Noctis carefully held the tiny, sleeping infant in his arms. He found himself a little frightened over how fragile the boy seemed to look in his large hands. He was fearful too, of infecting him with the Scourge his body was carrying. But a short time around him would cause no harm, Ardyn had assured. As long as Noctis retained his composure and did not allow the disease to run out from him, there should be very little chance of infection.
The boy, Aries, was adorable. Noctis could even see hints of his own -no, what used to be his own- features in the child. When Aries was awake, his eyes were just like his own had been. A clear, lovely blue rather than the amber colour they were now. And his soft, wispy hair was as black as the night rather than the red-violet tones he now had.
The infant's face reminded Noctis of his father and even Grandfather Mors. There had been many pictures of them both as babies. Regis had liked to go through the old photographs with his son when he was younger. Noctis missed that. He hadn't seen his father in the flesh in over four years now. He hadn't seen or spoken to anyone but Ardyn in over four years now. Up until this little boy.
The imprisoned man was surprised Ardyn had even suggested such a thing to him. But Ardyn was strange. He could be kind one minute and cruel the next. Of course, Noctis had said yes. To be allowed a chance to spend a few hours a week with Aries. How could he not?
Noctis was sitting down, rocking the boy in his arms as he slept. The man felt such an ache in his heart as he watched over infant. He wished so much that things could be different. That he could care for him everyday, instead of the scant few hours he normally had per week.
But that would never be.
Lost in thought, Noctis was startled when he heard the sound of footsteps approaching. Not metallic like the MT's but lighter, softer. Human.
… No. Noctis thought to himself in dread. He clutched Aries closer to him. Not yet! Had two hours passed already?
"And how was my darling son today?" Ardyn asked as he arrived, a dark cloak trailing behind him. The elegant silver crown on his head and the Ring on his finger shined under the light. The imposter wore the raiment of a King and Noctis could admit it suited him.
"He was good," Noctis responded softly, looking down at the boy. "Slept the whole time."
"I suppose the penchant for sleep runs very well in my brother's line. He's hardly been awake this entire day," Ardyn chuckled as he made his way over to the bars of Noctis's cell.
"Speaking of my little brother, he's been rather cross with me in regards to you. He's suggesting I am being needlessly cruel in this. Do you believe that to be true?" The former Accursed asked once he was close.
Noctis didn't look at his jailor but stayed gazing at the child before him. Still fast asleep and innocent to everything around him.
Yes, the imprisoned man thought.
Here Ardyn was, allowing Noctis to babysit his child for a few hours a week. A little boy that Noctis couldn't help but form such an instant attachment to once he laid eyes upon him. Holding him in his hands left him feeling so many emotions. It left him wanting for a life he could never have. It left him feeling so much despair as this could only be temporary.
Soon enough, Aries would grow. He would be able to remember and even speak. And then he would no longer be allowed to see Noctis. Aries would never be allowed to know the man that his father's body really belonged to. And in turn, Noctis would only get to see the boy he had quickly grown to love on TV. Never in person.
But despite that, Noctis didn't want Ardyn to stop bringing his son around. Even through the pain, there was joy in this. In being able to hold the little life in his hands. In being able to care for him, even for such short periods of time. It eased some of the loneliness.
"Is it that difficult of a question?" Ardyn's voice startled Noctis out of his thoughts. "Do you wish for me to stop bringing Aries here?"
"No!" Noctis immediately looked over at his former body and replied with panic in his voice. "Please…"
"Then?" The King of Lucis was smirking.
"I don't think you're being cruel," Noctis lied, knowing what he wanted him to say.
"Ah, wonderful. I will tell my brother as much and maybe he will be silent for a change," Ardyn held his hand up and grinned at the Ring that adorned it. "I shall continue to leave my son in your care."
"Thank you," and Noctis meant it. He was grateful for however much time he could get with Aries.
"As much as I see it pains you, and that is such a shame, my boy must return to his carers," Ardyn reminded.
