Chapter 1: First Hunt
Noctis pulled the hood on his jacket tighter as they entered the neon-lit arcade.
Inside, the room was closer and more crowded than the spaces Noctis was used to, and smelled of humans. The arcade had mirrors at intervals around the periphery, in corners and on columns between some of the game machines -- probably to make the space look bigger. It was inconvenient, yeah, but -- who was likely to notice? The whole place was too crowded and distracting.
Noctis walked down the aisles, purposefully ignoring all the humans around him -- trying not to focus on how they smelled , on the susurration of their blood flowing inside, on how thirsty he was.
He licked his fangs.
It was Gladio, behind him. Noctis didn’t pause; he kept threading through the crowd, searching. He wasn’t even sure what he was searching for, really. This was his first hunt. Up till now, he’d relied on his father’s donors back at the Clan, but he was sixteen now; he needed to learn how to hunt .
But this was also an arcade, full of cabinets for games he’d never played before, and he wasn’t going to let the opportunity slip away.
His eyes landed on a particularly garish-looking robot zombie shooter with a title he thought he recognized, and his heart leapt. He’d seen the Gamer’s Den Discord talking about this one; everyone was yelling about it. He pulled out some coins and popped them in to get the game started.
“Noct,” Gladio said, more insistently.
Noctis wished Gladio would shut up. Like Ignis. Lingering in Gladio’s wake, Ignis was silently watching the crowd, rather than being annoying. This was Noctis’s hunt, and he’d hunt however he damn well pleased.
The game started. Robot zombies lurched towards him, and he handled the controls with intuitive ease, mowing through the digital adversaries one after another, as they came faster and faster.
He felt a presence at his elbow, but he didn’t let it distract him until Gladio whispered, “This isn’t usually how we hunt, Noct.”
“I know, I know,” Noctis said, waving a hand. “I just… I don’t have this one, and they’re talking about it on the fan channels.”
“Your dad only lets you have internet access because he feels bad for you,” Gladio said. “If it’s gonna give you weird ideas about what you need, then maybe you should stay off it.”
The low-level irritation Noctis was feeling flared. “Shut up, Gladio,” he said. But then a jerky robot zombie lunged towards the screen and blood splattered across an embossed “Game Over” in garish yellow lettering. Noctis’s throat ached with thirst, but he ignored it. Instead, he groaned and pushed away from the console.
“We aren’t here to play games, Princess,” Gladio said. “And this place has too many mirrors. Someone’s bound to notice. Why you couldn’t just head to the park like your dad suggested--”
“Because it’s boring,” Noctis cut in. “I’ve hunted the park before with the Clan and… the lowlifes we find there don’t taste any good.” He made an exaggerated expression of disgust.
“Close your mouth,” Gladio hissed. “We aren’t safe here.”
“Gladio’s right,” Ignis said, breaking his silence at last. “The crowd here makes it harder to be discreet. Please, Noct.”
“Whatever,” Noctis said, and whirled away from them. Against their advice, he headed deeper into the arcade. He skirted past the mirrors as quickly as he could, and took a deep breath, scenting the air. He searched the faces of the humans around him and wondered idly what his dad looked for when he fed.
“Hurry it up, Noct; we haven’t got all night,” Gladio growled.
Noctis smothered his impulse to snap back. Gladio was right, after all… by the rules of the Clan, Noctis couldn’t fill up on one victim. That would risk them dying, and that would draw the attention of Hunters. But “sipping”, as they called it, meant finding more than one prey. And the negotiations took time, even if he used glamour. He had to find his first prey soon, so he could move on to the next.
He rounded a corner and suddenly one scent stood out among the others: a sweetness that rose above the other blood scents and overwhelmed his sinuses. His throat tightened and his stomach protested. He inhaled deeply, his nostrils flaring. Where was it coming from…? He pressed forward through the crowd. He’d never smelled anyone this delicious before; not among his father’s donors, not on the street, not even second-hand on the other Clan-members, when they’d returned from hunts. His mouth watered in anticipation. He had his quarry now. Whoever this was, he’d have them.
He took another corner, following the scent… and there, at the end of the row, a boy with a shock of blond hair worked a first-person shooter like he owned it.
Behind him, Gladio sighed in frustration. “Noct, if you’re going to hunt, hunt. If not, we’re taking you home and you can use your dad’s donors to--”
“No,” Noctis interjected, and pointed at the blond boy. “Him,” Noctis said. “I want him.”
He started down the aisle, only to be stopped cold by Gladio’s hand on his shoulder.
“Noct, wait,” Gladio said.
“What?” Noctis said, trying to shake Gladio’s hand away. “He’s the best thing in this whole place. You can smell him, can’t you?”
“Sure can,” Gladio said, “and he smells like trouble. No one smells that good, Noct. I think he might be bait.”
Gladio pulled him back to Ignis. “I’m not saying ‘ no’,” he said. “Just… keep your eyes open and watch for a bit before jumping in there. Gotta make sure he’s not trying to lure us in.”
“Lure us? You mean… like a Hunter?”
“Keep your voice down.” Gladio glanced around them. His shoulders were tense, and he scowled in the boy’s direction, the muscles of his jaw shifting as he clenched his teeth. Noctis was a little gratified to see that Gladio wasn’t immune to the blond’s alluring scent.
“We’ve never seen bait in Insomnia,” Ignis said, “But it’s not unheard of.”
“How come I’ve never heard of it?” Noctis mumbled
“Your father probably thought he didn’t need to tell you.”
Noctis grit his teeth. Every breath filled him with the boy’s scent, and it took all of his willpower not to attack him outright and drain him on the spot. The impulse frightened him. Ignis must have noticed, because he put a hand on Noct’s arm. Noctis looked up and saw the caution in Ignis's green eyes -- green tinged at the edges with the red of hunger.
Noctis's own eyes must be blazing.
Noctis gave a shaky nod to acknowledge Ignis's caution. He picked a machine down the row from the blond boy and inserted a crown. Noctis was too distracted to play well. He lost several times, and was so focused on the delicious smell that he only reacted enough to stick another crown in the slot to start again.
When the blond boy finished his run (the machine rang with a shrill “High Score” noise), Noctis walked away from his own machine without finishing his level, and followed the boy around the corner, just far enough back to see where he was going without being noticed. He felt Gladio and Ignis shadowing him.
The boy jogged over to a man and patted him on the arm. The man -- tall, and wearing a leather jacket -- turned and gave a broad, relaxed smile. In spite of that, Noctis stiffened. This man didn’t fit in here. There was something about the way he held himself… Noctis started to step forward--
Gladio abruptly swore and pulled him out of the aisle between two other machines.
“What the hell, Gladio!” Noctis hissed.
“Didn’t you see who that was?” Gladio said, leaning around the console to watch, warily. “That was Cor.”
“Cor?” Noctis asked. “Cor the Immortal, the vampire hunter ? What’s he doing in an arcade?”
“Who knows?” Gladio said, watching over his shoulder. “But it looks like our bait is pretty chummy with him.”
Ignis pushed his glasses up and leaned around Gladio to peer at the pair. Noctis peeked around Gladio’s arm. The boy was chatting excitedly, and Cor grinned and ruffled his hair and then gestured for him to follow. Cor led the boy away. But even with Cor’s casual behavior, there was a stiffness to his posture, and alertness to his face. From the way he eyed the shadows as he went, it was clear that he was hunting, too.
“Sorry, Noct,” Gladio said, “But I’m calling this one. You ain’t going up against kin of Cor the Immortal.”
“But he smelled so good.” Noct pouted. Every nerve strained to follow where the boy went.
“That’s exactly the problem,” Gladio said. “We don’t know where they’re coming from, but these humans are showing up -- so enticing that we can’t resist ‘em. Dad thinks they’re coming in from Niflheim. Hunters are using ‘em to draw us out. Your dad would have my hide if I let you get you entangled in that.”
And that was that. Gladio put a hand in his arm and guided him away -- out of the arcade, and away from Cor the Immortal, Vampire Hunter.
Noctis was furious, but he knew that however much he pouted, Gladio wasn't going to give in on this. It wasn't worth the fight. He followed Gladio to the front of the arcade and out into the dark, and left the enticing scent of the “bait” behind him.
Noct’s desire to hunt had completely soured, but he was still beyond thirsty, so Ignis and Gladio took him to the boarding house where the donors stayed. Noctis drank his fill from the packed blood in the donor banks. It was very clinical and not at all what he expected from his first hunt, but he didn’t have the heart to draw blood from a person now, and wasn't up to talking to anyone. Not after this evening.
Once he was full, of course Ignis and Gladio insisted on dragging him in front of his dad, where he had to explain everything that had happened.
Regis was in his receiving room -- set up almost like a throne room, because as head of the Lucis Caelum Clan, he was something similar to a king. The issues he had to handle, to tread the delicate balance of predators coexisting with their prey, could easily be compared to the politics of human nations.
Noctis supposed that in some sense that made him a prince.
Noctis didn’t want to talk to his dad. The disappointment of his first hunt ending at the donor banks made him surly… but he swallowed it as well as he could. Flanked on each side by Gladio and Ignis, Noctis told his father everything -- down to the impossibly delectable smell of the blond boy. “I’ve never smelled anything like it,” Noctis said. “It was so… just so delicious-smelling; I was a little afraid I’d just drain him on the spot.”
In his periphery, Ignis shifted uncomfortably. Noctis glanced up at his father’s face… and stiffened. The king’s expression was pale, and more than concerned -- he looked shocked. “Noctis… is this true?”
Regis’ eyes shifted to Gladio. “And you’re sure it was Cor?”
“No mistaking ‘im,” Gladio said.
“It couldn’t have been anyone else,” Ignis added.
Regis sighed heavily. “You did the right thing, son,” he said at last. “Thank you for coming to me. For the time being… please stay in the Lair until we can figure out what’s going on.”
“Vampire Hunter Cor Leonis is called the Immortal for a reason,” Regis interrupted. “We need to find out why he’s hunting here in Insomnia. And until we know -- or until he leaves -- I want to keep you as far away from him as possible. Please, Noctis. For your own safety.”
Noctis bristled. He wasn’t a child anymore. But he couldn’t argue with his father. Not here. “Sure, whatever,” he said. He ignored Gladio’s shifting and Ignis’s sharp inhale. They could be uncomfortable if they wanted -- and he’d probably get a good chewing out from them both about being rude, but he didn’t care. He turned on his heel and stormed out.
It didn’t matter that he knew his father just wanted what was best for him -- and honestly, after seeing Cor’s dangerous grace in person, Noctis was sure he had good reason to be wary of the hunter, if not afraid. It still rankled to be grounded like a kid. He stomped down the hallway, his every step on the tile floor echoing satisfactorily.
He heard two sets of footsteps rushing to catch up with him. He was ready to snap at them.
Ignis spoke first. “Noct--”
“Leave me alone, Specs.”
“I said leave me alone.”
Noctis broke into a jog, and quickly left his retainers behind. He found his chambers and slammed the door. Then he launched himself on his bed and just lay there. After some minutes, he wrapped a blanket around himself and curled into a ball.
It was the middle of the night. There was nothing to do in the whole Lair -- it was boring. He wanted to go back to the arcade. He wanted to redo this whole evening. He wanted to actually hunt, not feed from the plastic pouches in the donor bank. He wanted…
He wanted to find that blond boy. He wanted to smell him again.
And despite his mind telling him that it was a terrible idea, he started making plans.
Chapter 2: The Pursuit
Noctis goes hunting, and makes a lot of bad decisions.
Getting out was a pretty simple matter.
Noctis was a pureblood -- a vampire by birth -- and he'd learned as a child how to meld with shadow. He'd never used it before to get out of the Lair, and so his dad had never felt the need to make a hard rule against it. It was just understood. A small part of him felt a little guilty about betraying his father's trust.
But not guilty enough to stop.
He switched on his bedside lamp. The hard shadow his dresser cast overlapped the shadow of the crack under the door. Noctis smiled. That would do nicely. He slipped a hand into the shadow, and tugged himself in. He waited out the brief disorientation from dissolving into darkness, and then slipped under the door.
After that it was a simple matter of tracing cracks and corners and, carefully, people’s own cast shadows until he found the door to the Lair and made his way out into the shadowy streets. The deep dark made travel much easier, and Noctis slipped from street to street, from eave to doorstep, until he found the arcade again. He reincorporated himself in the service alley behind the building, and entered through a side door. He wanted to stay inconspicuous.
It was late, and the crowd had thinned significantly. Noctis breathed in. The blond boy’s scent still rose above all the other smells, but it was faded. He was gone. Disappointment tugged at Noct’s heart, even though he’d known this was likely. His discussion with his father and the subsequent fallout had taken the better part of an hour. All the same, Noctis had hoped.
At the very least, he could put his little rebellion to good use. He wasn’t sure how much time he’d have before he was missed. He threaded through the arcade, tracing the layers of scents, and found each machine the boy had played. They were scattered throughout the arcade -- a wide variety of games, and most of them the type of game Noctis liked. The top score on each of the consoles was “PAL”. That might be a coincidence. The delicious scent was a better indicator.
Noctis might not be able to find him tonight, but maybe this would help get his attention. Noctis smiled. The hunt was on. He’d have to play a long game, but he hoped it would be worth it in the end. He plugged some crowns into the machine and started.
Noctis lost track of time. The waning moon was high in the sky when Gladio showed up. Noctis knew he was in trouble, but he didn’t care. He’d managed to get “NLC” on the leaderboard of five of the machines the blonde boy had played, and that was a worthy beginning. His satisfaction was enough to weather Gladio’s ire.
Gladio insisted on flying back to the Lair. Walking was too risky, he said, and travel by shadow made it too easy for Noctis to slip away again. Noctis didn’t like his bat form, but he didn’t really have a choice. He was in enough trouble as it was.
Once they were through the gates of the Lair and transformed back, Gladio laid into him. He wasn’t quiet about it, either, and everyone they passed in the hallways stopped and stared as they walked past.
When Gladio got done ranting at him for leaving without telling anyone and ignoring his dad’s orders to stay indoors until they knew what Cor was up to, he finally asked Noctis why. Gladio didn’t like his explanation.
“I just… thought this might be a fun way to lure that kid in,” Noctis said.
“You think this is a game?”
“Of course not! I just--”
“Look, I know you’re bummed about having to call your first hunt short, Noct, but don’t be an idiot.”
Noctis bristled. “I’m not,” he said. “I just--”
“Don’t make me come find you again. Your dad is not going to be happy about you running away.”
“If you came with me, I wouldn’t be running away.”
Gladio raised his hands. “No, Noct. Absolutely not. I am not enabling this.”
“You wouldn’t be enabling anything.”
“You can just wait long enough for the scouts to find out what the hell is going on with this hunter, and in the meantime you can chill.”
There was nothing remotely chill about staying in his room or anywhere in the Lair all night. But Noctis could tell he wouldn't win this fight. He didn’t say anything else, and when Gladio led him to his room, he went inside without complaint. He knew Gladio didn’t believe a word of his promise to stay put, but it didn’t matter too much… he’d just have to be more careful next time.
Noctis waited some nights before he escaped again. Gladio had (naturally) reported to his dad, and Noctis was pretty sure the shadows would be watched now. Rather than risk getting caught traveling by shadow from his room, he transformed and flew through the hallways as near the ceiling as he dared, hoping no one would recognize him as a bat. (That was a long shot. He had yet to outgrow his grey fluff, and there really weren’t very many young vampires in the Clan.) Still, he made it to one of the Lair’s less-used exits, and then slipped into a shadow there and out into the night.
Noctis made it to the arcade much more quickly; the paths were more familiar this time. He wove through the crowd to the consoles he’d traced before and found that the boy’s scent hadn’t completely faded, which meant he’d come back. A regular visitor, maybe. Noctis checked the games he’d made leaderboard on, and moved on to some games he’d missed last time. He managed to leaderboard four more -- one he even managed to top! -- before he decided that he needed to head back. He didn’t want to be missed.
He hurried back to the Lair, and had pulled out a stack of his comic collection as though he’d been there reading all along when his dad showed up to invite him to the donor bank. Noct managed to accept with enough glum disinterest to hide the thrill of excitement. He’d gotten away with it this time, and he’d made it back okay! He could totally do this.
A week and a half after his aborted first hunt, Noctis snuck out again. He used the bat/shadow method again, since he’d managed to get away with it last time. This time, it was a little earlier in the evening, and the arcade was much more crowded.
This time the blonde boy’s scent was much stronger. He’d been here recently -- today, even, maybe. Noctis traced all the machines he’d visited and it seemed to be the same set as before. There were even more “PAL”s on the leaderboards, too. That made it much more likely that PAL was his mark.
Noctis made a visit to all the machines this time. He was getting used to the games, so it was getting easier to get on the leaderboards. Once he’d made the rounds, though, he started feeling anxious. The longer he was away, the more likely it was that someone would notice he was gone. He sped back to the Lair and was just pulling out his 3DS when he heard a knock at the door.
It was Ignis. Noctis quickly opened the door for him, and he entered with a look of concern. “Hey, Specs,” Noctis said with an air of boredom.
“Your father was looking for you earlier,” Ignis said, his voice sharp with worry. “Where have you been? He’s asking for you around the Lair right now.”
Noct’s stomach dropped. Missing a visit from his dad was a mistake. He’d have to be on his best behavior for a while. “I was just wandering around,” Noctis said, sidestepping the lie. “What’d he want?”
“He wanted to talk to you about trying your first hunt again,” Ignis said, but concern didn’t leave his face.
Noctis brightened. “He did?”
“The Vampire Hunter hasn’t been targeting the Lair, it seems. He looks to be focusing on the unaffiliated rogues. He may not even know there’s a Clan here.”
“That’s a good thing, right?”
“It is -- so long as we’re cautious. Which we already are, as a matter of course.”
“Naturally,” Noctis said, his mind whirling. If his dad’s rules were relaxed, it might make things easier. But he’d have to play things carefully.
“I’ll let your father know I talked to you,” Ignis said. “Will you be joining him at the donor bank?
“I dunno,” Noct said. He wasn’t terribly hungry; he’d been past the banks for a snack before he’d snuck out.
“He may ask you to,” Ignis said. “I think he had something he wished to speak to you about.”
If Noct’s dad wanted to talk , it was better to let him than to make him wait. Ignis left him there to noodle around on his 3DS.
His father did indeed come by his rooms -- and stayed, even when Noctis declined an invitation to dine. “Son,” he said. “I know the restrictions are irritating to you, but I hope you can see why they’re necessary.”
Noctis shrugged and tried to look upset rather than guilty. “’S fine,” he said.
“It’s not, and I know it feels unfair to you,” his father countered. “But Cor’s reputation is well-earned, and it is crucial that we do all in our power to keep the Clan from attracting his attention.”
“I know, Dad,” Noctis said, staring at the floor.
There was a moment of awkward silence, and then his dad took his leave to head to the donor barracks. He offered to take Noctis with him, but Noctis declined. The sooner his dad left, the sooner he could try again.
He didn’t try again right away. The next couple days were busy. His dad gave him some lessons in negotiations and politics. Not that he was likely to need them; his dad had led the Lucis Caelum vampires for well over a century, and even though Noct himself was quite young, Regis was pretty young for a clan leader, as well -- and would be hopefully around long enough that Noctis would never have to worry about leading the Clan himself. But Regis insisted that he know what to do, just in case.
Vampires might be the immortal undead, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t be killed.
By the time Noctis had a free night again, it had been another week. He just hoped “PAL” was still hanging out at the same arcade.
The Clan had been carefully watching Cor’s movements since they’d discovered his presence in Insomnia. Anyone leaving the Lair was urged to be cautious, and great care was taken not to draw notice to their activities. Cor appeared to be confining his movements to the slums and darker parts of town where rogues were known to frequent. The Clan was actually quite in favor of him targeting the rogues; they were as troublesome to the Clan as they were to the human population. The fear they fomented made finding willing donors more difficult.
The night Noctis decided to try again, Gladio and Ignis were with Regis and Clarus, being mentored on the ins and outs of donor recruitment (Noctis wouldn’t be in on those particulars until he turned 17, a sort of coming-of-age for a young vampire-born) and that meant Noctis was left to himself. He was still not supposed to go out alone. His first official hunt would be in a week (he thought), and he was supposed to be satisfied with that. But his ongoing actual hunt… he wouldn’t know the results until he finally found the blond boy again and got to talk to him.
But because of the Clan's relaxed attitude about Cor, there wasn’t as much vigilance at making sure Noctis was staying put. He’d behaved himself (for the most part) and it had paid off.
Noctis made sure to feed well at the donor banks before he snuck away, so he wouldn't be in any danger of losing control. Then he traveled the shadows to the arcade again.
It was early enough in the evening that there was a good crowd. He took a deep breath… the scent he was looking for was faint. The boy must not have been by in a while. Noctis tracked to the machines that he had been focusing on. On the first two consoles, he’d been bumped off the leaderboards. (He hadn’t been very high to begin with.) He got himself back on those two, and then moved on. He was in the middle of working on the next one when a wave of scent hit him.
His avatar nearly died, and he jerked at the joystick, only surviving by a fluke. He kept playing, but it was a struggle. He tried to ignore the scent. He tried and tried and tried, but it was so distracting that he finally fizzled and died. He’d somehow managed to get just far enough that he made the bottom of the leaderboard. In a haze, he typed in his initials.
“Oh hey! You’re NLC!”
The voice right behind him made him jump. He whirled… it was the blond boy. Noctis was completely stunned for a moment -- but only a moment. He smiled. “Yeah, that’s me. Noctis.”
“Prompto!” His smile was blinding. “I, ah, started seeing your initials on all the games and got curious. You new here?”
“I only just found this place a little bit ago.”
“Cool! From the looks of things, we like a lot of the same games!”
Noctis worked really hard not to smirk. “Which one are you? You PAL?”
Prompto grinned and jabbed a thumb at his chest. “Prompto Argentum Leonis; that’s me!”
“Leonis?” Noctis said weakly. He had to school his face to keep the surprise off it. No one had ever said that Cor had a son. “The vampire hunter?” Because that was common knowledge, even to humans.
“He’s my adopted dad.”
“That’s so cool,” Noctis said, while panicking inside. This was a mistake. A bad, bad mistake. He should stop right now; he should just walk away. But just as he’d steeled himself to do it, Prompto’s face brightened.
“You play King’s Knight?” he said.
Noctis blinked. “Yeah. Yeah, I do.”
Prompto was already pulling out his phone. “Gimme your code!”
Noctis pulled out his phone and they exchanged codes. Prompto thumbed at his phone till he got to Noct’s profile. Then his eyes widened.
“Woooow,” he breathed. “You’re, like, twenty levels ahead of me.”
Noctis couldn’t help a smug smile again. “I… may have a little too much free time.”
“Maybe you can help me get through that one boss in level--”
“Prompto?” called a voice from a couple aisles away. Cor. Noctis shivered, but Prompto didn’t notice.
“Shoot, I gotta run,” Prompto said, and slipped his phone into his pocket. “Hey -- hand me your phone!”
Noctis did. His phone was innocuous enough; he wasn’t allowed to put anything on it that would risk the safety of the Clan, in case he lost it or someone peeked at it over his shoulder. Prompto took it, poked the message app, and swiped at it then handed it back, while his own phone chimed in his pocket. He smiled at Noctis. “Just in case you wanna message me. Let me know the next time you come; we can meet up again!”
“Sure thing!” Noctis said, and like that, Prompto was gone. Noctis looked down at his phone screen, where the message app was open. The message Prompto had sent to “PAL” read “See you soon!”
Chapter 3: Waiting for Wednesday
Prompto is looking forward to getting to know his new friend...!
It's a Prompto POV chapter! And a closer look at Dad!Cor! (I have a real weakness for Dad!Cor, I cannot deny...!)
But before the chapter... there's fan art! Selene Darkbloom made this ABSOLUTELY ADORABLE drawing of bat!Noctis from Chapter 2!! That little rule-breaking, bad-decision-making scamp! Thank you soooo much! (I can't stop grinning at him!)
Cor’s voice called again, and Prompto skirted between two consoles to find his adopted dad. His heart was light. Noctis (Mr. “NLC”) was playing all the same games Prompto loved. He was friendly. And relaxed, chill, and just cool. And open to being friends.
Which was a Big Deal. Prompto had arrived in Insomnia with Cor a full month ago, and Prompto had yet to meet anyone his own age. Cor insisted that would change once school started, but for now…
For now, it was a lot of late nights, helping Cor with his work. Cor let him carry his equipment on his hunts, glad to have another pair of eyes. He'd been helping Cor ever since he was old enough to aim a gun. He was more than willing to help where he could; Cor the Vampire Hunter had saved his life, back before he could remember. And Prompto was proud to be able to help. Every hunt he’d been on, they’d managed to find and take out at least one bloodsucker. Cor called him his lucky charm.
But Cor could never replace actual friends. Prompto slipped his phone from his pocket and smiled at the “See you soon!” message from “NLC”. Then he worked his way through the crowd to where Cor waited for him.
“Time to go,” Cor said. There was an edge in his tone that meant Prompto wasn’t going to talk him out of it.
“But we just got here,” Prompto said, though he knew Cor wasn’t going to be swayed. “Why?”
Cor scanned the room, his face tight. “Something’s not right. Can’t put my finger on it, but… I think we’d better not stick around.”
