He’s the only one in the car, but Noctis still practices his limousine stop. He slows so gradually, so gently you can hardly feel it, as he pulls into the passenger pick-up zone at the bus terminal. He’s there to pick up Doctor Sania Yeagre, the honored guest at this year’s Royal Ball. (It’s weird that they’re still calling it that—but if it helps people feel like things are starting to get back to normal, who cares what it’s called?) They’re giving Sania a lifetime achievement award for her work: studying the Scourge; preserving an impressive amount of plant and animal genetic diversity during the apocalypse; and helping to restore the ecosystem now that sunlight has returned to Eos.
Noctis scans the sidewalk and doesn’t see her yet. He puts on some 700’s instrumental jazz, which he thinks is pretty universally acceptable. After five minutes or so, he gets a call from Ignis.
“Hey Specs, I’m at the station.”
“Are you? Do you not see her? She says she’s there now, waiting.”
“Hold on a minute.” Noctis puts on the hazard lights and steps out of the car. Through the small, glass-walled station he can see someone with a distinctive red hat standing on the other side, near the taxi stand. “Ah—she’s by the taxis. I can’t drive over there. I’ll just . . . go get her.”
He hangs up with Ignis and leaves the car illegally parked to rush over to Sania.
“Doctor Yeagre,” he calls, catching his breath. “Hi! The car’s on the other side.” He points.
“Hello young man! I’ve been waiting for you.” Sania hands him one of her bags.
“Yeah, sorry,” Noctis says over his shoulder as he turns and starts to walk to the other door. “Right this way.”
To his relief, nobody is sniffing around Ignis’s car. He stashes the luggage in the trunk and gets Sania settled in the back seat while she tells him about her journey on the newly reopened long distance bus network.
“Just a minute, lemme call Ignis before we go.”
“Excellent idea. You should never talk on the phone while driving.”
“No, of course not,” he replies quickly. He doesn’t do that (much).
When Ignis answers, he puts him on speakerphone. “Hey Specs. We’re all set.”
“Hello there Ignis!” Sania shouts from the backseat.
“Sania. Nemo. I’m glad you found each other.”
“That’s right, your name is Nemo. Thank you, Ignis, for the reminder.”
Noctis suppresses a laugh as Ignis says, “Happy to help.”
“So, where we headed?”
Ignis asks, “Do you know that boutique near the Citadel I’m so fond of? It’s called Vestment.”
“Uhhh. I think so, it’s like around the corner from the public records building?” Noctis remembers Ignis bringing him tuxedo shopping there, many years ago.
“That’s the one. I’m headed over there now. See you there.”
“See you soon Ignis!” Sania chirps.
“Bye.” Noctis hangs up and turns the music back on.
“Yes, I’m a big fan of the Duke.”
He smiles. “Me too.”
It’s not a long drive from the bus station to the store, but they manage to cover several topics on the way. Sania remembers that ‘Nemo’ has been emailing her about fish he spots in the wild, so she gives him a thorough update of her progress. She happily reports that for each species her team has re-introduced, the population is stable and several are increasing. Noctis thinks that’s really good news. Maybe he’ll start actually keeping (and cooking) some of what he catches.
He drops Sania off in front of the boutique and parks the car in the Citadel garage using Ignis’s pass—one of the perks of being Minister of Internal Affairs. When he returns, he finds that Gladio has joined the dress-shopping expedition.
“So, do you know anything about this stuff?” Noctis asks him.
“Not a thing, but I’m not gonna pass up the chance to watch a gorgeous woman try on gorgeous clothes.”
Sania beams and lightly slaps Gladio’s arm. “Well, you’re next!”
Ignis is speaking with the clerk (or maybe they call themselves ‘style consultants’ here) and the look on his face is all business. After receiving his marching orders, the very fashionable salesperson hurries off to search through the racks, while the rest of them relax and sip water with cucumber slices. Their little group has completely taken over the store.
“Okay, let’s give these a try.” The salesperson hangs three gowns in a dressing room. One of them is completely covered in sequins.
