Stand By Me

BY : Mr. Benzedrine & MistahRoi
Category: Final Fantasy Games > Final Fantasy XV
Dragon prints: 2325
Disclaimer: We do not own Final Fantasy, and we will not make a profit from this story.

Here we are at chapter three! MistahRoi and I want to extend our greatest appreciations for the feedback and follows!
This chapter promises to get super angsty.

Literal conversation between us:
MrB: What should we call this chapter?
MistahR: "Pardon me while I GO DROWN IN MY OWN TEARS."
MrB: No, we can't name it that.
MistahR: "You will drown in your own tears."
MrB: No.
MistahR: "You didn't need your heart anyway."

We finally settled on Tensions Rising.


"I got rage every day, on the inside

The only thing I do is sit around and kill time

I'm trying to blow out the party light, I'm trying to blow out the light

I'm just young enough to still believe, still believe

But young enough not to know what to believe in

Young enough not to know what to believe

If I can live through this

If I can live through this

If I can live through this

I can do anything."
~Champion by Fall Out Boy


Chapter Three: Tension Rising


"What's that look for?"
"It's in all the papers."
"What is?"
"Insomnia…falls?"
"Wha-this your idea of a joke?"
"I need you to calm down so I can explain."
"I'm as calm as I'm gonna get!"
"There was an attack. The imperial army has taken the Crown City."
"As treaty room tempers flared, blasts lit the night sky. When the smoke about the citadel had cleared...the king...was found...dead."
"No-wait-hold on..."
"We had no way of knowing."
"What? Knowing what?"
"That the signing was last night. That Insomnia-"
"But the wedding. Altissa-"
"I know! That was the plan. Yet, the reports of the invasion are all the same. How could every headline in the kingdom be wrong?"
"...Lies."
"Hm...if only…"
"What else do we know?"
A shake of the head.
"Then we can't be sure until we see it with our own eyes."
"And that means we go back to Insomnia."
"Might not be safe for us there."
"Might not be safe for us here."
"Turn back?"

Noctis sat hunched over in the chair, elbows digging into his knees, hands tightly clasped together. Insomnia fell? What about Dad? And Cor? Clauris and Iris? He ran his sweaty hands through his onyx tresses as every person he knew, aside from those present and accounted for, was back in the Crown City. "Yeah. We have to go back," he said with a quivering voice laced with rage.

Noctis had to see it with his own eyes or he'd never believe it. The Nifs spread false news all the time, so why was this any different? They were supposed to be in the midst of signing a peace treaty with the Empire. Why would they attack Insomnia under the circumstances? That's what his whole engagement to Luna was about, part of this treaty to ensure peace to the citizens of Lucis and the Empire.

"I agree, Noct-" The prince was on his feet and making for the door before Ignis finished his sentence. "Noctis, wait just a moment. We can't leave just yet."

"Why the Hell not? We have to get to Insomnia as fast as we can. I have to know!" His voice grew louder with every word until he was all but screaming at his advisor.

"We need provisions, Highness. We're fresh out, and it is-"

"Who the Hell cares about that!? Everyone we know could be dead! We have to leave now!"

"I think Noct is right - we should leave." And there was Prompto falling into the mix. "The Imperials could be on their way here right now. We can pick up what we need on the way. For all we know, it could be a big misunderstanding. I mean, there's no way things are as bad as they say, right?" His upbeat speech and nature grated on the angry prince's nerves. How could he be so cheery at a time like this?

"Well, I'm stickin' with Iggy on this one. We need to be prepared. We don't know what kinda shit we'll run into on our way. We might not make it to the next stop." Gladio stood firm, arms crossed over his chest.

Noctis tsked, accepting that he wouldn't win this argument, not with both Ignis and Gladio on the opposite side. "Fine, we'll stay to get our provisions. But we leave immediately after." He jerked the door open and slammed it behind him, leaving the room. He needed some time alone with his thoughts.

The prince stared at the sparkling sapphire sea from the fishing dock, the goings-on of the night before being a distant thought in his mind now. What if it was true? If Insomnia fell to the Empire, did that mean everyone was dead? Between the Kingsglaive and Crownsguard, surely his father made it out of the city alive. He had to have. Noct's phone would ring any minute, his father's name displayed across the screen. Any minute now. But the minute passed and there was only silence.

Noctis pulled his knees up and folded his arms over the top of them. Why didn't they call? Shit. This can't be really happening, can it? He fought down the bile that rose in his throat at the idea. Losing so much, all at once, how did anyone deal with something like that? His mind drifted to Luna waiting for him in Altissia. He wanted to get to her soon, but then this? Did it mean that the wedding was off?