“Is this like that one night where you said we needed to leave?” Prompto asked. When they’d come a couple weeks ago, they’d only been at the arcade for half an hour before Cor had decided they needed to go.
Cor hummed in answer, and Prompto knew that was all the answer he’d get. They threaded their way out of the arcade and into the night.
Truth be told, since they’d arrived in Insomnia and Cor had started reaching out to the community, they hadn’t found a lot of vampires in the city. Their services weren’t called for often. That should be a good thing, Prompto thought… but it seemed to make Cor nervous.
“Large cities should have a lot of vampires,” he’d explained once. “You don’t get a large population without a dark underbelly.”
That was one of the things that had brought them to Insomnia in the first place. Cor was determined to prevent Lucis from becoming like Niflheim, in thrall to large covens of bloodsuckers. The only way to do that, according to Cor, was to eliminate as many vampires as they could. They’d found a handful, but not nearly as many as Cor had expected. Certainly not as many as they’d encountered in Lestallum. Or Gralea before that.
Tonight was not a night for hunting, though. They weren’t prepared for it.
Cor headed straight to their apartment, taking the most-lit streets. He didn’t relax until they made it inside, and then he locked the door and flipped all the bolts. He checked the rope of garlic hanging above the door frame (it was intact; Prompto could have told him that) and turned on all the lights. Cor let Prompto have some ice cream and then sent him to bed.
Prompto had changed and was brushing his teeth when his phone pinged. He glanced at it.
NLC [9:45pm] >> When you coming back to the arcade?
‘Aw yes!’ Prompto thought, and spit into the sink. He rinsed his mouth and then typed out a quick “not sure yet but maybe next Wednesday?” Wednesdays were usually pretty free, unless Cor got a last-minute call.
He only waited a few minutes before his phone pinged again.
[9:53pm] >> okay. I’ll plan on Wed unless i hear otherwise
NLC [9:53pm] >> see u then
Prompto felt a little thrill. He was going to meet up with a new friend! This was gonna be a good beginning!
Wednesday couldn’t come soon enough, Prompto thought as he hid behind a dumpster Tuesday night, arms over his head. The pair of vampires had jumped them while he and Cor passed an alley on the way to get dinner. Without their hunting equipment, Prompto had to rely on Cor.
These two vampires looked particularly scruffy. They’d gone straight for Prompto almost before Cor had noticed them. Cor had pushed Prompto out of the way. It was all over pretty quickly, and as soon as the sounds of their struggle faded, Prompto peeked out.
One of the vampires lay prone on the ground with a stake through its heart. Its companion was backed against the alley wall, and it glared at Cor with something like fear.
If they could feel fear; Prompto wasn’t sure. Prompto was sure that he could feel fear. He was sure that he’d see the vampires’ crazed faces behind his closed eyes for a long time. But Cor had things well in hand now. And Prompto was only hiding because he didn’t have his guns.
Cor could probably take these thugs down with his bare hands, but he always kept some vampire-hunting essentials on him at all times. It paid to be prepared. He wasn’t called the Immortal for nothing.
Cor lunged and Prompto hid his face. There was a sickening squelchy sound, and then silence, until Prompto heard Cor’s quiet “You okay, Prompto?”
“Yeah,” Prompto said. He opened his eyes to see Cor’s hand, open for him. He grabbed it and Cor pulled him up.
“I’m sorry, kid,” Cor said. “I should have been paying more attention.”
“Hey, we’re okay, right?” Prompto said, trying to keep the tremor out of his voice. “It’s good.”
Cor’s mouth quirked and he made a little “hmph.”
They made it to dinner without further incident -- but Cor hailed a cab for the ride home. “I think I’m ready to have the rest of the night off; aren’t you?” he said by way of explanation, as he ruffled Prompto’s hair.
Prompto wasn’t going to argue.
It was like this, often. If he went anywhere with Cor at night, they were targets. It’s like the vampires knew how to find them. Prompto was pretty sure most people didn’t have this problem. Some nights, it didn’t even matter if they kept to the safe streets; they would still draw a bloodsucker or two out of the shadows. It was one of the reasons Cor always carried vampire-killing gear on him. But Prompto wouldn’t mind having just one ordinary night out and not have to worry about things attacking them in the dark.
Wednesday dawned bright and sunny -- and almost first thing, Prompto texted Noctis to find out what time they could meet. Then he waited. Well, he didn’t exactly just wait. He went for a morning run; showered away the sweat; had a good, healthy breakfast; did some chores around the house with Cor; logged into King’s Knight to get his daily bonuses (he checked his friend list; Noctis had last been active at some weird time in the middle of the night); and then… it was nearly lunch time. And he still hadn’t heard from Noctis.
‘Maybe he likes to sleep in,’ he told himself, and occupied himself by getting a good lunch.
It was nearly 4pm and he was beginning to despair before he got a ping on his phone.
[3:47pm] >> sry
NLC [3:47pm] >> only just saw ur msg
NLC [3:48pm] >> is 8 okay?
8 pm… just after sundown. That made Prompto a little hesitant. Cor didn’t want him going out alone after dark. But maybe Cor would be okay with it this time. Maybe he could get Cor to drop him off, since he’d be in a crowded arcade with a friend. And Cor could pick him up later.
Now to broach the subject.
Cor was at his computer in a corner of their living room, scanning news reports. He’d told Prompto once that only a small fraction of vampire activity made the front page. The rest would be deeper in, and you had to know what to look for.
“Hey, ah, Cor…?” Prompto started.
“Hmmm?” Cor said, still scrolling through headlines.
“Would it, ah, be all right if I went to the arcade tonight? I met a kid when we were there last, and he wants to meet up again.”
“Oh?” Cor said, and his face brightened. “That’s great, kid!”
“I mean, ah… you wouldn’t have to stick around if you didn’t want to; you could drop me off, and, like, pick me up later.” Prompto crossed his fingers. Cor didn’t like leaving him there at night, especially since the couple times they’d had to leave early for reasons Cor wouldn’t explain… but Prompto had been there a lot since, even if it was usually during the day.
Cor’s brows creased. “I dunno…”
“Please?” Prompto begged. “I wouldn’t be alone!”
“Well, yeah, but I’ve never met this kid before.”
“He seemed okay. He was friendly.”
Cor was definitely trying not to roll his eyes, Prompto could tell. Cor’s mouth quirked into a half-smile. “Just because he seemed friendly for five minutes doesn’t mean he’ll be safe.” Then he sighed. “Okay, kid. I’ll take you down. What time?”
“He said he could be there at eight.”
Cor hummed. “After sundown.” He folded his arms and gave Prompto a Look. Prompto tried not to squirm, but held Cor’s eyes. “Okay,” Cor said at last. “You can have an hour, and then I’ll come pick you up. But!” And Cor pointed at him. “No leaving the arcade, got that? Don’t go wandering around at night without me.”
“Heh heh, got that loud and clear,” Prompto said, and gave Cor a mock-salute. Frankly, he was just elated Cor was letting him go at all.
“And be smart,” Cor continued. “If anything at all seems off, you call me right away, and I’ll be there as fast as I can. Not just about your new friend. Watch the--”
“Shadows, yeah. I’ll keep my eyes open.” Prompto smiled again. “This place is full of mirrors. You think vampires would show up in a crowded arcade?”
“You’d be surprised,” Cor answered, but he still gave Prompto a grin. “You’re bright; just don’t turn off your brain tonight, and you’ll be fine.”
“Don’t worry about me!”
“I always worry about you.”
And that… that warmed Prompto’s heart like nothing else. He gave Cor a hug, and the weight of Cor’s arms around his shoulders was worth the world.
Prompto made hot dogs and baked potato wedges for dinner -- an easy midsummer dinner, using their little hibachi grill. He piled his high with relish and roasted red peppers, and made gagging faces at Cor for putting sauerkraut on his. Once dinner was all cleaned up, Prompto got ready to go. Which, for the most part, just entailed finding his sleeveless jacket and making sure his wristbands covered the weird barcode on his wrist.
… That wasn’t something he was prepared to explain the first time he met someone.
This Noctis looked like a casual guy, for the most part; so Prompto just ran his fingers through his hair and reapplied deodorant so he didn’t stink and he was set. He plopped down on the couch and thumbed through his latest pics to see if any of them were Instapost worthy.
When it neared 8, Cor wandered into the room. “Ready to go?” he asked.
“Sure thing!” Prompto hopped up and pocketed his phone.
Cor held out a hand. “Here,” he said. “Wear this. You can hide it under your shirt, if you want. It should protect you.”
In his palm rested a silver pendant on a long chain. Prompto lifted it from Cor’s hand. It looked like a leaf, carefully sculpted with delicate veins. “Wow,” he breathed.
“It was a gift from my master,” Cor said. “It’s gotten me out of a number of scrapes over the years. Hopefully it’ll help you, too.”
Prompto fastened the chain around his neck and slipped the pendant under his tank top. “Thanks,” he said.
Cor smiled at him. “Okay, son, let’s go.”
Cor’s casual ‘son’ buoyed Prompto all the way out the door.
They walked together all the way to the door of the arcade, where Cor gave everything a cursory look, and then gave Prompto a nod. “Don’t forget what I told you,” he said. “Be smart. I’ll be back in an hour.”
“Hey,” Prompto said, giving Cor two thumbs up. “You don’t have to worry. It’s me!”
Cor smirked at him. “Yeah, I know.”
Prompto almost skipped inside, ready to see his new friend.
Chapter 4: Building Bonds
In which Noctis goes on a playdate...
In the days after Noctis met Prompto, he behaved.
He followed the rules to the letter and didn’t sneak out. He didn’t need to, because every night he was messaging Prompto and clearing missions with him in King’s Knight (while Prompto was still awake, at least).
There was always the promise of Wednesday. He had to be good at least that long.
Prompto was cheerful and eager and loved video games as much as Noctis did. He found they had a lot in common -- and a lot not. And the more he learned about Prompto, the more he thought he’d just be a good friend... and the more guilty he felt about targeting him as food.
At home, everyone’s guard relaxed as it became clear the vampire hunter wasn't targeting the Lair. Noctis got more than his share of congrats on discovering Cor was in town. He didn’t feel like he deserved it, since it had been a complete accident -- and could have been a disaster. (May yet become a disaster.) Still, the Lair could now avoid Cor while he culled the rogues plaguing the refugee district. Everyone would benefit, as long as they could keep out of Cor's way.
On Monday night, for the first time since Cor’s arrival, Noct’s dad sent scouts to survey the public parks for hunting. He even allowed Noctis to tag along with Gladio. It was good practice for his rescheduled official first hunt. The scouts quickly decided the park was safe. They then divided to seek out some food. Noctis found himself a target, and let Gladio handle the “negotiation” -- in this case, using glamour to get under the victim’s defenses.
The guy was drunk off his gourd and had bitter-tasting blood.
Gladio laughed at the face Noctis made.
“If you don’t like it, find one that isn’t drunk next time,” he said, after they left the guy sleeping on a bench.
“I think I’d feel better about it,” Noctis said. “Consent from a drunk isn’t really consent.”
Gladio grunted. “We’re coercing them, either way, with the glamour,” he said. “I prefer the donors myself. You actually know they volunteered.”
Noctis didn’t say anything else; just followed Gladio back to the Lair.
Wednesday couldn’t come soon enough.
True to his excitement, Noctis woke early Wednesday, instead of sleeping until dusk. He was dismayed to find that Prompto had already texted him hours ago. Noctis sent an apology -- and quick as a whistle, they had a time set up. 8pm, shortly after sundown.
He had just enough time to stop by the donor bank. He didn’t want to be thirsty tonight.
Noctis walked into the arcade spot on at 8pm.
Prompto’s scent hit him almost at once, and even though he’d made sure to feed well, his mouth watered around his fangs. He swallowed and strode through the aisles, making a beeline for his new blond friend, while still giving the mirrors as wide a berth as he could.
The deeper he got, the stronger the delicious smell grew -- and the more he sinkingly realized this might be a big mistake. But he didn’t want to disappoint Prompto; it would be a bad setback for their friendship and might spell the end of his hunt. He bit the inside of his cheek and kept going.
He found Prompto in the center of the arcade, deep in a first-person shooter. Noctis held back and just watched him for a moment -- at least until Prompto triumphed, pumped a fist, and started in on the next level.
Noctis stepped forward and bumped his shoulder. “Hey,” he said.
Prompto almost jumped out of his skin. Then his eyes landed on Noctis, and his smile glowed like the sun. “Oh! Hey, it’s you! You made it!”
“‘Course I did,” Noctis said. “I said I’d be here.” He smiled in return, careful not to show his teeth. He swallowed against his growing thirst.
“That’s great,” Prompto said, beaming. “Hey, thanks for meeting up! I kinda, like, don’t know anyone in town yet, and I’m just… trying to get to know people.”
“Yeah, moving can be tough.” Noctis nodded. He’d never moved in all his life, but he knew what it was like not to have any friends his own age. There just… weren’t that many kids in the Lair. There weren’t a lot of pureblood vampires to begin with, and only monsters would turn children. The Lair (under Regis) had done its utmost to stamp that kind of behavior out.
And as nice as the donors were, they weren’t exactly excited about letting their kids hang out with young vampires at night.
The closest Noctis had, really, was Ignis and Gladio. Gladio (also a pureblood) had been just enough older than Noctis that he was too cool to play when they were young. And Ignis… was a special case.
“Hey, there’s a couple multiplayers back there,” Prompto was saying. “Wanna check them out?”
“Yeah, sure,” Noctis said. “I haven’t looked at those yet.”
Prompto led the way, leaving Noctis to follow and drink in his scent. It was probably not the safest thing for him to do. Not if he wanted a successful hunt in the end. “Successful” meaning, in this context, “getting Prompto’s blood without killing him”.
Maybe Prompto would agree to be a donor… But then, Noctis might have to share. He wasn’t sure he wanted to do that. And Noctis didn’t know how to negotiate with a potential donor… there were serious rules about how it should be done, for good reason.
“Hey, look!” Prompto’s cheerful voice interrupted Noct’s brooding thoughts. “They’ve got an old Gauntlet cabinet! You ever tried this?”
Noctis hadn’t, though he’d heard of it before. The wide console had four separate sets of controls, each in a different garish color. They both popped coins into the machine and started up the game. Noctis chose Red Barbarian and Prompto picked Yellow Archer. The controls were simple enough. Even as a cooperative game, they still had a fair bit of competition looking for items and food, racing for different bonuses, clearing monster generators. They groaned at the goofy graphics, chuckled as the narrator pronounced “Yellow Archer Needs Food Badly”, and when they both perished before clearing the first level, they giggled even more.
The countdown begged them to insert another coin to continue, but they both walked away, laughing.
“Man, they don’t make games like that anymore,” Noctis said.
“It’s fun! I didn’t think they’d have an old cabinet like this.”
“You wanna see old… did you see that old vector Star Wars game in the back?”
“No way!” Prompto said. And of course they had to go take a look.
They spent a whole hour, and Noctis forgot himself, following in Prompto’s wake as he hopped from machine to machine like a moth to flames. The longer they spent together, the more Noctis leaned in close to Prompto, breathing deep, savoring his scent. It was so hard to ignore. He found himself twitching, almost reaching for his new friend. It wasn’t until he found himself reasoning that the arcade was too crowded for people to notice -- that he might actually get away with a bite without drawing Prompto out into a darkened and empty street -- that he shook with dawning horror at himself.
No, he couldn’t. He couldn’t let himself rationalize; he couldn’t even begin to entertain that thought. It would put the entire Clan at risk, not to mention himself. Nothing was worth jeopardizing what they had.
He held his breath and walked away. He couldn’t do anything else. He left Prompto at his game. Noctis found a mindless racer a couple aisles away. He could still smell Prompto, but it wasn’t as overwhelming. Sourly, he thumbed a coin into the slot and started guiding his car through the course. He lost himself in the technicalities of the game’s mechanics and let the noises of the arcade around him fade away.
It worked well enough that he didn’t notice Prompto’s scent growing stronger until he chirped “Oh there you are!” in Noct’s ear.
Noctis jumped. Then he exhaled and held his breath.
“You okay, dude?” Prompto asked, his face concerned.
“Look, it’s almost nine and Cor only said I could be out for an hour… he’ll be by to get me in a minute. But… would you like to come by my place sometime?”
Noctis took a brief inhale. “You mean it?” He said. “I’m… I’m invited to your place?”
“Yeah, dude! Anytime!”
Noctis quickly smothered his excitement. Prompto had invited him into his house. That was huge. Vampires couldn’t enter a home unless invited, and Noctis had just been invited into the home of the most notorious vampire hunter in Eos.
… Somehow he knew Cor would not be happy when he found out what Prompto had done. But another part of Noctis didn’t care. This meant an incredible opportunity for him, if he was careful.
… He probably should tell his dad.
“That’s great,” he finally said, and Prompto’s face -- which had started to look worried -- cheered up again.
“Awesome!” he said.
That was Cor. Cor was coming into the arcade, looking for his son. He’d probably know on sight what Noctis was; Noctis had to get out of there fast.
“Hey, sounds like your ride!” Noct said. “I gotta run, too. Thanks for the invite! Text me later!”
And before Prompto could say anything else, Noctis split. He wove through the arcade away from his new friend and skirted out the back door as quickly and quietly as he could. He melted into shadow and sped away home as fast as he was able.
He arrived at one of the Lair’s hidden entrances -- a vent only accessible through shadow -- and slipped in. As soon as he was inside and he and his phone were corporeal again, his phone buzzed with messages. As he walked through the corridors to his private rooms, he pulled his phone out to check them.
PAL [9:05pm] >> i was gonna introduce you to my dad
PAL [9:05pm] >> but u left too fast
Prince of the Night [9:15pm] >> Sorry dude; had to run
Prince of the Night [9:15pm] >> some other time i guess
PAL[9:16pm] >> u didn’t answer for a while; i was getting worried
Prince of the Night [9:17pm] >> my hands were busy for a bit; sorry
PAL [9:18pm] >> anyway i was serious about coming to my place
PAL [9:18pm] >> Friday night? We could order pizza
Prince of the Night [9:19pm] >> something to eat would be nice
Noctis bit the inside of his cheek and tried very hard not to think about what he really wanted to eat. Vampires could eat human food; it just -- he guessed it was like humans eating the emptiest of junk food. Noctis had eaten pizza a couple of times before, and it had no taste, substance or nourishment.
PAL [9:20pm] >> and i just got the latest Assassin’s Creed if you wanna try it
Prince of the Night [9:20pm] >> oooh I’ve heard that’s good
Noctis had a sudden dreadful thought.
Prince of the Night [9:21pm] >> is cor gonna be there?
PAL [9:22pm] >> nah he’s got a thing; we’ll probably have the house to ourselves for a bit
Noctis exhaled in relief. That was something, anyway.
Prince of the Night [9:23pm] >> he okay to have friends over if he’s not there?
PAL [9:24pm] >> he’s cool
PAL [9:24pm] >> nothing to worry about
Noctis wasn’t sure about that.
Noctis quickly pocketed his phone and turned to see Gladio approaching down the hall. His face was stormy.
“Yeah?” Noctis said.
“Heard you hit the donor bank early this evening,” Gladio said. “And then you kinda disappeared. Your dad’s been looking for you.”
Noctis’s stomach sank. He didn’t think his dad would be looking for him so early in the evening. “I just… had to take a walk,” he said. He tried not to wince at how lame that sounded.
Gladio was definitely not impressed. “Gotta come up with a better explanation when you talk to your dad. He’s not gonna be happy if he hears you’ve been wandering outside on your own.”
“Who said I was wandering outside?” Noctis ventured.
Gladio raised an eyebrow at him. “If I don’t buy that, your dad sure as hell won’t.”
Noctis made a face and brushed past Gladio to head to his rooms. He heard Gladio inhale.
“Noct,” Gladio said, low and cautious.
Noctis whirled back around. “What?” he snapped -- but when he saw the worry in Gladio’s face he stopped. “What?” he asked again, quieter.
“You… you aren’t going after that kid we saw, are you? The bait?”
Noctis stiffened. For a moment, he didn’t know what to say. “Why would I do that?” he finally managed.
Gladio squinted at him. “Dunno what you think you’re up to, but… play with fire, and you’re likely to get burned.”
“You think I’d be that stupid?”
Gladio chuckled, a low rumble in his throat. “You don’t want me to answer that,” he said. Then his wry smile melted from his face, and his mouth drew into a thin line. “Be smart, princess. Don’t get yourself in so much trouble we can’t help you out of it.”
Noctis stilled. Then he relaxed his shoulders. “I’m always smart,” he lied.
Chapter 5: Muffins and Memories
Noctis kills some time before his playdate with Prompto by watching Ignis make human food...
This chapter has descriptions of injury and blood, so be warned...
Noctis counted himself lucky that Gladio didn’t go to Regis right away.
Since his job literally was protecting Noctis from everything (including himself), he probably should have. For the remainder of the night, Noctis felt like he was walking on eggshells, expecting the next shoe to drop, for his dad to come chew him out for being reckless.
But maybe -- just maybe -- Gladio hadn't gone to Regis; maybe he was feeling generous. If that was true, Noctis owed him, big time.
The next evening, as they walked back to the Lair from the donor barracks (more like a mansion, really… the Lucis Caelum Clan took good care of its donors), Regis gave Noctis a look. “You’ve made yourself awfully scarce this past couple weeks,” he said, “and there have been times when not even Ignis seems to know where you are.”
Noctis made a noncommittal noise. He didn't like the searching look his dad aimed at him, so he looked away. “Sometimes I just want to be alone, alright?” he said.
Regis made a quiet ‘hmph’ noise. “I remember feeling the same way when I was your age,” he said.
Noctis side-eyed him. He had a hard time imagining his dad as a teenager. He knew Regis must have been a teen at one point, but… he was two centuries old. “Heh,” he said. “No way.”
Regis gave him an indulgent smile. “Way,” he said.
Noctis rolled his eyes. “Da-aaaad…”
“Isn’t that what kids say these days?”
Not that Noctis knew any kids… but he'd seen enough movies. “NO, Dad… that was twenty years ago.”
Regis chuckled. “Regardless… I care about you, Noct, and I want you to be happy. Please… if there’s anything we can do for you, do tell me.”
Noctis stared at him. He wondered vaguely where this was coming from. “Yeah, sure,” he said.
And then they were back at the Lair, and Noctis gave his dad a quick one-armed hug and went straight to his room.
It had almost been like his dad suspected. His dad was smart, part of him knew… of course he would be suspicious. Or maybe Gladio did say something after all... If so, Noctis was gonna be mad. But he couldn’t tell which one, and he couldn’t very well ask. That would just invite more trouble.
The very fact that his dad was asking things made Noctis decide that he should really, REALLY lay low, so when he was out at Prompto’s house on Friday, he maybe could get away with it.
Though the more he thought about it, the more he questioned whether or not the whole thing was a good idea. It was Cor’s house. Cor, the Vampire Hunter. And even though Noctis had an explicit invitation to enter, he was pretty sure what would happen to him if Cor found him in his home . Noctis might be pretty good at passing as a human, but he would never fool The Immortal. He couldn’t overstay and risk Cor coming home while he was there. He could maybe do two hours, tops. Maybe they’d have time to watch a movie. Maybe.
Or rather… he would coax Prompto into watching a movie, and then practice some of his hunting skills.
His mouth watered just thinking about it. He just wanted a taste. He hoped that wasn’t too much to ask.
Noctis woke early Friday night, so nervous and excited that going back to sleep was impossible. It didn’t help that he had a text from Prompto already, asking which pizza delivery place he liked best. He couldn’t care less, really, so he texted Prompto that he’d be happy with whatever he picked. (Noctis hoped that didn’t sound too dismissive.) He still had some time before he had to sneak out -- and it wouldn’t hurt for him to be seen around the Lair before he disappeared for a couple hours.
He slipped from his room and wandered the corridors until he found Ignis’s room. Light shone through the crack under the door, so he knew Ignis was awake. He was about to knock when the door opened. He jumped back and let his clenched fist drop a little.
Ignis, who’d been about to step out, froze and blinked at him. His arms were wrapped around a paper grocery bag. “Noct! What are you doing up and about at this hour?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” he managed. “What’re you up to?”
Ignis shifted the bag in his arms. “I… was going to visit my parents later, and thought I should bring them a little something.”
“Oh.” Noctis knew Ignis liked to make human food -- and that he mostly did it when he was going to visit his parents in the donor barracks. Ignis went to see them at least once a week, but it was usually before Noctis was awake. “Can I come watch?”
“Certainly,” Ignis said.
Noctis followed him to the kitchen. Noctis had been in it before, but he’d never paid much attention to it. The Lair only had one because of their frequent human guests, but Noctis was never involved in food prep, ever. Other people were in charge of that.
Now, he watched with polite curiosity while Ignis laid out all the tools he needed and pulled the ingredients from the paper bag.
“How are your parents?” Noctis asked. He’d met them before -- he’d met all the donors, at some point or other -- and he saw them now and again. He thought perhaps he’d drunk from them, once or twice, when he was very little; when his father first brought him to the donor barracks to learn how to feed.
He wondered if that made Ignis uncomfortable.
“They’re quite well, thank you,” Ignis said, pulling a large metal bowl from one of the shelves. “Though I think my father is developing a health condition that may limit his ability to be a donor soon. They’re taking it a step at a time.”
“I hope he’ll be all right…” Noctis said.
“It’s only natural; it comes with aging.” Ignis’s expression became pinched.
