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Futility

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It was such a rush, being on top of the world like that. He had so much power, with no limits, and he could do anything Noct could do, and then some. It just flowed out of him, and through him, like he was the power, and the power was him, and not like he was just merely using it. He'd never felt so absolutely high before.

Now that it was over, he'd never felt so fucking low.

He had been so stupid. So very, very stupid.

Lady Lunafreya was still dead. Ardyn still got away scot-free.

But he saved Noct, right? That had to count for something, didn't it?

But the longer he thought about it, in the dark, the more it seemed like Ardyn had just been toying with him.

He'd done so much damage to him. He hadn't been able to see it, of course, but it was more like he could feel it, like the ring was feeding the information right into his head. He unleashed so much power on Ardyn that it should've killed him several times over. There shouldn't have been anything left. He should've been reduced to nothing more than ashes, especially with the price he paid. And yet...

"Now, now, that's enough for today, don't you think?"

He'd sounded so unfazed when he said that. Like what Prompto did was pointless. Useless. A complete and utter failure.

Just like himself. Especially now.

The sheets on the nearby bed rustled. Prompto lifted his head slightly, turning his ear in the direction the sound came from. The rustling stopped then, and Noct's steady breathing replaced it. He'd grown used to that sound by now, being stuck in this hotel room, alone for the most part. Except for Noct, but he was asleep, so that didn't count. Except for Gladio, but he never stuck around long enough, didn't talk to him enough.

And Iggy...

Even if he couldn't see his face, he knew Iggy was disappointed in him. Angry with him, even. And why wouldn't he be? He'd had to fight his way out of being a burden before, and now he'd completely made a burden out of himself, by his own hand, by his own stupid-ass decision. He had no other viable combat skills, absolutely nothing else. How the hell was he supposed to shoot anything if he couldn't fucking see?!

He pulled in a sharp breath through his nose and sat up completely, the back of his head bouncing off the back of the chair when he moved far too quickly. He winced and leaned back against it more gingerly this time, pulling in fast, deep breaths through his nose.

It would be okay. It was just temporary. His vision would come back. It had only been a few hours. Or a few days. It was so hard to tell, being in the dark. And it wasn't like he could ask Gladio or Iggy; they'd just feel sorry for him, and pity him more, and he couldn't have that. Then they'd fuss over him, try to help him with simple tasks. Like eating--when was the last time he ate?--and bathing--yeah, nope, not doing that, nope nope.

His left hand found his right wrist and wrapped around it, over the wristband that was still in place. The wristband that still smelled damp with rain, and salty with seawater. He never gave it the chance to fully dry. He couldn't take that risk.

He just needed to hang on. Wait for this to pass. Let himself heal. Then they wouldn't have to know, and have even more of a reason to send him off, to abandon him. Injuries always healed, though usually with potions and elixirs, and those hadn't helped...

But this injury wasn't normal. So, maybe it just took more time. Temporary blindness was a thing, right? He could wait that out. A few more days, maybe a few weeks? He could wait that out, get by, show them that he was okay, that he could stay with them, that they didn't need to leave him behind, that he'd get better.

He had to get better. Nothing else was allowed.

His hand slid from his wrist and into his lap, and the other hand followed. He tried to focus his eyes on them, but he had no idea where to look. Was he looking down? He felt like he was. Down was darker than up most of the time. That gave him hope, that his vision would come back; it had gone from total darkness to only somewhat-darkness, with blurred light all around him whenever he opened his eyes.

The rest would follow. It had to. The sharp sting around his eyes was a dull ache now. He still hadn't gathered enough courage to actually touch his own face, to feel the areas that had been so raw just after he'd done the unthinkable.

"My face hurts," he'd told Ravus after he'd collapsed, after he'd noticed the intense sting of pain around his eyes.

"I would expect nothing less, as it was ablaze," Ravus had replied.

"It is bad?" he'd asked, though, if he had been honest with himself, he didn't want to know.

"What will you do if I say yes?" Ravus had asked back.

He didn't reply after that. He had no answer for it. He still didn't. He didn't want to know. He'd see the scars later, after his vision came back. Maybe there wouldn't be any. Maybe they'd be flattering, a reminder that he protected Noct, despite his feelings that it was pointless to do so, that he was never in any real danger. He'd done a good thing, right?

He'd done it. He brought his mind back around, to where he could bear with his own thoughts again. He would get better. Noct would wake up. They could continue onward, wherever that was, and they'd all be together. Nothing else had to change.

Noct's breathing stopped being steady. Rustling again, but longer, sounding wider, somehow. And a choked kind of noise. Not sure what that was.

"Prom?" Noct's voice croaked out from behind him.

With a deep breath, he turned his head slightly, toward Noct's voice. He forced his best smile and tried to make eye contact, but he couldn't tell where exactly to look. He just aimed for Noct's breathing and hoped for the best, hoping that Noct couldn't tell just how forced his smile was.

"Hey, buddy."

Chapter Text

"Prom..." Noct repeated, his breath a long hiss, like he'd brought it in fast through his teeth. "You're hurt, what..." Another breathy sound. "What happened?"

What happened, indeed.

It was Prompto's turn to take in a deep breath. He closed one hand into a tight fist, thinking over his answer. Noct's voice had cracked, he must be on the verge of tears already.

