his way, and Noctis feels his face go hot. “I mean. Um.”
“What would you have us do?” Ignis asks, and Noctis feels that twist again. The attention turning to him, the room suddenly under his authority. Under his command and will.
“We should go help,” Noctis says slowly. “But I don’t – we should stay together. I want us to stay together.”
It’s greedy, but he needs this, while he can still have it. He needs it.
Prompto blinks, “You want to go to Lestallum?”
“It’s not like you remember,” Gladio grunts.
“Yes. But I, um. I want to do what I can.”
Prompto stares at him a moment longer, before his face utterly illuminates with joy. He smacks his leg, “It’s good to have you back, buddy.”
Noctis doesn’t know what that means, but Gladio is grinning at him, so it must be a good thing.
Déjà vu hits him like a freight train.
Sitting around in a circle, a deck of cards in front of them, Prompto’s hand on his leg, Gladio smiling at him like that –
Prompto leans forward.
Noctis jerks to his feet.
“I’m going to take a shower,” Noctis says quickly.
“Oh, okay,” Prompto stretches. Noctis is out of the room before Ignis can look at him strangely.
Hot water feels good. It burns his skin, and peels back the imagery like a physical layer. Scents, sounds, hands on his waist and in his hair and teeth at his neck – all of it – he wills it away, and squeezes his eyes shut.
Noctis shouldn’t dwell on it.
Insomnia is already so different.
It takes longer than usual to exit the city, due to people littering the streets; some pull wagons, other push their belongings in shopping carts – children sit on their father’s shoulders, and dogs bark and nip at their heels. They pass a Garula caravan on the two-lane road, the belongings of three families piled on its back, and Noctis fights the urge to hop out of the car and help them along.
Some people wave and cheer as they drive by in the Regalia. Some spit at the tires. It kinda’ comes with the gig, so Noctis doesn’t pay it much mind.
They’ve switched drivers an hour ago, Prompto now behind the wheel, and Ignis rests a hand in his lap, eye closed as he feels the wind past his face.
Noctis fiddles with the radio from the backseat, and Prompto grins when he settles on a station he likes.
“Kinda’ like old times, huh?”
“Yeah, given Noct’s shit taste in music.”
“Coming from the guy that likes jazz,” Noctis huffs. He then pauses. “Er – at least. You used to.”
“Still do,” Gladio smiles, and Noctis turns his head away, towards the open road. They pass a traveler every so often, Prompto slowing down and speeding back up again.
Noctis stares at the rings on Prompto’s fingers. They’re just like Ignis and Gladio; two on his fourth finger, one on this third. He rubs the scar over his own finger, feeling particularly hollow.
He looks back over and coughs.
“So when did you guys tie the knot?”
“Married. When did you get married.”
“August 30th,” Gladio and Ignis say together. Prompto repeats a moment later, uh – yeah, that.
“That’s-“ Noctis starts, but stops to avoid embarrassing himself. But Ignis turns his head from the front seat and nods,
“Your birthday, yes.”
“We wanted to feel close to you!” Prompto chimes, like that isn’t the single most romantic thing Noctis has ever heard in his life. His face goes hot.
“What um,” Noctis rubs his nose. “What year was it?”
Gladio starts to count off his pinky, but Ignis says, “Your seventh year gone.”
So not that long ago, then.
“I found these bitchin’ white jeans,” Prompto says, taking a hand off the wheel to gesture. “I looked hot.”
Gladio laughs, “And you didn’t own a white shirt so you had to borrow one from Cindy.”
Noctis laughs. Prompto continues,
“Fuck, you should’ve seen Iggy. We couldn’t really afford suits, but he had this dress shirt and tie and ugh. So pretty.”
“I convinced Gladio to let me braid his hair,” Ignis tells.
“I would’ve loved to see that,” Noctis grins.
“Yeah, I stole the show. Sorry ‘bout it.”
“Ever the life of an understudy,” Ignis jokes, and Prompto laughs, smacking the wheel.
Noctis plays with his fingers, twisting them around the hem of his shirt. It’s so hard to differentiate between memory and reality; when he closes his eyes, he sees Ignis at the wheel, Prompto with a hand in his lap and a smile on his face – and when he opens them, the image flips.
The conversation has moved on. They’re talking about the scientist gathering in Old Lestallum, and something about plants and animals and Noctis zones out, focused on the hand Gladio has on the back of Ignis’s neck, massaging absently has he talks.
He’s happy for them, he’s happy for them, he’s happy for them.
If Noctis repeats it enough, it’ll stick.
They pull over for lunch at an abandoned gas station. Ignis is prepared to start prepping food out of the trunk – but the outpost isn’t as abandoned as they thought. A man comes out of a run-down, boarded up Kenny’s. His hair has receded back to his ears, and he has a stubbly beard.
“Your Highness?” He crouches, defensive. “Is that you?”
He looks familiar. Noctis stands upright, and nods silently. The man stammers,
“I- ah, we – you probably don’t remember me. I used to run the Crow.”
“Hey! You’d chase us out after playin’ Justice Monsters until closing!” Prompto points, laughing.
“Lloyd,” he offers, opening up the door further. “Please, come in. I’ll feed ya’s.”
Ignis and Gladio can no longer use their secret eye-contact language, but Noctis realizes that they’ve adapted as such; Ignis squeezes his wrist, and Gladio taps his palm twice.
“Alright,” Gladio says. Prompto relaxes his arms, and Noctis realizes that he was hovering over his holster.
The windows are all cardboard and wood; they’ve been tagged a hundred times over, and the original Crow’s Nest sign has long been busted. Noctis follows through the patch door, and the inside isn’t much better. Dust and debris, it’s been ransacked of anything valuable. Two broken barstools remain, so Gladio and Noctis opt to stand, while the other two take a seat.
“They’d said you died,” Lloyd says, fishing through bins behind the counter. He pulls out potatoes, and washes his hands in a soapy bucket before he turns on the deep fryer behind him.
“Not the first time,” Noctis says, which earns him a snort.
“Gotta’ point there.”
“Why have you returned here?” Ignis asks.
“Well…” Lloyd slices the potato into neat, long strips. “Wasn’t livin’ for much in the Tenty C. Not a hunter, and too much competition in the restaurant biz’. As soon as I saw that sun oh baby – I was the first one on the road I’ll tell ya’s.”
“Have you spotted any daemons since the sun rose?”
“How was the house?” Prompto wobbles. One leg is short on the barstool, so he rocks back and forth on it. Noctis resists the urge to stick out a hand in case he falls.
“Already wasn’ much to begin with, but there sure as hell ain’t much left of it now, that’s for sure. But the walls are still standing, and people been crossin through here looking for a meal, so,” Lloyd tosses the potato strips in the fryer, and it immediately begins to smell up the place. “Maybe there’s hope.”
They eat French fries from a basket. The building is so run-down and empty, it should feel sad. But it’s not, really. Gladio’s shoulder brushes his own whenever he reaches into the basket, and Prompto pulls out his camera to take a picture of the sunlight streaming through the boarded windows – and it all feels a bit mellow.
Noctis tries to pay, but Lloyd downright refuses. They exit Kenny’s, and shield their eyes against the sun. Birds fly overhead, squawking loudly to each other, and Lloyd smiles.
“A good omen, your Majesty.”
“Take care of yourself,” Noctis says. The man shakes his hand, and Noctis takes his turn behind the wheel. Ignis keeps his hand politely in his lap. Gladio naps against Prompto’s shoulder, and whenever Noctis looks back in the mirror, he sees Prompto running his hand through his hair.
Gladio was right. It’s not at all how he remembers.
Even with the sheer amount that have already left, Lestallum is flooded with people. They have to park the Regalia a mile out of town, because the tents are built up on the roads, and into the tunnels.
Whether he’s greeted well or not – Noctis doesn’t want the attention, so Gladio offers him a hoodie from the trunk, and Noctis takes it. He draws it up to his nose, and it’s probably not very clean, but it still smells like Gladio.
The presence of the Kingsglaive is immediately distinguishable. They stand on duty at every corner – and Noctis understands why. Without a police presence, this place would be a free for all. They greet Gladio with a salute, and when they spot Noctis, they cross an arm over their chest and drop to one knee.
“Don’t – “ Noctis waves, “I don’t want to cause a scene.”
The guards stand, a bit confused, but nod nonetheless.
“Where’s my sister?” Gladio asks.
“In Central. We will escort the King.”
“I think we’ve got it under control,” Prompto winks, and guides Noctis with an arm around his shoulders. Gladio waves them off with a thanks, and he keeps a hand at Iggy’s lower back. They pass women sitting on the sidewalks, elderly and the sick lined up outside the hospital. But there’s loud music, and a liveliness about them that is endearing.
‘Central’ is the old motel they used to crash at. It’s completely flooded with Kingsglaive, on and off duty.
He has maybe half a second to prepare himself, before a body is flung his way, arms around his neck, and Noctis rocks with the weight. His leg strains, but Noctis steadies himself. He’s stiff, mouth dropped open in surprise, but the person pulls back and it’s-
“I’m so happy you’re alive,” she sighs, squeezing him once more. Noctis hugs her back this time.
He can’t believe it’s her. She’s shaved her hair short, and she’s so strong. Iris hasn’t grown by height much, but there’s a winding tattoo of tiger stripes down her arms and up her neck. Noctis almost doubts that it’s her.
Iris pulls back and beams – and no, yeah. That is definitely her.
“Wow,” Noctis exhales. “You look so different.”
“And you look thin,” she huffs, pressing his face in her hands. Iris turns to Ignis, “Are you feeding him?”
Ignis huffs, “Who do you take me for?”
Guards are gawking with a sense of astonishment. Noctis gazes their way, and their heads snap back at attention. Iris hugs Gladio quickly, and then starts,
“Come on, come on – “ Iris pulls his arm. “We have a lot to do. Lemme’ show you our base of operations.”
They have completely taken over the hotel. Iris leads them up to the third floor, where there’s a room full of filing cabinets, desks, and paperwork scattered among tables. They have computer screens monitoring all corners of Lestallum.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” Iris sighs. “We can finally have royal sovereignty over some of these city ordinances.”
“I’ll do whatever I can.”
“So long as you’ve got both your thumbprints, that’s all I need.”
Noctis rubs at the scar, almost like a habit.
“Hey sis, I know you’re eager, but we’ve had a long day,” Gladio says, grabbing her around the neck and scrubbing her head with his knuckles. “Let’s start fresh and early tomorrow.”
She bats off his hand, twisting around and grabbing him by the neck, scrubbing Gladio’s head instead. Prompto finds it hilarious.
“Don’t tell me what to do in my own office!”
Noctis laughs, and then yawns, and Iris pauses.
“Oh, I guess is a pretty long drive, huh?”
“No, I’m – fine.”
Ignis ignores him, “Have you any spare lodgings?”
Iris grins, “Now who do you take me for?”