Of course. Ignis’s parents were aging… and he would not.
He watched Ignis measure out the dry ingredients -- flour and sugar, he thought -- and then something niggled in his mind. “Ignis,” he ventured. “Will they have to leave the barracks when they can’t be donors anymore?”
“I think not,” Ignis said, adding some milk to the bowl. “The donor agreement includes a lifetime benefits package. The Lair’s donors are very well cared for.” He smiled. It was a little sad.
“Do you ever wish…” Noctis hesitated, unsure of how to ask. “Do you wish you hadn’t been turned?”
Ignis’s smile turned into a wry twist. “Early evening must be your time for prying questions.”
“Sorry,” Noctis mumbled, abashed. “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want.”
“No, it’s quite alright,” Ignis said, cracking some eggs into a separate bowl and pulling out a whisk. “I’m… grateful. That I was saved, even for this half-life. And so are my parents.”
Noctis bristled a little at ‘half-life’. He’d been born a vampire; and what he had was the only life he’d ever know. But he couldn’t snap at Ignis; that wouldn’t be fair.
Maybe Ignis knew he’d misspoken. “Apologies,” he said. “My parents sometimes call it that, considering what the alternative could have been, if I hadn’t…”
Young Ignis had been attacked by a rogue vampire, when he’d wandered away from the donor barracks near sundown. Noctis could remember the day. He’d never met a human child before. He’d been sitting with his father in the early evening, reading a story together. Ignis’s parents had rushed into the Lair, carrying Ignis in their arms, drenched in his blood.
He remembered the tangy smell of it, raw and gushing from Ignis’s torn throat. He remembered his own sudden thirst. The tears on Ignis's parents’ faces as they begged Regis to help.
They were donors; they knew what Regis’s help would mean.
Regis had sent Noctis away, not wanting him to see. He’d meekly gone with the nursemaid, and had only returned the next day, to see Ignis laying pale in a bed, smelling like a vampire rather than a human. He remembered asking his father if Ignis could be his friend now. He remembered his father’s sad smile.
“He will need a good friend, Noctis,” he had said.
Noctis frowned at the memory… and at what had followed. They had grown up together as children. They would soon reach their full adult growth, and then they would simply… stop. They wouldn’t age as humans do; they’d simply exist.
“I don’t mind it,” Ignis was saying. “And I was glad Lord Regis chose to transfer my blood bond to you. It meant a lot, to be close to someone near my age. I don’t know what it would have been like, growing up without another child to temper me.” He turned away and searched through the cabinets until he pulled out a muffin tin, then brushed its cups with cooking oil before taking up the mixing bowl again.
Noctis watched him, lost in thought.
Turning a child was dangerous. A vampire’s desires were instinctual and hard to manage, even for an adult. Pureblood vampire children were surrounded by adult vampires who could help them curb and control their appetites. Human children who were turned… if the one who turned them, who formed that master-servant blood bond, didn’t carefully help them control themselves, they could become true, uncontrollable monsters. The Lair had to deal with turned children every so often. Noctis had never been allowed on those missions.
Ignis became a vampire at an extremely vulnerable age. He was lucky to survive. Lucky that Regis turned him, who’d helped him control himself. Regis would never abuse the blood bond. Had, in fact, turned it over to Noctis as soon as Noctis had enough control over his own impulses.
Noctis mentally brushed at the bond between them in his mind -- a bond he was very careful never to overstep, out of respect for Ignis. If he wanted, he could read and control Ignis’s every emotion. He could never do that to his friend, though.
“... What was it like?” Noctis asked. “The turning.”
Ignis met his eyes, then looked back into the mixing bowl. “I don’t remember,” he said. “I was… very young. Six, I think. And my mind chose to forget the worst of it.”
He was silent for some time, and Noctis thought perhaps he wouldn’t say anything more, but then he inhaled. “My human childhood is a far distant memory,” he said quietly. “Everything after the… the Change… is far more clear.” He whisked a few more turns, then pulled the muffin tin closer and began spooning batter into its cups. “The first thing I really remember is looking up into Lord Regis’s face.” He met Noct’s eyes again, his face solemn. “That, and the thirst. Lord Regis opened a vein on his arm to let me drink. From him. That… was the first taste I remember.”
The taste of blood. Noct’s father’s blood, which had saved Ignis’s life. Sort of. Vampires weren’t really alive, after all.
“Sorry,” Noctis said. Sorry for dredging up old memories, old pains. He could see the strain in Ignis’s face. What might his life have been like? If he’d managed to escape, to live with his parents, to have a normal human life? Instead he was here, and bound to Noctis.
“It’s all right, Noct,” Ignis said. “You hold my bond now, and… these are things I am glad for you to know. I’m surprised you never asked before.”
Noctis shrugged. He supposed he should have asked before… He spent a lot of time with both Gladio and Ignis, but it wasn’t something he’d ever thought of. Ignis had been around forever, and had chosen to help Gladio protect him.
Noctis watched Ignis work in silence after that. In spite of Ignis’s assurance, he felt a little ashamed for bringing up painful memories. He watched Ignis put the muffins in the oven, and helped set out a cooling rack while they waited for the muffins to cook. When Ignis turned them out to cool, Noctis inspected them curiously. He wondered if Prompto liked muffins.
“You gonna need all of these?” he asked.
Ignis raised an eyebrow at him. “What do you need them for?”
“Nothing. I just wondered if you were leaving some behind. I thought I might try one and see what they’re like.”
“You?” Ignis said with surprise.
Noctis shrugged. “I try things sometimes.”
Ignis’s lips formed a thin line. “You try human food?”
“ You do too!”
“I grew up with it and developed a taste for some things,” Ignis said. He pulled a paper plate from one of the cupboards and set a half-dozen of the muffins on the plate.
Noctis snorted. “I don’t think you would have formed a taste for coffee when you were that young.”
“My parents like to make it for me,” Ignis said testily, while deftly wrapping the paper plate with clear plastic wrap. “I drink it to give them a sense of normality when I visit.”
“Yeah,” Noctis said, “and then you drink it here, too, yeah, no taste for it at all.”
Ignis sighed. “Very well, you can have some of the extras if you’re so inclined. Now if you’ll excuse me…” He picked up the wrapped muffins and left the kitchen.
Noctis felt a little bad as he watched Ignis leave. He hadn’t meant to rile Ignis up. But now he’d spent some time with someone in the lair, and that had been his main goal. Ignis would be off visiting his parents... and it was almost time for Noctis to leave, too. He grabbed a paper plate and plopped a couple of the remaining muffins on it and wrapped it up as he’d seen Ignis do.
Then he made his way through the hallways to an exit and slipped out into the dusk.
Chapter 6: Control
Movie Night at Prompto's house!
Finding Prompto’s (Cor’s) house was a challenge.
Vampire hunters go to great lengths to make their homes difficult for vampires to find. Prompto had texted him the address, but as he drew closer, Noctis could feel the pressure of wards trying to turn him away. The feeling glided over his skin unpleasantly, but that was it -- the power of Prompto's invitation at work, he guessed. Still, he wandered in circles for a bit before he could really pinpoint where the house was, even with the address (his mind kept slipping past it, thanks to the wards); and he had to avoid several carefully-laid traps along the way. (Gladio would have been proud.) But he found it in the end.
He did his best not to touch anything on the front porch. He was pretty sure he’d trigger something if he did. He even kicked the door a couple times instead of knocking, just in case.
The door opened and Prompto’s spectacular scent rolled over Noctis. He had to hold his breath for a moment.
As soon as their eyes met, Prompto’s face lit up with a brilliant smile. “You made it!” he said.
Noctis gave him a half-smile of his own. Then he managed to squeak out a quick “Here,” and thrust the plate of muffins at Prompto.
Prompto stared at them in surprise for a moment before he took them. “Aww, you brought muffins!”
“A… host gift, I guess?” Noctis managed.
“You didn’t have to do that!”
Then Prompto turned his back and headed inside with a quick “Come on in!” over his shoulder. Noctis took that moment to turn his head and take a deep breath of fresh outside air before following.
He shivered as he crossed over the threshold. There was something there, another ward of some kind. It didn’t stop him, and he thought maybe it was meant to. It might have stopped a more run-of-the-mill vampire, but he was a pureblood. All it did was make his skin prickle. He wondered with vague dread what it would have done to Ignis.
Then he caught sight of the garlic hanging over the door, and was immediately glad he’d taken an extra breath outside. Cor wasn’t taking any chances. Not that garlic was much of a true deterrent against a pureblood; it was more an annoyance than anything. Still, he didn’t want to show up at home coughing with a raw throat because he’d inhaled garlic fumes. It was a good thing he could hold his breath for a very long time. He gingerly followed in Prompto’s wake, and eyed the mirrors lining the front hall. He was glad that Prompto was already well ahead of him, in the kitchen.
A few more steps, and Noctis was there, too.
Prompto had laid out a whole spread on the counter. Chips, salsa, two large pizzas (how they were supposed to eat it all, just the two of them, Noctis had no idea), a couple two-liters of some kind of fizzy drink (again, a bit of overkill, for just two people) and a package of store-bought pink-frosted sugar cookies with sprinkles. Prompto set Ignis’s muffins by the cookies, then turned to Noctis, beaming.
“What do you wanna do first?” he said. “There’s food, and Cor just got the new Avengers movie on Bluray; we could totally put that in! Unless you wanna try the game first.”
“Oooh, let’s start with the movie,” Noctis said. “We can watch while we eat.”
Noctis had seen it already -- his dad had bought out a theater one night so the whole Lair could go -- and it really was good. It would be a good distraction for Prompto, so Noctis could practice his skills.
“Great!” Prompto said, then pulled a couple plates from the cupboard. He handed one to Noctis. “Here, fill up while I put the movie in.”
Noctis took the offered plate, and Prompto bounced off into the living room to fiddle with the Bluray player. As soon as Prompto was gone, Noctis dared to take another deep breath; but here, in this closed apartment -- this apartment where Prompto lived -- his scent permeated everything. Noctis clenched his teeth and bit his lip. He… he had to keep control.
He deliberately leaned over the food on the counter to get a proper look at it. The corn chips looked bland. Noctis could smell the savory spice of the salsa, but it never tasted like it smelled. He peeked in the boxes. The pizza looked… interesting. One was just pepperoni and cheese, and the other had a bunch of other meats and vegetables on it. Noctis resisted sneering at it, but only just. He elected to take a small slice of the pepperoni and piled the rest of the plate high with chips. He hesitated, then added another slice of pizza to his plate for good measure, so he'd look like he had a proper teenage human’s appetite.
“‘S your dad gonna be home?” he asked.
“Nah,” Prompto said from the other room. “He’s out doing the, you know, the hunting thing. Said he couldn’t take me tonight.”
“Oh, you go with him?”
“Sometimes. Unless it’s gonna be really dangerous, or something.”
Noctis set his teeth grimly. So his new buddy was kind of a vampire hunter, too. Being trained up by the Immortal. Just peachy.
“I should show you my gear sometime!”
Yeah, that would happen, like, never. Noctis hoped Prompto would forget he’d offered. Noctis was certainly never going to bring it up again.
Noctis took another deep breath ( Astrals above, that scent…) and then he joined Prompto in front of the TV. He eyed the room, looking for traps. He didn’t see any. (Maybe Cor assumed a vampire wouldn’t make it this far into his house. He wasn’t wrong. Noctis should never have made it this far.) Then Noctis settled himself into the nearest corner of the couch.
Prompto eyed Noct’s plate on his way back to the kitchen. “You want something to drink?”
Oh. Noctis hadn’t thought to grab a cup, and Prompto had sharp eyes.
“There’s other stuff in the fridge if the sodas aren’t to your taste,” Prompto was saying. “We’ve got juice, milk… Or just water, if you want.”
Noctis deliberately didn’t look at the veins pulsing in Prompto’s neck. “I’m good for now,” he said. “Maybe I’ll grab something later.”
“If you’re sure…” Prompto said, then disappeared into the kitchen.
Noctis stuffed a handful of chips into his mouth in the hopes that their bland flavor would dull the draw of Prompto’s scent. It didn’t really work, and he ended up with a mouthful of pasty-flavored mush that just made him even more thirsty. Swallowing it was difficult, but he managed. Once his mouth was empty, he called, “On second thought… maybe some of that cola?”
“Sure thing!” Prompto yelled back.
Cola should be enough to rinse out the pastiness, at least, in spite of its medicinal taste. While he waited, Noctis took a large bite of the pizza. The spice of the pepperoni helped to suppress the smell… but not enough. Not enough.
This was a terrible idea.
Noctis couldn’t remember how many times he’d been told not to go hunting alone. It was one of the Lair’s cardinal rules. He needed someone with him to keep him from making a mistake that would turn him into a true monster.
He didn’t want to see Prompto dead.
He didn’t want it to be his fault.
A cup appeared in his field of vision.
“Here you go, buddy!” Prompto said, from nearby.
Noctis inhaled the mouthful of pizza and gagged. Then he was coughing, and someone (Prompto) was pounding his back with heavy thumps. “You okay?” Prompto’s voice said in his ear. Then a cup was pressed into his hands, and he raised it to his lips to take careful swallows, trying to clear his throat. The cola burned on its way down. He coughed some more.
Then he gasped, and Prompto’s smell flooded his sinuses, making his throat itch. He brushed at his watering eyes and blinked up at Prompto’s worried face. He had to hold it together.
“Dude, you all right?” Prompto asked.
“Yeah,” Noctis rasped. “Went down the wrong tube, I guess…”
“Sorry,” Prompto said. “Didn’t mean to startle you! You were kinda lost in thought.”
Yeah, you could say that.
“You’re looking kinda pale. Here, lemme replace your floor food.” Prompto headed back into the kitchen.
Then Noctis noticed the overturned plate between his feet, the chips and pizza scattered across the floor. “Sorry about the mess,” he said, and leaned down to pick it all up. Prompto returned with a new plate loaded up with a little of everything and took the old one back to the kitchen. While there, he said, “These muffins are amazing!” His voice was muffled, like his mouth was full. “They homemade?”
“Yeah,” Noctis said. “My… friend made them.”
“Wow, you think your friend could cook for me?”
“I think he just did,” Noctis said, and Prompto laughed.
Noctis pushed the slice of pizza covered with peppers and mushrooms and olives to one side of the plate and pulled a salsa-covered chip from underneath it. He tentatively took a bite. It was like ash in his mouth.
There was only one thing in this house he wanted to eat and he couldn’t. Yet.
Prompto chose that moment to plop down next to him. It took Noctis some moments to fight down his desire to lunge for Prompto’s throat right then, and by the time he finally succeeded, Prompto had turned on the TV and the movie was starting.
Noctis quickly decided that it was a good thing he’d already seen Endgame, because there was no way he could pay attention. He kept losing time while he wrestled with his thirst. Prompto chattered away, mouth full most of the time, while Noctis gave one-word answers and alternated between licking his teeth, picking at his plate, and taking small sips of soda to wash down the unappealing human food.
They were a good 30 minutes into the film (and Noctis was sure he was supposed to be feeling something about what was going on on screen) when he knew that now was the time for him to try. The longer he waited, the more likely it was that Cor would come home before Prompto expected him, and then Noctis would be D E A D.
So he breathed in (ignore the smell, ignore the smell, ignore the smell) and then, with a slow exhale in Prompto’s direction, he released his magic.
It was a simple sleeping spell, part of the glamour he was supposed to be practicing. He’d never actually used it on a human before; on his practice hunts, Gladio usually took care of that part. He released just enough of the spell that it should make Prompto drowsy -- and sure enough, Prompto’s chattering faded, and soon his eyes were taking longer and longer blinks, his head nodding forward.
“Prompto?” Noctis said softly.
“Nnnh?” Prompto said.
Good. He could respond still; this was perfect. Noctis set his mostly-full plate on the floor and sidled closer to Prompto. “Lay your head back,” he said. “You’ll be more comfortable.”
“But… the movie,” Prompto mumbled. He still took Noct’s suggestion and his head flopped back against the couch.
Noctis smiled -- this time, letting his teeth show. “It’s all right,” he said. Then he carefully took Prompto’s arm.
Not his throat, not his throat…
In his mind, he heard his father’s voice: “Never the throat, son… It is too easy to succumb to instinct when you bite so vital a spot.”
Noctis thumbed the prominent veins in the crook of Prompto’s elbow. He could hear the gentle susurration of Prompto’s pulse, could feel it under his fingertips.
“Treat it like a doctor’s blood draw, Noctis… Give your prey the utmost care.”
He twisted Prompto’s arm just enough to give himself a good angle at the best vein.
“Make sure you ask before you take.”
He inhaled. The scent was intoxicating. “Prompto…?”
“Would it be all right if I--”
In his pocket, Noct’s phone pinged with a text. He jumped.
Prompto shifted and pulled his arm away. “Whazzat?” he said, muzzily.
Noct’s phone pinged again, and again. He pulled it out of his pocket.
[9:56pm] >> Your dad’s looking for you
Gladio [9:57pm] >> You’d better have a damn good explanation for where you are right now
Gladio [9:57pm] >> And why Ignis can’t tell where you’re at
Noctis swore under his breath. As part of the blood bond, Ignis could sense where Noctis was, if he focused hard enough. He would only use that ability if Noct’s dad asked him to, and Noct’s dad would only ask it if he felt there was dire need. Cor’s wards were probably blocking it.
Noctis was in big trouble.
He shot up off the couch.
Prompto blinked up at him blearily. “You leaving?” he said. He sounded disappointed.
“Sorry,” Noctis said. “Something’s come up, and I’ve gotta run home.”
“Oh,” Prompto said.
“Hey, thanks for the pizza. And for inviting me over.”
“Sure thing, buddy,” Prompto said, already drifting off again. He wrapped himself around one of the couch's pillows. “Should do this again,” he mumbled into it.
“Absolutely,” Noctis said, wondering how much of this Prompto would actually remember when he woke up.
Without Prompto to see him out, Noctis had to manage the guarded threshold on his own. He did the best he could, holding a towel from the kitchen to keep his hand from making contact with the doorknob. His skin crawled as he passed the barrier of the wards -- and then he was out. He dropped the towel behind a bush and sped off into the night.
Chapter 7: Fallout
In which there are repercussions for everything Noctis just did...
Prompto woke to the slam of the front door, the stomp of booted feet, and Cor’s urgent “Prompto?” echoing down the front hall.
He blinked at the Bluray menu for Endgame on the TV. When had the movie ended? Why hadn’t Noctis said something? Wait… he remembered something about Noctis. Noctis… saying he had to go. When had that been?
Prompto felt his eyes sliding shut, but they jolted open again when Cor’s voice, closer now, said “Prompto!” and his steps rushed to the couch where Prompto lay curled around a pillow. “C’mon, kid, wake up,” Cor said, and a large hand patted Prompto’s cheek. Cor was kneeling by the couch now, leaning over him.
“Nngh,” Prompto managed. His eyes were closing again; he couldn’t help it.
Cor hissed through his teeth. Then Prompto felt Cor gently grasp his chin and turn his head to both sides, and probe at his neck with steady fingers. “You okay, kid?” he said.
“‘M sleepy,” Prompto said.
He heard the shifting of cloth as Cor stood, then the sinking of the couch cushion next to him as Cor sat down. “Prompto,” he said, his voice grim. “Something tripped all the wards. Kid, I need you to answer; this is important.”
Prompto tried to force his eyes open and squint up at Cor’s blurry face.
“Prompto… did you invite someone in?”
Prompto tilted his head. “Yeah,” he slurred. Why was he having such a hard time waking up? “I told you… Noctis was coming over tonight. We had pizza. Watched a movie...” He was drifting again.
“I see that,” Cor said, his tone dry. “Where is Noctis now?”
“Said he… had to leave. Something at home.”
“When did he leave?”
“Don’t… remember. Before the movie ended…” Wait. Noctis left before the movie ended… Did he go because Prompto was falling asleep? His stomach dropped. He pushed himself up so he was sitting, but he couldn’t do more than slump against the back of the couch. He blinked again, and tried to focus his eyes.
“Did Noctis let something in?” Cor asked.
“No, no… Noct would never do that...” He hadn’t, had he? Prompto couldn’t remember. Not remembering ramped up his anxiety real fast.
The things Cor was saying and asking started to register. Something had tripped the wards. Did Prompto invite someone in. Cor’s hands, inspecting his throat. “Wait…” Prompto said, doing his best to sound more coherent. “Are you saying… a vampire...?” He put a hand to his neck.
“I’m not saying anything,” Cor said, “but something tripped every ward on the house.”
Prompto shuddered. “How?” he whispered.
“No idea,” Cor said. “By all rights, whatever it was should have been trapped or eliminated, and traces of it should still be here. But there’s nothing. Whatever it was… must have been extremely powerful.”
Prompto made a small noise in his throat. Cor pulled him into a tight hug. “You’re okay, kid, you’re safe,” he murmured into Prompto’s hair -- and that’s when Prompto realized he was trembling. Cor gave him an extra squeeze, and then pulled back. “Glad you’re all right. You were completely out of it when I came in. "
“Having trouble staying awake…” And he still was, even now with the adrenalin and the convulsive shivering.
“Yeah, I can see that, kid…” Cor said, and ruffled his hair. “If I didn't know any better, I 'd think you were under the influence of some kind of glamour...” His voice trailed off, and his eyes darted to Prompto’s face.
“What…?” Prompto said.
“All the signs are there, but one… You don't have a bite. If any vampire got near you, you’d…” He trailed off again.
Prompto swallowed. He was definitely awake now. Then something occurred to him, and he lunged for his phone, on a little table by the couch. “Noct,” he said. “I gotta… I hope he got home okay!”
He pounded out a text and then breathed out. He hoped Noctis was fine… that whatever had breached Cor's defenses had missed him.
Cor clapped a hand on Prompto's shoulder. “C'mon, Prompto, let's clean up.”
Cor helped him put the food away. Prompto was glad for the company, especially when he picked up Noct’s mostly-full plate from the floor and saw how little his friend had actually eaten. He must not have been here long, at all. What a disaster… His heart dropped and all he wanted to do was curl up in bed and stew about how boring he must have been, and how Noctis probably wouldn’t ever want to hang out with him again. The only thing that kept him going was the thought of leaving all the food sitting out all night, going to waste.
Prompto kept checking his phone as they worked, but Noctis didn’t answer and didn’t answer and didn’t answer and the longer it went, the more worried he became.
Once the food was away, Cor excused himself to examine and reset all the wards, and left Prompto to finish up. He was just washing down the cupboard when his phone
pinged with a text. He whipped it out and thumbed it open.
[1:29am] >> yeah i made it home fine
NLC [1:29am] >> sorry i had to leave early
NLC [1:30am] >> forgot to tell dad where i was going
NLC [1:31am] >> when he found out i was gone he was pissed and i had to go
[1:33am] >> glad you made it home!
PAL [1:34am] >> sorry i fell asleep on you
Prompto almost typed “I hope you still want to be my friend after this” but decided that was a little too pathetic-sounding. He was saved from having to say more, though.
NLC [1:36am] >> we should get together again when i’m not grounded anymore
[1:37am] >> oh no!
PAL [1:37am] >> i didn’t mean to get you in trouble
[1:38am] >> its my own fault, no worries
NLC [1:39am] >> gotta run i’ll text later
Prompto sighed with relief.
Prompto looked up to see Cor framed in the kitchen doorway. He still looked tense and worried, his brow furrowed.
“Yeah,” Prompto said. “Noctis made it home okay. He’s just… I guess he didn’t tell his dad he was gonna be out so he’s in trouble.”
“Hmmmm,” Cor said. He didn't look any less worried.
“ You okay?” Prompto said.
“Not sure,” Cor said. “Tonight's been… unsettling.”
Prompto squeezed the cloth in his hand and stared at a little crack in the countertop. “Sorry,” he mumbled.
He heard Cor shift his weight. “It's not you,” Cor said. “I got some… interesting information tonight that I don’t quite understand and I’m going to have to think about it for a while.”
Prompto glanced at him, anxiety warring with his curiosity. Cor looked pensive, running his chin with a finger. Then he shook himself.
“In any case. The wards are reset, and It's late… let's get to bed.” He ruffled Prompto's hair as he walked past.
Prompto hung the cloth over the kitchen tap to dry, and quickly followed. As nervous as he was, the lingering effects of whatever glamour he'd been under were still pulling at him. He'd have to figure out what to say to Noctis on the morning.
Noctis took bat form as soon as he was far enough from Cor's house to feel safe doing it. He fled for home as quickly as his wings could take him.
As soon as he slipped in through one of the entrance holes, Gladio was waiting. His huge hands clapped around Noctis. "Thought so," he said, as he gently tucked Noct’s wings around his body so he could hold him firmly without hurting them. “Knew you’d gone outside, but I didn’t want to believe you’d be so stupid.” He smelled of prickly anger.
Noctis tried to struggle but it was no use; he couldn’t even wiggle out between Gladio’s massive fingers. He considered transforming in Gladio’s hands, but thought better of it when he considered that Gladio would just grab him by the collar and drag him wherever it was they were going… at least right now he was being gentle, if firm.
All the while, Gladio continued to chew him out. About going outside alone. About not telling anyone where he’d gone. About how worried his dad was, and Ignis too, once Noct’s dad had asked him to sense where Noctis was. And then he groused about where Noctis could possibly have gone that Ignis wouldn’t have sensed him -- and there, he came uncomfortably close to the truth.
