Disclaimer: not mine
Ignis entered the room to find Noctis and Prompto curled together, asleep, and it was so much like things used to be that it hurt. Gladio was in the top bunk, possible asleep, possibly faking, but he was too tired to really care. He went to the other set of bunks and fell onto the bottom one, curling on his side to sleep, knowing there was a chance he wouldn't wake if Gladio decided to act.
Gladio opened his eyes to see Ignis on the other bottom bunk, his back shockingly to the rest of the room. Was he that sure that Gladio wouldn't harm him? Or…did he not care? If what he had seen was real and not an act then Ignis was exhausted, physically, mentally, and emotionally. He'd spent months caring for an unresponsive Prompto and a gradually amnesiac, paralysed, Noctis all while coming to see the truth about the Empire.
It hurt, to think that the years of friendship had been nothing but a sham, that Ignis had just been waiting for orders but…he'd saved them, hadn't he? Gladio hated not knowing what to think or feel when it came to Ignis. He had trusted him, had trained with him, had cajoled Noctis into doing what he was meant to, had looked after him… it was hard reconciling the two versions of Ignis.
A whimper sounded from below and Gladio slid down from the bunk even as Ignis sat up groggily. They both looked to the bunk to see Noctis whimpering in his sleep, twitching. Gladio hesitated, Noctis had only just met him as far as his memory was concerned, he may not react well should he try and wake him. He glanced at Ignis who got up and approached the bunk, kneeling beside it while he stood back and watched.
"Noctis? It's alright, you're safe. Wake up now," he called softly, reaching out to gently caress Noctis' cheek. "You're worrying Gladio and me. Come on," he tapped at his cheek and Noctis whined, shifting away from the more annoying touch but slowly his eyes opened.
"Ignis?" Noctis mumbled, reaching up to rub at his eyes, looking young and adorable, and very unlike the young man he had been. He tightened his hold on the sleeping Prompto who didn't react at all. Could he not wake at all without being told? How did that work?
"Are you alright? You were whimpering in your sleep, a nightmare?" Ignis asked gently, stroking his cheek again and Gladio saw Noctis press into the touch.
For Noctis and Prompto's sake…he really did have to work with Ignis, no matter his personal feelings.
"Nightmare?" Noctis slowly let go of Prompto and sat up, looking around.
"A bad dream," Gladio offered in case it was the word giving him trouble.
Noctis frowned in confusion. "I was? I…I don't remember," he shook his head. He wiped at his cheek to reveal still damp tear tracks. "I was crying?"
"It's been a pretty emotional, crazy day," Gladio offered. A few tears and bad dreams when he couldn't remember how strange his life could be wasn't surprising.
"Sorry…did I wake you?" Noctis asked quietly, seeming ashamed.
Gladio moved closer, making sure his King saw him, reaching out to ruffle the messy black hair, seeing Noctis' eyes widen at the gesture. "There's no problem Noct, we're here no matter what you need, day or night, because we're friends," he told him.
"Gladio is right, we don't mind being woken at all, so long as you are alright," Ignis agreed. "Do you think you can go back to sleep?"
Noctis nodded hesitantly and lay back down, cuddling up to Prompto again, the blond limp in his arms.
"That's dangerous," Gladio muttered as they moved away.
"Prompto is completely defenceless when asleep but we can't keep him awake all the time," Ignis agreed. "Good night Gladio," he went back to the bunk he was using and Gladio watched him settle down before hauling himself back up on the top bunk.
Noctis lay still, curled with Prompto, listening to them with his eyes closed. He hadn't thought of that, but they were right, if Prompto had to be ordered awake then he was in danger. He had his back to the room, Noctis between the wall and Prompto, so anyone attacking would have to go through Prompto to get to him…had that been planned? Well no way, he could wake up. He tugged at Prompto's lax body, wriggling around, until their positions were reversed. He would protect Prompto since he couldn't protect himself when asleep. He smiled and wrapped an arm around Prompto's waist, closing his eyes to go back to sleep.
He didn't remember what he'd been dreaming, why it had made him cry. It didn't feel…bad though, more sad maybe? Was it possible…in his sleep he remembered something? Maybe…maybe the memories weren't permanently gone?
Prompto woke immediately, hearing Noctis' voice in his ear.
Noct looked at him and smiled. "Morning," he whispered, and Prompto realised the fingers of one of his hands were laced together with Noctis'.
He focused hard and he felt his fingers twitch, Noctis' grip tightening in response. Could he do more? He'd spoken before he was put to sleep for the night or whatever time it was, it was impossible to tell in the bunk room. He took a few moments to mentally brace himself for the attempt, remembering the pain and how tiring it had been, he didn't want to exhaust himself again. But he was not a machine, he would beat what they had done to him, he would. "N…nn…" he swallowed hard. "Nnoct," he got out and Noctis was grinning at him.
