Chapter 3

"Dad?" Golden eyes wide, Noctis could only mouth the word in shock.

Just moments ago, the former heir of Lucis heard the sound of footsteps approaching. He thought nothing of it. Not even the accompanying sound of something on wheels rolling across the floor. It was either an MT or Ardyn with the cart carrying his meals or supplies, he thought to himself. The King of Lucis would no doubt visit today so he assumed it was the latter of the two visitors.

Today was a special day, for Ardyn at least. He never failed to visit Noctis on his own birthday, though the King only came here to wish Noctis a happy birthday instead.

It was a trivial, almost silly, thing but it never failed to make Noctis feel a little upset. It was not his birthday. He was not Ardyn. This was not his body. He may have accepted Ardyn's actions, as they truly had bettered Eos, but he refused to accept he was him. He was still Noctis, despite no longer being in his own body.

The imprisoned man moved to stand by the bars, expecting only a single visitor. He was stunned when he saw Ardyn was not alone this time. And it was not a cart he was pushing, but an older man in a wheelchair. The newcomer looked confused as his wheelchair was settled to face the man inside the cell.

Ardyn smirked at Noctis's shocked expression.

Noctis had frozen, unable to comprehend that his father was here. It had been so long since he'd seen him. There had been no one other than Ardyn who visited, save Aries. The thought of the boy brought about such feelings of sorrow.

Aries was fifteen years old now, Noctis remembered with an ache, one that had never faded. He was growing into a fine young man. The last time he'd seen him in person was just a few months after he turned two. Then the only place Noctis could see the boy he loved was on TV or on Ardyn's phone when he cared to share pictures or videos of him.

Noctis always held out hope that Ardyn might bring Aries back again one day. But that had never happened. Not yet anyway. But as time passed, the imprisoned man began to question if such a reunion should even take place.

Aries didn't know Noctis. He would not remember the man that occasionally held him or played with him a few hours a week. Aries would not remember laughing and giggling in his arms or smiling up at him. He would not remember the many tears that had been shed for him, the promises that had been made.

Noctis was a stranger to Ardyn's son. Even if they were to meet now, what would come of it? The boy did not know him. Noctis had lost any chance of being an important figure in his life as he grew up. He'd missed out on everything. And that hurt so much.

What would Aries think of this stranger that loved him like a son even though the boy did not know him? Would he be uncomfortable? What if he didn't like Noctis? Could a relationship even be made at this point? One where Aries would treat Noctis like family? Could he be content with less when he just wanted to be able to treat Aries like a son?

Noctis was unsure of it all. And in his mind, he wondered if perhaps it was best he and Aries not meet again.

The man shook these thoughts from his mind before he got lost in them. He'd done so too often. He had to focus on the present.

So how long had it been then? Noctis thought to himself and quickly tallied up the years. Almost twenty years. He'd been in here for almost twenty years.

It felt so much longer.

Regis looked so much older in the time that passed. Noctis had seen him on the television but it was different to see him in person. His father's hair was almost entirely grey. There were much more wrinkles on his face. He looked exhausted even now. From Ardyn, Noctis knew his father was rarely able to walk more than a few minutes at a time and needed to be in his wheelchair most of the day. The Ring and the Wall had taken quite a heavy toll on him. He'd aged far too quickly.

Noctis's heart ached for his father, from seeing him so weakened as well as seeing him again after so long. He felt tears begin to form in his eyes. The man attempted to blink them back but that just made his vision blur. He could feel his heart pound with both dread and anticipation. He wanted so much to speak. But… Should he? Why did Ardyn bring his dad? There were many questions on his mind.

Regis was staring at Noctis, the surprise and confusion easily visible on his face. The man in the cell was familiar, especially the shocking colour of violet-red hair.

"Noctis? What... Is this place? Why was I left unaware of it? And why is the former Chancellor of Niflheim here of all places?" Regis Lucis Caelum was confused as he glanced away from the prisoner to who he thought was his son behind him. He could even see MTs along the back wall. He believed every one of those machines destroyed several years back.

Noctis felt a sharp pain in his heart. Part of him had been hoping his father would quickly figure out the truth now that they were face to face. Shouldn't a parent be able to tell? The man tried to ignore the hurt. He knew he shouldn't feel bad about it. No one in his life was able to tell that their Noctis had been replaced.

"Why don't you answer him, Noctis?" Ardyn chuckled from behind the wheelchair, motioning for Regis to turn back around.

Regis looked back at who he thought the former Chancellor was in confusion. He wondered why his son referred to him by his own name. His name was Ardyn, was it not? Or was his memory failing him now that his body was? He knew he was becoming a tad forgetful, but surely not that much.