“It’s like you were behind a hunter’s ward. But you’d never be that foolish.”
Noctis couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or not.
They stopped just outside Regis’s chambers. Gladio opened his hands so that he held Noct cupped in them and said “Better change back so your dad can yell at you.”
Noctis didn’t have any choice.
And once he’d changed back, Gladio really did grab him by the collar and yank him into his dad’s receiving room.
When they entered, Regis stood behind his chair, his back to them. Clarus stood near him, and their heads were together as they talked. As Gladio and Noctis entered, Regis turned around. He looked so dignified, in his suit with his ever-dark hair slicked back. But Noctis had never quite seen this expression on his dad’s never-aging face before: disappointment, anger, and something else. It took him a moment to recognize it as fear.
“Noctis,” his father said, voice laden with all the emotions Noctis could see on his face.
Noctis looked down at his feet.
“I never wanted to have to say this, son, but I…” Regis sighed. “I am so disappointed in you.”
That hurt. More than yelling would have, more than any punishment his dad would mete out for tonight’s transgression. Noctis had been prepared for anger, but not really for this. He stiffened.
Behind him, Gladio sighed.
“Where have you been, Noctis?” Regis asked.
Noctis didn’t know what to say. He’d been prepared to say he was at the arcade, but Ignis would have been able to sense him there, and Regis would know it was a lie. Nothing he said was going to make this any better -- and he certainly couldn’t admit the truth. So he shrugged.
He felt Gladio’s hand tighten on his collar.
“Why did you go out alone?” Regis asked.
Noctis was silent for just long enough that Gladio gave him a sharp shake. “Better answer, if you know what’s good for you,” he rumbled.
“Back off, okay?” Noctis snapped. “Maybe I just didn’t wanna be babysat anymore. Maybe I just wanted to get out on my own.”
“Out on your own,” Regis said, “with a well-known and well-feared vampire hunter on the prowl in Insomnia.”
“So what?” Noctis countered. “I can keep out of his way. Everyone else is.”
Regis closed his eyes and sighed. When he opened them again, his expression was frightening. Noctis couldn’t meet his eyes for long, and stared at the floor. “Noctis, I didn’t want to do this, but I must. Since you cannot be trusted to behave, either Ignis or Gladio will be with you every waking moment, and you will share a room with them when you sleep. As much as it pains me, I must be absolutely clear… you are not to go outside alone. Not by shadow, not as a bat, not by any means whatsoever, for the foreseeable future.”
Noctis ground his teeth together to keep himself from yelling. He knew it wouldn’t do any good and might actually make things worse. He just stood there, and accepted the grounding in silence.
Noctis looked up at his father.
Regis sighed again. “I don’t want to have to compel you, but if I must, I will. Please understand that I’m doing this for your own good.”
Compulsion. A pureblood could compel a weaker vampire to obey them, and it took great strength of will to break it. Noctis would never be able to match wills with his father; not if he lived a thousand years. (The fact that he felt that way made it all the more true.)
“For my own good,” Noctis said. “Force me to do what you want me to do, sure. What about my choice?”
“If your choice will endanger the whole clan, then I must step in. It’s my duty.”
“Yeah, fine, your duty, whatever.”
“There is no whatever about this, Noctis. Should I fall, it will be your duty to protect our clan. You must learn responsibility now so that when the time comes you will be ready.”
Noctis swallowed against a tendril of fear. He didn’t want to think about his father being gone, about having to take up the mantle of clan leader. That was too far in the future; his father was too strong. He pushed the fear down as far as possible, and in its place, anger rose. “I get it, okay?” he said. “I get it. I’m in jail forever until you decide I can be responsible. Fine. Can I go now?”
He ignored how Clarus was scowling at him. He ignored Gladio, stiffening behind him. He didn’t look at his dad’s face, but he heard his sigh. “You may go,” Regis said. “But think about what you’ve done tonight and how it affected everyone around you, and do better in the future.”
Noctis didn’t acknowledge any of that. He just turned on his heel and sped out of his dad’s chambers. Gladio fell into step behind him, the thump of his heavy boots echoing in the corridor. Noctis couldn’t stand it; he didn’t want Gladio watching over him anymore, so he dashed off towards his room. He thought he heard Gladio say something, but he didn’t listen over the pounding in his ears. He got to his room, slammed the door behind him and locked it so Gladio couldn’t come in, and threw himself on the bed.
He just lay there for a long time. He wasn’t crying; he wasn’t. His phone pinged, and he ignored it. He’d been so close… Gladio had ruined everything. No, not Gladio… they all had. It was all their fault... He wallowed in that feeling for a while -- until he realized he was really, really hungry.
He was starving.
He had almost bitten Prompto when he was hungry. Prompto, who smelled so delicious he almost couldn’t resist biting him in the first place.
It dawned on him how close he’d been to making a disastrous mistake, that could have ended with Prompto dead. That could have exposed their whole clan to the wrath of Cor the Immortal.
His dad had been right…
A knock on his door interrupted his spiraling thoughts. “Noct?” called Ignis’s voice.
Noctis sat up and wiped at his face. He hadn’t been crying. Then he unlocked the door and cracked it open.
Ignis held a full glass. He looked Noctis up and down, his expression concerned. “Your father mentioned he didn’t think you’d eaten in a while and asked me to bring this to you… and to check on you. Are you quite all right?”
Noctis didn’t answer, but opened the door wider and backed away so Ignis could enter. Ignis handed him the glass and he took it and drank, trying not to think about how Prompto might have tasted.
“Noctis, I…” Ignis hesitated.
Noctis glanced at him, took in his shuffling posture and uncertain expression.
“Where were you?” Ignis asked.
Noctis looked away. He didn’t want to say, even to admit it to Ignis… it would get back to his dad, and that’s the last thing he wanted. “I went out,” he said.
“Well, yes, but… I couldn’t find you.”
Something in Ignis’s voice sounded lost.
“I dunno why not,” Noctis lied. There was no way Ignis would have felt him from the other side of Cor’s wards. “I mean… I was just… out.”
He didn’t miss the sidelong look Ignis gave him as he took back the glass. “I’ll return this to the kitchen, but then… Your father asked me to stay with you today, and Gladio will stay with you after the sun rises. You’re not to go anywhere without us.” He sounded almost apologetic.
“I’ll be here, don’t worry,” Noctis said, not bothering to hide the bitterness in his voice.
“Very well.” And Ignis was out the door.
Noctis sank down into his bed again. His hand landed on his phone, discarded amongst the twisted sheets. It had pinged, sometime while he’d been moping.
He thumbed it open and read the worried text from Prompto. He sighed. At least Prompto was okay, if confused. Noctis texted his reassurances, promises to get together another time... but then Ignis was knocking on the door again, and he had to tell Prompto he’d text later. He didn't want to be caught communicating with what Gladio and Ignis called 'bait.' He sighed again. “Come in,” he said.
Ignis cracked the door open and slipped inside.
And now Noctis had to figure out how to spend his night in the Lair, with Ignis watching his every move.
There was no way he was getting out of this.
Chapter 8: Questions and Answers (and Evasions)
In which Prompto asks questions, and Noctis asks questions (and doesn't quite answer, except when he does)...
Ignis didn’t leave Noctis alone until dawn, and then only because Gladio arrived. Gladio was super-pissed about having to spend the day in Noct’s room. He didn’t say a thing, but he didn’t have to; the irritation rolled off him in waves. He brought a camping cot and a book with him and set himself up in a corner of Noct’s room. He didn’t make a sound. Noctis didn’t say anything to him, either, and suspected that was the only way he managed to get through the day without getting his head bit off. Noctis tried to get some rest, but it was difficult, knowing Gladio was listening to every move he made.
Somewhere around mid-afternoon, Gladio and Ignis traded off. Where Gladio was hot, silent fury, Ignis was cold and anxious. “Your father asked me to escort you to the donor barracks,” he said, almost as soon as he entered Noct’s room.
“Thanks,” Noctis said quietly. He was hungry.
Ignis gave him a tight smile and led the way.
And that was pretty much the extent of the next couple days. Boring, being escorted from place to place like a prisoner in his own home, staring at the walls of his room. For the first day, he was too upset at himself and the whole situation to start up his game consoles or pull out his laptop. Anytime he so much as opened a book, he couldn’t concentrate enough to read it.
His dad made a point to visit him every day, but his posture and expression made his opinion of Noct’s conduct very clear. Noctis hated his dad’s disapproval, so he made a real effort not to ruffle any feathers. Regis made sure Noctis knew that if he was honest about what he’d been up to, the restrictions might be eased… but Noctis knew if he fessed up to where he’d been, that would only make things worse. So he bore the grounding instead.
Noctis may have been grounded from leaving the Lair, but his dad didn’t ground him from his phone. An oversight, Noctis was sure -- and he did his best not to draw any attention to it. He waited until his rare moments of privacy (in the evenings, usually, when Ignis stepped out to let him get ready for his day) to pull out his phone and interact with the reason for his grounding.
His first conversation with Prompto after the "sorry I bailed on you" one was a relief… Prompto wasn't mad. Noctis was surprised to find him the opposite, actually; frantic that Noctis wouldn't want to hang out again because he was lame enough to fall asleep when he had company.
Noctis had to do a lot of reassuring. But then he also had to tell Prompto that hanging out again was off the table until he was let out of teenager jail, and he had no idea when that would be. Prompto understood.
PAL [9:12pm] >> actually it’s probably a good thing
PAL [9:13pm] >> cor’s kinda nervous since the other night; something tripped all his wards
Prince of the Night [9:13pm] >> what lol
PAL [9:13pm] >> seriously, right?
Then a pause.
PAL [9:16pm] >> you didn’t, like, let something in that night, did you?
Prince of the Night [9:17pm] >> just myself
PAL [9:17pm] >> whew
PAL [9:17pm] >> I was pretty sure you wouldn’t do something like that, but I had to check
PAL [9:17pm] >> I mean, whatever it was seriously triggered every ward he had on the house
PAL [9:18pm] >> and then he couldn’t wake me up and thought a vampire got me
PAL [9:18pm] >> but I didn’t have a bite
PAL [9:19pm] >> he said if any vampire had made it in, it would absolutely have bitten me, because that’s, like, a thing
Noct was pretty sure that WAS a thing for someone like Prompto. The Lair’s vampires were pretty good at restraining themselves, but Prompto was unique. Then he squinted at the text. Had Cor actually told Prompto that vampires were guaranteed to bite? Because a vampire hunter really should know better.
Unless the vampire hunter knew that Prompto in particular was guaranteed to be bitten.
That opened a whole slew of possibilities Noctis wasn’t prepared to think about just now. Prompto was really chatty and kept sending messages while Noctis puzzled about it and considered how much he should say. He didn’t want to come across as a vampire expert to the adopted son of a vampire hunter -- that would invite too many questions. But now there were a lot of things he really wanted to know.
PAL [9:20pm] >> so he’s pretty sure there wasn’t a vampire here, but something still tripped all the wards
PAL [9:21pm] >> since then he’s been trying to figure out if something could have done that without getting in the house
PAL [9:21pm] >> he might be nervous about me inviting you over again
PAL [9:21pm] >> we may want to settle for arcade nights for a bit
PAL [9:22pm] >> when you can, of course
Prince of the Night [9:23pm] >> yeah I’ll let you know when dad lifts the sentence
PAL [9:23pm] >> heheh ouch dude
They settled into King’s Knight after that, and played until Prompto said he had to go to bed. Then Noctis decided he’d better make an appearance for the night.
It was Ignis that first got Noctis thinking about it.
Ignis took him to the donor bank in the barracks -- the clinical room where he could feed on blood stored in plastic pouches. They inevitably tasted of the plastic they were stored in, and Noctis had to bite through the plastic to drink, which made him taste it more. As he left the room he made a face and swiped his tongue across his fangs.
“Ugh,” he said. “I can’t stand the taste of those things. I wish Dad would just let me hunt.”
Ignis hummed sympathetically. “Soon,” he said.
“Too bad I can’t just drink straight from the donors,” Noctis muttered. He’d prefer that, but there were rules for a reason. Drinking directly from a person required a level of intimacy that he didn’t have with any of the donors yet. His dad would eventually start bringing him to donor functions where he could meet the donor families and build relationships with them, but he had a couple years before that would happen.
(Hunts were a different thing. They still required consent, but the rules were a bit more relaxed.)
“One day, you’ll be able to recruit your own donors,” Ignis said.
Noctis considered that in silence for a moment. Ignis took it as an invitation to continue.
“Your father began recruiting when he was close to your age. He started with the donor families, but he also ventured out. Weskham’s one of his oldest, right now… One of his generational donors.”
Generational, as in a human whose parents (and possibly their parents) were donors. They grew up in the barracks mansion with their family, and were given a choice to become a donor once they reached the age of majority. Kids who didn’t want to be donors often left the donor barracks to pursue their lives, but they didn’t have to -- and many still returned to donate blood to the bank.
“My father told me Regis recruited Weskham’s grandfather,” Ignis continued. “They met at a scientific lecture, of all things.”
“Imagine that,” Noctis mumbled, more to keep Ignis talking than for any other reason.
And Ignis did. He prattled on about things he’d learned from his parents, about the various donors; the generational ones (there were a couple families that even predated Mors) and the ones his father had recruited on his own. He probably thought he was comforting Noctis with the idea that in time he would be able to bring people in as donors himself.
That would mean actually meeting people, which… Noctis didn’t do much. In fact the only person he’d actually met that wasn’t already affiliated with the Lair in some way was… was Prompto.
Prompto, who smelled like the most amazing cocktail. Prompto, who probably tasted just as good. Prompto, who… could be a donor.
Noctis didn’t know half the things he needed to consider in choosing donors, but… Noctis liked Prompto. Genuinely liked, when he wasn't trying to keep himself from biting him. Noctis guessed that might be an obstacle… Donors could only give blood every eight weeks, to keep them from growing anemic, and Noctis knew it would be tough to keep away from Prompto that long, especially if they really became friends.
He'd… he'd have to ask about the rules. It would be a long time before it could happen, anyway; Prompto was too young to make the commitment. And there was Cor to consider, as well. Prompto was his adopted son, after all…
At the very least, thinking about the possibility put a bounce in his step as Noctis followed Ignis back to the Lair.
After a week on his best behavior, Noctis finally got word from his dad: Ignis and Gladio could take him out on a hunt. It was a relief. He’d exhausted his interest in everything in his room, and even welcomed his sessions with his tutors, just to break up the monotony. And even though he'd drunk from the plastic pouches most of his life, he was ready to drink from something with an actual pulse again.
This time, he meekly followed his 'retainers' to the park without complaint. They zeroed in on a tipsy couple. Ignis worked the glamour this time, and Noctis carefully observed how he slipped into their space and smoothly maneuvered the pair of them to a secluded park bench where he extracted the essential "yes" before he beckoned Noctis over. Then Ignis daintily nipped at the woman's wrist and Noctis made his own bite in the crook of the man’s elbow while Gladio kept a lookout.
When he and Ignis had both drunk as much as they should, they worked their healing magic to seal the wounds, and left the couple on the bench, leaning against each other groggily. They’d think nothing more than perhaps having drunk more than they thought, and hopefully they’d still remember the night with fondness.
They found two more victims before Noctis was sated and they headed back to the Lair. Noctis trailed the other two, lost in thought. Ignis picked up on it first, naturally, and slowed to match Noct’s pace.
“Noct?” he said. “Something on your mind?”
Noctis didn’t answer right away. He chewed his lip as he walked, and thought carefully about how he wanted to frame his questions. “I know it’s a while before I can recruit donors,” he started. “But… I want to know more about it. Like, what the rules are. How Dad does it.”
“Mmm,” Ignis said thoughtfully.
“What brought this on?” Gladio said, far closer than Noctis expected, and he startled. When Noctis didn’t answer right away, Gladio said, “Well?”
“Nothing,” Noctis said defensively. “I just… It’s something I want to know.”
“And that’s not unreasonable,” Ignis said, giving Gladio a severe look.
Gladio snorted. “It’ll be a long time before you need to know all that, kid.”
“You don’t have to tell me that,” Noctis retorted. “I just… want to know what I should be looking for.”
“Well, you have to be in a position to be meeting people first,” Gladio said. “And at the rate you’re going, it ain’t happening soon.”
Noctis bristled and opened his mouth to snap at Gladio again.
“I think,” Ignis cut in, “that these are excellent and responsible questions for Noct to be asking, and it doesn’t hurt him to talk about it, whether he’ll be putting it into practice now or ten years from now.” Ignis’s glare dared Gladio to argue.
Gladio rolled his eyes and shrugged -- probably deciding it was a fight not worth engaging in, especially with Ignis taking Noct’s side. It still startled Noctis sometimes how Ignis managed to get the upper hand on Gladio, a pureblood, in contests of will -- even as small as this one.
“The donor relationship,” Ignis started in his dry Lecture Voice, “is really like any relationship. It helps to have common interests--”
“Yeah, yeah,” Gladio said with a roll of his eyes. “I’m pretty sure princess here wasn’t asking for relationship advice.”
Ignis cleared his throat and pushed his glasses up with a finger. “Anyway,” he snapped, “once Regis identifies a potential candidate, and they're willing, there’s a lot of evaluations -- health, temperament, that sort of thing.”
“It's a long process and there’s a lot of waiting,” Gladio added. “Which is good, because it weeds out a lot out problems. People get cold feet sometimes once they realize the extent of the commitment.”
“Exactly,” Ignis said with a nod. “Then, of course, there’s the donor contract… a guarantee that the Lair will provide for their health and comfort at no expense to them except for the drawing of blood every eight weeks.”
“They don’t even need to get jobs if they don’t want,” Gladio added, “though many still do anyway. But you know all that.”
Noctis sort of knew all that. It wasn’t something he paid attention to.
“What happens if they change their minds?” he asked.
“Oh, they go back to their lives,” Ignis said. “There is some memory-altering, to protect the Lair, but they can and do lead normal lives.”
“But how does Dad zero in on someone? What makes him decide who is a good candidate?”
“That’s something you may have to ask him,” Ignis said. Then he peered curiously at Noctis. “Why this sudden interest?”
“Yeah,” Gladio said skeptically. “What’s got you thinking about donors and recruitment and junk?”
“Nothing,” Noctis said too quickly. He tried not to wince.
He also tried not to notice the look Gladio and Ignis shared, and he ignored the joint stare they leveled at him.
“Noctis…” Ignis started.
“It’s nothing,” he said again, and started walking faster.
“There’s no ‘nothing’ the way you’re acting,” Gladio said, lengthening his stride to keep up. “You haven’t… you haven’t found someone you’re considering, have you?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Noctis said.
“You can’t possibly be thinking of getting another kid to be a donor, are you?” Gladio said. “That’ll never fly.”
“I wouldn’t ask him now, it’s just--”
“So there IS someone,” Ignis said. “Noctis, those days you’ve been disappearing and no one can figure out where you are… What exactly are you doing?”
“Nothing!” Noctis started walking even faster. It didn’t help; both Ignis and Gladio had longer legs than he did, and they kept up easily.
“It’s that kid, isn’t it?” Gladio said. “The bait. I warned you not to play with fire.”
“You don’t get it,” Noctis said. “He’s not--”
“So you are going after the bait.” Gladio shook his head. “I’d hoped I was wrong.”
“Noctis, you…” Ignis’s face paled. “You haven’t.”
“So what if I have?” Noctis said defiantly. “He’s nice!”
“‘Nice’ isn’t good enough, Noct,” Gladio said. “What happens when you hurt him?”
“Noct, he’s associated with Cor.” Ignis sounded stunned. “If anything happens to him because of you, Cor will…”
“Pulverize us,” Gladio said. “That’s what he’d do. No one in the Lair would be safe.”
“Noctis, please promise me you won’t see him again,” Ignis said. “You’ll put us all at risk. If anything happened, Cor would destroy as many of us as he could, and ask questions later.”
“There’s no way that kid could be a donor, Noct,” Gladio said. “Not in a million years.”
We’ll see about that, Noctis thought, but he kept it to himself.
Chapter 9: A Nice Walk in the Dark
Noct's grounding is over, and now Noctis isn't the only one making dumb decisions...
Noct’s grounding meant a long, empty week for Prompto. He didn’t want to get Noct in more trouble (he was definitely in enough trouble already), so he settled for evenings playing King’s Knight remotely and branching out into other online games Noctis had access to.
Every once in a while he gently probed to see if Noctis would be free soon, but the answer was the same… Noct’s dad was well and truly pissed, and anything Prompto could try to do would only make the situation worse.
Trouble was… things at home were weird, too.
In the aftermath of the chaotic night of Noct’s visit, Cor was preoccupied. He didn’t really explain to Prompto what was on his mind. He just spent most of his days reading up on news and researching who-knows-what online, and then in the evenings he’d take off alone. He’d be out for a long time, and come home in the wee hours of the morning.
And he wasn’t taking Prompto with him on his hunts.
Prompto wasn’t sure what that meant, exactly, but he didn’t imagine it was good… In the past when Cor had refused to take him along on hunts, it was usually because “it’s dangerous tonight”, or something like that. Prompto didn’t quite get it. Hunts were always dangerous, what with the vampires, and all that. He wasn’t sure what would make one particular hunt for vampires more dangerous than another, because either way, they were tracking down bloodsucking monsters.
Every night before he left, Cor gave him the same warning: “Don’t let anyone in. Anyone at all.”
Translation: No friends.
Which made no difference, really. School was still a few weeks away from starting, and so far the only person he would invite over was Noctis. And right now, Noctis wasn’t going anywhere.
Playing nightly games together would have to suffice.
Eight days into Noct’s grounding, Prompto finally got a text. He felt a flood of relief, seeing Noct's name in the notification.
[7:42pm] >> hey
NLC [7:42pm] >> dad’s finally relaxing the rules a little
NLC [7:43pm] >> i might be able to get to the arcade tomorrow night
NLC [7:43pm] >> wanna meet me there?
Prompto’s initial relief drained, and he sighed. Going to the arcade at night meant asking Cor for an escort. That… might be tricky.
Before answering, Prompto popped down the stairs and bounced over to where Cor sat at the computer. He leaned on Cor’s slumped shoulders. “Hey,” he said, and peered over Cor’s shoulder at the monitor, where Cor was scrolling through the Insomnia Daily headlines.
Cor just grunted.
Prompto took that as greeting enough. “Would it be all right if I went to the arcade tomorrow night?” he asked.
Cor sighed. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I’ve got an appointment so I can’t escort you and I don’t want you out after the sun goes down.”
“... Okay,” Prompto said, and pulled away.
Cor looked up at him and sighed again. He swiveled his chair a half-turn and leaned an elbow against the keyboard tray. “I’m sorry, kid, I’m just nervous.”
“I… it’s all right,” Prompto said. “It’s just… Noct’s not grounded anymore and asked if I could meet up with him.”
“It’s for your safety,” Cor said. “I wish it could be different. Things should calm down soon, but for now…”
“But if I was with Noct I could--”
“Sorry, Prompto, but it’s just not a good idea.” Cor’s voice had a tone of finality. Prompto was pretty sure he wouldn’t budge on that.
“Okay,” he said.
“This won’t be forever,” Cor said. “And I hate to do this to you, but I probably won’t be home for dinner tomorrow, so you’ll be on your own.”
“What’s going on?” Prompto asked. “You’ve been out a lot this week.”
Cor hesitated, his face drawn. “I know, and I’m sorry. It’s… complicated. And I hesitate getting a kid like you involved.”
Prompto pursed his lips. “I could help you,” he said softly.
“But you shouldn’t have to,” Cor answered. Then he shifted in his seat. “I know this has been a rough week for you -- but soon I should have a handle on what’s going on, and I’ll be able to resolve things. Hopefully.” He stood and clapped a hand on Prompto’s shoulder. “I’m sorry about Noctis. You’re welcome to Skype him, or do one of those online games together.”
Prompto swallowed his disappointment. He nodded and gave Cor a small smile. Then he headed back upstairs to his room.
He had to answer Noct’s text.
He didn't want to say no.
For all that Noctis had been completely chill in all their interactions this week, Prompto still felt terrible about falling asleep on him. And… and it sucked that Cor wouldn't let him go, just because he'd have to be out by himself after dark. Prompto was nearly sixteen. He could totally take care of himself. He knew how to use a gun. He'd been on plenty of hunts with Cor. Granted, Cor had done most of the heavy lifting…
He chewed his lip and stared at Noct's "wanna meet me there". He had to do this. He'd just have to make it up to Cor later. If Cor found out. If Prompto was careful, maybe he wouldn't.
[8:03pm] >> sure!
PAL [8:03pm] >> what time?
[8:05pm] >> about 8:30
NLC [8:05pm] >> that okay?
[8:06pm] >> yeah, that'll be fine
PAL [8:07pm] >> I'll see you then!
Prompto thumbed his phone to sleep before he could change his mind. He tried to ignore how his heart was pounding. He'd never gone against Cor's instructions before. He wasn't sure he liked how it made him feel. But it would be okay.
He'd be okay.
He'd leave home before dark so only his return trip would be after sundown. He'd take one of his small silver pistols, strapped under his jacket. He’d wear that silver leaf talisman Cor had given him. He'd spend the whole time inside the arcade where he would be with a friend, once Noctis got there. He'd run home. Cor wouldn't even know he was gone.
He'd be fine.