Being forced to wait for the others only fueled his anger even more. Why did they want to wait, anyway? They had families back in Insomnia, just like he did. Shouldn't they be in a hurry to get back, too? His rage threatened to consume him; why didn't they feel the same? Why was he alone in his outburst?

He rested his forehead on his arms, hiding his face from the world. Why did they always, always treat Noctis like a child? They talked down to him - well, Gladio and Ignis did. He wasn't a kid anymore, but they still saw him that way. Sure, he'd act spoiled about eating vegetables and wanting a nice, cozy bed to sleep in. Or complain about the heat on a hot, dry day. But this wasn't about his diet - it was his Kingdom, Gods dammit!

Noct's eyes squeezed shut as his frustration peaked. And then there was Prompto with his eternal optimism. In the entirety of their friendship, he never once met Prompto's parents. Did he even have any? How could he possibly relate to any of them in this situation? Sure, his peppiness cheered Noctis most of the time, but it was the last thing he wanted right now.

The Prince sprang up, whirling his body around, and scooped up a lantern on the edge of the dock, hurling it into the water. "DAMN ITTTTT!"


Prompto gave a low, long whistle, watching the lantern bounce and skid along the water's edge. "Nice hang time."

"Huh?" The prince at the edge of the dock spun his head around, meeting Prompto's expectant gaze. This wouldn't be the first time Prompto had watched Noctis storm off in a fit of anger, but it certainly was the most serious occurrence to date. This wasn't like when Gladio pushed Noctis too hard in training, or the time Ignis confronted Noctis about being lazy with his royal duties. Prompto knew a good joke and a slug in the shoulder wouldn't cut it. But...he had to try.

"Mind if I take a seat?" he asked, not waiting for Noctis to answer before plopping down next to him. He noticed the way Noct shook, bundled with his knees to his chest. Whether he was shaking out of fear or anger, the blond couldn't be sure. There were so many things swirling around in his head, but selfishly, all of his worry was on Noctis, on wanting to hug him, to protect him. Noct was the first real friend Prompto ever had, and he didn't like seeing his friends like this. Gladio. Ignis. They were good at concealing their emotions, putting on a brave face, but Noctis...he wore his heart on his sleeve more than he cared to admit. It's why that lantern now rested at the bottom of the cove instead of on the dock.

What could Prompto say? What could he do to make it better? Nothing. He was helpless. Worse than that, he knew he should be grieving over Insomnia, over his fellow classmates and countless lives that had probably been taken in the wake of the takeover. He should feel worry for Gladio's family, for Iris, and for Ignis' family too, but all he could do was think about the prince. Selfish, he thought. I'm so fucking selfish.

"How you holdin' up?" he asked, trying to keep his tone as neutral as possible.

There was a long, drawn out pause before Noctis muttered, "How do you think?" Eeh, a bit bitter, but Prompto could work with it.

He patted Noctis on the back. "Ignis is stocking up, and Gladio's checking us out of the hotel. We'll be on the road in less than an hour."

Noctis shrugged Prompto's arm off. "An hour? That supposed to make me feel better?"

Prompto tried again. "Better than two?"

Nothing. Not a smirk. Not a single curl of his lips. Noctis was solemn as the setting sun leading into a rainy night. But the sunshine child wasn't about to give up just yet; he wanted to bring a smile to Noct's face, if only for a moment.

"It's gonna be okay, Noct...you'll see…"

More uncomfortable silence. Prompto could barely stand it.

"I'm sure it can't be as bad as it says...we just gotta...look on the bright side…" Even as he said it, Prompto didn't believe a word he said. "It's not all bad, right? We've got each other, and we're in this together-"

Noctis cut him off, finally speaking. "You don't get it, do you?" He slammed his fist down on the dock hard enough to make it vibrate. "We're not."

"...What?"

"We're not in this 'together.' Don't you get that? You may live in Insomnia, but you don't have any family there, right?" His words were biting. "So how can you possibly know what it feels like? You ever lost someone, Prompto? You ever wake up one morning and find out you don't have a family anymore?"

"I…" Prompto faltered. Noctis had struck a very sensitive nerve. "Well, no, I...but I mean...I have friends," acquaintances, really, "in Insomnia. People we both grew up with."

"It's not the same thing!" Noctis yelled, grabbing up another nearby lantern and hoisting it over his shoulder before flinging it out into the water. "You didn't grow up with them! Hell, none of them cared about you! We both know you didn't have any friends before I came alon-" Noctis cut himself off, realizing he'd overstepped the line.

