Clad in his favourite hoodie with the hood over his head, Noctis stood in front of a seemingly innocent looking door. It was rather plain, looking no different than any other. But it was who lay beyond it that caused Noctis to hesitate opening it.
"You can go on ahead," the nurse beside the young man urged. She was a cheerful and talkative woman, chatting away happily as she led Noctis towards the room he sought. She had already left the door unlocked for him.
"Is there any precautions I should take?" Noctis asked. He could feel anxiousness building inside of him. Maybe, he thought to himself, this was a bad idea.
"Oh heavens no!" The woman said, almost insulted at the question. "Ardyn is one of our most well-behaved patients. I don't even see the need for him to be in here. It's that brother is his, I feel. He's just trying to keep the poor man locked up…" She went on for a little while and then seemed to realize she probably shouldn't say things like that out loud. "Oh! Forget I said that all! Don't listen to my ramblings."
"Right," Noctis responded. He looked at the door again, wishing he was stronger than he was. He wished he had the confidence to just walk in and ask all the questions he had over the last ten years.
There was a call over the intercom that broke Noctis out of his thoughts. The nurse hurried off with a smile and a goodbye. The young man briefly wondered what Somnus would think about the nurse saying such things about him. He hadn't seen either of his cousins, both of whom he used to lovingly refer to as Uncles, in years now.
Somnus and Noctis's father had not spoken to one another after Ardyn had been settled in the psychiatric hospital. Their families had fought and created a rift so deep that it had not been mended even ten years later.
Noctis took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Calm, he needed to stay calm. The nurse seemed to think Ardyn no longer needed to be here, so that was good. She'd even left him alone to talk to him.
The young man mustered up every bit of his willpower and opened the door.
The red-haired man standing before the window began to turn when he heard the door open.
"Somnus," said the voice that haunted Noctis for many years. It did not sound as Noctis expected it to. "It's a bit early for your vis-… Oh."
Uncle Ardyn tilted his head in confusion when he saw that it was not his brother who had entered.
"You are not my brother," the older man stated. He took a moment to take stock of the newcomer and then grinned when he recognized the face half obscured by the hood of his clothing. "Noctis!"
"You remember me?" Ten years was a long time. Noctis tried his best to remain calm, but it was hard to when he was finally in this man's presence.
"Of course I do. I could never forget about my little cousin could I? How are you? How is your father? He was rather upset the last time I saw him."
Upset was an understatement.
"I'm okay. Dad's okay," Noctis responded, willing his heart to slow down. It was beating too fast. He could feel his palms beginning to sweat.
"Now what brings you here today? I haven't seen you in ages. I was beginning to believe you'd forgotten about poor old Ardyn, wasting away in this dreadful place."
"I just thought I'd visit. See how you are doing," Noctis muttered. He didn't say anything about the last part. No, he could never forget about Ardyn.
"I am doing very well, dear Noct. I do wish I was permitted out of this place but Somnus will not allow it," Ardyn sighed, looking like a man wronged. "Such a vile man my brother is, don't you think?"
Noctis hesitated. What was he supposed to say?
"Oh?" Ardyn gasped when he received no response. "You don't believe I should be locked up in here, do you?"
Did Ardyn not remember? What he did?
… And if that was the case, was that a good thing or a bad thing?
"You tried…" Noctis tried to respond but couldn't force the words out. He took a moment before he tried again. "You tried to kill me."
Noctis remembered that night vividly. The feeling of the dagger slicing deep across his back. The absolute agony. The screams, all of which were his own. Just a child of ten at the time, Noctis had been forever haunted by that cruel act. He'd spent years in therapy and never truly recovered from it. It had been so difficult to feel safe again. And the young man had never managed to return to the bright, carefree person he used to be before the attack.
Noctis just wanted to know why. Why would his beloved cousin do such a thing? Dad said Ardyn was sick, that he could not control himself. Regis did not want his son around the man ever again for almost killing his only child.
Noctis wanted to know for himself. He wanted to face the man that had caused him such pain. It took a very long time for Noctis to gather up the courage to visit this place. Ardyn had been the monster of his nightmares after all.
But things seemed to be going okay so far. Noctis was still frightened, but Ardyn did not appear to be the man his nightmares turned him into. He'd expected Ardyn to act more like a villain from a horror movie. Instead, Ardyn seemed to be the same as he'd always been. Noctis felt an ache in his heart, remembering all of the good times they'd had together. His Uncle had always been so nice to him.
Up until that one horrible day, that is.
Maybe, Noctis faintly hoped, Ardyn was better now. If he was, could they figure things out between them? Could they get their families to reconcile? Maybe this was how Noctis could finally overcome his fears. By seeing that the Ardyn of his nightmares did not exist. That he did not mean to hurt him.
But all of Noctis's hopes were dashed as soon as Ardyn spoke next. He had been silent, as if contemplating something before he opened his mouth.
"That I did," Ardyn admitted softly and then began to smile. The smile stretched across his face, turning sinister. Noctis felt a spike of fear shoot through him at the expression. "... And now you've come to me. Maybe today is the day I will succeed."
Noctis froze, unable to believe what he just heard.