"You did it again," his best friend praised.
Noctis was still his best friend, even if he didn't remember. He was still Noctis, just without the emotional guards and weight of Royalty. Even if he never remembered, Prompto wanted nothing more than to remain at his side. "Noct…sss….sssta…y…"
"Prompto?" Noctis asked in confusion.
"Blondie?" Gladio's voice called from above. "Did I hear?" he dropped down and leant over so Prompto could see him. "Did he just talk?"
"Yes, he managed my name last night too, but it exhausted him," Noctis explained softly, squeezing his fingers again.
"Good work," Gladio praised with a grin. "Knew you could do it."
It felt good to hear the confidence Gladio had in him, that he thought Prompto could beat the programming. He felt a bit bad that it was being around Noct, in trying to reassure him, that he'd managed it when he'd been with Ignis for months and had managed only such small things, despite the work Ignis had done with him to try and help.
"His eyes are kind of focused now, right, not just blank, I'm not seeing things?" Noctis asked and then had to move to let Gladio get close enough to look.
"Can you sit up?" Gladio asked him and Prompto tried, feeling a few muscles twitch, his fingers spasm in Noctis', but his body didn't move. "Okay, Noct?"
"Prompto, sit up," he said, moving his free hand behind Prompto's back as he obeyed, as if to steady or support him.
Gladio knelt down and reached out but then hesitated. "Can I touch you?" he asked, glancing at Noctis.
"Um…Prompto will it make you feel…upset if Gladio touches you?" it was obvious Noct didn't know quite how to ask but that was okay.
"No Sir," he answered as robotically as always.
"Okay," Gladio muttered, carefully taking his chin in hand and moving his head slowly. "Yeah, you're not seeing things Noct," he agreed and then his hand moved up to ruffle through his slowly growing hair.
Cor read the report of an Imperial base in chaos, ships firing on one their own which was heading in the direction of Accordo or Lucis and he felt a spark of hope. Had the boys managed to escape? Were they even now trying to make it home? He sent orders to be on the lookout for the ship, to observe, and give aid if the Empire moved against it. Even if it wasn't them, if it was someone trying to escape or defect then they would help.
Now if only they could find the Oracle, but she had gone to ground well.
Ignis remained where he was, listening. To hear Prompto speak, no matter how broken, was amazing and proved he'd been right the whole time in thinking the blond was still in there. He was so proud of him for fighting even after months of being treated like nothing, except when in Ignis' rooms.
Did it hurt a little that it took being with Noctis for him to show any real improvement? Maybe a little but he knew that Prompto would have been struggling with the fact that his condition was due to Ignis' actions and while they had become closer in the last year, he had always been closest to Noctis.
He took a deep breath and sat up, seeing Prompto sitting up on the bunk, staring straight ahead…at him. He sat up and slipped his shoes and jacket back on before, the movement getting Gladio's attention, but he remained where he was, between Ignis and the boys. "Good morning," he greeted and Noctis looked up at him, smiling.
"Prompto spoke!" he told him in excitement.
"That's wonderful news," he smiled back at Noctis, before looking at Prompto who stared straight ahead. "I knew you could do it Prompto," he told him and Prompto's lips parted.
Ignis stared at him in shock and then took a step towards him, seeing Gladio hesitate but then give him room and he forced himself to finish crossing the small room, kneeling down in front of Prompto. He saw Prompto's hand twitch towards him and swallowed but reached out to him, touching his hand and Prompto's fingers jerked more strongly so Ignis took his hand and smiled when Prompto managed pressure.
"I am so proud of you," he whispered. "You are so strong Prompto," he praised, and he saw it too, the lift in Prompto's eyes that had been missing ever since he'd activated the band, not fully back, not yet, but it was present.
Gladio saw Ignis' shock when Prompto tried to say his name, listened as he gently praised the blond, took his hand only after the sign that Prompto wanted it. That was the Ignis he had thought he knew, the Ignis who cared about them, loved Noctis fiercely, his last line of defence when all else failed. Maybe…maybe that Ignis wasn't a total lie?
Ardyn was surprised to hear that young Ignis had turned traitor, again. The dear boy really did need to pick a side and stick with it. a glance showed the Emperor was beyond angry that his prize had been stollen…and that the idiots had attempted to shoot the Commodores ship down, potentially killing all aboard.
It appeared things may be getting interesting again. Still, without his memories, the Chosen King was useless to them. Unless…did Lunafreya have the Ring? That could be problematic. She had yet to attempt to wake the Astrals but with Noctis' fate unknown, that was smart of her. He doubted Ravus was looking all that hard for her, knowing the Emperor wanted her dead.