Prompto froze on the spot. Noct's harsh words rang in his ears, rendering him speechless. There were very few things that could shut down his optimistic personality, but what Noctis said left an icy prickle in his heart, betraying his ability to think rationally. Noct's words...they hurt. It was even worse because Noct was right. All of Prompto's insecurities swelled up inside his chest, making it hard to breathe. Fucking right, no one liked him. Did Noctis think Prompto wasn't aware? In school, he'd been smart but not overly bright. He'd been the weird kid that took pictures of animals, and everyone had called him fat. And then he'd met Noctis and he tried so hard, so hard to impress the young prince. He ran every day, rain or shine, to lose the weight. He traded burgers for salads. He completely re-made himself just to gain enough confidence to approach Noctis years later, and even then, he'd never felt good enough.

Even after befriending him, Prompto suspected Noctis knew he was friends with a social outcast who never fit in. Knew that Prompto wasn't the same as everyone else - in more ways than one. He held his secrets close, afraid to let anyone get close. It's why he always tried so hard to make everyone else around him happy. But even after all that, Noctis still felt that Prompto was different. He knew.

Confusion, prickled with ache, stung at Prompto's eyes, and he turned his face quickly away to hide the tears that threatened to give him away. He stood up from the dock, more lost than ever, and didn't try to argue the point. He headed toward the Regalia, somewhere familiar and safe, to wait it it out until they were ready to head out. His mouth was dry, but his cheeks were wet. How did he ever think Noctis thought them equals?

When he made it to the car, he yanked open the door and climbed in the front passenger side, slamming the door so loud it made his ears pop. With shaky hands, he pulled down the visor mirror and stared at himself. You'll never be good enough for him, and even Noctis knows it.


Noctis watched his best friend's shoulders slump as Prompto sulked away, the brightness of his personality completely wiped out by the Prince's words. He'd take it all back if he could. It was unbelievably cruel of him to talk to Prompto that way. But he said what he did, and he couldn't take back the harsh words. Damn it. How could I say all that to him? His temper left much to be desired, and he often lashed out at others when his mood was especially sour. Even so, Prompto didn't deserve such cruel words - not from him. The look in Prompto's eye, his expression before he walked away, it dug a hole in Noctis' heart.

The prince smacked the last of the lanterns open-handed, glass shattering outwardly and sprinkling down to mingle with the sand below. This was the hardest day he'd faced to date, and instead of leaning on his friend he threw all Prompto's niceties back in his face. What kind of friend was he? A real friend wouldn't have said those things. Was I trying to hurt him? Whenever he spoke, the words just flew out of his mouth without a thought behind them. There's no way he'd purposely try to hurt Prompto. Despite that fact, he knew that's exactly what he did.

A cool breeze chilled him to the bone, or maybe it was his body reacting to everything that happened that morning. Noctis buried his face in his arms again, trying to block everything out. He wanted to escape his mind, forget about it all and for everything to go back to normal. The prince bit his lip, harder and harder until he tasted the tang of blood. It was real, not some nightmare he could wake up from. A sob creeped up his throat, but he forced it back down, refusing to break down before he knew one way or another.

Noctis felt… lost. His entire world was crumbling around him; everything he knew was gone in the blink of an eye. While he and the guys were goofing off, fighting beasts, enjoying five-star meals, those precious to him were dying at the hands of the Imperials. What was he supposed to do? Continue or go back? If his father was truly gone, that made him the king, didn't it? How could he rule a kingdom when he couldn't even govern his own thoughts?

"Noct, we're ready to leave now." Ignis' voice pull him from the depths of his mind.

Without a word, the prince wobbled to his feet - when did he get so dizzy? He took a moment to steady himself before following Ignis to the Regalia. Prompto sat in the front passenger seat while Gladio was busy packing the trunk.

"Ready to head out, Noct?" Gladiolus slammed the hatch down.

"Yeah." Noctis glanced at Prompto from the corner of his eye, taking notice that he was clearly avoiding the prince at all costs. He cast his gaze down, unable to bring himself to look at the blond. He knew Prompto would forgive him if he apologized, that's the kind of person he was. But Noct didn't feel like he deserved to be forgiven. He opened the back door opposite Prompto and slid into the car, pulling it shut again. He propped his elbow on the door's armrest, pressing his body against it in an attempt to put as much space between him and Prompto as possible.

Once Gladio and Ignis had everything squared away, they joined Prompto and Noctis in the car. The Regalia's engine purred when Ignis turned it on, the motor being the only sound as all four men remained uncharacteristically quiet.