"What?" Noctis could only manage.
"Don't take it personally, Noctis. It must be done," Ardyn spoke, still smiling. He pointed at his head and whispered. "They are always speaking to me. Nothing quiets them entirely, though the doctors believe they have succeeded. I'll let you in on my secret, Noctis. They have not gone away."
There was silence as Noctis processed this information.
"Only when the boy breathes his last will you be free of us," Ardyn said as if quoting someone else.
Noctis decided he needed to leave. Now.
"I think it's time I go," the young man began to back away, not taking his eyes off of Ardyn. Images of that night ten years ago flashed across his brain. Noctis's legs shook and he felt like he was going to throw up.
"Oh but you've only been here a short time, Noctis. Stay a while longer," Ardyn's eyes narrowed. The older man tensed, as if he were about to pounce.
"Hello!" The door opened and a soft, femenine voice interrupted the two men in the room. Both men turned to see a nurse walk in with a tray. "Oh! I see you have a guest today, Ardyn. Will he be joining you for tea?"
"Ah! Dearest Sophia! It completely slipped my mind that it was tea time," Ardyn's voice and face completely changed at the intrusion. He did not have that sinister expression anymore. "Come in, come in!"
"I… uh. I gotta go. Bye Uncle. I will see you another time," Noctis said in a rush and bolted from the room.
"That you will," Ardyn laughed as Noctis fled as fast as his feet could take him. His last words followed him out. "You can most certainly count on it!"
Noctis spent almost an hour hiding in the bathroom stall, trying to calm down. He wrapped his arms around himself as he trembled. He breathed heavily as thoughts of Ardyn and that night ten years ago swirled around his mind.
He was afraid. And also a little sad.
Noctis regretted not asking his father first or at least asking Somnus or someone else on his side of the family about Ardyn's state. It might have been awkward calling Somnus, as neither had seen one another since Noctis had been ten, but it might have prevented what happened today.
Finally, when the young man could manage to breathe more easily, he carefully left the bathroom. He made his way to the entrance of the hospital without issue, though his paranoia made him imagine that Ardyn might be hiding around any corner. Noctis let out a sigh of relief as he left the hospital and began to walk away.
Before the young man could make it to the parking lot, he was roughly pulled back. Noctis panicked, thinking it was Ardyn. He broke away from the man's grip and turned around. He was startled to find that it was not Ardyn that looked furiously at him, but his brother.
Noctis had always been told he looked just like Somnus and he found out now how very true that was. An older, sharper version of him but the resemblance was uncanny.
"What in Astral's name are you doing here, Noctis?" Somnus demanded. The man looked well, if a bit tired. He wore a fancy suit, maybe arriving here after a meeting of some kind.
"Uncle Somnus," Noctis could only utter in response. He wasn't sure what to say. The two had not seen each other in quite some time.
"Well?" Somnus was still waiting for a response. "Does your father know you've come?"
"No," Noctis responded. It had been a stupid idea, even he knew that. "I just… I just wanted to see him."
"Of all the moronic…" Somnus pinched the bridge of his nose.
"I thought he might be better," Noctis explained, eyes downcast. "I just wanted…"
"He isn't," Somnus sounded frustrated, as if it was something he had tried to explain many times. "And the damned nurses don't watch him as they should. They allow him too many freedoms. They should have never left you alone, least of all with him."
Noctis wondered how Somnus knew that. Had he gone and seen his brother? Or had the nurses told him?
"I will have words with several of the employees here," Somnus said as he looked away from Noctis towards the building. He turned to Noctis once more after a moment of glaring at it. "And you. You thought it was safe to just walk in here? After what he did? Ardyn was very happy today. I have not seen him like that since…"
Somnus trailed off, not wanting to say anything further. But he didn't need to. Noctis knew what he was going to say.
"I think… I think he would have tried something, had the nurse not come in at the right time." Noctis admitted softly. Somnus froze as that. His eyes narrowed and Noctis expected to be yelled at.
Instead, Somnus relaxed his posture and just sighed.
"Come along. What's done is done. I am thankful he did not manage to harm you," Somnus then looked him over. "I have not seen you in almost ten years now. You've grown up. Why don't you and I catch up a little at dinner?"
"Uh, yeah. Sure," it didn't seem like there was much room for refusal with his cousin tugging him along already.
"Why does Ardyn want to kill me?" Their dinner had been quiet, both avoiding the topic at hand. Noctis finally managed to ask the question he wanted to ask Ardyn. He'd gotten an answer already, but he wondered why the man thought his death would stop the voices.
"... He's sick," Somnus murmured as he swallowed a bite of pasta. "He has been for quite some time. From before you were even born."
"Did no one try to help him?" Noctis asked. Had Ardyn received help, would things have turned out different?
"... No… No one knew about it," Somnus laid down his fork and looked at Noctis, the regret clearly visible on his face. "I'm so sorry Noctis. That was my fault."
Somnus elaborated before Noctis could speak, "from an early age Ardyn would tell me about the voices that spoke to him. He was… So scared sometimes. He said if I told anyone he would be taken away. We were close as children, inseparable most of the time. I did not want that to happen and so I did not say a word. Not until…"
It seemed Somnus did not want to remember that night, just like Noctis and his father.