The truth would be too much, then, what with everything else.

"Don't worry about it," he replied finally, forcing a smile again.

He pushed himself out of the chair, feeling his way around it with his hand in a way that he hoped was casual and natural-looking. Like he wasn't struggling. Like it was just a simple, everyday task. He faced the direction Noct's voice had come from, keeping his mouth locked into that smile.

"You feeling okay?" he asked, trying to keep his voice normal.

"Who gives a shit how I feel?" Noct mumbled back, his voice strained.

"I do?" Prompto squeaked out, walking forward, toward his voice.

The bed. The bed was somewhere in front of him. He reached out with a hand, trying to find it, but only found air. He kept walking, kept feeling around in the empty air with his hands, in the dark. His shin exploded with pain as it slammed hard into something solid. He cursed under his breath and caught himself on his hand, his palm sinking into a duvet and mattress.

Found the bed.

"Prom, are you...?" Noct breathed, his voice trailing off. "I mean, can you not see?"

"Caught me," Prompto replied with a breathless laugh. "Guess it was pretty obvious, yeah?"

Noct didn't reply. And if he didn't reply, then he was making a face. But what kind of face? Was he mad at him? Was he upset? How would he know how to react if he couldn't see his damn face?

"So, uh," Prompto continued, feeling around on the bed until he could lower onto it, so he could sit on the edge. "You've been out for awhile, we weren't sure when you were gonna wake up, so--"

"So they just left you in here by yourself?"

"Someone had to be here when you woke up."

"But--" Noct's breath hitched, and something bumped against his face. "These glasses, are they..."

"Glasses?" He reached up toward his own face and, yep, there were glasses. "Oh, completely forgot these were on my face. It's for the sun, I think, or just light." He lowered his hand and lifted his face upwards, toward the ceiling, he supposed. "Yeah, so bright light doesn't make them worse, I guess. I'm starting to be able to see light now, though, so it won't be long till it comes back."

"So... where are the others?"

"Hm..." He leaned back on his hands. "Iggy went out to help assess the damage from Leviathan for the Secretary, and I think Gladio's out handling the rescue efforts."

"And you..."

"In here, keeping an eye on you." He laughed. "Whoops, sorry, poor choice of words." He shot fingerguns in the direction he hoped Noct was.

Noct didn't laugh, so he let his hands fall in his lap.

"Did something else happen?" Noct asked, his voice quiet. "I mean, is Luna...?"

Shit.

"I was hoping you weren't gonna ask about that," Prompto replied, forcing a breath out through his nose. "Yeah, she... she didn't make it."

Noct made a choking sound instead of replying.

"She left the ring with you," Prompto continued. "And--"

"I know."

Prompto's mouth snapped shut. Noct's voice was biting, as if he was mad. Mad at him. He shouldn't have said anything at all. He should've just kept his mouth shut.

"Ah, sorry," Noct said, softer. "It's... it's in my hand. Sorry."

Oh.

"Don't worry about it," Prompto forced out with a shaky laugh. "I know it's weird. It won't last forever, though. Like I said, I can see light, and I couldn't see it when it first happened, so it can only get better, right?"

He reached out toward where he thought the head of the bed was. Nope, that was one of Noct's legs. And that was the duvet. His fingers brushed something solid and cold, mostly smooth with a slight texture near the edges.

The notebook.

"U-Umbra left this for you, I think," he said, pushing the notebook toward where Noct's voice was coming from. "And that's... that's all, I guess."

The notebook slipped from his fingers, and pages turned. He jumped when the most heart-wrenching sound came from Noct's direction, from Noct himself. It sounded familiar, but why?

"Noct...?" he breathed, sliding his hand over until it touched something. That something pulled away from him with a jerk.

"Just... leave me alone," Noct muttered back, his voice cracking.

Ah. Crying. He was crying. Like in that first tomb, way back after they found out about Insomnia. And a part of him was relieved that he couldn't actually see Noct crying. But he could imagine it, and that was bad enough.

"Alright, buddy," he said, as gently as he could.

He stood, slowly, holding out his hand to feel his way back toward the front of the suite, to the door that would take him to the sitting room. He found the edge of the bed. Then air, more air, more air, the CHAIR, okay, that was the chair, so straight ahead?

His hand found the flat wood of the door by bumping right into it. He slid it down until he found the cold metal of the doorknob, and turned it.

"So, I'll be out here if you need me?" he said, coating his voice in every shred of hope he could muster.

Noct replied only with another gut-wrenching noise.

Prompto sighed.

"Okay," he said, then felt his way through the door.


It took too long to try to find one of the chairs in the sitting room. Not like he hadn't tripped over them once or four times already, so the one time he wanted to trip over them, he felt nothing but empty air.

So, instead, he settled for the sofa, falling onto it on his back. He huffed a few breaths, closing his eyes and opening them a few times, noting the difference in the amount of light between open and closed. He reached up to the glasses, fumbling with them in his fingers. He managed to slide them down his nose, to a point where he figured they weren't over his eyes anymore, then did the same thing again.

There was absolutely no difference.

He sighed. Of fucking course there was no difference.