Gladio cleared his throat, the silence growing progressively uncomfortable. "Mind turnin' on the radio, Prompto?"

Prompto reached over to the knob and pressed the power button, music playing gently through the speakers. He didn't bother changing the station.

"Ugh, I hate this song." Noctis wasn't sure how to speak to Prompto, so he did the only thing he could think to do in the situation - pretend nothing happened.

Silence.

"Hey, did you hear me?" Noct pushed further, glaring at the back of the yellow locks.

"This music does kinda suck. Change it up for us, Prompto," Gladio agreed with the prince.

"I happen to like it..." Prompto said stubbornly, crossing his arms.

"Listen here, Goldy Locks. You can listen to this sissy stuff on your own time," Gladio shoved his knee into the back of the chair and continued, "just don't make me listen to it."

"Alright, alright. Sheesh…"


Useless. Useless. Useless.

As the wind whipped Prompto's hair around, stinging his eyes ever so slightly, the word kept repeating inside his mind - the only thing of importance, it seemed like.

Useless. He was so fucking useless. What the Hell was he even doing here? He didn't belong. Not amongst the King's Shield and Advisor. Not amongst royalty. Couldn't even choose a radio station without fucking it up…

"Useless," he muttered under his breath, kicking the floorboard.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ignis turn his head slightly. "Did you say something, Prompto?"

"Uh...n-no." He took a chance and glanced in the rearview mirror, seeing Noctis with his chin in his hand, his elbow propped up on the door. His eyes were on the scenery, but Prompto knew that look; Noctis was lost in his own thoughts, brooding. It's what he did best, really. And even now, even after everything Noctis said and made him feel, all he wanted to do was climb over the center console, right into Noct's lap, and…

Dude, come on. This is not the time, he had to tell himself to keep from picturing grabbing Noct by the cheeks and smashing his lips down onto the prince's. This feeling, these fantasies...they were getting out of hand. Insomnia was probably in ruins by now, and here he was, imagining making out with the crowned prince in the back seat of the Regalia.

But it was more than that, wasn't it? Prompto didn't just want to kiss Noctis; he wanted to take the pain away. To take all of the hurt, the destruction boiling inside his friend and release it before he exploded. But acting on these emotions...Prompto knew he couldn't do that. Noctis was a prince, a soon-to-be-married prince, maybe even the king now...and a guy, don't forget about that one! he reminded himself. Oh, who was he kidding? He'd been inquisitive about guys for a while now, not that he wanted to admit it. And he'd sort of enjoyed the one time in college... Just another thing to add to my list of abnormalities, right? Another thing to set me apart from the rest of them. There's not a chance in Hell Noctis is into guys, too.

Once again, Prompto felt selfish for dwelling on these trivial things when their city, the only home he knew, was in peril. He knew he should be focused on that, on the mission at hand, but his eyes kept glancing back to the rearview mirror, to Noctis and his pained expression. The minutes dragged by like this: Prompto would try to keep himself entertained by looking at the pictures on his camera or checking on his stats in King's Knight, but eventually, his eyes would wander back to the mirror.

The final time, Noctis caught him, his crystal-blue eyes meeting Prompto's in the mirror, and the blond immediately glanced away, embarrassed. This time, he stuck to looking at the pictures, tucking his camera close to the door so no one could see him rummaging through his old photos of Noctis.

I'm such a creeper.

Noctis has no idea what kind of a freak he has for a friend. Or maybe he does...maybe that's why he said what he...He shook his head, willing the thought away. No. He wasn't going to think that way. He couldn't let himself fall into a depressive state right now, not when the group needed him to be strong. If they could do it, so could he. The King had entrusted all of them to protect his son, and Noctis' emotional integrity was part of that. Maybe that's the one thing Prompto could help with; he wouldn't let Noctis see him down.

He reached up to the radio and flicked the dial. Noct loves this song. He chanced one more glance back in the mirror to find Noctis tapping his fingers on the outside paneling of the Regalia's door. A small flicker of a smile ignited across the prince's lips. Prompto grinned softly, leaning back in his seat and closing his eyes. Maybe he wasn't entirely useless…

The rest of the trip felt smoother, though maybe it was because Ignis had taken to making small talk about a new recipe he'd come up - something about cooked barramundi sautéed with roasted potatoes and mushrooms. It sounded great to Prompto, but Noct gagged at the word mushroom.

"You can't win 'em all, Iggy," Gladio chuckled as Ignis rolled his eyes in disdain.