Gladio stands and walks to one of the racks, then holds up a short, red strapless dress. “What about this one?”
“What is it?” Ignis asks in a weary tone.
The salesperson explains, “It’s a bodycon Falx, from last summer’s collection. Carmine. It’s marked down fifty percent right now.”
“No,” Ignis declares. “Not for the Royal Ball. She needs a gown.”
“Try it on anyway?” Gladio raises an eyebrow at Sania and she responds with a wide smile.
“Why not? I hardly ever get to dress up.”
The salesperson puts the dress in the room and Sania slips behind the curtain.
While she’s changing, there’s a chime from Gladio’s phone.
“Iris is on her way,” he says, shooting Noctis a concerned look. “I guess her meeting got cancelled.”
Shit! Noctis can’t let Iris see him. He’s not supposed to be alive anymore, and she’s one of the few people who would actually recognize him. She’s in town this week for the ball and some parliament stuff. As the youngest member, she makes sure to show her face at everything.
Thankfully, Ignis is quick to offer a solution.
“Nemo, could you do me a favor and pick up the flowers for the event? They’re at Sal’s. Do you know where that is?”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll walk over there now.”
Leaving the boutique, Noctis actually walks away from the flower shop. Iris will probably be coming from that direction if she’s been at the MP offices. He heads to the park to sit for a few minutes and write in his notebook, until it feels like he’s waited long enough to safely head back into the vicinity of the Citadel. All of this would be a lot easier if Ignis could patronize businesses in different neighborhoods, but he’s busy. It’s convenient for him to take care of everything close to where he lives and works. Plus, Noctis has gotten really good at hiding, so he can deal.
The flower arrangements are packed in two big boxes. One of the kids who works at the shop helps him carry them the four blocks to the ballroom. He leaves them in the capable hands of Ignis’s assistant, Octavia, and makes sure to give the kid a good tip. Then he returns to the parking garage to wait.
Ignis has a really nice car. It’s no Regalia, but it’s a classic—clean and roomy, with a soft leather interior. It drives like a dream because he takes it in for maintenance every year (except for the decade or so it was trapped in a war-zone, waiting patiently for its driver to return).
Noctis leans back in his seat, listens to jazz music and looks at his phone until he gets a text from Gladio.
Sania and Gladio are waiting outside the boutique with their arms full of garment bags when he pulls up. They lay their purchases on top of Sania's suitcase and climb into the back seat.
“That was exhausting,” Sania groans, slumping against Gladio. “Let’s get something to eat.”
He grins and wraps an arm around her. “Anything you want, babe.”
“Where to?” Noctis asks, eyes focused on the road ahead of him.
“You know what I’m in the mood for?” Sania asks. “Burritos!”
“Sounds great. How ‘bout that place in your neighborhood?” Gladio suggests, patting Noctis on the shoulder.
“Yeah, sure. Could you text Prompto? I think he’s at home still. He has to work the thing tonight.”
“Oh, now I remember. You’re Prompto’s boyfriend!” Sania points at Noctis.
“Yep.” He can’t help but smile. She’s not exactly right, but it’s close enough.
Gladio’s phone chimes and he says, “Okay, I think he’ll be there. He sent me a thumbs up and a burrito emoji.”
“Okay, good,” Noctis laughs.
They travel across town and find Prompto already standing in front of the place with Umbra. After giving her former assistant a hug, Sania crouches down to greet the dog properly.
“Hello Umbra! How are you? Oh it’s so good to see you too,” she coos, scratching the fur on his chest. (It shouldn’t be a surprise that she remembers the dog’s name. It’s just humans that she seems to have a hard time keeping track of.)
Noctis gives Prompto a kiss, then asks, “Want me to order for you?”
“Yeah, I’ll grab a table out here. Get me a super veggie? Black beans. No sour cream.”
“You don’t have to eat it, dude.” Prompto squints at him and shakes his head. Then he plops down at a picnic table, and Umbra finds a spot to lay underneath.