He sat back up and tossed the glasses toward the coffee table. They clattered onto a surface much lower down than a coffee table would reasonably be, and it didn't sound like they hit wood or glass; it sounded more dull, like a rug or carpet.

He'd missed. He'd failed at even the most simple task, just putting a pair of sunglasses on a table. Because he couldn't fucking see it.

Just like he couldn't see Noct. Or any expression on his face. Or that he was crying. Or where any of the fucking chairs were in this goddamn room.

His eyes stung, both within them and under them, warm and wet tears running down his face, over where his face ached. Great. Now he was crying, too. And it fucking hurt. Like a sunburn under a hot shower, but around his eyes, and so much deeper than any sunburn he'd ever had, like he'd been scorched right down to his very soul.

But it wasn't anything like what Noct had been through. This was his own fault, his own doing. He picked up the ring, so he had to live with these consequences, for however long they would take. And they were just taking their sweet time, and he couldn't do a damn thing about it, not to change it or hurry it along or anything. And that just burned him even more, a choked sob ripping its way out of his throat.

Noct needed him. But he didn't want him. Not right now, at least. Maybe later. Or tomorrow. Sometime he would, right? So he could feel sorry for himself, even for a little while? That was okay, right?

Yeah, that sounded good. Maybe getting it out of his system would lessen the storm in his head. Get one good cry out, then he wouldn't have to do it again. That would fix it.

Beep.

A keycard.

He wiped at his face, the pressure from his own hand and fingers searing into the raw flesh around his eyes. More tears fell, and he scrubbed them away, even as the door unlatched.

In a bid of desperation, he threw himself down on the floor, keeping his face low. He felt around with one hand, just as the door opened.

"Prompto?" Gladio's voice boomed in the room, and he flinched. "The hell are you doing down there?"

"Just dropped my glasses," he sort-of-lied, feeling around on the floor, as if he was looking for them. "Plopped down for a nap and tried to put them on the table. Guess I missed."

"Helps that the coffee table is way over there," Gladio rumbled back.

"Right..."

Cold hard plastic raked against the raw skin on his face. He winced, but didn't cry out. He reached up and adjusted the glasses himself, hoping they rested straight on his face from where Gladio had forced them onto his ears and nose.

"Noct's awake," he said with his forced cheerfulness, pulling himself up to his feet.

"Is he?" Gladio asked back, and footsteps passed by him. "Guess I should check up on him."

"Yeah," Prompto agreed, following the footsteps toward the room where Noct had been sleeping. Where he'd been crying.

He needed them. Needed him. He could make him feel better, he was sure of it. He had to be. Someone had to do it, and it had always worked before. It was all he could do right now.

He yelped as he ran smack into the door, just as it closed in his face.

Oh. Guess it was just Gladio he needed.

He felt his way back to the couch and sank down into it. He clasped his hands in his lap, wringing them together. He could make out their voices, but not any words, like they were speaking low, or maybe in hushed tones. Like they didn't want him to overhear.

Like they were talking about him. His condition. His current useless state.

His chest ached, and another warm tear stung its way down his cheek. He made no move to wipe it away.

Chapter Text

"How are your eyes?"

Prompto almost jumped out of his skin, his glasses bouncing on his nose as he whipped his head around. Iggy had been quiet the entire train ride, not saying a word as he sat near the aisle, leaving Prompto to sit by the window. At least, that's how he assumed the arrangement was. He could sense a wall at his right, and Ignis was at his left, so he himself was in the window seat, right?

Three weeks should've been enough to get used to being blind, but he still hadn't gotten the hang of it. And why would he need to? It wasn't like he'd be stuck like this forever. While his vision hadn't improved in over a week, improvement had still happened, to the point that he could judge what time of day it was just by how much light he could see.

Granted, he could only do so if he was outside. Indoor lights made that a bit more complicated.

"Same as always," he replied finally, leaning his arms onto his knees, not bothering to force the smile this time.

"I see."

"It'll be fine, though. Shouldn't be much longer."

"And the wounds on your face?"

"Haven't hurt for awhile, so I guess they've healed up by now."

"Good."

"So, where we headed?"

"Cartanica. We're to make a stop there. Then, we'll pass through Tenebrae."

"We gonna make a stop there?"

"It's... up to Noct."

Right.

"No way," Gladio said, from his left, from the direction of the aisle. "We're not stopping in Tenebrae."

He coud hear Noct make some kind of noise some distance away.

"And why not?" Noct asked, his voice gruff, as if he was annoyed.

"Because you need to buck up and get over it."

Gladio also sounded gruff, even moreso. Like he was really pissed off.

"I just want to go and pay my respects."

"Is that all it is?! Or do you wanna go there to pretend to be a little kid again?! Like none of this happened?!"

"Excuse me?!"

Some shuffling, and Iggy moved beside him. Maybe he stood up? He couldn't tell.

"You're not eight anymore, you're supposed to be a king now, and here you are with your head up your ass!"

"That's enough, Gladio," Iggy said, his voice a growl. "There's no use in arguing over this."

"Can you blame me?!" Noct yelled back, as if he didn't hear Iggy at all.

"Yes, I fucking can!" Gladio roared back.

More shuffling.

"You think you're the only one who has something to be depressed about?!" Gladio continued. "Prompto gave up everything for you, and for what?! For you to sit here feeling sorry for yourself?! For you to not fucking MOVE ON?!"