Even with Noct's grounding over and the rules relaxed a little, it was still tricky for him to slip away for an hour. He only managed it by heading to the donor banks for a feeding.
Ignis insisted on going along, at first. Noctis let Ignis know in no uncertain terms that going to the donor banks was something a child could do alone. As he griped and moaned and threatened to complain the entire way, he watched Ignis’s resolve crumble until Ignis finally hissed “Very well. Just make sure you’re home in an hour. Don’t make me regret this.”
Noctis smiled as he left the Lair for the donor mansion, but he didn’t let Ignis see.
He drank enough pouches of blood to be sated but not sleepy (he wanted to be able to resist Prompto’s oh-so-tempting smell) and he downed them fast enough that he still had plenty of time before Ignis’s hour was up. He easily had enough time to make it to the arcade by 8:30, and then -- as long as he watched the time -- he’d have enough time to make it back, too. Maybe. He might be able to get away with a full hour at the arcade, if Ignis was busy and didn’t notice the time.
Noctis slipped into the shadow of the shrubbery on the mansion’s exterior grounds, and from there, he headed out into the street -- only pausing when he noticed a shadowy form crouching in an alleyway across from the mansion. When he pushed his senses out, he could only tell that it wasn’t a vampire… but what would a human be doing there? Noctis made his way underneath some cars and through the shadows of some trash bins until he was in the alleyway proper, and there was able to recognize Cor.
Cor, the Immortal… watching the donor mansion.
Cor seemed to have some uncanny sense for when he was being watched, because his head snapped around. He scanned the alleyway, near where Noctis mingled with the pooling shadow. Noctis carefully slipped away down the alley and left the Immortal to his vigil... but he would have to tell someone.
He should tell someone now, but as soon as he did, they’d tell him to come straight home, and that would leave Prompto waiting at the arcade. He’d have to remember to do it as soon as he got back.
Noctis hustled as fast as he could. He arrived at the arcade in record time -- and Prompto’s enticing smell was everywhere. He’d been there a while; probably since before sundown. Noctis tracked him down at the old Tetris console in the back of the arcade, and when Prompto didn’t immediately notice him, he said, “Hey.”
Prompto jumped and accidentally insta-dropped his incoming L-block into the most awkward place possible. Prompto squawked, and tried to recover, but it was too late. The column avalanche-filled, and the game flashed its “game over”. Prompto groaned.
“Sorry,” Noctis said with a laugh.
“You should be,” Prompto said. “Don’t do that to me!” He elbowed Noctis in the arm.
Noctis took the jab in good humor… but now he was thinking about Cor. Who sometimes let Prompto hang out after dark, but not alone. He wondered if Prompto knew what Cor was doing tonight. “Hey, is… is your dad around tonight?” He already knew the answer, but.
“Nah,” Prompto said with a shrug. “He had better things to do.”
“... Okay, cool.” At least Noctis wouldn’t have to avoid Cor here. But Prompto’s generic answer didn’t really tell him what Cor was actually doing . Pressing for more information would be weird, though. He got back to the matter at hand. “Hey, do they have any new games since the last time I was here?”
“Yeah, I think they do!” Prompto said. “Let’s go check ‘em out…” And they wove their way deeper into the arcade.
It was pleasant and fun after a week of being grounded, and even though Prompto seemed a little jittery, Noctis didn’t think it was because of him. When Prompto tried to apologize for falling asleep, Noctis dismissed it at once. “Could have been me,” he said. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll just have to get together again sometime soon.”
Prompto visibly relaxed then, and after that, the hour melted away. Prompto even pulled out his phone to show Noctis all the photos he’d taken during the “golden hour” -- apparently he’d walked to the arcade before the sun had gone down, and the golden light bathing the world had made everything particularly photogenic. Noctis was properly appreciative. The photos really were good. And as he flipped through them, listening to Prompto gush about this cat, that bush, the angle of light… Noctis became more and more sure.
He’d convince Prompto to be a donor. Somehow.
Before he knew it, Noctis was checking the time on his phone and it was quarter past nine. His hour was more than up, and Ignis would be looking for him soon, if he wasn’t already. Noctis had to get back. He had to warn someone about Cor. And he needed to make himself scarce before Cor showed up to get Prompto.
“Hey,” he said. “I don’t have as much time as I thought. When’s your dad coming to get you?”
“... He’s not,” Prompto said, and the hesitation before he answered was telling. “He had things to do tonight, remember? I’m walking home today.”
“By yourself?” Noctis said. And the strident way it came out made Noctis suddenly and acutely aware of how much the idea of Prompto walking alone in the dark worried him.
Prompto’s lip twisted.
Noctis didn’t want to offend him -- and it looked like he was headed that way -- so he quickly blurted out, “Hey, can I walk you home?”
“What, you don’t think I can make it home on my own? I’m a big boy.”
Yep, he’d hit a sore spot. He wondered if Cor knew Prompto was out alone and planning to walk home in the dark. Noctis realized that Prompto hadn’t actually said anything about Cor saying it was okay for him to be out… and he’d gotten to the arcade long before Noctis. All the “golden-hour” photos he’d showed off from his walk to the arcade were proof that he’d come on his own.
Noctis had to diffuse this. “Maybe I’m just tired of being grounded and I want to spend more time with a friend,” he said, and was rewarded with Prompto’s face relaxing into a soft grin.
“I guess that’s okay,” Prompto said. And they left together.
Noctis was on edge as soon as they were out in the dark. He was hyper-aware of how amazing Prompto smelt, and pressed close enough to his friend that their shoulders rubbed. At the same time, he kept a careful eye on the shadows, watching for other vampires. Prompto was sure to draw every lowlife out. Cor had good reason not to let Prompto out of his sight -- or out of the house, really. The Lair did what it could to keep the more unsavory vampires out of Insomnia, but it didn’t always work.
In fact, there was one now. Noctis could sense it, approaching from a darkened street. Noctis looked directly at it and pushed out his pureblood aura until the other, weaker vampire skittered away without a sound.
Meanwhile, Prompto jabbered on about how Cor wouldn’t let him out alone. “I mean, I’ve been training, right? I can totally take care of myself.”
“Mmm,” Noctis said in response. He could sense another small fry approaching. Instead of facing it, Noctis just let his aura speak for itself. When the other vampire got close enough to sense it, it simply stopped and turned away.
“Look at us,” Prompto said. “We’re half-way to my house already and everything’s fine. I have a pistol, and a talisman that Cor gave me, and I’m fine. I don’t know what he’s worried about.”
A talisman? Noctis hadn’t even noticed -- probably because he was a pureblood. The thing probably wouldn’t affect him unless he touched it. It might keep lesser vampires away. Might.
Then he really thought about what Prompto was saying, and about what he’d learned earlier -- the possibility that Cor knew that Prompto was bait. That Cor may not have told Prompto.
“I dunno, Prompto…” Noctis said. “Cor’s pretty good at what he does. If he’s worried, he probably has a reason.” He wasn’t about to tell Prompto he was bait. Not like this. It would invite too many questions he wasn’t ready to answer.
Then something caught his attention: the approach of another vampire. This time, the hair rose on the back of Noct’s neck as the aura washed over him. This one wasn’t like the other lowlifes that had approached them so far. This one felt like a pureblood. Not a familiar one. No, this one felt ancient , the way Noct’s dad felt ancient . Noctis peered in the direction of its approach, but there was a building in the way… he couldn’t see it. Yet. And it wasn’t coming fast; it was holding back.
“Noct?” Prompto said. “You okay, buddy?” Prompto’s voice was a little shaky.
Noctis blinked and turned to Prompto. “Sorry,” he said. “Thought I saw something. Here, let’s… let’s get you home.”
They didn’t talk much the rest of the way. Prompto seemed to pick up on his unease. Whatever Noctis had sensed before fell behind and didn’t follow, but Noctis didn’t relax until they got closer to Prompto’s house and he could feel the periphery of Cor’s wards. He breathed a sigh of relief. Then he slowed. He didn’t have Prompto’s explicit permission to enter, and he didn’t want to get close enough to test Cor’s defenses. “I’ve gotta head back home,” he said. “See you later?”
“Sure,” Prompto said, subdued. But he still waved and smiled, and took off at a jog down the street.
Noctis waited there until he sensed Prompto enter the protection of Cor’s wards. He was inside now, and safe. Noctis breathed a sigh of relief -- and only then did he notice that he wasn’t alone. He’d been so focused on Prompto getting home safe that he had failed to pay attention. He whirled around.
Gladio stood there, arms folded and face a stormcloud of rage.
Noctis breathed a sigh of relief. “It’s you.”
Gladio didn’t say anything.
“Did you… I thought I sensed--”
“I thought you had some sense,” Gladio interrupted, “but I can’t believe how amazingly stupid you really are.”
Noctis couldn’t let Gladio get under his skin. Not now. “I saw Cor outside the donor barracks.”
“‘S that so.”
“And… and I sensed another pureblood, just now…”
Gladio just glared at him.
Noctis let his shoulders sag. He might as well get this over with… He was in enough trouble already, and rising to Gladio’s baiting would just make it worse. Besides, he was more concerned about what Cor was doing around the barracks, and about whatever ancient, unfamiliar pureblood he’d sensed. He needed to tell his dad.
“Let’s go,” Gladio said, and Noctis glumly followed.
Chapter 10: Repercussions
All Noct's sneaking around is about to come back and bite him, and he's not going to enjoy it.
“Don’t tell Dad,” Noctis said when they made it back to the Lair. He tried to make it sound casual. He wasn’t begging. He wasn’t.
Gladio raised an eyebrow at him but said nothing. He just escorted him to his rooms, and once Noctis was inside, slammed the door behind him. That was not a good sign.
Noctis sat on his bed in silence for some time. The whole evening had shaken him more than he wanted to admit. He’d been afraid for Prompto. He’d been afraid for a human he’d wanted to feed on. That didn’t seem right. But his protective feelings had been enough for him to escort Prompto home. Had been enough for him to exert his pureblood authority in a way he'd never had to before.
Then there was that presence -- the other pureblood; the one who felt more ancient than his father. Who had that been? Part of him was glad he hadn’t found out, but another, larger part of him knew that it meant trouble, and suspected he would find out eventually -- maybe sooner than later.
Noctis was so preoccupied in his own thoughts that he didn’t notice he wasn’t alone until the bed dipped beside him. He looked up. “Oh. Hey, Specs.”
Ignis did not look pleased. He didn’t look angry either; he looked carefully blank. “Noct,” he said. “Are you all right?”
“No,” Noctis admitted. “I’m… not sure, actually.”
“What happened tonight?”
Noctis hesitated. He didn’t really want to spill the beans to Ignis. It was sure to get around to his dad, because Ignis was Like That. But something told him there were several things about this evening his dad was going to need to know eventually.
“I… met up with Prompto,” he said at last.
He winced at Ignis’s sharp intake of breath. “Noct, you shouldn’t have. What happened?”
“Nothing happened," he said, waving a hand. "Prompto’s fine. Cor’s not gonna kill us. But… see, Cor didn’t know Prompto was out. He was gonna walk home by himself after dark, and I couldn’t let him do that, so I went with him, see? And it was a good thing, because he wouldn’t have made it home. We were followed by three different vampires -- and, Ignis… one of them was--”
The door slammed open and Gladio stepped in. “Iggy, come with me,” he said.
Noctis shot to his feet. “Wait,” he said. “PLEASE don’t tell my dad.” He never said “please” but he had to do it now. He knew his dad wouldn’t get it. He wasn’t sure Ignis and Gladio did, either… but he had some hope. Maybe if he explained it right, they’d get it… they’d help him figure something out.
Ignis gave Noctis an inscrutable look and pursed his lips. Gladio held the door for him as he slipped out into the hallway. Then Gladio gave Noctis a much less inscrutable look (more like pure disappointment and anger) and firmly closed the door behind them.
Noctis was left to himself again.
His phone pinged. He pulled it out.
PAL [10:12pm] >> hey thanks for walking me home buddy
PAL [10:12pm] >> appreciate it
Prince of the Night [10:13pm] >> no problem; glad to help
PAL [10:14pm] >> tonight was fun
PAL [10:14pm] >> hope we can do it again soon
Prince of the Night [10:15pm] >> me too
He really did. But from the look he'd seen on Gladio’s face, he had a sneaking suspicion that "soon" was going to be a long way off.
Noctis was left alone for a very long time. He wasn’t in the mood to play a game and he couldn’t concentrate enough to read, so he just sat there. He considered napping, but he was too strung out to be tired. The events of the evening kept swirling in his mind.
He hadn’t been told to stay in his room, even though he kind of got that message from Gladio slamming the door. He was just entertaining the thought of heading to the donor barracks -- he wasn’t really hungry, but it would be something to do -- when his door careened open again, and Ignis and Gladio entered.
Both their faces looked stiff -- resolved, almost. A little like they expected things to be unpleasant.
“Noct,” Ignis started, in a carefully steady voice. “Your father wants to see you right now.” He took a deep breath, and then quietly added, “We told him everything.”
Noctis shot to his feet. “You didn’t, ” he said.
Gladio’s grim face said it all.
“Your father insists that you come see him right away,” Ignis reminded, as if Noctis was going to forget.
Noctis was never going to forgive them. He stalked out the door of his room and brushed past both of them, making sure his shoulder caught Gladio’s arm. Gladio grunted, but didn’t say anything else. (Noctis was almost disappointed Gladio didn’t give him a reason to fight.)
Noctis stalked to his father’s receiving room, with Gladio and Ignis flanking him like some kind of royalty. Or prisoner, he wasn’t sure which. When he swept into the receiving room, Clarus was nowhere to be seen; Regis sat alone in his huge, throne-like chair like some kind of king, and stood as soon as Noctis entered. “Son,” he said, “Is this true, what Gladiolus and Ignis tell me -- you’ve befriended the son of Cor the Immortal?”
“Adopted son, but yeah.” It was no use trying to hide it now.
“What are your intentions with him?”
“Intentions,” Noctis intoned.
“This is important, Noctis,” his father said sternly.
“I…” Noctis tapered off. He wasn’t sure what to tell his father. His original intentions were to feed on him -- to make Prompto his first official hunt. But that was before he’d known that he was kin of the Immortal. And then they’d become friends. Yeah, Prompto smelled delicious -- and Noctis sure hoped he could get a taste, at some point -- but he wanted to do it the right way. Not like a hunt; not the same as the prey they found in the night-dark parks and back alleys. He wanted Prompto to be okay with it, to accept of his own free will.
“I wanted to ask him to be a donor,” Noctis said quietly.
He saw his father’s expression stiffen and knew what his answer would be before he opened his mouth. “Impossible,” Regis said. “You know we cannot allow that.”
“Why not?” Noctis said -- and his voice was much louder than he’d meant it to be, but he really wanted to shout. “What’s wrong with me asking someone to be a donor?”
“There are many things to consider when recruiting a donor, and you know that,” Regis said. “It’s not enough to be friends. Their family situation is just as important; and in this particular case, where his family is a vampire hunter--”
Gladio snorted. “Yeah, not just any hunter, either,” he said.
“Indeed,” Regis said. “As the adopted son of Cor the Immortal… Noctis, you must realize that even were he of age, recruiting him as a donor would be complicated at best.”
Noctis quietly seethed and said nothing. He knew that his dad was right. He knew it. It was still so unfair.
“Cor is seeking the Lair -- but you knew that, didn’t you.” That wasn’t a question. Gladio must have reported Noctis’s sighting of Cor outside the donor barracks right away. It would only make sense, since it was a matter of the Lair’s safety. “Prompto knowing anything at all about the Lair would put us all in immense danger,” Regis continued. “We would never know what little piece of information he might share that would tip Cor off to us and put us at risk.”
Noctis supposed that stood to reason -- but Prompto was completely guileless. Noctis was sure, once Prompto understood what was at stake, he’d be reasonable about it. He opened his mouth to say so, but his father spoke first.
“On top of that, Gladiolus tells me this boy is bait. Aside from the surprise of finding Niflheim bait here in Insomnia -- and that is a great concern, I can assure you -- I fear you may have allowed yourself to come under its influence in a dangerous way.”
“Him,” Noctis said angrily. “It’s him, not it.”
“I wasn’t talking about the boy,” Regis countered softly. “Noctis… I’ve been to Niflheim. I’ve seen how bait is used. The fact that Cor has bait in his possession worries me.”
“Prompto isn’t in his possession, ” Noctis hissed. “Prompto’s his son.”
“Noctis, I must ask you not to see him again.”
Noctis gaped. “What?” he said.
“Ignis and Gladiolus couldn’t tell me how often you’ve seen him,” Regis said, a keen look in his eye, “but I imagine it’s far more than once.”
Noctis winced. It didn’t go unnoticed.
Regis sighed. “Every time you come into his orbit, you risk everything,” he said. “You risk the safety of the Lair -- you risk losing your self control to the allure of bait. I have no wish to compel you, but… I ask you. Cease your pursuit of him at once. For the safety of the Lair.”
Noctis trembled. “No…!” he whispered.
“It is for your own good. For Prompto’s. The last thing he needs is a conflict between his father and his friend. You’re saving him from a lot of strife at home.”
“I can’t--!” Noctis remembered Prompto telling him that Noctis was his only friend. That he hadn’t been in town long, that school hadn’t started yet, that he hadn’t gotten to know anyone. Noctis was his lifeline. “Dad, I can’t do that to him. You don’t get it.”
“There are many things I ‘get’ that you don’t seem to,” Regis said sternly. “This is not something we can negotiate. Cor is a threat. Prompto would become a tool. Your friendship tests his loyalties, even if he doesn’t know it. He will be safer if you stop seeing him.”
Noctis’s mouth worked soundlessly for a moment -- then he clamped it shut.
Regis approached and put a hand on Noct’s shoulder. Noctis tensed under his father’s hand but he didn’t pull away. “Son,” Regis said, “I know this will be difficult for you to accept, but one day you will see the wisdom in it. I trust that you will do the right thing.”
Noctis wanted to say something biting and hurtful. ‘Thanks Dad for ruining my life’ didn’t seem like enough but it was all his whirling mind could come up with. Instead of saying it, though, he spun on his heel and stomped out the door. He didn’t listen to see if Gladio and Ignis followed him; he just marched to his room and slammed the door.
He couldn’t believe his dad would take away the one thing he was starting to cherish the most.
The sudden clarity of that thought soaked in, and he froze. It was true. His life had been boring, waiting for things to happen around him. He hadn’t had much interest in the doings of the Lair, unless it affected him directly, and it mostly didn’t. The opportunity for his first hunt was a bright spot, but as soon as he’d found Prompto, he’d had something to work for -- something to plan. Seeing Prompto took effort. He should be glad that he wasn’t having to sneak around and trick the people around him, but he’d enjoyed the thrill -- and then he was just enjoying Prompto. Enjoying talking to him, playing games with him online, finding ways to meet up with him. It had given him something to look forward to.
And now it was gone.
His eyes burned. He rubbed at them -- and then realized he was actually crying.
This was so stupid.
He didn’t fling himself onto his bed and weep. He didn’t. He paced the room instead, and wiped at his face now and then, and sniffed pathetically. He was glad Ignis and Gladio weren’t here to watch him be humiliating. He wondered if they were outside, to make sure he didn’t go anywhere.
He didn’t want to know.
Eventually, Noctis took wing as a bat and curled up in a corner of the ceiling, clinging to the side of one of the cross beams. He made himself as small as possible and huddled there alone with his frustration and sorrow.
At some point someone opened the door, but Noctis didn’t look to see who it was. He heard murmuring voices, someone saying “Let him have some time”, and then the door gently closed, leaving him alone again.
It took Noctis a while to calm down.
When he finally felt more settled, he fluttered down and shed his bat form and sat on the edge of his bed, his phone cupped in his hands.
He couldn’t get around his dad’s instructions this time. If he was caught out again, his dad really would use compulsion, and then there would be no getting around it. At least now he had a chance to mend things, if he could figure out what to do and say.
He’d have to handle it really carefully.
The big question was whether or not to come clean with Prompto about what he really was. If he broke off their friendship cold, Prompto would forever think that Noctis had just abandoned him. That was the last thing Noctis wanted. But just saying “we can’t hang out anymore” didn’t seem like enough. Prompto would ask a ton of questions Noctis wouldn’t be able to answer.
Noctis was pretty sure his dad didn’t want him spilling the truth, but… he wanted to be honest. He wanted to come clean. He wanted… He didn’t know what he wanted.
If he told Prompto the truth, it might solve the whole thing… Prompto was a hunter, even if still in training. As soon as he knew what Noctis was, he might very well turn around and tell Cor. Not that Cor would get any real info from that… it was more likely to just get Prompto in trouble for not recognizing what Noctis really was. But that would truly spell the end of their friendship, for sure.
Or it might be the beginning of something else.
Maybe… just maybe…
Noctis stared at his phone for a long time. It was well into the wee hours of the morning, and he knew Prompto was long asleep. Sending a message now might very well wake him… but maybe that’s what Noctis wanted.
He settled for opening King’s Knight. Prompto wasn’t online, of course, but Noctis did some mindless grinding while he mulled over what he should do.
It was near dawn before he finally decided.
Now that he’d calmed down and the anger had faded, Noctis knew his dad was right… his friendship with Prompto was dangerous, and if things went wrong, it could be more than disastrous for not just him. With Cor involved, it really did mean the safety of the Lair. But there was no way Noctis was going to break things off without explaining. Prompto had a right to know why.
He just needed to figure out how to manage it.
Chapter 11: Confessions
In which a number of confessions are almost made, actually made, kind of avoided, and completely interrupted.
The house was empty when Prompto got home, to his great relief. He took great care not to interrupt any of the wards and protections Cor had set. Since Noctis hadn't even come close to the house, Prompto had obeyed Cor’s directive not to have friends over -- but he didn't want to chance being caught out.
He quickly changed for bed and lay there playing phone games, willing his nerves to calm down and let him relax. He was too tense -- but it was impossible to unwind. Cor was gonna find out; he was gonna be busted, and he’d be grounded forever.
Prompto couldn’t help it. He held his breath until Cor made it back, hoping beyond hope that Cor wouldn’t figure out what he’d been up to. He heard the door open and gently close in the wee hours of the morning, and heard Cor make his way through the house grumbling to himself.
Cor just headed straight to bed, not knowing that Prompto lay anxious and awake in his own room.
Cor wasn’t so preoccupied that he didn’t notice Prompto yawning at breakfast the next morning. He peered at Prompto over the lip of his coffee mug, then put it down with a clack. “You okay, kid?” he said.
Prompto blinked at him blearily and said “Huh?” around a mouthful of Cocoa Puffs.
Cor chuckled. “You look tired. You okay?”
“Couldn’t sleep last night,” Prompto groaned.
Cor made a gruff ‘hmph’, and said, “Me either, kid…”
That got Prompto’s attention. “Busy night?” he said.
“You could say that,” Cor said, and sighed. “It’s been an interesting week.”
Prompto paused, spoon half-way to his mouth. “What’s going on?” he asked. “You didn’t wanna say before. Is it… Can you tell me now?”
Cor looked at him thoughtfully, then squared his shoulders. “I heard something a couple weeks ago that concerned me,” he said. “So I’ve spent a lot of time this week looking into it, and… I’m puzzled, but then again, it… seems to clarify some of what we’ve observed since we got here. But I’m not quite sure what to make of it.”
“What is it?” Prompto said, before taking another bite.
Cor didn’t answer for a moment. He stared into his coffee for some heartbeats. “I’ve been… concerned… at how few jobs we’ve had to take since we got here,” he said softly.
“Yeah,” Prompto murmured. And it was true… You don’t get a large population without a dark underbelly, Cor had said. “But we still find them every time we’re out at night.”
Cor grunted and gave him an inscrutable look. “We find them, yeah,” he said. “Or they find us. But by rights, we should be getting more calls for our services than we do.”
That was true, too… They made their living by taking jobs -- people calling them to take care of troublesome vampires, or to respond to sightings, or to avenge someone’s family member who had been taken by some rampaging bloodsucker. As soon as they'd arrived in Insomnia and Cor started advertising his services, they should have been getting multiple calls a day, based on their previous experience. But they were lucky to get one.
That didn’t seem right for a city Insomnia’s size.
Their jobs were mostly concentrated in the city center, the more unsavory districts.
“Well, this week I heard about a house near the suburbs, on a large piece of land. Almost like a park around it. I went to check it out.”
“It’s more like a mansion,” Cor said, and took a long sip of his coffee. “You’d think it was owned by someone wealthy and reclusive, but… I watched it for a long time, several times this week. There’s people coming and going all the time. It’s big enough to house several families, and it looks like it actually does. But…”
Cor tapped his fingers on the table for a while, and grimaced. He seemed reluctant, so Prompto didn’t push… he just waited, and ate, and watched Cor’s face.
His patience paid off. Cor sighed. “I didn’t just see regular people there,” he said. “In the evenings, there were vampires coming and going, too.”
Prompto almost choked on his breakfast. “What?” he said, when he could breathe again.
Cor raised an eyebrow at him. "You all right?"
Prompto cleared his throat. "Yeah," he croaked. "I just… Vampires? With humans?"
"That's what it looks like," Cor said. "It's nothing like anything you'd see in Gralea."
"What does it mean, though?" Prompto asked.
"I'm not sure," Cor said thoughtfully. “Mass glamour? Or is there some other magic at work?” He shook his head. “I need to get to the bottom of it, is all I know… And I want you to be especially cautious. If there’s anywhere you need to be, just… promise me you won’t go alone.”
