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Noctis is at his apartment. It’s a beautiful day, bright and sunny, with distant storm clouds on the horizon that bring the promise of rain for the next week. His downstairs neighbor Mrs. Takayama has given him some of her onion bulbs to try his hand at planting and growing, along with a baby alstroemeria, to help color his apartment some.

 

He’s wrestling with a bag of soil Ignis got him, trying not to make a mess of his balcony. The trowel helps somewhat, but the bag is still bulky, he only has two hands, and the pot is tiny. But it’s okay, he’s having fun with it, and in the other room he hears the door open and Prompto call in, and turns to yell back--

 

The world goes white.

 

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x



Noctis is at his apartment. It’s a cloudy day, distant storm clouds drifting along the edges of the Wall. Soon there will be a storm that will last a good few days, maybe even a week or two. He’ll have to be careful about what he puts out along the railing of the balcony, unless he wants something to get knocked off. 

 

His downstairs neighbor Mrs. Takayama has given him some of her onion bulbs to try his hand at planting and growing, along with a baby sunflower, to remind him of someone dear to his heart.

 

He’s wrestling with a bag of soil Gladio brought him, trying not to make a mess of his balcony. He doesn’t have a trowel, and the bag is bulky, and his hands are getting absolutely filthy, but thankfully the pot is large. It’s hard work, especially because Noctis is still tired from last night’s gaming fest with Prompto, but he’s looking forward to the results. In the other room, he hears the door open, and Ignis call in. He turns to yell, and--

 

The world goes white.

 

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x



Noctis is at his apartment. It’s a bleak, dark day. Noctis has stayed curled up in bed for as long as he could manage, but the outside world is cold, and the scar on his back burns. His bones ache. Ignis had come in earlier to wake him, informing him curtly that lying in today isn’t an option Noctis, get up. He’d tried, really he had, but his back hurt too badly, and Ignis had made that little tsk he did when he was disappointed, and moved on. 

 

Gladio is the one to drag him out of bed finally, hauling him downstairs by the shoulder, grip tight and burning as he all but forces Noctis into a chair. Prompto isn’t here today, too busy at work, and the weather is keeping everyone else inside. In the pale light of the outside world, his apartment looks colorless. Drab. Cold.

 

“Eat up,” Ignis says, and pushes a bowl of something dark at him. “We’ve no time for further dallying. The King is waiting. The Emperor is on his way, and the treaty must be signed today, Noctis.”

 

Noctis nods, but he’s not sure he’ll be able to make it. He has to try, because he’s the Prince, but he doesn’t want to, not with the amount of pain he’ll be in later. But for the good of his kingdom he has to suck it up and keep pushing forward. Not look back. 

 

“Twenty-five.”

 

Noctis looks up. “What?” he asks Ignis.

 

Ignis turns, and Noctis screams, jerks out of his chair--

 

Half of Ignis’ face is gone. Melted, like candle wax. “Twenty-five, Noctis. You mustn’t forget. There are twenty-five of them.”

 

Outside, the storm bursts, and in the blaze of lightning he witnesses as Ignis and Gladio vanish, to be replaced by MTs, shuddering, jerking towards him--

 

The world goes white.

 

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

 

Noctis is at his apartment, and the world is burning.

 

Twenty-five. Twenty-five. Twenty-five.

 

He runs, heedless, mindless of the agony suffered by his own flesh as the flames bite, snare him with burning fingers. Twenty-five, twenty-five, twenty-five, he chants to himself. I mustn’t forget.

 

He kicks in a door to Mrs. Takayama’s room, and calls out, “Mrs. Takayama!”

 

Coughing. He doesn’t think twice. He has burns all along his arms, and his head feels swollen and heavy with the effects of stasis, but the numbers aren’t right yet. He still has twelve more to find. 

 

Twenty-five, he tells himself firmly, gritting his teeth against the onslaught of smoke and flame as he charges in. 

 

Twenty-five. I mustn’t forget.

 

X-x-x-x-x-x-x



Noctis is in his apartment, which is currently being invaded by Glaives.

 

Beside him on the balcony, Nyx Ulric sips serenely at a cup of coffee. In the kitchen, Crowe and Libertus argue on the correct spices to use for the roast they’re making for dinner. In the living room, Pelna is in a heated discussion with Prompto about mechanical engineering. Ignis and Gladio are still at the Citadel, but that’s fine, they’ll be back tonight. 