Gladio's voice echoed. Prompto's heart twinged. There was a silence. Were they waiting for him to react? He didn't know how he should react. He never knew, not anymore.

Instead, his eyes welled up with tears. And they ran down his face, warm and not stinging, but just as painful, and so much deeper. He choked on nothing, and slammed a hand into his face, to hide, so they wouldn't see him, just like he couldn't see them. This was his fault. They wouldn't be fighting if he hadn't been too slow. Hadn't picked up the ring and tried to fight. Hadn't tried to rise above his station. Hadn't been so fucking stupid.

There was a long silence, except for his own sobs. Then, another shuffling of feet, moving away. The seat beside him depressed, Iggy's presence at his side again.

And he just couldn't stop the tears from flowing, no matter how hard he tried.

 

Chapter Text

Prompto did a once-over before he stepped out of the stopped train.

Glasses? On his face, check.

Long mobility cane? In his hand, check.

The doors were actually open? Feel around first, and check.

He felt around with his cane for the small dip down onto the platform from the train, and only stumbled a little bit upon walking out. It wasn't much brighter out here than it was in the train, so it couldn't have been midday anymore. Probably late afternoon. Probably.

"You said there's a royal tomb out here?" Noct asked from some distance away, way out ahead of him.

"Indeed," Iggy replied, just as far away.

"Do we have time?"

"Certainly. The train will be stopped for some time, probably through to the morning."

Prompto walked toward the voices, using what he learned from using the cane in Altissia's streets to find his way over to the group without tripping over something or someone. Something pattered across the platform in front of him, the soft steps unusual and very close together. His cane bumped something and that something squeaked, and loud. He stopped dead in his tracks, listening for more sounds. Footsteps, fast ones, coming toward him.

"Hey, watch where you're going!" a female voice yelled out, presumably at himself.

He whipped his head around toward the voice, hoping he was facing the right way.

"Sorry, I'm still new at this," he apologized, holding up one hand.

"Oh, you're--I mean, I didn't realize, I thought you were just--sorry," she stammered back, slightly to the right of where he was facing. She said nothing more, and footsteps led away from him, growing quieter and quieter until he could no longer hear them.

"Prompto?" Iggy's voice come from his right, and he turned toward the voice accordingly. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah, peachy!" he replied, forcing a smile on his face. "Still learning to use this thing." He tapped around with the cane, the sharp tap of wood under his feet. "So, there's a tomb?"

"Yes, well..." Iggy's voice trailed off, and Prompto's heart sank with it.

"...You don't want me to go?" he guessed, instinctively lowering his head to hide any tears. It was dumb, though. The glasses would do that for him.

"It's not about want," Iggy replied. "It just may be safer for you to stay on the train or, at the very least, in the station. However, if you think you can manage..."

"Sure, I can manage!" he announced, pumping his free fist in the air. "It'll be good practice, right?"

"Possibly." There was a pause. "Are you certain you're alright?"

"Yep! Let's go get Noct another sword!"

With that, he walked forward, feeling his way over with a normal speed. The area forward and to his right closed off, and that closed off area felt alive and in two separate places, so he stopped. And flashed a smile.

"You're okay to go?" Noct asked from one half of the living closed off area, the one in front of him.

He'd guessed right. He could sense them without his sight. He was okay.

"Yep!" he replied, a bit of genuine cheerfulness in his voice.

"You sure?" Gladio asked from the other half, from his right. "What if we run into trouble?"

"Then I'll do what I always do: stay in the back, out of melee range. C'mon, big guy, I've thought this through. It's cool."


He could've thought it through a tiny bit more than he had.

The terrain was uneven, and weird, and hard to judge, hard to put into his imagination. It kept sloping down suddenly, obstacles kept popping up in his path. Altissia had been mostly flat, and all the slopes and staircases were even and easy to navigate. Not whatever this was.

He more or less followed the footfalls in front of him, but they kept changing pitch, and more than once he found himself face-down in dirt, with one of the others--Gladio maybe--lifting him back to his feet, his cane shoved back into his hand.

"You sure you're good?" Gladio asked after the third time it happened.

Prompto opened his mouth to reply, but Gladio cut him off.

"Noct, stop running off on your own!" he bellowed, and Prompto's entire body flinched.

"We're losing daylight!" Noct called back from enough distance away that his voice echoed off a wall behind Prompto.

They'd been walking downward, all the slopes went downward. So there was a wall behind him, so they must be in some kind of crater, or valley, or something like that.

"We'll lose a lot more than that if you slow the fuck down!" Gladio yelled back at Noct. "You know we can't go our normal pace!"

"Then I'll just scout ahead!"

"The fuck you will!"

"That's enough, the both of you," Ignis snapped. "Gladio, if it bothers you so much, then you go with Noct, I'll stay behind with Prompto."

"We need to stick together."

"I'm aware, but perhaps it isn't possible."

A thick feeling seeped into Prompto's throat and his chest, a little too similar to how he felt during the train ride here. During the fight.

The fight that seemed to continue now.

"It's okay," he spoke up. "I'm okay, we can keep going. I'll catch up, so Noct can keep his own pace, okay?"