There are two queen beds. It’s just about as well kept as he remembers, which isn’t all that great. But hey, a bed.
“It’s good to have all four of us again,” Prompto says, flopping back on the sheets.
“Who’s sharing?” Noctis asks out of habit. Prompto and Gladio look to each other, while Ignis begins to unlace his boots.
“Well uh, you’re good to have the bed to yourself.”
“Can I have first shower?” Noctis asks, neck red.
Noctis digs clothes out of his bag (which aren’t really his clothes, they’re Prompto’s spare), and he slams the door shut.
His heart feels like it’s going to beat right out of his chest.
This jealousy is gross and disgusting and he wants to carve it out with a spoon and bury it in the backyard. Noctis looks himself in the mirror. His stubble is growing in already. Those don’t look like his eyes.
He opts to jump in the shower and scrub through his hair with water. They didn’t bring much shampoo, and his hair isn’t that dirty anyways.
When he turns the shower off, giggling comes through the other side of the door. Noctis pauses, towel halfway down his face. There’s more muffled laughing, and a conversation Noctis can’t quite pick up. He dresses quickly, and cracks open the door partway.
Prompto is straddling Gladio’s lap, laughing, squirming as Gladio tries to peel off the bandages over his ribs. Noctis didn’t even know he was injured – but he supposes he wasn’t the only one who took some hits that day.
“Stop moving!” Gladio laughs.
“It’s not my fault I’m ticklish!”
Gladio picks at the edge of the bandage and Prompto squeals in laughter, squirming up and halfway out of his lap. Prompto has more muscle, more scars, more everything. But he’s still so beautifully lean in Gladio’s lap, dimples at his lower back, belt low at his hips.
Ignis comes around to his backside and holds his upper arms.
“Quick,” Ignis says, and Gladio rips off the bandage.
“Hmmm. All healed.” Gladio brushes his thumb over his skin. Prompto squirms back and giggles, head smacking back on Ignis’s shoulder. “Only a few stitches, too. Lucky baby.”
“Thanks to Iggy,” Prompto grins.
Ignis drops his hands from Prompto’s arms, running them up and down from wrist to bicep. He hooks his chin over Prompto’s shoulder and squeezes his arms once.
“I’m just relieved Gladio didn’t get to you first.” Ignis pets across his lower stomach, “We all know how that ended.”
“It’s sad,” Gladio kisses Prompto’s upper lip, “A blind man can stitch better than me.”
“A blind man can do a lot of things better than you,” Prompto says. Gladio huffs and bites once at his neck, and Prompto adds, “Iceskating. Cooking. First aid. I haven’t seen Iggy behind the wheel in a long time, but I’m pretty sure driving still applies.”
“Prompto,” Ignis chides, but there’s humor in his voice. “No need to add insult to injury. He’s but a mortal.”
“No, go on,” Gladio grins. “Sing me a soliloquy of all the things my husband can do better.”
The word pierces right through Noctis’s forehead, like a bullet straight to the brain.
Husband, husband, husband.
Prompto continues to list on his fingers,
“Public speaking. Cleaning. Throwing knives. Talking on the phone. Stealth kills. Sex.”
“Iggy I love you — but you are not better at sex than me.”
“I’m far from this argument, love.”
“Okay, I’ll take that one back,” Prompto brings his hands to Gladio’s face and pets under his eyes. It’s so brilliantly tender, Noctis finds himself holding his breath. Prompto hums, “But he is better at kissing.”
Gladio makes a face, “Yeah, alright. That’s fair.”
“Aww don’t look so sad,” Prompto beams, and kisses him once, “You’re the best at lots of stuff too.”
“Yuup. I’ve never seen anyone else crush a daemon skull with their thighs.”
Ignis sighs, “Damn. The gods cursed me that day. What I wouldn’t give to see that.”
Gladio tips his head back and laughs.
Noctis’s hand slips on the door. It flings open, and Prompto whips his head around to see Noctis in the doorway.
“Oh, hey bud!”
“H-Hey,” Noctis fumbles. He grabs his clothes and makes his way towards the bed, too embarrassed to look any of them in the eye.
Ignis sits back on his heels, and feels for Prompto’s inner arm. “Are you up for a shower?”
“I’m good,” Gladio pats his leg. “No way in hell we’d fit anyways.”
“Well not with that attitude!”
“Not with any attitude.”
Ignis corrals Prompto towards the bathroom, and Noctis tries really hard to focus on literally anything other than the mental image of those two sharing a shower.
Noctis’s entire body is shaky with adrenaline. He feels like he just saw something he shouldn’t; a small slice out of time – a sliver of what those years were like.
Gladio stretches and yawns.
“Erm, yeah,” Noctis climbs on the other bed. It feels empty. He skims his hand over the sheets. “They’re gonna’ take up all the hot water.”
Gladio smiles and digs in his bag for a book, flopping back on the pillows.
There’s talking from behind the door, laughter and steam flowing through the gap. Noctis presses his hands into his forehead and pushes back memories with a physical jerk.
How? How could they not remember?
Maybe they choose not to.
He’s still awake when the door opens. There are easy whispers as the lights click off. Mumbling as the sheets rustle. Somehow they all squish into that other queen bed – and if Noctis squints, he can see Prompto flopped over them both, face down and passed out already.
His heart jerks, when he sees Ignis’s head turned his way, eye open. His hair is soft and washed, and his gaze is directed straight at Noctis.
Common sense filters back through his brain, but Noctis flips around to the other side anyways, just to be safe.
“What are these?”
“Residential applications,” Iris says, as Noctis thumbs through the paperwork. “These are all the people that still have proof of insurance, taxes, or rent. We want people to return home, but we can’t let every person just waltz on in to any house they see fit.”
“What about a temporary seize?” Noctis rubs his nose. “All properties will be under royal command until it’s bought out by employers.”
“I’m glad we’re on the same page,” says Iris. “The problem has been utilities.”
“I’ve already put the LPD on it. We’re using treasury funds to pay for labor costs until – “
“-Until free market kicks in.”
Noctis shrugs, “It’s the best solution we could come up with.”
“It’s not bad.”
Ignis interjects, “There will be resistance, but we need a check station at the boarder entrances. Population must be monitored and regulated. Those with proof of residency should be granted immediate entry.”
Noctis narrows his eyes, “But I don’t want any more walls. Everyone is welcome in the city.”
“But not everyone can pay rent. We’ll have a society of squatters.”
“I’ll cover utility costs for six months,” Noctis says. “If people wanna’ sign contracts, write in that they got a hundred and eighty days to find work.”
“Six months?! Do you really have the money for that?”
“We could afford to run the city for six years,” Ignis says. “But it wouldn’t be wise to spend the nation’s budget all at once.”
Noctis crosses his arms, “These are my terms. Do you think it’ll get people moving?”
Iris smiles at him. Noctis stares.
“Nothing,” she laughs. “You just sound like a King. It’s weird.”
“Sign here, your Highness,” a Glaive says, offering an ink pad and a pen. Noctis assumes that’s a yes, so he sits at the table and begins to sign.
Prompto and Gladio stand guard at the door. Noctis looks over, expecting them to be bored out of their minds – but they’re at military rest, shoulders back and head forward, and the devotion in their eyes drives Noctis with motivation.
He looks to Ignis. Unsure of how to get his attention, Noctis reaches over and taps his wrist.
Am I doing the right thing?
Ignis squeezes his shoulder encouragingly. Noctis nods.
They spend the afternoon paroling the streets. Rumor has already spread that the King is in Central, so it’s not worth hiding anymore. The Glaive monitors and distributes all rations to the homeless, (to avoid all-out brawls), so Noctis helps hand out bagged military meals, and is surprised to be received generally…pretty well.
“Thank you, your Grace,” a lady bows. “My children had never known the sun, but I told them you’d bring it back, your Grace. I believed.”
That chokes Noctis up more than he’s willing to admit, so he shakes her hand, and presses an extra bag into her palm.
Gladio stands nearby, handing out rations himself, but he’s staring intently, blazing right into the side of Noctis’s face – and he makes the mistake of meeting him eye to eye. Gladio’s face doesn’t change, and Noctis turns back to the next man in line.
It’s easier to busy himself in work. If he pushes himself long enough, he’ll return to the hotel room and crash before he has time to hear them speaking to each other between the sheets. Something about the sleep rough voices – the gentle mumbling and the breathed laughs and the rustling fabric – it makes him ache. And there’s people that need him, so Noctis refuses to lose focus.
Well, he’s about to lose something alright.
Delegations over the plant populations are not going great. There are arguments over how to replant fields; labor costs and man power and how long it’ll take to regrow the Duscae.
Noctis watches them argue — Ignis right in with the fray — no, that’s ridiculous, you cannot release wildlife until there is sustainable plant growth, you’ll collapse the entire ecosystem – and Noctis breathes a sigh into his hand. Elbow on the table, dark circles under his eyes, he huffs,
“Why don’t you just strap some grass seeds to a birds’ leg and let them do the work?”
The room goes silent. For a moment, Noctis wonders if he’s about to be made out to be the Biggest Dumbass in all of Lucis King history.
But Sania turns, blinking rapidly.
“That is…quite genius.”
There’s a snort from across the room, which is undoubtedly Prompto. Noctis smiles into his hand.
“I think it’s quite inevitable,” Ignis says.
“Inevitable-what?” Prompto asks, walking in the room.
“That I meet with the King of Tenebrae,” Noctis mumbles, scratching his cheek. He’s laying backwards on his bed, bad leg raised up on the pillows. Iris insisted on getting it checked out, and now it’s a little sore from all the prodding.
“And Niflheim,” Gladio says, even though nobody wants to hear it.
“I want to unite the borders,” Noctis says, “but I want to make sure our people are okay first.”
“So much of this is just-“ Prompto mimes a hand flying above his head, and makes a pewww noise. Noctis snorts.
“See, and you used to dread your political science classes,” Ignis hums, leaning up against Gladio’s side.
“It was still a waste of time,” Noctis mutters. “I only remember what you taught me.” He kinda’ regrets the words as soon as they’re out of his mouth, but Ignis looks happy, so Noctis flops an arm over his eyes and lays still.
“So uh, it’s a Saturday night lads,” Prompto wiggles, crossing his legs. He looks to Gladio, “Our last day in the TC. Date night anyone?”
Noctis swallows. Gladio checks the time on his phone.
“Well, I guess we could.”
“I’ve been craving those skewers since our visit last year,” Ignis says.
Prompto turns towards Noctis, and tips his head, “Hey, wanna’ be our plus one?”
Noctis grits his teeth, and sits up in a fury. Heat bursts through him.
“No – I don’t want to be your plus one.”
Prompto blinks, startled.
“Come on. He didn’t mean it like that-“
“Whatever,” Noctis waves, hobbling into his shoes. “I’m gonna’ go finish signing. Enjoy your date.”
The door rattles a little too hard behind him. The sound startles him, but Noctis shakes it off, and stalks forwards.