One of the owners brings out a bowl of water for the dog. They’re really nice at this place.
Noctis gets a regular garuda burrito without salsa, Sania chooses a chickatrice super burrito with no lettuce, and Gladio orders a super bulette with everything. Everybody gets a free bag of chips, so their tray is overflowing with food when they bring it outside, along with their drinks.
Disappointed by his friends’ salsa choices, Prompto runs in to get more and to fill his water bottle. He returns, precariously balancing four tiny plastic containers in the palm of one hand. They’re all different colors, and Noctis is pretty sure he doesn’t want any of them. He takes a scoop of rice and meat from his burrito instead.
“Mmmm so good,” Prompto says through a mouthful of food.
Sania nods enthusiastically. “Really good. I love the green sauce on this chickatrice! I don’t think I’ve ever had anything like it before.”
Gladio wears an expression of pure ecstasy as he chews. “This meat is so tender, it just dissolves in my mouth. Remind me to get this again next time.”
Noctis takes another bite and smiles. He and Prompto come to this place a lot, so he feels some secondhand pride. As they finish eating, he asks, “Worth the trip out here?”
“Hell yeah,” Gladio answers. “And we got to hang out with Blondie.”
“Prompto alone is worth the trip!” Sania holds up her beer bottle to clink against Gladio's.
“Yes, he is.” Noctis joins the toast with his cola and wraps an arm around his best friend.
Prompto hides his face in Noctis’s shoulder and whines, “You guyyys, you’re embarrassing me.” Then an alarm goes off on his phone. “Crap! I gotta go get ready for this shindig.”
“So do these two.” Noctis gestures across the table. “Want a ride home?”
“Sure.” Prompto smiles. He wipes some sour cream off the corner of Noctis’s mouth with a thumb and kisses him.
When they drop Prompto and Umbra off, Noctis gazes longingly up at the windows of their apartment. He very badly wants to go home and play video games, but he has to work. Ignis has done so many stupid errands and other shit for him over the years, it’s the very least he can do.
They get Sania checked in at the hotel, then head to the salon for her appointment. It's in Gladio's neighborhood, so Noctis leaves both of them there. He doesn’t want to get too close to the Amicitia’s place, in case Iris is around. It turns out that she’s not so easy to avoid, though.
While he’s waiting at a red light, he glances in the sideview mirror and spots two familiar figures walking towards him.
She was 15 years old the last time Noctis saw her, but he still recognizes the woman striding down the sidewalk. She definitely looks like a Member of Parliament, in a sharp black suit and heels, and her hair cut in a neat bob. She’s still Iris too, with a bounce in her step and a radiant smile on her face as she talks with Talcott. He’s taller than her now and looking like an adult in his white shirt and tie.
They must be coming from a meeting, and they’re approaching quickly—in any second they’ll be standing next to the car. The urge to jump out and greet them is overwhelming.
Though it makes his heart ache and his stomach churn, Noctis doesn’t wait for the light to change. He takes a quick left onto another one-way street, holding his hand up to obscure his face and taking the opportunity to wipe the tears away.
That was really close.
He doesn’t actually know what would happen if he tells more people he’s back from the dead, but he doesn’t want to push his luck. Shiva made the terms of her offer very clear: the prophecy must be upheld. The people of Eos must remember that the Chosen King sacrificed himself to save their star. He still doesn’t know why this is so important to the Astrals. At least they don’t seem bothered that he’s told his closest friends, but those three are good at keeping secrets.
After taking that unexpected left turn, he’s stuck in mid-day traffic. He switches the music to something that can keep him awake and drums his fingers on the steering wheel—it’s not easy to drive by himself after lunch. Eventually, he breaks free from the snarl and makes his way back to the Citadel garage, where he can safely nap in the car.
A call from Ignis wakes him up. He rubs one eye with a fist and answers, groggily, “Mmmh, hey Ignis.”
“Are you busy?”
“No,” Noctis yawns. “What’s up?”