"Are you sure?" Iggy asked, with the exact same notes in his voice as on the platform. He didn't like them.

"Totally sure," he promised, making his way forward, toward where he'd heard Noct's voice. "I need to be in the back anyway, right? Best to start back here than have to retreat."

"But if someone attacks us from behind," Gladio argued, his heavy footfalls following behind Prompto. "No one will be able to protect you."

"I can still hear, big guy. And I'm not helpless, just blind."

"But--"

"Gladio," Iggy interrupted, "if he's certain he can handle himself, then let him try."

Gladio didn't reply. Prompto could only guess that he was staring at Iggy, giving him that look, the look that said he couldn't argue further with Iggy, even though he really wanted to.

"You guys coming or what?" Noct's voice echoed from below again, somehow farther away.

"Give us time to catch up!" Gladio yelled back.

"Just trying to get this over with!"

Prompto couldn't help but agree with that, at least internally.


Things just came out of nowhere.

He couldn't tell at all what they were, just that they were small, and everywhere, and making loud high-pitched noises, almost like children's voices that had been distorted and twisted. Daemons maybe? He had no idea. But he could hear them, and, somehow, using a sense he had no idea he had, he could triangulate on where they were, just based on sound and something... else. He could hear where Noct was, because warp strikes and heavy uses of magic had a kind of high-pitched ring to them; he was up ahead and slightly to the left. Gladio was also easy to find, a loud hiss of air rippling out from farther to the right, about level with where Noct was. Iggy was a little harder to track down until the soft and shrill slashes of his daggers through the air reached his ears. He was off to the right.

He focused instead on the "daemons." There were four, maybe five? Two or three were near Gladio, one was near Noct, and one or two were over by Iggy. Their footfalls were eratic, and the noises stayed grouped mostly in self-contained areas, like they were focusing on their own one-on-one or two-on-one fights. Easy enough.

A patter of feet near Gladio, heading toward Noct on the left. He pulled out one of his revolvers from the armiger, focused on the footsteps, and fired.

The daemon squawked in pain, yelling something in a language Prompto couldn't hope to understand; he guessed it was cussing him out.

"Nice shot!" Noct called out, still off to the left.

"Thanks!" he called back, feeling off to the side with the cane, then adjusted his footing to a wider stance.

The daemon ran again, forward this time, toward himself. He focused on its steps, on its distance, triangulated it, and fired again.

Noct cried out this time, followed by a solid thump at ground level. Shit, the daemon must've got him.

He focused harder, finding the daemon was indeed very close to where the heavy sound came from, and fired again. The daemon screamed its distorted death cry, and the sound of sand falling into glass followed.

Huh. He never noticed before how weird daemon death sounds were.

Noct cried out in pain again, low to the ground, not far in front of his feet. He rushed forward, a little too fast, and stumbled over something in his path. He caught himself on the ground on his hands, feeling around until he touched a warm body clothed in leather.

"Buddy?" he breathed, feeling around for any kind of injury. "You need a potion or anything?"

"What I need is for you to get the fuck away from me!" Noct spat back, and his form under Prompto's hands ripped away from him.

"Noct...?" he squeaked out, his voice feeling broken. "What, I mean--"

"You fucking shot me, that's what!"

His heart dropped right out of his body. 

How? He'd been doing a good job. He'd been able to sense the daemons, sense where his friends were. It was like he could see again, in his own way. He'd even been accurate, just like before.

So how?

"I'm sorry, I--"

"You should've just stayed behind!"

His heart sank more somehow, right into the ground. And rooted him there, on his knees.

A shuffling in front of him, large footsteps. Gladio?

No, he couldn't be certain. Not after he'd just fucked up. And so badly.

"There's a haven up the hill there," Gladio said, his voice hushed. "Let's get him up there."

"Agreed," Ignis said from somewhere above where he knelt. "We could also use it to regroup."

"What can I do?" Prompto heard himself ask.

"Nothing," Gladio spat back. "You've done enough."

There was silence after that, save for the heavy footsteps leading away from him and upwards. Only one set of them. A hand landed on his shoulder and he jumped.

"My apologies," Ignis said, his voice hushed. "We must follow."

Prompto nodded, and forced his legs to stand, and followed Ignis's hand on his arm up a slope. He didn't bother using the cane, or even his hearing, just let Ignis drag him up until they reached a flat surface.

Upon reaching it, he sank down again on his knees, and didn't move. The others didn't question him.

Chapter Text

Luckily, it didn't turn out to be serious. Ignis gave Noct a strong potion and he was fine, like nothing had ever happened.

But it did happen. And he's the one who did it.

Why did he think he was okay, that his blindness was just another obstacle to overcome, that he could push past it and function like normal? This wasn't anything like when he was trying to get fit, when all he had to do was work hard enough to be accepted by Noct, to feel like he could finally belong. And he just barely reached that point, and now...

He was a hindrance. A burden. A fucking danger to everyone around him. And why wouldn't he be? He couldn't take photos anymore if he couldn't fucking see to take them. And how as he supposed to use his weapons if he couldn't tell if something or someone was in between him and his target?