Nobody comes after him, and Noctis is relieved. The Central room is full of night-shift workers quietly studying monitors and filling out forms, and they leave Noctis be as he finishes out the rest of his paperwork.
They will return back to Insomnia tomorrow. Noctis is more than ready to be out of the same room.
Jeez, he sounds like such an asshole. But fucking Six, he keeps waiting for the agony to go away, but the knife just carves a little deeper each time. It’s so hard not to reach over – to grab their hands and squish under the sheets and be as they were.
Noctis wipes his eyes. The words on the page are starting to blur. Come the fuck on, dude. The Six didn’t bring you back to life so you could cry over – what? A relationship that didn’t even exist?
A relationship that left him behind?
Noctis inhales, and finishes signing his last form.
They’ll return to Insomnia tomorrow. There’s work to do.
It’s quiet while they pack that next morning.
Noctis doesn’t want there to be any bad blood between them – life is definitely too short for that – so he offers Prompto a smile and asks,
“How were the skewers?”
And Prompto lights up, showing him pictures he took of the live performers and the dance party out in the square. He’s so horribly undeserving of Prompto in every fucking way.
Noctis nods along to all his pictures, and Gladio sits down at his other side to point hey, you remember that picture we took of Iggy there? – and Noctis laughs because he does, like it was –
But it wasn’t.
Iris meets them at the lobby. She hugs them all and damn she’s so built now – and she steps back to hand him a piece of paper.
“What’s this?” Noctis asks.
“The address to your new residency, your Highness,” she grins. “Can’t have the King of Lucis living in a dump.”
Noctis stares at it. His heart falls to his feet.
“Well, at least until the Citadel is repaired,” Ignis says.
“I don’t want to live at the Citadel,” Noctis blurts. Iris smiles knowingly.
“Whatever you want. You’re the boss.”
“I can’t wait to see it,” Prompto grins, arms stretching above his head. “I heard there’s four rooms! What do we even do with that many rooms?!”
“I call dibs on a gym,” Gladio says.
“There’s no way in hell you’d have time to work out. We’re fixing the apocalypse, dude!”
“I found time to work out during the apocalypse,” Gladio tips his nose up. “You can’t even reach my level.”
Prompto shakes his head, “Always for the grind.”
“Wait wait wait – “ Noctis waves his hand. He gestures with the paper, “This is for all of us?”
Iris stares, “Well duh. Ignis said you wanted to stay together.”
“Was I misled?” Ignis blinks, and Noctis feels like he can finally breathe again.
“No,” Noctis smiles. “This is fine.”
He must be a huge masochist.
Dreadfully in pain in the presence of their love, but absolutely mortified of living without it. It’s like a drug he’s come to rely on, clawing and desperate and horribly addicted.
“Come on,” Gladio calls. “We gotta’ hike back to the car, remember?”
Noctis hugs Iris one last time, and salutes the other Glaive members standing behind her.
“Walk tall,” he says. They bow at the waist, and return the salute.
It’s a long drive back to Insomnia. They switch drivers at every outpost, and when they stop by the Crow’s Nest at Coernix, there’s a whole group of people littered in the restaurant. Some of the boards are torn down, and the interior is no better than it was before, but it’s filled with life, and Noctis will never again doubt humanity’s strength to endure all things.
They don’t return to that busted house in the outskirts of the capitol, but Noctis will always think of it fondly.
But maybe, that’s just their talent to continually make a home out of nothing.
One day the textbooks will say The Kingdom of Lucis was rebuilt from a suburban townhouse, and it’s funny to think about.
The city has been busy while they were gone. Work crews have moved in to clean the streets; people file in through the gate, eager to have granted access, and food stalls line up and down the alleyways.
Their new house is closer to the Citadel. It’s in a higher-end neighborhood (or what was), but the gate is guarded by Crownsguard, and the house has been scrubbed clean. It’s true – there are more rooms than they know what to do with. Unfortunately, they don’t have things to fill them with. Or, not a lot of them. There’s whatever they’ve managed to stash in the trunk; a bucket of polaroids, Ignis’s dishes, a tent, a suitcase of clothes, weapons – the essentials, really.
It’s pre-furnished. Who the hell knows where the Glaive got all this shit.
Ignis immediately sets to work memorizing the state of the house. He traces his hand along the walls, pulls each item out of the kitchen drawers – cheep, these simply won’t do – and Gladio hovers not too close, but close enough that he’d be in arm’s reach if he tripped. Ignis won’t, but Gladio is strangely protective that way.
“Wow, what a couch!” Prompto gasps, arms flopped out. “Holy shit – is that a T.V.?!”
“It looks like there’s a DVD player,” Noctis says, and laughs when Prompto makes a loud, shrieking sound.
“What do you think?” Ignis asks, head tipped towards Gladio.
“Plain,” he says. “It’ll do.”
Ignis rolls his eye. He turns to Prompto.
“The house is so pretty! There’s a big chandelier in the kitchen – you’d like that.”
“Indeed,” Ignis says.
Noctis explores some of the empty rooms. There’s a bed in two of them. It looks like they gave the biggest room to him, because the closet is stocked with royal robes, fatigues, and various casual clothing. There’s a bed, a nightstand, and a lamp.
It all feels a bit too much, especially when there’s so many people living without.
But he’s going to change that. It’s all going to change.
“Noct!” Ignis calls. “Carrots or Asparagus?”
“Carrots it is,” Ignis replies, and there’s the sound of a cutting board clattering in the kitchen.
Noctis walks back down the stairs, ready to argue, but Gladio is leaning up and over the other end of the counter, talking with his hands, and Prompto is sitting up on the kitchen table, and Noctis stops where he stands. He leans his shoulder against the wall, and watches as Iggy’s face lights up in a laugh, hands deftly cutting over a carrot with meticulous accuracy.
Prompto kicks his feet over the edge of the table, socked feet dangling, and Gladio has his hair tied up in a ponytail, and Noctis smiles.
They’re really beautiful, aren’t they?
“Who’s up for a card game tonight?” Noctis asks, reaching the bottom step.
“Me! Me!” Prompto waves. “I’m ready to extract my revenge on our specy little friend.”
“You speak with too much confidence for a simple game of luck,” Ignis says smoothly. “Should I be worried?”
“Are you accusin’ me of cheatin’?”
Ignis laughs shortly, and lets his accent slip less posh and more chav, “Yup. I’m accusin’ you of cheatin’.”
“Smile when you say that,” Noctis quotes, and Prompto crackles.
Prompto aims a fingergun and makes a pop sound, and when Noctis moves to the couch, Prompto follows him there.
He could live like this. His chest feels hollow, and his hands still tremble on his knees, but he would be grateful to live a life alongside his friends.
It haunts him. His whole life — always centered around a friggin’ ring.
Time runs fast when there’s work to do.
Companies and small business owners alike file requests for their properties, which are graciously granted. Noctis is surprised to wake up one morning, and see cars passing by on the street.
He still can’t go into the throne room yet. He’s supposed to conduct business there (something something propriety something something tradition), but the first time he walks back in – his knees collapse out from under him, and Gladio has to catch him on the way down.
“Woah – “ Gladio grabs him by the arm.
Noctis doesn’t know what to say. He’s actually convinced he forgot how to talk; all that comes out is heavy breathing and half attempts at words. It feels like killerbees are buzzing in his stomach.
Ignis immediately reaches for his other side. Cor turns, startled, and Ignis reads his pulse.
“His heartrate is exceptionally high.”
Cor approaches, “Your Highness?”
“Sorry – sorry, just,” Noctis wobbles, but damn his legs are jelly. The throne taunts him; he’s reminded of the sword in his chest, and he collapses all over again.
“Dudes!” Prompto hisses, “The throne.”
Gladio curses, finally securing an arm around his waist. “Let’s get him out of here.”
“Excuse us, Marshall,” Ignis nods. “We’re going to rest a moment.”
Noctis tries to say I’m fine, but wow, it sure is hard to breathe when you’re having a panic attack.
“Let us resume business tomorrow,” Cor says, bowing. The three of them duck out a bow, and Noctis is nearly carried out into the hallway.
“Fuckin’ Six,” Noctis presses a hand to his chest. It still feels like it’s empty. Like all his organs are gone. At times like these he could reach into the link and feel something – anything – the presence of his forefathers and a connection to his Glaives, but now it’s just nothing.
“There’s a bench over there –“ Prompto points, and Gladio carries him over. Noctis slumps into it, leaning over to heave air over his knees.
Ignis crouches at his feet, hands skimming his face, “Shit. Breathe out, darling.”
“Don’t-“ Noctis paws his hand away, but Ignis is persistent.
“Breathe with me. Come now.”
He breathes out, and then inhales shakily, watching as Ignis’s face slowly blinks back into clarity.
Prompto sits next to him – close, but hesitant to reach for him. Noctis wishes he would.
“That was stupid of us,” Gladio says, still not quite letting go of his arm. “Sorry.”
“Nope, all good,” Noctis trembles. Ignis presses his fingers to his neck, reading his pulse once more. “Iggy, it’s fine.”
“You’ve been pushing yourself,” Ignis frowns.
“I said I’m fine,” he snaps. Ignis, unamused, grips into his bad knee, and Noctis yowls.
“This pain is preventable,” Ignis hisses. “And you are, indeed, pushing yourself.”
“We need a vacation,” Prompto sighs, sitting back on his hands.
“How ‘bout a break?”
“I can’t. I’m meeting with the electric company tomorrow and we have to approve all the small business loans and – “
“Nope,” Gladio thumps his head. “You have people to do that for you. We’re going home.”
Noctis is shocked by how busy the Citadel has become. It happened right under his nose, but everything feels crystal clear now. Interns walking by with clipboards, men on ladders repairing the walls, janitors cleaning the floors and retainers huddled pre-meeting, drinking coffee by the doorways.
Prompto takes his hand and leads them to the car. Noctis is still a little blitzed, but he really can’t stop staring. Prompto doesn’t wear the gloves anymore, so Noctis can feel the callouses on his trigger fingers, and the softness of his palm, and if he drags his thumb over his knuckles, he hopes Prompto thinks it’s an accident.
They do go home, and Ignis forces a meal down his throat, and Gladio nearly shoves him in bed. Noctis goes kicking – but Prompto beams we’ll be here when you wake up! and the rest is history.
Noctis sleeps and sleeps and sleeps. He wakes only once, when Gladio peeks in to check on him, but Noctis rolls over and doesn’t rise again until that afternoon.
He doesn’t wake up disoriented. He actually feels like a human being, and it’s kind of nice?
Noctis blinks at his room. There’s photographs hung now, mostly of the four of them, but there’s some portraits of his family that they recovered from the Citadel. His old bedroom was mostly intact, so Noctis moved a bunch of his old clothes. He knows a thirty-year old shouldn’t dress like he’s 21, but…he doesn’t know how to be 31.
A notebook sits on his dresser. A messenger from Tenebrae gave it to him, and he hasn’t had the heart to look at the last entry yet.