 

“You alright, kid?” Nyx asks him, and Noctis turns to him with a smile.

 

“Just fine,” he answers. In the kitchen, someone drops a bowl and howls as it lands on a foot. Noctis picks up his own cup of coffee and sips at it, eyeing the dark clouds on the horizon.

 

Everything is fine.

 

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

 

Noctis is in his apartment, which has become the homestead of the Glaives.

 

Beside him in the kitchen, Nyx Ulric prowls back and forth like a caged coeurl, the scruff of his beard darker than he’s ever seen before. There’s dirt and what looks like dried blood on his uniform, and his knives stand ready.

 

In the living room, Pelna and Crowe and Libertus and talking escape routes. There’s a map between the three of them. Everyone else has already been evacuated, and Noctis has gotten a call from Ignis to stay where you are, Noct, and let the Glaives do what they need to do. 

 

“You alright, Highness?” Nyx asks him, and Noctis tries to smile. 

 

“I will be, once this is all settled. We all will, I think.”

 

“You’d be right. But you’re in good hands. Leave it to us.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

In the living room, Crowe hisses something uncomplimentary, and a knife gets stabbed into the map, over a location. Through the smallest sliver in the blinds, Noctis can see a storm rolling in. He can feel the rumble of thunder in his bones, and knows soon they’ll have to move. Soon, before Niflheim can get their chance.

 

“Right,” Nyx says, and Noctis stands, ready to move. “Let’s get this over with.”

 

Everything will be okay.

 

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

 

Noctis is in his apartment, where he has been captured by the Glaives.

 

“Fucking restrain him already!” Nyx Ulric bellows, as he fights Noctis, trying to get him to hold still so Libertus can jab a needle into his skin that will make him sleep, so that Crowe can loosen his tongue with her magics and make him tell them where the twenty-five are that he’s hidden so carefully. They’ve already handed his father over to the Empire; he lost his head some fifteen minutes ago. Noctis is the last bastion. He has to hold out. 

 

And he will. He cracks a fist across Ulric’s face, and relishes in the sound it makes. He does it again, but the third time Ulric catches his arm and pins him, and Noctis screams and thrashes and bites.

 

“Don’t just fucking stand there!” Ulric bellows again, and this time there are more of them, so many more, and Noctis can’t fight them all, can’t fight as hands seize and grip him, as the needle slides under his skin, as the cool bliss overtakes him, and soon, soon…

 

He cries as he drifts off. Nothing matters anymore.




X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x



Nyx fights to hold Noctis down. The kid’s thrashing, screaming something awful, howling bloody vengeance, cursing them all to the pits of the Void, his one remaining eye fogged with phantoms, completely unseeing of them. The one other rolls in its socket, the flesh around it burned to a crisp. They’ve strapped Noctis down but it’s done nothing; the kid’s still hyped up on fury and adrenaline and pain, and the straps had been seared away by his magic seconds before he’d lunged at one of the doctors with a scream that would haunt Nyx’s dreams for a long while.

 

He’s cracked Nyx across the face a couple times, but Nyx has managed to keep the upper hand. If they don’t sedate the kid soon, he can’t promise he’ll be able to keep the upper hand, but Noctis’ system is rejecting the traditional medicines. The doctors are in a flurry trying to figure out something to give him to knock him out, or at least bring him down from the high. 

 

Noctis wheezes and screeches, pushing at Nyx’s hands with his own, and Nyx bears down, grimacing and kicking aside guilt when a sob breaks through the kid’s throat, tears streaking down dusty cheeks. The kid’s in so much fucking pain, and there’s absolutely jack all Nyx can do about it, and he fucking hates it.

 

The bomb that started this shitshow had been planted with expert hands; made to take an entire building out. The group responsible had been aiming to make a statement, but they hadn’t counted on Noctis finding the bomb, and rushing through the entire building desperately trying to get people evacuated before the fucker went off.

 

By the time the Glaive had gotten the call, everyone had been out. All twenty-five residents had been safe down below, the surrounding neighborhood cleared out. Sixteen buildings destroyed, no lives lost.