Cor’s face had that stiff intensity he got when he was truly serious. Prompto paused in his chewing. “Yeah, sure,” he said at last.
Cor nodded and tucked into his own bowl of granola.
Cor’s news about this vampire house rattled Prompto in the worst way. He thought about it all day, while he helped Cor run errands. He couldn’t stop thinking about it when they responded to a couple new clients. (Cor took him on those meetings, too; a relief, since the last couple weeks had been so weird.)
The biggest surprise came later in the afternoon. “Why don’t you see if your friend can meet up with you sometime soon,” Cor said out of the blue.
Prompto stopped in his tracks and looked at Cor. “What?” he said.
“You said he was just off his punishment,” Cor said. “And… it might be good for you. To get out; be with a friend.”
“You mean it?” Prompto said, suppressing the surge of elation that wanted to overwhelm him.
Cor actually cracked a half-smile. “Sure, kid. See if he can meet up tonight, or tomorrow or something. I'll take you.”
“Aww yes!” Prompto said with a fist pump. He pulled out his phone and sent off a message. It was late afternoon, so he was sure he’d get an answer soon.
Which was why, when he didn’t get one right away, it kind of surprised him. In fact, it hurt a little. And when it was 6 pm and he and Cor were getting dinner at a burger joint and he still hadn’t heard anything, he was starting to second-guess. He opened King’s Knight, but Noctis wasn’t on, and hadn’t been in some hours. He wondered what was going on, and hoped it wasn’t something bad.
Then near 7, when the sun was on its way to the horizon, he finally got a text from Noct.
[6:54pm] >> sorry
NLC [6:54pm] >> no arcade for me tonight
[6:55pm] >> that’s okay buddy
PAL [6:55pm] >> another time I guess!
PAL [6:55pm] >> King’s Knight?
NLC [6:56pm] >> u bet
And they played, and bantered back and forth, but something felt… off. Prompto couldn’t put a finger on it, though, because nothing Noctis said gave any indication as to what it might be. When he finally petered out, close to one in the morning, and couldn’t keep his eyes open anymore, he sent a quick “see you soon” text, and when Noctis replied, “yeah”, he smiled and drifted off.
The next few days were similar. Noctis couldn’t meet up, and didn’t say anything about why. They ended up playing a lot of King’s Knight together and texting about internet memes for the giggles. That was all okay, really… but Prompto couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.
Saturday morning Cor decided that Prompto would come with him to scout out the vampire house. He’d been watching it for a while, but for some days (since the night Prompto had been out with Noct, actually) he hadn’t seen a vampire coming or going, and the change in behavior was curious.
“Maybe if you’re with me, the two of us will spot something I couldn’t on my own,” Cor said.
Prompto’s eyes went wide. “You mean it?” he squeaked.
Cor gave him a lopsided smile. “Sure do, kid.”
Prompto couldn’t contain his excitement, and it followed him the whole rest of the day. It was a change in routine -- and, since Cor had said earlier that his investigation of the vampire house was Dangerous and therefore not something Prompto could help with, it also meant a show of trust. Prompto was determined not to let him down.
They geared up together -- Cor in his standard hunting gear with body armor and neck guards, and all the weapons, charms, and talismans typical for his work. Prompto had his own version of everything as well. They stood side by side at the hallway mirror, and Prompto felt a flush of pride when Cor ruffled his hair and said “Looking good, kid.”
Then they headed out.
That night, everything changed.
Noctis put off and put off and put off going to see Prompto -- in part, because he couldn’t get away.
He was more than grounded; he was in absolute teenager jail. No one trusted him anymore. He was constantly watched by everyone. And he knew, as soon as anyone saw him visit Prompto, they’d tell his dad and then his dad would follow up on his promise and use Compulsion to enforce his edict, and that was the absolute last thing Noctis wanted.
It made for a boring week.
He played as much King’s Knight with Prompto as he could, and managed to set up some streaming games with him online, and they chatted pretty much all their joint waking hours… but Noctis wasn’t feeling it, knowing that as soon as he was able, it would all be over.
Maybe some of his morose mood bled into his texts, because Prompto called him on it mid-week.
[6:32pm] >> u need cheering up, dude
PAL [6:32pm] >> arcade tonight?
[6:33pm] >> sorry
NLC [6:33pm] >> can’t get away
PAL [6:33pm] >> you grounded again?
NLC [6:33pm] >> nah my dad’s just not letting me go anywhere
[6:34pm] >> sounds like being grounded to me
PAL [6:34pm] >> noooooooct
PAL [6:35pm] >> c’mooooon i need my Rampage fix
PAL [6:35pm] >> I wanna play a game where I can turn into a big hairy werewolf and destroy a town or two
NLC [6:36pm] >> sorry
[6:36pm] >> :(
PAL [6:36pm] >> lemme know as soon as you’re un-notgrounded so we can meet up k?
NLC [6:37pm] >> k
Noctis dropped the phone on his bed and fell back on the mattress. He stared at his ceiling for a while, mapping the grain of the wood beams with his eyes. Soon. He’d have to tell Prompto soon.
Saturday evening, Gladio and Ignis accompanied him to the donor mansion. As soon as Noct had reported that Cor was watching the manor grounds, Regis had instituted a new protocol for donor visits. No one in the Lair was to be seen approaching the property; they were to take an underground entrance, through a tunnel leading from a hidden door within the subways that ran underneath the property. The tunnel led to an old root cellar behind the mansion, and it was a hedge-enclosed, ten-foot walk from the cellar door to the old kitchen.
Except that when he walked out of the cellar into the open air, Noctis stiffened. He could definitely smell Prompto. There was no mistaking that scent.
When he stopped, Ignis turned -- and then paused and his eyes widened. He’d registered Prompto’s scent, too. “Noct…” he said in a warning tone.
A large palm grabbed Noct's upper arm and dragged him physically into the manor. “You can’t, Noct,” Gladio growled in his ear when he struggled. “Your dad would flay you alive.”
Noctis said. “I’ve gotta talk to him.”
“You ain’t going nowhere,” Gladio said. “‘Specially not before you eat.”
That unlocked his knees. Gladio was right… Noctis couldn’t go anywhere near Prompto, as hungry as he was right now. Sandwiched by his two bodyguards, he meekly followed them to the donor bank. They picked up their rations and retired to the cafeteria to eat -- a pleasant room full of little round tables surrounded by comfortable chairs. The whole while, Noctis couldn’t stop the litany in his head: “he’s here he’s here he’s here he’s here” , while at the same time realizing that probably meant Cor was here, too.
That got him wondering why Cor would bring Prompto to a place he surely knew was dangerous. For Prompto specifically.
“Guys,” he said, licking blood off his lips. “I’ve gotta… I’ve gotta go talk to him.”
“Are you insane?” Gladio said. “You know Cor’s gotta be here with ‘im.”
“Of course he is,” Noctis said. “But I’ve gotta talk to him about why I can’t see him again. I can’t just… ghost him. It’s not fair. To him.”
“It would be the most prudent,” Ignis said. “You must cut all ties to him, and a clean break might be best.”
“But that wouldn’t be a clean break,” Noctis snapped, then sagged back in his seat. “It just… doesn’t feel right.”
Gladio folded his massive arms across his chest. “Honestly,” he said, “I’m surprised you haven’t snuck out to see him again.”
“Are you kidding?” Noctis said, flinging his arms up. “The whole Lair is watching my every move. You think I’d be able to get away with that? Besides… if Dad uses Compulsion on me, I’ll never see him again, ever. I won’t have a choice.”
Gladio grunted. “Being smart for once in your life.”
Noctis made a rude gesture in Gladio’s direction. Gladio smirked back at him in response.
“You know,” Gladio said, “if you’d just paid attention to me from the beginning, this wouldn’t be a problem now. You wouldn’t be friends with a vampire hunter’s son, mooning over how you’re gonna have to break up with him.”
“I’m not mooning,” Noctis hissed. “And we’re not dating so it’s not breaking up.”
“Coulda fooled me,” Gladio teased.
Meanwhile, Ignis sat in thoughtful silence, a finger resting against his chin. “Noct,” he said at last, “if you’re serious about telling him why you can’t see him again… this may actually be the best time to do it.”
“What?” Gladio bellowed.
“Cor is undoubtedly here, correct?” Ignis said. “If we can distract him long enough for Noctis to say what he feels he needs to say to the-- to Prompto... then he needn’t risk meeting Prompto at his own house, or in some dangerous public place. We can get it over with, and we only put ourselves at risk.”
Gladio didn’t look happy about the situation, but when he didn’t dismiss it out of hand immediately, Noctis felt a little spark of hope and sat up straighter. “How do we do it?” Noctis said.
“I think I have an idea,” Ignis said, and they all leaned forward, heads almost touching over the table between them as Ignis laid out his plan.
Prompto quivered with excitement as he followed in Cor’s wake through the bustling streets. He’d been on hunts with Cor before, but this was the first one that really felt important. Cor’s instructions had been more detailed than usual. What to do if Cor needed to break away from him for a time, what to do if either of them were injured, what to do if they got separated, what danger signs to look for.
The rifle Cor had handed Prompto as they left the house bumped against his back as he walked. Packing heat like this earned them looks from other pedestrians, but they looked no further than the hunter’s tags around their necks before they relaxed and looked away.
The weird vampire house was in a part of Insomnia Prompto had yet to visit. He spent most of their walk there gawking at the buildings and the nightlife atmosphere. Then they got to what looked like a park, with darker grounds and a brightly-lit mansion -- clearly at least 200 years old -- set a good fifty meters back from the road, with a wide winding path leading to it from the sidewalk.
This amount of open space in the middle of the city was a shock. Most properties this size had long ago been broken up and absorbed into the city proper. Whoever owned this clearly didn’t care about how valuable their property could be to them, sold or parceled out to developers.
“Whoa,” Prompto said, taking it all in.
“Yeah,” Cor said. “It’s a nice building. Historic.”
“Wonder who owns it,” Prompto said.
“Someone named Regis Lucis Caelum,” Cor said.
Prompto looked up at him.
“It’s public record,” Cor said. “I looked it up. I also went to the Government Archives to look up who the original owner was. It was also Regis Lucis Caelum.”
“Family name?” Prompto said.
“Maybe,” Cor said with a grimace. “Or maybe not.”
“Wait,” Prompto said with a nervous chuckle. “You can’t mean they could be--”
“The same person?” Cor said, and then grunted. “If it is, then… we may very well have a bigger problem than I originally thought.”
While Prompto chewed on that thought, Cor guided him off the main thoroughfare and down a back street that Prompto would normally never venture into alone, especially in the dark. They set up position in the shadows, with a good view of the manor house, and Cor handed Prompto a pair of binoculars. “Keep an eye on the doors,” he said. “I haven’t seen any vampires this week and it’s a concern… I kind of wonder if they know they’re being watched.”
“How could they know that?”
“A lot of ways,” Cor said. “Could be they just noticed me sometime when I wasn’t being careful.”
Prompto rolled that thought around his mind for a moment. “We’re being careful tonight, right?”
“As careful as we can be,” Cor said, fingering the silver pendant around his neck. Then he stiffened. He took some steps out of the shadows and to the edge of the alleyway, peering around the corner.
“What is it?” Prompto hissed.
Cor immediately put a finger up and didn’t answer. After watching down the street for a moment, he contorted his fingers into his ‘wait here’ sign and slipped out of the alley.
Prompto hunkered back into the shadows, and unslung the rifle from his back. He peered through its scope, scanning the doors of the manor. He focused so hard that he almost missed the small rustle in the street behind him until a voice said “Prompto?”
Prompto whirled around. “N… Noct??”
It was Noctis approaching him, backlit by the street lights at the other end of the alley. The effect was ethereal; it made Noctis appear completely otherworldly. Prompto’s exhale almost sounded like a gasp.
“What are you doing here??” he hissed when he found his voice again. “This place isn’t safe!”
Noctis snorted. He actually snorted. “I’m pretty sure it’s safer for me than it is for you,” he said, which didn’t make sense at all. Prompto was completely geared up with all his hunting equipment, and Noctis was just standing there in a hoodie and jeans like he just walked out of the arcade.
“Noct, I… I can’t talk right now; I’ve gotta--”
“Yeah, you’re working,” Noctis said. “You guys are scouting out the house, right?”
Prompto stared. “You… you know about the house?”
Noctis brushed right past him and looked out the alley towards the mansion. “Don’t hurt them, okay? They’re good people.”
Noctis turned back to him. He smiled, but it looked sad. And his eyes flickered with an odd light in the dark alley. “Sorry,” he said. “I… I need to talk to you, and I’m just realizing that I’m not sure how to say what I need to say.”
Filled with sudden anxiety, Prompto gave a nervous laugh. “You’re not making much sense, buddy.”
“Sorry,” Noctis muttered again. “Look, I--” He rubbed a hand through his hair. “My dad’s making me do this, okay? I… I’m really enjoying hanging out with you, but… my dad says… I shouldn’t.”
Anger flared deep in Prompto’s belly. “But why? What’s wrong with… with me?” His stupid brain helpfully reminded him of the stupid barcode on his wrist. About the little rumors and snippets he’d gleaned about his past. But Noctis couldn’t possibly know about that. Could he?
Noctis raised and shook both hands. “It’s nothing about you,” he said hastily. “You’re… you’re great, Prompto. It’s… it’s me. And… your dad.”
“What does Cor have to do with it?”
“Well…” Noctis let his arms drop. “It’s because I’m a--”
A blade flashed and cut between them, snapping to the base of Noct’s neck. Noctis went utterly still, his face blank as he stared at the blade.
“Vampire,” Cor snarled.
Chapter 12: Comprehension
In which Prompto gets some crucial information at a really bad time...
This story has been getting quite a bit of payoff from my NaNoWriMo efforts! I'm not officially doing NaNo; I'm planning to do 500 words a day. Hopefully I'll be able to keep that up, and will be able to post more frequently this month!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Noct’s first thought the moment Cor’s blade flashed into view was for Ignis and Gladio. Had Cor...? Noctis swallowed. Calm. He had to be calm. He kept his face a careful mask, and let his senses broaden, feeling for the presence of other vampires near…
Gladio’s presence was a shining beacon of pureblood strength; Ignis a pale second near it, but still strong. Whole. They weren’t far, and they were approaching fast. Probably coming to Noct’s rescue.
Noctis didn’t have time to worry about what had brought Cor back. Cor’s blade burned where the silver met Noct’s skin. It hadn’t broken through yet, but any sudden movement and it would. He held his breath.
Prompto’s wide, panicked eyes flashed between Noct’s face and Cor. “What’s going on??” Prompto squeaked. “Cor, that’s--”
“A vampire,” Cor said. “You have five seconds to back away from my son, or I’ll--!”
“Cor, that’s Noct!” Prompto said, his voice shrill with alarm.
Noctis looked up to Cor’s face just in time to see bald shock and dawning realization. “You… you’re Noctis?” Then Cor’s expression darkened again and the blade edged closer. “What have you been doing to my son, you filthy bloodsucker?!”
Prompto squeaked and his eyes snapped to Noctis again.
“I haven’t done anything,” Noctis said, his voice as measured and calm as he could make it. He knew as soon as he did anything Cor saw as threatening, his life would be over. If his heart could function at all, it would be hammering in his chest.
At the same time, he was furious. Cor had the gall to ask him what he was doing to Prompto -- when Cor surely knew Prompto was bait, and yet took him on hunts? Brought him out here, to a place like this, where there were sure to be vampires around…? What kind of father was he??
“It was you that day,” Cor hissed. “ You came into my house and tripped every ward I had on the place. How did you get in?”
“I was invited,” Noctis said, and met Prompto’s eyes.
“Noct…?” Prompto whispered. “What are you saying…?”
Ignis and Gladio rounded the far alley corner. With Prompto’s back turned to them and Cor focused entirely on Noctis, they went unnoticed -- but Noctis saw them both flinch as soon as they saw Cor’s sword at Noct’s throat. They tensed to sprint to his aid, but he sent a firm mental ‘No’ that stopped them both in their tracks. Instead, they melted into shadow and waited.
Feeling Cor’s blade at his neck, he hoped he didn’t regret stopping them.
“Prompto,” Noctis said quietly. “I never lied to you, and I will never lie to you. I promise. But… I didn’t tell you, and I’m sorry.”
Prompto’s mouth worked like he was trying to find something to say but couldn’t get the words out.
“You will stop speaking to my son this instant, you monster,” Cor said, and his tone sent shivers up Noct’s spine.
Prompto looked at Cor again, his confusion melting into fear. “Cor, you can’t--”
“Can’t what?” Cor snapped. “Can’t do my damn job?”
Prompto flinched like he’d been struck. He dropped his rifle with a clatter.
Noctis watched this exchange with anguish. His dad had been right. Noct’s presence in Prompto’s life would drive a wedge between him and the only family he knew. Ignis had been right. He should have just dropped out of Prompto’s life without a trace; it would have been better. Gladio had been right. As soon as he’d known Prompto was tied to Cor, he should have left well enough alone. If Noctis was able to get out of this alive, he’d have to make sure they all knew how right they were.
“You’re a good friend, Prompto,” he said, “and I’m so sorry it has to be this way.”
Cor’s blade shifted against his neck. “I said stop speaking to my son.”
Noctis shifted his eyes to the vampire hunter and swallowed.
“What’s your name, leech?” Cor spat.
“Noctis Lucis Caelum,” Noctis said.
Cor’s eyes flickered. Perhaps he’d heard the Clan’s name before. “Who is your master?” Cor asked.
“I have no master.”
If Cor had looked shocked before, it was nothing to now. “A pureblood!” he hissed. “But purebloods are ancient!”
“Yeah, some of them are,” Noctis said, and Astrals, he was snarking at Cor the Immortal. His head was doomed to leave his body any minute now.
If Cor meant to follow up on what was apparently new knowledge to him, his next question just made Noctis angry. “Why have you enchanted all those people to live in that house for you? What are you doing with them? What kind of spell are they under?”
“They aren’t under any spell,” Noctis said testily. “They’re willing volunteers. And I’ll thank you to leave them alone; they’re perfectly innocent and if anything happens to them, by the way, it’s my job to defend them, so--”
“I have seen how vampires treat people,” Cor said. “In Niflheim, and Gralea--”
“Yeah, well, you don’t know thing one about us,” Noctis said, and now he was really getting angry -- and if Prompto’s increasingly frightened expression was anything to go by, his eyes were shining with it. “We’re nothing like Niflheim vampires. Besides, Niflheim isn’t too great at treating human beings well -- if they’re willing to breed humans as vampire bait.” He held Cor’s eyes and gestured to Prompto.
Whether Cor was intimidated by the gleam of his angry stare, or shocked by his mention of bait, Cor pulled back slightly, his sword wavered.
Noctis couldn’t help blurting out, “I can’t believe you haven’t told him what he is.”
Cor’s face tightened. He lowered his sword and opened his mouth.
It gave Noctis enough of an opening. He edged a foot towards the shadow cast by a nearby dumpster and tugged himself into it. Then he sped away through the dark without looking back. He felt Gladio and Ignis join him as he fled.
He had to hold it together. He had to.
He didn’t make it two streets away before his emotions welled up at last, breaking his concentration and forcing him out of the shadows into corporeal form in an alley, where he crumpled, shaking, to the ground.
For a moment, Prompto could only stare at the place where his friend had dissolved into shadow. His brain scrambled to latch onto anything that made sense at all in the last fifteen minutes and grasped nothing -- none of it made sense, not a single thing. Not Cor’s accusation, not Noct’s glowing eyes, not anything .
But his mind did manage to snag on something Noct had said -- about bait. About Cor not telling him “what he is”.
He whirled to Cor, barely registering Cor’s dumbfounded expression. “What did he mean?” he said, swallowing his mortification when his voice squeaked.
Cor’s frown deepened and he didn’t answer.
“Cor… what did he mean when he said--”
“Forget it,” Cor said. “Forget everything he said. Forget him.”
“What??” Prompto said. “How can I do that? He’s… he’s the only friend I have!”
“He can’t be your friend,” Cor said. “You saw him. He’s a vampire. Not just that, he’s a pureblood. Don’t you understand what he’s capable of?” And Cor wheeled on him, shivering with so much ferocity that Prompto shrank back. Cor had never directed that at him before.
Of course Prompto knew what purebloods were capable of; Cor had taught him. But he didn’t understand why Cor was so angry with him.
“But he s-seemed so n-normal,” Prompto stammered. “I… m-met him playing video games at the arcade.”
“You’re never going there again,” Cor said.
Prompto’s chest tightened. “But--”
“No buts,” Cor said, sheathing his sword. “I don’t want you anywhere near him. You just don’t get how dangerous it is for you.”
This wasn’t fair. He couldn’t possibly mean… Prompto swallowed hard. He’d never seen Cor so angrily set on something. But then Prompto had never been friends with an honest to goodness actual vampire before. This wasn’t going to end well, he could tell from the set of Cor’s jaw.
“Cor, he never hurt me. We hung out a bunch of times and he never hurt me.”
“Are you oblivious?” Cor raised his voice. “That day he came to our house, he set glamour on you! He put you to sleep!”
“But he didn’t bite me!”
“And who knows how that happened; because your scent should have--”
Cor clamped his mouth shut, and that struck Prompto as odd. And it reminded him of what Noctis had said. He took a deep breath. “He said ‘bait’. What did he mean?”
“I said forget it,” Cor said, and turned away.
“I can’t just forget this,” Prompto said. “He said you haven’t told me. Haven’t told me what?”
Cor stopped. His shoulders dropped and he slowly turned back around. The regret on his face was a punch to the gut. Prompto’s heart jumped into his throat. He didn’t want to hear this, he could tell already. He needed to hear this.
“I… rescued you in Niflheim,” Cor said.
“Yeah,” Prompto said. “You told me that a long time ago.”
Cor sighed. “I rescued you from Verstael Besithia’s lab.”
Prompto knew that name. They’d run into it a few times in Niflheim and Gralea. Besithia was a scientist of renown, but his name was held in both awe and disgust. He had a… reputation. “He was a hero,” he said. “He…”
“He made a way for vampire hunters to lure vampires out for easy hunting.”
“How?” Prompto whispered. He didn’t want to know. He had to know.
“He… cloned himself. And then genetically modified the clones to be delicious to vampires. To be bait.”
No. No, that couldn’t be right. Cor wasn’t saying what Prompto thought. Prompto realized he was shaking his head, and made himself stop. “You’re… you’re wrong.” But every hunt...
“I found you in his facility,” Cor said. “You were a small child.”
“No,” Prompto whispered. Every time we go out...
“I couldn’t leave you there; he made bait from clones because they were meant to be disposable. They were designed to attract vampires. They weren’t expected to live long; for the hunters there, they were a means to an end.”
“That can’t be true.” They always find us, because...
“Besithia’s clones revolutionized vampire hunting in Niflheim,” Cor continued. He kept talking. Why was he still talking? What more could he say? How much more could he destroy everything Prompto believed about himself? “He saved hundreds of people, but the cost wasn’t worth it. You would have died there,” Cor said. “I couldn’t leave you.”
Prompto shook his head.
“I raised you as well as I was able,” Cor said. “I taught you everything I could about vampire hunting, so you’d have a chance to protect yourself. But mostly I did everything I could to keep you safe.”
“You... but…” Prompto stammered. “You’re telling me that I… was made to be…? Vampire food?”
Cor’s pained look said more than Prompto wanted to know.
His best friend, a vampire… and Prompto, created to be vampire food.
Had Noctis only befriended him to eat him? Did Cor only keep him around because it made his job easier? Prompto felt like the ground had fallen out from beneath him. He was trembling. He couldn’t stop. “You knew all this, and you never told me…?”
“I was going to,” Cor said. “When you were older.”
“How much older?” Prompto realized he was yelling, but he didn’t care anymore. “How much older do I have to be before you decide that something this important is something maybe I might want to know??”
“It didn’t matter before, because I was always there to protect you.”
“So what, you were going to wait until you weren’t there?” Prompto said, and winced when his voice broke. “You never think that maybe there’s gonna be a hunt you don’t come back from, and then what do I do? Because no one would be there to tell me I’m damn vampire bait?? That they’re gonna follow me wherever I go because I’m too tasty to resist?? I’d spend my whole life wondering why I’m a target, because you didn’t think it was something I needed to know -- I had to have an actual vampire tell me!”
“In, like, two minutes you and Noct just upended everything I thought I knew about my life and I don’t know what to believe anymore!”
With that, Prompto turned and dashed back down the alley.
“Wait, Prompto--!” Cor called after him.
Prompto’s face was wet, and his eyes blurred, but he could see well enough to grab a stack of crates as he ran past them and pull them down, to slow Cor’s pursuit. He ran out the other end of the alley and onto the street and almost straight into traffic. The blare of a car horn didn’t stop him -- and he made the other side of the street before he heard Cor’s “Prompto!” behind him from the alley mouth.
Prompto didn’t stop. He kept on down the street, around another corner, pushing past the other late-night pedestrians, ignoring their surprised noises.
Prompto hardly knew where he was, let alone where he was going. This was the first time Cor had brought him into this part of town, and he didn’t recognize any of the buildings he dashed past. And… he really had nowhere to go. Noctis…
Noctis had come to tell him that they couldn’t be friends anymore. Because. Because Noctis was a vampire, and Prompto was a vampire hunter’s… son.