The former King also wondered why Ardyn was here, in this secret prison he'd never been allowed knowledge of. Regis trusted his son, but what was the point of this? Looking at the man in the cell again, he wondered how Ardyn managed to look mostly unchanged despite the many years since his disappearance. Regis did notice the former Chancellor's face no longer carried the arrogance and disdain it once did. It was much more open, his expression startled and… Pained?

Noctis's mouth went dry at his father's gaze and he could not manage to utter a sound. He couldn't even bring himself to move, let alone speak.

Ardyn... Was going to let his father know the truth? Now? Noctis could admit he had been praying for something like this to happen for a very long time. Yet... He was now terrified of what might happen once the truth had been revealed.

Would his father reject Noctis and choose Ardyn over him despite knowing the truth? His imposter was the perfect son, something Noctis could never be. And if his father did care for his real son still, would this not hurt him deeply? To learn Noctis had been imprisoned in this place for so many years? Was it not better that he never learned the truth? Was it selfish that a part of Noctis wanted his father to know the truth regardless? So that he wouldn't feel so alone and forgotten about anymore?

"Come now, I know you still retain the ability to speak even after all this time. And here I would have assumed you would have had much to say to your father."

"What?" Regis exclaimed. His head whipped around to look behind him. "What madness is this, Noctis. That is not…"

"... Dad." Noctis finally croaked, voice breaking. He couldn't hold back the tears anymore. Regis turned back around. He frowned at the expression the imprisoned man beheld him with. The man looked deeply upset. Though Ardyn had been his enemy at one point, Niflheim and Lucis had long left their enmity behind. The former Chancellor looked so desperate and Regis found his heart aching in sympathy. He may not understand what was going on but this did not seem right. It seemed that the man himself may not be right in his mind if he believed Regis to be his father.

"Noctis, do not make such awful jokes. What is going on? Was this necessary?" Regis demanded with a hint of anger in his tone. He looked back at his son, wanting to know the reason for all this.

"You are not doing a very good job on convincing him, Noctis. I think you may need to put a little more effort into it," Ardyn chuckled. He smiled at the prisoner, but it could only be described as sinister.

The words, expression and tone were so very unlike his son, Regis found himself thinking. Noctis had moments like this over the years but his father brushed them off. He had always believed his son was not cruel by nature and it was likely unintentional. But this was a little hard to ignore.

In the cell, Noctis felt a surge of desperation. His dad could learn the truth. Someone could know!

"Dad! It's me… I'm Noctis." Noctis brokenly tried to explain. He stepped forward and grabbed the bars of his cell in his hands. The man felt like he couldn't breathe. He just wanted his dad to see him for who he truly was. He couldn't help the sob he emitted as he reached out one hand towards his father through the gap in the bars. "I'm here… I'm right… Here."

Regis froze then, feeling an icy chill creep up over him. He could see the utter desperation on this man's face. The tears coming from his golden eyes were real. The former King looked back at his son and saw an unfamiliar, cold yet amused expression on his face.

This... Wasn't some kind of joke. Surely Noctis would not do that to him. But how could the man in the cell be his son? It wasn't possible. Noctis stood right behind him.

But if this was somehow true…

"If I am to believe this… How is it possible? And... How long?" Regis's voice was steady and calm despite his inner turmoil. A part of him did not wish to know the answers to his questions. Looking at the sheer desperation on the prisoner's face, Regis knew he would not like them. The former King prayed that he was dreaming and that he would awaken in his bed at any moment. This was not what he was expecting when his son asked to show him something important that morning.

Noctis lowered his arm and looked down. He didn't want to answer. Regis turned to look at the man behind him, who gave him a smile in return.

"I assure you it was quite possible, though I will spare you finer details. What I've accomplished was not easy and it is unlikely it can ever be done again. And I would say… About twenty years since I took this body? Give or take a few months," Ardyn revealed nonchalantly. He did not seem the least bit bothered by what he just admitted.

Ardyn saw Regis's eyes widen in shock and he continued, "if it at all eases your heart, I found you to be an excellent father in these twenty years. Better than my own even. I suppose it is a bit of a shame that your son could not experience that while locked in this place. Other than myself, you are the first visitor in a very long time."

Now it was Regis's turn to freeze. He turned back towards the prisoner, eyes wide in absolute horror. His son, his Noctis, looked at him with such a sorrowful expression. He had been here that long? Locked away from the world?