The closer they came to Insomnia's border, the bolder they became. Rain greeted them as if to match their moods, and Ignis pressed the button to bring the drop top back up.

"I hope...everyone's okay," said Prompto, unable to hold back his voice.

"Lotta good hoping's gonna do," replied Noctis, though it wasn't peppered with the usual sarcasm; it was riddled with sorrow.

"You mustn't lose faith," Ignis interjected.

"Really?" Noctis sneered. "Can faith stop a fleet of Imperial dreadnoughts?"

"Give it a rest," Gladio said quietly, a hint of warning in his voice.

"My old man had plenty of faith," Noctis continued on.

"Enough." Gladio shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

Prompto exhaled. He couldn't blame Noctis - not one bit. "The Empire lied. They betrayed us."

"Conjecture gets us nowhere," said Ignis. "We're searching for truth."

Noctis tucked his head. "All you'll find are lies..like that ceasefire."

Something moved out of the corner of Prompto's eye, and he turned his head quickly to stare out the window at the Imperial airship hovering at the edge of the border. The thing was massive, at least five times the size of the Regalia.

"Look at the size of those things," Gladio grunted.

"Imperial dreadnoughts," replied Ignis, keeping calm at the wheel. "They transport soldiers - namely the magitek infantry." At the word magitek, Prompto internally winced.

"The robots?"

"Mass produced humanoid weapons of warfare, to be more precise."

Vomit threatened the back of Prompto's throat, but he held it down, glancing at his covered wrist: the one that kept his biggest secret of all. Quickly, he changed the subject. "Doesn't look like they'll be signing that peace treaty."

His terribly-placed joke fell on deaf ears. The entire car remained silent, the only sound coming from the roar of the engine and turning of wheels as Ignis sped faster. That was, until they caught sight of cars blocking the road, and beyond that, magitek soldiers lined in rows, industrial grade weapons in their arms, ready for a fight.

"Up ahead!" shouted Prompto.

Ignis huffed under his breath. "They've set up an inspection point."

"If the road ahead's blocked, then we find a way around," said Gladio.

Quickly, Ignis cut the wheel left and took them on a beaten path, away from the road block. Every man in the car held their breath, silently praying they wouldn't be caught. Tension was thick as Ignis pulled the Regalia over amongst an industrial arena of rocks, walls, and fencing. "Let's make a detour. There ought to be a decent vantage point up ahead."


Noctis swung the car door open, stumbling slightly as he got out, the light drizzle coating his hair and clothes with beads of water. Insomnia was just through the broken down building. He was about to find out the truth of what was happening. Was it over exaggerated in the papers, or was his city laid to ruin? Anxiety crept up his spine with every step he took; a part of him wanted to turn around and run, but he had to know the truth.

His boots scuffed across the damp concrete as he jogged his way up the stone stairs, ducking down behind a stack of crates when he heard the Magitek Troopers around the corner of the dilapidated building.

"There they are. Wanna take 'em out?" Gladio was at his side, ready to be his Shield, as he was in every battle they fought together.

"Oh, yeah. Those scrapheaps are gonna wish they had a treaty to protect them." Finally, a chance to channel his anger into something. Since the news broke of Insomnia, he longed to hit something, to smash it into pieces. I'll make every one of them pay.

Noctis stepped out from behind the crates and flicked his wrist out. Droplets of rain flew as his sword appeared from thin air, and he grabbed hold of the hilt. He sunk the blade into the chest of a trooper, warping across the way in a haze of blue. The Magitek collapsed, sparks flying from its mechanical joints as the prince ripped the blade from it, hauling sword over shoulder and spinning to slice through a second one. It felt good to cut through them, to see them crumble at his feet.

A third trooper swung the butt of its rifle at Noctis, but the prince lurched back to dodge and left that one for the guys. He phased through bullets from the last robot, charging at it with an aggravated scream when the gun jammed, shoving his blade up through the bastard's jaw.

After the last Magitek Trooper fell, Noctis veered left. Right. More bullets sprayed at him but hit the stone wall behind. He chucked his sword into the skull of the first enemy he saw and warped to it, feet pressing into the thing's chest as he pushed off and flipped over a pile of rock. A torrent of bullets bombarded them, but Noctis was determined to make it past them, continually phasing through them until he felt fatigue begin to wash over him. He hit his knee, unable to keep up with so many shots fired.

Gladio leapt in the line of fire to protect his prince. He brought up his enormous, thick long sword to block the bullets, ricocheting them into the walls and floor. While Gladio shielded Noct from the enemy, Ignis slid a vial in his hand. Noct popped the top and chugged the liquid, not even tasting it and instantly feeling reenergized.