 

But their Prince had been caught in the blast. Worn down by rapid-fire warping, the stasis had taken its toll, and now this was the price. A lost arm, a lost ear, a lost eye, and Noctis out of his fucking mind once again, for the second time in his life.

 

It takes a lot of rattle Nyx, anymore, with the shit he’s seen on the field. But this is right up there near the top. He was the one to find Noctis, thrashing and screaming as he burned, trying desperately to put himself out. Holding Noctis’ fragile life in his hands as he’d rushed back to the Citadel with the kid in his arms, praying to Ramuh and every spirit listening that he’d make it.

 

Drautos is on the fucking warpath, and the King isn’t much better. The higher-ups want blood, and for once that includes the council. The Prince has been targeted, and laid low. Nyx wants blood too, but right now he wants a way to bring Noctis peace, settle him, calm him. Every warrior’s instinct in him is telling him that here now is a brother who has been uprooted, one of his own flayed open and left to bleed. He can’t not do anything. 

 

My boy,” Nyx murmurs, slipping into Galahadian for privacy, “Little fighter, my boy, sshhh, shhh, you are safe, you are grounded. Come back to me now, my boy. Come back, come back, little fighter.”

 

Maybe Noctis can hear him through the fog. Or maybe it’s his tone. Or hell, maybe he’s just worn himself down, in the blackness of his own nightmares. But Noctis’s hands stop pushing against his own, even as he his head keeps turning side to side against the pillow, murmurs and snatches of words mumbled incoherently. The only one that makes sense is twenty-five. Even in the depths of his own personal hell, Noctis counts the lives he seeks to save. 

 

“They are safe, little fighter. You brought them home, kept their roots clear. Now you need to come back. Come back, my boy, come back now. Your older brother is concerned.”

 

“Do as your siblings say, brother,” a new voice joins in. Nyx glances up to find  Luche striding across the hall, looking grim and tired, but determined. His voice is just as soft as Nyx’s as he speaks to Noctis. “Come back now, you’ve wandered long enough. Put your roots back into soil, and return home. Come, little brother. Come home.”

 

Noctis mumbles, his movements sluggish. Nyx makes to let go of his hands, but Noctis whimpers, panicking, and so Nyx holds tight until he’s certain Noctis is under, finally asleep after the ordeal.

 

“Tell me you’ve brought good news,” Nyx pleads as he lets Noctis’ hands go. When the boy doesn’t stir, he takes a couple cautious steps away from the bed. “Tell me you’ve found something, Lu.”

 

“Oh, we’ve found plenty,” Luche remarks, mild as milk. “Drautos is on scene now with our perps. The King is on his heels.”

 

“Damn it and double damn it.”

 

“My thoughts precisely. Which is why I came to give you a hand. I heard the issue, and thought the same as you.” He slants a look at Nyx. “He always did regard you so fondly.”

 

“Like you’re one to talk. Kid wants to learn every trick you’ve got.”

 

“Brotherhood is such a thankless chore.”

 

“Don’t be an ass.”

 

Together, silently they find seats next to the bedside. As tired as they both are, the road ahead of them is sure to be far longer, far rockier. Already, the news is airing clips of Noctis zipping up the sides of the building, warping from room to room as he rushed to get everyone out of the buildings. And then, just as Noctis checks the last apartment and rushes out, the building goes up in a rush of red, and the film cuts out. 

 

“His friends?”

 

“Terrified, and ready to rip the hearts out of the terrorists.”

 

“Is that what they are?”

 

“Anti-government sentiments, terrorists with an agenda pertaining to overthrowing our King, and culling the Prince. The usual bluff and bluster.”

 

“Except far less this time.”

 

“Men of action, they are. Dangerous, stupidly so. They won’t live past sunrise.”

 

Good, Nyx thinks savagely. “I’ll stay the night.”

 

“So will I. If he wakes, he’ll be disoriented, confused. Better two than one.” Luche settles deeper into his chair, pulling the jacket off and laying it over his lap, leaning back to close his eyes and catch a few moments of rest. “Let’s hope they find something for his pain quickly.”

 

Nyx fixes his eyes on the black streak of smoke in the distance, where there once stood an apartment building, and hums. “Let’s hope so,” he agrees quietly.