“I was hoping that you could help with the DJ.”
“Sure. I’m in the car now. Where should I pick them up?”
“No, he’s already at the venue.” Ignis sighs. “There seems to be some problem with the equipment and Octavia has made it very clear that she doesn’t want to deal with him anymore. I was hoping you could go down there and see what’s going on. There shouldn’t be anyone around right now who would recognize you.”
“Sure. Okay, I’ll call you later.”
“Thank you, Noct.”
He steps out of the parking garage into the blinding afternoon sunlight and puts on his sunglasses. When he reaches the ballroom, he finds Octavia angrily packing gift bags. She looks at Noctis, then at the DJ, then back at Noctis before grimacing, curling her fingers and shaking her hands in a silent outburst of frustration.
He gives her a sympathetic smile and crosses the room to the stage, where a guy he doesn’t know is fiddling with a laptop and some kind of mixer or something. The guy is wearing a windbreaker in bright neon colors, matching magenta sunglasses and acid-wash jeans. He looks like he just walked off the set of a 730’s teen sitcom.
“Hi.” Noctis gives him a small wave. “I’m Nemo, I—”
“Fucking finally.” The guy gestures dramatically at the sound system. “Are you here to do something about this shit PA?”
“Uhhh . . .” Noctis looks around at the equipment. It’s probably 20 years old, at least—the same stuff they used for public events before everything went wrong. They’re lucky to have electricity in Insomnia again. A working sound system is practically a miracle.
“Did you bring an amp or something?” he asks the DJ, who still hasn’t introduced himself.
“No I did not bring an amp, I was told there would be a sound system. That chick over there doesn’t seem to understand that a public address system is not adequate for music, and will sound like absolute garbage!” The guy raises his voice as he speaks, until he’s practically shouting.
“Sorry.” Noctis shrugs—thoroughly uninterested in accommodating this asshole. “This is what we have.”
“Then you’re not going to have any music, because I can’t work like this.” The DJ starts to pack up his stuff, and Octavia gestures at Noctis to come over.
“What’s going on?” she whisper-yells.
“He’s leaving I guess.”
“He doesn’t like the PA. I dunno.”
“He has a contract! He can’t leave! Do something!”
There’s a vein pulsing on her forehead and it pains him to see someone get this stressed out over something so stupid.
“Okay, okay. Hold on.”
Noctis intercepts the DJ before he leaves and says, “I might know someplace we can get a better sound system.”
“Yeah?” The guy raises one pierced eyebrow.
“Maybe. I have to check. First, what’s your name, man?”
“Right—sorry ‘bout that. Name’s DJ Flan Party.” He gives Noctis an aggressive handshake. “What’d you say your name was again?”
“Nemo.” Noctis exchanges a glance with Octavia. She almost looks apologetic.
“Nemo! The man with the plan! Let’s go get some gear!”
Turns out Mr. Flan Party has a truck, which is convenient. Noctis calls in a favor from a friend who works at a bar that often has live music. Noctis promises to bring everything back the next morning and also says he’ll use his limited influence with people at the Meteor (just Prompto, really) to try to get them to choose the bar for their next local music showcase.
With that minor disaster is averted, it’s almost time to pick up Ignis for the event. On his way back to the garage, Noctis runs into Prompto.
“Hey!” Prompto bounds across the plaza, looking super hot in his suit.
Noctis tries his best to convey just how hot he is—burying his fingers in Prompto’s hair and pressing in close to kiss him. What he’d really like to do is find a supply closet or an empty office or just drag him into the back of the car, like old times. But, no. They both have to work. They’re responsible adults now.
Prompto pulls away grinning and plays with Noctis’s fingers. “It’s only been like 5 hours, dude. Did you miss me that much?”
“Maybe I always miss you,” Noctis teases.
That gets him one more kiss—softer and sweeter this time—before Prompto heads off to photograph all the fancy and/or important people as they arrive at the venue.