His carers, not his mother. As far as Noctis was aware, there was no significant other in Ardyn's life. A surrogate had been paid to bear his child, which had caused a bit of a scandal. But that drama had quieted down eventually as the King was so adored.
Noctis gently moved to a standing position and walked over to Ardyn. The cell door opened and he handed off the little boy he so desperately wanted to clutch to his chest instead. As always, there was a hint of an urge to run. To get out. But Noctis ignored it. He knew he would not get far. And losing Ardyn's trust might mean he would leave him alone for long periods of time.
Ardyn had left Noctis alone for a full three months before. It had been as punishment for attempting to escape. One day, the former Chosen had seen on the news that his father had collapsed and been rushed to a hospital. Everything had been chaotic after that with multiple news channels reporting conflicting stories. When Ardyn strolled in the next day with a smug smile on his lips and the Ring on his hand, Noctis had imagined the worst.
When the newly crowned King had opened the door to his cell for dinner that evening, Noctis had pushed him aside and bolted. He only made it a few steps before the collar activated and the MTs surrounded him. Ardyn did not look surprised at what had just happened and just told Noctis he was disappointed in him.
After that, the imprisoned man lost many of his privileges. There had been no TV and that meant no news and no way to tell what day or even what time it was. Noctis had been frantic. He hadn't been sure what state his father was in. He'd called out to Ardyn. Begged for an answer. He'd been sick with worry at first. And then loneliness and boredom became almost as painful as time went on with no word from his jailer. He hadn't realized until then how much he craved the company of the man that was his imposter. He had no one else. Streams of the Starscourge ran from his face almost constantly because of his distress.
The former Chosen had broken down and begged for Ardyn to come back. And finally the man relented. Feeling Noctis had been properly punished, he'd then revealed to Noctis that Regis was still alive. Just weakened and no longer able to bear the burden of the Ring.
Noctis felt such relief at the news. Even if he hadn't seen his father in years now, he still cared for him as much as he ever did. He cared for everyone in his former life still. All the memories he had of them were what kept him going sometimes. Knowing they were safe and happy made it feel as if his imprisonment was worth it.
It had taken time but Noctis had regained Ardyn's trust. And now that there was Aries, the imprisoned man didn't want to do anything that could ruin his chances in being able to see him. He didn't have long to spend time with him after all. He wanted to cherish every moment that he could.
"Hello, my darling little child. Your father is here," Ardyn cooed at the baby once he had him in his arms. The infant made a soft sound of discontent at being moved but settled down quickly. "You may return to our friend next week."
Watching them, Noctis wondered if Ardyn would even be a good father to Aries. Regis had been despite being busy most of the time. The former King had tried his best for his son and Noctis wished he had been able to tell him as much. He'd been too lost in his own emotions to do so and now he regretted it.
The imprisoned man wondered… Had Ardyn said that to his father? Had Ardyn pretended to grieve as he lay in a hospital bed? Had Ardyn said all the things Noctis wished he could say to his friends and family? Feeling despair and jealousy rising in his heart, Noctis returned his thoughts to the child instead.
For Aries's sake, Noctis hoped Ardyn would be good to him. Or at least pretend to be. He was a great actor when he wanted to be.
"I thank you for your help, Noctis. I'm afraid we must be off," Ardyn said before turning and beginning to walk away. "Do not worry however, I shall of course see you again soon."
Even after Ardyn and his son had gone, Noctis continued to stare in the direction they had left.
Aries was not his.
Noctis had accepted whatever Ardyn had done. There had been too much good resulting in the former Chancellor's actions for him not too. That body wasn't his anymore. Whatever children Ardyn sired should not feel like they were his.
… But it still felt like it. And it hurt so much to know Noctis would never really be a part of Aries's life. He would just watch the boy's life pass by from the confines of this prison, just like with everyone else he once knew.
Noctis just sat there, feeling no desire to move or do anything at all.
Maybe time would lessen the pain, the former Chosen thought. He hoped so but couldn't quite make himself believe it.