"Did you know he wanted to kill me?" Noctis couldn't help but ask. He very much doubted it but he wanted to be sure.
"No!" Somnus eyes widened at the question and he responded forcefully. "Oh, Astrals no. If I had known, I swear upon my life I would have done something… It was… It was supposed to be me."
Noctis was confused and Somnus continued when he saw the puzzled look on his cousin's face.
"Ardyn told me something disturbing one day. I was ten. He was thirteen. He said the voices wanted him to take my life. Only then would they leave him alone," Somnus spoke softly. "He was so upset that day. He hugged me tight and sobbed. He promised he would never do it. That he'd never hurt me despite what they tried to tell him to do... Ardyn was my brother. I believed him."
"Ten?" Noctis murmured. "That was the age I was when he tried to kill me."
"Yes," Somnus nodded, "he did not speak of the voices after that and I believed everything was alright. I could see something was wrong though. He would stare off into space at times. I occasionally heard him whispering to himself. I just ignored it as his quirks."
There was a moment of silence.
"Then Regis and Aulea had you a year later," Somnus carried on, "I'd never seen my brother so happy the day he saw you. He sounded so amazed when he gazed upon you and said you looked just like me. He adored you from infanthood. I didn't think anything of it. I did not notice any oddities from my brother anymore. He seemed... Normal."
Noctis remembered how Ardyn used to dote on him. He used to come over quite often with Somnus. Noctis had loved him. Loved both his Uncles.
"I didn't think… I didn't think he would fixate on you as a replacement," Somnus sounded angry. At himself and not Noctis. "I did not know he would attempt such a thing."
"A replacement," Noctis repeated, realizing a few things now.
"Ardyn spoke to me afterwards… He told me after that the voices were willing to take you instead. That's he'd done it for me as much as he'd done it for himself," Somnus did not look at Noctis as he said this. "Our families fell apart in the aftermath. Regis was furious with me once he learned it all. Everything he said that day was true. I should have told someone. Gotten him help."
"But... You were a kid too. You didn't know he would do this. It's been such a long time since that happened," Noctis said. He'd seen his father looking at old photos with a sad expression sometimes. He believed he missed his family. "Maybe I can talk to Dad?"
"I don't…" Somnus was about to refuse but then stopped himself. "I'd like that... I have never had the courage to face him again after everything that transpired. I should have tried, I know that. But every year that passed made it so much harder to reach out to him. If he is amenable to seeing me, I would be glad to do everything in my power to make up for what I allowed."
There was silence as both men finished up their meals and then Noctis spoke quietly, "do you think Ardyn will be okay one day?"
"I do," Somnus responded firmly. "He does not lie to me. I believe I will know the day the voices are finally quieted."
"Even after everything, I miss him." Noctis whispered softly. And he did. Despite the resurgence of his fear of the man, he could not forget how much he missed Ardyn.
After Somnus escorted him back to his car, Noctis couldn't help but ask, "so… will you tell dad of this?"
Noctis hoped that maybe Somnus could just pretend this visit never happened. His father was going to be furious with him once he found out.
"I will not lie to him," Somnus gave Noctis a stern look that caused him to duck his head in embarrassment. "I am still a little angry so whatever punishment he deems to give you once he learns of this will be well-deserved."
"Yeah. I get it," Noctis responded sheepishly. "Best I tell him myself then."
"At the very least I can bring you your favourite dessert while you are no doubt imprisoned in your own home," Somnus offered, giving him a small smile. "You still like that berry pastry? If you remind me which bakery it was that makes it, I would be happy to procure some for you."
Noctis was a little startled that his cousin remembered but then smiled back and nodded. He found himself happy that he was finally able to see Somnus again. He of course missed him just as much as his older brother.
Thinking of the pastry, Noctis recalled that Ardyn seemed to enjoy it as well. Whenever someone bought a box, the two of them would sneak off with it and eat them all. The young man couldn't help but smile at the memory.
Maybe one day they could share some together, like they used to. Noctis hoped that time would come one day soon.
They said it was time.
The voices had been subdued these many years. But now that the boy had come, they were insistent. They filled Ardyn's head, urging him to leave.
He could not refuse them. Not anymore.
The nurses had been lax again. They'd been upset when they'd been told to implement stricter measures with their favourite patient. They did not believe the things they heard about him.
Ardyn easily stole the keycard from one of the nurses that visited him. She'd come back later, searching every place she went to that day for it, but to no avail. She did not expect Ardyn to have taken it.
Now, close to visiting hours being over, Ardyn slipped out of his room. He made his way to the laundry room and procured a new set of clothing.
Afterwards, Ardyn tipped his newly acquired hat at someone else leaving the building and just walked right out the door.
No one stopped him. It was far too easy.
"Brother… Noctis…" Ardyn whispered into the night with no one around to hear him. "I will be seeing the both of you soon."
The man smiled as the voices whispered gleefully in his mind.
Had this idea a few days ago so I wrote something quick for it. It might be a bit rushed, so apologies for that!