Noctis slides out of bed. He rubs the soreness out of his knee, and pops his back, yawning as he fumbles to the bathroom. There’s a familiar sound.
The T.V. is playing.
Noctis walks down the stairs, leaning heavy on the railing, and stares as Gladio, Prompto and Ignis lounge on the couch.
Ignis turns his head first.
Prompto beams, “You’re awake! How do you feel? Are you hungry?”
“Of course he is,” Ignis rises.
“No, don’t worry about it – “ Noctis waves, making his way towards the loveseat. “Did the T.V. company sign?”
“Sure did,” Prompto grins. “Ya’ bitch got cable.”
Noctis laughs, curling his good leg up under him. Ignis ignores him, pattering around the kitchen, opening the fridge and pulling out bread.
“How’s eggy toast?”
“Dude, we have eggs?!” Noctis gapes. “How long did I sleep for this time?”
The three of them laugh, and Gladio answers, “A day, max.”
The smell of Ignis’s cooking is good and familiar. Noctis briefly closes his eyes, and listens to the white noise of the T.V.
“Where would you want to go?” Prompto asks, suddenly breaking the silence.
Noctis peeps open an eye.
“On a vacation,” Prompto fidgets. He’s fiddling with Gladio’s fingers, spinning his ring and pinching his fingertips. “Where would you go?”
Noctis smiles, overwhelming affection bubbling out of him.
“We can’t go on a vacation.”
“Well why not? It’s not like you’re the king or anything,” Gladio grins.
“I think you’re perfectly inclined,” Ignis calls.
“Do you want my honest answer?”
“Yeah,” Prompto giggles. “Because I think I already know.”
“I’d go fish in the Nebulawood,” Noctis hums. “Stay at the cabin and fish allll dayyy.”
Prompto breaks out laughing, patting Gladio’s leg, “What’d I say?!”
“A reasonable request.”
Ignis returns with a plate of French toast and a fork. Noctis takes it with a thank you.
“I’m needed too much right now. But – if you guys wouldn’t mind…I think it’d be fun if we all went one day.”
Gladio scoffs, smiling, “If we wouldn’t mind – you think I’m letting you go anywhere without me? Don’t think so bub.”
“I’ve become quite competent in cooking seafood,” Ignis says, returning to his spot beside Prompto. “You might be surprised.”
“I already thought it was fuckin’ delicious before, so I’m scared of what you consider competent,” Noctis says.
Ignis smiles, eyes closed, and Noctis really wants to reach out for him.
Nobody talks about paperwork, or politics, or the Citadel. They watch old reruns of stock cartoons, and Noctis eats French toast in his pajamas. The bodies cuddled on the couch look really inviting, but Noctis doesn’t mind watching.
"How's that?" asks Prompto.
Noctis has no bloody idea how he's supposed to answer. He doesn't.
Prompto is kneeling between his legs, fingers rubbing at his sore knee. Noctis's pant leg is rolled to his thigh, and everything about this is just too much.
"Hurts," he grits, because that's easier than what he's really thinking.
Ignis is in the loveseat, one earbud in, listening to audio reports on his phone. He presses the little pause button on his earphones to say,
"The physician prescribed regular stretches, massages and icing. You must keep your leg moving, or it will lock up again."
Yeah, okay, but this is embarrassing. Prompto is looking up at him through his eyelashes like a dog to be praised, and it takes everything he's got not to grab him by the back of his ruffly blonde hair and haul him up to scrub his tonsils with his tongue.
"I can do it myself," Noctis huffs, arms crossed.
Prompto digs in his thumbs, and Noctis grinds his teeth to keep back a groan.
"Would you rather Gladio do it?"
"Now I'm just offended," Gladio says.
"You'll grind my leg into dust," Noctis frowns.
"Fee fi fo fum."
Prompto pulls away to pump more lotion in his hand, and Noctis shivers when his hands return slick, rubbing back up above his knee and digging into the muscle. He swoops in long dragging motions, drawing the stress from his skin.
"I'm way better with my hands anyways," Prompto says, and by the look on his face, he totally meant the double entendre.
"I hate you," says Noctis. Prompto laughs.
Admittedly, it does help. Noctis is able to walk around without hobbling. He's never ever going to admit that out loud, but it doesn't matter, they drag him downstairs and pin him to the couch each night anyways.
Unfortunately, it is, actually, a stress reliever. Prompto has always been good at digging his fingers into hard spots on his shoulders, (they used to sit on the hood of the Regalia and rub out knots with their elbows — regular hunting leaves you with the worst muscle spasms) and it's only a given that he can blink his cute little lashes and turn Noctis into a puddle of soup.
The increased mobility is a bonus. It gives him the one-up he needs to outrun his advisers. Unfortunately, he's not so quick without his phasing.
"Please, your Highness. Just hear us out this once."
With the sudden population boom, his advisers have come to him suggesting a party. Noctis walks faster, but his kneebrace stiffens, and Noctis's gait falters.
“It's only a ball,” she says, bouncing around to cut him off from the front. “Like King Regis used to throw.”
Noctis huffs, because he always hated those things. Stuffy outfits and snobby rich people.
“It’s good publicity,” Avis says, arms behind his back. “And it would boost morale.”
Noctis scratches his hair, and sighs. They're young and honest and he knows they're probably right.
“How many people can the ballroom hold?”
“A solid few thousand or so, your Grace.”
“Then open it to the public,” Noctis says. “Nobility or not. If people want to come for the free food, that’s fine by me.”
His advisers don’t look thrilled, but they know it’s the best answer they’re going to get. To be frank, Noctis forgets all about it until Ignis is scurrying around the next week, calling for catering and trying to use text-to-speech to get ahold of some decent musicians.
“Don’t stress yourself out over it,” Noctis says, pen in hand, clicking it against the table. “I think it’s kinda’ dumb.”
“I find it a rather good idea,” Ignis says, setting down his phone. “The people need something to look forward to.”
“But it’s just so-“ Noctis waves his hand around. “Like. Igh. What is there to even celebrate?”
Ignis’s face hardens.
He drags his finger slowly across the table, as if testing for dust, and then taps against the rim. His voice is level and heavy.
“I, for one, have many things to celebrate.”
Noctis swallows. He doesn’t reply, and Ignis continues to make phone calls, and Noctis tries to finish his work.
He’s surprised to hear of the city’s excitement. Apparently, it’s all Insomnia can talk about.
The King of Lucis is throwing a party!
Well, no. His people are. Noctis is going to sit there and begrudgingly drink himself under the table.
It’s not like he hates fun. It just – reminds him of too many things he’s trying to forget. All Prompto can talk about is finding a super-dope outfit and Gladio had to get sized for a dress-uniform and Noctis is reminded over and over that they already have a date, because they’re fucking married.
It just irks him. Like he's the butt of a giant joke.
He leaves the majority of the planning to his advisers. He trusts Iggy to take care of any problems, because honestly, Noctis wouldn't even know where to begin.
It takes him a while to dress in his formal King's attire. There's snaps and armor plating and by the time Noctis makes it downstairs, he figures he's going to be the last one out. But no, Gladio is still in the kitchen, doing up the buttons on his dress shirt, and Prompto is trying to tie the clasps on his boots.
"What happened to your super dope outfit," Noctis air quotes.
Prompto sighs, "Iggy said it would be more appropriate to go in an official uniform. You know. 'cause I'm a Sergeant."
"I also refused to be seen with a husband in hammer pants," Ignis says.
"They aren't hammer pants."
"You could fly a kite with those things," Gladio says. He starts to sing can’t touch this, and Prompto flips him off. Gladio laughs, and reaches around to fuck with his hair.
"Noo! Stop! I just got it where I liked it!"
"It looks like it always does."
"Well that makes me feel great."
"It always looks cute," Gladio coos, leaning down and over the loveseat. Prompto huffily kisses him, but starts to giggle against his mouth. Noctis looks away, fumbling with the chain on his shoulder plate. Gladio lifts Prompto out of the chair, and Prompto squeals happily, and Noctis snaps,
"Can we go already? I want to get this over with."
Ignis hums, "Do try to have a little fun. It ought to be good for you."
Prompto turns in Gladio's arms.
"Yeah! Why you so grouchy anyways? No hot date?"
"Prompto," he grinds.
"I'm sure there's hundreds of ladies just waiting to dance with you," Gladio winks. Noctis rolls his eyes.
"Hey, I think if anyone's allowed to go single, it's the King," Prompto says. He snaps his fingers and gasps, "Oh! I have an idea. Why don't you be our date?"
Noctis nearly breaks the chain off his shoulder. He turns on his heel, spitfire burning off his snarl.
"Can you just quit it."
The mood plummets right into the ground. Plane, meet mountain.
"Hey," Gladio frowns, stepping slightly in front of Prompto. "What's your deal?"
"Don't-" Noctis points, "Not right now."
"We're just joking. No need to be a huge douche."
"Gladio..." Ignis starts, but it's too late.
Noctis feels the last string snap. It pops open in his chest, and flings out all the horrible, disgusting tar that's been swallowing his heart whole.
"Well excuse me for not wanting to stick around and watch the three of you show off how goddamn happy you are all the time."
Ignis frowns, "What do you mean?"
Noctis burns and burns and burns. Behind his eyes and in his throat and under his tongue.
He grits his teeth and snarls. "I just can't believe you'd rub it in my face like this. I thought you were my friends."
Prompto looks absolutely mortified.
Gladio squares himself, ready for a fight. "Jeez, I didn't know we disgusted you so much."
"Disg-" Noctis sputters. He wants to tear his nails into his skin and scream. He does, "I'm not the one that forgot!"
The room goes still. Noctis swallows, eyes stinging.
"I didn't forget," he repeats, lower. "Maybe I'm just an idiot. But that night at the Leville meant everything to me." He shoves his hand against his eyes. "It's not fair, okay? It's not fair. I know — I know it’s been a long time for you, but —" his voice cracks. "To me, it just feels like yesterday."
Ignis's head is turned away. The fight bleeds out of Gladio like a balloon.
"The...the Leville?" Prompto stammers, "Are you talking about-"
"What else would I be fucking talking about," Noctis snaps, rubbing the tears out of his eyes. "God. Sorry I didn't have the time to fall out of love with you. I'm happy - no, I'm happy, okay? I'm happy you guys are together, but I don't even know who I am or what we are and -" he's blubbering, so he bites down on his lip and turns away. "Forget it."
"Now you wait just a goddamn second—" Gladio starts, but Ignis stops him with an outstretched arm.
"Let him go."
Noctis takes the second car keys on his way out, and peels out of the driveway. His reckless driving persists until the first stoplight, and then he presses his forehead against the steering wheel and cries.
They can't afford the more expensive rooms, but that's okay. Their view is beautiful; you can see the docks if you squint hard enough, and the streetlights reflect off the canals down below.