He'd gotten so caught up in it, so fucking high and mighty and over-confident that he'd fucking forgotten he couldn't actually see anything. And that it wasn't getting better. He'd had no change in days, maybe a week. It was the same blurred mess of dim light, the same as it was shortly after Noct regained consciousness. And he'd been ignoring that. He kept thinking it would get better.

Thanks for the slap in the face, reality.

So, he stayed behind at the haven while they went to the tomb. They were gone for awhile, enough for the light to grow bright enough that he had to put his sunglasses back on. He sat on the edge of the rock, waiting, waiting, and waiting. There wasn't much out here, it seemed, the wind the only sound except for distant echoes of voices. This area must be some kind of valley if their voices traveled that far. Or maybe the tomb wasn't really that far away. Not like he could tell what time it was. Not without asking someone.

Not without bothering someone about it.

The others came back eventually. Well, Ignis did, at least. He's the one who said his name. Tapped him on the shoulder. Led him down from the haven, back to the path.

And it seemed like Prompto had intruded on a fight.

"Will you get your damn head out of your ass?!" Gladio spat, the first words he understood from the raised voices he heard approach.

"My head's not up my ass!" Noct retorted.

Prompto flinched, at least internally: it was the same tone he'd used yesterday, after he'd shot him. By accident. But he still did it.

"It sure as hell seems like it! You're wandering around feeling sorry for yourself and not once thinking about anyone else!"

"The fuck does that mean?"

"You're supposed to be a king, but you're just hiding! Acting like all of us have to take care of you!"

"What the hell am I supposed to do, then?!"

"Step up and be a man about this! I mean, shit, you got yourself fucking SHOT because you weren't paying attention!"

"Don't blame Noct for it!" Prompto interrupted.

His mouth opened and moved on its own. He didn't mean to say it out loud. But what choice did he have?! Noct couldn't take the blame for it. Noct wasn't the one who was blind. Noct wasn't the one who thought he'd be worthy of some mystical totem that he had no business using. Noct wasn't the one who was a fucking burden.

"Prompto--" Gladio began. Prompto wasn't having it.

"No, listen, you two have been at it ever since this happened." He motioned to his own face, or hoped he did. "It's not Noct's fault. None of this is. And don't you dare fucking blame him for trying to grieve over Luna, over everything!"

"It's been three weeks, Prompto," Gladio replied, that growl still there.

No.

"Don't give me that shit!" Prompto snarled back. "When have any of us had any time to grieve?! We sure as hell didn't get any time after Insomnia fell! Or after Jared! After anything! Any of us could've broken down by now!"

"Noct isn't supposed to!"

Wow.

Noct pulled in a sharp breath; Prompto could hear it so clearly.

"Gladio," Ignis warned.

"I mean--" Gladio began. Prompto wouldn't let him.

"No, you meant exactly what you said, didn't you?! Because Noct's king and everything, he's not supposed to have any feelings?! Or let them affect him?! Do you know how much fucking bullshit that is?!" He waltzed across the short distance to Gladio, hoping he was glaring right up into his face. "Let him grieve. If anything, you should be blaming me for all this. I'm the one who got hurt, I'm the one who shot him, and I'm the reason we've been falling behind."

"Prompto, that's not--"

"I'm not gonna hear it!" He turned his head toward where he approximated Noct to be, based on his voice. "Noct, take the time you need, okay?"

"But don't forget," Ignis began, his footsteps bringing him closer to Prompto. "A king pushes onward always, accepting the consequences and never looking back."

Noct pulled in a breath. Prompto turned his head slightly to Ignis's voice. What the fuck did that mean?

"Alright, I get it," Noct muttered. "Let's get back to the train."


And so, they were back at the train. Luckily, whatever business it had in Cartanica took long enough that it still waited for them at the station, according to Ignis. They had to wait around for a short time, the sounds of the engine starting and warming up filling the air around them.

"Time to go," Gladio said, just as the hiss of the doors opening sounded through the air.

Prompto walked forward, following Gladio's footsteps, but a hand on his arm stopped him.

"Prompto, I..." Noct began, but his voice trailed off.

"You want me to stay behind?" he guessed, cracking a forced smile. "If you want me to, I'm sure I can find my way back to Lucis."

"Prom, no, that's not it at all." He sounded pained.

"Then what is it?"

"I'm sorry."

"Not your fault."

"Of course it is. You wouldn't be--I mean, if I wasn't--"

"I did this to myself." He felt his voice crack. "And I'd do it again. So can we just drop it?"

Noct pulled in a breath again. He didn't reply. Prompto guessed that he nodded at him.

He followed Noct's arm onto the train. Just before, though, he thought he heard someone hum the chocobo song.

Must've been his imagination.

Chapter Text

It had been some time since they boarded the train. How much time? Prompto wasn't sure.

He just knew he was alone, with nothing but the rumble and squeak of the train rolling down the tracks to fill his head. The car had been deserted when they boarded, and Iggy and Gladio had wandered off.

"We're gonna find some food," Gladio had said.

But Prompto knew better. He just didn't say anything. Maybe keeping their distance for awhile worked on Noct after an outburst like that. After all, Noct wasn't in the car, either. There was no one at all. No one breathing. No one walking. No one speaking.

Just his own thoughts telling him what a failure he was. That he's nothing but a burden, now. And how he'd just made that worse by losing his temper. How the others probably hated him, now. How Noct probably--no, DEFINITELY--hated him, now.