It could not be…

A moment later, Regis had swiftly pushed himself out of his chair to stand upright. Ardyn backed away as the wheelchair clattered onto its side from his occupant's swift departure.

Regis turned around and called upon his magic. It had not heeded his call for some time but he did not care. He found the thread of his magic and forced it to blaze into life once more. His Armiger shimmered into existence, surrounding him. The turmoil he felt allowed him to summon his magic despite the toll it would take on his body.

"Dad, no!" Noctis attempted to stop his father. He could not be allowed to harm Ardyn. And the man in question might not hesitate to hurt Regis if he felt threatened.

Ardyn just grinned at the many trembling blades pointed in his direction. His 'father' would not be able to keep that magic up for long. He was too weak.

The imposter felt no fear as the blades shot towards him. He moved not a single muscle as the Ring of the Lucii on his finger shined bright and an ethereal blue figure emerged before him.

The Founder King swiftly held his hand out and a barrier formed around the both of them. Regis's swords cracked against the shield and disappeared. A massive wave of fire magic was then cast at them and washed over the barrier. It easily held against the attack.

"Is this necessary?" Somnus asked, turning his head slightly as he held the barrier so he could look over at his brother. He did not wear the armor of a Lucii but came in his human guise.

"No," Ardyn replied with a grin, "but I am certainly enjoying it."

Regis collapsed after the attack, his body completely spent. His breath came in ragged gasps as he knelt on the floor.

"Dad!" Noctis tried to reach out to him again. But he was too far. He felt another wave of tears flow from his eyes at his inability to make sure he was alright.

"Why…" Regis looked at the Lucii in utter betrayal. He'd seen him several times, summoned by his son's imposter. The former King had been amazed at how much the Mystic looked like Noctis. They'd never spoken however, the Lucii being dismissed before Regis had a chance to near him. Even so, why was he protecting the man that ruined his son's life? A moment later, Regis realized the reason. "... You were aware of this."

Somnus did not hesitate meeting the Father's eyes, though the ancient King found himself ashamed.

"Yes. The Gods and the Lucii are aware of this man's actions. We have allowed it," the Founder King admitted.

"Why?" Regis cried out his question. He did not understand.

"Revenge," Ardyn responded simply and with a grin. Regis received no further explanation from him.

"Tell me," Regis pleaded, "tell me why this was necessary!"

Somnus looked over at his brother. When he made no move to stop him, he spoke, "the reason is well known to our line. In the name of the future and the destruction of the Starscourge we must fulfill the Prophecy. Ardyn has stolen the body of the Chosen... Yet he has agreed to take on the duty of its eradication. As he is our only hope against the Starscourge, we will not stop him… No matter what wrongs he commits during his stolen life."

"I offer a prosperous future under my reign, something neither you nor your son could ever hope to achieve on your own. All I required in return was a few simple pleasures," Ardyn added.

Regis was quiet after. He felt a wave of searing hatred as well as grief. He closed his eyes. He had so many questions.

"... You all kept this from me," The hurt in Regis's voice was palatable when he spoke again. The Lucii and the Gods. They had left him in the dark. Regis knew his son was going to be a sacrifice. But he never expected it to be like this.

In his cell, Noctis wished he was free. He wished to comfort his father. He wanted to wrap his arms around him and tell him it was alright. That he was here now. That he was glad he still loved him. He could see that from his grief.

"Yes," Somnus had nothing more to say. No excuses, no explanations that could make things better. He had always done everything in hopes of a future free of the Starscourge. He would continue to do that, even now.

Regis's body shook in his disbelief. He again wished this was all a dream. But he knew that wish would not be granted. He turned towards the prisoner, his son. He was almost afraid to face him. He was so ashamed with himself. What kind of father could not recognize that their son had been replaced by another?

"My son… Noctis... I am sorry. I am so very sorry," Regis took a deep, shuddering breath. He tried to keep his trembling under control. He shifted himself closer to the cell. "I tried… I tried so hard for you to have a semblance of normal life. I knew of the fate destiny had in store for you but I wished to spare you from it as long as possible. All I desired in this life was your happiness. I've failed in that, Noctis. I've failed you. I could not even recognize my own son from another."

The older man reached to take Noctis's hand, unfamiliar though it was in that body. His son was crying, his tears dripping onto the floor.

"I would have never wished this for you. Oh, how you must have been lonely," Regis voice finally broke and he sobbed.

"Dad… It's okay," Noctis tried to console his father through his own tears, "it's better this way… Ardyn is… Making things better. I'm okay with this. Everything will be better in the end. That's all that matters."