Cor had definitely raised him as a son. At least, as much as Prompto thought a father would treat a son; he had no real idea. Did most fathers take their sons hunting? Did most fathers put their sons in mortal danger anytime they went out at night?
Did most fathers keep secrets?
Prompto’s eyes were too blurred by tears to see where he was going and his shoulder caught someone, who swore at him as he stumbled. Prompto got his feet underneath himself as fast as he could, and kept running; he didn’t look back.
Stick to the streets, he thought. I have to stick to the lit streets. It wouldn’t do to get caught in the dark; he was in no fit state to defend himself, and apparently he was a huge target.
He rounded another corner and ended up on a street darker than he expected. He couldn’t hear Cor behind him anymore, but he didn’t want to slow. Not yet. He… he needed to get home. The arcade would be okay, too, but… he just wanted someplace familiar. Somewhere he could pretend things were the same as always.
He was so caught up in his own mind that he ran straight into someone tall with enough force that he fell straight backwards, and he saw white when the back of his head struck the pavement.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” the tall someone said. “Are you quite all right?”
Prompto sat up, squeezing his eyes shut and rubbing the back of his head. His hand… came away wet. He peered at it. He couldn’t focus yet, but the dark on his fingers told him enough. He was bleeding. “Nnngh,” he said. He couldn’t focus enough yet to see who was leaning over him.
“There, there,” whoever it was said. “Let’s get a look at you.”
A finger under Prompto's chin lifted his face. He blinked -- and saw strange, magenta hair framing a scruffy-looking face with amber eyes. He had an impression of a frumpy hat, layers upon layers of scarves, of hands half-hidden by lace and clad in fingerless gloves. Of stripes and patterns and black and green and orange.
Of a sudden welling-up of dread, and he didn’t know where that came from.
“There we are,” the man said. “Oh, what a handsome young lad. Now, where were you trying to run off to in such a hurry?”
Don’t talk to strangers, Cor’s voice rang through his head. Which was easy to obey, since Prompto couldn’t seem to make his tongue work.
“Ah, you have such an… intriguing scent,” the man said, and there was something incredibly alarming about that, except Prompto couldn’t quite find it in himself to care, suddenly. “And you seem to have piqued the interest of my many-great-grand-nephew. I think… Yes, I think I’ll invite you to join me for the evening.”
Then the man was lifting Prompto by the arm, and Prompto tried to get his feet underneath himself; he really did, but they seemed to be made of rubber; he couldn’t get his knees to work properly, and he couldn’t get anything to do what he wanted it to. “Cor,” he tried to say, but all that came out of his mouth was a moan, and everything around him looked soft and seemed to be going grey at the edges.
“Oh, I appear to have overdone it,” the magenta-haired man said, and then Prompto felt arms around his shoulders and under his knees, and then his stomach swooped as he was lifted into the air. “Never you fear, I’ll be sure to wake you before the fun begins.”
Prompto thought there was something important that he was missing… and as he drifted off, he thought he could hear Cor calling his name, but he couldn’t quite answer -- and then everything was dark.
This is where things are going to start getting icky, and some of the as-yet-unused tags will start coming into play. Fair warning!
Chapter 13: Firstborn
Noctis mourns. Prompto bleeds.
We're having Not Fun Times in this chapter, so if you have a problem with blood, injury, torture, and unwanted touch (not sexual), be forewarned!
Noctis was only just aware enough to hear Ignis place a call to his father. He was only just aware enough to feel Gladio’s arm around his shoulder, helping him stand. He was aware enough that he didn’t stumble as they herded him down a subway tunnel to find the route back to the donor house. In the front foyer there, he sank into into one of the overstuffed easy chairs, while Ignis and Gladio talked over his head. He was barely aware of Ignis’s hand on his shoulder, of comforting words that he didn’t understand.
He was definitely aware when his dad and Clarus arrived. Regis knelt in front of him, wrapped arms around him, and Noctis shuddered and sobbed. The terror of facing Cor the Immortal’s sword washed over him. He’d held it together as well as he could, but now the enormity of what had nearly happened — what had actually happened — really sank in.
He was never seeing Prompto again.
He’d never go to that arcade again; it would only remind him of his… his friend. Prompto was his friend.
That realization brought on a fresh bout of sobs.
Around him he was faintly aware of his dad conversing quietly with Ignis and Gladio, and their murmured responses. He thought they might be explaining the evening’s events -- and he wasn’t sure he wanted his dad knowing what had happened tonight. Then his dad gave him an extra-tight squeeze. “You did what was right, son,” Regis said.
Noctis finally took a deep breath. “Thanks, Dad,” he said, his voice wobbly.
The front door slammed open so hard that it shattered.
“Where IS he?” yelled Cor. “I know one of you has him!” He advanced into the room purposefully, sword drawn.
Regis stiffened and shot to his feet, but Clarus intercepted. In a swift motion, he disarmed Cor and slammed him into the wall, his arm to Cor’s throat. Cor bared his teeth.
Regis brushed his suit free of imaginary dust. “Well met, Cor the Immortal,” he said.
“I’m glad my reputation precedes me,” Cor jeered. “You’ll take me seriously when I say I’ll tear apart every bloodsucker here until I find who took him.”
Clarus grunted. “You could try,” he said.
Noctis straightened in his chair. “You mean Prompto?”
“Who else?” Cor snapped.
Noctis stood and started forward, but his dad caught his arm. “What happened to him?” Noctis said.
“Like you don’t know,” Cor sneered.
“I’m serious,” Noctis said. “He’s not here. I’d know if he were.”
Cor’s face was no less angry, but it twisted with something else -- something like fear. “You… you really don’t know.”
“I know his scent. I’d definitely know if he was here. He didn’t follow me, and I didn’t take him. I left him with you! I thought he was safe!”
Cor scoffed. “What do you know about safe?”
“I know that he’s bait. I know that anytime he’s out alone, he’s followed and tracked. I’ve chased off other vampires before, when we’ve been out. I would never leave him alone. And neither would you.” His tone turned accusatory. “What happened?”
Cor’s hard expression faltered. “He… he ran off.”
“I followed as closely as I could,” Cor said, and there was bitter pain in his voice. “He’s fast. I almost lost him. But then I found… There was blood on the ground. And this.” He held up a chain with a set of tags. Hunter’s tags.
“It is certainly possible a vampire has him,” Regis said, stepping forward. “But it is not one of ours.”
“How can you be sure?” Cor said, his voice tainted with anguish.
“Our Lair has laws, and all here are held to them tightly.”
“You…” Cor whispered, as if looking at Regis for the first time. “Are you… Regis?”
Regis just looked at him. “Clarus,” he said, “release him.”
“Release him, now,” Regis said, his eyes flashing.
Clarus pulled away from Cor, his expression promising a swift death if the hunter tried anything. Luckily, Cor was a smart man (he wouldn’t have his reputation without it). He didn’t relax, but all the same, he leaned against the wall, and didn’t make a move for his sword, lying where it had clattered to the floor when Clarus had removed it from his hand.
“Take us to where you lost him,” Regis said.
“Wh… what?” Cor stammered.
“Your son is my son’s friend,” Regis said. “We will help you find him.”
Cor sagged against the wall. “Please,” he whispered.
Regis met Noct’s eyes. “We must hurry,” he said. “The longer we wait, the more likely there will be too little for us to find.”
Noctis knew that already, but hearing his dad say it made it all too real. He stiffened, then nodded. He would find Prompto. He would. No matter what happened after, he would return Prompto to Cor, and then…
Regis put a hand on his shoulder, bringing him out of his thoughts. “Let’s go, son,” he said, and turned to Cor. “Quickly,” he said. “Where did you lose him?”
Cor’s face radiated uncertainty, his eyes flashing from Regis to Noct. Then something passed over his face -- some decision being made -- and he pursed his lips with resolve. “Follow me,” he said.
Awareness came slowly -- and with it, pain.
Prompto twitched, and fire lanced up his arms. He almost blacked out again, and then he panicked at the thought of being so vulnerable when everything was so, so wrong.
He could tell that he was upright, that everything hurt, and that he couldn’t move. Nothing made sense. He’d been with his father, hunting. Noct… Noct had shown up. Things after that seemed fuzzy; he couldn’t quite remember what happened, but something must have.
He was strapped to some contraption that held him upright with his arms outstretched and his feet bound together. His weight pulled at his shoulders -- and from the way they burned, he’d been here for some time.
His eyelids were heavy and didn’t want to open, but he forced them up; he needed to see where he was.
The room (was it a room?) was dark, a single electric lantern by the doorway shedding yellow light on the metal flooring and walls. There were dark stains here and there, and Prompto knew immediately that he didn’t want to know what they were or what had made them.
Something hissed, and then again, faster -- and Prompto realized it was his own breath, through his teeth. Calm. He needed to stay calm. Hyperventilating while strung up like this was a recipe for disaster, he just knew it… but thinking that didn’t ease his breathing any more.
He tried to pull at his arms, but they were stuck fast, and it hurt too much to pull again.
He couldn’t reach his weapons, strung up like this. Then he realized it might not do any good, anyway; he couldn’t feel his holster at his hip, and he couldn’t see that he had any of his other gear. He just had the clothes he was wearing. He was completely vulnerable.
A brief flash of memory -- a man wearing too many layers, too many scarves; his hair an unnatural maroon color.
Why couldn’t he remember? Had he hit his head? That might explain a lot… but his head wasn’t what hurt; it was his arms, holding his weight, and the straps around his wrists, chafing his skin. It was the muscles in his back -- but he couldn’t get his feet underneath him to give them relief. There was nothing to stand on.
A shift of cloth was the only warning he had, and then he wasn’t alone anymore. A shadow passed in front of the feeble light.
“Ah, awake, are we?”
The slimy voice was like oil on Prompto’s skin. He shuddered, and wished he could rub the goosebumps from his arms. He tugged futilely at his wrists, but the straps held him fast, and every tug radiated pain down his arms and through his back.
The man approached slowly, like a predator sizing up his prey. “I said I would wake you before the fun begins, and here I am, true to my word. Look at you, so lively…” The man inhaled. “And so delectable. What a choice morsel my great-nephew has found.”
He was so close, so close, too close…
The man lifted Prompto’s chin with a finger. Prompto didn’t want to, but he couldn’t help meeting the man’s eyes -- amber, with a tinge of red.
This man was a vampire. And hungry. Prompto knew the signs. (How had Noct hidden it? How had Prompto not noticed? Had Noctis just… always fed before they met up? Or had Prompto just not seen it because he didn’t want to?)
He couldn’t help the small noise that escaped his throat -- the sound of pure terror.
The man smiled cruelly. “Oh, you make this far too enticing. I thought I would wait longer, but I may have to start now.”
The man spun on his heel and strode away, extending his arms. “Allow me to introduce myself,” he said, and turned, doffing his hat and giving a deep bow, as though Prompto wasn’t tied up like a prisoner in a metal dungeon. “Ardyn Izunia, at your service,” the man said, and straightened. He replaced the hat, and then walked around the room in a wide circuit that Prompto couldn’t follow with his eyes, bound as he was. That didn’t stop Ardyn from talking. “In my long life,” he said, “I have seen many, many things… but Besithia’s experiments are among the most delightful. I never thought to find one of his test subjects so far from Niflheim, and yet… here you are.
“Now, you’d be such a waste on my dear nephew Regis and his son… they fail to appreciate the finer points of… well. Their nature.”
Prompto had no idea what this Ardyn was babbling about, and just focused on taking deep, even breaths, trying to still the pain in his muscles -- until the man said “Regis and his son”. Cor had mentioned “Regis” before -- was Regis another vampire? Cor seemed to think so…
“Now, I, on the other hand,” Ardyn continued, “will greatly savor every moment of our time together -- especially since you, my dear lad, are not a hunter’s tool, and are not being used for your intended purpose as bait. You…” and Ardyn ducked into view again, and smirked at him maliciously, “are simply food.”
Then he laughed, and Prompto tried to shrink away from him, but there was nowhere he could go.
Ardyn straightened and drew a finger down the length of Prompto’s nearest arm. Unwanted though it was, the touch felt gentle at first -- but then it burned with pain and Prompto gasped, trying to swallow a scream. The man’s nails were sharpened points. Vampires could do that, sometimes; sharpen their nails at will to a razor’s edge. Not true claws, but more than effective. This man had done that, and Prompto could feel the warm trail of blood now running down his arm to his elbow. Could hear the plink of it as it dripped to the metal floor.
The man just watched his face, as though waiting for a reaction. Prompto bit his lower lip to stop it trembling.
“Aaah,” the man said, long and drawn out. “I see how this will be. Most excellent.” He drew his finger up the trail of blood on Prompto’s arm and put his finger to his lips to taste it. “Oh yes… You are indeed true vintage of Besithia’s labs. It’s been some years since I’ve tasted anything like it. It will be… very difficult, alas, to keep myself from draining you at once, but. I intend to savor. Every. Sip.”
Prompto yanked again at his bonds. His breath came in short gasps and his face… his face was wet. He couldn’t stop the tremors wracking his limbs. He hoped beyond hope to see someone come through that door. Cor, Noctis… anyone.
Ardyn drew his finger down Prompto’s other arm, and it burned. Prompto bit back a scream but clamped down too hard on his lower lip. A coppery taste flooded his mouth. He squeezed his eyes shut.
He felt a touch along his inner arm, and opened his eyes again, to see Ardyn licking blood (Prompto’s blood) from his finger again. “My dear nephew Regis has certain… ideas… about prey and feeding that I find… unique,” he said. “They’ve built quite the utopia here, and yet… I can’t help but feel that it’s a bit of pretty window dressing to cover up an underlying conflict that cannot be erased.
“You see,” and he tipped Prompto’s chin up with a finger again, “a vampire can never see a human as anything more than food -- and trying to pretend otherwise is courting disaster. You were raised by a Hunter, were you not? I’m sure you agree.”
Prompto winced away from Ardyn’s touch, his eyes squeezed shut. He was in excruciating pain -- and his mind was in turmoil. He heard Noct’s voice saying “I’m sorry it has to be this way”; he heard Cor calling Noctis a “filthy bloodsucker” and telling Prompto to “forget him”. Had Noctis seen him as food this whole time? That’s what Cor seemed to think -- that’s what Ardyn implied. Had their friendship this entire time been a lie?
Then the things that Ardyn had said started to register -- “Besithia’s experiments”, he’d said. Prompto remembered what Cor had said… he’d been found in Besithia’s facility. He was a clone. Designed to be vampire food. He would have been used as bait. He would have died.
He would have died… but Cor had saved him.
Only for him to die now.
He felt a tug at his chest and heard a ripping sound -- his eyes popped open just in time to see Ardyn finish tearing the front of his shirt open.
“Ah, what’s this?” Ardyn said, and put out a hand.
Prompto’s talisman -- the silver leaf Cor had given him -- dangled from his neck. Sudden hope welled up. Yes, let Ardyn touch it, and see what it did. He let his lips curl in a tight smile.
Ardyn’s fingers just brushed the edge of the leaf, and he pulled them back with a hiss. “Silver? Oh dear. You must do better than that, I’m afraid. Trinkets like this aren’t even annoyances for the Firstborn.” With a swift motion, he yanked the chain from Prompto’s neck. The talisman clattered to the floor.
Prompto knew his jaw had fallen open; he couldn’t help it. The talisman had done nothing at all. The surprise of it almost distracted him from what Ardyn had called himself… Firstborn.
Cor had mentioned the Firstborn once. It was something shrouded in myth and superstition, but Prompto had once asked where vampires came from. Cor had called it falderal -- a fairytale of a family cursed. According to legend, all purebloods were descended from that line.
“Mmmm, your face is just so expressive,” Ardyn purred. “It’s so incredibly inspiring. Let’s see how long we can make this last, shall we?”
Ardyn raked a sharp fingernail across Prompto’s chest, and Prompto couldn’t hold back a choking cry this time. He stiffened with tension, every muscle trembling. He felt the blood well up in the wake of Ardyn’s fingertip, and run in warm tracks down his chest. Another soft touch followed the pain, and Ardyn brought another finger covered in Prompto’s blood to his mouth.
“My dear relations here in Insomnia fail to realize how intoxicating pain is,” Ardyn said. “There’s something about the rush of adrenalin that infuses the blood with such…” He wiped more blood from Prompto’s chest and licked it from his finger. “Mmm. Such sweetness.”
Prompto heaved gasping breaths, each one agony. He was dead. He was so, so dead. He couldn’t even think about what Ardyn was actually saying. The terror of knowing that he’d be dying within the hour overwhelmed him. He wondered how long it would take; if he’d feel anything when the monster drained him, or if he’d just slowly lose consciousness. He thought he'd heard that some vampires tranquilize their prey, or make the feeding pleasurable. He doubted Ardyn would be that kind.
He just needed the pain to go away.
Ardyn’s eyes flashed amber and red. He leaned in close and combed fingers through Prompto’s hair -- then grasped it tight at the roots and pulled Prompto’s head up. Prompto felt the vampire’s nails score his scalp and he hissed.
“Delightful,” Ardyn chuckled, and Prompto snapped his mouth shut. Warm trails started to trickle down his head. One of them ran down his forehead into his eye, and the salt stung. He tried to blink it away.
“Here, let me take care of that,” Ardyn said, and reached forward. Prompto squeezed his eyes shut and tried to shrink away from the unwanted touch, but Ardyn stroked a finger up his forehead anyway. He trembled.
When he opened his eyes, Ardyn was staring at the red on his fingers. “You know, when this curse first came upon me, I never imagined how much I would come to enjoy taking in this sustenance. I think I hated myself at one point… My only satisfaction then was that my dear brother had to endure it as well; that we weren’t alone.
“Such a shame that his family had to take the noble route…” And Ardyn put his finger in his mouth to lick it off. “But you know, two thousand years is a long time; it becomes more and more difficult to make this game… interesting.” He released Prompto’s hair and splayed a hand across his chest instead. With a swift jerk, he scored parallel lines down Prompto’s belly.
Prompto screamed. Ardyn laughed.
Chapter 14: Pursuit
Hunters and Vampires joining forces?? Why, yes...
More lore and history in this one; I hope you enjoy!
Cor wasted no time. All of them followed. Regis even allowed Gladio and Ignis to join, though it was clear from his face that it was against his better judgement.
Cor led them quickly to the spot. Noct’s eyes quickly found the browning splatters on the sidewalk. It was Prompto’s; Noctis could smell it. He stared in horror at it until his father nudged him.
“We must act quickly, son,” he said gently. Then, contrary to his words, he stilled and closed his eyes.
Noctis knew his father was searching, using his other senses to find a trail. Noctis glanced from Regis to Cor, who stood a little apart from the vampires, fingering the hilt of his sheathed sword like he wasn’t sure what to do. Clarus was keeping a close eye on the hunter, though, so Noctis closed his own eyes and pushed his senses out. Before he could sense anything, his father stirred.
“It’s him, Clarus,” Regis murmured, and opened his eyes.
“You don’t mean…” Clarus said.
“Adagium, the Firstborn.”
Noct’s heart did a little flip. He’d heard stories, naturally -- all vampires had. He’d heard more than most, though, because his dad had met Adagium before -- and what he had to say about that meeting was not kind.
“Adagium?” Cor asked.
Regis just glanced at him, then turned his attention back to the street. “This way,” he said, and took off. Everyone followed. They couldn’t go by shadow or bat form, since Cor was with them -- and they had to keep a pace that Cor could match. He was fast, for a human, but Noctis found the pace excruciatingly slow, especially with Prompto out there in the hands of a Firstborn.
“Tell me,” Cor said as he ran, panting, in Regis’s wake. “Tell me what I need to know.”
“What do you know of the Firstborn?” Regis asked.
“The Firstborn?” Cor said between breaths. “A myth.”
“It’s no myth,” Regis said. “All vampires ultimately come from the Firstborn -- either by birth or by turning.”
“Purebloods… come by birth, then,” Cor said.
“Purebloods can all trace their lineage back to the Firstborn, yes,” Regis said. “And only Firstborn and purebloods can turn a person. No one really knows how many Firstborn there originally were… created by Bahamut after the Astral War, when the Starscourge ran rampant.”
“Now you’re just talking fairy tales,” Cor muttered.
“It’s our history,” Regis insisted. “Bahamut funneled the Starscourge into the poor souls who became the Firstborn, and so doing, prevented it from infecting all of Eos and turning everything to darkness.”
Cor made a disgruntled noise, and Regis chuckled. “You may believe or not, as you wish,” he said. “But Adagium is one of the Firstborn -- the Forgotten, some call him.”
Clarus made a noise, then.
Regis ignored it. “His brother, Somnus, was the Founder of our line. Somnus… was killed a long time ago. Some people think Adagium is the last living of the Firstborn; and he’s often thought to be dead. Then he turns up again.”
“I take it he’s not entirely welcome, then…” Cor said.
“He sows chaos wherever he goes,” Clarus said.
“Most of the rogues you eliminate in the streets only exist because of him,” Regis said. “He and his brother had… very different ideas about the nature of their condition. Adagium has little regard for life. He kills or turns people on a whim, and leaves those he turns to run wild.”
“All vampires run wild,” Cor muttered quietly.
Noctis just caught his father’s sad smile. “Only when they aren’t taught better,” he said.
Clarus halted in his tracks at the end of an alley. “Hold,” he said. “The trail is here.”
They all stopped at the alley’s mouth. Regis closed his eyes again, seeking; and Noctis did the same. He felt Ignis and Gladio behind him; Regis and Clarus, bright before him; and… another. Down, beneath the level of the street, a strong presence. One he recognized.
“That’s…” Noctis said, in surprise.
Regis looked at him.
“I felt him before,” Noctis said. “He followed us one night when I walked Prompto home, but he kept his distance.”
“He’s been hunting, then,” Regis said. “He must have been watching closely.”
“I only noticed him that once,” Noctis said.
“He wasn’t hunting you,” his father said.
“You mean…” Cor started, looking between Noctis and his father. “You mean you really were protecting him?”
Noctis met Cor’s eyes. “Of course I was,” he said.
“He… wasn’t your prey?”
Noctis looked away. He heard Gladio snort behind him, and Ignis sigh. “Well, I…” he started, but words failed him.
“It’s all right, son,” Regis said with a smile, and he turned to Cor. “Noctis wanted to ask your son to be a donor.”
“A… a donor?” Cor said, his face drawn with confusion.
“We can discuss this later,” Clarus said. “We have other important business now.”
“Indeed,” Regis said, and turned to the alley. “Quickly, everyone… The scent is obscure here; that was likely his intention. There must be a passage underground.”
Gladio and Ignis flowed past Noctis quickly, and all six of them scoured the alleyway. Cluttered with the remnants and detritus of the city’s filthy underbelly, and the criss-crossing scents of other vampires, the alley was the perfect hiding place, Noctis figured. However, his dad -- and Clarus, and Gladio and Ignis, for that matter -- were not going to be fooled.
Ignis stepped on something that made a clanking sound. “Here,” he said. “I think I found something.” He leaned down and lifted a hinged metal panel set into the pavement. They all gathered over the opening underneath, looking down a metal ladder into dim light below.
Prompto’s smell wafted up to them, strong and sharp with the freshness of recent blood spilt. All the vampires’ nostrils flared. Regis gave Noctis a sharp look.
"That's him," Noctis whispered.
"What is it?" Cor snapped.
"Your son is here," Regis said. "And I hope we're not too late."
Prompto’s life was pain.
Every minute was an eternity. Ardyn carved more and more lines in his skin -- across his ribs, down his arms, along his back. Prompto bled in sheets from slices all over him. The earliest were starting to scab over, but only just… and Ardyn’s eyes no longer had any trace of amber; they glowed red in the dim light. And now, he eyed Prompto with something more like hunger than amusement.
There was so much blood. Some had made it to the floor, spots of deep red against the dark-brown stains.
Prompto hung gasping, almost incapable of coherent thought through the pain. He… he had to stop this. Somehow, the pain had to stop. Prompto wondered briefly if he could goad Ardyn into getting it over with -- but then Ardyn sighed.
"This has all been very amusing," he said, waving a hand about nonchalantly, "but alas, all fun things must eventually end. I fear I'm growing far too hungry. My first taste of you was quite enough to whet my appetite, and now…” Ardyn leaned in close -- far too close; Prompto could feel his breath on his ear. “Now, it’s time to eat.”
Prompto clenched his teeth and gave a last feeble attempt to pull out of the restraints. He realized to his mortification that he was whimpering, his breath coming faster and faster.
Ardyn trailed a finger along his neck, and Prompto’s panic spiked. "You should congratulate yourself,” Ardyn purred. “You've entertained me far longer than any of my prey has since I crossed the sea from Niflheim.
“Some of my kind like to ease the pain of the feeding but I find I can’t be bothered. My apologies in advance…” Then he laughed.
There was only so much terror a body could feel before he became numb to it, Prompto decided, and… he’d hit that point. There was nowhere else for his fear to go, when Ardyn leaned in. This was it… he was definitely going to die.
When the bite came, he couldn’t even scream.
Noctis had very seldom been under the city. Like this, anyway. He was used to the subway tunnels -- civilized affairs, if somewhat dirty, and built for large quantities of people. This tiny passage was nothing like that.
The drop -- with a metal-loop ladder leading down -- was a good twenty feet, into a roundish tunnel with a wet floor. It smelled… green. Not unlike a sewer, but not quite as filthy. It wasn’t as well-traveled as the streets above, and didn’t have that stale urine smell of the alleys they usually traveled aboveground, but it smelled like plenty of other things.