After retrieving the car, Noctis picks up Ignis in front of his office and they head for Sania’s hotel. Since Ignis has the honor of escorting her to the ball, he insists on being there to pick her up (even though it’s 45 minutes out of the way in traffic and he could have walked to the venue in five).
Sania steps out onto the sidewalk as soon as they arrive—absolutely stunning in a black silk gown that skims over her figure and flutters around her feet. She’s wearing silver heels and a wrist full of bangles, and she has bright red accents woven into many of the braids cascading around her shoulders.
Noctis hops out to open her car door, and she holds out a hand to show him her manicure. “It’s a diagram of the cell.” She beams. “Look—the gemstones are the nucleus!”
“I should come to Insomnia more often. They don’t have beauty salons like that in Meldacio.”
“We’re always so pleased to have your company.” Ignis takes her hand as she slides into the seat beside him. “You should come any time you like.”
“Maybe I’ll do a study of the fauna in your city parks.”
“What, like frogs?” Noctis asks, casually.
“Yes! Frogs happen to be a favorite of mine.”
“Me too.” He feels a rush of nostalgia and wishes he could ask her if she remembers the troupe of ‘actors’ who helped her collect specimens all those years ago.
“Well in that case, I’ll enlist your help with another project,” she says. “Stay tuned.”
Noctis looks in the rearview mirror in time to catch the tiny smile flicker across Ignis’s face as he straightens the lapel of his tuxedo.
Lining up with the other drivers in front of the venue, Noctis lets his passengers out onto the red carpet, fashionably late. Prompto runs over as soon as he sees them, taking a flurry of shots of Sania and Ignis. Afterwards, he loiters just long enough to lean in through the window for a kiss. Then Noctis has to clear out of the way, back into traffic.
It would be a waste of gas to go home and then come back in just a few hours, so he leaves the car in its usual garage and walks to an unpretentious cafe nearby. It’s a place he knows he can hang out, eat a decent sandwich and maybe get some writing done. He orders a coffee so he can stay awake to pick everybody up after the party.
When it’s almost time for the award ceremony, Noctis pulls up The Meteor’s livestream. He sits back in the booth and laughs softly at the shaky video (some intern is probably at the helm). There isn’t much of a crowd, and their setup—with the DJ and the caterers passing around appetizers from trays—looks more like a high school prom than any ball Noctis can remember. It seems like people are having a good time, though. And everybody looks fantastic.
Then it’s time for Sania’s speech. Ignis gives an introduction, listing many of her accomplishments: her series of groundbreaking discoveries related to the Starscourge; her instrumental role in developing the urban agriculture that kept so many people fed during the Long Night; her efforts to preserve seeds and animals during that time; and her ongoing work to re-introduce species into the wild since the Dawn.
She swishes up to the stage and hugs Ignis before accepting her award—a small gold trophy in the shape of a stylized sun. Noctis has come to prefer this new symbol of Lucis to the skulls his family always favored.
Sania takes the microphone and says,“I told Ignis, here, that I would only accept this award if I could accept it on behalf of all of us. I can’t remember everyone’s names, but I want everyone I ever worked with to know that none of this would have been possible without your help.” She gestures at the crowd. “If you ever helped me collect a frog, this is your award too. If you ever reported erratic wildlife behavior, or daemon activity, or a nidus, this is your award too. If you ever protected an outpost or a pylon, or led refugees to safety, this is your award too. If you ever turned over dirt in a barrel on a rooftop, or watered the seeds, or took joy in watching things grow, this is your award too.” She frowns and takes in a breath. “This award also belongs to those souls—far too many of them—who fought and worked alongside us and didn’t make it. Let us remember them each day, and keep working hard, together.”
There’s riotous applause from the audience as Sania embraces Ignis again and exits the stage. The livestream’s camera catches more than a few people dabbing at their eyes, and from his cozy booth seven blocks away, Noctis does the same.
The stream ends, and he’s scrolling through the day’s headlines when he gets a text from Prompto.
Before he can think of a reply, Noctis gets a text from Gladio.