The Emperor made his orders clear; no one was to interfere with that ship while the Prince may be aboard. They could reacquire the group once they were safely in on the ground in Lucis, the wouldn't be all that hard to find with an amnesiac Prince and human looking MT unit.
Noctis stared out the window at the sea far below, he'd seen pictures of it before but seeing it himself was incredible. So much water! "Have I ever seen the sea before?" he asked softly, and a hand moved to rest on his shoulder.
"At Galdin Quay," Ignis answered. "The day all of this began. You spent time fishing and enjoyed it a lot."
"Ignis?" he leant back against the taller male, seeking the comfort of touch, and Ignis didn't pull away.
"Please don't leave," he pleaded, hearing Ignis take a shaky breath, then an arm gently wrapped around his waist in a partial hug.
"I will never willingly leave, unless you order it," he promised. "I do not know what will happen in the future, but I will do whatever I have to, to keep you all safe."
"I'll never tell you to leave," Noctis denied.
"You may, if your memory returns…"
"No!" he turned to face Ignis, looking up into sad green eyes, ignoring Gladio who was on the other side of the large space with Prompto. "You saved us; you didn't have to. You could have lived a comfortable life and forgotten all about us but instead you gave up everything to save us."
Ignis knew Noctis believed what he was saying; and it was true for this Noctis, but if he ever remembered, understood fully just how Ignis had betrayed him, then his saving him wouldn't matter all that much.
He knew Gladio was watching him closely, watching his every move when near Noctis or Prompto, but he understood why. He wondered if Gladio would ever trust him again, especially to be alone with either younger male. It was strange, how easy to think of them as 'boys' and yet in a way, they were. Noctis without his memories had a childlike, innocent, quality to him, despite still having the skills of an adult.
"Iggy…" Noctis murmured and Ignis stiffened, staring down at him with wide eyes.
"What…what did you call me?" he asked and Noctis frowned.
"I…sorry? It just seemed to fit… I won't use it again."
"No!" Ignis' voice being raised definitely got Gladio's attention again. "You…you used to call me Iggy."
"Yeah, you did," Gladio agreed as he moved closer.
"Felt right?" Gladio asked and Noctis nodded. "See, told you before, there's something left, just follow that feeling when it hits."
"Gladio is right," Ignis smiled at Noctis, no matter how much the idea of him remembering scared him.
He was sure Noctis would hate him and he would have every right to. Ignis had no place anywhere, except to help them find safety and to recover who they had been. He was a traitor twice over now, he had betrayed Lucis, betrayed the Prince he had given his Oath to, and now he had betrayed the Empire he had been raised to serve.
Gladio stood with Prompto across the room from Ignis and Noctis, the Prince staring down at the passing sea in awe. They were talking, too softly for him to hear, but he kept an eye on them. He was starting to think that Ignis wouldn't do anything but better safe than sorry. Seeing Noctis lean back into Ignis so naturally, Ignis immediately moving an arm around his waist…Noctis was so different now and Ignis had been the one constant in his life, it wasn't surprising Noct would seek assurance from him.
He forced himself to turn his attention to Prompto who stood beside him, staring right at his chest, unable to look up to make eye contact. He was working with the kid, trying to help him gain more constant control of his hands and arms since so far all of his voluntary motions had been to hold on, to touch. He held Prompto's hands in his, squeezing on and off, trying to get him to react.
Noct's voice raised in denial had him turning, feeling Prompto's fingers finally twitch in his, in reaction to Noctis' voice? Noctis had turned in Ignis' hold, was staring up at him, expression utterly serious even as he spoke to the older male. It wasn't anger or fear thankfully, just utter surety of what he was saying so he turned his attention back to Prom.
"That's it blondie," he praised the movement he'd felt.
He took one hand away to gently tip Prompto's head up, making eye contact. He could see the vague awareness in his eyes, but it came and went, the more he was managing to move or even try to speak, the more present he seemed to be. Although he was apparently aware the whole time, even if he didn't appear to be.
"Try again," he urged, taking his hand back now that Prompto was looking at him. He squeezed but there was no response.
"No!" Ignis' raised voice got his attention and he turned to find Ignis staring at Noctis with wide eyes, Prompto again reacting to a raised voice, fingers tightening around Gladio's almost painfully.
Gladio gently disentangled them, offering the kid a small smile. "Just going to check on them," he murmured before moving away.
""You…you used to call me Iggy," Ignis was telling Noctis and Gladio blinked, had Noctis used the nickname?