Noctis's face hurts from smiling. Gladio stands up to slam a card on the table, and Prompto flops back on the couch next to him, whining into his hands. Noctis laughs and laughs — and he's become so giggly, he just can't stop. Prompto jabs him in the side.
"What are you laughing at?! You lost too!"
"I don't know," Noctis snickers, wiping his eyes. Gladio is smiling at him from across the coffee table, and bites his own lip as he sits back down. Noctis blinks away happy tears, watching as Ignis gathers the cards and begins to shuffle them once more.
"You are a snake," Ignis says, accent thick. "Just when I believe I've found your tells, you switch on the next round."
"That's the game, baby," Gladio winks. Ignis's gaze flickers down to his hands.
Prompto rests his hand in Noctis's lap and hums, "I dunno'. It feels like we've been playing games for a long time."
The room simmers quiet. Noctis knows what he means, but his heart is beating too quickly to acknowledge it. They're spurred on by wine with dinner, and he's not so fuzzy anymore, but warm and confident in a way that's dangerous. Noctis lets his fingers graze against Prompto's.
"We should go on a gondola ride tomorrow," Prompto says. Noctis turns his head and grins, joking,
"How romantic. You got secret plans?"
Prompto is really pretty. Like, so fucking pretty. His eyes are baby blue and glowing against soft skin and pepper freckles. Noctis can feel Ignis and Gladio watching with an unwavering stare, and it only spurs him on.
So much has led them here. Nights of waking up tangled in the tent, bathing naked in the rivers and all the almost-kisses mid battle. Noctis trusts these men more than anyone in the world. Loves them, more than anyone in the world.
He’s supposed to be married. Or — was. It’s all so screwey, it’s hard not to take what he wants now that it’s right in the palm of his hand.
Riding the high of ill-advised bravery, Noctis brings his hand up to trace beneath Prompto's jaw. Prompto inhales, holding his breath, and Noctis can't stop staring at his mouth.
"How badly would this fuck everything up?" Noctis wonders.
"It's a gamble," Ignis says, perfectly knowing, green eyes ablaze with interest. "Just like anything else."
"I'm no good at gambling," Prompto whispers. "I always lose."
"Then it's a good thing I always win," Gladio grins, and Noctis grabs Prompto by the shirt collar and kisses him head on.
It's a lit match. A blazing wildfire from a single spark. Prompto curls his hands in the back of Noctis's hair and whines, and Noctis is gone gone gone.
"Six," Gladio curses, and Noctis agrees. Prompto is honey delicious and spicy all at once, eager and so overwhelming, Noctis can't get enough. They move in and out of sync, a kiss that’s been due since highschool.
They lean apart, and Noctis breathes with astonishment.
"He tastes so sweet."
"Why are you so hot?" Prompto blurts.
Ignis is up and out of the chair like lightning. He plants a knee on the couch, and grabs Prompto by the back of the hair, tipping his head back so he can swoop from above and lick out his mouth clean. Prompto makes a surprised noise, but happily falls into him, melting right into his arms. Holy shit.
Noctis can't believe he's watching this. He can't believe how fucking lucky he is. This is so dangerous and risky and they could ruin everything, but — wow, Ignis can kiss.
"Oh, I am taking you," Gladio says, opening his arms. "Come here."
Noctis is up and off the couch embarrassingly fast. He scrambles into his lap, plants his hands over the ledge of the chair, and moans when Gladio goes straight to his neck. His teeth press against his adams apple, and his hands are big enough to circle his waist entirely, and Noctis wants this so much he could cry.
He skims his hands up Gladio's chest. He squeezes his pecs once, and earns a laugh against his neck. The scratch of his beard makes it so real. This is Gladio. This is Gladio.
"You're so gorgeous I can't even take it," Gladio says, kissing into his mouth. Noctis sighs, and pets over the shaved sides of his hair.
"Bed, bed, bed," Ignis snaps, corralling Prompto off the couch and towards the queen. "You two, up."
Gladio makes a noise of complaint. Ignis yanks Noctis up and off his lap.
"I haven't a shred of patience tonight," Ignis says, circling Noctis's waist, and pushing his hand flat up and under his shirt. Noctis arches into him like a cat, pressed chest to chest, and Ignis's eyes are blazing.
"Wow," Noctis gazes, dizzy from the whiplash.
"Do you remember," Ignis purrs, "the night in the Duscae."
Prompto starts to laugh hysterically. Noctis snorts,
"Yeah. Prom and I rolled around in the mud and had to sleep in Gladio's clothes."
"That was it for me," Ignis says, holding his chin still so he can look him in the eye. "If this is to blow up in my face then so be it."
"That does it for you, huh?" Prompto rolls, wiggling out of his jeans while Ignis kisses Noct brain-dead and fucking stupid. "Gladio's clothes?"
"It was the undershirt," Ignis breathes, pulling back and shoving Noctis towards the bed. He fumbles right into Prompto's arms — and it's amazing. Passed around from one to another. Gladio climbs up on the bed, and Ignis follows behind, and god, someone is sucking a solid hickey into his neck and it's awesome.
There's elbows and knees and so many hands, Noctis doesn't know where he ends and where they begin. But Ignis presses him down against the pillow and kisses him long, and Prompto wiggles next to him, crying out as Gladio licks down the line of his hips, and Noctis can't touch them enough. Ignis's stubble, the smooth skin over Prompto's chest, the muscle in Gladio's arms - he wants it forever and ever.
Fingers dip under his joggers. Noctis moans, and it's swallowed right up. He's dizzy and hot and so sensitive, even the thighs pressed against his own are enough to have him arch up and beg.
It's all of them. It's the way it's supposed to be.
Ignis sits back on his heels and looks at him filthy. He skims his hands up Noctis's thighs, worships each and every inch of his body, and Noctis could catch fire to the Leville and still burn hot.
Noctis tangles his hand in Prompto's hair, arm bent to twirl around blonde strands. Ignis is staring him straight in the eye, so Noctis looks to Gladio and says,
Ignis pauses. Gladio looks up, from where his lips are wrapped around the base of Prompto's cock.
"Oh — Noct, this is why you're in charge," Prompto squirms, grinning, slim and beautiful and perfect.
Ignis glances to Gladio. Gladio pops off, and smirks.
"What? Finally nervous?"
"Definitely not," Ignis turns up his nose. "I abhor sloppy kissers."
Gladio grins, and snakes his hand up Ignis's side. He's still in his shirt, but it's wrinkled and half-unbuttoned from Noctis's hands.
"Oh, you think I'm sloppy now, huh?"
"Well you know what they say," Ignis teases. "People kiss how they fight."
Gladio grabs him by the collar and smashes their lips together. Their teeth click, and Ignis snarls, but Gladio manhandles him by the lower back, and forces Ignis to straddle his thigh. Noctis can only stare, because it's the hottest thing he's ever seen in his life.
Prompto is squirming, hand sliding between his legs to relieve the pressure, and —
"Oh no no no-" Noctis starts, and flops over him, rocking their hips together, and Prompto's head snaps back on a moan.
“Fuck, I can’t with them,” Gladio mumbles, turning his head when Ignis’s mouth moves to his collar. Prompto grinds up against him, all naked skin on skin; his hands deftly curl into his spine and count every bump, and Noctis shudders, heat jerking right in his stomach.
“Do people do this?” Prompto gasps, cock slipping up against Noctis’s hip. “C-can people do this?”
“I will it so,” Ignis says, and sucks into Gladio’s shoulder.
"Who cares?" Gladio grunts, and thus begins the end.
Someone jerks him by the back of the hair, and hands pet down his spine, and someone digs lube out of a bag and there is no way you've had that this whole time - dude, you wanna' bet?- and suddenly everything is sticky and wet and Noctis is laughing because this is ridiculous, isn't it?
"Stop laughing or I'm going to get a complex," Prompto jokes, straddled backwards in Gladio's lap, fingers wrapped sticky around them both.
"Oh, only just now?" Ignis pipes, just as Noctis goes in to kiss him, and Prompto laughs open mouthed and loud against his lips.
When the morning comes, the sheets are so twisted around them, it's impossible to move. There's an arm over his chest and two different legs between his own and wow, how did Iggy's hand end up all the way over here —
Someone mumbles in their sleep, there's a half-attempted shhhh - and Noctis closes his eyes again, content in a way he hasn't felt in a long time, if ever. Hope lulls him to sleep, and he only prays that it isn't in vain.
The music is good, at least. He's not sure where Ignis found the orchestra, but they're a decent size, and they manage to play music that isn't boring as shit.
Noctis sets his head in his hand, elbow on the arm of the throne. It's not the throne, but a fancy chair his dad used to sit in during their parties. Noctis wonders where they found it.
Guards were standing at his side, but Noctis waved them off an hour ago.
"Dude. It's a party. Go."
It's nice to watch everyone have fun. They spent a lot of money on catering decent food, and people are dancing out in the middle of the ballroom. Women wear dresses of all price ranges — rags and riches alike, and the camaraderie is a nice distraction from the fact that he just fucked up a fourteen (twenty-four?) year friendship.
Gladio and Prompto are standing by the bar, speaking with a handful of other Glaive members. They look young, and they seem to be a little on edge, and it's hard to believe that Gladio and Prompto are now the senior officers.
Noctis can't bring himself to meet their eye. He's long since cooled off, but he still feels irritation and pain and so many things he shouldn't.
He's not sure where Ignis ran off to; the last time he spotted him he was speaking with his other retainers, but he's lost them in the crowd. There's way more people than Noctis expected.
The music changes to a waltz, and people quickly find their partners, dragging them to the floor. Noctis feels a pang of nostalgia that he didn't think he had in him. Noctis notices the room’s attention turning his way. He pays them no acknowledgement, head still propped in his hand. He won't dance.
A hand stretches in front of him. Noctis blinks, stunned, and lifts his head.
Ignis's fingers are gloveless and waiting. His head is turned, and he's looking in Noctis's general direction.
Noctis's stomach flops to his feet. It grinds something awful, and he reels back his anger, voice relaying the very unamused look on his face.
"Don't make fun of me."
Ignis tips his head, face flat, "Do you really think me the type?"
His hand doesn't waver. Ignis just waits, dressed posh and hair slicked back perfect.. Noctis swallows.
"You...you know what this means, right?"
No. He - no.
Noctis blames the adrenaline, because against all common sense, he takes his hand.
Ignis's face softens.
He squeezes his fingers, leading Noctis towards the center of the ballroom (and the irony is not lost on him). Noctis is sweating down his collar, nerves almost making him dizzy - but Ignis simply turns and presses a hand to his waist, left hand intertwining with his own.
What am I doing?
They wait for the next sway in the music, and they fall in step with everyone else.
People are staring. Noctis breathes out through his mouth, attempting to uh, not pass out. Ignis is easy to follow; up, back, and sideways, a simple waltz. Ignis is lax and confident, never missing a step, and he's just - so mesmerizing, any previous anger bleeds right out of him. Noctis turns as the beat quickens, and there's chatter from the people gathered to watch - and Noctis tenses.