Of course, over the top of it all, was Prompto’s scent.
Cor pulled a powerful flashlight from his gear and shined it down both corridors, as if to judge which way to go. None of the vampires needed to guess; it was obvious which direction Prompto was in, and Noctis faced that way as soon as he had his feet underneath him.
A muffled whimper echoed down the catacomb, and Noct broke into a run. He didn’t wait to see if anyone else followed. He barrelled down the passage with no thought of stealth whatsoever; he just needed to get there before… before…
The metal door that blocked his way was no barrier whatsoever. He yanked it completely off its hinges and flung it to the side; it clanged against the tunnel wall and clattered to the ground, and Noctis charged into the tiny room he found on the other side.
It was a full-on torture chamber. He barely had time to register the aged bloodstains on the floor; the newer splashes of blood overlaying them; the upright rack in the center; the pale hands tied to either side of it, twitching feebly. A formless grey shape loomed over the contraption, and a tousled tuft of blonde hair peeked out from behind it.
The smell… so intoxicating.
A roar erupted behind him, and Cor surged past, his sword unsheathed, and barreled into the shape. It tore away… and there was Prompto, strung up like a piece of meat.
Noctis was at his side in a heartbeat. He ripped through the bindings and caught Prompto before he could tumble to the floor.
Under the trails of blood, his skin was so pale, his lips almost blue. His eyelids quivered, then slowly opened. “N… Noct…?” he croaked.
“Prompto, it’s me,” Noctis said, blinking a sudden mistiness out of his eyes. “I made it, I’m here.” He lowered Prompto to the floor. There… there was so much blood. Matted in his hair, crusted on his arms, coating his chest. Noct’s nose burned with it -- with that enticing scent that he hadn’t been able to get out of his mind for weeks, and now there was so much of it, from wounds all over Prompto’s arms and chest and… and neck. Was that a bite?
Noctis put a hand on Prompto’s chest. He could feel Prompto’s heart fluttering, so fragile.
Somewhere, he could hear fighting; smashing of fists (of bodies) into walls, grunts and shrieks and… his father’s angry voice. Adagium’s snarling answers. The ring of Cor’s blade. But here, in front of him, Prompto was dying.
“I hoped…” Prompto whispered. “I hoped I’d see you again…”
“C’mon, Prompto, stay with me…!” Noctis said, but he could feel it. Prompto was fading. Adagium had drained too much.
Noctis barely registered the sudden stillness; the fight around them had stopped.
“Well met, Grand-nephew,” said a mocking voice -- and Noctis looked up. He wanted to memorize the face of Prompto’s abductor -- Prompto’s killer. Adagium, dressed in more layers than anyone had any right to wear, grinned mockingly at them all, but especially at Regis, who faced him, standing tall. Blood -- Prompto’s blood -- coated Adagium’s chin. He licked his lips.
“Adagium,” Regis said solemnly.
“Oh please,” Adagium said. “We’ve met before. You may call me Ardyn.”
“Indeed,” Regis said, but his voice sounded unamused. “And I believe I told you before that your methods were not welcome here, and I clearly informed you of every effort I would make to evict you if you returned.”
“Oh, I don’t believe that’s necessary,” Ardyn purred.
To one side, Cor leaned against a wall, breathing heavily and clutching his sword arm; his blade was still raised defensively, but his forehead bled freely from several gashes. “You,” Cor hissed. “I know you. I tracked you through Gralea. You’re… you’re a Firstborn?”
“Ah, the hunter, Cor Leonis, ” Ardyn said. “Well met at last.”
Cor scowled. “If my son dies because of you--”
“Oh, was that your son?” Ardyn said, and he laughed. Cor looked heartbeats away from launching himself at the monster.
“Adagium,” Regis said, and Ardyn’s head turned to face him again. “We will not--”
“Oh, there's no need for grand speeches,” Ardyn interrupted. “I can see when I’m not welcome. Oh, and… dear great-grandnephew,” He turned to Noctis and made a mocking bow. “I thank you for the company of your friend. He was utterly delightful.”
A strangled noise gurgled up Noct’s throat, and only Prompto’s weight in his arms prevented him from launching himself at the Firstborn. He wanted to tear the monster limb from limb. As it was, Cor, Regis, and Clarus all lunged for Ardyn, but he dissolved into smoke before they reached him.
“Adagium!” Clarus roared.
“Quickly,” Regis said. “Send out all the guard. He’s a menace. If he can be found, he must be dealt with most severely -- and if he escapes us, we must be on our guard. The Firstborn are not to be trifled with.”
Noctis was aware of Clarus pulling a phone out, but then Prompto made a shuddering gasp in his arms. “Nnn…” he murmured, and his body tensed.
“No, stay with me,” Noctis whispered.
Then Cor was on his knees beside him. “Prompto!” he cried. Noctis let Cor take Prompto from him. Cor’s fingers ghosted over Prompto’s face -- over the lacerations on his arms, over the bite at his neck. “No!”
Then Ignis was kneeling at Noct’s other side, taking Prompto’s wrist in his hand. “Noct,” he said softly, “he’s--”
“I know,” Noctis spat. He hunched miserably and clenched his fists on his knees. “I know.”
“No,” Cor said again, shuddery and fragile. “I promised I’d keep him safe, and now…”
A hand clutched Noct’s shoulder. He looked up into his father’s face and saw an echo of his own pain there. Then Regis looked at Cor, his face sympathetic and kind, but also firm and resolute. “There is a way,” Regis said.
Cor looked up at him, his eyes glassy and his face broken with sorrow. He clutched Prompto to him, his hands tight around the boy’s shoulders. Prompto’s head lolled against his chest, and his eyes drifted closed. “What way?”
Regis glanced to Ignis, who stiffened at Noct’s side. Then Regis looked back at Cor. “If we turned him, he would have a place with us,” he said solemnly.
“Turn him…!” Cor said. “To become a monster?”
“He’d be himself,” Noctis said bitterly. “And he’d be here instead of dead.”
“We would not allow him to become a monster like the rogues you fight in the streets,” Regis said. “ That is something vampires like Adagium do -- vampires who have no regard for human life. Prompto would be in our care; would learn how to live as one of us -- and he would be safe here, with our Clan. He would have the opportunity to protect people, just as you do.”
Cor glanced between the faces of the vampires surrounding him -- vampires that had helped him in his time of need, who had intervened on his son’s behalf. Noctis hoped Cor could see that… but Cor was a hunter, used to the lawless state of the vampires of Niflheim and Gralea. Surely he could see that things here were different…?
Noctis watched emotions flit across Cor’s face -- skepticism, fear, sorrow.
Then Prompto shuddered in his arms, and Cor’s hold tightened. “It’s the only way, isn’t it,” Cor said. “He’s…” He clutched Prompto close and kissed his forehead.
“We won’t do it without consent,” Regis said. “But if we don’t act quickly, he really will be lost to you.”
Cor met Regis’s eyes, looking utterly overwhelmed. Then he pursed his lips and nodded.
“Noctis…” Regis crouched before him and clasped his shoulder. “I leave this to you. He is your friend… and will be your responsibility, once he’s turned.”
Noctis nodded, a bare shred of hope beginning to flicker in his chest. Then he quickly shuffled on his knees to Cor’s side. “May I?” he asked. Cor hesitated, then nodded. Between them, they shifted Prompto from Cor’s lap to Noct’s. Then Regis pulled Cor away. Their voices, low and sonorous, only distracted Noctis for a moment. Of course Cor needed to understand what was to happen… it was his right, as Prompto’s guardian.
But Noctis needed to act fast.
He glanced at Ignis, the only turned vampire in Noct’s immediate circle. Ignis’s expression was grim, but he put a hand on Noct’s shoulder and gave a curt nod.
Noctis looked back at his dying friend and took his hand. “Hey, Prompto,” he said. “I need you to wake up.” And he sent out his magic -- the opposite of the sleeping glamour he’d used before.
Prompto’s eyes blinked open, but he looked… more than weary. “Noct,” he whispered. “You came.”
“‘Course I did, doofus,” Noctis said. “I… just wish I’d made it sooner.”
Prompto smiled -- then winced, and his body tensed in Noct’s arms. “M’tired,” he said. “Hurts.”
“I know,” Noctis said. “Look, ah, buddy -- things aren’t looking too good for you right now.”
That made Prompto chuckle -- and the sound of it grated in Noct’s ears. “Don’ feel too great,” Prompto slurred.
“Yeah, I… I can see that. Um… I… don’t want you to go.” Noct’s voice broke then. “I mean, we’ve only been friends a little while but I just--”
“Noct, don’ do that…” Prompto lifted a hand with what looked like strenuous effort and brushed at the wet track on Noct’s face. Then his hand fell, his energy spent. “Don’ need to cry over me,” he murmured into Noct’s chest.
“But you -- you don’t have to go,” Noct said in a rush. He was losing him; he could feel Prompto’s energy ebbing away under his hands.
“Nnnn?” Prompto blinked slowly up at him.
“I could… I could turn you. Then you’d be okay, but. You’d be. Like me.”
“Does that mean we could still be friends?” Prompto asked.
Noctis sucked in a quick breath that became a sob. “We never stopped being friends,” he managed. "I just." He took a deep breath. “Look, I won’t turn you unless you say I can. It has to be your choice. It's your life. Everything would change for you and it’s not going to be easy. But if I don’t do it soon it’ll be too late, and--”
Noctis blinked down at Prompto, the thread of hope in his chest growing. “Okay?”
Prompto nodded -- then winced with pain again. “Do it. Please. I… don’t wanna go either, if there’s a way to… to not.”
Noctis looked for Cor -- and found the hunter staring, sorrowfully, at his ward. Then Cor looked up and their eyes met. Cor’s face steeled with some sort of resolve, and he nodded, too.
Noctis looked back down at Prompto. His eyes held equal parts pain and fear -- and Noctis had no way of telling if it was fear of death or fear of what Noctis was proposing to do. But Prompto’s eyes were starting to droop again, in spite of Noct’s magic. It was time to act.
He lifted Prompto’s wrist to his mouth. “Sorry, Prompto,” he murmured, “but this is going to hurt.”
Chapter 15: The Turning
In which Noctis saves Prompto's life, after a fashion.
Ah, yes... I'm posting this before midnight my time, so it's still 2019... but I think it's already the new year by AO3 time. XD Happy New Year!
The holiday season has been absolutely WILD for me, and my upcoming schedule isn't looking much better... but I'm still writing! In 2019, I managed to average more than 500 words per day and I'm hoping to continue that trend this year!
Noct’s father had taught him how to turn someone long ago. He needed to know how it worked so he’d be able to keep himself from turning someone on accident. He also needed to know in case he ever found himself in exactly this situation: with the opportunity to save someone who could not otherwise be saved.
In theory, turning someone was very simple.
In practice… it was going to be very difficult. Especially now. Because the first step was to bite. Bite, and not drink.
Noctis ignored the shuffle as Regis ushered everyone else out of the room; now it was just Noctis, Ignis, and Prompto. Ignis shifted Prompto so his head rested on Ignis’s thighs. Ignis set his hands on Prompto's shoulders so he could help more easily if Prompto began thrashing from the pain of the turning.
And there would be pain; Noctis couldn’t prevent that.
Noctis wished he had time to explain to Prompto how the turning would work. How their blood had to mix and Prompto had to drink it. About the magic. Normally they’d have some kind of vessel for him to drink from, but there was no time. As it was… Prompto’s eyes had slipped closed again.
“Careful,” Ignis said. “I’ll stop you if I must; you mustn’t take more than you need for the turning. He's lost too much alrea--”
“I know,” Noctis snapped, and regretted it immediately. He knew Ignis was only trying to help. "Sorry," he muttered. Ignis responded with a tight smile.
There was so much blood already; every inhale filled his nose with Prompto’s heady scent. He cradled Prompto's hands in his own for a moment. He’d wanted this so badly, for so long… but now, this would be the only time he’d taste Prompto as a human. He wrestled with the rage he felt at Adagium -- Ardyn -- for taking away Prompto’s opportunity to choose. 'Become a vampire or die' wasn't a choice. Not a real one.
Noctis squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, then opened them again. “Ready,” he said.
He brought Prompto's wrist -- the one without the wristbands wrapped around it -- to his mouth again. He licked it, then breathed out the magic that anesthetized his prey and allowed him to bite without hurting them. Then he exposed his fangs and bit into Prompto’s wrist, where the veins came close to the surface.
The taste that flooded his mouth was ambrosia. It was so much better than he’d imagined. He lost himself in it for a moment. He took a long draw and swallowed reflexively. He wondered if this was how humans experienced fine wine. He took another draw--
Ignis pinched his shoulder. “That’s enough,” he said.
That’s right. Prompto had been drained too much already; Prompto was dying.
Noctis loosened his jaw and drew his fangs out of Prompto's wrist, and without swallowing, drew a sharpened nail across his own wrist. He drank from himself, then, and let his own blood mingle with Prompto’s in his mouth. The mingling of blood was essential; that, and the magic.
He leaned forward, then, and placed a hand on Prompto’s chest. He pressed a thumb to Prompto’s chin to open his mouth. Noct wished again that he’d been able to explain this -- but there wasn’t time. He leaned in and put his mouth over Prompto’s -- it was the best way to share the mingled blood, and the magic.
Prompto’s eyes shot open, and he tensed under Noct’s hand. He didn’t struggle, but Noctis wondered if that was only because he was too weak. Noctis lingered there just long enough to transfer the blood to Prompto’s mouth, and then he pulled away.
A crimson drip ran down from the corner of Prompto’s lips -- but Noctis saw the muscles of Prompto’s throat work as he swallowed, then he grimaced weakly.
Noctis splayed his hand wide against Prompto’s chest then, and called on the magic. He saw the moment it took hold. Prompto’s skin turned even more impossibly pale and his eyes widened. His face contorted into a tortured rictus and he screamed.
Noctis squeezed his eyes closed. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
It wasn’t good to stay where they were, in this torture chamber carved into the sewers by Adagium. They had to find a safer place -- but they couldn’t move Prompto. Not yet; certainly not while he writhed and screamed.
Ignis held his shoulders down, and Noctis kept a hand against his chest. He had to continue channeling the magic just long enough -- and when he sensed it had done its work, he shifted both hands to Prompto’s wrists. Prompto’s muscles strained, and his hands clenched and unclenched under Noct’s fingers. Noctis tried to rub soothing circles on the inside of Prompto’s wrists, but he knew Prompto couldn’t feel it. Not now.
Ignis watched Prompto with stiff detachment, but his face was taut with his own discomfort, and haunted with distant memories. Noctis imagined Ignis was trying not to relive his own experience.
“I’m sorry,” Noctis said. “I could have Gladio come help.”
“No,” Ignis said, sharply. “I can see this through. He may… want a friendly ear when he wakes in the end.”
There was a slight hesitation before Ignis nodded.
Noctis bowed his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “This has hardly been fair to you.”
Ignis gave him a tight smile. “You were there for me, even if you couldn’t understand what I was going through. So I will be here for your friend.”
Meanwhile, Prompto screamed and screamed again, and his voice grew hoarse and he screamed more.
In time -- it felt like eternity, but couldn’t have been more than a quarter hour -- Prompto’s screams faded into long moans, and the tension ebbed from his muscles; his head fell back against Ignis’s legs.
His scent was beginning to shift already. It would take a while to fully settle. It still smelled amazingly tantalizing, but he no longer smelled like prey.
Noctis couldn’t think about that yet.
“We’ve gotta go,” he said to Ignis. “We should take him back to the Lair to wait it out.”
Ignis gave a curt nod, and pulled out his phone. Noctis didn’t pay attention to the murmured conversation; he just focused on his friend, pale and still under his hands. Noctis could still sense the magic burning Prompto from the inside; changing him irrevocably.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Gladio, face dark with concern. "Here," Gladio said. "Let me."
Noctis pulled back reluctantly. Gladio moved in and slipped his arms under Prompto, then lifted his limp body easily.
"Let's take him to my room," Noctis said. "Until we can get him a room of his own."
Gladio nodded and then Noctis followed him out the metal doors and into the passage outside. There, Regis and Clarus met them -- and behind them stood Cor, his face broken with grief. Gladio stopped in front of Regis, but he looked past him, searching Cor's face.
Regis put a hand on Prompto's chest and closed his eyes -- sensing the working of the magic, Noctis knew. When Regis opened his eyes again, he looked at Noctis. "It’s working, son," he said. "I trust you to take care of him."
Noctis's breath caught. “Yeah,” he said.
Cor pushed past Clarus then and caught Prompto’s wrist and squeezed it tight. Prompto moaned softly, but didn't move. Cor wept then, and his mouth twitched. His lips parted as though to say something, but he was silent. He leaned forward and kissed Prompto's brow. Then his eyes, red and watery, met Noctis's. “Take care of him,” he rasped.
Noctis stilled and hesitated. Then he nodded.
“You'll be able to see him again,” Regis said, in a comforting tone. “This may look like death to you, but there is hope.”
Cor took a shuddering breath. “I wish I could believe that,” he said.
Regis smiled somberly. “You may not believe it now, but you may see it in time. I suspect we have many meetings ahead of us -- if you're amenable.”
Cor's mouth made a straight line. "I've spent my entire life believing vampires were a scourge that should be eliminated. It's going to be… difficult… to let that go."
Regis's smile softened. "Give us time." He glanced at Prompto, in Gladio's arms. "Your son… It may be a while before you can see him. He needs to settle into his condition."
"Condition, huh…?" Cor murmured. "I guess that's one way to look at it. I… suppose I should thank you. As awful as all of this is…" He gestured weakly. "... You saved him. I could never have found him on my own. By the time I did, it would have been too late."
Regis glanced to Noctis. "My son thinks very highly of him," he said. "We could have done nothing less."
Cor's breath caught then, but Noctis didn't stick around any longer to hear anything else. He didn't want Cor's attention; it still made him feel twitchy to be in the same room as the infamous hunter. He wanted to be home. He wanted…
He wanted Prompto to still be human.
He wanted to sneak out and go to the arcade with his human friend and potential donor. He wanted a moment to see what a normal life was -- a life he’d never know. He wanted to pretend to be a regular high school student with life goals and aspirations… and eventually, he wanted to be able to come clean and explain to Prompto in his own words and of his own choosing what it was like to be a vampire and to give him the chance to be a donor.
Ardyn had taken all of that away.
Noctis followed Gladio through the tunnels and silently raged.
They couldn’t travel by shadow or by bat and still carry Prompto, and his occasional moans and cries would draw too much attention to them in the streets. Ignis led them through the underground utility passages instead, taking a circuitous route that joined up eventually with the subway tunnels. There, they were able to take their usual hidden route to the Lair.
Once inside, they went directly to Noct’s rooms, ignoring the curious eyes of the clan as they passed through hallways and passages. He knew everyone could smell what was happening and Noctis was in no mood to explain. Turning someone was serious business, forbidden by Regis except under limited circumstances; they’d have to be content knowing that.
Gladio held Prompto while Noctis wiped the blood away from his torso; and they wrestled him out of his blood-soaked trousers and into a loose pair of Noct’s sweats. They needed to get the bloodstained clothes out of there before he woke.
Ignis turned down Noct’s bed, and Gladio laid Prompto in it. Noctis tucked him in -- not that it served much purpose; Prompto’s body would no longer need the comfort of warmth. But Noctis thought perhaps he could give his friend the comfort of touch.
“It may be some time still before he wakes,” Ignis said, “but he’ll be… very thirsty. I’ll go fetch something so we’ll have it on hand for him.”
“Can’t he just… drink from me?” Noctis asked.
Ignis sighed. “You know better, Noct,” he said, and left.
Yes, Noctis knew better… Vampires could feed off each other, but it wouldn’t nourish the same way… and a new vampire -- one newly turned -- would be voracious. Uncontrollable, even. He’d need to feed often, the fresher the better… though he couldn’t be allowed to feed on a living human yet. He wouldn’t know when to stop, and would end up killing anyone he tried to feed from.
A newborn vampire needed to be taught.
Noctis would make sure Prompto had everything he needed.
Prompto’s world was pain, now.
He’d thought Ardyn’s attentions had hurt; they’d been more painful than anything he’d ever felt. But what Ardyn had done -- every wound, every sharp touch -- was nothing… nothing... compared to the fire that engulfed him now.
The taste of blood, coppery and bitter in his mouth, had been far from pleasant, but whatever Noctis had done after that… Noct’s cold hand on his chest had been a shock against his skin. But then it had burned, a cold fire that pierced his chest and kindled his heart. A small flame at first, but it grew, like a coal catching dry tinder, until it engulfed him inside and out.
He knew he was screaming; he couldn’t stop. The screaming didn’t ease the pain. He screamed and screamed, until his cries faded and he fell limp into a limbo where the burning continued and had no end. He no longer felt Noct’s hands on his wrists; he no longer felt the grimy floor underneath him, or the other vampire at his back. There was nothing but fire behind his eyes, consuming him slowly and excruciatingly.
He drifted then. He knew nothing but pain for a long, long time. Some part of him was anxious that he had no sense of his surroundings -- that he was vulnerable -- but he hurt too much to care.
At last the fire dwindled. Maybe there was nothing left of him to burn. It shrank from his fingers and toes and settled into a knot somewhere in his throat… and then he recognized the burning as thirst. He was thirsty. So, so thirsty… more than he’d ever been in his whole life. If he was even alive now. Was he alive? Maybe he should ask Noctis…
There were so many things he should have asked Noctis, but hadn’t had time to.
And now that he recognized he was thirsty, he also realized that something smelled delicious, and was only making his thirst even worse.
He clenched his hands. He realized that he could clench his hands now.
“Nggh,” he said.
Someone clasped his hand and squeezed it.
“Are you back with us again?” someone else asked -- someone whose voice Prompto didn’t recognize.
Prompto forced his eyes open. He was almost successful. Above him, the ceiling was dark wooden cross beams with bright tile in between. Unfamiliar, but homey all the same. “Wh…” he tried, but his voice petered out. He tried to swallow but it didn’t do much. He was so thirsty.
“Prompto, I’m so, so sorry…!” Noctis said, somewhere near his head. “It’s all my fault; I should never have left you alone!”
“Noct, please…” the other voice said. “You could never have known that Adagium was near. You did what you felt you needed to, for Prompto’s sake .”
“I know, but--”
“Thuh…” Prompto managed before his voice gave out again. He needed a drink. He needed it so badly. And it was somewhere close; he could smell it. It was stronger even than… He took a deep breath. He could… he could smell Noctis. At least he was pretty sure that was Noctis; something feral and frightening and near. He took another breath. There was someone else, too, not as frightening.
And they were talking to each other, and somewhere in this room was something he wanted to drink. Something he could smell, something delicious that he wanted in his mouth.
“Th..irsty,” he managed, but he didn’t think they heard him, because they kept yammering on about nothing that really mattered.
“‘M THIRSTY,” Prompto said, and clenched his hand reflexively on Noct’s.
“Ow!” Noctis yelled. “Ow ow ow ow…” Fingers pried at Prompto’s clenched hand. “You wanna retract your claws, there, Prompto?” Noctis said through his teeth.
Prompto became aware of another smell -- similar to the delicious whatever it was he wanted a taste of THIS INSTANT but not as potent. He turned his head… His hand, clutching Noct’s, and Noct’s hand was bleeding. Because Prompto’s fingernails were long and sharp, and gouging into Noct’s skin.
“Oh,” Prompto said, but he didn’t know what to do to fix it. He tried relaxing his grip, and that seemed to do the trick… His nails returned to their usual shape and length, and Noctis pulled his hand away, hissing and licking at the wounds.
And Prompto had to work reeeeally hard not to grab Noct’s hand and lick the blood off himself.
As he wrestled with that new feeling, the other voice chuckled. Prompto looked up at this other person, taller, with ash-brown hair and sharp green eyes, snappily dressed in a button-up and slacks. “He doesn’t know his own strength,” whoever-it-was said in a dry tone. “Prompto, my name is Ignis, and I’m Noct’s… well, he holds my blood bond. And yours as well. We’ll explain what that means later… I know you’re thirsty, and we’ll get you something to drink right away. Noct, would you help him sit up?”
“Yeah,” Noctis said, and leaned forward. His hand had already stopped bleeding. He grasped Prompto’s arm and put another on his shoulder and pulled him forward so he was sitting. He swayed a little -- his whole body still felt weak. Noctis must have noticed, because he shifted so he was sitting on the bed next to Prompto -- so near their hips bumped -- and wrapped an arm around Prompto’s back.
Then Ignis brought Prompto a tall glass filled with something dark. Prompto reached for it -- and almost dropped it, but Noctis wrapped his own hands over Prompto’s and helped him bring it to his mouth. The smell was… oh, so good. Prompto licked his lips and then tipped the glass back, drinking as much as he could, great gulps so quickly he barely registered the taste.
Until the glass was empty in his hands, and the residue of the liquid inside seeped down to pool in the bottom of the glass. He swirled it in his hand and stared.
It was blood.
Because of course it was blood. Because he’d been Turned.
He looked up. Ignis was watching him, his face open and sympathetic. Noctis… Noct’s eyes looked sad.
And that was enough. Everything -- all the new sensations, the deep thirst that one glass had not sated -- it was so overwhelming, and Prompto couldn’t do anything else.
He burst into tears.