"Maybe you should just disappear."

That one... definitely wasn't in his head. He thought so, anyway. And it was definitely Noct's voice, somewhere far, but also close. In this car.

But no one came in the car? Neither door opened, he would've heard it. Right?

"Do you really think I want you around just for the sake of our friendship?"

There. It was clearer. Noct's voice came from behind him.

He pulled himself to his feet and spun around, keeping his hands out to judge where the seats were.

"Noct?" he called out.

No one answered. No one breathed. No one moved.

Then, the door between the cars closed shut with a thump.

"Noct?!" he called out again, louder this time.

No answer.

Steeling himself, he scrambled his way forward, feeling his way through the aisle. Counting the seats. Fifteen, sixteen-- boom. A flat surface, one that wasn't entirely solid. He felt around on the steel for a handle, for anything he could grab, which was made much harder with the vibrations of the moving train rattling it around under his hand. He finally found something he could hook his fingers into, then pulled to the left. It didn't move. He tried to the right, and then it did move, opening up to another space with a whoosh of air. His boots rang out metallic on the vestibule floor, the wind noise and rumble of steel wheels much louder now. He felt around in front of himself, finding nothing but air.

The second door. Where was the second door?

He stumbled, his boot having caught on something. His few staggered steps before he caught his balance were of a much different timbre, much more like in the cars themselves. So, the door hadn't been shut. No wonder he couldn't find it.

"You can't even find your way around without tripping over nothing?" Noct's voice rang out again, this time not from any particular direction. "Guess we should've left you behind after all."

Okay, that one stung. Or crushed him. He wasn't entirely sure. He'd figure that out later, when he wasn't trying to figure out why Noct's voice was seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere at once.

"You told me to come," he heard himself say, feeling around to his sides, hands sliding over the leather seats. "You said you didn't want to leave me behind, even when I offered to stay."

"And you believed that? I was just being nice."

Prompto's head snapped upward. He was in front of him, somewhere farther down in the car. And was moving; he heard footsteps this time.

"You look surprised," Noct continued, the footsteps traveling farther away. "You think someone who's supposed to be the leader of a country wouldn't know how to fake emotions?" The footsteps rang metallic, just like his had.

The vestibule.

"Wait--!" He called out, bolting forward with his arm reaching out into the air in front of him, into the relative nothingness.

The slamming shut of the door rang out before he reached it. He curled his hands into fists against the metal and sank down onto his knees.

No, he had to be imagining it. He'd just gone through something traumatic, they all had, so hallucinating about his insecurities was normal, right? He was just hearing what he thought Noct would say.

So he just had to find Noct and make sure it really was some kind of hallucination.

With a steadying breath, he rose to his feet, felt around for the door's latch, and pulled it open.


"Prom?"

Finally, he heard Noct's voice again. It wasn't condescending or malicious like it had been before, and it also didn't have those weird acoustics he just now noticed were present in the empty train cars. It sounded normal, and like Noct.

"Hey buddy," he said, his own voice breathless as he made his way past more of the rows of seats, heading for the sound of Noct's voice.

Though, he only found one row on his right, with nothing to his left, not even if he extended his left arm all the way out.

"Thought you were with the others."

"What can I say? They ditched me."

His boot hooked something to his left and he tripped, his left arm swinging out in some futile bid to catch himself. His fingers slid against a polished surface, scrambling for purchase as he fell. His right arm swung out as well, and his forearm landed in a hand. Another hand caught his chest, keeping him from falling completely to the floor.

"Careful," Noct said, his voice very close, almost in his hair.

"I was being careful," he replied, as Noct hoisted him back up to his feet.

"Here--there's a stool right behind you." His butt brushed against something and he stepped backward. Noct eased him up onto the stool, which was high enough that his boots dangled off the floor. "You okay, you look like--I mean, your face is wet."

Oh, shit. He'd been crying again. He didn't even realize it. Better come up with something.

"Nah, just sweaty," he fibbed, shrugging his shoulders. "Got bored, decided to wander around."

"Are the other cars hot? This one's freezing. Probably because of that." There was a pause, after which Noct took in a sharp breath. "I mean, uh, there's a snowstorm out there, not over the train, but toward a ridge away from the tracks."

"Ah," he breathed, then he remembered. "Weird time of year for snow."

"Yeah, wonder what it is."

"Real mystery, huh?"

He felt it before he heard it, the swish of air adjacent to his ear. His adrenaline spiked and he stumbled into a spin off of the stool. He held one arm out, desperately staring into the nothingness, straining the muscles around his eyes, just trying to see anything.

But there was nothing. Just sounds, like his own heart pounding in his head. And Noct's ragged breathing not far away, as if he were in a battle.

"Noct?" he squeaked out, holding an arm out. "What's going on?"

"Don't call me that!"

Another whoosh, from where Noct's voice came from, and Prompto stumbled backward again, tripping over something and falling to the floor. Noct didn't move at all to catch him that time.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing, following me around like this?!" Noct sounded pissed. And tired. And done. But mostly pissed.

Pissed at him.

"I mean, I offered to--"

Another swoosh, and that time a blade bit into his shoulder, grazing the skin and slicing through the leather with a sharp rip.