"It's okay," Ignis says, hand slipping up a little higher on his waist. "Don't look at them."
Noctis breathes out a shaky sound. Ignis lets go of his waist to spin him. Noctis comes back to him, fingers digging into his shoulder.
"I taught you to dance," Ignis says, low between them. They're closer now. "In your second year of high school, amid your living-room floor." Noctis's mouth goes dry.
Iggy's face is serious, and his eye burns forward like he's trying with all his might to see Noctis through the haze. His words are steady and enunciated and pressed perfect so Noctis can hear each syllable.
"There isn't a single thing that I do not remember about you."
Noctis inhales in sharp, shaky gasps.
Ignis squeezes his fingers, steps between his legs, dances with a perfect tempo - completely dazzling in every possible way.
And then he vanishes.
Noctis is left floundering, but his hands aren't empty for long. Prompto bounces up to him and beams, grabbing him by the waist and stepping right into the waltz.
"Fuck-!" Noctis whispers, nearly stumbling, but Prompto quickens the dance and turns them, chest to chest and totally out of sync with everyone else. Which is probably fine. Everyone has stopped to watch anyways.
"What are you doing?" Noctis hushes, fingers grappling at the back of his shirt.
"Dancing with the King," Prompto grins, nose to nose. He's already lost his dress-uniform jacket, and his sleeves are rolled up to his elbows, and Noctis's brain can't keep up.
Prompto drops out his knee and fucking dips him - and everyone cheers. Noctis flushes, gritting his teeth. He waits until Prompto pulls him back to his feet before spitting,
"I'm going to fucking kill you."
Prompto's face falls a little, and he resumes their dance, leading them in quick, jerky strides.
"Well...alright. But can you wait until we've at least apologized first?"
Noctis doesn't know how to respond. Prompto's eyes are glazed and watery, and Noctis only just realizes how clammy his fingers are. He's trembling slightly and shit.
He's weak to Prompto's tears. So Noctis wraps an arm back around him, and on the next turn, he takes the lead. Prompto's entire face brightens, and he holds him closer, bumping their foreheads just once. He smells like sharp cologne and steamed cotton.
And then his arms are empty again. Noctis's feet fumbles, and his knee brace locks up — and he's caught by the lower back, lifted a foot in the air and spun back into a waltz.
"God— dammit- " Noctis bites, stepping back into the dance and jutting up his chin to look Gladio in the eye. "Are you for real right now?"
Gladio smiles at him, but it’s hesitant, and doesn’t quite meet his eyes. He takes one long step, and Noctis follows with. The orchestra plays louder, grander, and there's so many people — but it's all starting to drown out into white noise. It narrows down to Gladio's finger's curled in his, long legs carrying them in extended strides.
"I don't-" Noctis bites his lip, and wraps an arm around Gladio's neck. "You guys can't do this."
"Why?" Gladio steps closer, and Noctis moves back. "Because of tradition?"
"Dancing with the King is a proclamation of love," Gladio says. He's looking right through him, eyes rich brown and completely breathtaking. The music slows, and so do they, and Gladio pets along his coattails. "Is that not what we're doing?"
Noctis stops. So does the music.
People clap and cheer. The orchestra flips their pages, and begins a new song - this time upbeat and quick, and feet clatter back onto the ballroom floor, friends and dates alike swinging into a new dance.
Noctis stares up at Gladio. Feet still, hands at his sides. Gladio looks back down at him, and waits. The room dances around them. Noctis finally finds his voice.
"Can we talk somewhere?"
The balcony overlooks downtown Insomnia. You can see city lights lights again. Streetlamps, apartment buildings; it's starting to breathe back to life.
Music echoes distant from down the hall. There's laughter and chatter, and it bounces off the tall Citadel ceilings. Noctis leans up against the railing, and looks down below the edge.
He used to take running leaps off the cliffsides. He could teleport up skyscrapers and phase between walls. Up here — he’s never felt so much like a clipped bird.
Ignis shuts the door behind him, cutting off the majority of the ballroom noise. Prompto is looking at his hands, twirling his rings. Gladio shifts his weight on his feet.
Nobody speaks, and you can feel the elephant between them. Noctis leans his back up against the railing. Ignis sighs.
"There has been a misunderstanding."
It’s not worth it. It’s not worth losing their friendship, and despite whatever the hell just happened, Noctis sees that now.
"You don't have to do this," Noctis says. "I'll apologize. We can go back to how we were."
"No we can not," Ignis snaps, surprising him upright.
“We didn’t forget,” Gladio says.
Prompto bites his lip. He scrubs his neck, and finally meets his eye, "We didn't forget about the Leville. Like, that's not even possible, dude. We — that night — it's the whole reason we're together!"
"But...so much time had passed. I thought— "
"I think I speak for all three of us when I say there's no fuckin' way I'd ever outgrow the way I feel about you," Gladio snaps. "Ten years, twenty, a hundred. I don't give a damn."
Everything stops. The music, the thumping in his chest, the blood in his ears — it all stops. It's nothing, it's an absolutely standstill. Noctis must look like a dumb friggin' fish, but all he can do is stare.
Ignis takes off his sunglasses. He opens his coat, and tucks them in the inner pocket. He swallows, "My words betray me. I don't know if it's possible to possibly express how much I love you.”
"We wanted to tell you," Prompto stammers. "Or uh, ask if you still liked us. But — but you were struggling so much after you came back and, and we just wanted to be there for you, you know?”
“Our goal was to lessen your burden, not deepen it.”
Noctis's voice is small.
"That's why I needed you.”
Prompto rubs his own arm, and stares at his feet. Gladio sets a hand at Prompto’s lower back in a silent comfort.
"It was hard to find the right way to bring it up," Gladio rubs up to Prompto’s shoulder. "And we didn’t exactly know how you felt either, bub. For all we knew, the Leville could’ve been a onetime thing to you.”
Noctis looks away, guilty. Gladio sighs.
“But this obviously wasn't the right way to go about it. So I'm sorry."
“We all are.”
They didn’t forget.
They love me.
"Fuck," Noctis looks away, squeezing his eyes shut. “You’re married.”
“We didn’t know what to do!” Prompto’s voice cracks and oh no, oh, no. “We wanted you there! We wanted you with us! But I-Ignis said your prophecy was to die, a-and we —“
Noctis grabs his hands, before Prompto can turn around and hide in them. Fuck, he’s been selfish.
“I was supposed to die,” Noctis says. “You did what I would have wanted. You moved on.”
Prompto cries. Noctis squeezes him tight in a hug. He’s strong in his arms, firm and real and shaking.
“We want you,” Gladio says. “Fuck, we always wanted you.”
He’s floating up, lightyears above this place. Noctis smiles into Prompto’s shoulder and finally, finally, that empty void in his chest — the hole that stores all those gross, horrible feelings — it swells full of peace at last. A gentle, warm sense of peace.
“I don’t know who I am anymore,” Noctis says.
Prompto pulls back, and squishes his face between his hands. He hums very long, and then sniffles, and smiles.
“Looks like Noct to me. Iggy?”
Ignis, still silent in the corner, steps forward and brushes his knuckles down his cheek. He traces under his eyes. Presses along his ears. Feels for his birthmark. Noctis shivers.
“Undoubtedly,” Ignis smiles. “I know you at any age, my love.”
Noctis feels himself smile, big and stupid. It bubbles out of him,
“How does this even work?”
“Who cares,” Gladio says, and Noctis is struck numb from the memory. He starts to laugh. And then his throat squeezes tighter and his vision gets watery and it’s easier just to throw his arms in their general direction and fall, because he knows they’ll catch him.
It rains, and it rains, and it rains. And just when you think it’ll end, it rains again.
They used to say rain symbolized the low point in the story. But not in this one.
The house smells like a storm; they open the sliding door and crack the windows, and let their home fill with the sound of rain pattering on concrete.
It’s the evening, but the clouds make it feel later than it really is. There’s just enough light from the sun to keep the lamps off, so they draw the blinds up, and let the rain be the soundtrack to their afternoon.
“I think Ramuh is happy,” Prompto says. He’s laid across Noctis’s chest, chin up, and he’s got more muscle mass, so he’s heavier than Noctis remembers. It’s perfect.
“I’m happy,” Noctis says.
“Mmm, perhaps that is why,” Ignis suggests, breath against his ear. Noctis hums.
“I don’t think so. I severed my contract with the Gods.”
“But that doesn’t mean they don’t favor you,” Gladio says. His arms are braced behind his head, and the sheets are pooled down at his waist, and wow – this is what Noctis has been missing out on. Sharing a bed so close you can’t tell which feet are your own, and staring up at a white ceiling while the world cries outside.
“I don’t miss the headaches.”
“Do you still feel…” Ignis trails off. He presses his hand flat to Noctis’s chest, fingers cool against his skin.
“Empty?” Noctis shrugs a shoulder. He plays with the flippy part of Prompto’s hair, and says, “Not right now. But it still feels like a – like a part of me is missing.”
Prompto turns, so his lips are pressed against his heart.
“Astrals?” Prompto speaks into his skin. “I don’t know if you can hear me. But thank you for giving Noct back to us.”
Lightning cracks outside. Noctis laughs.
“They heard you,” Gladio grins, and Noctis snickers,
Ignis turns, this time speaking into Noctis’s shoulder.
“Bahamut. I thank you for hearing my prayer.”
Thunder echoes. Noctis rolls his eyes, and when Gladio steals his hand out of Prompto’s hair he starts, “Oh not you too-“
“Titan,” he grins against the back of his knuckles. “Thanks for punching the shit out of that Adamantoise.”
The room breaks into a rolling laughter. Even Ignis is laughing, hand braced up against his mouth, and Noctis reaches over to smack Gladio in the arm. Gladio captures his hand instead, threading their fingers. Gladio clicks his tongue, and Ignis hums back.
“Do you think – “ Prompto starts, but cuts himself off.
“What is it?”
Prompto turns his nose towards Ignis.
“Is everything going to change?”
Ignis brushes his knuckles against Noctis’s cheek. He doesn’t hesitate to say,
“No. Not everything.”
The lightning cracks, and Noctis turns to kiss Ignis, and suddenly there’s hands in his hair. Fingers digging into his hips. A thigh between his and teeth in his neck. His heart hammers and thumps and tries with all it’s might, but Noctis inhales deep and feels – feels everything.
Ignis kisses clever. Just as mischievous and charming as Noctis remembers. He’s passionate, evertaking, and Noctis licks across that scar like a vice.
Gladio reaches for Prompto, fingers petting down his spine, Prompto meeting him in an arch and Noctis loves that, loves that Prompto turns and kisses him. Loves that Ignis pauses to listen. It’s amazing, it’s awesome, because Noctis is allowed to watch. Allowed to touch back. Allowed to shove a hand down his pants without feeling guilty.
Prompto catches him by the wrist, and grins.
“Nuh huh – that’s my job.”