In mid-swing, Noctis' broad sword vanished and was replaced by a katana, cutting through the mid-sections of two troopers. He hurled the blade into the scaffolding behind the farthest Magitek and warped to it, leaving a trail of azure speckles behind him. Noctis reached in his pocket and pulled out a small metallic orb, pressing a button and dropping it to the enemies below. He averted his eyes from the white flash as bolts of electricity danced between the robots and continued outward over the drenched cement, short-circuiting the others. The blade vanished, leaving the prince to fall to his feet, landing much like a cat would.

Prompto tapped the barrel tip of his gun to the crimson bottom of his boot. "Gotta love rubber soles, man. Heh." Noctis felt a little pang of relief at seeing the blond smiling again after the prince was such a dick to him earlier. They both loved the thrill of battles, and Noct often found himself admiring the ease at which Prompto could sling bullets and hit his mark. He was almost like an entirely different person when he held that gun in his hand, always with a dark glint in his eye.

Noctis sprinted to the outer edge of the factory and dashed through the rubble, splashing through the puddles, careful not to trip over the loose rocks. He was getting closer; he would have his answers in a matter of minutes. He swallowed hard, stomach doing somersaults as he pushed forward.

"Where do they keep coming from?" Gladio asked, hot on Noct's heels.

Noct couldn't answer that question because he didn't know. It was as if they were expecting him to come back to Insomnia and set up traps along every possible route back into the city. Was he playing right into their hands by forcing the others to come back? It was too late for regrets now; they were already so close. He rounded the corner, boots skidding across wet gravel until they hit the grass.

"Can't imagine what it's like inside." Prompto's statement brought images to Noctis' mind, the kind of images he didn't want to see. The Crown City burning, buildings collapsed, his father dying. What manner of death did his dad received? If he was really gone. And what about the people of Insomnia? What happened to them?

"We should seek a vantage point - the hill," Ignis said as the sky came into view over the incline.

Noctis noticed a Magitek peek its head over ridge of an overhanging rock and lobbed his sword to the crag behind it. He yanked the blade free and dropped with a downward slash to the machine, cutting open its middle. Another aimed its rifle at him, but by the time its finger touched the trigger, Noct was on top of it, lopping off the things head.

The prince jumped down from the rock, landing in the mud with a squish, heels sinking in. The muck stuck to his once pristinely ebon boots as he raced up the steep hill.

Five Magitek Troopers dropped from a transport, cutting off their path. They were so close, only a little further to go, and Noctis would have the answers he needed.

"So, these are MTs," Gladio said as he slammed his blade into one.

"Empty humanoid soldiers, soulless and merciless," Ignis added to the thought as he dodged the assault of another.

Noctis caught a glimpse of Prompto as the blond hesitated for only a millisecond, eyes cast down, jaw tightening. A fist connected with the prince's cheekbone and he careened back, falling on his ass. The trooper brought its gun up with Noct in its sights, but before it got the shot off, the head exploded.

"You okay, buddy?" Prompto held his hand out to his fallen comrade. Noctis clasped his friend's hand and was hoisted up. The prince held onto Prompto for a moment longer than needed as he gazed into his eyes with gratitude.

Noct grabbed another of the magic balls from his pocket and tossed it after clicking the button. "Run!" All four men tore off as the sphere exploded, fire annihilating the remaining enemies in one fell swoop.

As they approached the top of the hill, the rain poured down harder, drenching any part of the men that wasn't already soaked as they trekked on. Noctis could feel his emotions teetering on the edge as he tried to mentally prepare himself for the worst possible scenario. His run slowed as he saw the smoke rising over the horizon and his heart plummeted.

"As to ceasefire discussions between the two nations, all provisional terms have been suspended in light of recent developments." A woman's voice came through statically on the speaker of Prompto's phone.

"Moreover, in the wake of the news of King Regis' death, we've now received word the Crown Prince Noctis and the Oracle Lunafreya have also been pronounced dead." Luna was dead, too? What did that mean? She was supposed to be waiting for him in Altissia. She had nothing to do with Insomnia. Noctis' chest tightened, teeth clenching together so hard he thought his jaw might snap. They took everything from him.

"Keep it on," Gladio told Prompto, who immediately jumped and fumbled the phone to the mud.

"Don't bother!" The prince heard enough; he didn't want to listen to the broadcast anymore. They weren't reliable, right? They said he was dead, but here he was, alive and well. Why would they bother to say that about him if it wasn't true? There was still a possibility that this was a lie that the Nifs were spouting, that everyone made it out alive and was holed up somewhere safe. Cor - Cor would know.