Noctis has always loved Insomnia at night—the twinkling lights and constant thrum of activity. He cuts through a park on the way back to the garage and greets a cute dog and its human, out for a walk. He leaves a tip for a saxophonist busking in the plaza.
When Noctis gets back to the venue, his friends are already waiting outside. Prompto hops into the passenger seat and greets Noctis with an easy kiss. The rest of them pile in the back, and Sania looks like she’s about to fall asleep, squished between Ignis and Gladio.
Noctis shoots a puzzled look at Prompto. “I thought you had to stay for the whole thing.”
“All the cool people were leaving,” he whines. “Anyway, the intern’s still there. It’s fine.”
“How was it?” Noctis asks, glancing back over his shoulder.
“It was a lovely event,” Sania sighs.
“Sania gave a wonderful speech,” Ignis adds. “It was really touching.”
“Yeah, it was.” Gladio stretches his arm along the back of the seat.
Prompto twists and leans over the center console to take a picture of the three of them.
“Better not be thinking about selling that to the tabloids,” Gladio warns.
“They’d find it thoroughly uninteresting, I’m sure.” Ignis brushes something off his shoulder.
Sania just laughs.
“Nah, I’m no sellout.” Prompto settles back in his seat, smiling.
Noctis focuses on driving safely away from the venue. Stopping at a light, he says, “I heard your speech, on the stream. It was great.”
“Why, thank you. Ignis helped me with it.”
“Hardly,” Ignis huffs.
“Well, I’m glad you heard it,” she says with a tired smile. “Your data points have been a great help in monitoring the fish populations.”
“I’ll keep sending ‘em.”
“Good.” She yawns.
The light changes and Noctis realizes he doesn’t actually know where he’s supposed to be bringing everybody. “So, where to?”
“I think we’re headed to my place.” Gladio meets his eyes in the mirror and gives him a sympathetic look. “Iris is calling for an afterparty.”
“Man, I’m tired,” Prompto lies, as if on cue. “How ‘bout we just drop these crazy kids off and go home?”
“I’ll be quite all right to get home later. Thank you for all of your help today.” Ignis leans forward and squeezes Noctis’s shoulder.
“Of course,” he replies in a small voice.
They leave Ignis, Gladio and Sania at the Amicitia’s house, then turn towards home. Noctis needs a car to return the sound equipment tomorrow, so he may as well keep this one overnight.
During the drive, he thinks about his old friends spending time together without him. Even though he doesn’t love parties, it hurts to feel left out. When he was younger, he held people at a distance because he was afraid they wouldn’t accept him. Now, it’s a different kind of self-preservation that keeps him away.
He can tell that Prompto knows how he’s feeling, because he puts a hand on Noctis’s knee. For the rest of the drive home, whenever he doesn’t need it on the wheel, Noctis rests his own hand on top of Prompto’s, slotting their fingers together. He’s grateful to have someone who understands him so well. Then they finally pass through the door of their apartment, and Umbra’s pure joy at seeing them makes him feel much better.
He ends the day nodding off on the couch, feet resting in Prompto’s lap and the dog pressed against his side. Umbra’s furry chest rises and falls with the slow rhythm of his breaths. A faint smell wafts over from the kitchen and reminds Noctis that they need to take out the compost. He hears traffic moving on the street below their window, and his best friend tapping out combos as he quietly clears another level in his game. (As soon as he finishes, they can pull the bed down from the wall.)
Noctis floats on the edge of sleep, feeling satisfied with the work he did throughout the day. It isn’t at all exciting or heroic, but being useful in this way is a nice feeling. It’s a big change from the expectation and pressure of being Chosen. Noctis isn’t uniquely qualified to drive Ignis around, run errands, or wrangle annoying DJs. He’s not destined to drop Sania off at the bus station at the end of the week for her trip back to Meldacio. It isn’t his birthright to hang up flyers for the neighborhood block party. He’s just willing and able to do these things, so he does. Astrals permitting, he’ll keep doing this kind of stuff for a good long time.