“Then you suck at it,” Noctis teases.
“Oh I’m aboutta’,” Prompto beams, and rubs his hands together like he’s about to enjoy a meal, and Noctis can’t help the giggle that bubbles out of him.
“Oh, that was cute,” Gladio says, leaning over him. “Do it again.” His hair is messy, falling all out of his ponytail, and Noctis reaches up to pull on it.
“No,” Noctis huffs, and then gasps, because Prompto really wasn’t kidding. His mouth is wet and warm and his head is spinning – oh god, Ignis is making a serious chew toy out of his neck and Six, he forgot how deep Gladio kisses. Actually, no. You can’t forget something like that.
“Knew you’d be a pillow princess,” Gladio rumbles, voice grainy in his throat. Noctis pulls on his hair, and is utterly delighted in the groan he receives.
“Just you wait,” Noctis purrs. “Once I can think straight, I am going to ride you ten times better than I did in the Leville.”
Gladio inhales, breath catching, and it forges a heat into his blood.
“Well I sure hope not,” Ignis pipes. “Nobody will be thinking straight if I have anything to do with it.”
Prompto laughs from around his cock, which should ruin the mood in heindsight, but it’s actually kinda’ funny (and weirdly hot), so Noctis digs his nails into Gladio’s scalp and yanks him like a dog, and Ignis feels around until he can bite a similarly shaped hickey into Gladio’s throat – and they’re such a pretzel of arms and legs, but it’s perfect this way.
It’s different. Prompto has facial hair that burns along his inner thighs. Ignis is constantly feeling – but never fumbling, always moving and always listening. Gladio’s lips are rough and his earrings dangle and he has new scars up his arms and into his hips, and Noctis memorizes them all.
It’s different. But good.
Gladio sits back, looks at him once and curses, “Fuck me,” and for the first time in months, Noctis feels confidence in himself.
“Describe them,” Ignis demands. Noctis doesn’t know what he means – but Gladio slithers a hand up Noctis’s chest and beneath his neck, and tips his chin back, saying,
“You’ve already fucked up his neck. He’s so damn pale, it’s already turning pink.”
“Stunning,” Ignis says.
Oh. Noctis writhes.
“He still blushes in his neck,” Gladio grins. “Prom looks like a fuckin’ siren – pullin’ out all the stops, huh baby?”
Prompto pulls back huffily, and pushes back his bangs, wiping spit off his lips, “You shut up. I didn’t get to suck his dick last time.”
“I can’t believe you remember shit like that,” Noctis grinds through his teeth, thrusting up weakly when Prompto wraps a hand around him and squeezes.
“I remember this – being quite interesting.” Ignis grabs a nipple and pulls, and Noctis instantly cries out, toes curling, and he wriggles and gasps and tries so hard but –
“Holy shit,” Prompto whispers, and begins to work his hand as he comes.
“Sorry,” Noctis pants. Ignis looks utterly thrilled.
“Not a problem,” Gladio snickers, and reaches down to lick across his chest. Noctis tries to push him away, but he twitches again, and Prompto pulls him back into his mouth, just once.
“Give me a minute,” Noctis paws. “I’ll – fuck, I’ll be good in a second.”
“Perhaps you are still twenty,” Ignis mumbles, and pokes back along the stubble on his cheek. Noctis laughs weakly.
Gladio reaches up and over to the bedside table, and digs for lube, “Alright, your turn beautiful.”
“Oh, are you speaking to me?” Ignis teases.
Prompto cleans Noctis with his tongue, mouth moving up his navel and along his bellybutton – and Noctis pets into his hair, so he can meet his eye and say, “Prom, you’re amazing.”
He beams, biting his lip and flopping up and across him – and Noctis doesn’t mind the kiss, because he can still taste Prompto around the bitter in his mouth.
When the sun clears, there’s weeds growing in the front lawn. It’s a new start.
Avis says he shouldn’t bring so much work home, but Noctis doesn’t understand why. He thinks so much better on a couch instead of a desk.
Prompto is dead asleep in his lap. Noctis uses his head as a rest for his papers.
He’s sore from sparring with Gladio today – he doesn’t quite have the stamina, but he can still give Gladio a run for his money. It’s hard fighting without the power, but – not unfamiliar. It felt good to sweat.
The words are starting to blur on the page, so Noctis rubs his eyes and squints. He’s probably just tired – but who knows. Gladio got reading glasses, and Noctis just about tripped over his own foot and died. He looks way too cute in them.
Noctis sighs, and sets the report aside. It can wait until tomorrow, probably.
Ignis pauses, knife halfway through skinning a fish. “Noct?” He slides the knife the rest of the way, and then begins to wash his hands. “What are you doing?”
Noctis rubs at his forehead, “We’re trying to get the school district up and running. Our goal is the end of this year, but I think that’s still impossible. Someone is going to have to write up a complete curriculum that’ll include kids that missed school for ten years.” It’s a big ol’ headache.
“Let me look it over,” Ignis says, wiping his hands. “I’ll write you the summaries, spare you a bit of time.”
“But um…it’s a paper report…”
“Oh, I have Gladio read them to me. I record it for my own reference’s sake, but my memory is still quite accurate, if I say so myself.”
Noctis chews on his thumbnail, and then smiles, “Gladio does that for you?”
“Well, yes. It’s not like he’s up to much anyways.”
Gladio snaps from the laundry room, “I heard that!”
Ignis half-smiles, and turns to feel through the pantry.
“Thank you,” Noctis says.
“No, I-“ he swallows. “I mean it, thank you. Without you guys, I don’t know if –“ he smooths over the stack of papers, and sets them on the side table. “I don’t know if we’d even be this far.”
Gladio enters the room with a laundry basket on his hip, saying, “Nah. It feels good to give back a little. Especially after everything you’ve done for us.”
“Shut up,” Noctis waves his hand. “I’m trying to be nice.”
“Yes, perhaps we ought to mark the calendar,” Ignis teases, and Noctis rolls his eyes.
“He’s rollin’ his eyes at you,” Prompto slurs, and Noctis realizes that he’s awake, looking up at him blearily through the sleep in his eyes.
“Wow, how the tables have turned,” Noctis says, and reaches down to scratch through the stubble on his chin. Prompto loves that shit – if he had a tail, he’d wag it – but instead he leans into him and mumbles beneath his breath, arms snaking between the couch to squeeze closer.
“Babe. Help me fold this shit.” Gladio sets the basket on the loveseat. “Most of it’s yours anyways….fuck you have a lot of clothes.”
“It’s ‘cause I’m the only gay with any fashion sense around here,” Prompto mumbles. Ignis makes a very offended noise from the kitchen, and Prompto stammers, “Oh – n-not you baby. You outshine us all.”
Ignis goes mhmm, but doesn’t torture Prompto any longer. Gladio picks up an armful of laundry and dumps it on Prompto’s head, and Prompto gasps, muffled,
“You’ve only made him stronger,” Noctis says.
“Oh this is yours.” Prompto pulls the shirt off his face. “Mine now.”
Noctis yanks it out of his hand, “No way – you’re a little shirt thief.”
“Is that where my button-downs have gone?”
“You steal from a blind man?” Gladio scoffs. “What is wrong with you?”
“They fucking smell good, okay?!” Prompto snaps, but there’s humor in his voice. He presses his nose into Noctis’s stomach.
“If we’re confessing our sins…” Noctis starts, “Gladio, I never gave you back that hoodie.”
Gladio pulls a face, “Ahhh. So that’s where it went.”
“Dude!” Prompto jabs him. “I got blamed for that!”
Prompto squirms up to sit in his lap, and Noctis catches his hands before he can pretend-hit him, and Noctis laughs, threading their fingers together and taking the kiss from Prompto like a punch to the mouth.
“Do try to remain presentable for the evening. Cid and Cindy are still arriving for dinner.”
“What time is it?” Prompto squints at the kitchen clock.
“That’s totally enough time to shower,” Noctis says, and Prompto gives him that look – the oh we’re about to fuck up so much shit – look, and Noctis holds him by the waist, and Prompto mouth-punches him again.
“But the laundry,” Gladio cries.
They don’t use the firepit in the backyard. Well, not much anyways. Not ‘cause they don’t want to, but because it won’t stop raining.
Gladio keeps the firewood in the garage; so when they have a dry spell, Noctis catches him hauling wood through the house.
“What are you doing?”
He pauses, midway through the living room, wood stacked to his chin.
“Pit,” Gladio grunts, and keeps walking. Prompto follows behind with an armful of folding chairs, and Noctis starts to get the big picture.
Ignis is still at his arm, washing dishes while Noctis dries. Noctis doesn’t understand why they can’t just use the dishwasher, but ‘it’s hard on the china’, and Noctis has learned to pick his battles with Ignis.
Their backyard is a bit bare; but grass is starting to grow in odd, splotchy places, and Prompto wants to plant a garden, so they’ll probably end up doing that this weekend. It’s a nice yard though. Good for – um. Anyways.
Gladio has always been the best at building fires. He sets the wood in a log cabin style, and uses paper for kindling. The smell of a campfire brings back so many good memories – Noctis is content to pull his knees to his chest and zone out.
Fingers pet at his shoulder, and Noctis realizes that Ignis is looking for his chair.
“Right here,” Noctis says, sitting up to grab his arm.
“I’ve missed this,” Prompto says. “Our last campfire was so…”
The fire crackles between them. Gladio uses a stick to poke at the logs, and turn one of them over. Ignis reaches between the short gap of their chairs, and Noctis threads their fingers together.
Prompto sticks his feet up near the base of the firepit. Gladio huffs a laugh, “You’ll melt your soles.”
“Nah. I learned my lesson last time.”
“I remember that,” Ignis snorts. “Those were your good boots.”
“They were my only boots.”
Ignis is running his thumb along his knuckles. Noctis turns his attention away from the fire, and squeezes his fingers. He can feel the metal of the rings digging into his skin. It’s cold.
Ignis is very aware of what Noctis is doing. He pulls slightly out of his grip to feel over the scar on his middle finger. His touch is so gentle, Noctis feels extra-sensitive when Ignis threads their fingers back together.
Prompto pulls his camera from his lap, and takes a picture of Gladio. A little startled, Gladio looks up.
“There’s something about you that just –“ Prompto looks at his viewfinder. “You look like you were made to sit by a fire.”
Gladio smiles, and Noctis nods when Prompto shows him the picture.
“He’s one of the three people on Eos that look pretty in orange light.”
“Aww, stop you’ll make me shy.”
Ignis smiles, “Sure. The day Prompto awakes as seven meters tall.”
“Aw man, why you gotta’ scalp me like that?”
Gladio places a hand over his chest, “That was a double burn. Extra points.”
“I’ll cash in later.”
Gladio clicks his tongue, and Ignis smirks – and Noctis has come to learn that the clicking noise is the equivalent of blowing a kiss. Prompto takes another photo, aimed somewhere between Noctis and Ignis.