Noct reached for his phone and dialed up the marshal as a fleet of imperial ships flew overhead, including a ginormous dreadnought. As Noctis glanced back, he took a mental note of Gladio putting his phone to ear as well. He must be trying to call Clarus or Iris.

"H-hello? Cor?" the prince asked as he heard the other end pick up.

"So, you made it." Cor's voice came over the speaker.

"The Hell's going on?" None of it made sense.

"Where are you?"

"Outside the city, with no way back in." No matter how hard he tried to make it.

"Makes sense."

"Makes sense? Are you serious? What about any of this makes sense!? The news just told me I'm dead - along with my father and Luna." How the Hell was he supposed to make sense of anything right now?

"Listen. I'm heading out to Hammerhead."

Noctis growled low in his throat, his anger reaching its boiling point.

"About the King...it's true."

His breath hitched and everything else faded away in that instant. Dad is dead. With that simple realization, Noctis knew his life would never be the same again.

"If you're looking for the whole truth, you know where to find me," Cor paused briefly. "Get moving.

"Right." Everything was numb, his mind, his body. What was he doing? What were they going to do from this point? If his father was dead, then Luna…?

"What did the marshal… have to say?" Ignis spoke carefully, wary of the prince's mindset.

"Said he'd be in Hammerhead."

"And the King?" Gladio asked.

Noctis said nothing, made no sound or even an attempt to answer the question. He couldn't bring himself to answer it. He couldn't say it outloud. Saying it made it real.

"Noct?" Prompto beckoned an answer from him.

He could feel it, the sting in his eyes, the ache in the back of his throat, the radiating pain in his temples. He couldn't stay here, he needed to get away, to be alone; he didn't want to let them see. Noctis bolted, taking off the direction they came, feet never stopping until he was surrounded by rocky terrain on both sides. His eyes landed on the overhanging stone he passed earlier and hurled his dagger at the edge, vanishing and reappearing on it, hoisting himself the rest of the way up. He took a few steps before his knees buckled and his hands slammed into the slab, gasping for air that his body refused to draw in.

The sting in his eyes worsened, everything in him screaming to let it all out, but he fought it with every ounce of his willpower. His stomach churned, wanting to upchuck its contents, only the last time he ate anything was the night before, which left him dry heaving. His vision blurred as the rain pelted him on the back. He sat back on his haunches, the hot tears mixing with the water trickling down his cheeks.

A noise caught Noct's attention, and he gripped the dagger until his knuckles turned white. Was it a Magitek Trooper? Something scuffed on the bedrock behind him, and he leaned over cautiously to check it out.

"P-Prompto?"

Looking up at him, rain soaked and dark circles under his eyes as he clung halfway up the side of the cliff, was his best friend, arms shaking as his hands tried to remain gripped to the jagged bits of rock that stuck out at odd angles, giving him purchase. There was a determined, yet anxious, gleam in his eye as their gazes connected. "Mind givin' me a hand here, buddy?" He reached an arm up, but in the process his leg slipped, and he scrambled to keep from falling.

Noctis quickly latched onto Prompto's outstretched hand, the shift in his weight jerking the prince down slightly until he regained his bearings and hefted the blond up onto the ledge. His hand slipped from Prompto's once he was sure he wouldn't fall, turning his back to him as he made for the other side of the rock. Why did he chase him up here? Noct just wanted a minute to himself; he refused to let any of them see him in such a… weak state. He just needed a moment to get his head together again so he could paint the image of a strong leader for his friends.

"Noct?" Prompto's spoke barely above a whisper, pulling at the prince's heartstrings, but he stubbornly refused to answer. "Geez, talk about a warm welcome…"

Noctis' eyelids clamped shut at the sound of Prompto's voice. Even after being so cruel, so hateful, to him in the morning, Prompto was still here. He was making an effort to comfort Noct, and he knew it. He just didn't know how to accept it, how to let Prompto be there for him, how to open up to him. "Sorry," was the only thing he could force out.

"Huh?"

"I said I'm sorry…for this morning." His voice nearly cracked, and his mouth was dry.

There was a long pause, and Noctis considered that Prompto might not accept his apology. Not this time. But then… "Oh. That..." There was the sound of shuffling, and Noctis found himself a companion at the edge of the cliff as Prompto sat cross-legged and gave a hearty stretch. "Water under the bridge, dude."