Regis reached through the bars and pulled Noctis to him, hugging him tight. Noctis too wrapped his arms around his father. Both father and son held each other in an embrace, despite the uncomfortable metal separating them. They ignored the other two in the room, focusing solely on one another.

"Such a touching and painful reunion," Ardyn sighed, enjoying every moment of it. "It was well worth the wait."

"You disgust me," Somnus hissed softly.

"Somnus!" Ardyn feigned shock. He moved closer to whisper the next part, "what a terrible thing to say to your own blood. And on my birthday no less. Can you not treat me like family on this day at least?"

Somnus narrowed his eyes but said nothing. His brother just smiled at his lack of response.

"Despite your feelings on the matter, I know you will protect me. All of you, the Gods included, must do everything in your power to keep me from harm," Ardyn chuckled, "and of course, I feel I must take advantage of that as much as possible."

Ardyn was right of course. Somnus stayed by his brother's side in case Regis attempted something else. After all that had been sacrificed in its name, the Prophecy must be fulfilled.

"I wonder what emotions you are feeling right now, Somnus. Does it bother you that you allowed this? Do you feel guilty?" Ardyn mused, "or has your heart turned to stone after nearly two thousand years of waiting? Have you long accepted the sins you and others must commit for the future of humanity?"

Somnus refused to look at his brother. And neither did he stare at the former Chosen or Father, trying to offer them some semblance of privacy. The two were now speaking to one another in hushed whispers.

The Founder King just grit his teeth and wished wholeheartedly this could be over soon. He knew the time was nearing, that could only be the reason Ardyn was allowing this reunion to take place. Noctis may soon learn the reason for all of this and finally be allowed his freedom from his prison. Even if that could only happen in death.

"You can't hide your emotions from me, Somnus. You never could," Ardyn laughed, uncaring if his brother did not wish to speak. "Do not worry, I have other reunions in mind if this one wasn't to your liking. I want you in particular to understand exactly what you have allowed me to do."

"Trust me brother, I understand," Somnus murmured finally.

The Mystic continued to stay by Ardyn's side as the two other occupants in the room grieved.

Regis refused to leave but Noctis managed to convince his father to return so he could at least rest in his chambers. His father promised to be back the next day. And every day thereafter.

While Noctis had been speaking with his father, he had caught Ardyn motioning something to him. The imposter placed a finger on his lips in a shushing motion. Knowing what he wanted, Noctis made his father swear not to tell a soul of the truth. It would cause far too many problems. There was no need for that to happen, not now when the world had been at peace. His father had hesitantly agreed, made to swear on Noctis's own life.

Regis refused to any help in picking up his wheelchair. It took time but he managed to do it himself and then seat himself upon it. He left then, refusing to look at the ones who'd lied to and betrayed him.

Somnus too had then left, returning to the Ring's embrace with no word before his sudden departure. Noctis noticed the Lucii gaze at him for a few brief moments before he averted his eyes, as if ashamed, and then he was gone.

"My brother always lacked manners but you are nothing like him, isn't that right Noct?" Ardyn sighed after the two were alone. The imprisoned man had still not been able to stop his tears. It seemed as if he had been able to hold back the Starscourge as it was only now that it began to leak from his eyes.

Noctis's tear and Starscourge streaked face looked towards Ardyn. There was no anger, just sorrow and resignation.

"You understand your father is quite weak from the usage of the Ring," Ardyn said. "I graciously offered you the opportunity to see him in the flesh. And even more than that, I allowed you a chance to speak the truth. Don't you think your King deserves some gratitude?"

"Thank you, Your Majesty," Noctis's voice was hoarse and it shook as he responded. The man did find himself grateful even if Ardyn found some sick amusement in what transpired today. He just wished it hadn't hurt his father as much as it did.

… Noctis wondered what happened down here to make him like this. To willingly thank the man that caused such emotional turmoil. A man that seemed to get off on the suffering of others.

"Good boy," Ardyn was delighted with his response, "and of course such good manners deserves a reward. I will allow of course allow Regis to visit you until the day his body fails him. I fear however, that may not give the two of you much time. Make sure to make the most of it."

Noctis nodded, not trusting himself to speak. He didn't want to think about that. He'd just been reunited with his father. To lose him so quickly after...

Soon after, Ardyn departed and Noctis was left alone with his thoughts.

A sort of late birthday fic for Ardyn.

I really wanted to do more with this one but I had to cut out a bunch of stuff I couldn't quite write properly. It might end up sounding a little abrupt a times, and I didn't quite know how to end it. Apologies for that! ^.^'

Thank you for reading anyway!