"I did?" Noctis sounded confused but also hopeful and Gladio could understand why. If there was a chance his memory could return…
"Yeah, you did," Gladio agreed as he moved even closer. Specs had been Noct's name for Ignis when they were younger, but he'd picked up Iggy too from Prompto.
"It just…" Noctis trailed off.
"Felt right?" Gladio asked and Noctis nodded. "See, told you before, there's something left, just follow that feeling when it hits."
"Gladio is right," Ignis smiled at Noctis, but the smile was a little strained, almost sad. He knew that if Ignis was being honest now, then while he wanted Noctis to remember, he also had to fear it.
'Attention everyone, we're approaching the Lucian coast now so man the weapons. Everyone else strap in. Empire's probably waiting for us,' a voice called over the intercom.
Ignis moved to the wall and flipped down some seat that had harnesses attached, handy, and a lot safer than Gladio holding them to a bunk.
"Come on, let's get strapped in," he rested his hand on Noctis' shoulder, happy when he didn't flinch or tense at his touch. Noctis had gone pale and he knew he had to be scared after the fight to get away. He guided Noct to one of the seats and showed him how to use the harness, while Ignis got Prompto secured as well. They all heard the way Prompto's breathing picked up.
"Easy Prompto, these aren't MT restraints," he heard Ignis reassuring him, a glance showing him gently stroking the short hair. "They're seats for human officers to secure themselves in during turbulence."
Gladio waited for Ignis to sit and strap himself in before doing so as well. They watched as soldiers moved about, readying the weapons, recovered enough that Prompto wasn't going to have to be the one shooting at attackers.
Aranea stood, eyes watching the sky and screens for any sign of Imperial ships. There'd been plenty of time for those in Lucis to receive word of their defection and taking of the Emperor's prize. She was expecting a wall of ships around the continent….yet the skies appeared clear. A trap?
She nodded. "We can't exactly turn back," she murmured. They were ready for a fight, but would it be enough?
Prompto sat in the seat, feeling Noctis holding tight to his hand, Ignis' hand resting gently on his other arm. He was terrified – that they'd be shot down, about being back in Lucis, that he'd be taken away from the group, that people would know what he was and hate him, that Noct would remember and hate him too…
"Prom," Noctis whispered, he heard him shifting and then his head was on his shoulder, Noctis practically cuddling his arm.
Why? Why was he so affectionate? Just because he'd been told they were friends? Because he felt sorry for what he had become? Or….or did some part of him recognise Prompto and want to comfort him?
"Nnnnoct," he mumbled, hating it wasn't clearer but Noctis squeezed his arm, obviously having heard and understood his name.
"We're gonna be okay," Noctis whispered, voice trembling despite his optimistic words.
Prompto forced his hand to move, clutching weakly at Noctis in return, wanting the restraints gone so he could see him. To his shock, he felt the ship land, the engines powering down. They hadn't been attacked.
"That is rather strange," Ignis commented and he heard him undoing his harness.
'We've landed! No sign of pursuit at the moment but keep at the ready people!'
Ignis was suddenly in his field of view, undoing the restraints. "Let's see where we are and what's happening," he smiled gently, stroking his cheek and Prompto managed to press into the touch, making Ignis' smile widen.
"We're in Lucis?" he heard Noct asked nervously.
"From the sounds of it," Gladio's voice came.
Ignis looked over his shoulder at the sound of boots on metal to see Lady Highwind approaching, frowning. He patted Prompto's hand and then stood to speak to her. "There was no blockade?" he asked, and she shook her head.
"Skies were clear. We're tucked out of sight from a casual flyover and the rough terrain will keep out the ground troops. We came up from the south of the continent, so we're close to the volcano. Not the most hospitable spot but it's a good hiding place till we work out what's next."
Ignis nodded, it was a good area to hide the ship in, although without any places where they could hide Noctis long term. They had the Regalia, but it was too distinctive, the Empire would know what it looked like and any remaining Guard or Glaive would as well. They needed somewhere safe where they could continue working with Noctis and Prompto.
"We'll stay here the night and see if anything's changed in the morning, try to get you closer to somewhere you can settle in. Any idea where you might find safety?"
"I was thinking of around the Rydielle Ley area from the maps I've studied. Close enough to Lestallum and the Slough, even Meldacio, that the area is well covered by hunters but remote enough we should be able to remain hidden."
"Alright, we'll see what we can do about getting you closer or at least less recognisable transport. Might as well settle in for the night."
She left to see to her people and Ignis returned to the others to explain what was happening.
Cor answered his phone, listening to the young hunter reporting seeing a strangely coloured Imperial ship near Ravatogh. The same one that had fled Niflheim? He would not let himself hope the Prince was aboard until he had something more to go on.