Noctis stared at him, relief flooding his system knowing that he was forgiven. Though he knew he didn't deserve it, he could always count on Prompto. "Thanks." It was all he could muster, and it wasn't just for the forgiveness, but for everything else that it never crossed his mind to give thanks for. The most important reason: for him always being there when Noct needed him.

"Hey...what are friends for, right?" Prompto mustered a smile, reaching over and slugging Noctis in the shoulder awkwardly. "You know I always got your back."

"Right." He felt a little better after getting some of his stress off his shoulders, but there was plenty to replace it with. "I know you do, buddy." Noct attempted a half smile, unsure if it was convincing or not. "I just…"

"I get it." Prompto nodded. "You were under a lot of stress this morning."

"Stressed or not, I shouldn't have said what I did."

"Yeah but...you were right." His friend pushed out his leg and kicked a nearby pebble off the edge of the cliff. They both listened as it clinked its way down to the ground below. "I don't have family in Insomnia. I can't even begin to...to imagine what you're feeling right now." His head dropped, defeated. "I'm sorry."

"It doesn't matter if I was right, Prompto." Guilt crawled over the forefront of his mind as he listened to his friend speak. And then he had apologized. A pain nagged at him, Prompto shouldn't be apologizing, he didn't do anything wrong. "There's nothing for you to be sorry for." He tried to hide the remorse he felt lacing his voice.

It took Prompto some time to speak again; he looked consumed in his thoughts. "I guess we're both a bunch of sorry-asses, huh?" He gave a small smirk, but it faded quickly. "About your dad…" Noctis flinched, but Prompto pushed through it. "I just wanted...to say...well, he was a good man. And…" It was obvious he was struggling to find the right words, but he was trying all the same. "If I had a dad like him, I'd have been real proud, you know? And he loved you. We all could see it...h-how am I doing? Feel like throwing any lanterns?"

Noctis' body trembled in part from all that had occurred, and part from the rain soaking him to the bone. His breathing grew shallow when Prompto brought up the subject of his dad, his grief still having an iron grip on him. He stayed silent for a minute after Prompto finished rambling before answering, "There's no lanterns around here to throw." He smiled his first genuine smile of the day.

Prompto's face lit up proudly. "No, I guess not." His arm reached out and wrapped around Noctis' shoulders, pulling him into his side carefully - not enough to crush him, but enough to say I'm here. Right here.

Noct's bottom lip quivered as he felt the overwhelming need to let go, brows knitting together as his hand clutched the back of Prompto's vest. He tried to force it back, but it wouldn't listen to him any longer. He choked up a sob before turning to Prompto, curling his body into him and burying his face into the collar of the blond's shirt as his arms gripped tight around his ribcage, clinging to him for dear life.


Prompto, for all intents and purposes, was a man of many hats - the comedic relief, a hype man when the going got tough, or the human punching bag for his friends when they felt the need to relieve some stress, emotional or physical. But hearing the strangled choke before Noctis all-out curled around him like a baby sloth clinging on for dear life brought down every single one of Prompto's barriers. So many times, he tried to be strong, just like his friends. But seeing Noct...seeing him cry, feeling the dampness accumulate on his neck and knowing that those were Noctis' tears...Prompto could only be one thing: a friend, comforting his best friend in his greatest sorrow.

There was so much he wanted to say, so much he wanted to get off his chest. He wanted to tell Noctis that it was all going to be okay, and that if he could get through this, he could get through anything. But the words fell short before they reached his tongue. Now wasn't the time for words. Really, could anything he had to say fix Noct's broken heart? No. It would just be sticking his foot in his mouth all over again.

But one word did come, soft and gentle. "Noctis." And then Prompto pulled the man in tight to him, his other arm draping over the Prince's shoulder and shielding him from the world. In this moment, it was just him and Noctis, and he vowed he would hold him until the tears were dry, and then some.

Prompto didn't know what it was like growing up to have a family - not a real one, anyway. But he imagined it felt something like this. Holding Noctis, being here for him, that's what family did, right? Noctis, Ignis, Gladio...these guys were more of a family than he'd ever known. And with the fall of Insomnia, they were all he knew. "Damn it."

Damn Niflheim. Damn the Empire. Damn this fucking war.

A slow, destructive flame was kindled inside of Prompto's sullen heart; that flame turned into a smouldering fire, darkening his eyes as he cast them in the direction of the fallen Insomnia. The Empire was gonna pay for the pain they'd caused everyone - including Noctis. Especially Noctis. Even if Prompto had to burn the whole fucking world down to do it.


We promise to ease up a LITTLE next chapter. How'd we do?
~The Misters.



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