"Shut up!" Noct's voice was closer. He was the one attacking him. "You don't have any right to say anything!"

"Noct--Buddy, are you seriously trying to kill me?!" He stumbled back to his feet, holding his hand on his shoulder. He didn't feel any blood, so he let go.

"What do you think?!"

This was too surreal. He'd convinced himself that his insecurities were just that, insecurities, and everything he feared about Noct's true feelings were just from fear. And yet, here he was, getting attacked by Noct, by his best friend.

Or maybe they weren't actually friends.

Another swoosh, which he managed to dodge, stumbling back against the row of seats.

No time for thinking. Time for running.

So, he bolted. He bolted toward where he thought a vestibule door would be. He managed to get it open, jiggling with the second door while Noct's footsteps approached. Come on, open-- it opened, and he bolted forward, arms out to his sides. He felt glass on his left, the cold smoothness reminding him of sleep. Sleeper car, that's what this was. Maybe he could hide--

"You bastard," Noct's voice came from behind him, inside the car. There went that idea.

He bolted down the corridor, arm out in front of him, and slammed right into the next vestibule door. He jiggled it, failing to get it open once, then twice, and then on the third try, it opened, and he darted through without feeling his way through.

And slammed right into a solid wall.

His hands searched desperately over the wall, feeling no weak point, so depressed area where the door would be, nothing. He turned on his heel, opening his mouth in a bid to reason with Noct, to do anything, but then his back slammed into the wall, an arm pressing into his chest.

"This is all your fault!" Noct hissed in his face. "Luna, Insomnia, everything!"

"Noct..." Prompto breathed, forgetting that he wasn't supposed to call him that. "You--do you really mean that?" He had to know. He had to.

"Of course I do!" Noct spat back, pressing him farther against the wall.

Guess he knew now. If only he could see his face, to further confirm what the fuck was going on was actually what was happening. Shit, even his own thoughts weren't making any sense.

"Why couldn't you just leave me alone?!" Noct continued, his voice sounding strained. "You'd already done enough, but you just had to keep going! Why?!"

"Noct, I--"

The train lurched. Noct fell away from him, and his own legs buckled under him. He hit the floor, braced with his palms against the metal. And the nothingness turned to actual darkness.


Prompto awoke to wind noise, air whipping through his hair, pulling at his clothes.

"That's it, come on," a voice said from somewhat above him, over the noise. "I'm certain you've not lost your hearing as well, hm?"

"Ardyn?" he growled, the clear silhouette of the chancellor's form entering his mind, taking shape in the place he estimated Ardyn to stand in front of him.

"Ah, I see you still have that sense, at least."

"Where's Noct?" he demanded, pulling himself to his feet. The ground was moving under him, so it was hard. Must still be dizzy. "What did you do to him?"

"Me? Not a thing."

Dammit. He really needed to see this guy's face. He was so much easier to read that way.

"Such a terrible thing," Ardyn continued, boots ringing metallic, like in the vestibules. But this was too large of a space, too open, to be a vestibule. And the wind--were they outside? Where the hell were they? "To think that you can't see what's around you anymore, can't use any of your weaponry without a disaster..." A pause. "Can't even defend yourself, perhaps?"

"That's none of your business."

"Oh? But it's because you were defending your precious Noctis, was it not? Against me?" His voice changed in tone, to that dangerous tone he had before their battle.

He shifted his footing, balancing on the moving surface, preparing to pull a gun from the armiger. He had a pretty good lock on where he was, based on the sound of his voice, even with it mixed with the wind. He could hit him, as long as he got the surprise shot.

"Oh, but that's not all it is, is it?" Ardyn continued, his boots clinking against the metal again. He was walking closer. Then he stopped. "You can't even tell what's real and what isn't anymore, can you? After all, if you can't see it..." His voice shifted again, but into something entirely different. "How can you tell what you experience is real at all?"

Noct's voice. It was Noct. But how? That really couldn't be him, right? Ardyn was just talking, but...

He'd heard Noct's voice before. Disembodied, and in the train. And he hadn't seen him. Couldn't see him. Because he was blind. He really was blind.

And it wasn't getting better.

But one thing that was... he could tell vaguely from the wind noise that the person standing in front of him was much larger than Noct. It wasn't Noct. Somehow, Ardyn had figured out how to mimic his voice, maybe with some kind of voice changer. Whatever. He didn't have to fall for this. Not like he had on the train, when Ardyn was mimicking his voice, making him think that Noct hated him and didn't want him around.

Attacked him, posing as Noct. No. He didn't have to fall for it again.

With a swing of his arm, he pulled out a revolver from the armiger and aimed for the blank space where he approximated Ardyn to be, already squeezing the trigger before he reached the apex.

"Prompto!"

Noct's voice, from somewhere nearby. Actually Noct. Warp noise and all.

A swoosh cut through the wind and his revolver spun out of his grasp. He stumbled back to the side, his boots sliding as they met some kind of steep incline. Another swoosh grazed his arm, and he took another step back, his boot hitting nothing but air. He scrambled for balance, sensing absolutely nothing behind him. His arm reached forward, reaching around in the air, grabbing for anything, but found nothing.

He fell backwards, off of the moving train.