“I want to see all the pictures you took while I was gone,” Noctis says.
“Yeah. I’m sure there’s a ton.”
“There is,” Gladio says.
Prompto flushes, sliding down a little in his chair. “A-All of them?”
Noctis stares. Prompto stares back.
“Uhhhhh,” Prompto rubs his nose. “All of us?”
“You took raunchy pictures of all three of you?” Noctis scoffs. “And you didn’t show me? What kind of a bro are you?”
“They’re from our wedding night!” Prompto defends.
“Oh, now I really wanna’ see them.”
Gladio grins from ear to ear, “You’re gonna’ die when you see-“
Ignis cuts him off, sudden and loud.
"I want you to know what the third ring is for.”
A dead standstill. Complete and utter silence.
Gladio and Prompto snap to look over at him.
"Are you sure?"
"He deserves to know," says Ignis, steadfast. "I don’t want any more secrets between us.”
The fire crackles. Noctis looks over to him, and the firelight catches the rim of his glasses.
Prompto spins his ring. Gladio clenches his fingers. They hesitate.
Noctis blinks, heart rate spiking, “What?” The word secret bounces around in his mind.
Ignis pulls their intertwined hands up between them, elbows braced on the arm of Ignis’s chair. He presses their palms flat together, and Noctis can feel metal press into his skin.
"It was for you," Ignis says. He uses his thumb to spin the ring on his middle finger.
Noctis’s hand jerks away, as if burned.
He feels over his own scar, where the ring of the Lucii burned a perfectly round mark around his middle finger.
They’re staring at him. Noctis’s heart hammers like a drum, erratic and frenzied and absolutely overwhelming.
“The third ring.” Gladio holds up his own hand, and points to his ring finger. “One for Iggy. One for Prom.” He points to his middle. “One for you.”
He stares like a wide-eyed asshole. Jaw dropped, throat dry. Noctis jerks to his feet – and the three of them are stiff and tense, as if they’re prepared for Noctis to run.
Noctis takes in one shuddery breath, and then the flood gates are wide fucking open.
Noctis’s throat constricts and his eyes prick and he turns, hiding his face in the crook of his arm.
“Oh jeez — this is all wrong,” Prompto stammers, fishing in his pockets. “This isn’t how you’re supposed to propose at all.”
Noctis curls into himself and chokes. He can’t help it – everything that’s been curled in the sickly corners of his soul – it just pours right out of him. The dumbbell on his chest, the pit in his stomach - everything eats up and burns, like acid in his soul.
There’s a hand at his shoulder, and Noctis can’t look. He’s shaking and hiccuping and a total fucking mess.
“Don’t cry baby,” Gladio mumbles, arms big enough to wrap around his shoulders completely. “I can’t take it when you cry.”
Noctis curls into him. Gladio is big and sturdy and perfect to hide in.
“Are you upset?” Ignis frowns.
“N-No,” Noctis wipes his eyes. “I’m-“
He turns around just in time to see Prompto hold out three extra rings in the palm of his hand.
“Well, I guess we’re doing this now, huh?”
Noctis takes a long deep breath, opens his mouth, and cries again. Gladio’s shoulders shake with a silent laugh. Noctis hiccups,
“You g-guys are s-so lame.”
Ignis laughs beneath his breath, and stands from his chair, reaching out to cup the cheek that isn’t pressed to Gladio’s chest.
Prompto stands awkwardly, rings loose in his palm. Noctis rolls his eyes, “What, have you been carrying those this whole fuckin’ time? Give ‘em to me.”
“Maybe,” Prompto defends, but he’s shaking as he crosses over. He grabs Noctis’s hand very seriously, and slides two rings on his fourth finger, and one on his middle. Noctis should complain about it not being romantic whatsoever — but… it kind of is. Noctis studies the glimmer against the firelight.
“This is so dumb,” Noctis wipes his eyes. “I can’t marry three people.”
“Technically you can do whatever you want,” Gladio shrugs.
Ignis feels beneath his eyes, and wipes off the tear tracks.
“So is that a yes?”
Noctis curls his fist, and feels the rings press into the skin of his palm. Prompto is holding his breath. Noctis sniffs.
“Well I’m not taking them off.”
He finds Prompto in the throne room.
It's nothing but an empty hall. It's been cleaned sparkly and white, and Prompto's dark uniform stands out almost poetically.
Noctis steps behind him, and wraps his arms around and under his armpits. Prompto doesn't jump, likely having heard his boots, but he looks turns his head around a little, and then jerks to look back at the throne.
"Oh - Noct!" Prompto twists in his arms, concern on his face. "The-the throne, are you okay?"
"I'm fine." He pushes Prompto's bangs aside, so he can see his other eye. "What are you doing in here?"
"Um." Prompto sets his hands on his arms. "I dunno'. Just thinking."
"You," Prompto shrugs. "Us, I guess." Noctis hums, and licks his thumb to rub some of the dirt off his jaw - an obvious sign of training newbies out in the courtyard. He hasn't shaved, so he's a little fuzzy, but Noctis likes it. Prompto lets out a sigh, and runs his hands up to his shoulders. "I want to protect you."
Noctis snorts, "Is there something I should be protected from?"
Prompto's face goes strangely serious. His hands arrive at his neck, and cup either side. "You have so much responsibility that- I can't even comprehend it. I don't want you to carry that weight alone."
Fuck, shot through the heart. Noctis cups the back of his head and leans down, turning his nose to brush their lips together. They feel especially small standing on the throne steps, but it doesn't feel as threatening as it did before. Prompto moves his lips, kissing back, and he opens his eyes when the kiss breaks.
"When I was a kid, my dad said a King doesn't rule alone." Noctis pulls away to look him in the eye, "Truth is, I don't think I've ever achieved anything on my own." Prompto makes a noise of disagreement, but Noctis talks over him, "I've always had people there for me, that's the only reason I can still stand here." Noctis looks up at the throne. Prompto lets out a breath, and hugs him tight.
"I want us to stay together forever."
"Well, you know what they say. Till death do us part-"
"-and let us meet again in the next," Prompto finishes, muffled in his shoulder. He squeezes harder, and his hands slip up and under Noctis's uniform.
Noctis huffs, "Fuck - your hands are cold."
"Hey, do you think we could try out that new taco joint tonight?"
"There's a new taco joint?"
"Yeah! Right on sixth."
"Well you'd have to convince Iggy first."
Prompto slips an arm back around his waist, and starts to walk them down the stairs. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and holds it to his mouth, hitting the bottom button and sending a voice memo -
"Hey Iggy can we get tacos please please please please ."
When they reach the bottom step, his phone dings,
"One more 'please', and perhaps I'll consider it - " and in the last moment, there's a distant, cut off shout of "TACOS?!" from Gladio. Noctis and Prompto look to each other and laugh.
The air feels good out here. It's fresh and rich, and if you're lucky, sometimes you'll see a bird scoop into the water, and pluck a fish right out of the lake.
It's nice to see things growing again. Dead trees still lay crumpled and broken, but new ones sprout like a phoenix from the ashes, and that's the cool part about nature, huh? They're not very tall - only a couple year's worth of solid rain and sun has let them grow - but it shows that they're moving in the right direction.
They had to rebuild the dock, but it's way nicer now. It extends further out on the lake, and it lets him catch the fish that don't come so close to shore. His feet dangle over the edge, but he's not the only one. Gladio has been with him the whole time, book in hand, only looking up to cheer on an especially big catch.
Noctis breathes in one more time, and leans up against Gladio's side. Gladio doesn't look up, but he reaches an arm back around his shoulders, and flips his page with the flick of his wrist. Noctis laughs.
There's distant arguing coming from the tent behind them.
"I don't need it!"
"I will not be the maiden at your bedside when you burn again."
"I went ten years without sunscreen!"
"That is because there was NO SUN."
Gladio turns his head and snickers, and Noctis fights a smile.
There's loud shuffling, like someone falling into the tent-wall, and Prompto's screams scare off a flock of birds perched on the baby trees.
Prompto comes out a few moments later, shoulders slouched and smelling like Banana Boat, and Noctis snorts, patting the spot next to him.
"He got me too, don't worry."
Prompto huffs, sitting criss-cross so his right knee is half in his lap. He rubs some of the sunscreen into his arm, and peers back into his bucket.
"Catch anything good?"
"That ought to go well with the brown sugar we purchased in Burbost," Ignis says, settling down on Prompto's other side. Prompto shuffles closer to Noctis, breathing huffily, and Ignis catches him by the chin, turning his head. Ignis hums, "Don't pout. I'm only trying to protect you."
"I know," Prompto says, and pulls his hand away by the wrist, pecking the corner of his mouth. Ignis's eye closes happily.
There's a tug on the line, so Noctis begins to slowly reel - partway through he realizes it's a fluke, and reels the line the rest of the way to recast. Gladio looks up, and then down at his hand.
"Hey, where's the bling?"
Noctis taps his chest, where he's placed the three rings on a chain around his neck. "I don't wear 'em while I fish. Made that mistake once."
Prompto starts to fuckin' holler — and Noctis doesn't find it that funny. He very vividly remembers catching a fish, and that asshole chomping down around his finger and wiggling back in the ocean.
"What did you say again?" Prompto wipes his eyes, giggling.
"He jumped off the dock and shouted give it back you bastard," Ignis says. Prompto starts to wheeze all over again.
"I ate the fuck out of that fish," Noctis huffs. "Golddigging motherfucker."
Gladio's laugh bubbles out of him, eyes still trained on his book, but smiling anyways. Prompto breathes in and out through his nose, trying to calm his breathing. He closes his eyes and leans back on his hands, basking in the sun.
"We have to go back tomorrow."
Yeah. "I'm okay with it."
Noctis has done nothing but fish and hunt and play games in their four-man tent, and they'll return to a squishy bed and a hot shower and even more late night games, so it's not so bad. For once, he's eager to return to work. The water ripples as Noctis pulls the lure out of the water, and recasts.
Prompto looks over to him and smiles. He reaches up and fusses with the back of his hair, "You look so cute in a ponytail." It's just a little nubby bun, but still. Noctis feels flattered.
"Iggy did it for me."
"Where was I?"
"Dead to the world," Gladio says. Prompto huffs.
"Not my fault, someone blew out my back last night."
"You asked for it."
"Did that sound like a complaint? I wasn't complaining."
Noctis pulls his leg up on the dock, and rests his arm on his knee. It doesn't ache much anymore; it's kind of amazing what listening to an actual doctor will do. Hm.
Ignis rubs his hand up and into Prompto's shoulder, thumb working at a knot of muscle, and Prompto sags into him, and Gladio turns a page in his book, and it's good. Noctis can see his reflection in the water, a mirror image of his own face, and it no longer makes him sick. It's just — him.
Something magma-hot twists in his stomach. It's a sharp spike to the gut, and it almost startles him. Noctis's arms raise in goosebumps, and he feels a presence flick at the back of his mind, slithery and encompassing and familiar.